Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, January 3, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see the US government run an operation to investigate UFOs, we’ll ask why we find the question so interesting, then we’ll look at further evidence of the moral chasm that separates Americans, and we’ll affirm that some moral questions can't be reduced to dollars and cents.
U.S. government runs an operation to investigate U.F.O.s—why do we find the question so interesting?
It existed from 2007 to 2012, known officially as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program; it cost $22 million of taxpayer money. What was it all about? It was about the official US government search, the most recent search, to identify unidentified flying objects or UFOs. For devotees and aficionados of UFOs, Christmas came early with a major news story that broke about December 17 indicating that what had been run as a US government black ops operation was now released to the public, and as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program had come to an end by action of Congress in 2012, it is now being reconstituted as a nonprofit known as the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences. The New York Times in its coverage of the original story revealing the black ops operation indicated that this was hardly the first time the United States government had been involved in such an activity. The US government beginning in 1947 began an official investigation into what were identified as unidentified flying objects. Beneficially, millions of dollars were spent between 1952 and 1970 in a program known as Project Blue Book, the declassified portions of that report indicate that between 1952 and 1970 the government program run by the military cited 12,000 different UFO sightings of which, as of 1970 in the closure of the program, 701 remained unexplained.
Before even looking at the specifics of the most recent news story, one of the things we need to note is how easy, evidently, it is to bury $22 million in terms of black operations in the Defense Department’s budget. As the reporters for the New York Times explained,
“In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find. Which [is] how the Pentagon wanted it.”
One literary wit years ago noted that it might be wrong to divide people into two different groups, but he went on to divide them between those who don't divide people into two groups and those who do; that's to say it's virtually inevitable. In that light we might say that we can divide humanity into those who are fascinated by UFOs and those who are not. Maybe there is a third category: those who at some point have been so fascinated.
As a teenager in the 1970s growing up in South Florida there was a great deal of attention to the writings of Erich von Däniken and the idea about something unusual, sinister, and unexplained going on in the region of the Atlantic known as the Bermuda Triangle. Since I was living in an area that was roughly inside the Bermuda Triangle, and since I had at least some knowledge of some of what had been going on in these mysteries, I found myself quite fascinated with it until I came to the conclusion that virtually anyone who was writing about it knew nothing about it, but there definitely is, quite undeniably, something within the human psyche that demands attention to this kind of fascinating question. If there are real UFOs, then why are they “U,” that is unidentified. It's fascinating enough that they would be flying objects.
The New York Times article makes clear that there was primarily one politician behind this effort by the US government and that was that then majority leader of the United States Senate, then Nevada Senator Harry Reid. In comments made to the New York Times after the story broke he went on to say,
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going.”
Senator Reid said,
“I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Well, as we have seen, not exactly. The US government did undertake this kind of investigation before, but in terms of the report, or at least the nonclassified sections of the report available to us, there did remain, in this new project, some very unidentified and unexplained phenomena. The most interesting was itself given a great deal of attention by the New York Times. In the New York Times article it is reported that Commander David Fravor and Lieutenant Commander Jim Slate of the United States Navy were on what was identified as a routine training mission when, as the report tells us,
“The radio in each of their FA 18 F Super Hornets crackled: An operations officer aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, a Navy cruiser, wanted to know if they were carrying weapons.”
The Navy pilots quickly responded that they were armed with air to air missiles. The radio operator then said,
“Well, we’ve got a real-world vector for you.”
And according to the New York Times,
“For two weeks the Princeton had been tracking mysterious aircraft. The objects,”
according to the article,
“appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, and then hurtled toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up.”
According to the extended report now released by the military, the two U.S. Navy fighter planes then headed towards the objects. The Princeton alerted them that they had arrived at the point, and, as the U.S. Navy report indicated, the pilot saw hovering 50 feet above the turn of the ocean an aircraft of some kind, whitish, that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. According to the report, the craft was jumping around erratically staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction. It also turned out that the flying object, quite clearly seen by two U.S. Navy pilots, was not then showing up on radar from the USS Princeton. When the FA 18 jets got close to the object, according to the military's report, it immediately accelerated and went out of sight.
Commander Fravor, by the way, indicated that he has no idea what he saw. He said, and I quote,
“It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s. But,”
“I want to fly one.”
Writing in yesterday's addition of the Times, Dennis Overbye indicated that there is widespread interest, as would be expected in this kind of story, and of course there's a lot of conjecture about just what these unidentified flying objects might've been and from whence they may have come. But the most interesting worldview statement made in this article appearing yesterday was made by a Harvard scientist, Avi Loeb, who said this,
“Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence.”
He went on to say,
“Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”
Now wait just a minute. That sounds like a rather quintessential definition of modern secular science, except it's not. It fails to meet the very story that science tells. The story, for example, even mentioned in this article, the article cites, quite approvingly, Albert Einstein, famous for his theories of relativity, but we simply have to remember that the way that story is told, Einstein developed the theory and the evidence came after. It turns out that most of the story science tells have at least something of that kind of component. But it tells us something very important that here you have a modern scientist, a very influential scientist, believing himself we have to suppose, when he said that
“Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence.”
Well here's the biggest problem with that: Science has not, and we should also state never will, compile enough of what it will identify as evidence to explain the answers to all the big questions, and that means that inevitably, to anyone who is intellectually honest, belief remains a very big part of the picture. So people are likely to believe what they choose to believe about UFOs and the debate is certain to continue. One of the interesting observations made in the immediate aftermath of the breaking of this story is the fact that many people when they hear UFO assume it is some kind of alien spaceship, but of course that's not it at all. All UFO means is unidentified flying objects, of which there are likely to be hundreds at any given time. This point was made by scientist Sara Seager, she's an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said that not knowing the origin of an object does not mean that it is from another planet or galaxy.
“When people claim to observe truly unusual phenomena, sometimes it’s worth investigating seriously, but”
she went on to say,
“what people sometimes don’t get about science is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.”
So do I believe in UFOs? Well of course I do. I believe there are many objects that are simply identified as unidentified and flying. Do I believe in visitations from outer space? Well on that I'll simply have to say, I don't think there's nearly enough evidence even to have a qualified opinion. Do I doubt the report from 2004 about that UFO near San Diego? No, I don't. I don't doubt the word of two veteran documented U.S. Navy pilots. I don't doubt the radio operator and radar observers on the USS Princeton, and I'm not in a position to doubt this official report from the United States government. What makes the story more interesting than most is the fact that it comes in an official report from the United States government not in some kind of tabloid in the checkout line at the grocery store.
But this also raises the interesting question of why we find the question so interesting. Ross Douthat, writing at the New York Times on the opinion page, suggests that the modern interest in UFOs might have some parallel with the historic interest in fairytales. I've mentioned many times that the psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim pointed to the fact that children actually need fairytales in order to help explain the world, and, sometimes, to instill in children the right kind of fears, for example about being lost or wandering out into the woods. But there might be an even better explanation closer at hand, the question asked in yesterday's article in the Times is this: Is this all there is? That's an unavoidable question for intelligent human beings. It probably also explains why in this very secular age some people develop an interest in UFOs that's downright religious.
Further evidence of the moral chasm that separates Americans
Next, two seemingly unrelated articles appearing in the same newspaper, what they share in common in the newspaper, the Washington Post, is the fact that both of them demonstrate the nearly infinite and unbridgeable divide, the great chasm, between those who affirm the sanctity of each and every human life and those who do not. The first was an article that appeared December 31, the headline,
“The Trump Administration’s Disturbing Fight to Stop Teenagers from Getting Abortions”
This was a follow-up to an earlier controversy in the end of 2016. The Trump Administration through the Department of Justice has sought to intervene making an argument that the responsibility of the United States government is not to facilitate an abortion on behalf of undocumented female minors who are in the custody of the United States. The story began with one young woman seeking an abortion, she eventually prevailed in court and received the abortion, has now expanded to multiple young women. And of course the issues have also expanded with the Trump Administration's Department of Justice seeking relief from the courts for what it argues was an unethical and illegal action taken by the legal counsel for the first young woman. But in this first article in the Washington Post, what's most significant is the argument, and here I cite it,
“As a person within the United States, Poe,”
that’s the young woman,
“had a constitutional right to an abortion.”
Now just consider those words, very few words in just the economy of space here,
“As a person within the United States”
in other words, the argument here is just being in the United States is enough to present a constitutional right to an abortion, and, of course, this meant that the US government had to facilitate the abortion. What's revealed here more than anything else is that great worldview divide, the divide between those who believe that an unborn human life is a life to be protected and those who believe that the only reality worth protecting is what they claim as a woman's right to an abortion. A woman's right, they argue, is constitutionally guaranteed if she is just within the borders of the United States of America.
The second article appeared in virtually the same time and in the same paper. This one’s by Julie Zauzmer, the headline,
“In Manassas, a Closed Abortion Clinic Made New.”
It's a story about the fact that a physician who had been deeply disturbed by the presence of an abortion clinic in his community had eventually worked with Catholic charities to purchase the facility and to turn it into a neighborhood health clinic that has nothing to do with abortion. Now by the way this is a neighborhood health clinic that offers care for those who do not have insurance, now you would think that that would be considered by everyone to be an undeniably good thing. But what is sadly made clear in this article is that you can now divide Americans between those who see the big news here as the gain, on the one hand, of the community health clinic that helps to enrich health and the quality of life for the community and those who see it as the tragedy of an abortion clinic closed. But here you see that great chasm fully on display once again. The chasm between those who believe in the sanctity and dignity of every single human life including unborn life and those who do not. On the one hand those who believe that every abortion is the killing of a human being and those on the other hand who argue that abortion is nothing more than the removal of tissue unwanted by the woman with no significant moral importance whatsoever.
On this issue we also go to the state of Ohio were Governor John Kasich before the end of the year signed into law a bill that banned abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Before the end of the year we looked at this issue on The Briefing and noted, once again, here you have that great clash of worldviews. But in this case it’s particularly acute because you would think that virtually anyone would want to argue at least in public, even if they acted differently in private, that to target unborn children with Down syndrome would be morally wrong, but we have to note that the pro-abortion forces, sometimes they want to call themselves pro-choice, were merely universal in opposing this law because they oppose any obstruction or objection to abortion whatsoever on any grounds.
Why some moral questions can’t be reduced to dollars and cents
But, next, we also need to recognize a new front on the fight for the sanctity of human life and a new argument being made for abortion. It's an argument well identified recently in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer by Dan White, director of economic research at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, he also teaches economics as an adjunct professor at Villanova University. In his article White notes,
speaking of 2016,
“several proponents of abortion rights have touted abortion's ability to improve economic outcomes for disadvantaged mothers.”
White particularly cites the fact that the argument was made by the Governor of Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf in vetoing legislation that would have restricted abortion. White then writes,
“I love economics. I teach economics. The field of economics allows me to put food on my table. But even I,”
“can acknowledge that some issues are about a lot more than economics. Whether we should or should not limit abortions in the United States,”
“is much more than an economic question dealing with dollars and cents. It strikes at the dignity of the human person and who we are as a country and a society.”
That's an amazingly important statement and it comes from an economist, but what's most important from a Christian worldview observation is the fact that here you have an economist who recognizes that there is more, in terms of morality, than economics can handle or explain. There are some matters that simply can't be reduced to dollars and cents. That's profoundly true but we need to note it’s the kind of argument that settles very awkwardly on the secular mind that has few realities and understands better and more profoundly than dollars and cents. But we also have to recognize that this kind of economic argument is sometimes very attractive to people who are looking for an economic justification for what is an antecedent, a prior moral decision. Dan White recognizes that there are multiple dimensions to the engagement between economics and the question of abortion, he argues that pro-lifers should seek to minister and reach out to women and improve economic conditions so that there is less economic stress that might lead a woman to consider an abortion. But his main concern goes in the other direction that the governor of Pennsylvania and others are now arguing that an economic justification for abortion indicates that society just might save money and increase productivity if more women had abortions. That's a truly horrifying argument, but it's the kind of argument that makes eventual sense to people whose most important reality comes down to dollars and cents. Dan White, an economist who identifies himself as proud to be an economist, recognizes that there are some questions that simply can't be reduced to matters of the economy; they are moral matters of a far more, we would argue even infinitely greater, moral importance. I'll let this economist have the last word when he speaks of the question of abortion and says, I repeat,
“It strikes at the dignity of the human person and who we are as a country and a society.”
Indeed Mr. Economist, it does.