Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, January 11, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll see new questions in the brave new world. Who gets to decide if human embryos are preserved or destroyed? We’ll also see those embryos as the latest front in divorce and custody battles. We’ll see political scientists use digital images to see what you drive and then predict how you'll vote, and we’ll look at the moral revolution from the other side, a side fearful of what is called the re-moralization of sex.
New questions in the brave new world: Who gets to decide if human embryos are preserved or destroyed?
At times you look at a contemporary question and recognize that could only be asked in any sensical way in very recent times. The question itself tells us a very great deal about the times in which we live. Here's one from yesterday's edition of the Washington Post. If one parent objects, can the other have a child from embryo? The story comes from Colorado. Ariana Eunjung Cha reports,
“During three emotional days of divorce talks, Drake and Mandy Rooks managed to agree on how to divide up almost every aspect of their old lives down to the last piece of furniture. Only one thing remained: the frozen embryos. There were six of them,” the couple had created together, “left over from when the couple had gone through in vitro fertilization some years earlier.”
This is not the first of these contested cases to come to national attention. What makes this particular custody battle so important is that it is seen as very likely to create a legal precedent not only in Colorado but over time quite further. Why? Well because this case is almost surely one way or the other going to be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Once the nation's highest court should rule on the issue, it would have a nationwide effect. The couple in this case is named. They are not always in this kind of news story. This former husband and wife are named Rooks, and in the case of the man he does not want any more children. When it comes to the woman, according to the news article she does, or at least she wants the option of doing so. Back when they were married, they had three children by means of IVF technology, first a boy and then twins, a boy and a girl. The report tells us that soon after the twins were born the marriage entered difficulties. Divorce proceedings followed, and in the legal decision concerning the divorce both parents were given joint custody. But the mother was given residential custody, and she then moved with the children away from the father in this case to Northern California.
That seems to complicate the story even beyond the massive complications already involved. Because in this case, the woman is claiming the right to have further children with a husband to whom she is no longer married and furthermore to give birth to that child after the divorce, and then to raise that child in Northern California with no custody rights given to the father. The Post story goes on to tell us in terms of summary,
“The dispute is one of a number of embryo-custody battles that have landed in the courts over the past quarter-century”
Now first, why the past quarter century? Because that is the period in which in vitro fertilization, the process that was first called test tube babies, became rather regularized and commercialized in the United States. Why the various courts? It's because up to this date the court decisions have been a hodgepodge of different legal reasonings and adjudications. That's what makes this case from Colorado so very interesting nationwide.
To date the most famous of the custody battles for embryos has taken place between actress Sophia Vergara and her former fiancé Nick Loeb. But in this case, it’s Loeb who wants the embryos made available in terms of a future pregnancy, and it is Vergara who is arguing that they should remain permanently frozen. At this point most of the courts have ruled in favor of the parent who did not want to the embryos to be unfrozen and then transplanted into someone's womb, anyone's womb. But this has not been uniform, and furthermore as you're looking at this we need to recognize that when we’re talking about these embryos being permanently frozen it really doesn't mean even as horrifying as it would sound permanently frozen. At some point the regulations concerning embryos mean that these human embryos will eventually be unfrozen and in some way destroyed.
What makes the Washington Post article so particularly helpful in this case is that the reporter presents the quintessential arguments for each side in the voice of first the former husband and then the former wife. First from Drake Rooks, the former husband,
“It just seems like a guy should be able to decide whether he wants more children or not and with whom”
Meanwhile, the former wife said,
“No one has the right to tell me that I have to kill my offspring.”
We need to note that in making that argument she is affirming the dignity and sanctity of human life, and she's extending that argument as it ought surely to be extended to every single human being including unborn human beings in this case even in the form of frozen human embryos. But we also have to know what comes earlier in the article where the constitutional issues are laid out. And what's most significant there is that the humanity, the dignity, the sanctity of life of the embryos simply disappears utterly. It disappears into a very contorted argument over constitutional rights. The Post article cites Harvard law professor Glenn Cohen who said,
“Constitution questions are front and center in a way that they have not been in the other cases”
The professor went on to say that,
“if the judges decide the Rookses’ dispute on such grounds, that would allow it to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court” in terms of ultimate precedent.
But the Harvard law professor went on to say in the words of the Post report that,
“the central issue focuses on how to balance one person’s constitutional right to procreate with another’s countervailing constitutional right to not procreate. The question,” according to the Post, “parallels similar arguments used in other reproductive health cases”
But wait just a minute. I’ve read the U.S. Constitution many times. I have never seen in the U.S. Constitution any language whatsoever about procreation. None. But if this kind of language and argument sounds all too familiar to you, it is because back in the 1960s the United States Supreme Court just invented an entire theory of constitutional rights: in the 1960s a right they declared to use contraception, in 1973 a woman's right they declared to an abortion and well now the argument and its logic go on and on. Issues that are by no means even mentioned in the Constitution and certainly were never envisioned when the Constitution was ratified are now routinely in articles like this in the Washington Post referred to as constitutional rights. That's simply a form of legal persuasion. The issues are not mentioned at all in the Constitution.
Now for example, when a law professor or in this case the Supreme Court jurist is asked where in the Constitution is there a right to abortion? Very commonly there is a reference to the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Section 1 reads like this,
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Now notice what's not there — certainly not abortion, certainly not frozen human embryos. And by the way, the first was unmentionable and the second was unimaginable when the 14th amendment was ratified in 1868. The Post is certainly on solid ground when the report summarizes,
“The rapidly expanding world of assisted reproduction has triggered ever-more-complex legal fights, with disputes over parental rights and custody front and center.”
By the time we get to the end of this rather extensive article in yesterday's addition of the Washington Post, various sides and various arguments have weighed in. The Thomas More Society argues on behalf of the embryos and their personhood. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is supporting the husband's position. Most interestingly, a group identified as the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Attorneys called for Colorado's courts to take what the group described as a “balancing of interests” approach. That's confusing enough. Inconclusive from the beginning to the end of one of the most interesting, indeed the most interesting, aspect from a Christian worldview perspective is the fact that the balancing of interests is simply between the former husband and the former wife. The frozen human embryos simply disappear as in any way being morally significant entities.
You and I didn't decide to live in a brave new world. But here we are and we’re not alone. And we’re not just sharing this brave new world with living, breathing human beings who can go to court like this former couple. We’re also sharing this brave new world with now hundreds of thousands indeed likely now millions of frozen human embryos created by modern technology at the expense of modern morality. Finally we also should note that when we start this business of inventing new constitutional rights it's a process that will not end. You can draw the line all the way from the Griswold decision in the 1960s to Roe v. Wade in 1973 to the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015. It's all the same basic legal argument. And to that argument, there will be no end.
Does what you drive indicate how you vote? Political scientists say “yes” according to an analysis of 50 million Google Images
Next we turn to a truly fascinating story that appeared recently in the New York Times. The headline,
“How Do You Vote? Google Street View Calls It.”
Steve Lohr reports for the Times,
“What vehicle is most strongly associated with Republican voting districts? Extended-cab pickup trucks. For Democratic districts? Sedans.”
He goes on to say,
“Those conclusions may not be particularly surprising. After all, market researchers and political analysts have studied such things for decades.” But what,” he says, “is surprising is how researchers working on an ambitious project based at Stanford University reached those conclusions…” They did so, “by analyzing 50 million images and location data from Google Street View, the street-scene feature of the online giant’s mapping service.”
Now this is the kind of story that should have our attention from a worldview analysis perspective at many different levels. First we’ve already talked on The Briefing about the very interesting data that analyzes the link between the vehicles we drive and how we vote. But before looking further at the New York Times article we need to face the fact that that data is even more conclusive than that opening paragraph in the Times article might have indicated. For example, just consider this: in the 2016 presidential election Donald Trump won every single state where the nation's most popular vehicle, the Ford F-150 pickup is indeed the favorite. And furthermore he carried four states where another pickup truck, the Chevy Silverado, is also the most popular single vehicle. Those included the states of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. So as you’re looking at the 2016 race, Donald Trump won. But you can also say pickup trucks won, not only pickup trucks, big pickup trucks. And the losing candidate in terms of the election? Well, it was Hillary Clinton. But it was also as it turns out the Subaru. Hillary Clinton won every single state where the Subaru is the most popular single vehicle, and those states are predictably deep blue.
But in jumping back to the New York Times article, what makes this timely and newsworthy this week is the fact that you're looking at images rather than hard data driving this analysis. This is something of another big brother story because in this case we have Google Street View providing 50 million images that were read by computers in what’s described as artificial intelligence, and the data was extrapolated merely from images, not from numbers, not from words, but just from pictures, the pictures of the vehicles in American driveways. As reporter Lohr explains,
“The Stanford project gives a glimpse at the potential. By pulling the vehicles’ makes, models and years from the images, and then linking that information with other data sources, the project was able to predict factors like pollution and voting patterns at the neighborhood level.”
One observer, Timnit Gebru who led the Stanford team said,
“This kind of social analysis using image data is a new tool to draw insights”
And of course, it is a new tool in one sense a very scary new tool as we’re thinking about big brother and this technology. Several data points from the research thus far,
“The system was able to accurately predict income, race, education and voting patterns at the ZIP code” level based upon this kind of image analysis tied mostly to vehicles.
“Car attributes (including miles-per-gallon ratings) found that the greenest city in America is Burlington, Vt., while Casper, Wyo., has the largest per-capita carbon footprint.”
Third data point,
“Chicago is the city with the highest level of income segregation”
How is that measured? Large clusters of extremely expensive vehicles contrasted with large clusters of very low cost vehicles. Meanwhile, it was fourth, New York City that had the largest number of the most expensive cars. In case you're interested the largest number of Hummers is found in El Paso, Texas.
The article ended by citing a computer expert at Harvard who said,
“For the first time in history, we have the technology to extract insights from very large amounts of visual data. But,” he went on to say, “while the technology is exciting, computer scientists need to work closely with social scientists and others to make sure it’s useful.”
Oh, I can assure you it will be useful. This is the kind of information that political scientists and political strategists and others will inevitably use in terms of framing campaigns and targeting voters even targeting neighborhoods in this case targeting vehicles. But it's also interesting to me that no one seems to be asking bigger questions. Is it because they don't want to ask them? Or is because they won't like the answer? Well when it comes to the questions about why vehicles would be so indicative of voting patterns, just think of it this way, these are the issues that come to my mind that aren’t at all cited in these articles. In the first place we already know that the more likely a person is to vote in a conservative way it's predictable by whether or not they are first of all married and secondly have children. If they are married, a husband and a wife living together with children in the home, they are overwhelmingly likely to vote in a more conservative direction. Similarly in contrast, if someone is single living in the midst of other singles, it is more likely in the extreme that that individual voter will vote in a more liberal direction.
Now I think as Christians we can understand why. The responsibility of being married and the responsibility of raising children necessarily leads us to more conservative conclusions. If nothing else as historic political scientist would argue, conservative impulses in this sense are a recognition of the fact that our present decisions will have a long-term effect on the future. If that future is in the crib in the bedroom down the hall, that's going to be a lot more directly influential on your voting pattern. On the other hand, if you are not raising children and you are not married and you are in your 20s or 30s or 40s and living with other persons who are not married and who are not raising children, that horizon of the future is a lot easier to disregard. And the political scientists will affirm this tends to move one's voting in a more liberal direction.
So what does all of this have to do with vehicles? Well at this point part of it is likely a matter of preference, but most of it is probably utility. If you are juggling car seats and children and putting all of these human beings and their paraphernalia into a vehicle, you're going to need a bigger vehicle. Add to that the fact that pickup trucks are associated with doing things, carrying things, transporting things and furthermore agriculture and rural America. All that also adds up to a more conservative voting pattern.
Looking at the moral revolution from the other side—a side fearful of the “re-moralization of sex”
Next, it is our responsibility to trace the meaning, the patterns and the trajectory of the moral revolution taking place around us. But the fact that there is a moral revolution is recognized by virtually every intelligent person, and sometimes there is an interesting and reflective comment made about it from someone on the other side of the world view divide. It's interesting to look at an article that appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times recently. Daphne Merkin wrote about her misgivings about some of what has come in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein controversy, the floodgates of sexual harassment claims and the new moral posturing taking place within Hollywood very much in evidence in just the last several days. Merkin writes about her concerns that this will lead to the death of any kind of real romance in Hollywood. And furthermore she says that what she is seeing amongst fellow feminists is an overreaction. But all of that's interesting but not most important in terms of our analysis today. What's most important is her observation coming at the near end of her article. And I quote,
“We are witnessing the re-moralization of sex, not via the Judeo-Christian ethos but via a legalistic, corporate consensus.”
Now that’s stunning. Here she says that what we are witnessing is the re-moralization of sex. Now that's very interesting. It's not really accurate because sex is not being all of a sudden re-moralized. The morality has never gone away, but we did see in the sexual revolution an effort to try to deny the fact that moral judgments had to be made about sexuality. But note Merkin's point, she says in the aftermath of the Weinstein affair we are seeing the re-moralization of sex. What does she mean? She mean straightforwardly that all those women wearing black at Sunday night's Golden Globes Awards were making – get this – a moral judgment about sex. Now understand this, in a day in which many people said moral arguments about sex had been outgrown by a society now come of age, you had people celebrating the fact that people were standing up in public saying some sexual behaviors are now – get this – wrong.
But it's of equal value for us to recognize that Daphne Merkin goes on to say now don't worry this re-moralization of sex isn't that old Judeo-Christian ethic. It's rather she says a new legalistic, corporate consensus about sex. But of course the real point of her article is that there really isn't much of a consensus. It's just an immediate moral impulse, which she doesn't seem to understand, but we as Christians should. That moral impulse comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the fact that we are made in the image of God and can't help making moral judgments because we are moral creatures. And when it comes to sex regardless of who we are, where we live we do understand that certain sexual behaviors are wrong. The question is, how do we know which and how do we know why? And this is where the Christian worldview comes back to the fact that we are entirely dependent upon the fact that the Creator has spoken to us in Scripture. When Daphne Merkin talks about what she calls the re-moralization of sex, she's talking about a certain contemporary awareness. Christians understand that sex was moralized in Genesis Chapter 1. The re-moralization just points to the further confusion that is taking place in a society of increasing moral rebellion.
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’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.