The Briefing 11-14-14

The Briefing 11-14-14

The Briefing


November 14, 2014

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


It’s Friday, November 14, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Success of comet landing dependent on science built on a Christian worldview

Two days after a space probe landed on a moving comet, we’re just beginning to take stock of what all this represents. By any estimation it is big news, and it says a great deal about the human quest for exploration; it also says a great deal about the sophistication of modern technology. As Kenneth Chang of the New York Times reports,

“In a technological feat that gives scientists their first opportunity to dig into a remnant of the early solar system, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission successfully placed a small spacecraft on the surface of a speeding comet on Wednesday.”

Let’s step back for a moment and just take stock of what all this really represents. We’re talking about a comet that is located 316 million miles from Earth and yet this wasn’t a 316 million mile journey – no it was a 4 billion mile journey. The reason for that is quite simple. In order to actually reach, to physically reach, this comet, moving as it is through space in an orbit through our own solar system, this particular mission had to slingshot – that’s the astronomical term that is used – throughout the cosmos in order to reach a comment that was, in terms of its space from Earth, just 316 million miles away – that’s a big just.

This particular space mission undertaken by the European Space Agency was launched on March 4 of 2004 – so more than 10 years later, traveling more than 4 billion miles, this very small spacecraft actually reached the area where it could launch its probe onto the comet. And the comet itself is not a stationary object – far from it – it’s traveling through the cosmos at 40,000 mph. So let’s just take stock of what’s really going on here. This particular probe, about the size we are told of a washing machine, was launched from planet Earth over 10 years ago. It traveled to the cosmos nearly 4 billion miles in order to reach a comet that was about 300 million miles from planet Earth. And the probe – codename Philae – actually landed on the comet when the comet was traveling at 40,000 mph. The comet itself, by the way, is only about two a half miles wide. A comet of that size simply doesn’t have much gravity; that represented one of the challenges to the European Space Agency in this mission.

But the probe did land and even as scientist rejoice in Europe and elsewhere with a successful landing, remarkable as that was in itself, it turned out upon later observation that the lander was not where it was supposed to be. At least one of the legs of the probe is not attached to the surface. It turned out, observers say, that the probe actually bounced off the comet only to land a second time – this time more securely. And it also turns out the telecommunications back to Earth from the comet are bit more complex than had been expected. Then late yesterday came a final piece of bad news. It turns out that the location on the comet where the probe landed maybe shielding its batteries from being able to be recharged from the light of the sun. In other words, this probe may actually be dying just hours after it was successfully landed upon this comment 10 years after it was launched from planet Earth.

Does this make the mission a disaster? Does it make it a failure? Scientists are saying absolutely not. For one thing, the basic fact – the now undeniable fact – that a probe was launched from planet Earth 10 years ago, that it traveled slingshot style through the cosmos traveling 4 billion miles in order to land on a comet traveling 40,000 miles an hour, that in itself is nothing less than a stunning technological achievement. If it can be done once, it can be done again. Now secular scientists and the world media will be talking about this, politicians will decide if it’s worth the government funding of these kinds of programs, but from a Christian worldview perspective there’s certain issues that we need to talk about that the secular press will not.


For instance, why is there this human quest to understand the cosmos around us? Immanuel Kant, one of the founders of the modern world, one of the first prophets of the Enlightenment, said that there were – in his mind – two great mysteries. As he described it, the two ministries were the starry heavens above and the moral life within. Kant was onto something in terms of those observations. When we look at the starry heavens above there are huge questions that we ask. And those questions demand some kind of answer. The combination of scientific disciplines necessary to successfully launch this kind of probe, to track it through the cosmos, and eventually successfully to land it – not to mention receiving telecommunications and images back from it – those associated sciences are actually based upon a worldview that was given to the Western world by Christianity. Historians of science, such as Herbert Butterfield, have pointed to the fact that modern science was birthed where the world was believed to be intelligible – that is knowable; a very key issue comes in to play here.

Those earliest scientists who gave birth to modern science in the Western world believed, specifically, that the cosmos was intelligible – that it is intelligible, that is to say understandable – because they believed that it was created by an intelligent, sovereign, supreme creator that reflects His own glory and intentionality in the cosmos. In other words, they believed that the cosmos was intelligible precisely because it was created and it wasn’t an accident. They would have had very little confidence that the world would’ve been intelligible if it was just a cosmic accident. There was something else to their understanding; that was the continuity and the stability of natural laws. Those early scientists and the science upon which this Rosetta project is still based is established upon the premise that there are continuing physical laws in the universe that operate basically in all places, at all times and can be counted upon to operate regularly. Now where does that confidence come from?

In early science in the Western world the early science that gave birth to the high technologies we know now, the confidence was that those stable regular laws were indeed stable and regular precisely because there was a sovereign God who is exercising His providential care over this cosmos. Now modern secular science tends to think of itself as pervasively secular and in terms of those who are practicing it, there is often a very determined effort to make the science as secular as possible. But science will not remain as secular as the secular mind intends it to be. The very fact that the cosmos is intelligible, the very fact that the regularity these natural laws were exactly what was dependent upon by those researchers who launched this probe and now celebrate it’s landing, those are actually still pointing to the fact that the universe is regular and intelligible for a reason; it’s not regular and intelligible by accident. In other words, there is a profound testimony to the reality and the existence not only of a God but of a God who created the cosmos and is still actively involved in his providential care over it; even in these headlines. But you’re not going to be getting that from the secular press, but Christians ought to be very careful not to miss that point in these headlines.

2) Movie Interstellar underlines secular belief that the cosmos contains answers to life

Well millions of Americans have not missed Christopher Nolan’s new movie Interstellar over the last eight days. And when Americans have gone to that blockbuster movie lasting almost 3 hours in duration what exactly are they looking at and why are they going? Jeffrey Kluger writing for a cover story in Time magazine last week makes the point. He writes this way,

“It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest.”

But he goes on in very profound prose to write this,

“But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology [writes Kluger] has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right?”

Jeffrey Kluger is onto something of immense importance here. He’s pointing to the fact that cosmology has indeed become a substitute religion. Big cosmology, to use his term, is now the kind of not only science and entertainment but intellectual focus that is substituting for religious faith. Big cosmology, according to Kluger, is where the big questions of life are now expected to be answered. Or to put it another way, when theology recedes, Jeffrey Kluger says cosmology is ascendant. And he’s really onto something that is far bigger than a film when he makes that observation.

This is true not only when it comes to Hollywood movies, Christopher Nolan’s new Interstellar in particular, it’s also about why so many of the New Atheists are actually dealing in cosmology. Why so many of them come from the sciences trying to answer these very same questions with their own secular scientific discipline. But as Kluger also writes and I quote,

“Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking–people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson–the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood. And no moviemaker is currently more influential than Christopher Nolan,”

director of Interstellar, the shrouded-in-secrecy movie that America’s began to see last Friday. As Jeffrey Kluger explains the premise of Interstellar simple enough,

“Earth is dying from an unnamed blight, and it’s the job of a small band of astronauts (led by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) and scientists (Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine) to look for a new world to colonize before it’s too late. So far, that could be the stuff of a Bruce Willis joy ride–a rocket-jock movie in which lots of things blow up and lots of people die.”

But says Kluger, and he’s right about this,

“…Interstellar has bigger ambitions–ambitions that go hard at the physics and at those cosmic questions.”

My wife Mary and I went to see the movie last Friday night and we can assure you this movie is doing it’s very best to address those big cosmic questions. I can also assure you of this, it doesn’t answer them – not in any fundamental way and certainly not in any way that will be intellectually, much less spiritually satisfying.

Nolan himself does seem to believe that cosmology can deliver on the questions, maybe even believes his movie can deliver the answers. He writes this,

“You can actually look up at the sky and see this stuff. That’s the prime thing. Looking up at the stars is the primal connection.”

Well looking up at the stars may raise the questions but it isn’t, and it can never be, the so-called primal connection. Without revealing a spoiler for the movie, one thing that does need to be said is that the question of love emerges in this totally secular context. There’s a lot of science fiction in the movie; Hans Zimmer score is absolutely powerful; there’s a strong storyline, and the acting itself is very good. But the main point of love, as it is raised in this movie, is to suggest that just maybe it could survive even if earth and all humanity does not. That rather secular affirmation that love somehow was the missing force in the universe that’s holding everything together, well that’s one of the great secular dreams; but it is absolutely fundamentally in opposition to what is revealed in Scripture. There is absolutely no hint whatsoever in Scripture that love is somehow an impersonal force; by its very definition, in every occasion, love in the Bible is affirmed as being inherently personal, it is linked to persons.

Reviewing the movie for the New Yorker David Denby writes,

“The Nolans take us into the farthest mysteries of space-time, where, they assure us, love joins gravity as a force that operates across interstellar distances. The Earth may die, but love will triumph. For all his dark scenarios, Christopher Nolan turns out to be a softie.”

Well as the narrative unfolds, Christopher Nolan does turn out to be something of a softie. But his answer also turns out to be something of a softheaded answer. Three hours into the movie, observers will be noticing some of the most anticipated ending scenes of any recent movie. Some of it is very highly predictable but there also some unpredictable elements that will retain your interest. But what becomes clear in this movie is exactly what Jeffrey Kluger of Time magazine is pointing to and that is that the movie actually suggests that the big questions of life will somehow, if ever, be delivered by cosmology. By, as Christopher Nolan says, looking at the stars and making the primal connection.

But putting the movie Interstellar and the Rosetta mission celebrated this week together one thing becomes abundantly clear. The movie may entertain us for three hours and the Rosetta mission may give us reams and reams of information that could take decades to unwind, but neither one can answer the biggest questions of life: the who, the what, the when, not to mention the why.

Before leaving Interstellar, by the way, there is an interesting debate taking place among cosmologists about the movie. And at least many cosmologists are upset at the movie for the very thing that was just noted by David Denby in the New Yorker; Christopher Nolan turns out to be a softie. Many of the scientists are saying that the attention to family and love in the movie is actually a distraction; they want more about gravity, they want more about the laws of physics, and they want more about black holes. That tells you something about what’s going on in scientific circles; some scientists have said they don’t want anything to do with talking about love in a scientific context. You can’t measure, you can’t observe it, is not scientifically valid. Well that response among other things might tell you why people in Hollywood are making the movies, not people who run the laboratories.

3) Supreme Court once more fumbles on same sex marriage, removes own stay on Kansas gay marriage

Next, once again the United States Supreme Court seems to fumble the question of same-sex marriage as yesterday’s edition of the Dallas Morning News reports,

“The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed same-sex marriage is to proceed in Kansas,”

Lifting a temporary stay issued Monday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The two sentence order was similar to recently ones from the court and the court has repeatedly declined to intercede in the legal battles over same-sex marriage in so far as appeals have been made from other lower federal courts. But there’s one difference, says the Dallas Morning News, the earlier orders apparently had been unanimous – this one noted that Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have granted the stay.

Now there is a very interesting development in this because what’s different between then and now? What’s different between early October when the Supreme Court turned back all appeals from the federal courts and now when you had at least two Justices this week who said they would have granted a stay? What has happened is the decision that was handed down, not this week but at the end of last week, by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. And as I wrote about on my website at, that particular decision, which sustained and upheld certain state laws defining marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman, that particular appellate court now sets the stage for the Supreme Court to have to answer the question it had tried to dodge just early in October.

But as I said earlier, if in the month of October the Supreme Court punted on the question of same-sex marriage to continue the football metaphor, this week it fumbled it once again. You had one Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who earlier in the week granted a stay in terms of the lower court decision only have a larger group of justices reverse that stages two days later. This is not the way the highest court in the land should handle such a monumental question; not even in terms of procedure. The same thing happened a couple of months ago when Anthony Kennedy, another Supreme Court justice, issued a stay and then lifted the stay within a matter of hours.

Before leaving the issue one additional federal judge also declared a gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional. That took place earlier this week when District Judge Richard Gurgle, sitting in Charleston, South Carolina, struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Add one more state to the states out of 50 that have legal same-sex marriage. And furthermore, add one more state to the states where the issue was decided not by the people but by a federal judge.

4) Maryland schools remove names of all religious holidays in war on common sense

Finally, a very interesting story appeared from the Associated Press yesterday and even as many people are describing it is the latest installment on the war on Christmas, I suggest it’s really nothing of the kind – it’s more simply a war on common sense. As the Associated Press reported yesterday,

“Presented with the opportunity to recognize a Muslim holiday on the school calendar for the first time, leaders of Maryland’s largest school district went a different direction: They removed all mention of religious holidays from the calendar.”

Now, in other words, they simply removed all religious holidays from the calendar but left the holidays there under a different name. The Associated Press mentions that some districts across the country have been trying to keep the holidays while trying to act as if there’s no religious significance to them. Christmas break in some school districts has been replaced with ‘winter break.’ But the story in Montgomery County Maryland is a bit more complex and it takes the argument a bit further. As the Associated Press reports,

“Muslim activists had asked the board to note on next year’s calendar that Yom Kippur, a day when schools are already closed, is also Eid al-Adha. The two holidays do not always fall on the same date. But the board rejected that proposal, instead voting 7-1 to close schools on the same days as usual without mentioning their religious associations. As a result, Christians and Jews are upset at the removal of their holidays from the calendar, and Muslims are upset that theirs weren’t included.”

Phil Kaufman, the school board chairman, says he thinks the decision is fair. As he explained, schools will remain closed on Christmas, as well as on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But one Muslim leader in the community said,

“It shows they would go to any lengths, they would take drastic measures to deny the Muslim community the right to have the Eid holiday on the school calendar,”

Well, Christians should step back for a moment and recognize that there is something important here at stake. There is no reason why Christians should argue against having a Muslim holiday on the school calendar if there is a significant group or percentage of Muslims in the community – that would simply be fair and it would simply makes sense. We should not claim the privilege of having our religious holidays on the calendar and consider it some kind of Christian victory to keep other religious holidays off the calendar. There is very little risk in most communities that there will be a sizable population yet that will lead to an absolute multiplicity of holidays that would make having school, a regular school year, impossible. What the Muslim authorities within this community were asking for on behalf of their families was simply to have one holiday put on the calendar – that is not an imposition, nor is it an unreasonable request; not in a school district in which there’s a sizable number of Muslim students and families represented.

But Christians also need to recognize that the Muslims, in making this case, are actually showing up as honest, with the school board showing up is either dishonest or simply irrational. It makes no sense whatsoever to say that we’re removing the kind of religious connotations to the holidays merely by refusing to call Christmas, Christmas or refusing to call Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah. If the holidays are still granted, no one’s going to believe that this some kind of cosmic coincidence whereby all the sudden the winter break appears exactly where Christmas break had been.

This is the kind of secular insanity that just leads us to go back and scratch our heads wondering how anyone can take this with a straight face. This is tantamount to the same secular nonsense whereby so many secular academics, afraid of any relationship to Christianity – even as an historical fact whatsoever – have tried to re-date the way history is recorded; shifting from BC, which means before Christ, and AD, or Anno Domini, the year of our Lord to B.C.E. for ‘Before Common Era’ and C.E. for ‘Common Era’ as if they’ve actually accomplished anything. But in reality, the very fact that the numbers start where they start – the great dividing point – is the birth of Jesus Christ. If they really want to secularize the numbers whereby we identify years, they’re going to have to go back and re-number everything. They’re going to have to come up with a new starting point. Just re-labeling the calendar is an exercise in self-delusion, it may make secularists feel better but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. And the very same thing is true in Montgomery County, Maryland where if you’re going to have a winter break – exactly where Christmas break was – no one’s going to believe that you’ve just secularized the holiday; you’re just deciding to call it something else. Christians don’t need to mount some kind of campaign about this being new evidence for the war on Christmas, no – this is a war on common sense. And in taking an action like this once again the secular mind just offers a parody of itself.

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 Austin, Texas and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Success of comet landing dependent on science built on a Christian worldview

Landing on a Comet, a European Space Agency Mission Aims to Unlock the Mysteries of Earth, New York Times (Kenneth Chang)

Rosetta mission: What do you do when your landing probe bounces into a crater?, The Telegraph (Sarah Knapton)

2) Movie Interstellar underlines secular belief that the cosmos contains answers to life

Interstellar, Where No Movie Has Gone Before, TIME (Jeffrey Kluger)

Love and Physics, New Yorker (David Denby)

3) Supreme Court once more fumbles on same sex marriage, removes own stay on Kansas gay marriage

Supreme Court lifts hold on gay marriage in Kansas, Dallas Morning News (AP)

4) Maryland schools remove names of all religious holidays in war on common sense

Montgomery Co. Schools Scrap Religious Names From Calendar, CBS News (AP)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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