The Briefing 10-27-14

The Briefing 10-27-14

The Briefing


October 27, 2014

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

It’s Monday, October 27, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1)Washington high school shooting reminder of tragic unpredictability of evil

Once again, an American high school has become the scene of a deadly shooting; this time the high school was Marysville-Pilchuck High School in rural Marysville, Washington. Once again the shooting was indeed deadly. The rampage began in the school cafeteria when it is now believed that a 14-year-old boy by name of Jaylen Ray Fryberg opened fire on several students who happen to be his close friends, including, as news reports indicate, at least two being his first cousins. But the shooting turned deadly and at least two were dead at the end of the day on Friday; one of them was the shooter himself, the other was a young girl. Now, late last night authorities in Washington State revealed that yet another girl has died, bringing the total death toll right now to three. One additional teenage girl and two young boys are still undergoing treatment, two of them still considered in critical condition in the aftermath of the shooting. But there’s a new haunting aspect to this now all-too-familiar tragedy in American life.

As Kirk Johnson and Shaila Dewan of the New York Times report,

“If the bullet-scarred American psyche has an archetype for a school gunman, it looks very little like Jaylen Ray Fryberg. He was not a loner or a known misanthrope — far from it. He was a football player with a million-dollar smile, popular enough to be elected homecoming prince of his freshman class at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Just a week ago, he presided over homecoming festivities in a red shirt with black bow tie, suspenders and Converse sneakers.”

Later in the article Johnson and Dewan write,

“The students and teachers in this community, near Seattle, had known they were no more immune to violence than Columbine or Sandy Hook; they had even practiced lockdown drills. But they never could have guessed who the perpetrator would be. ‘This wasn’t the typical trench coat, introvert-type person, no,’ said Rick Iverson, a former teacher and wrestling coach at Marysville-Pilchuck. [He went on to say,] ‘This was an outgoing person that everyone in the school loved.’”

In the wake of so many these now all-too-familiar shootings on American school campuses, law enforcement officials have learned to try to develop a certain kind of profile, both psychological and sociological, of the young men – and they are almost always young men – who perpetrate these crimes. And yet in this case, Jaylen Ray Fryberg doesn’t meet any of these expectations. He was a young male of course, in this case a 14-year-old boy, he had access to guns and yet he had been trained in terms of the use of those guns primarily in hunting, and he spoken social media about his love of hunting with his father and his brother. There were no signs, at least no signs that have yet come to light, of this kind of incipient violence in the life of a young man who was not the kind of loaner that is now typical of the kind of profile expected in such crimes, but was actually a member of the football team, a member of the wrestling team, and as the New York Times reported, was actually elected homecoming prince in the homecoming activities just about a week ago at the same school.

Not long after the shootings on Friday at least some friends of Jaylen Ray Fryberg indicated that they had detected some change in his behavior and attitude in recent weeks, especially in recent days. There were indications of the kind of typical trouble that a 14-year-old boy often gets into. There was at least the rumor of a breakup of a girlfriend and of at least one altercation that caught the attention of school disciplinary authorities, and yet as law enforcement officials around the country responding to this incident said, ‘if every 14-year-old adolescent male caught up in these kinds of events were to be considered a suspect in this kind of crime, there wouldn’t be enough jails or juvenile detention facilities to hold them all,’ and that’s an understatement. What this horrifying crime out of Washington State reveals more than anything else is our inability to read another human being’s heart and mind. There are signs we can and certainly should watch, there are signal sent that should certainly be received and monitored, but in the case of this young man and in this horrifying shooting in Washington state, it appears that there were no signs, at least known to us now, that would’ve indicated that this kind of murderous rampage was about to be set loose, and certainly not from this young shooter. This is a humbling realization for all of us. Recognizing that the people we pass on the street, the young people we see on the school bus, might be harboring resentments, hurts, and all kinds of turmoil, that are absolutely invisible to us. Furthermore, this tragedy based upon what we can understand about it now is a humbling affirmation of the fact that evil resides in the human heart and can break out in the most unexpected and violent ways in virtually a flash. We should be incredibly thankful for a system of law and conscience that is put into place by our Creator that serves as a great restraint upon human sinfulness and the outbreak of this kind of human evil. But this kind of evil does break out, and in occasions like this it breaks out in a murderous and horrifying form. Finally, when you see so many people scratching their heads in looking for a rational explanation, let’s just remember that the Bible presents sin itself as a form of irrationality. At the end of the day there is no rational explanation for the irrationality of sin.

2) Biomedical revolution of ‘embryo screening’ frightening commodification of reproduction 

Next, for several decades now we’ve been staring right in the face of a biomedical revolution that spells the redefinition of human dignity in our times. That was made abundantly clear last night on CBS News in the 60 Minutes program when reporter Norah O’Donnell reported on what is described as the ‘breeding out the disease.’ As CBSreported, “O’Donnell look[ed] into a controversial procedure that could stop the spread of dangerous genes that have stalked families for generations.” What the headline did not acknowledge was the depreciation and subversion of human dignity that is required in the process.

O’Donnell talked to physicians including Dr. Mark Hughes; he’s one of the scientists who have led the way in this new procedure known as PGD – that’s short for preimplantation genetic diagnosis. O’Donnell explains that this is “an embryo screening procedure that can identify deadly gene mutations – and alter a child’s genetic destiny.” Now, as it turns out, the latter part of that sentence is profoundly misleading if not outright dishonest, but we’ll get back to that in just a moment.

In introducing this segment O’Donnell said,

“There are few fields of medicine that are having a bigger impact on how we treat disease than genetics. The science of genetics has gotten so sophisticated [she reported] so quickly that it can be used to not only treat serious diseases but prevent thousands of them well before pregnancy even begins. Diseases that have stalked families for generations – like breast cancer – are being literally stopped in their tracks. Scientists can do that by creating and testing embryos in a lab, then implanting into a mother’s womb only the ones which appear healthy. While the whole field is loaded with controversy, those who are worried about passing on defective and potentially dangerous genes see the opportunity to breed out disease.”

O’Donnell then asked Mark Hughes, “Did you ever envision that you would have the capability you have today?” He responded, “No, but that’s the fun of science. It’s constantly surprising you.” Speaking of his procedure Dr. Hughes said,

“We all throw genetic dice when we have children. But when you know the dice are loaded and that there’s a really reasonable chance that your baby will have an incurable, dreadful condition, you’re looking for an alternative.”

O’Donnell then stated,

“Dr. Hughes helped develop PGD two decades ago to screen embryos for one disease: cystic fibrosis. Today, because of advances in the mapping of the human genome, he says it can be used to root out virtually any disease caused by a single defective gene.”

O’Donnell then asked a series of questions in which the doctor said that he believed they will be able to stamp out muscular dystrophy, sickle-cell anemia, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease (at least that which is triggered as an early onset by a single gene), colon cancer (again those linked to specific genes), and breast cancer (tied to specific genes he now says this screening is done regularly). O’Donnell then featured a young couple who had given birth to both a boy and a girl; they asked that their last name not be used. They had used the embryo screening procedure in order to avoid the baby that might be born with a mutation that increases the risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. It was when the mother in this case, Melinda, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that it was found that she carried a genetic mutation known as BRCA1. Dr. Hughes then explains that the screening takes place when couples first undergo in-vitro fertilization; that’s the process in which a man’s sperm is injected into a woman’s eggs under a microscope to create the embryos. Then five days later a tiny tube just 1/20 the diameter of human hair is used to extract from each embryo one single cell to be genetically tested for disease. Going back to the young couple, Matt and Melinda, the doctors created several embryos from their cells and then tested them for the genetic marker. According to Dr. Hughes, about half of them were found to have the marker and they were discarded. The other embryos then became candidates for implantation into the womb.

O’Donnell then shifted the scene to a conversation with Anne Morriss, she is joined with a Princeton molecular biologist by the name of Lee Silver to create another company called ‘Gene Peeks,’ also intended to create what are now called digital babies. In this case they use genetic material in order to create a digital projection of what a baby would be if born to these parents in the process of reproduction. Dr. Silver told O’Donnell that by analyzing the DNA in these “digital babies” he’s able to calculate the risk of two people conceiving a child with anyone of 500 severe recessive pediatric disorders. It’s at this point in the 60 Minutes segment that the brave new world of modern medicine and genetic manipulation truly stares us in the face.

Speaking of these new technologies Lee Silver went on to say,

“I see a future in which people will not use sex to reproduce. That’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

In other words, the normal human biological process of reproduction and procreation is here dismissed as being too dangerous; the danger being that babies could be born that parents would choose to be born otherwise. Remember that Dr. Hughes said that the having of a baby is simply a matter of rolling the dice, Dr. Silver comes back and says,

“It’s safer to have a baby with this pre-knowledge, this genetic information that might help them avoid disease.”

To her credit Norah O’Donnell seems to understandably some of the problems here. She asked Dr. Silver,

“We read your patent and it says your technology could be used to assess whether a child could have other traits, like eye color, hair color, social intelligence, even whether a child will have a widow’s peak? If your company is so focused on preventing disease, why would you include those traits?”

Dr. Silver responded,

“The purpose of the list of traits is simply to demonstrate that our technology can be used to study anything that’s genetically influenced. That doesn’t mean we’re going to actually do that.”

O’Donnell then responded,

“OK. But you’re running a company? That could be big business?”

He then said,

“We are the ones who invented this technology and we’re going to use it to study pediatric disease. At the moment, we will make sure the technology is used only for that purpose.”

So this molecular biologist at Princeton announces that he now holds a patent for this kind of genetic manipulation, he also acknowledges that in his patent he claimed the ability to be able to screen embryos for eye color, hair color, social intelligence, and similar things, and yet he says he will not use the technology to screen for those traits. You’ll notice what he said, “for now.” His exact words:

“At the moment, we will make sure the technology is used only for that purpose.”

O’Donnell then said,

“And at the moment, you’ll have to take his word for it because there are no real rules in this country limiting what this kind of technology can be used to screen for, leaving those decisions up to scientists like Lee Silver and Mark Hughes.”

She then asked Dr. Hughes, “So we should trust you set the boundaries?” He said,

“If I’m setting a boundary saying, ‘I’m not willing to do that,’ that’s no different from any other field of medicine. So sure.”

As I said, we’re now looking at the brave new world of the medical technology revolution in the face; a biomedical revolution that is being done in United States without any effective guidelines or boundaries whatsoever. In the United States there is not even a law against the use of clonal technologies when it comes to human beings. Right now when it comes to the medical establishment and these new technologies, everything’s acceptable, everything is allowable, and everything is legal. The United States is now referred to around the world as the wild wild West of human reproductive technologies and this report is one indication of why that is so.

Christians looking to this kind of report should certainly sympathize with parents who face the very real prospect of having a child with the deadly genetic disease, but there’s one thing in this report that I said early on was absolutely wrong, fundamentally dishonest. Very early in her report O’Donnell pointed to the PGD technology and then described it as,

“An embryo screening procedure that can identify deadly gene mutations – and alter a child’s genetic destiny.”

No, that’s not at all true. This kind of technology will not alter a child’s genetic destiny, it is instead being used to decide which children will be born and which human embryos will be discarded and destroyed. It’s fundamentally misleading and dishonest to say that these technologies will change a child’s genetic future or genetic destiny; it will do no such thing. It simply is used to determine which embryos will be implanted in the womb and which will be discarded, eventually later to be destroyed.

What we’re looking at here is another consumer society approach to having children. And while we fully sympathize with parents who are looking for the means of treating these kinds of genetic diseases, we need to understand the assault on human dignity that is represented by a technology that intentionally creates human embryos only to sort amongst them for the ones to be accepted and then to destroy those that are not acceptable. And as O’Donnell points out in her report, even though this technology at present – we are being assured – is being used by these doctors in these laboratories only to sort out embryos on the basis of presumed genetic disease, the reality is there is no law at all that would prevent any lab or any scientist from using this very same patented technology to use any other traits such as eye color, hair color, suspected IQ, or anything else, in terms of deciding which embryos to keep and which embryos to destroy. And make no mistake about their destruction, even though the 60 Minutes report is not very clear about this. O’Donnell says that when these harmful mutations are found in the embryo they are, “often discarded.” Well that’s an understatement that’s fundamentally misleading. They’re not just often discarded; the very purpose of the technology is to prevent those embryos from being implanted in the womb. They are of course discarded; if they are not immediately destroyed then they are kept in a deep freeze until the destruction takes place according to the protocols of the individual laboratory.

Finally keep in mind that Lee Silver said that having sex the normal way is just too dangerous. What we’re looking at here is not just a redefinition of human reproduction and procreation; we’re looking at a redefinition of humanity itself. And that’s something Christians understand, when you redefine the human reproductive process so that children become consumer products and when something like normal human reproduction is described as too dangerous, then you’re entering into a fundamentally dangerous terrain – one for which the only rescue would be the Christian worldview. Furthermore when you look at this news story, be reminded of the fact that Dr. Hughes referred to having a child as ‘throwing the dice’ – genetically speaking. Well that’s one of the most profoundly secular statements imaginable. That’s light-years separated from a statement such as found in the Psalms by David when he made very clear that he was knitted together in his mother’s womb, making the profound biblical point that every single human being is created by God and is lovingly created as that individual human being for God’s glory and God’s good pleasure.

This 60 Minutes report is one of the scariest things to come around in a long time; it’s a shot across the bow so to speak in terms of this brave new world of medical technology. It’s also a test; will the American people just take this as business as usual? Will we just allow the commodification of human beings to progress to the point that babies will be ordered just like other consumer products? There are already plenty of signs that we’ve taken a quantum leap in that direction.

Last Thursday’s edition of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel included an article by Dahleen Glanton of the Chicago Tribune in which she referred to the lesbian couple now suing a sperm bank over the fact that they received the wrong sperm. You’ll recall as I discussed this on The Briefing a few days ago, this couple had ordered the sperm out of a catalog, they had sought to define exactly what they were looking for in terms of the traits of the donor father, they chose the one, and yet the sperm they got was clearly not from that donor and they found that out because the baby was of a mixed race. And now as you might expect, they’re suing the sperm bank and that led Dahleen Glanton of the Chicago Tribune to write,

“This just makes sense. [She says] This will be a major purchase with a couple, one that would affect them for the rest of their lives and they didn’t take it lightly.”

So here you have a lesbian couple unable to reproduce on their own, using a catalog from this kind of bank in order to order a specific set of cells from a specific donor and it’s described just like any other major purchase.  She wrote then,

“I imagine they felt a little like I did when I bought my first home; a weird mixture of excitement and fear with a splash of intimidation by the 30 years of payments that lay ahead.”

So in other words, buying sperm from a sperm bank is a major decision, a major product choice just like buying a house. Chillingly Glanton then writes,

“Who hasn’t gone shopping only to get home, open the bag and find out that you didn’t get what you’d paid for? Under normal circumstances, you’d just return it to the store. But we’re talking about a child here. All sales are final.”

Well the issue sale here is exactly the point. The buying and selling of these reproductive cells is nothing more than creating a marketplace for human beings by creating a marketplace for human reproductive cells. And you now have these cells being turned into commodities being sold. In some countries there are credible reports of organs, that is donor organs being sold, and from there it is a short jump back to that 60 Minutes story about embryos being created for a fee in order to produce designer babies. Put that together with the fact that the 60 Minutes report included Dr. Silver saying that having children the normal way is just too dangerous and then realize that in this case there’s no way for a same-sex couple to have a baby in the normal way whatsoever.

At this point Christians understand the very basic principles of the Christian worldview; that the further we get from the order God has given us in creation, the greater moral risk we inevitable take upon ourselves. When we reach the point of moral risk in which we are abandoning marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as the singular setting for procreation and reproduction, we see that what follows almost immediately is a catalog of reproductive cells, sorted by donor and donor characteristics. Furthermore we have the expectation of having a baby produced as a consumer product. As in this case a columnist said, ‘if the product isn’t what you want, then you take it back to the store; only when it’s a child you can’t do that, so the natural responses is you sue.’

3) 50th Anniversary of Reagan speech example that a speech can change history

Finally today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest speeches in American history. It was 50 years ago today, it was on October 27, 1964 that then private citizen Ronald Reagan delivered a speech entitled “A Time For Choosing.” It was an attempt to resuscitate the flagging presidential campaign of then Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, that didn’t work but what did work was the speech – it catapulted Ronald Reagan to the front rank of political candidates in the future and of course there’s a direct line from this speech 50 years ago today and the election of Ronald Reagan as President in the 1980 presidential campaign. What made this speech so important was not just it soaring oratory, it was its content. It was deeply rooted in specific political ideological philosophical commitments, in other words it was a conventional speech deeply rooted in a very coherent worldview. Speaking to the American people 50 years ago today Ronald Reagan said,

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”

Ronald Reagan believed that when he said it and that was the conviction that led him into the Oval Office. 50 years later it’s important for all of us to remember that a speech can still matter, a speech can change history, and 50 years ago today one did.

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 Nashville, TN where later today I’m going to be speaking at a very important national conference held by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The conference is on the gospel, homosexuality, and the future of marriage. My plenary address will be coming in the 1:00pm session this afternoon, that’s 1:00pm central time, 2:00pm Eastern Daylight time. All of the sessions will be live streamed courtesy of the ERLC, and you can watch by going to This conference promises to be both important and timely. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1)Washington high school shooting reminder of tragic unpredictability of evil

Tangled Portrait of a Student Emerges in Washington Shooting, New York Times (Kirk Johnson and Shaila Dewan)

2) Biomedical revolution of ’embryo screening’ frightening commodification of reproduction 

Breeding Out Disease, CBS 60 Minutes (Norah O’Donnell)

In defense of couple suing sperm bank, Chicago Tribune (Dahleen Glanton)

3) 50th Anniversary of Reagan speech example that a speech can change history

A Time for Choosing, University of Texas (Ronald Reagan)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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