John Stonestreet and Shane Morris

Humanity Isn’t a Problem to Solve: Technology Needs a Telos

Because we are designed, we must be guided by values and not merely algorithms. It is good that we take time to learn, to appreciate beauty, to feel wonder, and to have burning questions about what is behind all that we see. God made us this way, so that, eventually, our seeking would lead back to Him. Though He intends to redeem us from the ravages of sin, He never intends to optimize us into efficient machines. 

Pixar’s Wall-E has proven to be among the most profound and prophetic films of the last 20 years. After hopelessly polluting the Earth and leaving an army of robots to clean up the planet, humans now live aboard a giant ship built by a company that promises to take care of all its passengers’ needs. Thus, humans are left with nothing to do but amuse themselves and eat a lot.  
Many Christians wrote off the Pixar classic because of its hyper-environmentalist message. However, the film’s commentary on human exceptionalism and vocation, specifically the inability of our machines to do our most important work for us, was spot-on. In the world of Wall-E, human beings have a purpose, or a telos that cannot be reduced to maximizing comfort, safety, and convenience.  
In the biblical account of reality, humans exist to glorify and love God, and to serve as His special representatives and co-rulers in creation. Human inventions should help towards achieving those ends, extending our abilities, and mitigating the effects of the Fall. Wanting to replace ourselves with our devices assumes that humanity is the central problem of the world that needs to be solved. 
Recently in First Things, Matthew Crawford argued that an anti-human worldview like the one parodied in Wall-E now dominates our tech and governing classes. Those who are behind everything from smartphone apps to pandemic policy share a basic belief that human beings are inferior to machines. We are, as he puts it, “stupid,” “obsolete,” “fragile,” and “hateful.”  
Crawford opens his essay with an example of a driverless car created by Google that froze at a four-way stop. Apparently, the drivers around the car didn’t behave as it had been programmed to expect.
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Don’t Blame Your Sins on Montana: Our Climate of “Cost-Free Moral Preening”

We need to recognize how unhealthy our addiction to “cost-free moral preening” is. The constant need to be better than “those people”—and to be seen being better—betrays a deep spiritual anxiety that no amount of political posturing can cure.

At least since the movie Inherit the Wind butchered the history of the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” many Americans—especially those on the left side of the political spectrum—have cherished a kind of myth about national debates being settled in dramatic courtroom clashes. In reality, they seldom are. However, that doesn’t stop idealistic plaintiffs from trying.  
The most recent controversy dragged before a judge was whether the state of Montana could be held responsible for climate change. Earlier this month, Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that the state’s failure to take climate change into account when greenlighting new oil and coal projects was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs were a group of young people called Our Children’s Trust. They sued the state over fossil fuel production, claiming that Montana violated a section of its constitution that guarantees citizens “the right to a clean and healthful environment.” 
Climate activists have hailed the decision as a significant victory and model for the nation but have not been clear on what exactly has been accomplished. As The New York Times put it, unless a higher court overturns the ruling, Montana must now “consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects.” That’s all. They must “consider.” 
Ed Whelan at National Review concluded that the impact of this “Children’s Crusade to defeat climate change” on actual energy production and carbon emissions “might well be zero.” Perhaps future projects will involve a symbolic gesture, akin to the so-called “land acknowledgments” commonly seen in academia and on recent episodes of Alone Australia. These rituals involve a speaker beginning by naming the Native American tribes on whose ancestral land they’re standing. Of course, such acknowledgments, as Princeton’s Robert George recently remarked, “do no one any good.” No one gets land back. No de-colonization takes place. There aren’t any reparations. It’s “just a cost-free form of moral preening.” 
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Which Theory of Evolution? Toppling the Idol of “Settled Science”

The habit of fixing upon a dogma and calling it “settled science” is a kind of idolatry that places “science” in the seat of God, appoints certain scientists as priests capable of giving answers no fallible human can offer, and feigns certainty where real questions remain. The great irony is that this image of scientist-as-infallible-priest makes them seem like the caricature of medieval monks charging their hero Galileo with heresy for his dissent from the consensus. As challenges to Darwin mount, we should be able to articulate why “settled science” makes such a poor god.

In 1973, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote that “nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Almost 50 years later, an increasing number of scientists are asking whether evolution makes any sense in light of what we now know from biology.  
A recent long-form essay in The Guardian signals just how urgent the problem has become for the most dominant theory in the history of the sciences. In it, author Stephen Buranyi gives voice to a growing number of scientists who think it’s time for a “new theory of evolution.”   
For a long time, descent with slight modifications and natural selection have been “the basic” (and I’d add, unchallengeable) “story of evolution.” Organisms change, and those that survive pass on traits. Though massaged a bit to incorporate the discovery of DNA, the theory of evolution by natural selection has dominated for 150 years, especially in biology. The “drive to survive” is credited as the creative force behind all the artistry and engineering we see in nature.   
“The problem,” writes Buranyi, is that “according to a growing number of scientists,” this basic story is “absurdly crude and misleading.” For one thing, Darwinian evolution assumes much of what it needs to be explained. For instance, consider the origin of light-sensitive cells that rearranged to become the first eye, or the blood vessels that became the first placenta. How did these things originate? According to one University of Indiana biologist, “we still do not have a good answer. The classic idea of gradual change, one happy accident at a time,” he says, “has so far fallen flat.”  
This scientific doubt about Darwin has been simmering for a while.
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Canada’s Suicidal Slide

The value of human life is not based on any extrinsic quality. Period. It’s instead based on the fact that humans are made in God’s image. We belong to Him, not to ourselves. This is ultimately why the slope from accepting some suicides to all suicides is so slippery.

If it is true, as Richard Weaver famously put it, that “ideas have consequences,” it is also true that bad ideas have victims. On no other contemporary issue today is the connection between a bad idea and its victims clearer than assisted suicide. In no other nation today are the bad ideas and their victims more aggressively embraced than in Canada.  
In a lengthy and powerful essay at The Atlantic this month, David Brooks exposed just how monstrous Canada’s so-called “medical aid in dying” regime has become since it was enacted in 2016. Originally, Canada only permitted the request for medical aid in dying to those with serious illness, in advanced or irreversible decline, unbearable physical or mental suffering, or whose death was “reasonably foreseeable.” The criteria are vague enough. Since the law went into effect, however, the number of Canadians killed annually has gone from 1,000 to over 10,000. In 2021, one in thirty Canadian deaths was by assisted suicide, and only 4% of those who applied to die were turned down.  
Were all these people terminally ill or suffering from serious and irreversible conditions? Hardly. In fact, Brooks tells the story of a man whose only physical condition was hearing loss yet who was “put to death” over the objections of his family. Another patient had fibromyalgia and leukemia yet wrote that “the suffering I experience is mental suffering, not physical. I think if more people cared about me, I might be able to handle the suffering caused by my physical illnesses alone.” One otherwise healthy 37-year-old who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and is unemployed said, “logistically, I really don’t have a future. … I’m not going anywhere.” As of Brooks’ writing, that man was awaiting approval for assisted suicide.  
Simply put, Canadians who need help are instead being helped to kill themselves because they’re depressed, lonely, or mentally ill. And the slope keeps getting slipperier. Brooks described patients who have been pressured by doctors and hospital staff into killing themselves to avoid medical bills. Earlier this year, the Canadian Parliament’s Special Committee on Medical Assistance in Death recommended extending the program to “mature minors” as young as twelve. 
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Updating Foxe: The New Book of Christian Martyrs

Dr. Pattengale joined Shane Morris on a recent Upstream podcast to talk about The New Book of Christian Martyrs. He covered a number of stories from the book in the episode and connected the ancient martyrs to modern victims of persecution. Perpetua and Felicita were two newly converted and young Christian mothers who were killed in the arena at Carthage in 203. At the time, Perpetua, a noblewoman, was nursing her newborn. Despite entreaties by her friends and family, Perpetua and Felicita refused to denounce Christ or worship the emperor.  

In John 16:33, Jesus said that “[i]n the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In the 20 centuries since our Lord spoke these haunting yet hopeful words, they’ve proven true. In fact, in terms of absolute numbers, we live in the worst period of persecution against Christians in history. More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than the previous 19 combined, and the 21st century is shaping up to be at least as deadly, but likely more.  
According to Open Doors International’s latest World Watch List, 312 million Christians face “extreme” or “very high” levels of persecution—1 in 5 in Africa; 2 in 5 in Asia. Last year was the worst year on record for persecution, with 5,500 Christians killed for reasons related to their faith, more than 2,000 churches attacked, and over 4,500 Christians detained or imprisoned. For the most part, each year of the past decade has been worse than the previous year.  
Writing of the persecutions that plagued God’s people in the early days of Christianity, Tertullian claimed that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Though particularly intense persecution has, at times, led to a decrease in overall Church numbers, the Church has grown far beyond the wildest imagination of Jesus’ first followers. Stories of the faithful who endured persecution and faced martyrdom have been a catalyst for that growth.   
In 1563, historian John Foxe told many of the earliest stories in a book that would become one of the most widely read works in the English language. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs chronicles hundreds of Christians who gave their lives or were persecuted for their faith from the New Testament all the way to his day. Through generations of expansions and editions, it became an indispensable classic.  
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was written from a Protestant perspective and, almost 50 years older than the King James Bible, is a challenging read. Recently, a pair of daring authors took up Foxe’s mantle to tell the stories of the martyrs afresh for modern readers. In The New Book of Christian Martyrs, Johnnie Moore and Dr. Jerry Pattengale of Indiana Wesleyan University offer accounts of heroes of the faith from the first to the 21st centuries. 
Written in a fast-paced and richly informative style, with reference to important historical sources, Moore and Pattengale make cultural connections and frequently quote Foxe’s best “vintage” passages about the martyrs. Throughout, they seem constantly aware that they are writing to a Christian Church vastly larger, more global, and by some measures more persecuted than it was in Foxe’s day.  
Dr. Pattengale joined Shane Morris on a recent Upstream podcast to talk about The New Book of Christian Martyrs. He covered a number of stories from the book in the episode and connected the ancient martyrs to modern victims of persecution. 
Perpetua and Felicita were two newly converted and young Christian mothers who were killed in the arena at Carthage in 203. At the time, Perpetua, a noblewoman, was nursing her newborn. Despite entreaties by her friends and family, Perpetua and Felicita refused to denounce Christ or worship the emperor.  
Perpetua’s diary was likely preserved by Tertullian, who tells how, on the day of her execution, she and her companions faced leopards, wild boars, and a raging bull. Perpetua was eventually gored and tossed across the arena but took the time to fix her hair before soldiers finished her off. As Tertullian reports, she did so because “it was not becoming for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning in her glory.” 
Eighteen centuries later, in February 2015, 21 Coptic Christians displayed a similar dignity as they prepared to meet Christ from a beach in Syria. Pattengale and Moore compare their orange jumpsuits to the jerseys of a sports team, ready to leave it all on the field for their Captain. In the moment before their masked executioners beheaded them, the Coptic 21 sang a line from the hymn, “Ya Rabbi Yassu,”—“my Lord Jesus.”  
Thanks to an Islamic State propaganda video, millions witnessed their martyrdom. As the book notes, ISIS’s objective “backfired” when the video galvanized the world against their cause and became a source of pride and celebration for Coptic Christians. In the words of Revelation, the world saw 21 young men conquer “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”  
In a time when our brothers and sisters face more persecution than ever, the stories from across times and cultures told in The New Book of Christian Martyrs will inform your faith and your prayers. As Tertullian and Foxe believed, such stories can fuel the growth of a Church whose Lord overcame the world and will ultimately grant rest from all persecution. 
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Is Math Racist?

Students who are taught that answers to algebra problems depend on the color of their skin and that calculus professors are oppressors are not only not going to unlock the mysteries of the universe, but they will also believe what is not true about who they are and the world in which they live. Woke educators may hope to liberate students. But by depriving them of objective truths they are subjugating them to bad ideas. It’s a tragically ironic and disastrous miscalculation. 

Few subjects seem less political than math. There is little room for subjective judgment because its truths are universal. No matter what you look like or where you’re from or how you feel about it, two plus two will always equal four, and the area of a circle will always be π r². Math is so objective, in fact, some scientists have theorized that prime numbers could offer the basis of communication with supposed intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.  
However, even if aliens know that math has no racial or gender bias, some educators on Earth seem to think otherwise. Even amid plummeting math scores in the latest Nation’s Report Card data, a growing chorus of progressive voices insists that racism and sexism are the biggest problems we face in how to teach math.  
A couple years ago, in an article in the Scientific American, Rachel Crowell complained about the racial and gender disparities among those who make a career out of mathematics. She pointed out, for instance, that “fewer than 1 percent of doctorates in math are awarded to African Americans” and that only 29.1 percent “were awarded to women.” More mathematicians, she writes, have been pushing to discuss these issues and “force the field to confront the racism, sexism and other harmful bias it sometimes harbors.” 
Though, undoubtedly, examples of identity-group bias in all fields exist, Crowell chose to root her complaint in intangibles: Math doctorates are not “earned” or “received” or “completed;” they are “awarded,” a word choice that not so subtly reinforces her conclusion that something about math education is racist. 
Writing at Newsweek, Jason Rantz cited examples of public schools teaching students that math itself, and the way it has always been taught, is oppressive. 
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Not Buying False Choices: The Christian Vision for Sex Is Better

Christian pro-life activist Lila Rose appeared on the dating talk podcast Whatever, which boasts over 4 million subscribers on YouTube. Lila did what every Christian should do in a culture captivated by false dichotomies. She painted a better vision of anything currently on offer. She pointed to an alternative in which men and women are not at war with one another but in harmony, an alternative characterized by self-giving and life-affirming love, not lust or an attempt to eliminate sexual difference.  

In his recent and remarkable book, Biblical Critical Theory, theologian Christopher Watkin points out how often our thinking falls into false dichotomies. Humans are either animals or gods; the planet is either progressing toward utopia or doomed to catastrophe; sex is either no big deal or our whole identity. Back and forth the cultural pendulum swings, never considering that there may be another option: a story that transcends these dichotomies and makes better sense of the way the world is.  
Sex in particular has been subject to ideological extremes. For most of my lifetime, pop culture has followed the maxim that “sex sells.” So, scantily clad women have been used to market everything from cars and football to movies and music. Beer companies often took the lead, featuring provocative models in swimsuits unabashedly pandering to the lust of their predominantly male customers.  
The pendulum seems to have swung the other direction, though the undisguised profit motive remains. For example, Miller Lite’s messaging has done a 180. In a new ad, the beer company chose to appeal to faddish feminist sensibilities. In it, actress Ilana Glazer indignantly tears down beer ads featuring women in bikinis while announcing that Miller Lite is now a champion of women’s dignity and women brewers. The company is doing the right thing and, to quote David Spade from Tommy Boy, “in just a shade under a decade, too … Alright!”  
If it weren’t laced with profanity, I could get behind this new direction. I fully support any move away from cynically exploiting women for marketing, whatever the motive. Unlike Bud Light’s recent, disastrous choice to feature transgender actor Dylan Mulvaney (a man) on its cans, Miller is at least gesturing toward an ideal that companies should sell products, not objectify people.  
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Why the World is Running Out of Babies

An essay by Louise Perry at The Spectator, entitled, “Modernity is making you sterile.” Perry, a maverick feminist and author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, argues that the so-called “progress narrative” cherished among the elites of the developed world, along with the technologies that have enabled it, is keeping us from having babies. Like a slow-acting poison, modernity and its values have eaten away at the fabric of society, though imperceptibly so to those focused only on the present.

In his 1929 book The Thing, G.K. Chesterton warns social reformers to be cautious about changing institutions, laws, or customs:  
[L]et us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or a gate [is] erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away.” 
Chesterton was illustrating the often-subtle importance of structures and ideas that moderns are so eager to deconstruct. Before setting longstanding traditions aside, we should first understand these things and understand why previous generations were committed to them. Otherwise, even well-meaning reforms can incur serious consequences, not all of which are immediately obvious, and which fall on future generations. 
Chesterton’s analogy came to mind while reading an essay by Louise Perry at The Spectator, entitled, “Modernity is making you sterile.” Perry, a maverick feminist and author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, argues that the so-called “progress narrative” cherished among the elites of the developed world, along with the technologies that have enabled it, is keeping us from having babies. Like a slow-acting poison, modernity and its values have eaten away at the fabric of society, though imperceptibly so to those focused only on the present. This, she writes, is the real reason that most of the developed world is currently running out of people: 
[W]hat we are now discovering is that, at the population level, modernity selects systematically against itself.
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Girls and the Transgender “Hockey Stick”

The startling “hockey stick” of young women suddenly announcing that they’re not women is making that explanation difficult to believe, especially when placed alongside the similarly dramatic graph portraying the crumbling mental health among Gen Z women. Facts must force experts and activists to reckon with the widespread harm being done to young women. As one book on the subject puts it, the damage being done to women’s lives and bodies is “irreversible.” 

In his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, former Vice President Al Gore famously showed an image that became an icon of global warming. The so-called “hockey stick” graph plotted global temperatures over the centuries, reportedly showing that a spike occurred after humans began using fossil fuels. For Gore and his fellow climate activists, this was the “smoking gun” that something unprecedented was happening to the planet. Except, this graph has been widely disputed as containing “serious flaws.” 
Today, a different “hockey stick” graph, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, shows a huge, sudden, and startling spike in the number of girls and women identifying as transgender. Since such records have been kept, the percentage of adults who identified as transgender within a population remained consistently low. For baby boomers and Gen Xers, those who identified as transgender were overwhelmingly men who identified as women.  
Even today, in fact, the most in-your-face and high-profile transgender figures are men calling themselves women, like Bruce Jenner, Jazz Jennings, Lia Thomas, and Dylan Mulvaney. Concerns over privacy in bathrooms and fairness in sports are overwhelmingly (for obvious reasons) concerns about men entering women’s spaces.  
However, the rate of Gen Z women identifying as men has skyrocketed to about twice that of Gen Z men identifying as women. This is roughly quadruple the rate of millennial women who identified as male. In fact, almost 1 in 30 Gen Z women now identify as men, and a further 1 in 25 identify as nonbinary. To paraphrase Christian author Samuel James on Twitter, the trans revolution has, in just the last few years, become a girls’ revolution. 
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The Undeniable Importance of Fathers, For Now and Eternity

Of course, no earthly father can represent God perfectly. We mess up, and when we do, we must ask forgiveness from God and from our children. It is also important to note that God promises to be a father for the fatherless. If your dad failed you, know that there’s a Father who will never forsake you, Who redeems brokenness in people and families and entire cultures, and Who rewrites stories despite statistics. You really can trust Him.  

Dads are crucial. We’ve known this for a long time. For example, former president Barack Obama, despite advancing many policies that undermined the family, remained an outspoken voice on the importance of loving, involved fathers. According to all the evidence, he was partly correct. Kids need their fathers, but do best when their fathers are married to their mothers.  
Earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Breheny Wallace surveyed the overwhelming and decades-long scientific consensus that fathers and fatherly love are irreplaceable in the lives of children. For example, a 2021 study from the Journal of Family Psychology found that warm and caring dads predict better mental health outcomes for children. Both boys and girls with such fathers experience “fewer weight concerns, higher self-esteem and fewer depression symptoms.”  
The connection between physically present, emotionally available fathers and mentally healthy kids is so strong that researchers have termed it the “good father effect.” A recent review published in the journal Children surveyed nearly four dozen studies on the father-child relationship. In Wallace’s words, these studies conclude that, 
Fathers who were involved in caregiving and play, and who reacted with warmth and greater sensitivity to a child who expressed emotions, were significantly more likely to have children with better emotional balance from infancy to adolescence. 
Such emotional stability in turn predicted “higher levels of social competence, peer relationships, academic achievement, and resilience” among kids. 
If it is indeed true, as all the evidence shows, that a dad’s love has such incredible power to set children on a healthy trajectory, why are our laws, our culture, and so many of the movements that shape both, so intent on denying the need for fathers?
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