December 10, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, December 10, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Legal suits threaten opt-out provisions for religious convictions
Reuters reported yesterday that a North Carolina law that allows an opt-out on the part of government officials when it comes to performing same-sex marriages, the North Carolina law is now the focus of a lawsuit that says it is unconstitutional and must be struck down. As Reuter says,
“The six plaintiffs, who include gay couples, argue the legislation allows magistrates and other officials who perform marriages to put their personal beliefs before their sworn constitutional duty.”Show Full Transcript
Luke largess, a partner at the Charlotte-based law firm of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, the law firm behind the challenge said,
“And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs. That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment.”
Here’s where Christians need to focus attention and concern in this case. A moral revolution like the one we are experiencing eventually takes no prisoners, it claims total victory and it requires total obedience to its demands, or it will use whatever power is within its coercion to enforce the moral revolution. But we need to be clear about what’s on the line in North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June, ordering the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states of the Union left many public officials in the position of either violating the religious conscience or turning away some who demanded a marriage license or the performing of a marriage ceremony by powers of law. In North Carolina the legislators responded to that by creating in the law an opt-out on the basis of religious conviction, an opt-out that is specifically for same-sex marriage. It was an opt-out law that was vetoed by the Governor of North Carolina, but the legislators believed in it to such an extent they overrode the Governor’s veto. Now it is the focus of this lawsuit, and we need to note the law that was adopted by the legislature made certain that this opt-out would apply only in cases where there was some other official who could and would issue the license and perform the ceremony according to law and so what’s clear here and this is so important is that no same-sex couple was in any danger of not getting a marriage license in any county in North Carolina or of not having a way to have that marriage ceremonialized in terms of the law. So what we’re looking at here is the fact that this lawsuit is directed not at a problem of any same-sex couple not being able to get a license, but rather at the problem as they see it that any public official could on the basis of religious conscience, Christian conscience in this case in particular, refuse to become complicit in a same-sex wedding. So what we’re looking at here is something that demands frontline attention not because we are looking at something that is basically just limited to North Carolina, but because this is evidence of what we are all as Christians going to face in the society. We’re going to face each in our own way and in our own time, the demand that either we bend the knee to this moral revolution, or we go out of business. This is a straightforward demand that there be no opt-out provision in the law on the basis of religious conviction and you’ll notice further I read the statement that comes from the lawyer with that Charlotte-based law firm bringing the suit because he says,
“And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs.”
What in the world is he talking about? Well, evidently he’s talking about the fact that tax money would support the salaries of those officials who on the basis of conviction could not authorize a same-sex marriage license or participate in the ceremony. Later in the article, Reuters came up with another way that tax money might be expended in this case when they said,
“Critics say the opt-out option discriminates against gay and lesbian couples. In one county, they said, all magistrates recused themselves, forcing public funds to be spent to bring in magistrates from elsewhere to marry local couples during short shifts.”
Now if you look at that article it’s obviously something of a long reach to even have come up with that argument, but come up with the argument they did and that’s a sign of the real challenge we are facing. One of the other things we need to note is that in a secularizing society this kind of law that respects religious conviction is becoming increasingly out of step. It’s likely that over the long haul the state of North Carolina will not be able to stand by this law or that some court will find a way to invalidate it and we’re likely to find that state-by-state, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, even nation by nation, and it’s not limited to the issue of same-sex marriage.
From the beginning of the national controversy over abortion, especially after Roe v. Wade, one of the big questions has been whether medical personnel in this country could be coerced into participating in abortions against their religious convictions and that is against the conviction that abortion is effectively murder. And most states have created so-called opt out arrangements that would allow medical personnel, in particular physicians and nurses to opt-out of abortion, but increasingly those laws are being targeted as well. In the state of Illinois, an opt out provision for pharmacists when it comes to chemical abortion, that is the dispensing of abortifacient pills, that was ended by then Governor Rod Blagojevich in one of his earliest acts in office.
Meanwhile, a story also just recently came from Sweden about a court there that has ruled that a midwife in that country akin to a nurse in the United States does not have the right to opt-out of performing an abortion. That’s another indication of how this is happening. Now Sweden is a much more secularized society at this moment than the United States, but here we see how these opt-out laws on the basis of conviction are themselves now being targeted for removal and this case in North Carolina announced just yesterday is one signal of the kind of challenge long-term, short-term and midterm we are likely to face in this country.
Study demonstrates absurdity of evolutionary worldview's explanation of morality
Next, when it comes to worldview there was a most interesting story that appeared recently in The Atlantic. It’s by Emily Esfahani Smith and the headline of the article is this,
“Is Human Morality a Product of Evolution?”
One of the things we have to note and we have to note it again and again is that if one is seriously committed to the theory of evolution in its naturalistic mainstream form, then eventually evolution has to come to explain everything. That’s because if you believe in evolution as evolution is taught in the mainstream theory worldwide, you believe in a naturalistic materialistic universe. You believe in a universe, a cosmos in which everything must be explained in purely natural and materialistic terms and that includes the human being, it includes the human mind, it includes the human heart and it includes a human understanding of morality. As The Atlantic article starts out,
“Nearly 150 years ago, Charles Darwin proposed that morality was a byproduct of evolution, a human trait that arose as natural selection shaped man into a highly social species—and the capacity for morality, he argued, lay in small, subtle differences between us and our closest animal relatives. “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”
That is a statement from Darwin’s 1871 book The Descent of Man. So the issue in terms of evolution, explaining everything, including human morality goes back not just to Darwinism, but to Darwin. And here is what is really important, even back in 1871 Charles Darwin argued that human morality must be explained by evolution and by the survival of the fittest. He simply argued that what we call morality is just a coping mechanism as human beings evolved into social creatures and the social creatures who tended to survive and replace themselves by reproduction were those who live according to these rules and we just call these rules morality. But there was something else in that statement that’s of even greater significance, because speaking of the difference between human beings and other creatures, Darwin said and I quote again,
“The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”
He is arguing there straightforwardly in 1871 that there is no basic difference between human beings and other creatures; it is simply a matter of intelligence of degrees not of kind. This is a direct rejection of the biblical worldview that tells us that God created human beings uniquely in his image and thus whether you want to call this intelligence or consciousness or morality, you’re talking about a capacity that no other animal has. It is a degree, according to Scripture, of kind not just of degree, thus, the inevitable collision between evolution and the Christian worldview. But it’s not just back in 1871 that’s why The Atlantic wrote the article. As the article continues,
“For the last 30 years, the psychologist Michael Tomasello has been studying those differences of degree.”
That is the difference of degree between humans and animals especially on the question of morality. She goes on to say,
“Trying to determine how our species’ social nature gave rise to morality.”
He’s by the way, that is Tomasello, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and he has released a book in German that is now going to be released in English known as A Natural History of Human Morality. It’s a book that certainly should have our attention, because according to The Atlantic in this book he,
“Draws on decades’ worth of work to argue for the idea that humans’ morality, unique in the animal kingdom, is a consequence of our tendency to collaborate and cooperate in ways that other great apes do not.”
Now sometimes when we talk about evolution we’re accused of reducing it to the ridiculous and yet this is an article that makes very clear, sometimes it is impossible to reduce it to greater ridiculousness, because what we face here is an evolutionist straightforwardly arguing and he’s one of the most prominent evolutionists in the world that all that distinguishes human beings and animals is that we have learned how to collaborate and how to cooperate in ways that the other animals have not. At this point it just gets more ridiculous, but simultaneously more revealing. The big innovation in Tomasello’s work is that he’s not arguing that the difference between human beings and other animals, morally speaking is just intelligence. That according to The Atlantic is the old way of understanding the difference. No, he argues in fact that it’s a social intelligence in particular that establishes the difference and that comes down to the ability to cooperate and to collaborate. He calls this his,
“Social intelligence hypothesis.”
And as The Atlantic says that’s,
“Something of an understatement. A social nature isn’t enough to fully distinguish between humans and chimpanzees.”
But it turns out, says Tomasello,
“Humans are not just socially intelligent; we’re “ultra-social” in our intelligence.”
Now follow the argument. At this point I’m reading directly from The Atlantic in its report,
“Tomasello has conducted dozens of studies to support this idea. In one study published in 2007, he and his colleagues gave 105 human toddlers, 106 chimpanzees, and 32 orangutans a battery of tests assessing their cognitive abilities in two domains: physical and social.”
I continue reading from the report,
“The researchers found that the children and the apes performed identically on the physical tasks, like using a stick to retrieve food that was out of reach or recalling which cup had food in it. But with the social tests—like learning how to solve a problem by imitating another person, or following an experimenter’s gaze to find a treat—the toddlers performed about twice as well as the apes.”
So let’s take this seriously as The Atlantic, one of the most serious magazines in America intends us to take it. This is supposedly as serious as science gets and yet we come back to the fact that here you have a researcher putting 105 human toddlers on one side and 106 chimpanzees on the other, throw in also 32 orangutans and given them a battery of tests to see how they are different, if they are different. The study goes on to tell us that,
“In a 2011 study by Tomasello and his Planck Institute colleagues, 3-year-old children and chimpanzees were given an opportunity to obtain a reward either on their own or by collaborating with another member of their species.”
So how did that research turn out? Here’s the final sentence,
“Children, the researchers found, were much more likely to collaborate than chimpanzees.”
So here you have the entirely naturalistic and materialistic worldview of mainstream evolution coming down to the fact that somehow you have to explain a difference between a chimpanzee and a three-year-old child and you come down to the fact that evidently, according to these researchers what distinguishes them is not physical ability or mere intelligence, but the fact that the human children actually will collaborate and cooperate with one another. Now, the argument goes on, Tomasello and his colleagues argue that the great distinction was between chimpanzees who never had to learn to farm and human beings who did. But as for collaboration and cooperation, my favorite line in the report is this that comes directly from Tomasello,
“It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.”
This is so revealing in terms of the modern materialistic naturalistic mind. It is the frame of mind that is not only implied by evolution, but even as Darwin basically understood way back in 1871 and that is the theory of evolution that is now considered mainstream. This is an understanding of evolution that says the way you distinguish between a three-year-old child and a chimpanzee is that, to use Tomasello’s expression, you can imagine two toddlers caring a log together but not two chimpanzees. But wait a minute, someone may say, I can imagine two chimpanzees cooperating, but no, Tomasello says, not the way children do. In parenthesis we find in the report,
“Even when chimpanzees do collaborate, there’s been no evidence to date that they have the ability to adopt complementary roles in group efforts or establish a complex division of labor.”
As I said earlier, you cannot reduce this to the absurd because it’s absurd already. Here we have prima facie evidence of where this secular worldview inevitably leads. You have to explain everything in terms of matter, of atoms and molecules and chemicals, you have to explain everything in terms of what happened in terms of the theory of natural selection. You have to explain everything, human love, human emotion and even human morality, not in terms of a transcendent God who made human beings as moral creatures, not in terms of a moral code that that God revealed, but rather in patterns of behavior that led to human survival that were eventually just called morality because they work.
Christians operating out of a biblical worldview, looking at this kind of research have to understand what’s really at stake. We’re talking here about the year irreconcilability of those who believe that human beings are material accidents of evolution and those who believe that human beings are made in God’s image. If you do hold to the understanding of anthropology of what it means to be human that is directly explicit in mainstream evolutionary theory, then you have to believe that whatever we call morality isn’t really about morals. It’s about patterns of behavior that lead to increased chances of survival. But you also see this worldview division reduced to researchers with 105 human toddlers and 106 chimpanzees studying them all together to determine how exactly they are different and coming down to again my favorite line in the report saying that you can conceive of two toddlers caring a log together, but not two chimpanzees.
But once again, it all goes back to that foundational statement made so honestly by Charles Darwin way back in 1871 when he said,
“The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”
If that is true, morality is a mirage, human life, human existence is an accident and everything we call meaning is just an explanation for why we rather than some other species have survived.
Reading important to childhood development, central to Christian faith
Next, something many Christians actually don’t think about adequately is the fact that reading, literacy, books and writing have been very important to biblical faith from the very beginning. We find this in the Old Testament where the written text of the law to begin with and then of the Scriptures becomes very, very important. Israel’s very identity came down, not just to 10 moral statements known as the 10 Commandments, but to what were called these 10 words that were actual words given by God on two tablets of stone. From the very beginning Israel’s identity was established with revealed words, words which came from God himself. In the New Testament we see a continuation of that confidence in the power of the written word. You even had Jesus himself speaking of the law on the Sermon on the Mount, who said that not one jot or tittle would pass away until all, that is not even a punctuation mark, until all has been fulfilled. In the New Testament we have the continuation and the expansion of the doctrine of Scripture, going all the way from the written word and the prophetic word to the fulfilled word and then the apostolic word and then we have the New Testament as it is. And in that New Testament we find the apostle Paul at the very end of his life as he writes to Timothy, asking Timothy at the end stage of his life and ministry as an apostle to bring the books and the parchment. Christianity wherever it is been found has been found with the movement towards literacy, not just because of the importance to human beings of being able to read and write, but because of the importance of being able to read and understand the Scriptures. Where you find Christianity in its most classical expression, where you find it in terms of its most intensive theological identity, such as at the Reformation you have a clear link between Christian faith and the written word. After all, one of Martin Luther’s most urgent acts after the Reformation had begun was to translate the Scriptures, which he believed to be not only the written word of God but the inherent and infallible word of God, into the German language so that the common German could read it. Where you find Christianity you find books and scrolls and parchments and schools.
Keep this in mind with an article that appeared to just in recent days of the New York Times, it’s the future tense column by Teddy Wayne and he’s writing something that should be of great interest to us. He writes about the difference in the lives of children who are raised in houses with books versus houses without books. He cites a study published in 2014 in the sociology journal Social Forces and I quote,
“Researchers measured the impact of the size of home libraries on the reading level of 15-year-old students across 42 nations, controlling for wealth, parents’ education and occupations, gender and the country’s gross national product.
After G.N.P., the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance.”
I read from the text,
“The greatest effect was seen in libraries of about 100 books, which resulted in approximately 1.5 extra years of grade-level reading performance.”
Wayne then writes,
“Libraries matter even more than money; in the United States, with the size of libraries being equal, students coming from the top 10 percent of wealthiest families performed at just one extra grade level over students from the poorest 10 percent.”
In other words, you increase wealth; you don’t necessarily increase education by all that much, but if you do change the context of how many books are in the home, you make a very important difference. Wayne writes,
“The implications are clear: Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically.”
Of course, the implication here is that parents have books in the home, presumably they are readers, but the biggest thing is they modeled reading, that’s what the study makes very clear. But the presence of books is itself important, because a book is an invitation to be read. If the book is not there, the invitation is absent. For Christian parents this should be really, really interesting and I hope more than interesting. It tells us that even as God has made us in his image and even as Christianity has understood the importance of reading and text, most importantly with the word of God, having worthy books in the home is itself a part of the moral, intellectual and yes, spiritual formation of a child, even measured just in reading ability. It turns out that if a book is there that book might just invite the opportunity to be read and more importantly, children who see their parents reading tend to read. It seems like this would be important to Christian parents at any time, but especially perhaps at Christmas time. I’ll let you think about it.