February 12, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, February 12, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Discovery of gravitational waves wonderful, but the universe cannot tell its story alone
Huge scientific news announced yesterday, Adrian Cho writing for Science magazine tells us this:
“Long ago, deep in space, two massive black holes—the ultrastrong gravitational fields left behind by gigantic stars that collapsed to infinitesimal points—slowly drew together. The stellar ghosts spiraled ever closer, until, about 1.3 billion years ago, they whirled about each other at half the speed of light and finally merged. The collision,” says Science Magazine, “sent a shudder through the universe: ripples in the fabric of space and time called gravitational waves. Five months ago,” the magazine tells us, “they washed past Earth. And, for the first time, physicists detected the waves, fulfilling a 4-decade quest and opening new eyes on the heavens.”Show Full Transcript
Now from a Christian worldview perspective, some immediate questions arise even as indicated by the headlines that came yesterday and even as indicated in that first paragraph in the story from Science magazine, which is, after all, the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. First of all, what is embedded in this article is a particular worldview, a naturalistic, materialistic worldview that tells us that the universe has to be relied upon to tell its own story of its own origin, of its own creation, of its own design or lack of design, and its own purpose. Christians have to start in a very, very different place. We do not believe that it is up to the universe to tell its own story. We do believe that the universe is telling a story indeed, as the psalmist says,
“The heavens declare the glory of God.”
But we also believe there are two huge problems in relying upon the world and our powers of observation to tell us the story of the universe. The first problem is the effect of sin on the universe itself, and the second is the effect of sin upon our own cognitive abilities. But Christians looking at this, totally committed to Scripture, totally committed to the scriptural account of creation, fully committed to the historicity of all that is recorded in Scripture, including the opening chapters of the book of Genesis, do not have to look at a story like this and say it’s completely false. No, the Christian worldview tells us that we should understand that human beings have an innate desire to understand the world around us and to interpret it.
By the way there is something very important here that affirms the fact that we are actually creatures of a sovereign and omnipotent God who made us in his image. A part of being in his image is the desire to understand and to know the cosmos around us. We can count upon the fact that cows out in the pasture are not pondering the deep meanings of the universe even as they stare up into the starry heavens. Human beings are quite different. We cannot not ask certain questions.
But we also need to understand that so much of what is now presented as modern science is dependent upon a materialistic and naturalistic worldview that not only is at odds with the biblical account, not only is an alternative to the biblical account, but actually represents a head-on collision. But as I said, once again, we don’t have to deny when we see a story like this that it could possibly be telling us something of the truth. We just have to go back to the Christian worldview and remember, this is not where we get the main story, and that’s a huge issue. Every worldview starts with a main story and determines how different findings, arguments, facts, and figures are to fit within that worldview. It really doesn’t happen the other way around; in other words, that they just look at the facts and then draw the conclusions, they deny the obvious and that is that they came with a great deal of understanding; they came to what they’re calling facts with a worldview that helps them to understand, indeed determines how they will understand the very meaning of the facts they now claim to know.
To put the matter bluntly, there would be a head-on collision between the biblical worldview and the total world picture that is implied by the announcement that came yesterday, but we need to note that the basic conflict is deeper even than that and that is this, much of what was announced yesterday is predicated upon a foundational worldview, and that worldview is the fact that the universe not only must be relied upon alone to tell the story of itself, but also is predicated upon a worldview that tells us that the world is simply a natural, material accident. But you’ll notice in the announcement that came yesterday, even those operating out of that worldview, especially in fields like astronomy and cosmology, do think it is a very wondrous materialistic accident.
Looking at the announcement made yesterday, even as Christians do not share the worldview, we can share the sense of wonder, and we can also understand something really, really important. When scientists make a report like this, they are not intending to deceive us. They are actually operating on the basis of a worldview, and they’re also operating on the basis of the scientific method, a method, we should note, that arose in countries and civilizations that had operated on a basically Christian worldview. It is the Christian biblical understanding of the fact that God not only made the universe, but made it intelligible or understandable to human creatures that is the very basis of what we call modern science.
Now to be candid, I don’t believe that the world is 1.3 billion years old, certainly not billions of years old; I don’t even believe that is actually millions of years old. But one of the interesting things we need to note here is that the scientists who believe that believe it because they are looking at certain patterns that, to their observation, tell them that. And what we need to note is this, if we ourselves were operating from a simply materialistic and naturalistic worldview, we would probably come to the very same conclusions. The fact is we do not operate out of that worldview. But we can share the wonder of those scientists who made the announcement yesterday associated with LIGO, that is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory—there are two of them in the United States, both of them include giant antenna that are more than 4 km long, and those antenna have been picking up sounds and gravitational waves that, according to the announcement yesterday, are actually proving Einstein’s theory of relativity and in particular his idea of gravitational waves—something that Einstein himself was not convinced would be proved to be real. But according to Science yesterday, now they have been heard and perhaps even seen, and they were heard by these giant LIGO observatories; and what was heard, according to that lede you heard from Science magazine, is supposedly the collision between two giant black holes 1.3 billion years ago.
So what do Christians do with that? We step back and look at the situation and understand that something marvelous is being observed here. Something was heard. Those instruments detected something. Christians don’t believe that what was heard is fitting a pattern that these scientists believe explains the universe, because we don’t believe the universe explains itself. When we look at what was announced yesterday, we come to it with the full affirmation of all that is revealed in Scripture and of everything Scripture tells us about creation. And we come to understand that a world that is corrupted and affected by sin will actually give us, even through the scientific method, false data that can lead people to false conclusions. And we also understand that we are fallen, fragile, fallible thinkers and so as we look at this, if we’re operating from a basically secular worldview, if we believe the universe is going to have to tell us the story all on its own, then there’s no way we’re going to come up with the right story.
Yesterday, Air & Space magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution concluded its report on the scientific finding by saying,
“Scientists have ‘opened a new window’ in the field of astronomy, as Reitze said, like optical, radio, and X-ray astronomy before it, and the incredible discoveries that followed from those observations.”
The story went on to conclude,
“Astronomers hope to observe these space-time disturbances made from all sorts of exotic interactions in the universe—supernovas, neutron stars, even from the rapid expansion of spacetime from just after the Big Bang. And this new window might show us something even weirder.”
One scientist said,
“Gravitational waves are so radically different than electromagnetic waves, I think we’re going to be really surprised what we find.”
On that note, Christians will respond, “Oh, I think we’ll be very surprised what we find.” At the end of the day, all of us as human beings cannot help trying to explain the world around us. But as this story reminds us, we cannot count upon the universe on its own to tell us the story. And we can’t count on ourselves, even the most brilliant and highly trained among us, to come to a right understanding of the world, taking the world is telling its own story. We are dependent upon Holy Scripture. And we are dependent upon the Creator telling us not only that he created the world, but the meaning of the world and all the creatures within it. And at the end of the day it all comes down for Christians with how the Scripture begins.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
And once again, as the psalmist reminds us,
“The heavens declare the glory of God.”
Pope and Russian Orthodox Patriarch to make history discussing future of Christianity
Next, it tells us a great deal about the world around us and the secularization of the modern mind that the story that we just mentioned made the front pages of almost all the major news sources, but buried far deeper in those websites, if indeed announced at all in major media, was a headline covered by Christianity Today yesterday. The headline is this,
“Why Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill Will Make Christian History in Cuba Tomorrow.”
Evangelicals looking at a headline like this might think that the story is not all that significant. But something of massive significance is here. The Pope and the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church have not met together in the same place at the same time at least since the 11th century. Today’s Christians need to understand that one of the most momentous events in the history of Christianity is what is known as the Great Schism. This was the great division between Eastern and Western Christianity, splitting Christendom in two, and it took place formally in the year 1054—that’s right, right in the center of the 11th century.
Going back to the debate that separated not only Eastern and Western Christianity, as the Roman Empire had also been divided between its Eastern and its Western manifestations, we come to understand that there were basic theological issues at stake. It might sound like a very small matter, but the most important creedal or theological issue that led to the division of Christianity in 1054 was the question as to whether or not the creed should include the statement that the Holy Spirit preceded from the Father and the Son, or just from the Father. The Eastern Church insisted on “from the Father,” the Western church insisted on “from the Father and from the Son,” the so-called Filioque clause in the creed. That divided the church, but as you might suspect, there were other issues that led to the great schism as well. And at the center of that was the relative authority of the papacy, whether or not the Pope was actually a Bishop over all bishops, and whether or not he held a universal and ecumenical authority over all Christian bishops and thus over the East and over the West.
The Patriarch and various leaders in the East rejected the universal claims of the papacy that was behind this as well. There were other minor theological debates, including whether or not leavened or unleavened bread was to be used in the mass of the Eucharist, that is the Lord’s Supper, but at the end of the day the big issue is Christendom was rent asunder. And it divided in the Great Schism in the year 1054. Now in terms of American history, we understand that the American Revolution began in 1776, our Constitution came around in 1789—we’re talking about a very recent nation. But in terms of the human lifespan, going back to 1776 seems like going back to almost ancient history. Imagine going back to the year 1054 to a theological debate that divided the Christian church in the year 1054 and, by the way, set the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom in two very different directions.
This is where evangelical Christians need to watch very, very closely because what happened after 1054 is that the Eastern Church, Eastern Christendom, the Eastern Orthodox Church as they are mainly known now, moved to embrace a theological method that is rooted in “mystery” and the inability to define the Christian faith in specific doctrines. Over against that was the Western church that moved in a very different direction, insisting that though there are mysteries in terms of the Christian faith, the Christian faith is intended to be a rational faith that can be defined in certain doctrines, which is to say that if you follow that trajectory, you can draw a line from 1054 and the division of the church into Eastern and Western Christendom to the Reformation that began in the 16th century. The Reformation could only have taken place in Western Christianity. That is, it could only have taken place in the context of what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church, rather than the Eastern Orthodox Church. Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century to the present day can have a theological disagreement on specific doctrines and will talk about those doctrines and debate those doctrines, even if they divide over those doctrines. The Eastern Orthodox Church represents a very different understanding of Christianity, of theological method, of how worship should take place, it’s far more sensual in the Eastern Church than in the Western church and, for that matter, how we are to understand issues of religious authority.
What then happened that explained why Pope Francis is to meet with the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill for several hours today in a neutral location in Cuba at the Havana airport? It is because of the effort of ISIS and others to expunge Christianity from so much of the Middle East, especially in the countries identified as a part of the Middle East and North Africa or MENA. In those nations as we have seen, there is the very real possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that there will be no Christians remainin; and Christians have been there, we should note, all the way from the time of the apostles in this part of the world and many of those Christians are in churches that would include ties to both Rome and to Moscow and Constantinople, in other words, churches that are aligned with both the East and the West. What has brought the Pope and the Patriarch together is a shared concern that Christianity may be forced out of these Middle Eastern and North African countries in toto after 2,000 years of Christian presence.
So just consider this: A meeting that is taking place between two fairly elderly men in the Havana airport today actually represents something of far greater significance than most people in the world will ever understand. A disagreement that came to a head in the year 1054 is being set aside by the Pope and the Patriarch because of their joint concern that Christianity is going to be expunged from the entire Middle East and North Africa. The announcement released by the Vatican and by the Patriarch of Moscow announced that there is not expected to be any reconciliation of the theological debate that goes back to the year 1054. There is instead a shared concern that brings these two men together. But evangelicals looking at this from a biblical worldview are reminded of the fact that history is always present around us, even when people do not understand it. That explains the real significance of the fact that these two men are going to be meeting in 2016 at an airport in Havana, Cuba, having not had face-to-face relations, not just for all their lifetimes but going all the way back to the year 1054.
Drafting mothers and daughters not only bad policy, but contrary to God's design
Finally, looking at a more recent controversy that could only have arisen in very recent times, we have seen that there has been a move in the United States that will require young women by logic to register for the draft along with young men, and we have seen the heads of two branches of our armed services—the Army Chief of Staff and the Commandant of Marine Corps—tell a Congressional committee that the time had come, that women, young women, should be required to register for the Selective Service draft on the same basis as young men; and as we said on The Briefing several days ago that is a very ominous development.
A couple things to note here. First of all, we were told that to even raise this issue just a matter of years ago was insanity, that it was an irrational proposal that would never happen. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court of United States ruled back in 1981 in a case known as Rostker v. Goldberg that men and women have different roles in society and in nature and that this was justification for rejecting the argument that was unconstitutional to limit registration for the draft to men as being somehow sexist. But now we’re not living in 1981. We’re living in 2016, and in just a matter of the last several weeks what we were told could never happen has now been proposed not only by the heads of two branches of the United States armed services, but by Senators, including Senator John McCain, not only well known as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, but is also a very decorated veteran who has vast influence not only in the Republican Party, but in Congress on matters having to do with military affairs. But it was particularly brought to urgency on Saturday night in the Republican presidential debate when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio each endorsed the idea that women as well as men should be required to register for the draft.
That is a disastrous proposal, and those operating out of a Christian worldview have to understand that far more is at stake than our armed services, far more is at stake than our national security, far more is certainly at stake than the draft. What is at stake is the most basic question, and that is, is there an inherent difference between men and women? And beyond that is a question that is inevitable by extension, is there an obligation upon men to protect women? Is there something in nature that is distinct between men and women that means that men have a responsibility to protect women and should not put women in harm’s way in order to protect themselves? That’s the basic issue that is at stake here.
To its credit, the Editorial Board of the National Review got right to the point by saying,
“Only a Barbaric Nation Drafts Its Mothers and Daughters into Combat.”
It’s hard to come up with a better one-sentence argument for the essence of this issue than that. As the editors wrote, there are actually good military reasons why men and women should not be drafted together. There are actually good military reasons why the Obama administration should not have opened all positions of military combat to women. But the editors say that’s not the only argument,
“Indeed, there are other fundamental reasons to oppose not just the presence of women in the infantry but their forcible conscription into its ranks. Such a policy inverts natural law and the rules that have grounded our civilization for thousands of years.”
The next sentences are these,
“Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters. Indeed, we see this reality every time there is a mass shooting. Boyfriends throw themselves over girlfriends, and even strangers and acquaintances often give themselves up to save the woman closest to them.”
They then ask the question,
“Who can forget the story of 45-year-old Shannon Johnson wrapping his arms around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and declaring ‘I got you’ before falling to the San Bernardino shooters’ bullets?”
Speaking of combat in a very graphic example the editors then said,
“That is war. It is not a video game. It is not a movie, where young Hollywood starlets karate-kick their way through masses of inept thugs and goons. When we order women into ground combat, we are ordering them into situations where men larger and stronger than they will show no mercy.”
I cannot explain why those three Republican presidential candidates—actually one of them Chris Christie has dropped out of the race—I cannot explain why they felt the need to make that argument in Saturday night’s debate, but it is a disastrous argument. And we should note that it is not just a question about the draft, as pressing and urgent as that question will be. It is, as the editors of National Review pointed out, the question as to whether or not we are now going to be prepared to draft our mothers and daughters into combat. Yesterday it was announced that Senator Rubio is joining Senator Ted Cruz and others in an effort to pass legislation that would deny the President’s authority to decide this issue unilaterally. But that’s not enough. This is not just a question of who decides, it is a question of what is decided. And a civilized society says right up front and candidly, “We will not draft our mothers and our daughters, and we will not send them forcibly into combat. To confuse that question is to confuse something so basic that you have to wonder if any society can survive such a confusion.