Thursday, Mar. 15, 2018

Thursday, Mar. 15, 2018

The Briefing

March 15, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, March 15, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Stephen Hawking, one of the most recognized scientists of the modern age, dies at age 76

One of the most recognized scientists of the modern age died yesterday, early on Wednesday at age 76. As the New York Times reported almost immediately after the death was announced by Cambridge University and I “, “Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best selling author who roamed to the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died early Wednesday at his home in Cambridge. He was 76. Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world.”

So said Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, Hawking became world famous largely by the story of his life and the success of his books, Most importantly, his best selling book of 1988, A Brief History of Time, from the Big Bang to black holes, but about that book, another interesting fact has to be kept in mind. Leonard Mlodinow, he’s a physicist and science writer at the California Institute of Technology, who became a colleague and collaborator with Stephen Hawking, he described A Brief History of Time as “Probably the least read most bought book ever.” Why? Because the book achieved international bestseller status largely driven by Stephen Hawking’s celebrity personality. When it came to the theoretical physics, well it happens that most of those people who bought the book couldn’t understand what Stephen Hawking was talking about.

Stephen Hawking’s personal celebrity as a scientist and as a public figure had a great deal to do with the fact that he had such a massive intelligence and he had such a remarkable curiosity, but he was also trapped within a body, a physical body that had declared war on him. When he was a young man in 1963, he was diagnosed with what was then an unknown neurological condition. Later, it became diagnosed as ALS, more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was then given only a few years at most to live, but of course he lived a long time, from 1963 to 2018, and in the meantime became one of the most influential physical scientists in the world. When it came to particular scientific issues of focus associated with Stephen Hawking, two were central and supreme. That would have to be black holes and the nature of gravity, but leaving aside his specific issues of interest, the more basic generalized issue that became associated with Stephen Hawking is his search as a scientist for what he called a Theory of Everything.

This has been in many ways the holy grail of modern physics and the larger project of modern secular science, trying to find a theory of everything. One of the dark secrets at least to most people about modern physics is that modern physics rests on two very different ways of looking at the world. One of them is quantum physics and the other is the classical model. Stephen Hawking tried to transcend that with what he himself called a theory of everything that would be a theory of physical science that would explain every reality and every possibility that would explain the world as it is and go on to explain the world and other worlds as they might be or might have been. Hawking also used the phrase complete theory to speak of this theory of everything.

In A Brief History of Time, he said, “However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists, then we shall all philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be a triumph of human reason, for then we would know the mind of God.” Here we have to note that Stephen Hawking, especially in the final years of his life, openly identified as an atheist. That didn’t really come as much of a surprise. He affirmed that fact in 2014 and 2016 in separate interviews. It wasn’t a surprise because atheism and the absence of God are basically baked into the cake of his scientific theories and of his work throughout decades, but what’s really interesting about that passage I read from A Brief History of Time is the fact that Stephen Hawking, representing so much of modern secular science, actually had this amazing confidence that science, science alone, human reason operating through science would be able eventually to explain everything.

That’s why Stephen Hawking in that passage from his best selling book said that if we did, it would be a triumph of human reason. For then, he said we would know the mind of God. Now he didn’t believe in God but much like Albert Einstein, who spoke of God not playing dice with the universe, God became a stand in for that complete theory, that theory of everything, but as Stephen Hawking explained he didn’t believe that God existed, nor did he believe there was any room left for God even at the point that science had reached a theoretical consensus by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. He and his colleague Carl Sagan both had said at one time or another that if God exists, it really does not matter because in their unforgettable words, “There is nothing left for him to do.”, speaking of God. In another passage in that same best selling book A Brief History of Time from 1988, Stephen Hawking said, “With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break those walls.”

However, he went on to continue, “The laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started. It would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off, so long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator, but if the universe is really completely self contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end. It would simply be. What place, then he asked for a creator.”

Now here we need to know really carefully what he’s saying. He’s saying that the universe, rightly understood had no beginning. He said as long as we thought that the universe had a beginning, that it wasn’t entirely self explanatory, then we could assume that maybe something or someone we might call God could stand in the background as the original cause of all that would eventually be but you’ll notice that Stephen Hawking believed that science, even as of 1988, had left no room for God whatsoever. He was not only an atheist. He believed that the universe itself was a testimony to atheism.

In an interview he gave along with his daughter Lucy Hawking, with whom he had cooperated in writing children’s books, Stephen Hawking said, “Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion. The one remaining area that religion can still lay a claim to is the origin of the universe, but even here science he said is making progress and should soon provide a definitive answer to how the universe began.” We should look squarely there. It is almost Promethean confidence in modern science. In another place, he said, “My goal was simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

In an interview he gave with El Mundo in 2014, Hawking said, “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by we would know the mind of God is we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.” You’ll notice how his argument developed and how he said different things sounding almost like the same thing over a process of time. What you see here is Stephen Hawking progressively demonstrating an ever greater and greater confidence, not only in science as a methodology or a way of knowing, but as an assured set of findings. He became absolutely confident that science and scientists had unlocked the secret of the universe, but Stephen Hawking had to admit even to the end of his life that modern science hadn’t actually answered all the basic questions of fundamental physics and the existence of the universe and certainly had not offered explanations for so much of the reality so much to the phenomena of the universe around us, especially the inner world, not just the outer world.

It is one thing to look at astronomical evidence and to speak of gravity and black holes. It’s a very different thing to speak of the very existence of the universe and how it began and whether or not it had a creator and thus, whether or not there is any transcendent meaning in this life or in any life. As someone who had to deal with severe physical limitations throughout his life, by the way, at one point, Stephen Hawking visiting in Switzerland, developed pneumonia and his wife, then his first wife, had to argue with doctors against turning off life support. At many points in his life, he was very near death. He had to think about mortality and he often spoke openly about mortality, including the fact that he was confident there was no possible afterlife. He said in these words, “I believe the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization, he said that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either.”

He went on to say, “We have this one life to appreciate, the grand design of the universe and for that I am extremely grateful.” In 2011, he said, “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In the same interview, he said, “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.” Now just before his statement that there is no heaven or afterlife for what he described as human beings, broken down computers, when he said that there is no heaven that, instead heaven and the afterlife are a fairy story for people afraid of the dark, he said this, “I regard the brain as a computer, which will stop working when its components fail.” Now there’s his definition of humanity, that is of the human brain as a computer, which will stop working when its components fail.

Now what that statement represents is the essential conclusion of the modern secular worldview. It is a worldview based in naturalism. That means that every phenomenon, every reality has to have an exclusively natural and by no means supernatural explanation. To put it in the words of Stephen Hawking, the universe has to explain itself completely, but the second hallmark of the modern secular worldview is materialism, that is the affirmation that the only reality that exists is a material reality. This reduces human beings just to flesh and blood but beyond that, it reduces human consciousness merely to the operations of a brain as tissue, as matter and chemicals and electronic energy interacting together. That’s all it is. When the components fail, when in the words of Stephen Hawking, the computer breaks down, the individual dies and the consciousness simply is no more.

Part II

The failure of materialism: Why a biblical worldview is the only worldview that can explain the meaning of life

Now he was also confident that that consciousness was simply the result of a blind evolution, but here we need to understand that the modern secular worldview simply cannot support the human need for meaning. It cannot support the human need to explain consciousness. Even the explanation of the brain is an adequate explanation for the mind. Human beings understand themselves. We understand other human beings as something more than computers either broken down or otherwise and evidence of that came in the obituary published almost immediately after Hawking’s death yesterday, written by a fellow scientist and one of his friends Roger Penrose. It appeared in The Guardian, a major London newspaper, but what struck me from the beginning is the beginning of the obituary.

Here’s how Roger Penrose introduces the lead obituary for Stephen Hawking in a major London newspaper, “The image of Stephen Hawking, who has died at age 76 in his motorized wheelchair, with head contorted slightly to one side and hands crossed over to work the controls, caught the public imagination as a true symbol of the triumph of mind over matter.” He went on to say, “As with the Delphic oracle of ancient Greece, physical impairment seemed compensated by almost supernatural gifts, which allowed his mind to roam the universe freely, upon occasion enigmatically revealing some of its secrets hidden from ordinary mortal view.”

Notice how theological this supposedly atheistic and naturalistic article is. It begins with language comparing mortals with immortals, describing Stephen Hawking as having almost supernatural gifts, but notice more than anything else the central point that Roger Penrose tried to identify of why in his view Stephen Hawking was heroic on the modern scene, even as he was bound to a wheelchair. He said that Stephen Hawking represented, “A true symbol of the triumph of mind over matter.”

Here’s the problem. Stephen Hawking didn’t believe there was any such distinction between mind and matter, nor for that matter do other modern secular naturalistic scientists. Stephen Hawking was the very refutation in his arguments about the possibility of a triumph of mind over matter. In his view, the mind itself was merely matter. Christians looking at the obituaries of Stephen Hawking recognize he was a major intellectual figure on the world scene and had been for the last several decades. As we look at the secular estimation of Stephen Hawking, we come to understand that the secular world wants to say that he made a huge difference. To use the words of Roger Penrose, that he represented the triumph of mind over matter and those who are making these arguments seem not even to understand that what they are saying is the effective refutation of what Stephen Hawking had believed and what they themselves say they believe but when it comes to explaining a human being, naturalism and materialism simply aren’t enough

When coming to speak at the value of a human being, the modern secular worldview can say something about Stephen Hawking that it cannot say as it’s teaching its own lessons in physics. The ultimate end of the modern secular worldview is that human beings and all of life have absolutely no cosmic meaning, have no transcendent significance whatsoever. The secular world wants to celebrate Stephen Hawking as a representation of modern science and they want to see him as evidence of the triumph of human will even over against physical infirmity, and there is of course a huge story there but at the news of his death, this is where Christians have to understand and we have to make clear to others that we do not believe that Stephen Hawking or any other human being at death is simply a computer that has broken down.

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries. Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

Part III

A seminary in turmoil: President under fire after past opposition to homosexuality is revealed

But next we shift back to the United States where major media are reporting headlines such as “Seminary in Turmoil.” It’s an interesting story. It really does demand our attention. In this case, the seminary is in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s the result of a fairly recent merger between two generally liberal Lutheran seminaries, a seminary in Philadelphia and a seminary in Gettysburg, and they merged into this new seminary and it has merged into controversy.

Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports, “A Lutheran seminary in eastern Pennsylvania is facing a leadership crisis due to a belated disclosure that the President of the LGBTQ affirming school once directed an organization that said gay Christians should change or at least resist same sex attractions as a temptation to sin.” Now we have to talk about the fact that a moral revolution isn’t just a shift in morality. It’s a comprehensive reversal of morality. I often look to the Anglican thinker Theo Hobson, who defines a moral revolution as taking place only when three conditions are met, that which was condemned must be celebrated, that which was celebrated must be condemned and those who will not celebrate must also be condemned.

That’s what we’re looking at in this story, a moral reversal, a moral revolution in which what was celebrated is now condemned and what was condemned is now celebrated. To speak specifically to this controversy in a Lutheran Theological Seminary at one point, even Lutherans, even rather liberal Lutherans understood that homosexuality was unbiblical and could only be defined as sin, but now these mainstream Lutherans in the ELCA seminary seem to believe that the only sin is ever believing that homosexuality was a sin. This denomination is quite liberal but it calls itself the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It too was the result of a merger of other denominations. That’s the main line story. You have denominations and seminaries and other schools merging because of their declining numbers and of course, with all kinds of financial pressures and all the rest, it becomes less expensive to merge two schools into one, eventually three into two or for that matter, six into one. It’s just a process that goes on and on and on but in this story, the really interesting point isn’t the merger of the seminary. The really interesting point is the controversy over the president.

The president’s in trouble because she was found at one point in her background to have believed that homosexuality is a sin, and that’s the new sin in the world of mainline Protestantism and the students and others not only in this seminary are demanding that the President be ousted. The board chairman has already been ousted because she had not disclosed, even though she knew this reality, this dark secret in the background of the new seminary president. It is expected the new seminary president can’t last for long because it’s simply incompatible to have a president of an LGBTQ affirming seminary who was in a leadership position in a ministry that called for same sex attracted persons to undergo a process of change or at the very least to resist those same sex sexual attractions.

The nature of the fact that this is a moral reversal, is a moral revolution is made clear later in the article by Peter Smith when he writes “United, that’s the seminary, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which debated sexuality issues for decades, beginning in 2009. It began permitting ordination of gay clergy and allowing local churches to have rights for same sex couples. The next paragraph, Reverend Latini, that’s the president of the seminary herself is a member of the Presbyterian Church USA, which cooperates closely with its Lutheran counterpart and which had a parallel debate before approving gay ordination and same sex marriage in recent years.”

What do you note there? How recent this is? You’re talking about a denomination, the ELCA, that is now LGBTQ affirming but just a matter of a few years ago, not ancient history, 2009, it was a denomination that didn’t even allow or recognize same sex marriage. That’s how quick this revolution is happening. As the reporter in the story Peter Smith says, “The Presbyterian USA is basically the same story. Back during the day, the Soviet Union, the Soviets often required official confessions that were clearly written by the government, the regime.”

Similarly, you see the same kind of almost Stalinist rhetoric in the language of a release made by the Board of Trustees, “The Board of Trustees deeply and sincerely apologizes for the lack of leadership it has displayed during these tumultuous times.” The board went on to promise real and lasting changes. As the report in the Post Gazette tells us, those changes will include, “Further training in diversity and communication and in making sure the seminary has adequate behavioral health services.” A story offered by Inside Higher Ed says, “A joint letter from the Lutheran students of Harvard Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary noted that many Lutheran students at those two institutions finished their preordination studies at United Lutheran and previously did so at one of the two seminaries that merged.” The letter said that this tradition has been jeopardized by the past statements of President Latini and the recent deceptive actions of the seminary board. The letter said that as individuals, those who wrote the letter might be able to forgive the seminary president for ever having believed that homosexuality is a sin, but that that very position that she had once held, even though she hasn’t held it for a long time, should have disqualified her for consideration as president of the seminary.

Here you see the coerciveness of the moral revolution playing out in just one liberal seminary in a liberal denomination, where ideological cleansing is now demanded to the extent that even though an individual might be individually forgiven for having held to the fact that homosexuality had ever been conceived as a sin, that should now be in the year 2018 disqualifying for leadership period. This is a story that will be told over and over again in mainline liberal Protestantism but unless we stand true to Biblical conviction, it’s a story that will not end there.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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