The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 7, 2021

It’s Thursday, October 7th, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Pro-Abortion Gauntlet Marches On — Biden Administration Reverses Trump Policy and Gives Planned Parenthood What it Demands

The Biden administration continues to push its pro-abortion agenda. When he was running for president, Joe Biden had made very clear that he would push hard, that he would serve the demands of the pro-abortion movement in the United States, that he would serve organizations like Planned Parenthood with political support and taxpayers’ support. And that’s exactly what is taking place.

The change that the Biden administration announced this Monday is the fact that it is going to remove restrictions that had been put in place by President Trump and the Trump administration to restrict any kind of abortion referral, if the agency receives Title X family planning funds from the federal government.

That program was put in effect in 1970. It subsidizes birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings and what’s also described as related preventative care. It is primarily intended to provide such care for Americans who could not otherwise afford it. The federal government is involved. The taxpayer is paying the bills.

The Trump administration wisely had put in place a restriction that makes very clear that if there’s going to be any referral for abortion, the organization is not going to be able to participate in Title X funding. But we now know everything can change virtually on a dime. In this case, the Biden administration has announced it is going to be reversing the Trump administration policy.

Now, we need to note for a moment how the regulatory state works, at least in the United States or at least one important dimension of how the regulatory state works. First of all, why do we call it the regulatory state? It is because increasingly the United States government has developed into a massive administrative animal and administrative state. The administrative state exercises its authority by issuing and enforcing and ever-changing regulations.

Those regulations are not specifically law, but they take on the force of law by the fact that Congress basically differs to the administrative state to do much of the work it is too lazy or cowardly to do. Part of it is simply by necessity, if you define necessity as what it takes to run the massive administrative structure that the United States government has now become, and the administrative state, which is also the regulatory state operates by those regulations. And here is where the president of the United States as the nation’s chief executive has extraordinary power.

The chief executive can’t simply change everything in terms of federal regulation. The president can’t, for example, contravene an action by Congress. That hasn’t stopped some presidents, including President Barack Obama and also, at least by attempt more recently, President Joe Biden. But as it comes to this issue, what was formally announced on Monday is that the Biden administration is putting its energy behind a reformulation of this regulation, so that organizations in general that may refer women to abortions can nonetheless participate and receive Title X funds.

But here’s where we need to notice something. This rule could basically be described as the Planned Parenthood rule, because it is the organization of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions, that means the largest agent of the intentional targeting of the unborn in the United States, it’s at the center of this regulation. But that also leads to another story the mainstream media is not going to tell you. Years ago, fairly early in the Trump administration, the issue of this regulation that the Trump administration would put into place came up in conversations between representatives of the Trump administration and the leadership of Planned Parenthood.

Now, Planned Parenthood tries to present itself as some kind of healthcare organization, but of course, Planned Parenthood began in a movement that was basically defined by birth control and abortion. It has been on the left pushing these issues from its very origins. Its founder, Margaret Sanger, was deeply committed to eugenics, the idea that there should be more babies from the fit and less from the unfit. It was an inherently racist policy. But nonetheless, abortion has been at the center of that policy. But that also leads to the story, as I said, the mainstream media isn’t going to tell you, and that is that representatives of the Trump administration, including members of the president’s own family had conversation with Planned Parenthood leaders and they offered a deal.

The deal was this, the Trump administration would, they were told, not seek to deny this kind of funding to Planned Parenthood, if Planned Parenthood would get out of the abortion business and actually be about the task of healthcare. But you’ll notice, and here’s what’s important, Planned Parenthood is so committed to abortion. After all, again, it is the very apex of the abortion industrial complex in the United States. Planned Parenthood is so ideologically and organizationally committed to abortion, they wouldn’t take the deal. They would rather have abortion than even the funding. And of course, now under this announcement coming from the Biden administration, they just waited long enough that they can have both.

It’s interesting to look at the press coverage that is out there about the Biden administration’s announcement. Noah Weiland writing for The New York Times offers a story that includes this line, “The 2019 rule,” that would be the Trump administration rule, “aggressively targeted organizations that offer abortions, including Planned Parenthood. It was a top priority of social conservatives during Mr. Trump’s term as president.”

Well, let’s just look at that for a moment. We are told that this rule aggressively targeted organizations that offer abortions. Now, what’s important about that language, well, just consider the word aggressively. You could apply that word, if it fits here, it will fit anywhere where you have a very clear determination made in the rules. Someone’s going to be targeted. It could be people who park in the wrong parking spot. Aggressively targeting, that’s the language that actually says more about this newspaper and its report than about the issue at hand.

But remember, we’re told that the rule “aggressively targeted organizations that offer abortions, including Planned Parenthood.” Again, it’s not just including Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is the big story here and the issue of abortion isn’t, and here’s the whole point, incidental to Planned Parenthood. It is at the center of the organization from the start until the present.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the administration’s new rule, “A major victory for patients’ access to sexual and reproductive health care and health equity.” Notice all the words she used there. Notice the word that she didn’t use, abortion, but abortion is and was and always was the issue in this rule change. But notice that even Alexis McGill Johnson celebrating this Biden administration rule change, the head of Planned Parenthood, doesn’t want to use the word abortion, when it’s the only word here that really matters.

Rachel L. Levine, who is the assistant secretary for health, the Biden administration has pointed to Dr. Levine often as the first openly transgender person appointed by a president to receive Senate confirmation. Dr. Levine said the new rule would “allow for the Title X service network to expand in size and capacity to provide quality family planning services to more clients.” Notice again, the words that were used. Notice even more emphatically, the word that was not used, abortion.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, perhaps the most pro-abortion figure ever in that role, said, “Today, more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals based upon a patient’s needs and direction.” Government doublespeak, a cover for gross immorality in the form of abortion.

It’s also important at this juncture to recognize that the Trump administration’s policy actually did have teeth. The Washington Post reports, “An estimated 981 clinics, about one in four that received Title X money, dropped out in 2019, and a half dozen states no longer had any healthcare centers in the program, according to the Guttmacher Institute a reproductive rights research and policy organization.” And so we’re told that the Trump administration policy meant that a quarter of these organizations dropped out of the program, but now they’re welcome to come right back in with abortion, right back in.

We should note in a footnote that it is abortion referrals here. It is complicity in the entire system of abortion that is at stake. Federal funding is still not allowed to go directly to the performing of an abortion itself, but the Biden administration has made very clear it wants to see to the reversal of that policy as well.

Part II

Religious Quest Evident As Elon Musk and Other Technocrats Join The ‘Simulation Argument’ — What Are the Odds We Are Living In A Computer Simulation?

But next, we’re going to shift to a very different issue. We’re going to look at an essay by Joshua Rothman, the ideas editor at The New Yorker. The headline, “What Are the Odds We Are Living in a Computer Simulation?” This isn’t the first time this issue has come up, but coming up this way in The New Yorker is a pretty revealing development, because what Noah Rothman is telling us is that there are many intelligent people in the United States who have at least said they have come to the conclusion that it is more likely than not that we are actually in our conscious lives running out a computer simulation, a massive high computational power beyond anything you could imagine right now, a computer simulation being run by our descendants from the future who have both the intelligence and the computational power to pull this off. It is, we are told, more likely than not, at least in the view of many intelligent people.

The article begins with reference to Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla motors, SpaceX and “other cutting edge companies.” We’re told that at the recent Code Conference held in California, Musk was asked about the idea that our world is not real, but is instead a computer simulation. Well, Musk evidently said that he thought it might just be the right idea. “I’ve had so many simulation discussions. It’s crazy.” He went on to say that, “The likelihood that we are living in base reality was just one in billions.” Base reality means our world is real. So Elon Musk was saying that the odds are overwhelmingly that our world is not real, and that we are just in a giant computer simulation running backwards from the future.

Rothman writes, and I quote, “Musk, it seems, has been persuaded by what philosophers call the simulation argument, an idea given its definitive form in a 2003 paper by the Oxford philosopher and futurologist, Nick Bostrom. We are told that the argument ends by proposing that we are, in fact, digital beings living in a vast computer simulation created by our far future descendants. Many people, we are told, have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high.” Presumably, I insert, that means high on drugs.” But recently, a number of philosophers, futurist science fiction writers and technologists, people who share a near religious faith in technological progress have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.”

Now, this gets really interesting, but the most profound point I want to make is the fact that you see here a religious quest, a deeply, irreducibly religious quest. That’s reflected in the fact that Noah Rothman describes this movement as made up of people “who share a near religious faith in technological progress.” The Christian principle is this, you’re going to believe in something and that something is going to become in one way or another your religion.

Rothman then goes on to describe the two principles, the two premises, upon which this simulation argument is now predicated. “The first is that consciousness can be simulated in a computer with logic gates standing in for the brain’s synapses and neuro-transmitters.” In parentheses he writes, “If self-awareness can arise in a lump of neurons, it seems likely that it can thrive in silicon too.” Now, let’s just stop here.

That’s a huge jump. It is an absolutely massive jump to believe that somehow if consciousness exists in our human experience, then it can also thrive in silicon. Again, that’s a premise that’s required for this argument. And there are evidently people who are saying, you’re going to make that jump, a jump in consciousness from the human brain to a computer, silicon chips.

The second premise, “is that advanced civilizations will have access to truly stupendous amounts of computing power.” Bostrom, remember he’s at Oxford, he speculates, “For example, that thousands of years from now, our space traveling descendants might use nano machines to transform moons or planets into giant planetary computers.” The next sentence, “It stands to reason that such an advanced civilization might use that computing power to run an ancestor simulation.” That will be us by the way, an ancestor simulation, essentially a high powered version of the video game The Sims focused on their evolutionary history.

Okay, but here’s where the numbers become really important. And I want us to follow the argument. Remember, back in that earlier statement, Joshua Rothman had reported that there is this now sizable group of philosophers, futurists, science fiction writers and technologists who share this near religious faith in technological progress who have come to believe, “That the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.” Their argument is, it’s inescapable because of the math.

Well, what do they mean by that? How are they calculating the odds? This is really, really interesting. They’re calculating the odds this way, the number of potential simulations is virtually infinite. The number of the real world, as our argument would maintain, is one. Christians, for that matter, just about every single human being alive, has argued that there is only one world. There is only one reality. It’s the reality that we inhabit with our human consciousness. It’s the reality we know as planet earth and the cosmos beyond, it is one reality.

But the argument being made in this article, the argument made by these thinkers, futurologists, scientists, these people with a near religious belief in technological progress, their argument is look at the odds. What are the odds that the one real world is actual, when you have to compare that to an infinite number of potential computer simulations?

Well, the odds really don’t look too much in favor of the real world if, and here’s the huge if, you think that that’s a meaningful calculation. I’ll just assert, it is not a meaningful calculation, because at any point you could say that in almost any consideration, the net number of the things that might have been would be infinitely larger than the way things actually were. And that means the real world is singular. But what might have been is indeed, at least in imagination, nearly infinite. That might be interesting, but numerically, it’s not really important. But for Christians, it does point to something extremely important. And that is, we do believe in a real world.

We believe in a real world, created by a real self-existent Creator who really did make the world for His glory. We believe that in this one reality, God made human beings in His image and gave us consciousness. He gave us consciousness. It didn’t just develop. It didn’t come just by some evolutionary process. God gave it to us. He gave it to Adam and Eve and it becomes ours by the very fact that every single one of us is a descendant of Adam and Eve, and every single one of us made in God’s image.

I might offer another parable to try to explain the numerical predicament here. Let’s say that you are a parent, a mom or a dad. And let’s say that you are dealing with a child who did something, might’ve done something right, might’ve done something wrong, but did something. Let’s say that you have a conversation with that child about what the child did. And the child says, “Well, you know, that thing I did, it’s dwarfed by the net number of things I might have done.” Your response to that is, “What you might have done might be interesting, but what’s really important is what you did. And in doing that one thing, you made a singular choice.”

But you can see the child saying, “I might have done a nearly infinite number of different things. I might have thought a nearly infinite number of other thoughts.” But your response would have to be. “Yeah, but you thought one thought that turned into this one action, and that’s what we’re having the conversation about right now.”

The religious aspect of all of this also becomes clear near the end of Rothman’s essay when he writes, “The simulation argument is appealing in part because it gives atheists a way to talk about spirituality. The idea that we’re living in only a part of reality with a whole permanently beyond our reach can be a source of awe” As we often point out, awe is a theological category. Awe is actually an overused word, especially in the form of awesome, but in its root, it means that which is simply unfathomable and cannot be explained by anything other than absolute wonder. That turns out to be religious.

One way or another, it’s religious. And you see it conceited right here in this article where we are told that the idea that our existence is merely a computer simulation is a way for atheists to have some kind of spirituality. But Christians understand that some kind of spirituality won’t get you very far, not far at all.

Part III

Out with Easter and Christmas Terms: Modern Cult of Wokeness on Display As School In Oxford Secularizes Its Calendar in the Name of Sensitivity

Finally, a story that comes from Great Britain. The headline in the article in the Daily Mail is this, “Emma Watson’s Former School Cancels Christmas To Be Inclusive At All Touchpoints.” It’s actually a more interesting story than you might think. It has very little to do with Emma Watson, the star of the Harry Potter films and others, is however, a graduate of the school. And in our celebrity driven culture, that’s the way this school is identified. But you might be interested to know that the school actually has an extremely interesting name, the name is The Dragon School in Oxford.

The head of the school, Emma Goldsmith wrote to parents saying, “Those of you who have been at The Dragon for some time will be familiar with the academic terms being known as Christmas, Easter, and summer terms. However, we will be moving to naming them autumn, spring and summer from the beginning of the spring term.” The head of school then went on to say, “This is a slight tweak, but one I hope reflects a community which wants to be inclusive at every touchpoint.”

Notice something, the head of school said explicitly that the reason why this change was made was in order that the school would be inclusive at every touchpoint. Now, there’s a punchline to this story that’s going to have to wait for just a moment, but it’s just important for Christians to recognize this is the kind of secularization in the name of sensitivity that is going to become more and more common.

Here you have a school, a very traditional British school, a school that has a very clear Christian heritage in a society that still has an established church for crying out loud, the Church of England. But here you have a school that wants to be inclusive at every touchpoint. And that means Easter is out, Christmas is out, the traditional way of the school referring to its own terms, all that is out because if it’s going to be inclusive at every touchpoint, it’s going to have to abandon speaking of Christmas, Easter, and summer terms, and now speak merely of autumn, spring and summer terms. There you have it, a school that wants to be inclusive at every touchpoint.

But then the report tells us, “The decision has sparked anger with one parent saying, ‘What is un-inclusive about Christmas and Easter? who has complained about the names of the terms?’ This parent quite correctly said, “It has a Church of England ethos and the vast majority of pupils are Christian. What is the need to be inclusive at every touchpoint? This is wokery run riot for no reason at all.”

By the way, the school receives at least part of its funding from an annual Christmas charity sale, unless there be any confusion. Remember, the head said they were going to be inclusive at every touchpoint, not at a touchpoint that might bring in a little less money. The Christmas sale is going to continue to use the word Christmas.

The head of school, when challenged on the story, also changed her story somewhat about why the decision had been made to drop Easter and Christmas from the names of terms. She told the Mail, “The decision to rename our terms at the school was one of practicality and inclusivity. Our autumn term starts in September, for example, and to refer to it as Christmas term, when the children have already broken up long before the celebration, can sometimes lead to confusion.” Given the very long period that schools have been using that terminology, it’s actually not likely there was much confusion.

The head of school also went on to say that the decision had been received by many with applause. “I’ve received such positive feedback from our community, who have remarked not only how much clearer the new term names are to understand, but also how thoughtful our decision was.” There’s a lot going on here in terms of issues for Christian consideration, but one of them just has to do with the fact that this is reflective of a process of secularization. The festivals of the Christian year are here being denied as inclusive, so that means they are exclusivists. That means they have to go in the modern cult of harmony.

Another aspect has to do with the fact that you may change the name you put on the terms. You may change even the names of holidays. And of course, this goes far beyond this school to corporations, organizations, both sides of the Atlantic. You go down the list. There are people who are now talking about the holiday season. They’ll say just about anything to avoid using the word Christmas or Easter. But you know what? If the holiday is December 25th and you know the history of the Christian tradition, guess what? That isn’t very secular.

It’s like the people who try to get around any reference to the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the decisive center of history. That’s reflected in dating years before Christ as BC and after Christ as AD, Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. There are people who are saying that is an imposition of Christianity. We need to get rid of the before Christ and the after Christ, the year of our Lord. So instead let’s use BCE for before common era and CE. But I’ll just point out again and again, if you keep the numbers going down until year one, and then going up, guess what? Year one turns out to be very important.

And the meaningfulness of the date has to do with reference to the birth of Jesus Christ. You can change the initials you want to use after the year, but the fact is you are only fooling yourself if you have avoided the great fact of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. You can rename these terms in the school from Easter and Christmas to autumn and spring, but the reality is we all know why there is going to be a holiday in the midst or at the end of this term.

But I told you in advance there was a punchline waiting for the end of this consideration, all of this talk about inclusivity at every touchpoint. How many complaints does the school say that it had received by the use of the words Easter and Christmas for its academic terms? It turns out the answer to that is zero.

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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