The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

It’s Wednesday, January 18th, 2023.

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

Part I

Hold Onto Your Stoves — Yes, Progressive Really Are Coming for Them

Are they coming for your gas stove? Is this nothing more than a right wing conspiracy theory? Well, I’m going to use as authority here none other than the words of certain federal bureaucrats and the analysis offered by the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal. Let me just affirm what should be obvious and that is that the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal is one of the most responsible and influential of the media landscape today.

In just recent days, the editors of that newspaper ended an editorial statement with this, “There really is a culture war coming over gas stoves and everything else involving fossil fuels because climate has become for the left a matter of core cultural identity.” The editors conclude, “Progressives want to impose their values on the lifestyle of everyone else, including in the kitchen. If subsidies don’t work, coercion follows. When they can’t win the political debate, they resort to brute government force. They really are coming for your stove.”

Now, all of this came into the public conversation because of a statement made by Richard Trumka Jr. He’s a Biden appointee to a bureaucratic agency of vast power known as the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now, a little footnote here, Richard Trumka Jr. became junior by the fact that he was named for his father Richard Trumka Sr. who most famously was the most powerful labor leader in the United States for a matter of many years, the head of the AFL-CIO. T.

The editors of the journal summarized the situation in Mr. Trumka’s role this way, “A Biden appointee on the Consumer Product Safety Commission explicitly threatened to ban gas stoves based on dubious evidence of public’s health harm. This is a hidden hazard,” said Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. “Any option is on the table, products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” So Commissioner Trumka is the one who mentioned a ban and he mentioned it without prodding. The editors then wrote, “We and others criticize the idea and the media response was to rush to blame conservatives for starting it all.” The editors cite some of these examples: “Right’s new fight: gas stoves,” said Axios, which the editor said, “pushes hard for the climate alarmist agenda.”

They continued, “The Washington Post assured its readers that regulators have no plans to ban gas stoves, but Republicans are slamming the Consumer Product Safety Commission for announcing it will examine the health impacts of the appliances.” The editors of the journal responded, “But we didn’t make up Mr. Trumka’s quote. We and others responded to it after withering public criticism, including by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman denied any plan to ban and the White House said President Biden also doesn’t want to ban gas stoves, “But that’s cold comfort given that the climate left does want to ban them and that progressive cities and states are doing it.”

Where is this being done? Well, it’s either being done or it is pushed to be done in cities such as Berkeley, California, San Francisco, also California, New York City. They have “already banned gas stoves and other appliances in new buildings.” Gerard Baker, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, came back yesterday with an article entitled, “How the Gas Stove in Your Kitchen Became a Symbol of Freedom.” The subhead in the article, “The left framed its latest crusade as a right wing culture war. We’ve seen this pattern many times.”

Well, what Gerard Baker is writing about here is the fact that you have bureaucrats who make statements and then when the ludicrousness and the radical nature of the statements would be brought to light, then you have the mainstream media conspiring with the basic government bureaucracy to say, “No, this is taken out of context. This isn’t a real threat. This never was a real plan,” but this was a very real Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. By the way, not just was. He is and he really did make those statements and there really is a story behind it.

Now, there are multiple stories having to do with the media and the political response to this as well. The origination of all of this has to do with a subset of climate science and with the claims made by some that interior space is inadequately regulated. Now, as you think about the Environmental Protection Agency, here’s something you might not know. It doesn’t have any authority to make any ruling whatsoever about say, environmental issues in your house or in your home. It doesn’t have that authority and unless there’s something strange going on, if you do have a gas oven or stove, it probably is in your house, which means the EPA has no jurisdiction, but there has to be some federal agency surely that would have jurisdiction to claim to reach all the way into your kitchen, and that would be the Consumer Product Safety Commission and that’s the commission on which Richard Trumka Jr. sits and from which he made the statement threatening gas stoves, but there’s something else behind this.

As you talk about modern efforts at what will be defined as climate science, again, much of that is very ideological. Other portions of it are reconstructed from some kind of computer modeling going back into the past when no one after all was holding up a thermometer, keeping records, but you also have the reality that there is something going on, and so conservative Christians shouldn’t deny that climate change is a reality nor even that it’s important. In fact, I don’t even deny that human beings may contribute in some way to it. And furthermore, most conservative Christians would be very glad to take common sense actions to try to limit any kind of damage that can come from that kind of androgenic or human caused climate change. But when you’re talking about gas stoves, well, is that really a menace to the polar ice cap?

Well, from the ideology of the climate scientists and from especially the progressives on the left, yes it is just because natural gas in this case or the gas that would be used, liquid petroleum is a fossil fuel after all, and thus it is a carbon fuel and it releases carbon not only into the atmosphere but into your kitchen. Now, does it do so in a way that is unsafe? Well, one of the most interesting aspects of the research is that there appears to be correlation, and again, we understand the difference between correlation and causation. Those are two different claims. Correlation simply says this tends to happen when this happens. Causation says this happens because that happens.

Now, the reality is that even in modern science, causation is a lot harder to prove than correlation. But when it comes to, for instance, coming to judgments about the safety of a medical procedure, we generally do follow mere correlation rather than causation. If a drug works and it’s found to be safe, then it might be approved by the FDA. Even if there is no clear understanding of exactly how it works, the fact that it works is enough for you to take it. But is an argument like this enough for you to take the gas oven out of your house or to decide to turn it off and not use it anymore? Is this something that should be the proper concern of a major federal bureaucratic agency?

Well, it is a culture war and it’s a culture war because of the bigger worldview issues at stake. It’s not that the culture is lining up for and against gas stoves. It is that we have in our political system, we have in modern American culture a great debate about how exactly human beings, especially in this country, should respond to the challenge of climate change. What makes sense and what doesn’t make sense, and what doesn’t make sense to the vast majority of Americans is a federal bureaucrat telling you, “You can no longer use a gas stove inside your house.”

But here’s where things also get very interesting because there are larger patterns here. So let’s forget we’re talking about gas stoves for a moment. Let’s just think about how scientific information is used or how scientific claims are applied. Here’s where there’s another basic distinction that even academic researchers have noted between conservatives and liberals in the American political context. American liberals, and let’s just say that in general that means those more likely to be associated with the Democratic Party, they are inclined to take partial scientific evidence and claim that it represents a scientific fact and then say, “We need to create bureaucratic principles and past legislation in light of this scientific fact.” It is demonstrably clear that conservatives and in this case you would have those more likely to be identified as Republicans require a far higher bar of scientific evidence. If you’re going to tell me I can’t use my gas stove, you’re going to have to have some pretty incontrovertible evidence that would indicate why it might be dangerous.

Now, a recent team of researchers actually has released some data about how all of this lines out in a book entitled Asymmetric Politics, and you have asymmetric that is unmatched, unequal politics because we have unmatched, unequal worldviews. That’s just the way it works. And by the way, most Americans were rather forced into the situation of understanding how this works during the context of the pandemic and COVID-19. And if you think about that difference between more liberal and remember, that’s highly correlated. I didn’t say causation, I’ll simply say correlated. It’s highly correlated with a more secular worldview, tends to look to science far more quickly and to take a little bit of scientific evidence or argument so much further than conservatives do.

Conservatives want more evidence, they want overwhelming evidence. If you’re going to create a major change in human behavior, you better have really good reason for it. But think back to the context of COVID-19 and think back to the kinds of exhortations that were given by many, especially on the left, on the side of big government. “Trust the science,” that’s what so many people in the mainstream media kept saying, “Trust the science,” but you simply have to pause for a moment and ask with intellectual honesty, what exactly is the science? The moment you did that during much of COVID-19, you were branded a COVID denier even if you weren’t, even if you weren’t even close.

Another key insight into the situation, the controversy over gas stoves comes from Nate Hochman writing for National Review. I like the way he began a recent piece, “Biden’s Consumer Product Safety Commission was for a moment seriously considering a ban on gas stoves. That is until conservatives noticed they were and then they weren’t until they were again, now arguing that gas stoves are so toxic that they might cause brain damage except for the ones in our house, claiming according to the science that they might even be as toxic as parking a car in your apartment with the engine running and wondering, ‘Why conservatives are making this into such a big culture war issue.'”

Hochman then wrote, “Really, it was the GOP’s fault for politicizing the ban that wasn’t happening until it was. Forget all that stuff we said for the past 48 hours about how gas stoves are literally killing you. We’re tabling the ban.” As Hochman said, “Until they basically played out their hand that they’re not. This issue is not over.” Now, in terms of understanding the culture around us, Nate Hochman in his article actually offers something that’s really important and it applies far beyond the controversy over gas stoves.

His term is the celebration parallax, and he says that it’s a “tendency in progressive press coverage summed up by the line ‘That’s not happening and it’s good that it is.'” I have to tell you, I find a bit of intellectual delight in that because it’s something I see in the media over and over again. Conservatives make a charge and liberals say, “It’s not happening and it’s a good thing that it is.” Yes, that’s contradictory, it’s nonsensical, but welcome to the world of much of the mainstream media and much of the academic conversation in the United States, “That’s not happening and it’s a good thing it is.” There’s a denial that something’s happening and then there is almost simultaneously the affirmation that it should be happening and if right-minded people are in charge, it will be happening, but it’s not happening now. So we’re going to call you a conspiracy theorist if you say that it is.

So what would the responsible thinker do in the midst of all of this? Well, I would suggest one of the things you should do is look beyond… In this kind of controversy, look beyond the headlines and look at the actual data. Pull up the scientific papers or at least the summaries of them. You can do that. Google makes it accessible, and find out if there really is anything behind this and then understand that there are huge economic stakes that are in play here. If you have a commercial interest in a technology or in an investment in such a technological innovation that might be the answer to what comes after natural gas or fossil fuels, then you have a commercial interest in trying to get gas stoves ruled illegal, make all new construction used something else which you or at least your friends or your pension fund might be heavily invested in.

You also have the group identity politics of the left where different interest groups on the left basically affirm each other in the reciprocity of the political game that, “I’ll affirm your argument if you’ll affirm mine. I’ll affirm your new regulation if you’ll affirm mine. I’ll protect your back if you protect mine.” Now, as conservatives, we need to understand something else. There are intellectual foibles and challenges and there are faults that conservatives need to be careful to avoid, and one of them is the refusal to establish what would represent credible evidence.

If you’re talking to someone and they say, “I don’t believe that,” and then you say, “Well, what kind of evidence would lead you to change your mind?” And someone says, “There is no such evidence.” Well, that’s not an honest person. That kind of intellectual fault can happen on the right or the left, but at least for conservatives, it’s a good reminder that we need to keep always before ourselves honestly. What kind of evidence is necessary for what kind of analysis and what kind of decision?

Let me just put it another way. Conservatives need to be very careful never to say it would never be possible for evidence to come that say natural gas stoves or LP gas stoves used inside could be dangerous. On the other hand, we have to flip the equation the other way. If someone tells us, tries to tell us with a straight face that having a natural gas stove in your kitchen is the equivalent of having a running car in your living room, well that’s absolutely ludicrous, and anyone who says that simply doesn’t deserve any credibility. If you hear that from someone, just ask them, which they would rather have in their home, a natural gas oven or a car with the engine running in the living room? If honest, you’re going to get a quick answer.

But the other thing we need to recognize is that in our contemporary moment, anything can become an instant controversy, and in this kind of controversy, the mainstream media tend to tilt very clearly to the left and they respond in that way with these kinds of headlines as we have just seen. There are those on the right who also respond quite predictably. The responsible Christian has to be very clear in thinking through the evidence in a reasonable universe and seeking to make an honest assessment and then to commend an honestly devised policy.

But if the left is going to turn something like a gas oven into yet another weapon in the culture war, it’s just a reminder to us that the culture war will eventually be everywhere and there will be no refuge whatsoever, not even your kitchen.

Part II

Experts Note A Significant Uptick in UFO Sightings Over the Last Few Years — What Does This Mean?

But next, while we’re talking about some unusual things today on The Briefing, let’s just go ahead and talk about UFOs, unidentified flying objects.

Now, the updated language for UFOs is UAPs for unidentified aerial phenomena. I know you feel much better about that, but the big issue is that the federal government has acknowledged that claims of UFOs or UAPs have, “Climbed significantly in the past two years,” and, “Almost half of the new sightings remain unexplained.” This according to US spy agencies and the Pentagon in a release of a report last Thursday. In this case, I’m citing a report in the Journal by Warren P. Strobel. The New York Times has a major article, the Los Angeles Times, other major newspapers covered this.

The big story appears to be twofold, and I just want us to think about it for a moment. The first of them has to do with the fact that there was a significant increase in UFOs or UAP sightings over the course of the last few years, but much of that actually turns out to be, here’s the word again, correlation. It turns out that that is also highly correlated with drone activity. That is to say that the availability of drones not only commercially, but just for the average American who can afford one, means that there are a lot more objects in the sky. And it turns out that this might, for example, represent a credible threat to civilian aviation. You don’t want someone’s drone flying into your plane as you’re taking off from an airport or landing, or for that matter at any point during the flight. The danger tends to come at lower altitudes with take-off and landing.

But the fact is this, at least much of the increase in terms of UFOs or UIP sightings is directly attributable to drones, and yet there can be no absolute proof of exactly which drone was in which area because they are largely unregulated and they are unfollowed by any kind of radar system. But I said there is a second issue, and that is the fact that you now have more federal agencies and offices following this kind of report, and there is a surge in the report of UFOs and UAPs. The big question is what does this mean?

You have a major disagreement here among many people with great knowledge in the issue. Many people are simply saying, “Look, this is a manufactured issue because of popular interests. And in that case, a rather uninformed popular interest on the part of the American people.” There are others who are saying, and this includes some members of Congress, “There might be just a little bit of political pandering going on here.” There’s some in Congress saying, “Look, these are big issues. These are questions that must be answered. The federal government must take these issues seriously.”

Part III

A Society Running From Revealed Truth Will Never Be Intellectually Satisfied: Why Our Government Has Undertaken to Spend Millions of Dollars on UFO Research

At about the same time, the New York Times ran a news report telling us, “The Defense Department’s annual spending bill requires it to review UFO sightings dating to 1945.” The next words are crucial, “The year some believe an object from space crashed into the New Mexico Desert.” Now, as you read this article, and by the way, Reming Tooman is the reporter for this piece that ran just days ago in the New York Times. It turns out that all of this goes back to 1945 as the beginning of what say some is the era of UFOs, “An amendment tucked into this year’s $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the Defense Department’s annual operating budget requires the department to review historical documents related to unidentified aerial phenomena, government lingo for UFOs dating to 1945.”

Now, listen to this, “This is the year that according to one account, a large avocado shaped object struck a communications tower in a patch of New Mexico Desert, now known as the Trinity Site, where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated that July. Experts said the bill, which President Biden signed into law in December, could be a game changer for studying unidentified phenomena.”

Now, all of that was worth reading for worldview analysis simply because inevitably we got the word experts with absolutely no information whatsoever about what makes an expert, an expert in this area when it comes to relative claims as to whether an avocado shaped object struck a communication tower in New Mexico in 1945. Let me just state the obvious, I am not such an expert. In the same paper, Julian Barnes wrote an article in which he got to the obvious, “With the release of any government report on UFOs, officials hope the information will quell speculation around the unexpected incidents, but such hopes are inevitably dashed because incidents that cannot be categorized fuel new rounds of speculation and conspiracy.”

Now, in worldview perspective, here’s something we need to recognize. We should not be surprised that there are unidentified flying objects and that we have unexplained aerial phenomena. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Given the complexity of the cosmos, and for that matter, even just given how many corporations and governments have a stake in putting things up into the air, there are all kinds of reasons why not only is it likely there are unexplained objects in the sky, but it’s also unlikely that our government, if involved in say, secret intelligence on these issues will even tell us honestly what they are. And furthermore, if it did represent something that was a threat to the United States, our own national security entities might decide that’s not something we should broadcast loudly or publicly, which is to say it is likely that UFOs will continue to be you, unidentified.

And even as you have the unexplained aerial phenomena, the likelihood is most of them are going to continue to be unexplained. That doesn’t mean that they’re spooky. It doesn’t mean that there is no explanation. It doesn’t mean that aliens are coming in avocado shaped objects hitting communication towers, but it does mean something else. We, as human beings made in God’s image have an intense curiosity and that curiosity is going to latch onto something.

And furthermore, and I don’t want to overstress a theological point here, but I think it’s germane, we have within ourselves made in God’s image a desire to know that someone outside this cosmos knows us and cares, and in a highly secular age where fewer persons understand the God of the Bible to be the creator of the cosmos and the Lord overall, that people are going to try to find some external intelligence that will care about us or have an interest in us, whether it’s a benign interest or a malign interest.

One of the ways anthropologists look at say ancient pagan systems is that there was both the malign that is to say the threatening and the benign, the non-threatening. You sometimes had a bad God made as an idol and a good God supposedly made as an idol. And that’s because we as human beings know there’s good and bad in the universe. Isn’t it interesting that so many people who are so fascinated with UAPs or UFOs, they’re involved in a debate as to not only whether or not there is some kind of extraterrestrial life that wants to know us, but they’re divided over whether that’s a good or a bad thing?

But you also see massive worldview issues embedded in some of the comments made about these kinds of articles and reports and included within them. One person very excited about this government money directed towards the study of UAPs or UFOs, he said, and I quote, “I would hope that the new project would continue to do that,” that means to search after UFOs and UAPs, “Because I think we’ve shown the way to do that scientifically.” He said, “We don’t have proof that a biologist can look at, but we have considerable statistical and now observational evidence that there must be life out there, that the earth is not unique.”

Now, by the way, this very article has to honestly acknowledge that there really is no such evidence other than what’s claimed here to be statistical, and that’s just in claims in reports. It’s not about evidence you can actually look at. It’s not about some kind of material expression, but what is expressed here is the desire on the part of so many human beings that there be someone out there who knows us. And with that goes hand in hand to the affirmation that there must be more than this and there must be more than us, and that’s where we have the glad opportunity to respond to a very curious world, not with what is unexplained or unrevealed, but what actually is explained and clearly revealed in Jesus Christ the Lord.

And remember, we know how the story starts. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, or at least we know the truth about our beginnings, the beginning of the cosmos. It is incredibly telling that our federal government is now going to be spending millions upon millions of dollars to study what are identified or claimed to be UFOs and UAPs. That might produce something interesting, but the fact is our society is in a headlong rush to run from the revelation of God that makes very clear the meaning of all this and our place in the cosmos, not only in the present, but as we look to the future.

Let me just remind Christians that one central important, indeed even urgent aspect of the Christian worldview is that it is comprehensive. It covers the past and the present and the future. It deals with life in this world, a very real world and in the life to come an even more real world. We understand that there’s a question of whether we are alone in the universe because that has a great deal to do with the meaning of our lives right now in the present. But we as Christians know that no federal study by the Defense Department or any others, no amount of an investigation into UAPs or UFOs is ever going to be intellectually satisfying.

And by the way, that’s one of the points made in this article. If indeed a UFO is identified, many people are not so much pleased as disappointed. That in itself is an interesting tell.

But no matter how much money our federal government spends on trying to investigate these issues, this is a question beyond the reach of our federal government, beyond any human reach, which is why we’re so dependent upon revelation, which happens to be as Christians know, exactly what we have.

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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