The Briefing 05-30-17

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NPR asks Richard Dawkins: Why do more religious people give their lives for human good than atheists?

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Study shows fathers and mothers parent boys and girls differently. But secularists want this to change.

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Why is the left unhappy with Trump's proposal for paid family leave? It isn't "free" for employers.

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Transcript

The Briefing

May 30, 2017

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

It’s Tuesday, May 30, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

NPR asks Richard Dawkins: Why do more religious people give their lives for human good than atheists?

Richard Dawkins, often described as the world’s most famous atheist, recently had a conversation with National Public Radio. The interview was broadcast this past Saturday. The interviewer was Scott Simon, a veteran NPR journalist. The conversation was pretty much what you would expect from Richard Dawkins, antagonistic to all religious belief, theism in particular, caustic, and as always, intellectually condescending. The subject matter was pretty much what you would expect, until it wasn’t.

Dawkins, we are told, is in the United States making a series of appearances for an organization known as the Center for Inquiry. That’s a major secular organization in the United States. According to NPR he’s going to be speaking in Los Angeles, Boulder, Colorado, Washington D.C., and Miami, Florida. Scott Simon began by asking him about the horrifying attack that took place recently in Manchester in England. As you might expect, Richard Dawkins traced it all back to the very dangerous existence of religious belief, any form of religious belief. Dawkins was at least careful to say that not all religious people are personally dangerous, but he left no mistake about the fact that in his view religious belief in any form is toxic and inherently volatile. In his words, it takes religion to “motivate people to do terrible things.”

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But this is where the conversation took a rather unexpected turn. Scott Simon, speaking to Dawkins, said this,

“Look, I respect atheists and atheism. But I want to pick up a nice argument we used to have every couple of years with Christopher Hitchens, your friend. And that’s – you can respect atheism. I’ve covered a lot of wars, famines and tragedies. And it seems to me, truly, every theater of suffering I’ve ever been to, there is a dauntless nun, priest, clergy or religious person who was working very selflessly and bravely there for the good of human beings.”

Then Simon said,

“And I don’t run into organized groups of atheists who do this.”

Dawkins didn’t like this change in the conversation. He said,

“I don’t deny that there are a lot of religious people who do good things, including in the ashes of war.”

He said specifically,

“There are a lot of good people in the world. Some of them are religious. Some of them are not.”

He then identified the group with which he is now affiliated, the Center for Inquiry, and he said that it’s doing a lot of good work on secular terms, most specifically rescuing people in danger of their lives, he said, “because they’re apostates or blasphemous and are threatened. “

This is a program known as Secular Rescue. Now that’s interesting in and of itself. We should note that Christians should be specifically against any form of legislation against blasphemy for the very reason that Richard Dawkins here points out. But what’s really interesting at this point in the conversation is that Richard Dawkins, when pressed to identify the good that unbelievers do, pointed to a group called Secular Rescue, which amounts basically to secular people rescuing other secular people. It gets more interesting when Scott Simon continued to press the point. He said this,

“I do wonder, am I just not seeing the world correctly to see large numbers of well-motivated atheist lending their lives to trying to better the world? Or they’re – if I might put it this way, are they more concerned about just being right intellectually?”

Dawkins rejected Simon’s point, but Scott Simon didn’t back up. Instead, he pressed forward, saying,

“I’m struck by how many religious people I’ve seen around the world who are trying to do something to relieve suffering.”

Then Dawkins said this,

“Religious organizations, religious churches have a large infrastructure. They have enormous amounts of money. They have the power and the resources to send people out to the – to these places. That’s one of the things we need.”

By we in this context, Richard Dawkins meant the secularist movement, but he went on to say that in so far as he looks at the statistics, such as recent pew data, history is moving his way with an increased number of those who at least have no religious affiliation. And to that statistical fact, there is absolutely no argument. But the unexpected value in this conversation is where Scott Simon, who has indeed covered the world going to so many of the toughest spots, including so many theaters of war. Scott Simon makes the point that as he gets to almost any place of difficulty in the world, he finds religious people who are there doing good often the only people who appear to be going to those places to help persons who are in need. He pressed the point three times with Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins was basically just left rejecting his point. But what’s really interesting from a Christian worldview perspective is to ask the question, why would someone go to the ends of the earth, including some of the most dangerous places on earth, in order to serve those whom we do not know? Why indeed would someone give of treasure, not to mention risk lives, to go to serve people who are in need, people outside our own kin group, outside our own family? Why would someone sacrifice? Why would anyone do this in order to serve persons we do not know who are different than ourselves and might even believe differently? At this point we remember that it was Jesus who said that the greatest commandment is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and the second commandment he said is likened to it: we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.

In both cases, Jesus was looking back to explicit texts from the Old Testament, tying together in terms of biblical theology the old covenant and the new. And of course when it comes to his disciples, Jesus was particularly clear, for example, in answering the question of Peter that there is no one on the planet who theologically speaking is not our neighbor to whom we owe neighborly love. There is a very good biblical reason why Christian churches and organizations throughout history, indeed throughout the centuries, have established so many orphanages, care organizations, and hospitals, just to mention a few of the dimensions of Christian ministry around the world. In most European and American communities and also very common throughout the world, the first hospital, the first major medical institution in the community was often established by a Christian church on explicitly Christian terms. Part of this is of course due to the command of Christ in terms of loving our neighbor as ourselves. A part of this is due to the imperative of the great commission in terms of evangelism and missions, and we should also note that behind it all is a particular notion of what it means to be a human beings, that is every single human individual made in the image of God, and thus worthy of respect, protection, dignity, and indeed service.

I appreciate the fact that Scott Simon of NPR was so bold in pressing Richard Dawkins on this point. Frankly, NPR has done this with Richard Dawkins at several points in the past, most particularly when he was here in the United States in 2012 also speaking to secularist organizations. It’s very telling and not just a little bit encouraging that even someone in the secular media understands there really is a difference on the ground where it matters between the Christian worldview and the secular worldview.

Study shows fathers and mothers parent boys and girls differently. But secularists want this to change.

Next even as Richard Dawkins, a famous scientist, seems to believe that science is the best hope of saving the world, over the weekend there was a very interesting scientific report that was released by the American Psychological Association. Ashley Welch, reporting for CBS News, tells us,

“The question of whether parents treat sons and daughters differently and how that may or may not affect the children later in life has been the subject of a number of scientific studies — and endless family debates.”

She continues,

“New research now adds to the conversation, not only shedding light on certain behavioral differences fathers show toward sons and daughters but also revealing clues to what’s happening in their brains.”

As she tells us, the study was published by the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Behavioral Neuroscience. It was focused specifically on father’s interactions with their toddlers, both boys and girls. Jennifer Mascaro, an assistant professor in Family and Preventive Medicine at the Emory School of Medicine near Atlanta said,

“In most fields of research there’s so much more research on men than on women, but this is one of the rare situations in which there’s a lot more research on moms than on dads.”

What caught the attention of CBS was this,

“The findings showed that fathers of little girls tended to be more responsive to their daughters’ needs than fathers with toddler sons, and they spoke more openly to daughters about emotions, including sadness. Fathers of little boys, on the other hand, engaged in more rough-and-tumble play and used more achievement-related language, including words like ‘proud,’ ‘win,’ and ‘top.’”

Fathers were recorded talking with their toddlers over a period of time. Some of the interesting things is that dads tended to tease their daughters, teasing them including references to belly and feet and tummies. It’s also interesting that fathers were tending to play more roughly with their sons. Interestingly also was the fact that fathers tended to be far more responsive to a daughter who was upset than to a toddler son who was upset. It’s also interesting that fathers responded to sons with what’s described as ambiguous facial expressions in a quite positive way, referencing the fact that boys and for that matter grown boys turned into men often do not use facial expressions quite so pervasively as do women and girls. The fathers, accordingly, are not so responsive. They’re rather neutral when it comes to their sons’ neutral expressions—if not neutral then positive, they’re not expecting something otherwise.

Now some of the data in this research was gathered by listening to the fathers, but there were also MRI scans that were undertaken of the fathers as they observed their toddler daughters and toddler sons. The brain scans indicated that fathers really do respond to girls and boys differently. As CBS says,

“Participants with daughters had greater responses to their daughters’ happy facial expressions in areas of the brain important for visual processing, reward, emotion regulation, and face processing than fathers of sons.”

The website Science Daily reporting on the research pointed to the fact that there should be further studies in order to determine if genetics or evolution is behind the fact that fathers treat their sons differently than their daughters.

In terms of the media response and the explanation by the researchers, the most interesting thing from a Christian worldview assessment is this: finding the set of findings in terms of this research is being considered not just interesting, but problematic. The researchers are very clear in saying that whatever is the origin of the difference, fathers ought to get over it, responding absolutely identically to boys and girls. The researchers, while mentioning genetics and evolution, also say that a part of the distinction could be due to cultural prejudice, and they’re encouraging fathers to treat girls and boys the same.

But that raises a huge issue from the Christian worldview. If indeed fathers respond to girls and boys differently—and there’s every reason to expect that that’s true—does this actually point to something that is unhealthy or is it basically healthy? Here we see again a basic collision between a secular worldview and what should be a very thoughtful Christian worldview analysis of the data. There is no reason for Christians to reject the fact that the data seemed to show that fathers respond differently to boys and girls, for that matter not just toddlers, but continuing through the stages of growth and development. And that’s because Christians understand there is a distinction a very real difference between boys and girls, and that difference is not something that we believe we morally have a mandate to overcome, but rather to respect.

I appreciate the fact that the CBS reporter actually went to a scientist who raised a very different perspective. Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry, he’s also director of the Yale Parenting Center at Yale University, he said we shouldn’t jump “to conclusions about cause and effect.”

Dr. Kazdin said,

“Daughters and sons are very different even in utero and then when they’re infants they start behaving very differently. Interactions between parents and children drive and influence each other’s brains. So what we don’t know here is whether the fathers drive the behaviors of their daughters and the sons or if the daughters and the sons drive the behavior of the fathers.”

The amazing thing there is that Dr. Kazdin points to the fact that there are differences between boys and girls in utero in terms of their behavior and immediately after birth in the earliest stages of infancy. Operating out of a consistent biblical and Christian worldview, we would expect that there would be some difference in the way that fathers address their daughters and their sons and emotionally relate to them. We should understand that Christian parents also along with other parents can get that difference wrong, but the difference itself is not wrong. The fact that so many in the secular world want to deny the difference that’s really the big story here and one worthy of our attention.

Why is the left unhappy with Trump's proposal for paid family leave? It isn't "free" for employers.

Next, starting last week and continuing through the weekend, people were talking about President Trump’s very first proposed budget. And in particular liberals found themselves talking about one particular plank, one particular point in the budget. It’s one they have been demanding. Now that President Trump and his budget have proposed it, they’re not exactly sure what to do with it, but it’s the conversation that’s most interesting. Michael Kinsley is a former editor of the New Republic, one of the most articulate liberals on the American scene. Writing in an opinion piece to the New York Times, he addresses the proposal in President Trump’s budget for paid family leave. Kinsley writes,

“On Tuesday, the Trump administration released a reasonably detailed budget for the year 2018.”

He goes on to say,

“Since no one thinks that President Trump is a conventional Republican, this is the first peek at his general philosophy of government, if he has one.”

Then Kinsley writes,

“This year’s sore thumb was a proposed family leave benefit. Paid family leave, that is, just like other grown-up countries have. It was under President Bill Clinton that the United States first had a law requiring employers to hold people’s jobs for them if they needed time off to have a baby or care for an elderly parent. But that was unpaid leave.”

He continues,

“President Trump is proposing six weeks paid and another six weeks unpaid, following the birth or adoption of a child. That’s still less generous than what many other countries have, but it’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good.”

Kinsley said this has been on the Democrats wish list for decades, but he attributes this final push as coming from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. In any event, he says,

“Here is a piece of classic liberal legislation that Donald Trump endorses.”

He then asks,

“Or is there a catch?”

He says yes, there is a catch. Indeed there are several catches, most particularly how this paid leave will be paid for. The Trump Administration says that it is pledged to do nothing that will add to the national deficit and thus according to the Trump Administration this $25 billion program will be paid for by the states. But the bottom line is, it will actually be paid by employers. Kinsley gets this. He said of employers,

“They will have to find someone to do the work of the person on leave. To them, it could feel like a tax, not a benefit, just as in the debate about Obamacare.”

Now I’m going to step back from Kinsley’s argument here and simply says it’s interesting to watch those on the left try to deal with the fact that they’re being given here what they have demanded for a long time, paid parental leave, at least in the president’s budget proposal. That particular part of the proposal may not have much of a future in terms of Congress for the very important reason that Congress is bound to find some way to pay for the benefit or to be open in the fact that it’s simply going to be charged to employers. But that’s where Kinsley seems to operate in an imaginary world where if this were a very serious proposal that would genuinely please the Democrats and liberals, then the federal government would not only mandate this paid parental leave it would also pay for it. Remember the New York Times has estimated the cost at $25 billion a year.

Of course, this raises what one might call the $25 billion question. Where is that money going to come from? Here’s one of the problems: Michael Kinsley, representing the American left, seems to think that there is no moral reason why we should not tax our children and our children’s children and their children in order to pay for a benefit that we will give to ourselves right now. He points to what he calls a catch in the president’s proposal because eventually employers will have to bear the financial burdens. But of course the American taxpayer, both individuals and corporations, would inevitably have to bear the burden if not in this generation then through a very perverse addition to the debt in future generations. There is no way simply to grant this kind of benefit without someone paying for it. The federal government has actually vastly expanded its budget beyond all moral and financial reason by deciding to spend now and basically to borrow from future generations. That is not only fiscally irresponsible. It is immoral.

USA Today in an editorial last week published on Wednesday simply declared that paid parental leave should be a basic right. In the editorial statement they said when you have a baby you should get time off with pay. The employer should be free by the way to offer this kind of benefit if they see it in their best interest and furthermore in terms of competition for quality employees. But mandating this would have a very perverse effect on the entire economy. It would actually considerably add to the cost of every single job, meaning that employers inevitably will offer fewer jobs because they simply cannot afford to maintain the current employee base, much less to expand it, if the federal government or the states continue to add such cost to every single employee.

The most interesting thing to me in terms of the response of the left to President Trump’s proposal at this point is the fact that President Trump is basically giving what they have demanded for many years. But the president is also saying the federal government is not going to pay for it. The government, we should note, is not even meeting its current obligations, much less adding another $25 billion program. That would simply add to the insolvency of our national budget and the impact of the national deficit. It’s also very interesting that Michael Kinsley and the editors of USA Today point to other nations that they say have even more generous guarantees of paid parental leave. What they fail to recognize or to admit is that many of those countries, the classic welfare states of Europe, are also failing to meet their own financial obligations. Eventually every government has to come to terms with the fact that money indeed doesn’t grow on trees. That it has to come from somewhere and that means from the taxpayer, the very same taxpayer who is now demanding this benefit.

The only way to give the benefit now with adequate money coming from taxation is for the burden to be passed on to a future generation, the very generation for which these parents are now demanding paid parental leave. Governments in the industrialized world are having to come to terms with the fact that there has been a radical increase in the expectation of benefits that come from the government without an adequate understanding of the fact that the governments simply don’t have the money to continue these benefits, much less to expand them. The bottom line by the way is that if corporations are required to give paid parental leave. It will simply come out of the sum total of the kinds of resources they would dedicate to employees in terms of salary and benefits. One way or another, it’s going to come out of the very same pot of money.

The most interesting line in Kinsley’s article in the New York Times is this,

“It can be just a little too easy for a president and Congress to require someone to do something that costs money, rather than doing it, and paying for it, themselves.”

Let me just conclude by making an observation that should be obvious. The President and the Congress actually don’t have money. That money belongs to the American people. If Congress is to somehow appropriate new money, it’s going to have to come from the very same people and the corporations that they organize. There’s no other way around it, but that sentence, perhaps more than any other sentence I’ve recently seen, explains how we got into so much fiscal trouble in this country.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing