briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

It’s Tuesday, May 14, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Conservatives should embrace evolution? A strange argument deserves a response

Every single worldview has to answer four inescapable questions. We might consider them to be the four framework questions of any worldview. The first is, why is there something rather than nothing? The second is, what’s gone wrong in the cosmos? The third is, is there any hope? And the fourth is, how will history end?

Now you can see that the Christian worldview, even the Christian metanarrative of Scripture, answers those four questions quite naturally. Why is there something rather than nothing? That’s answered by the Bible’s doctrine of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.” What’s gone wrong in the cosmos? That is answered by the biblical doctrine of the Fall and especially looking at the reality of human sin and its consequences, including consequences upon creation. Is there any hope? That’s gloriously answered by the Bible doctrine of redemption. And the entire biblical presentation of what it means that Christ was promised and that He came and that He died on the cross for our sins and that God raised him from the dead and that salvation is now proclaimed in his name. And that last question, how does history end? Well the Bible is very clear about that. That’s the Bible’s doctrine of eschatology eventuating in a new creation.

But every other worldview also has to answer those questions. Just consider for example Classic Marxism or Communism, as it emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It answered the same questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? The answer was, materialism. All that exists is a form of material that is self-explanatory, and it is not the product of a creator. It is simply a material existence and the material existence is the only real existence.

The meta myth that came behind that materialism was Darwinism. What’s gone wrong with the cosmos? Well Communism classically answered that question with its doctrine of oppression, saying that it is the oppression of the poor by the rich that is the very essence of what’s gone wrong in the world. Everything can be reversed by overcoming that oppression.

And that leads to the Communist answer to the third question. Is there any hope? And yes, the Communists said. The hope is a revolution. A revolution that will eventually bring about the emergence of true Communism and the emergence of true Communist man—peace on Earth, a utopian promise based upon those materialist assumptions.

But Communism also had to answer the question, how does history end? And the Communist answer was history ends with Communism. With worldwide Communism victorious with peace being brought on Earth, economic equality achieved for all, and that was the very essence of that Marxist worldview based upon the synthesis of the philosopher Hegel. There is thesis and antithesis and there is synthesis. And Communism was the final synthesis that would conclude history.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, but Communism wasn’t just flawed in its answer to the three last questions, it was fundamentally flawed in its answer to the first. Why is there something rather than nothing? But this is an ongoing conversation in American culture. And this week it emerged in a very unusual place. It emerged at National Review. For the last 50 years or so the most influential magazine of the conservative movement in the United States.

The article is by Razib Khan, identified as a geneticist. The headline is, “Conservatives Shouldn’t Fear Evolutionary Theory.” Khan writes, “As an evolutionary geneticist and a conservative, I take some interest in critiques of Darwinism.” He says that these critiques come in waves every few years and the result is that they sow the seeds of skepticism about evolution amongst the public. But he writes, “Evolutionary biology is nothing for conservatives to fear. Because it is one of the crowning achievements of modern Western civilization. It should be viewed not as an acid gnawing at the bones of civilization, but as a jewel. The science,” he writes, “built upon the rock of Charles Darwin’s ideas is a reflection of Western modernity’s commitment to truth as a fundamental value.” And, he says, “Many Christians well-versed in evolutionary science find it entirely compatible with their religious beliefs.”

The reason this article comes as something of a surprise is that it’s rare in this kind of conservative magazine to see this kind of full bodied defense of evolution, especially in a classic mode. Which is exactly what we find here. Here we have a geneticist saying that conservatives should champion the theory of evolution, they should welcome evolution as a triumph of Western civilization and as those who find much good in Western civilization, we should see Darwinism “not as an acid gnawing at the bones of civilization, but as a jewel.”

The most interesting part of that paragraph is where he ends by saying that “many Christians well versed in evolutionary science find it entirely compatible with their religious beliefs.” That’s an interesting argument and we encounter it over and over again. What makes this a bit unusual is the fact that we are encountering it at National Review. So there are really two assertions in this article and we need to look at them both separately and together. Is it true that conservatives should champion evolution? And is it true that Christians should champion evolution? Those are related questions, we’ll look at them in turn.

First, should conservatives champion evolution? The argument made by Razib Khan is that conservatives should because there is a sense in which evolution is profoundly conservative. What’s he talking about here? Well it’s an interesting argument. He points out that evolution with natural selection and reproduction understood as engines, that evolution in that sense is very much opposed to the idea, for example, that male and female are merely social constructs. He points out that evolution wouldn’t work if they were merely social constructs; it only works, according to his understanding, evolution only demonstrates the fact that there actually is a given-ness to what it means to be male and female.

He summarizes this by arguing, “The political implications of evolutionary biology do not favor the Left.” Again that argument has been made before but we need to look at it pretty closely here. First of all, is it true? As you look at how evolution has impacted society, that it has had a generally conservative impact rather than a liberal impact? I would argue that’s not true. Now where would you make the argument that has had a conservative impact? Well you might say that it’s just in the operation of science that it claims to deal with reality and yes, as Khan indicates, there is a very clear understanding of the importance of reproduction and of the essential identity of male and female.

But he makes another astounding comment when he talks about many on the Left who “assert that society an values can be restructured at will.” He says that evolution stands as a bulwark against that. But here’s where we need to look at his words very carefully. He spoke of society and values. But how would evolution ground values? Here’s where we have to understand this has generally been a pretty dangerous argument. Social Darwinism has often led to theories of racism and racial superiority. It certainly leads to an understanding of competition amongst human being as eventually the weak giving way to the strong, or at least the weaker giving way to the stronger. But here’s where we simply have to say that makes perfect sense in the Third Reich, it doesn’t make sense in any moral world we would want to inhabit.

But we also have to understand that even as Razib Khan makes an important point about male and female being something other than mere social constructions as affirmed by evolution, we also have to understand that the basic impact of evolution has been profoundly secularizing and liberalizing. Because it comes down to this, if everything that exists is merely an accident. If there was no divine designer and there is no divine reality who is grounding those values, then they are merely just values. They are not moral truths, they are merely social constructions themselves.

This is the big problem that we have to confront in answering this first question about whether or not evolution leads to a conservative result. We have to understand that it is the redefinition of all reality and most importantly, the redefinition of human nature that comes by evolution that has had no a conserving effect, but has had a radical liberalizing effect. It has led to understanding that those moral values are actually nothing other than moral values, they are not moral realities. Because moral realities would have to be grounded in creator who’s existence is denied by any form of evolution currently accepted in the academy. In the larger intellectual world.

But then there is that second question, is evolution compatible with and even valuable to Christianity? Again he makes that statement, “Many Christians well-versed in evolutionary science find it entirely compatible with their religious beliefs.” I also want to note that he goes back to that later in his article. He writes, “Richard Dawkins would have you believe that evolutionary biology is fundamentally atheistic. But he is one voice. There are in fact evolutionary biologists who are religious, including Evangelical Protestants. The most influential evolutionary biologist of the first half the 20th century,” he writes, “R. A. Fisher, was an Anglican and a political conservative. The existence of people who are Christians and evolutionary biologists shows that there is a wide range of opinions on how evolutionary biology relates to religious faith.”

Well let’s just look at that more closely. First of all, you have Razib Khan saying that Richard Dawkins, who’s probably the world’s most famous evolutionary scientist and, at the same time, the world’s most influential atheist, he, we are told, “Would have you believe that evolutionary biology is fundamentally atheistic.” Well, in doing so, he would be absolutely right. One of the interesting things to note is that even when you have people who identify as Christians saying that evolution in its contemporary form is not incompatible with their faith, what they have to do is redefine either the Christian faith or the theory of evolution or both simultaneously. How does that work?

Well we have to understand that the dominant mainstream understanding of evolution amongst the intellectuals of today explicitly, undeniably excludes any kind of intervention from outside of the natural process. That’s really all you need to know. There can be no intervention from outside of a purely natural process which means there can be no design and there can be no designer. There can be no creator. There can be no understanding of evolution as a creation which is the product of an intelligent creator.

Now let’s just state the obvious. If you can somehow believe that and say that that’s compatible with Christianity, then you’re having to do one of two things. Either you’re really having to redefine Christianity into doctrinal meaninglessness or you’re going to have to say that you’re actually modifying that standard understanding of evolution by putting God at the beginning of a process, perhaps he just encoded it in the system but again, there is no respect for that whatsoever in the dominant structure of evolutionary intellectualism today. It is simply out of bounds. You have Christians say, “I can be a Christian. I can hold the Christian orthodoxy and I can affirm evolution.” Well that’s either a redefinition of one or the other or as I have said, of both. Or it is somehow kind of a dodge of the question.

The issue is this, do you believe that God in any sense created human beings as an act of His own will? That it is a product of His design? And that he created human beings in His image? If you say that, then you just have to understand you are way out of bounds of the standard model of evolution. So much so, that you come to understand that those who claim to be evolutionists in a classical sense and still claim a Christian identity, they are simply accepted by the secular evolutionists as helpful in making, well just the kind of arguments you saw in National Review. Making the argument that there are Christians who believe in evolution.

One of the things that’s often thrown at us is we are told that the Catholic Church has made peace with the doctrine of evolution. Well one of the things about the Catholic Church is that eventually finds a way to make peace with almost every major intellectual change. That’s another issue for another discussion. But when it comes to evolution we have to note that the official teaching, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that there is no inherent conflict between the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and evolution in so far as the special creation of human beings are still affirmed. And so, you’ll notice, that’s the very same thing. You have the redefinition of evolution in such a way that you have the Catholic Church saying there’s no inherent contradiction or conflict between the teaching of the Catholic Church and evolution, but the very affirmation of evolution that they allow is not the theory of evolution as it is held in the standard model in academia today.

There can be no doubt that Razib Khan is an ardent enthusiast for evolution. He writes, “Modern civilization stands atop its shoulders. Evolutionary theories, inchoate and unformed, have been part of our intellectual tradition for thousands of years. But since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, modern science has transformed the primitive intuitions that well up within us when we see a chimpanzee face-to-face into a vast cathedral of knowledge.”

When you people who assert that one can be a theistic evolutionist, you have to press the question and ask what kind of theism? And what is your understanding of evolution? When you do understand the standard model of evolution and you understand that it excludes any kind to divine direction or divine even initiation, then you come to understand that whatever theism means, it isn’t biblical theism. And if you instead redefine evolution in order to be compatible with your theism, then just understand that even as you use the word evolution, that is not evolution as taught in the universities. That is not evolution as it is understood in the standard model globally. So, at least intellectual honesty should compel us to say that even as someone may lay claim to be a theistic evolutionist, the big question is, is it biblical theism? And is it the standard model of evolution? And I’m going to stand by my assertion that it cannot be both simultaneously. It may be one, it may be the other, it may be neither. But it cannot be both.

Part II

Elite campus politics and the new ideology of "safety" — the transformation of college in a recent headline

But next, we shift our attention to Cambridge, Massachusetts and the campus of Harvard University. The Boston Globe with the headline story, “Harvard not renewing Harvey Weinstein lawyer as dean.” The report continues, “A bruising, semester-long controversy at Harvard University over a law professor’s pending criminal defense of accused rapist Harvey Weinstein ended abruptly Saturday with an announcement that Harvard Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is losing his position as head of Winthrop House.”

Now as you look at the background of this story, the deans of the residential houses at historic Harvard College, they’re very important because they house undergraduates and also proctors and others, and you have the deans resident themselves. In this case, it is not only Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, but his wife as well and their two children. But the story tell us that Sullivan and his wife Stephanie Robinson will not have their appointments as faculty deans renewed when their term ends on June the 30th. The dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana announced on Saturday that after a review of the climate in Winthrop House, where the dean supervised about 400 undergraduates, “The actions that have been taken to improve the climate have been ineffective, and the noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments has further deteriorated the climate in the House. I have concluded that the situation in the House is untenable.”

Why are we talking about this? And why is this a big story? It is because you had basically undergraduates in this house at Harvard, along with other students and faculty who joined in the protest, arguing that this faculty dean had to be removed because the law professor was simultaneously offering legal defense, as part of the legal team for accused rapist Harvey Weinstein. The argument made my students is that their professor dean serving in that role had made Winthrop House an unsafe place, especially for women and especially for women who have had some kind of experience with or have lived under the threat of some kind of sexual abuse. They declared that Winthrop House was no longer safe. And what we’re watching here is the fact that the American college and university campus, including what you could argue is the most prestigious campus of them all at Harvard College, it is being reduced to some kind of context of therapy where psychotherapeutic and modern political worldview reigns and where common sense and even a commitment to basic American Constitutionalism has fled.

That basic Constitutionalism is this, the American legal tradition is based upon the fact that every accused criminal has a full right of legal representation. Furthermore, the American legal tradition is based upon the assumption that lawyers have some kind of legal obligation to make certain that accused criminals have an adequate legal defense. Throughout most of American history it has sometimes been controversial that attorneys have taken on controversial clients or even infamous clients, but at the same time the American legal tradition and the American legal establishment has understood that that is necessary for the rule of law. It is necessary that even the worst criminals, or you could say the criminals accused of the worst crimes, have access to a good legal defense. That’s a part of what separates the Rule of Law from a mere autocracy. Or a totalitarian form of government.

This is where the modern legal tradition is based upon a Judeo-Christian understanding, and thus the Christian civilization that gave birth to the Rule of Law is one that honors law and due process and justice. As that which is mandated by God, of which in a fallen world is the best assurance we have of the achievement of something approximating justice. But that was just too much for so many of the undergraduates at America’s elite universities today and especially those who are resident at Winthrop House at Harvard College. They declared that their professor upholding this value of the American legal tradition and in this case, taking as a client a notorious defendant, that he had made himself ineffective as a dean of this residential house and he had created an atmosphere in which many of the students felt unsafe.

Now, the use of the word “unsafe” and the very fact that the verb here is “feel,” that tells you a great deal about the psychotherapeutic transformation of the American college. It’s now mostly about a place of feeling. And a place of emoting. And a place of virtue signaling. Gone is the ideal of higher education, which is about the pursuit of truth. Which requires honesty and courage and also requires honoring the structures of civilization that make higher education, as well as the rule of law, possible.

But we also see here the kind of problem that is inherent in the intersectionality that is now so rampant on American university campuses because Sullivan and his wife are the first African Americans to be appointed faculty deans. They were appointed together in 2009. And so now you have groups who are saying that race is the fundamental issue here. You have other groups saying, “No, the sexual abuse and gender issues are what’s paramount here.” Then you have others saying, “No it’s the emotional atmosphere question that’s paramount here.” What it comes down to is the fracturing of the entire civilization made very clear in this controversy in one residential college there at Harvard.

You also have the amazing statement made by the soon to be former dean, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. when he said this, “It’s in the nature of students to protest. The adults in the room, however, do not have to react in the way that they have.” But that of course assumes something that we should not assume, and that is that there are adults in the room. Long ago, most college administrations gave up on any kind of authoritative rule. They now see themselves basically as those who’s responsibility is to serve students as consumers. Even in elite universities, they are consumers. But of course they also have consuming political appetites. And that’s becoming increasingly clear and not only at Harvard. This latest controversy points to the meltdown of America’s elite higher education project. It simply will not continue as anything that can be classified as educational if this kind of pattern continues.

Part III

The revolt of “coastal elites” and the link between geography and worldview

Finally, we’re going to turn to an article recently at the New York Times by Timothy Egan entitled “Revenge of the Coastal Elites.” It’s written from Los Angeles. The point of Egan’s article is that you have a revolt against middle America, and here he specifically identifies the Trump administration, by the coastal elites. His article, “Revenge of the Coastal Elites,” celebrates the fact that you have people, you have politics, you have attorney generals, you have states on both coasts, who are resisting, and what’s most interesting here, many of the moral policies undertaken by the Trump administration. Especially think here, of issues of transgender individuals in the military, of the protection of religious liberty in the face of the LGBTQ revolution, and of course the right to life and the sanctity of life and the question of abortion.

The interesting thing about Egan’s article is the use of the term “coastal elites” in the headline because that really does point to a very important reality. As we’ve often pointed out, geography and worldview are not totally disconnected. They are often very clearly connected, at least in correlation if not in causation. What do I mean by that? Well you can look at a map of blue and red America. And you can pretty much predict, over time, where the red is and where the blue is. The closer you get to a city, the more blue. The more liberal. The closer you get to an academic campus, again the more liberal. The closer you get to one of the major manifestations of the technological revolution such as Silicon Valley, the bluer the map gets. And what’s most important for this article, the closer you get to the two costs, the Atlantic and the Pacific, the bluer the map gets. And I’m not talking about the water, I’m talking about the land. And we’re talking about worldview.

We’re talking about the fact that the coast is more liberal than the interior of the country. Here’s what’s interesting, that’s true throughout much of history and it is true in other nations as well. For some reason, the coastal civilization turns out to be more morally liberal, often politically liberal as well, than the interior civilization. Why would that be true? Well let’s just consider the fact that the coasts are where you find the historic seaports. You find the historic focuses of communication and transportation, you find an increasing globalism. You find an increasing cosmopolitanism. You also find increasing wealth. And it turns out, those realities are also not disconnected.

Egan is particularly celebrating the political and moral liberalism of the three states on the Pacific coast. California and Oregon and Washington. He also points out that if you take the two states of California and Washington alone, two of the most liberal states, when you think about their national influence, if you look at those two states and their populations, they now count one out of every seven Americans. And here’s something else we need to know, the populations along the coast, on both the East Coast and the West Coast, are increasing far more than almost any interior space in the country. Which is to say, bluer America is becoming more populated and red America less so. So, what does that tell us? It tells us that as we look to the future, if current trends continue, America is destined to be a more cosmopolitan and a more liberal civilization.

One final observation, it is often said, in American political circles, that it is conservatives’ red America that continually points to the distinction between the red and the blue. But here we have to note this article is not written from the right, it is written from the left. With someone representing what he sees as the triumph of liberalism on the coasts as good news, drawing again the distinction between the red and the blue. If we’re intellectually honest, we have to understand that both red America and blue America understand the map is very importantly divided between red and blue. The big conflict is over what that division is going to look like moving into the future.

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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