The Briefing 12-01-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, December 1, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Redefining parenthood, redefining civilization: Ontario's radical new "All Families Are Equal Act"
Inevitably, in the wake of a cultural and moral revolution, all institutions have to be redefined. In terms of human existence, there is no institution more basic than the family, and within the family there is no relationship that is more basic than that between the husband and the wife and between parents and children. Thus, redefining parenthood has everything to do with redefining an entire civilization. World magazine yesterday was reporting on action undertaken Tuesday by the provincial government in Ontario, Canada. Samantha Gobba reports,
“Children in Ontario, Canada, may now have up to four legal parents, none of which must be birth parents, under to a bill passed by the legislature Tuesday.”
The bill is called the All Families are Equal Act, and under the legislation same-sex couples or a group of up to four adults who agree to have a child, whether through a surrogate mother or artificial insemination, will be legally viewed as parents without any adoption process. According to the report, they simply must sign a contract to co-parent before the child is conceived. A closer look at the actual legislation indicates that the maximum number of so-called parents in terms of this new legislation is not actually four, but can be even more than four. The law seems to state explicitly that an individual in Ontario can reach what’s called a preconception agreement with up to four other persons in order to establish parentage rights.
What we’re looking at here is what happens on the other side of the moral revolution that is brought about, most specifically by the advent of legal same-sex marriage. But behind same-sex marriage is the issue of artificial insemination, all of this added together, both the technological and a moral revolution, have added up to a necessary redefinition of the family, of marriage, and of parenthood.
But one of the things we need to note from a worldview perspective is the ultimate scale of redefining parenthood. This is something that I think most Christians do not even yet take into account. You are redefining the most basic relationship into which we enter the world, that primal relationship is between the parent and the child. And one of the things we need to note is that throughout human history, there have been contested issues in parenthood, but there has been an assumption on the part of virtually every civilization that parenthood eventually comes down to two different forms; and this means, first, the unquestioned biological parenthood that comes by natural reproduction and then, secondly, parenthood that is recognized officially, publicly, and legally by what is now called adoption, and furthermore has been recognized as such throughout millennia of human existence.
So if you are to invoke parenthood as a meaningful category in virtually any place on the globe in any previous point in history, parentage would come down one way or another to biological reproduction and to legal adoption. What we’re noticing here is that parenting is now being extended without any reference to either of these. This is something entirely new in human existence.
The Canadian press reports that the All Families are Equal Act “ensures that couples such as those who use the sperm or an egg donor or a surrogate are legally recognized as parents updating parentage laws for the first time since 1978.”
The next statement is this:
“Under the old rules same-sex parents often had to go to court to get that legal recognition.”
Now even though this report might have been redacted or shortened by an editor, we simply have to note that these sentences do not naturally flow together. You have the mixing of two different categories. In the first place, you have the advanced reproductive technologies and in the second place, you have the issue of same-sex marriage. And here we simply have to note that even now, a generation after the advent of many of these advanced reproductive technologies, issues of parentage, including legal issues, are not yet fully defined. We also have to note that here surrogate parenting is affirmed as a means whereby one can be considered now a parent. But the issue of surrogate parenting, interestingly enough, is newly and increasingly controversial in many parts of the world where it’s being reclassified as a form of the sex trade.
When the Canadian press puts those two issues together, the advanced reproductive technologies including the so-called IVF technology or test tube babies on the one hand and same-sex marriage on the other, oddly, even though it appears on the one hand to be a non sequitur, looked at more closely, it actually does flow together in a way that many people will not recognize. That comes down to the very expression that someone is going to have a baby. When it comes to a heterosexual couple under any normal circumstance, having a baby is not something that requires any explanation. It is simply included in the conjugal relationship of the man and the woman in the institution of marriage. But when it comes to anything other than heterosexual marriage as the union of a man and a woman, having a baby takes on an entirely different understanding. It requires some kind of artificial intervention; it requires a redefinition of what it means to be a parent. Stated as bluntly and as simply as possible, it is not conceivable for a same-sex couple to be able to produce a child by normal human reproduction. Someone else and something else in terms of technology has to intervene.
But perhaps the most important observation we need to make here is that this legislation does two things that should not pass without our noting. In the first place, it actually goes far further than would be actually required by even the mere legalization of same-sex marriage. Because under those circumstances, you could easily understand how the argument can be made that in the name of the legalization of same-sex marriage, same-sex married couples should be accorded the same rights as opposite sex married couples when it comes to the rights of adoption. That is something that though not right would be at least understandable under the current legal environment. What’s striking here is that that’s not what happened. Instead, the Ontario provincial government went far further than that, basically stating in a way that is similar to action undertaken by the United States State of New York in which parenting has now been, largely, absolutely divorced from not only biological reproduction, but also the legal institution of adoption.
Now what needs to be noticed here is that adoption is at a very specific and important cultural and legal function, because adoption has been intended from the very beginning to legally make clear that the person who is adopting a child is taking on the very same responsibility that otherwise would have come by becoming a parent by biological reproduction. And the adopting parent or parents has made abundantly clear that they are taking on this responsibility and are doing so publicly, making a sacred pledge by means of this official adoption of a child. That’s why in the United States and elsewhere adoption has not come merely by some means of social convention, but has required legal action and the recognition of a court.
The official website of the Ontario government also makes very clear that the government is committing itself to use gender-neutral language whenever possible. The bill extends that particular pattern to the provincial laws that have to do with the Children’s Law Reform Act and the Vital Statistics Act. That might seem like it’s a small matter, but of course it’s not. Here you’re talking about the fact that the official annals of civilization, the vital statistics that are kept by the Ontario government, will now be, in so far as is possible, and that’s not clearly defined within the legislation or its announcement, in gender nonspecific form. And that just points out that we are now losing the cultural capacity to use words like man and woman, mother and father, brother and sister, son and daughter, boy and girl. These are words that are disappearing not only in terms of our cultural conversation, at least in terms of the direction undertaken by the elites, but also now in terms of the historical records of a civilization.
But there’s also another major worldview issue that is implicated in this news story. Again, listen to the name of the legislation. It is known as Bill 28, the All Families Are Equal Act, 2016.
According to the official statement of the government, the bill “recognizes the legal status of all parents, whether they are LGBTQ2+ or straight, and whether their children were conceived with or without assistance.”
According to the website, the bill, having now passed the provincial Parliament, will take the force of law on January 1, 2017. Go back to the name of the legislation, not the Bill 28, rather this part that it is the “All Families are Equal Act.” Now one of the things we need to note is that the name given to legislation becomes an important part of its political plausibility. The political plausibility of this particular act, Bill 28, came down to the promise that effecting this legislation will mean that all families are equal. But at this point, the Christian simply has to note that is a promise that this legislation cannot possibly fulfill.
Remember that this legislation untethers parentage not only from the heterosexual union of a husband and a wife and marriage, but furthermore, it untethers it from any kind of understanding of a normative family whatsoever. Remember that this legislation says that parenting can now be legally recognized without even the need for any process of adoption by any one person, and up to four other persons, among whom there is the sharing of a so-called pre-conception agreement. One of the most interesting and concerning issues in this is that there is no legal necessity in this that even the child would understand who is legally here recognized to be his or her parents. And furthermore, as Christians, we have to proceed and think what to the larger culture are now increasingly unthinkable thoughts, and that is that the word equality here actually doesn’t apply in any real sense at all.
The biblical worldview straightforwardly makes clear, and it makes clear in various ways, that God’s normative design for the family is a husband and a wife united in the conjugal union of marriage and the children that come by means of reproduction or by means of adoptions. The Bible itself makes very clear that anything outside of that normative pattern comes with a cost, a cost to the individuals involved, a cost to the civilization of which that family is apart. And there is the understanding that something less than wholeness is found wherever something is absent from this picture. Every civilization should do everything within its moral responsibility to speak up for every single child. The problem with this legislation is that it presents a false promise that will actually lead not to the greater well-being of children, but to the greater moral risk of children.
Yasir Naqvi, who is the Attorney General of the province of Ontario, released a statement in which he said,
“As a province that values diversity and inclusion, it's important that our laws reflect these important beliefs. I am proud of the progress this bill represents. I am grateful to the many people and organizations that were able to work together and create a bill that puts what's best for kids first - having a loving family.”
Those are really beautiful words, but the problem is there is no definition of family whatsoever that is included within this legislation. This doesn’t aid the family, and it certainly won’t live up to its promise to make “all families equal.”
What it will do instead is further destabilize the family, which will lead to problems for everyone in Canadian society. But even though this is taking place in the province of Ontario, of course, as we have to state so many times, it won’t stay there. Even though the State of New York and now the province of Ontario might be out in front of other states and provinces on this issue, the logic that is reflected in Bill 28 is a logic that is embedded in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell case legalizing same-sex marriage. Eventually, sooner or later, something like the All Families are Equal Act will show up in virtually every state, every province, and every jurisdiction. At the very least, Christians should think carefully and biblically about what this kind of legislation means before it arrives in our local headlines.
Who is the relevant authority on science? How evangelicals are baffling research scientists
Next, shifting back to the United States, National Public Radio ran a story by Tania Lombrozo entitled,
“For Some, Scientists Aren't The Authority On Science.”
Now that’s one of those headlines that should get our attention, but it also tells us a great deal about the puzzlement that is taking place amongst the intellectual elites as to why science just defined merely as science, invoked merely with the word scientist, doesn’t have the respect they believe that it should have, doesn’t have the kind of cultural authority that they believe should be recognized. Lombrozo writes,
“When it comes to assessing the possible risks and benefits of science and technology, who is the relevant authority?”
Now we need to note that that’s a really important question. That’s an excellent leading line for an important article. Who does establish the authority? Let’s note first of all that there is embedded in that question the recognition that there is an intellectual responsibility to understand the authority by which we are to acknowledge truth, by what or whose authority are we to make judgments. It’s really significant that that question shows up right in the lead of this article, but then Lombrozo writes,
“University scientists? Industry scientists? Religious organizations?
“Different people offer different answers.”
She points to an article that is soon to appear in the journal Public Understanding of Science that “finds that many people place greater trust in university and industry scientists than in religious organizations to tell the truth about the risks and benefits of technologies and their applications. But among evangelicals, the pattern is reversed, with religious organizations trusted significantly more than scientific sources.”
Now we’re on to something of importance here. This is an article that is based upon a study in which there were 2,800 different respondents who were recruited from what’s assured here as a nationally representative sample. According to this particular report, evangelical and non-evangelical participants differed in which factors were associated with trust and university scientists. Now let’s pause for a moment. It’s also interesting here that you have university scientists asking the question, why isn’t our authority recognized more pervasively in society? And then they apparently are asking the question, who are the outliers here? Who is it that simply won’t accept what university scientists declare to be true as undeniable truth? Where is the real intellectual authority here?
In so many ways, the most interesting passage in this article comes down to this:
“For non-evangelicals, greater scientific knowledge was associated with higher levels of trust. Those who paid more attention to science and technology news online were also more likely to trust university scientists.”
But then listen to these next two lines,
“But for evangelicals, neither of these was associated with greater trust. In fact, evangelicals with greater scientific knowledge reported lower levels of trust in university scientists.”
I have to admit I am somewhat astounded that that line made its way into this NPR report. Straightforwardly, here we’re being told that evangelicals with greater expertise in science have less trust in the so-called university scientists. The distinction on the left-right continuum in American ideological life was made clear when the article says that liberal respondents were more trusting of university scientists and of science museums than were conservatives, but were no more trusting of industry scientists. On the other hand, the conservatives were more trusting of religious organizations than were liberals. The conclusion,
“These findings contribute to a growing body of work supporting a sobering conclusion: that ‘facts’ won't succeed in bringing people together. Different groups of people won't agree on the facts if they don't agree on the value of different mechanisms for arriving at beliefs about the world.”
Now in terms of worldview significance, this is really a gold mine. Here you have a report coming from NPR about a study being published in a scientific journal in which research scientists located in the university are asking the question, why is our authority not so pervasively recognized? And then they look to evangelical Christians and come to the sobering conclusion—that’s the word used here—that there is not even an agreement on the set of facts. But here’s what’s really interesting. The use of the word facts rather than use of the word truth indicates that facts somehow have an independent existence. But facts themselves are actually only facts, the word only makes sense if we’re talking about something that is a truth claim, something that is claimed to be true. This could be the circumference of a circle or it could be, how did the world come to exist? Both of those would actually be facts. But here’s where you need to note that in the scientific community, and of course also in the major media, the word fact here is being increasingly isolated only for what a scientist operating from a purely scientific or naturalistic worldview would declare to be true.
In a closing paragraph, Lombrozo, who is a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, writes,
“Science isn't a universal mechanism for guiding beliefs (for instance, science can't settle questions of value or public policy), but it's our best guide to the natural world. If we can agree on that, there's a chance the rest will follow.”
Now just consider that. Here we’re being told that if we could all just agree that science is the best guide to understanding what’s here defined as the natural world, well, there’s a chance that agreement on other things will follow. Here’s the problem. Embedded in that paragraph is the assumption not only of a distinction between facts and truth, but of a distinction between fact and value. It’s explicit in the article, she says rightly, that science isn’t a universal mechanism for guiding beliefs, and she defines that by giving the example that science can’t settle questions of value or public policy. But here’s where we need to note why evangelicals come to understand as they come to understand the biblical worldview that science can’t deliver on much of what scientists claim. And that is this: if we do know the story of the natural world, it will come embedded with meaning. If indeed the world is merely an accident, well, that’s going to be filled with moral meaning, or even more profoundly, a denial of the possibility of moral meaning. If on the other hand, the world exists because in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, well, then there’s an entire universe of moral meaning that comes with it. There is no such thing as a fact that is not true, and there is no such thing as a fact that does not have value.
Evangelicals understand that science in itself is a great intellectual tool that is often used to bring great gifts to humanity. But science simply can’t deliver on the promises made by modern science. And one of the false presumptions here is somehow the idea that science can give us information about the natural world that is unassailable, but it doesn’t have influence in terms of some other world of meaning. And that’s where Christians have to understand there is no such bifurcation possible. And perhaps this is why, again to return to the most astounding part of this report, National Public Radio says that it is the evangelicals who have the greatest exposure to science who, as it turns out, have even less trust in the authority of so-defined university scientists.
Perhaps we should summarize it this way: the more evangelicals come to understand science, the more we will understand the genuine contributions that science can make to our knowledge and understanding. When science is rightly conceived, at the same time we come to understand how impossible it is that science can deliver on so many of the promises that are now expected in terms of the American intellectual elites. The more we know, the more we understand what science can tell us, and what it can’t.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.