The Briefing 08-25-14

The Briefing 08-25-14

The Briefing


August 25, 2014

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


It’s Monday, August 25, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Earthquakes in Napa and Peru reminder of instability of world

The people in Napa Valley, California were awakened early Sunday morning with a rather significant earthquake. The earthquake is now believed to have registered 6.0 on the Richter scale, making it the most powerful earthquake to hit the state of California in about 25 years. The quake brought a good deal of damage to the city of Napa, the heart of California’s picturesque wine country, but even as 120 people were injured and three critically, it was clear that this would stand in contrast to what would’ve happened if an earthquake of this magnitude had hit in a more highly populated area. After surveying the damage, California officials were shocked and disappointed to see that many of the structures that had been retrofitted after the last earthquake and were considered earthquake safe, had actually experienced significant damage – indicating the limitations of any, even architectural or engineering, planning for an earthquake. Local officials said that about 100 structures in the town, homes mostly, were uninhabitable. At the same time, local officials declared that they were going to be back in business as early as this morning. Utility, such as water and electricity, are still intermittent or nonexistent in some areas. And the governor has declared the region a state disaster area.


But it appears that yesterday the strongest earthquake was not actually in the state of California, but in the nation of Peru. Hours after that earthquake struck in Napa Valley an earthquake that registered almost 7 – actually about 6.9 – on the Richter scale, affected a largely rural and sparsely inhabited region of Peru, even though the tremor was felt all the way in Lima and other major cities. The fact that these two very strong earthquakes happened along the same kind of fault line on the same day is a reminder of the fact that we’re living on an earth that isn’t actually as stable as we like to believe that it is. We speak of the ground under our feet being solid, when it actually is not solid at all. And when underneath the ground upon which we are standing, are various strata of rock and sediment and other things that are actually in motion, and that motion can sometimes be chaotic and not only chaotic but dangerous. Sometimes that danger can be nothing less than spectacular.


We do well to remember that in the year 1755, a massive earthquake hit the town of Lisbon. It is now, looking backwards, expected that that earthquake registered between 8.5 and 9.0 on the Richter scale, which does not make it one of the strongest earthquakes on historical record, but does make it one of the most deadly. Historians now estimate that as many as 100,000 people may well have died of the direct result of that earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. But I bring it to our attention now because of the worldview significance of that event. The rise and spread of modern atheism can be traced back to the aftermath of the earthquake in 1755 – right in the period that is known by historians as the Age of Reason. It was during that period that many European intellectuals began to question the existence of God because of the reality of the earthquake and the death and awful destruction that came in its wake. Several religious skeptics pointed to the argument that we hear over and over again in the face of this kind of natural disaster and that is this – if God is good, he should’ve prevented this. If he is omnipotent, he could’ve prevented this. Since he didn’t prevent it, he is either not good or nonexistent.


Atheism of this sort is known as protest atheism. It’s a protest against the appearance of evil and the reality of suffering. Intelligent Christians should take that kind of argument very seriously, but the only way to take it seriously is to go back to Scripture and be reminded all over again that the Scripture teaches two unconditional truths that are not in conflict or competition all. The first of those truths is that God is indeed omnipotent. He is sovereign in every conceivable way and His omnipotence knows no boundaries whatsoever. But not only is He omnipotent, we also understand that He rules by means of His omnipotent providence, such that nothing happens outside of his rule and reign here on earth. But the second most fundamental biblical doctrine we must keep in mind is the absolute goodness of God. And that goodness is defined along with other moral attributes, including His graciousness, His justice, His righteousness, and all the Scripture reveals. So when we look at these two truth put together, the skeptical human mind would come to the conclusion that if God is good, He cannot be omnipotent or if God is omnipotent He cannot be good because of the presence of evil and suffering in the world. But that understanding flies in the face of the entire metanarrative of Scripture, the grand sweeping story of Scripture, that story – as you know – includes at least four essential chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. And that second movement in the story, the fall, underlines the fact that we live in a world that is horribly affected by, corrupted by, and damaged by sin.


In Romans 8, the apostle Paul reminds us that even as God is in sovereign control over all things, the created cosmos is actually also waiting for the revelation of the sons of God – awaiting that redemptive eschatological promise that is known in scripture as the hope of a new heaven and a new earth. Between here and there, we are not to set ourselves to wondering exactly why an earthquake may have happened in this place at this time, but rather as Jesus reminded his disciples: see an event like this as a powerful prompt into repentance, even as the ground around us is shaking and is the earth itself demonstrates our need for redemption in its own waiting for our redemption for its restoration. When we are prompted to ask the question why, whether an earthquake like this is strong or weak, whether it happens in a highly populated area or out in the countryside, when we see something like this that vexes us and leads us to wonder the question what is God doing in the midst of this, we need to remember the words of that great British Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon, who advised his own congregation, in a situation like this, with these words:  “If you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart.”


If you follow a presidential administration or a White House press office closely, you’ll notice something very interesting. If the President and his administration want a story buried, they release it on Friday; often on Friday afternoon. Releasing a story at that time on Friday means that they don’t want attention drawn to it, they hope the affairs and complications and distractions of the weekend will mean that the story is largely forgotten before people begin the normal work week on Monday morning.

2) White House announces modifications of birth control policies, without resolving moral issue

This past Friday the Obama Administration announced newly formulated, perhaps it’s better to say newly modified, policies on the now infamous birth control mandate of the ObamaCare health care legislation. You’ll keep in mind the fact that this has been controversial from the start. And the modifications announced Friday are at least the third or fourth iteration of these policies. What makes the timing very interesting in this case, is the fact that the Obama Administration faced a severe setback earlier in the summer when the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, sided with the firm’s Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods in making very clear that those for-profit family held corporations were not obligated to include and pay for contraceptives, especially contraceptives it might serve as abortifacients in the healthcare plan for their employees. But the looming issue had to do, not so much with companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, but rather with the nonprofit Christian and religious sector; mostly including, not only churches, synagogues and mosques, but also religious schools and similar organizations.


Right after the Hobby Lobby decision was handed down, the Supreme Court also granted temporary reprieve to schools including Wheaton College in Illinois. An evangelical institution, Wheaton had complained that its own Christian conscience, as an institution, was violated by the birth control mandate because the modification that it previously been offered by the Obama Administration, still required Wheaton to enter into communication with the insurance provider for its employees in a way that was basically an accounting trick that only hid the fact that somehow, in the background to paying its premiums, Wheaton was actually complicit in the distribution of contraceptives that it believed could well be abortifacients. But as the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday,


the Obama Administrations new rule issued on Friday is aimed at winding down its years-long fight with religious groups over the requirement in its year-long healthcare law that companies provide insurance that covers contraceptives.


That’s according to the report by Kathleen Hennessey. She went on to explain the new rule will allow employers to register their objections to paying for such care with the government. That is to say, rather than with the insurance company, which would then step in and arrange for insurers to provide coverage to women seeking it. And with this modification, the Obama Administration, by the way, announced that it was by no means stepping back from its administrative goals, the administration clearly hopes that this would put an end to the controversy and potentially avoid a future embarrassment before the courts. Will the modification offered Friday by the Obama Administration be enough to put the issue to rest? It’s not clear that it is.


As a matter fact, two problems immediately arise. The first was made very clear by the Family Research Council in its response to the policy and that’s this, the policy is still a shell game. It’s still basically an accounting trick. The reality is that the insurance premiums paid by Wheaton College, or similar kind of Christian institution, will still, one way or another, undergird the contraceptive coverage that they’re trying to avoid. The second problem is also very clear and that is this, the policy that was announced as modified on Friday, does nothing to enlarge the group of institutions, organizations, and congregations that will be covered by this modified policy. This leaves a lot of religious organizations still out in the cold, and that’s a huge problem. The story was effectively dumped on Friday afternoon, but you can count on the fact that there will be a lot of consideration given to it this week. That’s because in an issue of conscience like this, it isn’t the story that’s going to be buried and isn’t an issue that is going to go away; on that you can be absolutely sure.

3) Richard Dawkins promotion of aborting Down Syndrome babies consequence of atheistic worldview

In considering the importance of worldview, indeed the life or death importance of worldview, it is hard to imagine anything more pressing and clear than an incident that had to do with British scientist Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous protest atheist, in terms of his twitter account last week. Last week the issue of children born with Down syndrome erupted because of tweets sent by Richard Dawkins in response to an incident in Ireland. Referring to a news story that had to do with the macabre and horrifying discovery of hundreds of babies’ bodies, including many apparently affected by Down syndrome, someone asked if that was a civilized response of a civilized people. In response Richard Dawkins tweeted this:
Yes, it is very civilized. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.


Well there you have a worldview in less than 140 characters. Richard Dawkins simply cast away the sanctity and value of all these lives, simply because they are merely, in the first place, fetuses and second, they are diagnosed as carrying Down syndrome. But if that particular exchange gained a lot of attention, it was a second exchange that exploded in terms of social media. A woman responded to the conversation between Richard Dawkins and Aidan McCourt in the earlier reference and said


I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.


Richard Dawkins responded quickly,


Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.


Now remember that Richard Dawkins has written in one of his books that is the equivalent of child abuse to raise a child in a religious tradition; to indoctrinate children into a faith such as Christianity. But here, his worldview becomes glaringly, horrifyingly, apparent when in just a very few words he simply says, and I read it again,


Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.


Notice very carefully his words: simply abort it and try again. In other words, every pregnancy is now a tentative pregnancy. If evidence comes along by diagnosis that anything that is unwelcomed is a part of this child’s future, you simply abort the child and start all over again. This is not the threat of a one day, in the future, arrival of a designer baby; this is the announcement that right now, as we well now know, there are many who are ordering designer babies in the present. But you can’t exactly order a designer baby or designer embryo, you simply have to discard or destroy the ones, or even abort the ones that do not meet your specifications and is exactly was taking place; but it’s not only taking place, that is exactly what Richard Dawkins commands. But notice he doesn’t just commend it as a choice that, in his view horrifyingly might be justified, he actually says to an even greater horror, that it would be, and I read his words again,


It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.


So he actually argues, and we have to watch this very closely, he actually argues that it will be immoral to bring a Down syndrome child into the world if you have that diagnosis in hand.


After the controversy erupted in such a glaring way, the very next day Richard Dawkins offered an apology on his own website. But if this is an apology, it takes the form of so many modern celebrity apologies. It’s an apology that basically comes out to this: I apologize if you were offended by what I wrote. Dawkins blamed the controversy on the fact that he has voracious critics, but also on the limitation of Twitter to 140 characters. He said that if he had more space he would’ve answered the woman with this longer paragraph, and I read it in full,


Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.  I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare. [Dawkins continued,] I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued further, possibly to be withdrawn. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.


Notice very carefully, in that more elaborated paragraph Richard Dawkins doesn’t concede anything. He doesn’t take anything back. He doesn’t modify his argument in any significant moral way. He goes on to reassert in even more elaborate words the point that he made in the 140 characters of the earlier tweet. He still thinks that it will be immoral, if you have the choice, to bring a child with Down syndrome in the world. With those words, either in the short or the longer form, you see the deadly consequences of the atheistic worldview of Richard Dawkins. You’ll notice several things in particular. For one thing, there is no grounding of any sanctity or dignity of human life. At some point along the continuum of fetal development, it appears by implication that Richard Dawkins must believe there is some value then to that life. He makes very clear that he sees no value at all at least the early stages of pregnancy. And when it comes to a child born with Down syndrome, Richard Dawkins sees nothing but unfettered trouble and obligation. He sees nothing of the glory of God in the creation of a child that comes into the world bearing Down syndrome, very much made in the image of God, one of us – not one of those. A human being made in God’s image to be received and treasured.


At the very end of his apologetic non-apology, Richard Dawkins offers this very telling sentence, which is also of tremendous worldview importance. He writes,


To conclude, what I was saying simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most us, I presume, espouse. My phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding, but I can’t help feeling [he wrote,] that at least half the problem lies in a wanton eagerness to misunderstand.


No, Professor Dawkins, the problem here is not that you were misunderstood – the problem is that you are all too horrifyingly understood. And Professor Dawkins is profoundly right about one other point he makes in that final paragraph and that is this, his worldview is exactly congruent with the normal pro-choice or pro-abortion worldview. It’s exceedingly helpful in terms of clarification to have Richard Dawkins make that point so plainly.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Earthquakes in Napa and Peru reminder of instability of world

Napa, Calif., gets back to business after 6.0 quake, USA Today (Elizabeth Weise and Jon Swartz)

Strong California Quake Hit Vineyards, Surprised Many People, Wall Street Journal (AP)

Large Earthquake Strikes Central Peru, Wall Street Journal (AP)

2) White House announces modifications of birth control policies, without resolving moral issue

White House revises birth control rule to accommodate religious groups, Chicago Tribune (Kathleen Hennessey)

Obama’s Rules of Enragement, Family Research Council (Tony Perkins)

Obama offers new birth control fixes to religious nonprofits, some for-profits companies, Associated Press (Josh Lederman)

3) Richard Dawkins promotion of aborting Down Syndrome babies consequence of atheistic worldview

Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: ‘Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world’, The Independent (Jenn Selby)

Richard Dawkins offers half apology over those Down syndrome comments: ‘Half the problem lies in a wanton eagerness to misunderstand’, The Independent (Ella Alexander)

Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar, (Richard Dawkins)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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