Friday, September 8, 2023

It’s Friday, September 8, 2023.

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

Part I

A Race to Set the Rules in Space: The Larger Purpose Behind Missions to the Moon Included Politics, Minerals, and Global Competition

The Psalms tell us that the heavens are telling the glory of God. Ever since human beings have been able to look up to the sky, human beings have looked to the sky with mystery and with wonder, and that’s why when I was a boy and the space age was just beginning, there was absolute unconditional obsession. Well, that was going on with the space project, the launch of astronauts and the space and eventually a successful lunar mission that landed men on the moon and brought them safely back.

There was a political context with President John F. Kennedy making that pledge in his administration, a pledge that by the way, against all odds was fulfilled in less time that he had predicted in the next decade. It was also in the struggle of the Cold War and that global conflict between the Soviet Union and its allies and the United States and its allies. There was more to all of that than politics, but there wasn’t less than that. And thus these days when the big news is the failure of a Russian mission to the moon and the success of an Indian mission to the moon, both of them aimed at regions of the moon that have been unvisited thus far, well, this just becomes a very big story.

It’s a big story in Russia where the story was failure, the failure of their effort to try to return to the moon. The big story in India was success when India had never done anything like this before. India becomes only the third country on the globe to have successfully landed a vehicle on the moon. That includes the former Soviet Union, now Russia, the United States of America, China, and now India. Successful moon missions. Russia’s successful missions were in the past, not the one that just spectacularly failed.

As we discussed on The Briefing, when that failure happened, the words were quite epic. The spacecraft has ceased to exist. Well, what doesn’t cease to exist is a larger meaning behind these moon missions, and that’s why we’re considering the issue today. There’s something big behind this. Is it just the quest like sending out ships across the ocean in order to discover parts beyond uncharted territory? Is this just a human quest to try to reach and understand the moon and then of course parts of space and planets and systems beyond?

Well, the reality is there’s more to it than that. And there’s not less to it than that, but here’s a big part of the story. This is really rivalry on a global scale between nations and they’re not just out for scientific prestige. That’s what many people were looking at. They said, “Look, the Russians lost prestige. Their mission failed. The Indians have gained prestige.” Well, that’s certainly true. The Americans gained a massive amount of prestige in the Apollo missions landing men on the moon and returning them safely. By the way, it’s been decades since that has taken place in terms of a manned mission to the moon. But you look at those foreign nations, that’s still a very, very exclusive club. But what’s going on beyond the quest to know the unknown? And this is where the global politics, even the geopolitics and more, economic advancement, even espionage, all of this comes very much to the fore and it ought to have our attention.

Why espionage? Well, it is because there is an enormous possibility of using all this space technology to spy upon those other nations, and that includes what at least some believe may be the purpose for wanting to understand better some of the terrain to the moon not yet known and not fully understood. There are those who also see a vast opportunity for economic gain, and this comes down to minerals that might be mined, rare metals, perhaps even rare metals that aren’t even known on earth yet.

When you look at the global race for those rare metals, particularly those used for example in computer chips and semiconductors, the reality is that this can come down to making or breaking a national economy. There are others who are interested in using the moon as something of a military base, even a military base aimed at further regions of space. There are those who are arguing that the conditions for the existence of oxygen and even perhaps of some form of water on certain regions of the moon may make it possible for there to be something like a base from which human beings could go further out into space.

Now, all of this right now is a matter of conjecture and contention, but that’s exactly why these nations are in such a race. And there’s an interesting part to this story, and that is that the United States, seeing some of these global issues arising, pressed for an international agreement. As a part of that agreement, there would be, for example, a forfeiting of any right for a nation acclaim territory on the moon. By some readings, this means basically an outer space. But particularly on the moon, no nation could claim real estate as its own, and the United States was behind this. Many nations signed it, but some of those nations appear to be waffling on the agreement. Even the United States, by the way, we were asserting that no one can claim this territory as part of their national sovereignty, but the United States made that point also by as one of the first acts of astronauts on the moon planting very visibly an American flag.

The United States is making the point, we’re planting the flag for pride and for history, but we are not claiming this territory as under the sovereignty of the United States of America. But right now it’s interesting that both China and Russia are not forfeiting what they see as their right to claim territory beyond planet Earth in the name of China and Russia. So you can understand the space race. Now, it actually is, well, very much like the space race during the Cold War. No one knows exactly how this is going to turn out, but in reality, there is a very clear understanding that Russia and China on the one hand, and the United States and at least European nations on the other hand, have a completely different worldview when it comes to that part of the world.

A big report in the Financial Times over the last weekend, the Financial Times, by the way, published in London is one of the most influential newspapers in the world included this statement, “If you’re a big power on the moon, then you will have a big influence in setting the details for lunar governance. The governance of the moon will be the foundation for everything else that may follow over the next 100 years. If the moon becomes somewhat more economically viable, you are already on the ground floor.” So that statement tells you a lot about what nations see at stake in this race to the moon. It’s not just about national pride, it is very much about national sovereignty.

And when it comes to the rather undeclared contest in these matters between the United States and China, the Financial Times, again based in London, says this, “It was fear of losing out to China that drove the US to refocus its space exploration efforts away from Mars and back to the moon in 2017. Within two years, China had demonstrated its lunar capability with the world’s first successful landing on the far side of the moon. Now both are targeting the South Pole and even some of the same landing sites and their plans have sparked concerns about potential conflict.” David Avino, chief executive of Space Engineering for the company known as Argotec, said this, “It’s going to be very important that all the countries going to the moon demand a set of rules and that they are well implemented.”

Well, that’s where things get interesting because that’s sort of like talking about the United Nations or what was its precursor, the League of Nations, back in the early 20th century where people were saying, “Look, there’s all kinds of potential of a conflict here on planet earth. What we need to do is to have a meeting of all the nations in which there can be an agreement on all of these issues that will prevent war and conflict.” Well, the 20th century pointed out that that didn’t go so well. There’s no reason to believe that we would be more successful in space than we have been on this planet in trying to adjudicate all these matters by some kind of common agreement. That kind of common agreement assumes a rules-based environment in which all the countries, even if they’re stressed by the rules, basically keep the rules. When you have China and Russia already saying, we’re not going to agree to any rules, the call for a new set of rules sounds pretty futile.

David Kasaboski analyst with space consulting firm, NSR, he’s also, we are told, the author of his annual Lunar markets report, estimates according to the Financial Times, “that there are more than 400 public and private lunar missions planned between 2022 and 2032.” That’s up from a forecast of 250, says the Financial Times, over the same period just a year ago.

Just in terms of the geopolitics of all this, it is interesting that the Financial Times makes very clear, and this is pretty much the consensus as you look at these reports, that the main rivalry right now is not China and India, it’s not the US and Russia, it’s the US and China, because both of those nations have now enormous capability and enormous motivation to set the rules for moon and perhaps setting the stage for rules for outer space.

Part II

Does the Christian Worldview Support Space Exploration? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 14-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

All right. Next we’re going to turn to questions and I just have to turn to this first one. It’s from a 14-year-old listener in Vermont named David, and he asked saying, “I was thinking about space agencies sending probes outside of our solar system, and I was wondering should Christians take part in this movement? I don’t really know if the Christian worldview supports the idea of space exploration.”

David, thank you for listening. You’re my kind of listener, let me tell you because when I was your age, one of the main obsessions I had was space. It was very much during the space race, and I was growing up in Florida, I got to see several launches. And let just tell you, it was pretty much an obsession among kids my age at that time. And the issues it raises are huge. And I especially appreciate the way you the question saying, “Does the Christian worldview support the idea of space exploration?” And the answer to that is I think yes. I’m not pointing to a particular text of Scripture, but there is this mandate given to us in Genesis 1, and it’s a mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth to subdue it. Now, I recognize that’s about the earth, but I think God gave us the entire created order for our exploration, for our interests to show His glory.

I started out by pointing out that the Psalmist tells us the heavens are telling the glory of God. So the great discovery to be made in outer space, or for that matter right here on planet earth, is the reality of the infinite and eternal glory of God. Now, there may be other ambitions for going to space, but for that matter, there could be other ambitions for going to the store down the street. You could have noble ambitions or you could have evil ambitions. In any event, the morality of those ambitions count for just about everything. So we also know this, even as there are those who in science fiction fantasy imagine that human beings might be able to go to other planets where they would find a place untainted by sin, well, the reality is the Bible is abundantly clear, where human beings go, our sin goes with us.

David, I would say beyond this, I think the biblical worldview would be just incredibly clear that we are as responsible in obedience to Christ anywhere in the entire created order, the entire cosmos, as we are right here on planet earth. And yet at the same time, let me tell you, I am not one of those who believes that somehow there is going to be this vast race and industry of getting human beings all over the cosmos. I think that is a pipe dream, and at least in terms of available technology, it isn’t even something we can envision. And even with human technology as advanced as we call our technology today, we really have no means of taking human beings very far into space at all.

When I was your age, David, there were people who were saying, “Look, we have successfully landed a man indeed, men on the surface of the moon, and we’ve returned them home safely. The next great goal would be a manned mission to Mars.” And there were those at the time saying that’s probably just around the corner. All it needs is an extension of the technology that we have right now. We have a Saturn V rocket. We have the computing ability. By the way, I am told that the average iPhone has about 100 times the computing capacity of the entire computing system for the Apollo space mission. Certainly that which was on the command module itself. But the point is this, even with an exponential increase in our technological expertise and knowledge, we’re still a long way from being able to make even a dent in terms of any kind of manned mission to the cosmos.

David, one last thought. When I was a boy, there was a black and white television series that was extremely popular with kids my age. It was entitled Lost in Space. And there was a boy about my age at the time, his name was Will Robinson, very much a character. It was about a space mission that had gone wrong. And this entire family, along with assorted others, was just lost in space. And at the same time, that was a terrifying thought about being lost in space. But in spiritual terms, what’s even more terrifying than being lost in space is being lost right here on planet Earth without the hope of the gospel. So that should keep us theologically grounded at the very least. David, thanks again for your question.

Part III

How Do We Square the American Revolution with Christianity? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, next I’m going to take a question from John. And John writes in about the American Revolution. And in this case he’s saying, “I’m just concerned with how a Christian should think through these issues. One, was the American Revolution morally right? If so, on what grounds? Two, what conditions would need to be met for Christians in the USA to support a similar revolution in modern day? And three, in your opinion, would our founding fathers be supporting revolution today if they saw the state of our nation?”

Now you are actually asking a series of questions, John, but the heart of it is one big question about the legitimacy of the American Revolution, and that is a matter that I find of great interest as well. And by the way, I also found it interesting that every year in the fall I began to get questions when I did a national live radio program. And on Wednesday we took questions. I was always amazed that there seemed to be a lot of say 13, 14, 15 year old boys who were asking me this question in the fall. It turned out it was a part of a homeschool curriculum where the boys were assigned one particular question. The girls were assigned a different question. So it was not an accident that every fall I was getting an amazing number of 8th grade questions about the legitimacy by the Christian worldview of the American Revolution.

So John, let me just step back and say that the Scripture offers us some very general principles, first of all, about the sovereignty of God and then God’s purpose in creating government as one of God’s gifts to us, and in particular after the Fall, for the preservation of the things that are good and for the punishing of the things that are wrong. And so you look at government, it has a rightful responsibility. The Bible is also very clear about Christian citizenship in such a way that for example, it is not an open invitation to insurrection. There’s just no reading of the Scripture that offers an open invitation to insurrection against a lawful government.

At the same time, the believer is not told in every situation to be obedient to the dictates of a government. Consider Daniel who refused, of course, to bend the knee to an idol, or consider those early Christians during the time of the Roman Empire who refused to confess Caesar is Lord. And so the government has a rightful responsibility, Paul in Romans chapter 13 is very clear about that. But this has led to some very deep Christian thinking. So you’re onto something here throughout most of the history of the Christian Church, and as we’re thinking about its expansion from the Roman Empire and in particular from Europe, Europe to the United States and beyond, for most of that history, this has not been a live question. The legitimacy of the state was at least established through what was understood to be the divine right of kings.

The very contemplation of an alternative basically took the late medieval period, the early modern period to take shape. But by the time you get to the American colonies, and the stress points, that’s a mild way of putting it, with the British crown, something to keep in mind is this, those early colonists, many of them were devout Christians and they did not want to act unbiblically in terms of a revolution that could not be theologically and biblically justified. That’s one of the reasons why if you actually look at, and there are volumes of these, one of them published by the Liberty Fund, it’s Political Sermons of the Founding Era, so you can go back and actually read the sermons preached in colonial pulpits at the time, it reveals the fact that those early American Christians struggling with this issue had to come to ask the question, “Who actually is ruling over us?”

One of the reasons why there were so many twists and turns in the relationship between the colonists and the British crown, one of the things that it’s very important to recognize is that the colonists at first did not seek any break with the British crown at all. As a matter of fact, they issued remonstrances or a plea for relief to the British crown against what they saw were the offenses of parliament. So the original outreach from the colonists towards the British government was not to reject the king, but rather to turn to the king and say, “You are our sovereign, so rescue us as your citizens from parliament.” The problem was that the British crown did not respond to those citizens as citizens. The relief that those citizens were demanding was not forthcoming from the British crown. And thus you had the theological argument that was made by so many of these early colonists who were Christians that King George III is actually not king over us because he does not recognize us as his subjects. If we are not his subjects, then ipso facto, he is not our king.

Now, there were colonists who were far more secular. There were those who were making merely economic, financial, or political arguments, but it is very, very telling that the Christians at that time were deeply concerned with what faithfulness to Christ and obedience to scripture would mean. And they only came to the conclusion of revolution being justified when they came to the conclusion that the king himself had made the point that the colonists were not his citizens, only his subjects.

There were also some very mechanical or practical issues involved in this, and one of the issues was simply the implausibility of government across an Atlantic Ocean that took months in order for routine communications to be taken from one side to the other. You simply can’t run a government that way. And it was very clear that the colonies were growing fast, and even King George recognized this by the way. Even in his own court discourse, you can understand he knew that America, as it would come to be known, was rising as a power. It’s one of the reasons why there was very little motivation in Britain to give the American colonists the full rights of citizenship because they quickly understood that the colonists might be reproducing and the population might be growing too fast that it would dilute the power of the established political class in Britain, which by the way, it would have done.

But frankly, John, in a pesky sort of way, I say it tongue in cheek, you do press the question as to how Christians should think about these matters. Now, I think what we have to understand is that what the early colonial Christians in the United States, or what would become the United States, what they came to understand is that they had no rightful authority to overthrow a rightful government. So there had to be the declaration that the regime or the government power was illegitimate. It lacked all legitimacy. That’s a problem.

That’s a challenge for conservative Christians in the United States because in order to support or to contend for some kind of insurrection against the United States of America, there would have to be the formal declaration and the taking of responsibility to say that this is a regime that is totally without legitimacy. Which is to say you can’t continue to operate as a citizen of what is a regime or a government such as the United States right now. You can’t continue voting. You can’t continue to be a part of the culture. You can’t continue to own real estate. You can’t continue to function in the economy if you’re going to declare the entire thing to be illegitimate. Now, that doesn’t mean that Christians should support tyranny. It doesn’t mean that at all. It does mean that there has to be a very clear declaration that this is not a rightful government.

How exactly Christians would come to that determination is uncharted territory. I’m not saying it’s impossible or implausible that Christians would have to think very seriously about these issues looking to the future. We’d also better take these issues as seriously as did so many of the Christians in colonial America in the late 18th century. They said at least a good example for how we should start to think about these things.

Part IV

How Should Christians Answer the Trolley Problem? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, for today, a question from Tyler who’s a junior in college, and thanks for listening, Tyler. He says, “In my philosophy class, the typical trolley problem was posed to the class. My question is, how we as Christians should answer the question or even view the trolley problem.”

Now, just in case you’re not familiar with the trolley problem, that is a classic philosophical quandary, which is often used in classrooms. And quite frankly, it was really originally something that emerged out of the assumption that there are no moral absolutes. And so, all moral reasoning is a matter of making some kind of calculation about greater good, greater worth. The classic case is that a trolley car is pressing down on people and you can save some of them, but not all of them. They’re all described in different ways, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, and all the rest. And the question is, “What would be the ethical imperative if you can only save some of them to decide who you would save?”

And you can sometimes put it the opposite way. There are other formulations of the trolley problem that actually mean that you can only save a couple of people. Which two would you save? Either way you look at it, you’re making a determination as to who shall live and who shall die. And the assumption is that it’s based upon some kind of pragmatic consideration.

The classic form of the trolley question came from Philippa Foot, a very well-known analytic philosopher in Great Britain, one of the women who really rose to prominence and analytical philosophy during the period before and after the Second World War. When there weren’t many men working on these questions, they were largely at war, you had women philosophers who were actually posing many of these questions with a very long-lasting philosophical influence.

But we do need to note that the problem for Christians, I’ll just put it this way, Tyler, is that we cannot enter into the trolley question. And it is because it is a premeditated effort to try to answer a question that can only emerge in what’s known as moral extremists. And so any kind of moral calculation in these terms is a cold, pragmatic calculation. And it’s not an accident this comes from analytical philosophy. It’s a cold analytical calculation that assumes that we have the right to answer the question one way or the other.

Now, there are those who would say, “Well, you have a responsibility to answer it. If indeed you can only save two people, or if you can save five and that will leave two, whatever, you’re going to have to make decisions.” Well, in Christian ethics, there isn’t understanding that in extremes, we have the responsibility we have in any other context, which is to try to save as many as possible. And in that context, I can’t think of any situation that is so formalized as what you have in the trolley problem.

It comes down to what I in the ’70s was confronted with as a teenager in high school and as a college student with so-called values clarification based upon a kind of moral relativism. In which case, there’s no right or wrong answer to the question. Your answer to the question supposedly says more about you and your value system than about anything subjectively right and wrong.

So the bottom line, Tyler, is that I don’t believe Christians can enter into this question in the premeditated terms that the secular world would like to present it. The good news, by the way, is that virtually no one in your classroom is ever going to be in the position of making these determinations. The problem is that the story itself, the parable itself, or the philosophical question posed here is often used to subvert the reality of moral knowledge and moral truth. And that is, I think, a very dangerous thing on or off the trolley.

Well from outer space to the American Revolution to the trolley problem, boy, do I appreciate the listeners to The Briefing.

Thanks for listening.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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