briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, September 15, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

“Words Have Consequences” — Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Officers Shot at Close Range

The nation was shocked, necessarily so, tragically so, with the news that came from Los Angeles that two LA County Sheriff’s deputies had been intentionally shot at close range in Compton. That’s an area of Los Angeles. The video showed a lone gunman walking up to the car where the two young officers were sitting and opening fire shooting both of them. Both of them required surgery, both of them right now are listed in LA area hospitals in serious condition. As Kevin Rector of the Los Angeles Times tells us, “The video showed a shooting that shocked the conscience. A cold-blooded attempt to kill two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies at close range.”

“Immediately,” he tells us, “unequivocal condemnations flooded in from law enforcement officials, city leaders, and the nation’s most prominent politicians.” Now, that’s what should happen. That is, immediate unequivocal condemnations. And indeed, looking at the presidential race right now, there’s no way around the fact that this is going to be headline news in the context of that election. As Los Angeles Times tells us, “President Trump called for the unknown shooter to receive the death penalty. Trump’s opponent in the November presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, called for the gunman to face what he called, “The full brunt of the law.” All of this reminds us of the danger faced by America’s law enforcement officials every day.

Most importantly, that long blue line of police officers, deputy sheriffs, and others, those who are the first responders on the front line, sitting in the squad cars, sitting there with the word “police” or “sheriff’s department” written on the side of the car. And even as most Americans have grown up seeing those cars, seeing those officers, seeing those uniforms as nothing more than symbols of respect and necessary order, the fact is that right now everything is highly politicized. Right now, on the streets of many American cities, there have been protests going on for well over 100 days against the police. And you have orchestrated political movements demanding the abolition of the police, or what’s often phrased now as the motto, “defund the police.”

And you have all kinds of moral and political and sociological issues behind this, you have what is undoubtedly outrage on the part of many African American citizens, but you also have, across the nation, a great deal of concern that this language is absolutely irresponsible and is leading to exactly the context in which this shooting took place in Los Angeles. Speaking of this context, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, there in Los Angeles County said, “Words have consequences.” Obviously, this crime is going to require a full investigation and you can count on the fact that law enforcement in Southern California and elsewhere are now undertaking a massive investigation described by many in the mainstream media as a massive manhunt.

It’s very significant to note that shortly after this news broke, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal had to run an editorial statement entitled, “We Hope They Die.” The subhead, “Protestors cheer a shooting ambush of sheriff’s deputies in L.A.” The editorial board wrote, “No one other than the shooter is responsible for the gunfire ambush Saturday of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as they sat in their patrol car. But the same can’t be said for the protesters who blocked the entrance to the hospital where the two are being treated, and chanted, ‘We hope they die.’ The latter,” said the editorial board, “is a cultural poison nurtured by the left-wing anti-police movement sweeping the country.” Now, I’ll just state that that appears to be self-evidently true.

The editorial board went on to write, “The two deputies were ‘ambushed by a gunman in a cowardly fashion’ in the Compton neighborhood, said Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference. The deputies hadn’t been identified by name, but press reports say one is a 31-year-old mother and the other is a 24-year-old man. Both have served with the department a little more than a year.” Later in the editorial, we read, “Police haven’t identified a suspect, but the randomness of the ambush suggests someone looking for any available police target.” The editors went on to say, “We’ve seen this before when anti-police fever is hot. A gunman shot and killed two officers in their car in New York in 2014 following the death of black suspects being arrested in Ferguson, Mo., and New York.”

The editors then wrote “Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti called the chants and protests at the hospital ‘unacceptable’ and ‘abhorrent,’ but he and other Democrats need to do more to condemn and ostracize these protesters.” They went on to say, “Democrats may fear the wrath of Black Lives Matter, but the backlash elsewhere in America will be far greater if pleasure at cop killing becomes common on the left.” They went on to state a longer argument, the essence of which comes down to this, “Policing reform is impossible amid a war on police.” That is exactly right. But that was a statement from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post yesterday ran its own editorial board statement, headlined, “The ambush shooting of two sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles was a monstrous act of lawlessness.” Well, so good so far. The editorial board wrote, “Any discussion of the complex subject of law enforcement in the United States should start with an acknowledgement that police work is dangerous. Several dozen officers are killed in criminal acts each year,” said the Post, “and dozens more die in accidents, to say nothing of the hundreds who are wounded. The ambush shooting in Los Angeles on Saturday of two sheriff’s deputies, who were seriously injured in the attack as they sat in their patrol car, was a monstrous act of lawlessness.” So good so far. “It was also a reminder of what is too often ignored: that many police are justified in feeling threatened as they patrol the communities they are charged to serve and protect.”

And you have the editorial board going on to say that major political figures had condemned the shooting, but then they went on to say, “Some seized on video footage of a handful of individuals who yelled anti-police slogans at the entrance of the hospital where the officers were brought for treatment; one or two men could be heard saying ‘We hope they die.'” The editors then said, “The suggestion from some on the right is that the summer’s protests against police violence or advocacy for police reform or racial justice generally amount to a broader incitement to violence against the police.” Now, my purpose in turning to this editorial from the Washington Post is that, in the aftermath of the immediate aftermath of this tragic shooting of these sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles, what we see here is an effort to say, “The issue is this; it’s not that.”

Now, that’s what editorial boards do. But here’s what I really want us to note. On The Briefing, I often wait until there is an initial round of cultural response because that initial round often becomes as significant as the original story. And in this case, it’s not as morally significant, but it is extremely revealing. Because what we see here is that the Washington Post is going to extraordinary lengths to say, “This intentional shooting of these two officers in Los Angeles was a monstrous act of lawlessness.” It must be called what it is, but then they go on to say, “It can’t be blamed on the larger context this summer of racial tension and anti-police calls for defunding and protests in the streets.” But you also see an effort to minimize the messaging here. They say it was just a couple of male voices that were heard saying, “We hope they die.”

But the point to be made here is that this is a far broader issue than that. Yes, it would be irresponsible to say that the vast majority of the protestors who’ve been involved on the streets of America in recent weeks had any intention to bring about the attempted murder of police officers. But at the same time, there has been a general disrespect that has been directed at police officers all across this country in this context. And it’s not just calls to abolish or more and lead to defund to the police, it is the ongoing claim that the very existence of the police is evidence of racism, the very existence of the police. And if you’re not familiar with that argument, I will tell you that in academic circles and in many political circles, it is increasingly heard.

You can’t use that kind of language without understanding that it will have consequences. In that sense, the statement by the Los Angeles County sheriff is exactly right: “Words have consequences.” We will continue to be concerned about and to pray for these young officers and their families as well as all who take up this responsibility and put on the uniform and sit in those patrol cars and expose themselves to danger most Americans could not contemplate. But we will also be watching, even as the country is talking about police reform, we’ll be watching to see how this kind of news story, how this kind of cultural conversation continues, because that’s going to tell us a great deal, not only about this current cultural moment, but about where we are headed as a country.

Part II

Life in a Venusian Cloud? What Would It Mean If Life Were Found on Another Planet?

But next we shift to a very different story that has been very much in the headlines in the last 24 hours. National Geographic magazine’s Nadia Drake reported this story this way, “Something deadly might be wafting through the clouds shrouding Venus: a smelly, flammable gas called phosphine that annihilates life-forms reliant on oxygen for survival. Ironically though, the scientists who today announced sightings of this noxious gas in the Venusian atmosphere say it could be tantalizing, if controversial, evidence of life on the planet next door.” Now, almost immediately, I started hearing from people who said, “What would it mean if life has found on Venus?” Well, actually that’s an interesting question and I’ll deal with that question.

But what turns out to be more pressing here’s the fact that so many people want to jump to the conclusion that what you have here is any kind of evidence of life anywhere other than on planet earth. Let’s get to the bigger question first. What would it mean theologically that some form of say biosis or biological life was found on another planet, either inside our solar system or outside? The bottom line is, it would not change anything theologically at all. There is nothing in the scripture that says that biosis is limited to planet earth. That’s not a biblical claim at all. What the Bible does tell us is that in this solar system, in this galaxy, on planet earth, a sovereign creator, self-existent God, had created one creature made in his image.

And furthermore, this Creator God, is bringing glory to himself through the redemption of sinful humanity, the redemption of a people through the blood shed by his son, the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, and through his atonement accomplished in full. And the biblical narrative tells us that the entire cosmos was created by God for his glory and for the purposes of the entire drama of redemption being accomplished here on planet earth. So as a Christian theologian, am I concerned that there might be intelligent life somewhere other than here on planet earth, somewhere in the cosmos? The answer is, no, I’m not concerned about that. I find it to be extremely unlikely. But if intelligent life were to be found somewhere else in the cosmos, it wouldn’t change the biblical narrative.

It wouldn’t change the factual nature of Scripture whatsoever. It wouldn’t require any basic adjustment in the Christian worldview, our understanding of the world and its meaning. But I will go on to say there is nothing in the biblical revelation, holy Scripture, that would indicate that we should expect to find intelligent life elsewhere. But what we have in this development as reported in National Geographic is the fact that a study was published in the journal, Nature Astronomy, indicating that it just might be that astronomers have discovered that in the clouds surrounding Venus, that’s the planet second closest to the sun, there might be the presence of phosphine. And here on earth, phosphine can be explained basically only by the presence of some kind of life, but not oxygen-based life, and no life that’s reliant upon oxygen for survival.

And so even if it turns out that, yes, there is phosphine in the cloud belts of Venus, and yes, if conditions otherwise necessary for some kind of biosis or some kind of life would exist, there is no evidence whatsoever that this life would be anything that would be defined as organic in common terms, anything that would require oxygen for survival. National Geographic reported, “Put simply, phosphine shouldn’t be in the Venusian atmosphere. It’s extremely hard to make and the chemistry in the clouds should destroy the molecule before it can accumulate to the observed amounts.” But then, National Geographic went on to say that it’s too early to conclude that this means that life exists beyond planet earth. Well, that’s an understatement.

But as you look, even if you did say a Google news search of the headlines here, many of those headlines indicate that a study has just been released, two studies by the way, that just might indicate that there just might be life on other planets, in this case, Venus. Later in the article, National Geographic reports, “But if phosphine really is floating through the Venusian cloud deck, it’s present suggest one of two intriguing possibilities; that alien life forms are definitely linking together phosphorus and hydrogen atoms, or that some completely unanticipated chemistry is crafting phosphine in the absence of life.” But looking at the reports, it’s actually clear that there is scientific consensus that there is phosphine in the Venusian cloud decks, that is, the cloud gatherings that are miles above the surface of Venus.

And when it comes to Venus, it isn’t very hospitable to life. I’ll quote again from National Geographic, “Venus, the second world from the sun, has long been considered Earth’s twin. It’s about the same size as our home planet with similar gravity and composition. For centuries, hopeful humans thought it surface might be covered in oceans, lush vegetation, and verdant ecosystems, providing a second oasis for life in the solar system.” “But then, says National Geographic, “reality intruded. Early science observations of the planet next door revealed that it is a menace of a world that could kill Earthlings in multiple ways. It’s surface can reach a sweltering 900 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Tucked beneath as many as 65 miles of cloud and haze, those roasted rocks are smothered by a bone-crushing amount of pressure, more than 90 times what’s felt on Earth’s surface. Plus the planet’s atmosphere is primarily suffocating carbon dioxide populated by sulfuric acid clouds.” Looking at the other major reports in the scientific and in the mainstream media, it becomes very clear that there are some who are in the scientific community asking questions about whether or not this even warrants this kind of attention, because there has been no confirmation even at the fact that there is phosphine in the Venusian cloud decks or that it might indicate life on other planets, it does not necessarily indicate any life at all, but rather an unusual chemical context.

The fact is, that what we don’t know in this situation vastly outstrips what we do know, but it is really interesting that so many people want to know, could there be life elsewhere? Indeed, you have people who’ve been making the suggestion that we need to find some kind of planet that might be hospitable in order to flee planet earth and eventually take residence in this other planet. Well, I’ve shared enough from National Geographic’s description of Venus, and it’s replicated throughout the scientific reporting on this to make very clear that there is no human future on Venus, that’s even if we could get there. Even the scientific probes we have tried to send there have melted within minutes of contact with Venus. The New York Times headline yesterday was this; Life on Venus? Astronomers see a signal in its clouds.

Now, again, by the time you read the New York Times article written by three reporters, the New York Times doesn’t say there is actually likely life on Venus, it just raises the possibility, but it also wants to get your attention. It got mine. You do have to love the fact that the New York Times writing for just a generally informed readership feels the need to tell us, “Here on earth, phosphine is found in our intestines, in the feces of badgers and penguins, and in some deep sea worms as well as other biological environments associated with anaerobic organisms. It is also extremely poisonous.” But my favorite section of the New York Times coverage is this, “The finding also follows a history of detections of gases on other worlds that can be byproducts of life, but these gases such as burps of methane or oxygen on Mars can also be produced by chemical reactions that do not involve life at all.”

“So far, such signals have been intriguing, but they are not convincing proof of aliens.” Now, wait just a minute. How in the world was it necessary in the context of this news report to say that this report does not provide convincing proof of aliens? It’s an extreme leap to get to life and any form of life we would recognize much less whether or not there’s even phosphine present as there is now this claim, but furthermore, getting to aliens? When most people read the word alien, they think of conscious life. Let’s just say there is nothing in this that points to any evidence of conscious, intelligent life whatsoever. But the New York Times felt the need to put that in any way, and that’s what makes the story even more interesting.

It’s in here because there is something inside of us or at least many of us that wants to believe that there just might be life on other planets. Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, how do we explain that? Well, at best, it represents this, a sense of wonder about the immensity, the complexity, the absolute, amazing reality of the cosmos that God has made. And the Christian worldview validates the use of experimental, observational science to try to understand this world. But there is no indication in scripture that other than God himself and the creatures that he has made and told us about, there’s no reason to think that the cosmos understands us or any part of the cosmos has any understanding of us or any intelligibility at all.

This almost reminds us that the heavens are telling the glory of God. That’s what’s most important. Yes, the heavens are telling the glory of God. So is every single atom and molecule on earth. The entire cosmos is declaring the glory of God, and at least a part of what it means for human beings to me made in God’s image as the intelligible creatures, the morally responsible creatures, the only spiritual creatures made in his image with a soul. There is something about that that means that we are also the questioning creatures who cannot look up to the skies without asking, “What does all of this mean? And what does this say about us?”

Part III

Aliens Aren’t Coming to Save Us . . . And That’s a Good Thing: UFO Sightings Increase During Times of Crisis

In a similar vein, earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story with the headline, “Everyone is watching the skies and seeing UFOs.” Te-Ping Chen is the reporter of this article. And what we’re being told is that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people at home, there are more people asking big questions and looking up at the sky, and there are more people seeing more unidentified flying objects. Many of those people are reporting them and that’s leading to a certain amount of consternation from those who are trying to sort these things out, because, well, not all of them can even be followed up on. But it does remind me of something that is simply very important for us to think about. Do I believe in UFOs? You bet I do, unidentified flying objects, because all a UFO means is that a flying object or at least something that appeared to be flying is unidentified.

I’m pretty sure that there are UFOs in the sky all the time, visible or invisible. But the point is this, when people say UFO, they really are thinking about spaceships, some kind of alien intruder. They’re thinking about some kind of intelligent life. When most people hear the word UFO, they don’t focus so much on the unidentified part, but in the part that leaps to the imagination that there must be extraterrestrials visiting planet earth. The Wall Street Journal, by the way, tells us that it prefers UAP to UFO. UFO, Unidentified Flying Object, UAP, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. I wouldn’t let that distinction, if indeed it is a distinction, keep you up thinking at night. But the article in the Wall Street Journal included this very interesting comment from Matthew Hayes, instructor at Northern Lakes College in Alberta, Canada.

We’re told that he studies public fascination with UFOs. “He notes that interest in the phenomenon first arose during the Cold War, amid deep public anxieties about the world and its new destructive technologies.” Mr. Hayes then said, “In a time of crisis, we look elsewhere for salvation, even if it means looking to the stars.” Now, I don’t know exactly what Matthew Hayes meant by speaking about a time of crisis when people look elsewhere for salvation. Frankly, we don’t look to planet earth for salvation either. We’re not going to find salvation either in a telescope or in a microscope. We’re only going to find salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I want to end The Briefing today by looking at the incredible testimony of Psalm 8, “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth? You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Amen.

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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