The Briefing 05-09-17

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Can we really erase gender? MTV's gender-neutral prizes awarded for gendered roles on the big screen

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Politics with a side of sports: ESPN doubles down on politics-infused sports coverage

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Science, philosophy, and the origins of our 'post-truth era'

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Stephen Hawking says humanity has just 100 years to find a new home. But do major media believe him?

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And they think our worldview is strange: TIME reports aliens probably wouldn't eat us after all

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Transcript

The Briefing

May 9, 2017

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, May 9, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Can we really erase gender? MTV's gender-neutral prizes awarded for gendered roles on the big screen

We stand almost every day at the intersection between worldview and popular culture. Entertainment is a huge part of that popular culture. This became important Sunday night at the MTV Movie and TV Awards. As Christopher D. Shea reported for the New York Times,

“Emma Watson made a potent call for breaking down gender categories as she scooped up the gender-neutral film acting prize at the MTV Movie and TV Awards, in a speech that was broadcast on Sunday night.”

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According to Emma Watson this is an award “that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex,” and she said that award “says something about how we perceive the human experience.”

Watson won for her performance in the Disney remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” She went on to say,

“MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone, but to me it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”

Now it is also noteworthy that Millie Bobby Brown, identified as the 13-year-old star of the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” won what was identified as the gender-neutral award for best acting in a television series, but let’s go back to the supposedly newsworthy aspect of this story.

In the first place, later in the story we find out that, contrary to Emma Watson’s statement, this isn’t actually the first time that MTV has presented a gender-neutral award for film acting. It turns out, by the count of the New York Times, this is the third time. But what makes this different is that MTV and the award recipient, Emma Watson, have decided to make a big issue out of this, holding it out as a symbol of what is presented as progress in terms of our understanding of the fluidity of gender.

But wait just a minute. The fluidity of gender turns out to be a very false premise, even a false promise in terms of this news story. For example, even though Emma Watson was the recipient of what’s here claimed to be a gender-neutral award, the fact is that everyone understands Emma Watson to be a female actor, an actress. And furthermore, the role she played, the role for which she won the prize, was after all Beauty in the Disney remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” That’s not exactly a gender-neutral statement.

The idea that the award should be gender-neutral isn’t limited to MTV. Conversation in public having to do with the recent Academy Awards in Hollywood raise some of the same issues. At least some in Hollywood seem to be embarrassed that that community, having overwhelmingly joined the transgender revolution, still finds itself in the somewhat embarrassing position of presenting awards to male and female categories. But that might not stand for long.

Hollywood seems in this MTV statement to be very clear that it intends now to be gender-neutral. But, of course, again, that simply flies in the face of the reality of the products that Hollywood is actually putting out. Most of those products, even though there may be some transgender characters, the vast majority of those characters are very certain that they’re either male or female, and the same is true for actors and actresses. Another thing that became very interesting is the statement here that the MTV prizes according to the New York Times underwent an overhaul this year that included scrapping the male and female acting categories and renaming what was previously called the MTV movie awards. The winners were chosen, we are told, by public vote.

Now there’s something else that’s interesting here from a worldview perspective. It has to do with the fact that Hollywood loves awards. As a matter of fact, the MTV awards are simply one in a series, including the Academy Awards, whereby the entertainment industry present awards to itself. And one of the interesting things to note here, as some inside Hollywood have certainly already noted, however this story ends, it’s not going to end with a net reduction in the number of awards presented and the statues that are handed over. The reason for that is quite simple. Hollywood is not going to miss an opportunity, it’s not going to reduce its opportunity to honor its own. Even if there will be a distinction no longer made between male and female in the highest acting categories, they will simply come up with some new categories because they’re not going to cut themselves short on those famous statues and awards passed out.

One of the things we have regularly noted on The Briefing is the fact that the LGBT revolution has set loose a logic that it will not be able to sustain. Just in terms of the transgender revolution taken by itself, it has set loose a number of uncertainties that will lead to insurmountable problems even for those who are doing their dead-level best to celebrate and to join this revolution. There are some basic inconsistencies, some basic contradictions even in the heart of this revolution. A part of this has to do with the fact that there is the continued insistence that gender doesn’t matter; it can’t matter; it shouldn’t matter. The award for best acting, it’s implied in this statement, simply shouldn’t be determined in any way by distinction between male and female. But continue to note that Hollywood will continue to make that distinction when it comes to its storylines and its casting decisions.

The most immediate thing of worldview importance here is what this signals to remind us about the importance of understanding what is at stake in terms of worldview when it comes to the products of popular culture, specifically of entertainment, what’s coming out of Hollywood. It is not worldview neutral. It’s not morally neutral, not by a longshot. And one of the signals of how we are to understand what Hollywood is about and how it thinks of itself is indeed in the awards it presents to itself, such as Sunday night in the MTV Movie and TV awards.

Politics with a side of sports: ESPN doubles down on politics-infused sports coverage

When it comes to the intersection of worldview and popular culture, it’s not just entertainment. It is often what might be classified as entertainment but is actually deservedly understood in a somewhat different category, and that is America’s obsession with sports. This leads to an important article by James Freeman at the Wall Street Journal entitled,

“The Politics of ESPN.”

Here’s the bottom line in the story. ESPN began as the great juggernaut, cable juggernaut in terms of professional and collegiate sports, but lately ESPN has been imploding in terms of its viewership. As a matter of fact, consumers have been canceling their expensive monthly pay-TV packages in favor of either smaller packages or streaming services that provide them the same things otherwise. We are told that over the past five years ESPN has gone from 99 million subscribers to 87.44. Now that might not sound like a lot, but in terms of the financial bottom line, that’s near catastrophic. And the Wall Street has certainly caught on. But what’s also something we need to catch onto is the fact that ESPN is also losing subscribers, it now admits, because of its politicization. And make no mistake, that politicization has been towards the left. Consumers who thought they were buying a sports package turned out to be buying a sports and politics package.

Freeman cited an interview that had been covered by the New York Post. The interview had been given by ESPN anchor Linda Cohn. According to the Post,

“The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.”

The interesting thing here is that the ESPN anchor confirmed this. In the response to the question as to whether or not some of the consumers were leaving because they’re offended by the leftist politics, Cohn said,

“That is definitely a percentage of it.”

Cohn went on to say,

“I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

Freeman, writing for the Wall Street Journal, then went on to cite research undertaken by the group Deep Root Analytics. This provides a very clear statistical survey of the fact that the network has been inserting politics, and very leftward politics. Freeman then asked,

“Does ESPN think that perhaps it should lighten up on the politics? The channel seems to want to go even heavier. ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady recently wrote that the network has new guidelines that,” in his words, “loosen the restraints on commentary about politics and culture, though stressing that such discussion should connect to sports whenever possible.”

Freeman then says,

“One has to wonder how long sports fans will tolerate paying heavy subscription fees for a sports channel that promises to mention sports ‘whenever possible.’”

He went on to say that even having a public editor in terms of journalism is, as he said, “strong evidence that what used to be a fun sports network is taking itself too seriously.”

Later in the article, ESPN’s public editor indicates that he knows there are many consumers and subscribers who simply do not appreciate this leftward political stance undertaken by ESPN, but he also made clear, not only is the network not retreating, it’s going to be going further. He said,

“ESPN has made it clear: It’s not sticking to sports.”

Well, just to make the point abundantly clear, the subscribers thought they were paying for sports. Now they’re being told that is not all they’re going to get, so deal with it. Just how far is ESPN willing to go? Well as Bre Payton at the Federalist reported in recent days,

“The sports network that’s hemorrhaging viewers and purging much of its on-air talent, on Tuesday published a poetry tribute to a woman who was convicted of killing a police officer.”

She then says that,

“ESPN seems to have realized it went too far and has updated its story.”

As she says,

“An editor’s note on the piece now says: An earlier version of ‘Five Poets on the New Feminism’ featured Revolution by Dr. DaMaris Hill. We have decided it is not an appropriate selection for our site, and have removed it from the feature.”

We can simply interject at this point the necessary question, Who exactly is watching ESPN or going to its website in order to find anything that would be entitled “Five Poets on the New Feminism”?

That would seem to be a fair question. But once again, as with the case of the story of the MTV awards, the big issue here is the fundamental reminder that there is no stance of neutrality in terms of the culture. Everyone is trying to sell some kind of moral worldview, and now you know that not only includes those who are suspected of doing so, that is those who are behind the products of Hollywood, it is also a very powerful reminder that the same messaging is coming from some sources from whom you might not expect it, such as ESPN, the cable sports network—or so it says. The most fundamental issue here is that we had always better watch what we’re watching.

Science, philosophy, and the origins of our 'post-truth era'

But now shifting to the even more fundamental question of truth, writing again at the Wall Street Journal, Crispin Sartwell, who’s a professor of philosophy at Dickinson College, produced an article with the headline,

“Let’s Get Metaphysical About Trump and the ‘Post-Truth Era.’”

The political dimensions of this story really aren’t either interesting or important. What is interesting is that Professor Sartwell gets to the heart of the fact that there is within the Academy and has been for a very, very long time a fundamental disagreement about the very nature of truth, and not only that, about the knowability of truth. Professor Sartwell’s immediate concern is to insist that this debate over truth doesn’t date back to the fall 2016. Rather, it dates back to ancient philosophy and the earliest academic and philosophical conversations. But he goes on to make some admissions that many observers might not understand. For instance, he says,

“Philosophers may not know what truth is.”

Now that’s been a fundamental problem in the Academy for a very, very long time. And as he makes clear, there are rival theories of truth that have ancient rootage but continued conversation. It’s also interesting that he points out that in the American Academy it is a pragmatic notion of truth that has often held sway, going back to philosophers such as John Dewey and Charles Peirce, and most particularly, William James. Those three philosophers were those known as the most luminary in the metaphysical club, as it was called, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States.

The interesting thing for us to note is that they argued for a pragmatic theory of truth, and by that they meant not only as is often popularized that truth is whatever works, William James went so far as to say that truth actually doesn’t exist. There are no true ideas or propositions in themselves. Instead, he said, truth happens to an idea. Now that’s a very subversive theory of truth, and yet the thing to understand is that that theory of truth has held sway, even a dominant position, in much of the American Academy for a century or more now. If it has given way to anything, it has been to an even greater relativism when it comes to truth.

Postmodernism, as it was known particularly in the 80s and 90s in the American Academy with continuing relevance even now, insisted that truth in itself simply doesn’t exist. Postmodernism argued for an ultimate, radical relativism when it comes to truth, a destabilizing of truth claims and a subversion, of course, of historic truth claims such as those made by Christianity.

But the important thing to recognize now as we have already noted on The Briefing is how many on the left are now absolutely appalled that there would be any suspicion that truth might not exist. They insist on the truthfulness of facts. But what they’re really talking about is their own insistence on their set of facts. An illustration of this pattern was found recently in an article in the London newspaper, the Financial Times. Clive Cookson reports that the BBC is reviving a science program of decades past entitled “Tomorrow’s World.”

He cites a professor, in this case Brian Cox, a physics professor. He was also in the original program. In speaking of his support for the new program, he went on to say that he wanted to fight against “a deep crisis of confidence which threatens a retreat into a destructive relativism where all ideas are equal and free from challenge by facts.”

Now at this point we simply have to wonder if Professor Cox recognizes that his academic colleagues are the very ones who have sown this suspicion of truth in what he describes as “a retreat into a destructive relativism.”

That basically describes the mainstream establishment academics on both sides of the Atlantic for the better part of the last half-century. But even as many aware of the pattern in the modern Academy may suspect that some of these figures are more part of the problem than the solution, this is where biblically minded Christians need to understand that we do deeply sympathize with Professor Cox’s concern about our society retreating into a destructive relativism. The biblical worldview is by no means relativistic. We, after all, follow a Savior who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father by me.” That is in one short sentence an absolute refutation of relativism.

Stephen Hawking says humanity has just 100 years to find a new home. But do major media believe him?

And now even as we consider why there might be confusion over these issues, I turn to an article that appeared in recent days in another London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. Here’s a headline for you,

“Stephen Hawking: Mankind has 100 years to find a new home beyond Earth if we are to survive”

Now let me let you hear that headline again,

“Mankind has 100 years to find a new home, meaning beyond Earth if we are to survive”

Now the Hawking in this case is, of course, the estimable physicists and astronomer, Stephen Hawking. He’s described as an astrophysicist, and he has now made a new documentary called “Expedition New Earth.” which is a part of that BBC series we just talked about. According to Sarah Knapton, the science editor for the Daily Telegraph, Professor Hawking will claim,

“Time is running out for Earth, and if humanity is to survive climate change, asteroid strikes, epidemics and overpopulation, we will need to leave our planet and venture further afield.”

Now let’s just pause and try our very best to take this at face value. Here you have one the most influential British newspapers, the Daily Telegraph. Here you have one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world, Stephen Hawking. Here you have a man who is held up as the very epitome of modern science, and now we have a man who is telling us they we’re going to have to leave planet earth in 100 years or we’re going to face the destruction of the human race. Now even in recent months Professor Hawking has said we had 1000 years, but he’s recalculated and now he says we only have 100 years.

Here’s what’s really interesting. I don’t know if he believes what he’s saying, but I do not believe that the Daily Telegraph or other major media actually believe that what he’s saying could be true. Why do I say that? It’s not because they make any such statement in the article. After all, they even give him the headline saying the mankind has 100 years to find a new home or to face extinction. But why do I believe they don’t believe it? Because this article is found on page 9 of the inside edition of the Daily Telegraph. What’s the point? well I hope it’s clear. If the Daily Telegraph actually believed that there was anything to Stephen Hawking’s prediction that we’re going to have to leave earth in 100 years or face extinction, it would appear on page 1, not inside the newspaper on page 9, also below the fold.

So to put this in a nutshell, the BBC has decided it is going to try to buttress the authority of science by coming out with a series in which one of the very first episodes presents one of Britain’s leading scientists, respected all over the world, saying that humanity has to leave planet earth within 100 years or we will not survive. And, well, it just serves to show that in trying to buttress the authority of science, my guess is, it’s going to do exactly the opposite. And my guess is the Daily Telegraph has figured that out. That’s why it appeared on page 9.

Hawking has been warning about various threats to human existence for some time. Here he mentions overpopulation and climate change, amongst others, but he’s also warned against the threat to the human race that would be posed by extraterrestrials or by artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence seems to have the greater part of his attention now. He told the series once humans develop artificial intelligence,

“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”

He said,

“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

So Hawking, who again is a theorist of evolution, thinks that our evolution in his view is going too slowly to keep up with what will be the threat from artificial intelligence, which will evolve more quickly. The most important thing to recognize here is what we see is evidence of the inevitable outcome of a merely mechanistic and naturalistic worldview. According to that worldview, the cosmos itself is nothing but a chance accident, and human beings are merely a part of that accident, a part of that accident that was produced by evolution and now is trapped in a far too slow evolutionary development.

And they think our worldview is strange: TIME reports aliens probably wouldn't eat us after all

But before we can leave all these issues, we simply have to remark that Time magazine had to get in on the act in recent days. The current issue of Time magazine includes an article by Sarah Begley that is entitled,

“Why Aliens Would Probably Come in Peace”

According to the Begley article, science fiction has warped the understanding of many Americans such that we fear aliens from outer space—that would include, by the way, non-Americans such as Professor Stephen Hawking. But her point is we simply shouldn’t fear the aliens because aliens would probably come in peace. Why does she believe this?

Well, she says number one, we have fallen prey to the myth that aliens would eat us. But she assures us that in order for aliens to get nourishment from eating us, their bodies would have to be capable of processing our molecules. She says that’s unlikely, so scratch off that worry. She says myth number two is that aliens would breed with us. She goes on to say that’s overwhelmingly improbable. She then says another one of the myths that is perpetuated by science fiction but would be corrected by science is that aliens would look like us, but she says that our evolution in her description would be very different from their evolution. So there’s no predictability they would look anything like us. Myth number four is that aliens would be living creatures, but here she goes on to say that modern science would predict that they might not be the products of biosis at all, living in terms of our understanding of living. And finally, she says the myth is that aliens would steal our water and metal. But she goes on to say, if they’re so much unlike us, it’s unlikely they’re actually coming to kill us or eat us or breed with us or to steal our water and our metal.

All this we are told is the product of research undertaken by Jim Al-Khalili in the new book Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. So if you’re the kind of person who’s been kept up late at night worried about aliens who might come to try to eat us or to steal our water and metal, according to this review of the thinking of leading scientists in the world, you need not worry so much. But my guess is that if that’s what actually worries you, reassurance coming from this review of the top scientists in the world published in Time magazine probably won’t cure that worry.

The most important thing to remember from the biblical worldview is this: if you abandon and reject the biblical understanding of the world, then you are going to have to come up with some other understanding. This evidently is the kind of understanding that shows up in the pages of Time magazine. And just remember this: they think that it’s our worldview that is strange.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing