The Briefing 03-26-15

The Briefing 03-26-15

The Briefing


March 26, 2015

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

  It’s Thursday, March 26, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Suspicious circumstances surrounding Germanwings crash radically alters its significance The crash on Tuesday of a Germanwings Airbus airliner with 150 on board was already horrifying enough. We’re talking about a modern jetliner strewn across the French Alps with 150 people dead; 150 people who boarded that flight expecting to have a fairly short trip from Barcelona, Spain to Düsseldorf, Germany. But the flight didn’t end in Düsseldorf, it ended on a French Alpine mountainside, a mountainside so remote that it is only accessible by helicopter. But the story, tragic as it already was, took an even more ominous turn late on Wednesday when authorities in France revealed that there is evidence that there could well have been a deliberate act behind the crash. While authorities are scrambling to say that they do not yet know what happened, the fact that the cockpit voice recorder was recovered and that an initial investigation has already begun has already revealed that there was a pilot that was locked out of the cockpit in the final moments of the fated flight. The most authoritative news source on the flight thus far is the New York Times in an article published late yesterday that virtually all other international media are citing. The reporters were Nicola Clark and Dan Bilefsky and they reported, “As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed amid a relatively clear sky, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.” The New York Times quotes a senior military official that is involved in the investigation who described, “‘very smooth, very cool’ conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight… [but] the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.” According to the official, “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer.” Then the official said this, “There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.” As the reporters for the New York Times indicated, there is no rationale yet offered for why one of the pilots left the flight so early in terms of the early minutes of the flight itself and why he could not gain reentry into the cockpit. There is absolutely no voice recorded inside the cockpit during these final minutes, at least according to the French official that was cited. Then the reporters write this, “The data from the voice recorder seems only to deepen the mystery surrounding the crash and provides no indication of the condition or activity of the pilot who remained in the cockpit.” This story of course brings up the fact that we had just recently noted the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner including a larger number of passengers over what is now believed to have been the South Indian Ocean. And as that story unfolded over the last several months it became increasingly clear that the only rational explanation that could be adduced from the evidence was that there was some kind of deliberate act on the part of one or both of the pilots that led to the crash of the Malaysian airliner. At this point we actually have to say the disappearance of the airliner because there is no direct evidence of the crash. But when it comes to the Germanwings crash there is plenty of evidence and it is horrifying. We’re talking about a crash that took the lives of 150 people, including a large number of teenagers from Germany who had been in an intensive language study in Barcelona, Spain – the 10th graders were lost along with two of their teachers. It is clear that the New York Times had privileged access to either one or two of the French officials involved in the investigation. Later in the article the Times reports a French official who said, “I don’t like it. To me, it seems very weird: this very long descent at normal speed without any communications, though the weather was absolutely clear.” And then, even more troubling words, “So far, we don’t have any evidence that points clearly to a technical explanation, so we have to consider the possibility of deliberate human responsibility.” Last night media throughout the world were captivated by the story, and it is clear that an international audience was desperately seeking for answers – most urgently, of course, those who lost loved ones on the plane. But virtually everyone is now asking the same set of questions: how is it that a second modern airliner had disappeared, or in this case crash, when there is at least at this point evidence that it might have been a deliberate human act? Why, just minutes into the flight, was one of the pilots already outside the cockpit? Why could he not regain entry? And why was there no conversation going on at all, no words whatsoever, from inside the cockpit? And then you have a French official involved in the investigation who said on the record, though unwilling to be identified, that it appears at this point that human deliberate action may well be central to the story. From a Christian worldview perspective there is one central issue that looms larger than any other in the story at this point, and that is that the situation is categorically changed if we’re not talking about an accident, if instead we’re talking about some kind of deliberate human act, or at least deliberate human involvement. Given the urgency and importance of this story it’s likely that a great deal of new information will be coming even in upcoming hour, but at this point, from the Christian worldview perspective, the issue of moral responsibility simply looms larger than anything else. And that’s because we understand that one set of moral conditions would apply if this were understand to be an accident, if some kind of mechanical problem had caused the crash, or some kind of unexplained weather phenomena. But in this case it appears that there is no evidence of any kind of mechanical failure, at least of anything that would have caused the airliner to fall out of the sky. But it didn’t exactly fall, and that leads to an even bigger problem. It appears to have had a straight line descent from its cruising altitude to the level of between six and 7000 feet that ran the airliner directly into the French Alps. But when we’re talking about human responsibility here everything has truly changed because the moral set of conditions, if there is a human deliberate act behind this, means that what we’re looking at is mass murder – the murder of 150 people and perhaps the murder of 149 with the suicide of one. But what we’re looking at here, even given the facts, just given what we know right now in terms of the international conversation, it tells us that we should note that the audience was immediately alert to the fact that this just might be a very different story that first appeared on Tuesday. What did we know on Tuesday? We knew on Tuesday that there had been a plane crash, a plane crash that took 150 lives. Already between Tuesday and the report that broke on Wednesday evening we knew that in the passenger list were two opera singers, we found out that there were two Americans – perhaps three – on the flight, we found out that those from several different nations were involved though the largest number were from both Spain and Germany, we also knew that there was a group of these 10th-graders on the flight along with two of their teachers. We imagined ourselves knowing that either we or our loved ones could’ve been on a flight like this, simply getting onto a plane as we do quite casually these days and yet even as the plane reached cruising altitude, finding the plane only to descend without any apparent explanation, and then to crash into a French mountainside. Everything’s changed if this is a deliberate moral act. One of the things we should understand now is that even people who do not operate out of a Christian worldview understand the clear distinction between an accident and an act of murder. That tells us something about the fact that God made us as moral creatures – the fact that there is an immediate change in the conversation, the fact that a chill went down all of our spines, and that we immediately saw the story as even more tragic than we knew on Tuesday, this points to the fact the God made us as moral creatures who simply can’t miss a moral point. And here we’re talking about a moral point of immense magnitude. One Christian philosopher wrote a book some years ago in which he pointed out that that there are things that we cannot not know. That’s very important. It’s important to know that there are things, simply because we are made in God’s image, we can’t not know, there are truths that we simply cannot suppress or deny. One of those truths is that morality matters, one of those truths is that a deliberate taking of life is one of the most urgent and massive moral considerations of which humans are capable of imagining. And it also means that if this story does turn out to be a story of deliberate human action, it is an entirely different event. Yes, there are things we do not know about this flight, but when it comes to the fact that we are moral creatures who inherently know a moral issue when we see one – certainly of this magnitude – it tells us also that there are certain things we cannot not know. In Romans 1 Paul speaks of this knowledge, both of the fact that we are made in God’s image and also that God has revealed his law in nature, and points out that these things we cannot not know are things that we can, in terms of our human fallen-ness, seek to suppress. But as the evidence of international attention and international anxiety showed last night, the things that we simply do know because we are made in God’s image have a way of working themselves into daily headlines, even headlines as horrifying as this; headlines that everyone watching the news or following the news by social media last night well understood, headlines that are inherently undeniably moral. 2) New York Times piece argues belief in God is itself immoral And speaking of morality, what about the morality of belief in God? That issue was raised in the opinion pages of the New York Times by Michael Ruse, a professor of philosophy at Florida State University. The title of his article, Why God is a Moral Issue. He writes about the new atheists, accepting that they’re not a comfortable group of people (in his words): “They have scornful contempt for those with whom they differ — that includes religious believers, agnostics and other atheists who don’t share their vehement brand of nonbelief. They are self-confident to a degree that seems designed to irritate. And they have an ignorance of anything beyond their fields to an extent remarkable even in modern academia. They also have a moral passion unknown outside the pages of the Old Testament. For that, we can forgive much.” Well that sets the stage for what Michael Ruse will argue is a major case against the morality of believing in God, or perhaps you might say the immorality he would argue of believing in God. He cites with special reference Richard Dawkins, the British scientists and leader of the new atheism, who has gone so far as to argue that raising a child in terms of religious belief is a form of child abuse – it’s something that simply shouldn’t be tolerated. But in this article Michael Ruse is getting to the very heart of one of the most central issues of the Christian worldview, and that is the fact that knowledge is never without a moral context, and morality and knowledge are always tied together. After all we should recall, in terms of the biblical storyline, it was from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of knowledge that Adam and Eve ate and that was the knowledge that was forbidden. But now on the other side of that original sin, on the other side of Eden, we’re now looking at the reality that we do know things that we were not meant to know and as we know them, we are now responsible for that knowledge. But Michael Ruse is arguing that in the modern age it is actually immoral to believe in God. He’s writing that when you look at the passion, the vehemence, of the new atheists it can be understood, he argues, when it is taken into account what belief in God actually morally means. At this point we’ve got a pay close attention to professor Ruse’s argument. In the first place he dismisses the idea that belief in God isn’t a moral question. He says it’s not like knowing that 2+2 = 4, instead he says, “The trouble is that the God question is not so easily solved as the mathematical one — and this, as we’ll see, is what leads to moral issues.” Now, interestingly Michael Ruse takes into account the argument from design. He says, ‘Yes it makes sense to so many people, we might say it appears the majority of people in the world, that the world itself, its very existence, can be explained only by an intelligent divine creator.’ He points to the fact that if you look at the intricacies of the world, if you look at the fact that it appears to be custom-made for human habitation, if you look at even the mystery he concedes of human consciousness it’s hard to believe that there wasn’t a divine intelligent designer behind it. But he says there’s another side to the question and this is where his argument gets even more interesting. He points to moral action, including righteous moral action such as those who stood up against Hitler and Nazi-ism, and he asked the question “can such a wonderful universe be entirely without point?” And yet, as we shall see, he argues that the argument for God actually has far less credibility – morally speaking – than the argument against Him. In terms of the arguments against God, he raises the issue of evil and suffering. He says, “According to many monotheistic religions, God is supposed to be both all loving and all powerful. If so, why does he/she allow human suffering?” That is not an inconsequential question – that’s one of the major theological issues with which any intelligent Christian must struggle. And yet the Bible does answer that question, answering it in terms of the fact the God is both all-powerful and all loving, and that God has a purpose, a purpose for allowing, for ordaining, the reality of sin for allowing human beings to have the reality of moral responsibility. And even as his judgment against human sin is made clear in creation in what Paul in Romans 8 calls the groaning of creation in termites and mosquitoes and tumors and earthquakes, the reality is that God takes full responsibility for his creation. And the Christian biblical worldview points to the fact that there is no such thing as meaningless suffering. The Bible takes human suffering with great and direct seriousness. With incredible honesty it doesn’t deny it in any respect, but it does put it in the larger context of the fact that even as we cannot trace all of God’s ways, we do know that he is both all-powerful and all loving. Michael Ruse then raises another question, and this is really interesting. He writes this: “There are other modes of objection: If the Christian God is absolute how could such an astonishing variety of alternative beliefs flourish? Why does the Pope believe one thing and the Dalai Lama believe something completely different?” That’s an interesting question, that’s actually something relatively new in terms of objections to belief in God. It’s rather clever on the one hand; he’s arguing that the fact of religious diversity, the reality that there are people who hold very different worldviews, points to the fact that God must not exist because if he did exist he would coerce us to believe all the same things, all the same truth about him. But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity and that misunderstanding of Christianity, of the worldview of Christianity based upon the Bible, becomes very clear when Michael Ruse asked the question ‘why doesn’t the Dalai Lama believe in the God of the Bible?’ He goes on to answer, “The Calvinist might answer that his sense is clouded by original sin. But does one really think that the Dalai Lama is befogged by original sin in a way that a televangelist in Florida is not? Surely no one could be quite this insensitive.” Well that’s a very interesting set of sentences, but it also reflects a deep misunderstanding of biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity does indeed teach original sin, it teaches that the sin of Adam has so affected humanity that every single one of us is absolutely dependent not only upon the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, but upon the fact that we can’t even know Christ without the gift of divine revelation. What he misses in this is that we do not believe that we have figured out the ways of God, the ways of the gospel, on our own in a way that the Dalai Lama has not. To the contrary, biblical Christianity starts out exactly where the apostle Paul is, again back in Romans 1, if we did not have the gift of divine revelation we would all be equally in darkness and would be in equal confusion. That’s why in Romans 10 Paul will say very clearly, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. If we never hear divine revelation, if we never come into contact with it, if we never hear the gospel, then we can’t possibly believe in the truth about Christ and the truth about the gospel and the truth about God’s redemptive purpose accomplished in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Michael Ruse asked a series of questions here in this article assuming that Christians really believe that we somehow are less affected by sin and thus we understand these things better because of the fact that original sin has not so clouded our vision. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding. The Bible teaches that all we like sheep have gone astray, the Bible teaches – Paul again in Romans 3 – that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In Romans1 Paul makes very clear that the conspiracy to suppress the truth in unrighteousness isn’t something in which some human beings are involved, but all human beings and that means we ourselves. God’s mercy, we believe, is shown in the fact that he has spoken to us, he has revealed himself to us, he has shown us what he has done for us in Christ through the means of the gospel –which isn’t something we figured out, but something that God accomplished in Christ and then reveals to us by revelation. And of course it is then our responsibility to share that revelation with others. We don’t believe that we are intellectually superior to the Dalai Lama – far be it. We do believe that we have received, by grace, a revelation that we are obligated now to share with others – others including the Dalai Lama. Professor Ruse then writes these two paragraphs. He says, “This is only a small sample of what is going on in the minds of atheists. Yes, there are good reasons to think that there is more than meets the eye. But no, the Christian and other theistic solutions are simply not adequate. So, if there are so many problems with theistic belief, why do people continue to take it seriously?” He then writes this astounding paragraph, “The truth is that many don’t. In parts of the world where people are allowed and encouraged to take these things seriously and to think them through, people increasingly find that they can do without the God factor. It is in places where one is being indoctrinated from childhood and bullied in adulthood that people continue with God belief.” That’s an astounding paragraph. Let’s go back to where he began. He was trying to explain why the new atheists are so vehement in their opposition to belief in God in general and Christianity in particular. He points to the fact, and he concedes just how radical this must appear, that someone like Richard Dawkins thinks that it is morally wrong to indoctrinate one’s children in theism – particularly in Christianity. And yet what he seems to fail to understand is that when he describes these parts of the world where, “…where people are allowed and encouraged to take these things seriously and to think them through,” When he writes about the people who “increasingly find they can do without the God factor,” he’s writing about people who live in largely secularize cultures and who are raised by – no inference needed here – largely secularized parents. So this raises a very interesting issue: why are the new atheist concerned about the morality of Christian parents raising their children in terms of Christian truth, and he’s not concerned about the issue of agnostic or atheist parents raising their children in agnosticism or atheism? It is because Michael Ruse simply seems to believe that there is some knowledge that really doesn’t have any particular moral responsibility. And that’s one of the most interesting things we could conclude on here. As we know, from a biblical worldview, all knowledge is inherently moral. Yes he’s actually right, he is profoundly right. The question of belief in God is inescapably and massively moral. But those who are Christians firmly come to understand that the morality of the question is this: how can one deny the reality of God when He has shown himself so gloriously, so abundantly, and so clearly around us? Once again we go back to the most profound passage in Scripture about the morality of knowledge, indeed about the morality of knowledge in God – that again is Romans 1 – where the apostle Paul points to the fact that God has revealed himself even in the natural world and his human creatures refuse to see what is there. And then Paul writes these words, “so they are without excuse.” What the apostle Paul is saying is exactly what Michael Ruse is saying: belief in God is a moral issue. But Michael Ruse says it is moral in this sense: it immoral to believe in God. But the apostle Paul comes back and says exactly the opposite. To refuse to believe in God is the most significant moral act a human creature can make and when it comes to that we are all, says the apostle Paul, without excuse. When it comes to the issue of the moral knowledge of God, no statement is more clarifying than that.   Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’m speaking to you from Ashville, North Carolina and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.  

Podcast Transcript

1) Suspicious circumstances surrounding Germanwings crash radically alters its significance

Germanwings Pilot Was Locked Out of Cockpit Before Crash in France, New York Times (Nicola Clark and Dan Bilefsky)

2) New York Times piece argues belief in God is itself immoral

Why God Is a Moral Issue, New York Times (Michael Ruse)




R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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