The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 21, 2021

It’s Thursday, October 21st, 2021.

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

Part I

The End Of Humanity Would Result In End Of Meaning? We Are Thinking Atoms? Worldview Clash Revealed at The Guardian

It’s interesting to note that the news media worldwide seldom take on the biggest questions of life. Now, you might say that’s above the pay scale, so to speak, of the news media. They deal with headline news, they report on events, they do analysis, but the big questions of life are beyond them, but here’s something Christians also understand, you can only avoid the big questions of life, the biggest questions of life for so long, because as you deal with some issues, even issues of headline news, it turns out the big questions are there.

Eventually, you have to confront them. “What is the meaning of human life? How do you define human life? Why do you speak of human rights? What is the grounding of human rights? Human dignity, where’s that grounded?”

“Who gives it, or is it just somehow to be explained on behalf of nature?” Just in recent days, The Guardian, a rather liberal newspaper published in London, ran an article of the headline, “Earth’s Demise Could Rid Galaxy of Meaning.” The person cited in the headline is Brian Cox. He’s a Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester. The article is timed with reference to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference.

It begins at the end of this month. Tara Conlan, reporting for The Guardian tells us, “Humans might be the only intelligent beings in our galaxy, so destroying our civilization could be a galactic disaster,” that according to Professor Brian Cox in what’s described here as the run-up to the UN event. The report in The Guardian tells us that Brian Cox has a new TV series, which is going to be on the British network, BBC Two. It’s entitled Universe. We’re told that the physicist and television presenter “said that having spoken to the scientists around the world, advising the show, he thought that humans and sentient life on earth ‘might be a remarkable, naturally-occurring phenomenon’ and that it was something that world leaders might need to know.”

It’s a bizarre article. It’s profoundly bizarre, but it’s also profoundly important, because here, you have a major presenter, that is a commentator or host of a major BBC television series. He’s also a person with major scientific credibility, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester there in the United Kingdom, and he’s telling us that the consensus of scientists who are advising his show has said that humans and intelligent, that’s what sentient life means, intelligent life on Earth, “Might be a remarkable, naturally-occurring phenomenon.” The point is this, he’s warning that if the planet Earth were to disappear, it might mean that intelligent or sentient or conscious life in our galaxy might disappear, and that might be a loss, and about the potential of that loss, world leaders might need to know. Well, yes, if indeed, we are threatened by the absolute loss of meaning in our galaxy, we probably ought to know, but we also ought to know that if meaning were to entirely disappear from the galaxy, none of us would know, no one would know, the universe would know.

What’s really interesting here is that what we see is the kind of galactic warning that comes from a secular worldview, concerned that it just might be a cost, a devastating cost to the galaxy if humanity were to disappear, because as Brian Cox, the Professor is arguing here, it appears that human beings are the only conscious sentient, intelligent life in our galaxy, and thus, the only meaning in our galaxy or the only creatures able to ponder meaning, and thus, if we were to disappear, this would be a loss to the galaxy. Well, we’ve been warned. The article goes on, quoting the Professor who said, “What we’ve discovered, I think it’s a reasonable working assumption, is that there are very few civilizations per galaxy.” Well, wait just a minute. The statement here is that we’ve discovered.

“What we’ve discovered is that it’s a reasonable working assumption that there are very few civilizations per galaxy.” Let’s just state the obvious. We actually have absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Not one scintilla, not one atom or molecule, so to speak, of evidence that there is intelligent life anywhere else, much less a very few civilizations per galaxy, but the point being made here, and my point is that it’s entirely secular. The point here being made on secular terms is the loss of humanity would be a loss to planet Earth.

The loss of planet Earth would be a loss to our galaxy because we would lose meaning. The Professor went on to say, “I would say if our civilization,” he means human civilization on Earth, “Doesn’t persist for whatever reason, and it might be an external event, or it might be our own action, nuclear war, whatever it is we decide to inflict on ourselves, it is possible,” he says, “That whoever presses that button eliminates meaning in a galaxy forever.” He went on to say this, “And I think that’s something I would think world leaders might need to know. It might actually be quite an important act.” Well, that might be the most absolute understatement I have ever seen in the English language, ever.

“It just might be,” he said, “That world leaders might need to know that meaning might evaporate.” “It might actually be quite an important act.” Well, one thing we see here might be something of the traditional British reticence, a reticence to come out and say what you’re actually thinking. Understatement is, in one sense, just quintessentially British, but on the other hand, this isn’t just an understatement, this is a statement that basically reveals that the secular worldview has no ultimate place to go to explain meaning or the absence of meaning. It can’t explain either one.

Now, when it comes to this Professor, he finds it remarkable that conscious human life even exists. He said this, “The more I learn about biology …” Remember, he’s a Particle Physicist. He says, “The more I learn about biology, the more astonished I am we exist at all.” The Guardian tells us that the Professor went on to explain that, “While astronomers said there were about 20 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy, ‘So we might expect life to be everywhere.'”

“Almost every biologist I speak to says yes, but all it will be is slime at best.” He went on to say, “We live in a violent universe and the idea you can have planets which are stable enough to have an unbroken chain of life might be quite restrictive.” The Professor then added this very interesting statement. He said that, “There were very few places,” or at least it’s believe there are very few places, “Where atoms can think. Meaning,” he says, “Exists in our minds,” and the paper then explains, “So the demise of Earth would wipe out meaning.”

So much to consider here. You’re talking about the biggest of big questions, the meaning of life, what would be the meaning of the end of human life. The Professor is saying in all of this that he believes that there are a lot of Earth-like planets. He says, by the way, a lot, 20 billion just in our galaxy. He says, “Life might be everywhere,” but he says, “Most of that life,” according to the scientific consensus, is going to be “Slime at best.”

Life of a sort, biological substance of a sort, some kind of biological activity of a sort, but not of the human sort. Not of the meaningful sort, the meaning recognizing sort. Not of the sort the universe needs to take note of. That statement about thinking atoms, he says that Earth is one of the very few places, and again, let’s just be honest, is the only place we know of, period, where in his words, atoms can think. Meaning, he says, exists in our meaning human minds, so the demise of Earth where humanity lives, “Could wipe out meaning.”

Well, let’s just speak as Christians here. Number one, there is no risk that meaning is going to be lost, because meaning, as the biblical worldview makes clear, is not grounded in our minds. It’s not grounded in our existence, it’s not grounded on planet Earth, it is grounded in the Sovereign Omnipotent Creator. He is the Source of meaning. He guarantees meaning.

He grounds meaning. Even if heaven and Earth were to pass away, which they will, meaning is at no risk, because meaning, truth, glory, all of these exist in God, and in God alone, but let’s say that you don’t believe in God or you try to exclude God from the explanation. Then, how do you explain the survival of meaning without us, and how do you define who we are as the entities, the organisms, the beings, that’s the right word for it, who actually perceive and ground meaning? Well, again, we know we don’t ground meaning. We simply come to no meaning, and it’s because God is the Source of all meaning, but if you exclude God, what have you got?

Well, you’ve got a very cold universe, or in the words of Professor Cox, a quite violent universe, he means by that, not just in terms of human violence, but the violent physical activity that we see in the cosmos itself. What’s really interesting is his definition of human beings, atoms, that is as in atoms and molecules, atoms who think. In this case, he says merely that planet Earth is where atoms can think, so we are thinking atoms. We are collectives of atoms. In those atoms, in our collective existence, that is to say in whatever makes a human being a human, and it’s a material definition where simply molecules and atoms or simply stuff, well, at least we’re thinking stuff.

We’re talking about planet Earth as the only place known where atoms can think. Now, this is profoundly important. It’s just incredibly important because Christians need to understand there really is no alternative to Christianity. There’s really no alternative at all to theism and explaining why meaning exists in the first place. Notice the very sterile, minimalistic, materialistic understanding of human beings.

We are merely atoms that think. Well, let’s just consider what that means. If we’re merely atoms that think, the biggest issue is not that if we cease to exist, thinking ceased to exist, it is the fact that if all we are are atoms that think, we aren’t much. Now, the scripture’s just so honest in telling us that human beings possess dignity and a special status, and a part of that status, by the way, is knowing meaning that human beings have that status because the Creator made us in His image, but if there is no Creator, and we’re not made in the Creator’s image, and we’re just material stuff, and we’re just accidents in the cosmos, then it’s hard to come up with any better definition of us than atoms that think, and when the atoms no longer think, “Meaning,” he says, “May just disappear from the entire galaxy.”

Part II

‘Meaning Emerges From Sufficiently Complex Biological Machines’ — The Secular Worldview Attempts Definitions to Define Humanity In A Worldview Without God

Now, in this article, there’s something else that should be of great interest to Christians. We are told by The Guardian, that Professor Cox in this new television series, “Explores the idea of ​​the so-called Goldilocks theory, ‘Which suggests that our planet’s location, in relation to the sun, and unique events over billions of years that created the Earth made it just right …'” That’s the reference to Goldilocks, “Just right for meaningful life to bloom and evolve.” Well, it just might be that if you’re trying to look at this with an entirely secular perspective, you’re going to have to come up with something like the Goldilocks theory, because it refers to something that’s absolutely real. It just so happens that the planet Earth in our universe, in our galaxy, alone among all known planets and any galaxy anywhere, that planet Earth is optimally situated as a human habitation. It is optimally situated, as Professor Cox indicates, with his reference to the Goldilocks theory, in the place in our galaxy which is just right.

Not too close to the sun, or human life would be impossible because of heat. Not too far from the sun, because then it would be too cold for biological activity to take place. Even when you think of gravity, you think about all the physical properties, you think about the weight of our atmosphere, all of it. Everything involved in the material composition of planet Earth, it is all in order to be a habitation for humanity, or at least the Goldilocks theory says, from a secular perspective, it’s very interesting that it looks that way. Of course, Christians come back and say, “It looks that way not by accident, but because God created it that way. His purpose in creating the entire galaxy, the cosmos was for the drama of redemption, whereby human beings made in His image and sending against Him would be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.”

It’s the most astounding, big issue for Christians to understand that the entire cosmos exists, as the Reformer John Calvin reminds us, as the theater of God’s glory. God displays His glory. This isn’t a Goldilocks theory, it’s the Creator theory, as Christians understand, and it’s not a theory because it’s true. The entire universe, as the psalmist says, “The heavens are filled with His glory. The entire universe is the display of the meaningfulness, the truthfulness, the infinite glory of God. The heavens declare the glory of God,” and of course, we human beings, according to a biblical theology, are the only creatures who know that.

We’re the only creatures given the capacity to know the Creator. We’re the only creature actually given the capacity to know ourselves. There’s a reason why you don’t see animals in a greatly self-respective, self-reflective posture, trying to figure out their own consciousness. You don’t see dogs walking around, you don’t see lions walking around, you don’t see animals wondering why they do what they do. Human beings wonder what we do what we do. We look for the great questions of meaning in the universe. You take your dog to see a sunset, you’re going to be thinking big thoughts. Your dog, and we’re not just speculating here, not so much. We know this, any creature able to know God and understand meaning is a creature made by God Himself for that purpose.

Now, let’s just go back to the article for a moment. Professor Cox also says, “If you accept that meaning is something that emerges from sufficiently complex biological machines, then the only place those machines might exist is here, then it’s correct to say that if this planet weren’t here, we live in a meaningless galaxy. That’s different in life. That’s a difference between life and intelligent life.” He’s telling us that there is life, but it’s likely, if found elsewhere, to be slime. There’s a candid statement. Slime is life, algae is life, mold is life, but algae and mold and slime are not pondering their sliminess. Human beings do, and you’ll notice his logic, but it turns out, if you accept that meaning is something that emerges from sufficiently complex biological machines, and those machines only exist here, then if here doesn’t exist, meaning doesn’t exist.

The point is he argues that meaning is something that emerges from sufficiently complex biological machines. How’s that for a matter of human definition? How do you like that to define humanity? How does that work in your Valentine’s Day card or your Mother’s Day card? How does that work?

“Well, you’re not slime, but you’re meaningful to me.” No, it’s got to be more than that, and this just shows again where you’re left if you reject the biblical worldview and you reject the knowledge of the Creator. Then, all you can do as a way of trying to explain human experience and human knowledge, human consciousness is to say that evidently, meaning, and that means the atoms who are thinking, the thinking atoms who think meaning emerge from sufficiently complex biological machines. Now, that just points to something else. We’re really described here as sufficiently complex biological machines.

Notice what’s missing from that. Any kind of dignity. If there is dignity in human life, according to this worldview, it’s something that we attribute to that life. It’s not something inherent in that life, it’s not something that is given to us because biosis, accidents in the cosmos don’t give us anything. They can’t give us meaning.

There are no gifts to be given by blind atoms and molecules and laws of physics. Gifts are given by a giver, and the Giver is the Creator. Well, all that to say for today’s edition of The Briefing on this issue, you can’t avoid the big questions forever, and once you confront those big questions and you can run from them no more, you’re going to have to come up with some kind of explanation, some kind of answer to those questions, and what we need to note, not just with some sense of concern, not with condescension toward this scientist or towards other scientists, but with a sense of wonder that God loves us so much, that He tells us who we are, we simply have to understand that there is no alternative to the biblical worldview that doesn’t end up with something as thin as human beings being atoms that think, lost in a cosmos that if left without us is left without meaning, and thus without anyone to observe it. That’s absolute nonsense, we know, and our comfort is simply found in the fact that meaning isn’t grounded in ourselves at all. It’s not grounded in our galaxy at all.

It isn’t grounded in planet Earth. It’s grounded in God, and if you don’t feel great relief in that truth, you don’t understand what it means.

Part III

Missionaries In Haiti Kidnapped For Ransom — More Evidence of Human Sinfulness on Display

Next, Christians around the world have been rightly concerned about the kidnapping of 17 missionaries in the troubled island nation of Haiti. It’s, of course, a part of Hispaniola, that shares an island with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has itself been a very unstable country, an unstable government and regime for a very long time.

In reality, Haiti fits the category of what is known as a failed state. It is a failed society and culture in terms of being able to achieve any kind of stability, rule of law, establishment of order and protection of its own citizens, not to mention, others in the country, but it’s precisely out of the need that is so present in Haiti that so many aid workers, and indeed Christian missionaries have gone. This has been true for the process of many decades now, especially given earthquakes, hurricanes, famine, other incidents that have caused such grave human crises in Haiti, but as Deepa Shivaram reports for National Public Radio, we now know that these 17 Christian missionaries, associated with the Amish with a radical Anabaptist conservative tradition, that they were kidnapped by a gang known to be involved habitually in kidnapping, in vehicle-stealing, and in trying to use kidnapping as a way to extort funds. The gang is known as 400 Mawozo. We are told that these 17 missionary hostages are being held, and the demand is for $1 million per missionary as ransom.

We are told that the group of 17 missionaries includes an eight-month-old infant, children ages 3, 6, 14 and 15 years old, those ages supplied by The Wall Street Journal. The group that has sent the missionaries is the Ohio-based group known as Christian Aid Ministries. It’s identified in the media as representing an Amish tradition and that Anabaptist tradition that goes all the way back to the Radical Reformation in the 16th century and beyond. They were there because they wanted to help the people of Haiti, and they wanted to help the people of Haiti in Christ’s name. They ended up being abducted, kidnapped, and are now being held for ransom.

Now, most of the mainstream media has given a lot of attention to this kidnapping and to the fact that it has now become nearly routine in Haiti. Again, if you’re going to define a failed state, then the fact that aid workers are now habitually kidnapped and held for random, which of course, puts at risk the entire enterprise of international aid coming into Haiti, well, this is the very definition of a failed state. We need to be praying for these missionaries. We need to pray for their families. We need to pray for their release.

We need to pray for their safety. We need to pray for the nation of Haiti and for its people, because this kidnapping is an example of the lawlessness about which scripture warns us, the lawlessness that is human sin set loose in a society without restraint. Without restraint, this is just an indication to us, a reminder to us of just how violent human beings can be, kidnapping babies for ransom, kidnapping missionaries and holding them as hostages, kidnapping the very people who came to your nation to help, and instead, using them as pawns for your criminal gang, and those criminal gangs running rampant throughout the country. That’s a pretty devastating picture of the reality now faced in Haiti.

Part IV

Someone Who ‘Represents all North Carolinians’ Instead? Modern Ideology Of Representation Goes After Statue Of Billy Graham for U. S. Capitol

Finally, the Raleigh News & Observer, right here in North Carolina, ran an article in recent days by Sherri Zann Rosenthal, entitled, “Billy Graham Statue in D.C. Won’t Represent All in N.C.”

Now, what’s behind this? Well, what’s behind is the fact that every state gets two statues in the United States Capitol building. The State of North Carolina intends for one of those statues to be the late Christian Evangelist, Billy Graham. Now, again, that means that Billy Graham would be one of two statues representing North Carolina in the National Statuary Hall. The Raleigh News & Observer has run this article by Sherri Zann Rosenthal, who identifies herself as a Jewish citizen in North Carolina, who is protesting the fact that Billy Graham would be one of these two statues because, she says, “Billy Graham doesn’t represent all North Carolinians.”

She points out that the pedestal of the statue of Billy Graham is to include two Bible quotations. They would include John 3:16 and also John 14:6. Getting to her point of complaint, she writes, “With the erection of the Graham statue, the core messages of Christianity will be enshrined in stone and enthroned in our nation’s Capitol. I believe this violates the Establishment Clause.” She means the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

She goes on to say, “It certainly favors Christianity above other religions.” Now, she says she doesn’t mean to denigrate Billy Graham, “Who was an accomplished religious leader.” She points out that North Carolina has honored Billy Graham in other ways, but she says, “I hope our legislature will withdraw its approval of this statue, and instead, choose one that represents all North Carolinians and doesn’t violate the Constitution.” Now, the fact that Billy Graham would be chosen as one of the two statues to represent North Carolina, there is no way that’s unconstitutional. There’s no argument that could explain it as being unconstitutional.

The inclusion of two extremely clear Bible verses on the pedestal holding the statue, that is also not unconstitutional, because there are similar messages from similar verses in scripture inscribed on tombstones, on federal property, on all kinds of markers, and if that’s unconstitutional, then it’s basically saying that Billy Graham’s image can be in the Capitol, but nothing of what Billy Graham preached, which is after all why he’s being honored, can be featured in that same government space, but the bigger issue we just conclude with this, the bigger issue is this. The suggestion is that the Billy Graham statue should be replaced with one, “That represents all North Carolinians,” but the presenting issue is this. Let’s just think about this theory of representation that says that the statue must be of someone who can represent all North Carolinians. First of all, what does represent mean? Does it mean represent all in terms of every dimension of representation?

Let’s just point out that’s ludicrous. There is no single human being, there is thus no figure who could be sculpted into a statue who can represent everyone. This modern ideology and theory of representation is a one-way street to nowhere. There can be no doubt that Billy Graham is one of the proudest sons North Carolina has ever had, and that the vast majority of North Carolinians are both thankful for Billy Graham, and who would believe that a statue of Billy Graham would bring honor in the Capitol, not so much to Billy Graham, but to the State of North Carolina. As you look at Statutory Hall, it is clear that no American is going to agree with everything on the part of any one of the human figures represented in that hall.

That’s too much to ask, but the modern ideology of representation says, “If you don’t represent me, you don’t deserve to be in Statutory Hall. The bottom line is this, if you follow this ideology, eventually you have no statues of anyone anywhere. Maybe you say that’s not such a big deal, but that means no honoring of anyone for any reason and any place in the name of the nation, the state, the government, or the people. That, for our civilization would be truly devastating.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Wake Forest, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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