Thursday, September 22, 2016
The Briefing 09-22-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The end of mom and dad? Scientists say making babies without eggs may be possible
One of the strangest but simultaneously most revealing impulses we find in the world around us is represented by the modern reproductive technology revolution and the desire to somehow be able to create human beings by means other than what has been normal throughout human history, throughout millennia, going all the way back to Adam and Eve—and that is by the process of human reproduction with a man and a woman. Thus, you see what came in the BBC recently with a headline,
“Making babies without eggs may be possible, say scientists.”
James Gallagher, who is the health and science reporter for the BBC, is here writing a story that supposedly tells us that scientists have some degree of confidence that one day it just might be possible to have human babies without a mother’s egg. At this point, we simply have to observe before we go any further that the impetus behind so many of these stories is straightforwardly how to have babies without a man and a woman, and thus without marriage, and thus without the necessity of marriage being the union of a man and a woman. So much of the impetus behind the modern revolution in reproductive technology is straightforwardly and transparently a desire to somehow go around and over the institution formally known as marriage, that is the union of a man and a woman, a conjugal union that was the very basis not only for human civilization, but for human reproduction.
The sexual revolution, we should note, requires a technological revolution, and we saw this with the development of contraception and birth-control, and we see it now in terms of the reproductive revolution. Gallagher writes about these scientists who say,
“Early experiments suggest it may one day be possible to make babies without using eggs.”
They go on to say that these scientists “have succeeded in creating healthy baby mice by tricking sperm into believing they were fertilising normal eggs.”
Now here again, let’s pause for a moment. Notice the conditionality written into this article. It tells us that even in a headline story like this there may be, at least scientifically and technologically speaking, less than meets the eye. At the same time, morally speaking, there’s likely here more than meets the eye. The lede sentence speaks of early experiments, which gives everyone wiggle room for later experiments to prove that these early experiments didn’t mean much, and then you’ll notice the verb, the verb is “suggests.” They’re not promising. They’re not stating. They’re not claiming. They’re merely suggesting on the basis of these early experiments that it may one day be possible.
Now there you have two conditionalities: the very word “possible” and then even previous to that the idea that it may or might one day be possible. So we look at all the conditionality built into just the few words of that opening sentence and we understand that it reveals that this is scientifically very iffy. But morally this is still very important. The original report was in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
The findings, we are told, “could, in the distant future”—here we should note more conditionality—“in the distant future, mean women can be removed from the baby-making process. For now,” the BBC says, “the work helps to explain some of the details of fertilisation.”
Then there comes the attention-getting subhead,
“End of mum and dad?”
Gallagher goes on to report,
“The University of Bath scientists started with an unfertilised egg in their experiments. They used chemicals to trick it into becoming a pseudo-embryo. These ‘fake’ embryos,” according to the researchers, “share much in common with ordinary cells, such as skin cells, in the way they divide and control their DNA.”
“The researchers reasoned that if injecting sperm into mouse pseudo-embryos could produce healthy babies, then it might one day be possible to achieve a similar result in humans using cells that are not from eggs.”
Now again, let’s just ask the question. Is this really about science, or is it about the sexual revolution? Well, just wait, because very quickly in this article that question is answered. It was answered at least in part by comments in the article from Dr. Tony Perry, identified as one of the researchers. He said to the BBC,
“This is the first time that anyone has been able to show that anything other than an egg can combine with a sperm in this way to give rise to offspring.”
“It overturns nearly 200 years of thinking.”
You read further down the article, it’s not so clear that it overturned anything. But what is clear is that it is an effort to try to overturn the way human beings throughout millennia have discussed having babies. The sexual revolution explodes into the article. Dr. Perry said,
“One possibility, in the distant future, is that it might be possible that ordinary cells in the body can be combined with a sperm so that an embryo is formed.”
What would that mean? Well, wait.
“In other words, two men could have a child, with one donating an ordinary cell and the other, sperm. Or one man could have his own child using his own cells and sperm - with that child being more like a non-identical twin than a clone.”
Indicating just how flimsy the science is, the researcher, according to the BBC, “stressed that such scenarios were still ‘speculative and fanciful’ at this stage.”
You don’t often see the word “fanciful” actually used by a serious scientist. But there it is, and that underlines the conditionality behind this. But all this actually underlines what’s more important. And that is the quest on the part of a revolutionary society bent on redefining everything about sex and reproduction and marriage and gender to try to find out how to do what every human generation must do: reproduce itself, but to do so without marriage and in this case even to do so without women, or at least to do so without eggs. There’s no explanation of how a fertilized egg is supposedly to move to gestation without a woman, but nonetheless, the genetic argument is here. Two men can have a baby together, or even one man using two very different cells from his own body. That would truly be a Brave New World of reproductive technology, but this article tells us that something else is arriving quite sooner, indeed now. And that is a Brave New World of human morality.
The danger of absolute power: Labour Party's collapse has destabilized British politics
Next, shifting to the question of politics, we’re looking to the 2016 presidential election in the United States and as usual, we’re looking at the fact that the major dynamic is between two nominees of two political parties. Now when you think about this in the United States, at least some Americans would come to the conclusion that the Republic would be better off if only everyone voted our way, if there were not two very different political parties. And, by the way, the research indicates that the two political parties of the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans, are moving further away from one another. Furthermore, the issues are admittedly huge, not just economic and foreign-policy issues, other questions of domestic controversy, but especially the huge worldview issues related to the sanctity of human life and the integrity of the family in the ordering of society, the very question of gender identity, the future of the Supreme Court—all these are massively important issues. But there’s actually something else that we need to recognize here, and that is the fact that in a fallen world, sometimes in a representative democracy such as the United States, we’re actually better off having two major political parties rather than one.
Why that argument? Because in a fallen world, the monopoly of conversation or the monopoly of power might lead in even more sinful and devastating directions. This is a real and present danger right now, not so much for the United States, but for our very friendly ally, the United Kingdom, Great Britain. There the country is looking at the absolute collapse of what had been one of the two major political parties in that country, what is known as the Labour Party. More recently, the Labour Party is virtually disappearing in terms of political influence inside the government policies of the United Kingdom. The reasons for this go back several years to the discrediting of the Labour Party after the fall of the Labour government.
But more recently, it is directly tied to and accelerated by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader in Parliament of the Labour Party. Now in order to put this into context, just remember that Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of almost anyone on the American political horizon. He is far to the left even of declared Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who ran a surprisingly active campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The collapse of the Labour Party is due at least immediately and proximately to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is now the leader of that party, and he is leading it so far off to the left edge of British politics that the party, it is now assumed, just might not survive.
This led The Economist of London to run a major, full-page editorial in which it warned that the Labour Party’s implosion could leave Britain without a functioning opposition.
“That,” said the paper, “is more dangerous than many realise.”
This is where the Christian worldview kicks in to remind us that a representative form of democracy is actually based upon the Christian worldview, based upon the very important biblical principle that power in a sinful world tends to corrupt. Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He didn’t come up with that by secular observation. That was deeply rooted in the Christian worldview. This explains why the founders of the American experiment in constitutional democracy came up with the separation of powers into three different, supposedly coequal branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. This was based upon the Christian worldview principle that if you concentrated power in any one branch of government, not to mention in any one individual, it would lead to disaster in the long term for the country. That is similarly true when you consider the fact that this representative democracy allows citizens to vote, and those citizens will naturally gather together in terms of their own interests and worldview. That’s why in the United States it’s not an accident that we have two major political parties that oppose one another, predictably on an entire range of issues.
The important thing to understand from this story from England is this: in the middle of the 2016 American presidential election, there are many political arguments to be heard, and the important thing is that those arguments are being made. We understand that the political issues are bigger than politics, and they are so urgent that because of our deep convictions we honestly wish that every American agreed with us on these principles. But when it comes to the political process, it’s actually healthy to have arguments made between the two parties. We can only hope that those arguments were represented by two parties that were moving closer together in terms of what the Christian worldview would articulate as the important principles of the sanctity of human life and the integrity of marriage and the reality of gender identity and an entire host of other issues. We might put it this way: it’s a very good thing that political parties actually represent political arguments, and it’s a very good thing that those political arguments are made. But what’s really important is that the best argument, the argument established in truth, actually wins.
History warns against a strongman: Praise for Putin reveals false hope of an autocratic leader
Next, another major article that should have Christian attention, this one appeared in the Financial Times over the weekend. The article was entitled this,
“Putin finds a fan base in Republican country.”
It caught the attention of Courtney Weaver and the editors of the Financial Times. They’re writing from Las Vegas about the fact that a number of conservatives in the United States have identified that they actually find Vladimir Putin, the autocratic near-dictator of Russia, to be an attractive figure. Now the Financial Times recognizes that there’s a big story here. What’s the story? The story is of Americans, who after all are supposedly the great defenders of democracy. somehow finding attractive a character who is the very opposite of a true democrat—that is, of someone committed to democracy. The huge question is this: how could so many conservatives in America supposedly committed to human liberty and freedom begin to admire someone who is the enemy of those very essential truths?
Weaver begins her article by telling us about Jeff Grimord speaking from his perch in southern California.
According to Weaver, Grimord, “knows Vladimir Putin is no saint. A 71-year-old executive recruiter in Newport Beach, Mr Grimord acknowledges the Russian president is often accused of ‘nasty things’.”
“Journalists who criticise him are found dead. A little bit of him is still a communist at heart.’ Yet despite it all, he cannot help but feel enamoured of the Russian strongman.”
“I think he’s the only leader of a large, major country that stands out these days. He acts like he’s acting in his country’s interest and makes no bones about it.”
Later in the article, Weaver tells us something rather concerning. She writes,
“In August, an Economist-YouGov poll found that only 27 per cent of registered Republicans have a negative view of the Russian president, compared with 66 per cent two years ago.”
I must admit that the number is shocking. How could 66% of Republicans two years ago think that Vladimir Putin was evil, and now two years later believe that he’s something otherwise, someone to be admired? We should note that in those two years, Vladimir Putin did not reform himself or soften in his image; instead, he has plunged into even deeper depths of autocracy. So what’s going on here? Well, the Financial Times clearly summarizes that what’s going on is the desire for change and an agent of that change, and there is a desire for someone who can break the political impasses and make something happen. But here we also have to note something of deep concern to the Christian worldview. It’s a double concern: on the first part, there is the concern we should have that somehow the answer to our political questions is found in a strongman. That is a very dangerous argument. It is an argument against which history would warn us, especially the history of the 20th century, and it is an argument that the Christian worldview should warn us against us. We should not look for political rescue from a political leader who will trample upon liberties to bring about the defense of the very liberties that we say we honor. Secondly, there is the understanding here that also comes as a warning, the warnings that here you have people who seemingly are willing to overlook the venality, the corruption, the evil, the ruthlessness, and even the murderousness of Vladimir Putin simply because he gets things done. And as the article says, he is seen in acting in his own country’s best interests.
It used to be that Americans understood the danger of this kind of argument. After all in the 20th century, it was famously made by Chairman Mao, the murderous communist leader of China who in the Chinese Revolution took direct action that led to the deaths of over 100 million people. And it was Chairman Mao who rationalized and excused his own murderous totalitarian dictatorship by saying that if you want an omelet, you’ve got to be willing to break a few eggs.
It used to be that Americans understood that kind of statement to be morally debased and the very opposite of the democratic impulse. You have to wonder when this poll tells us that a significant number of Americans have decided to change their mind on the equation, perhaps also believing that if you want an omelet, you have to be willing to break a few eggs. Admiration for Vladimir Putin should be a moral signal that we are entering a new age of moral danger, indeed political danger, in the United States.
Detailed map of gay marriage in America gives new insight into our new moral landscape
Next, a hugely important story appeared recently in the New York Times. The headline:
“The Most Detailed Map Yet of Gay Marriage in America.”
The article in the Times tells us that the Census Bureau does not have adequate data in terms of measuring how many LGBT people there are in the United States, much less how many households. But researchers, according to the Times, have decided to come up with another means of trying to get an accurate measure of the representative numbers of LGBT households in America. How do they do so? They use tax records and whether or not two persons of a single gender reported themselves to be sharing a residence. The Times says it is an imperfect means, but at this point it is probably the most accurate means we have. The paper reports,
“More than three years after a Supreme Court decision gave federal recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states that allowed them”—that’s the Windsor decision—“the demographics of same-sex married couples largely remain a mystery. In fact, no one has a definitive count of gay married couples in the United States.
The paper then tells us,
“By linking the tax returns of same-sex couples who filed jointly in 2014 with their Social Security records, researchers are able to give us the most accurate picture of same-sex marriages to date. And their estimate is this: In 2014 there were 183,280 same-sex marriages in America, roughly a third of 1 percent of all marriages.”
Here’s some of the most interesting data:
“One highlight of the study: Pretax household income of same-sex married couples is higher than that of heterosexual married couples. Most of that is driven by the average earnings of male same-sex couples.”
That’s much higher than the average. But taking us back, or at least tying us back to the first story of our concern today, the paper reports,
“There is one group whose incomes are far above the rest: same-sex married men with children. Their income is roughly $275,000, more than double the pretax income for heterosexual couples and same-sex married female couples with children. This is a select group of people for whom the cost of children is particularly high.”
Now let’s ponder this for a moment because the New York Times clearly, though acknowledging that the cost is high, intends for us to see that this should be understood as absolutely normal. But here you’re talking about two men living in a common household married legally, according to the state, who are then said to have children. And then the observation that this is a select group of people for whom the cost of children is particularly high. The next sentence,
“Using a surrogate can cost $250,000, and adoptions can cost upward of $30,000.”
What’s the huge worldview insight from this? The obvious fact that two men, whether declared to be married or not, cannot, simply cannot, have a child together. They have to resort to some kind of technology and furthermore, to some kind of surrogacy. A woman still has to be involved. There still has to be a mother, a womb in which the baby can gestate, regardless of its genetic background and furthermore, it is still the fact that the paper has to acknowledge that men who supposedly are married to men for them the cost of children is particularly high.
That is, morally speaking, both obvious and explosive. There’s something else of deep importance that is buried in the story, and that comes down to this:
“The problem with estimating gay and lesbian populations is that they represent such a small fraction of the total population; any mistakes in how people answered their census forms are likely to push the number of gay couples and, in particular, gay married couples wildly out of focus.”
Now the most important thing there is the acknowledgment by the paper that the gay and lesbian populations are such a small fraction of the total population. We go back to same-sex marriage as we note that in 2014 they were 1/3 of 1% of the marriages performed that year. This reveals something of just how small a minority the LGBT community is, and thus we contrast that with its outsized political and cultural importance. One other insight buried in the article,
“Women gravitated toward commitment more than men. Among the same-sex marriages, 55 percent involved same-sex women and 45 percent same-sex men.”
That points back to the realization that was made, a concession even by the proponents of same-sex marriage, that it will be far more popular among same-sex female couples than same-sex male couples, who even the LGBT community knowledge were far less likely to be committed to either a committed long-term relationship or to monogamy.
One final insight from this article and something that should have our attention: whenever we look at numbers, regardless of the background of the source, we need to have a certain amount of incredulity, a certain amount of skepticism, about exactly what these numbers mean. Why in this case? Because remember, this count was developed by looking at income tax returns and the kind of residential status that was indicated on those returns. But the story in the New York Times tells us that the IRS is aware that American taxpayers are not particularly attentive to the boxes they check off on their income tax returns. And thus, the IRS offers a warning to those who tried to come up with these numbers of same-sex couples and households. It turns out a significant number of heterosexual couples might simply have checked on the wrong box on the form and thus ended up in the wrong categorization in these numbers. Keep that in mind when numbers like this are used to drive public policy. Sometimes the numbers are right. Sometimes the numbers just don’t add up, and often it’s hard to understand the difference.