The Briefing 09-29-14

The Briefing 09-29-14

The Briefing


September 29, 2014

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

It’s Monday, September 29, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Difficulties in combating terrorism indicate the challenges of maintaining democracy

Speaking on the CBS news program 60 minutes, President Obama acknowledged that the United States has been caught off-guard by the rise of the group known as the Islamic State. Speaking on 60 minutes President Obama acknowledged that the United States government, and in particular its intelligence agencies, had underestimated the risk of such a group and then underestimated the group itself. Speaking of the terrorist group that has leapt into the headlines calling itself the Islamic State, the President spoke of the nation’s national security apparatus, indicating that the intelligence community had been taken off guard. The president said,

“Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,”

As the New York Times acknowledged, in citing Mr. Clapper, the President made no mention of any misjudgment he may have made himself. But just a matter of months ago it was President Obama who was referring to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and including that group as “a JV team” compared with Al Qaeda. As the New York Times reports,

“[T]he rebutted critics who say his refusal to intervene more directly in the Syrian civil war and his decision to pull all American troops out of Iraq in 2011 had created conditions that allowed the rise of the Islamic State.”

Instead the President blames the former Iraqi leader Nuri Kamal al-Maliki – suggesting that when the United States left, its democracy was intact; Iraqi was left with a military that was well-equipped and the ability to chart their own course. The President said,

“And that opportunity was squandered over the course of five years or so because the Prime Minister, Maliki, was much more interested in consolidating his Shia base.”

The president has been on the defensive when it comes to foreign policy for matter of months now. Polls indicate that even a majority of Democrats believe that he has not done well in leading the nation in terms of national defense and international relations. In one of the major issues of concern, has been the rise of these terrorist groups. And it’s been impossible for Americans not to know what these groups are doing when they keep posting videos of the beheadings of Americans and other Westerners; continuing even into last week. Interestingly, the President said that he feels his administration has a good plan in place – those are his words – when it comes to Iraq and its future, but as for Syria – the President acknowledged it’s a much tougher case.

Also appearing yesterday, in terms of the national news programs, was United States Senator Timothy Kaine, a Democrat of Virginia. He is an ally of the President, but he has been a very outspoken critic of the President’s decision not to go to Congress to ask for legislative permission for the war that is taking place in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Senator Kaine said,

“It really concerns me that the president would assert he has the ability to do this unilaterally when as a candidate for president he made very plain that the president cannot unilaterally start a war without Congress,”

Senator Kaine made those statements on the CBS news program Face the Nation, also yesterday. As is so often the case, a crisis never touches just one dimension. We’re looking here at a multifaceted crisis that has to do with the rise of the Islamic State, the worldwide challenge of terrorism, the difficulty of putting together an American foreign-policy, the defense issues related to a military strategy, and also the constitutional issues at stake when the President decides to move forward unilaterally. This President has shown his willingness, to say the very least, to rule by Executive Order. And when it comes to this action, he appears to be doing exactly what he criticized previous presidents for doing when he ran for office and precisely what he said no President under any circumstances should do. It is very significant that one of the President’s most outspoken critics on this is one of his political allies, Senator Kaine.

Christians looking at the situation should remember the fact that our constitutional separation of powers was intentionally based upon the Christian understanding of sin, and the realization that the tendency to concentrate power in any one branch of the government, unchecked by others, leads by sinful inclination to autocracy – eventually, in some extreme cases, of course, to dictatorship. It also underlines the fact that democracy is a rare commodity, it is a rare achievement, and it perhaps is an even more rarely maintained achievement than it is in terms of a short-term establishment of a Democratic pattern. The United States and its constitutional order have existed now for well over 200 years, but that is no guarantee that our Constitution, our democratic experiment, our constitutional republic, or its separation of powers, will endure; they must be defended in every single generation. So once again, Western powers find themselves confronting an enemy such as the Islamic State and once again, Americans find themselves looking at a challenge to our constitutional balance – both of these are vitally important for future.

2) Likely ‘lone wolf’ attack in Oklahoma by Muslim convert what law enforcement warned about

Meanwhile this kind of terroristic threat came very close to home when on Thursday of last week a man in Oklahoma beheaded a coworker at a food processing plant. That happened on Thursday afternoon. The suspect has been identified as Alton Nolen. He has a criminal history, but as the New York Times also reports, he had recently started to convert some of his coworkers to the Muslim religion – to which he had also been a relatively recent convert. According to the news report by Richard Pérez-Peña and Michael Schmidt, the suspect Alton Nolen, after being fired by this company,

“…drove to the front of the business, running into a vehicle, exited his vehicle, entered the business, where he encountered the first victim, Colleen Hufford, and began assaulting her with a knife,”

He did kill her, and eventually beheaded her. He then attacked Tracy Johnson, another former coworker with the same knife. He was stopped only when Mark Vaughan, the chief operating officer of Vaughan foods, who is also an Oklahoma County reserve deputy, confronted him and shot him and stopped the threat. According to news reports, Mr. Nolen was transferred to the Oklahoma University Medical Center where he is expected to survive and eventually to be charged with this horrible crime. The following paragraphs in this story demand our attention.

“The Moore police called in the F.B.I. to assist in the investigation. After the United States began its bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria on Monday, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security put out an alert to local law enforcement officials across the country to be on the watch for so-called lone wolves who might respond violently.”

The next paragraph says this,

“A law enforcement official said the F.B.I. had not found any connection between Mr. Nolen and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or other groups. ‘It’s not a typical workplace response, and given the current environment it is very alarming and is something we are closely looking into,’ [said] one of the officials said. ‘So far, there is no nexus to terrorism we are aware of.’”

Then there is a third paragraph,

“Law enforcement officials said Mr. Nolen recently converted to Islam. On a Facebook page that appears to be his, references to Islam began in April 2013, and he called himself Jah’Keem Yisrael. The page is filled with criticism of American culture, and dire warnings for those who do not follow that religion.”

In the immediate aftermath of this horrifying new story on Thursday, several people involved in law enforcement at the national level suggested that this should be treated as an example of horrifying workplace violence – not as an incident of terrorism tied to the war on terror. But that began to fall apart almost immediately, especially when this Facebook page was found. And this leads to a very interesting observation – in a single week, just last week, the FBI and other national security organizations warned local law enforcement officials across the United States to be on guard against the so-called lone wolf attacks. You’ll recall the fact that Australia launched a major police raid based upon the very real threat of this kind of an attack in Australia just a matter of days ago. But in this single week – when United States government, through its official security apparatus, issues this warning – when just four days later this kind of attack takes place in Oklahoma, many in our national law enforcement apparatus want to step back and say it can’t be what it looks like.

Well time will tells what this investigation unfolds, but this much is clear: this man at least considered himself, by his writings and by his actions, as the very kind of lone wolf that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been warning about. Those very national security agencies had indicated that these lone wolves might be activated by reports in the media, not by any direct contact from the Islamic State or any other terrorist group. But now, after this attack is taking place in Oklahoma at least some want to say it can’t be connected to this warning because there was no tie to the Islamic State. You have to wonder sometimes if our national law enforcement agencies are talking to one another. You also have to wonder if political correctness is severely distorting the reality picture here. Finally you have to wonder if at least some of these agencies are reading what they’re writing. In any event, the lone wolf kind of attack that was warned about seems to be exactly what took place in Oklahoma. That’s just an evil reality we’re all going to have to deal with.

3) Evolutionary scientist recognizes incompatibility of evolution with Christian faith

Meanwhile, also in the pages of the New York Times this in yesterday’s edition – an op-ed article appeared by David Barash, who is an evolutionary biologist, who is also a professor at the University of Washington. The title of his article, “God, Darwin and My Biology Class.” This article, which is directly opposed to the Christian worldview, is exceedingly helpful in defining the issues. Writing about the beginning of the college year, Professor Barash says each year he gives his students what he calls “the talk.” But this talk isn’t about sex, it’s instead about biology and it’s about God. As he writes,

“[This talk is] about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t. [He writes,] I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being ‘evolutionary.’ My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.  And that’s where The Talk comes in. [He says,] It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.”

Now at this point in the article, you know it’s going to be interesting. He continues to write that until very recently, he tried to ignore this discomfort on the part of his students – assuming, in his words, that it was “their problem, not mine.” He said that he thought teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry about molecules. He went on and said that what was required was a direct conversation, thus what he calls, the Talk. Then he writes,

“There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible”

He then cites the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who called them noma or non-overlapping magisterium; claiming in fact that science and religion have two different intellectual authorities, operating in two completely separate intellectual domains. Writing about Gould, Barash writes,

“He and I disagreed on this (in public and, at least once, rather loudly); he claimed I was aggressively forcing a painful and unnecessary choice, while I maintained that in his eagerness to be accommodating, he was misrepresenting both science and religion.”

In some ways, he says, nonetheless the late Professor Gould has been winning. Noma, that’s the claim of non-overlapping magisterium, is the received wisdom, he writes, in the scientific establishment; including, at least the official position, undertaken by groups such as the National Center for Science Education. According to this expansive view, he writes,

“God might well have used evolution by natural selection to produce his creation.”

But as this professor well understands, and as he now wants his students to understand, the classical form of the theory of evolution and the classical form of Biblical Christianity are not non-overlapping magisterium; they indeed overlap a very great deal. As he writes,

“So far, so comforting for my students. But here’s the turn: These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish. As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.”

The professor goes on to say that what modern people often try to claim as an argument from complexity, going back to the 19th century and William Paley, that’s the argument that is used by many, suggesting that the world is so complex and it is so fine tuned in its operation that it’s like the watch a watch – a watch that clearly implies a watchmaker. But now this professor says the modern form of the theory of evolution, the contemporary dominant form of the theory that’s taught and believed in America’s colleges and universities, doesn’t allow for that kind of intelligent design. Indeed it doesn’t allow for any kind of design at all. As his argument makes clear, there is also no room at all in terms of the prevailing scientific theory for any kind of divine agency – much less of an omnipotent God. Therefore he claims, on a scientific basis, that God being omnipotent and God being all loving – these two affirmations of classical Christianity established in Scripture – are just untenable, disproved by modern science. He also says that what is disproved by contemporary science, and by that he means evolution, is what he calls the illusion of centrality. In his words,

“Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. [He continues] Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.”

What you have in that statement, published by a professor at the University of Washington in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, is a classic undiluted, distilled version of modern naturalism, of materialism, of the belief that the cosmos is made up of nothing but natural realities and it runs only by material and natural mechanisms. And what you have here is a direct acknowledgment that this worldview is directly contradictory of classical Christianity. When this professor gathers his students together for what he calls ‘the talk,’ he intends to tell them that the idea of non-overlapping magisterium, the idea that there can be different authorities operating in completely different intellectual realms when it comes to modern science on the one hand and Christianity on the other, he says it’s time these students understand by ‘the talk,’ these are actually impossible.

Furthermore, just consider the kinds of claims he’s making in the name of science. He claims that science has disproved an omnipotent God, has disproved of a God who is all loving. He then writes,

“The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.”

Well of course like every fundamental worldview, this is a rather circular self-referential worldview. When this professor says, operating he says as a scientist, that human beings simply evolve by what he calls a “natural, totally amoral process” he’s simply accepting the evidence for his theory and rejecting by worldview on the contrary evidence or claims to truth. And if that’s true of evolutionists, we need to acknowledge that it’s also true of Biblical Christians, it’s true of any honest intellectual worldview or any honest thinking person. We operate out of certain preconditions, we all operate out of certain presuppositions, we operate on basic principles of understanding, of understandings that relate to truth and reality and meaning, and of course when it comes to authority, most importantly epistemological authority – that means the authority for knowing – we all choose, rather in advance, what authority we are going to acknowledge.

Christians operating on the authority of Scripture are often criticized for operating on the basis of circular reasoning. And there’s a certain amount of truth in that – we believe the Bible is God’s word because God gave it to us. We believe in the Bible because God exists and He is spoken, we know that God has spoken and we know that he exists because he’s revealed himself in the Scripture. Virtually anyone who can draw a diagram knows that there is some circular reasoning in that argumentation. So if circular reasoning is the problem, we’re guilty as charged. But so is this professor and so is every intelligent person when it comes to any worldview – every worldview establishes certain claims to truth and disregard and rejects others. Every worldview establishes a means of intellectual authority; who we’re going to believe, what we’re going to believe, what authority we’re going to trust, and why. And every single worldview comes to its own conclusions based upon its own premises. This professor is at least honest, more honest than many others. There are some who try to argue, even still, that Christianity or religion as they might say can be made compatible with evolution and certainly religion can – but not the religion of the Bible, not biblical Christianity. The doctrine of creation, indeed as this professor helpfully points out, the doctrine of God revealed in Scripture is directly in conflict with the dominant theory of evolution as held in the academic world today. This professor also deserves a certain commendation for honesty, or least for candor, for stating to his students that in his belief biblical Christianity and the modern theory of evolution are in absolute conflict. We might only wish that a good number of other evolutionary scientists would be so candid, but then again we can also wish far more urgently that many who call themselves evangelical Christians would acknowledge the same.

4) Gay US ambassador in Dominican Republic reveals impact of elections beyond US borders

I’m speaking to you from the Dominican Republic where I have been involved in ministry for the past several days. And this proud Caribbean nation now has serving as its ambassador from the United States, a man known as Ambassador James, or Wally, Brewster. He was confirmed by the United States Senate after being nominated by President Obama, confirmed on 8 November in 2013. He was then sworn into office on November 22 of the same year, just almost a year ago. The evening of that very day, he married the man who is now his husband and then shortly thereafter they moved here to Santo Domingo, the capital city. American Christians should recall that President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made very clear that they intended to make the promotion of gay rights a major agenda of American foreign policy and of the Obama Administration. The appointment Ambassador Brewster, announced by the State Department as the first openly gay ambassador to the Americas, is a symbol of that kind of effort – and it has not been well received by the Christians here in the Dominican Republic. They understand this appointment for exactly what it is, an effort on the part of the United States of America to try to point this island nation toward the acceptance of same-sex relationships and eventually same-sex marriage. Sending a married gay ambassador of the United States to this island nation was intended to send a signal – and it sent a signal indeed. We often repeat the fact that elections have consequences, but did Americans realize in 2008 and 2012 that those consequences would extend even to a nation like the Dominican Republic? That question has certainly come to my mind time and again as I’ve been visiting this beautiful nation.

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’m speaking to you from Santo Domingo, capitol city of the Dominican Republic, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Difficulties in combating terrorism indicate the challenges of maintaining democracy

Obama Acknowledges U.S. Erred in Assessing ISIS, New York Times (Peter Baker and Brian Knowlton)

2) Likely ‘lone wolf’ attack in Oklahoma by Muslim convert what law enforcement warned about

Woman Is Beheaded in Attack at Oklahoma Food Plant, New York Times (Richard Pérez-Peña and Michael S. Schmidt)

3) Evolutionary scientist recognizes incompatibility of evolution with Christian faith

God, Darwin and My College Biology Class, New York Times (David P. Barash)

4) Gay US ambassador in Dominican Republic reveals impact of elections beyond US borders

Gay U.S. ambassador faces backlash in Dominican Republic, CNN (Diulka Perez and Catherine E. Shoichet)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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