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The Death of Debate
A few years ago, when professional athletes were criticized for kneeling during the national anthem, it wasn’t always because critics disagreed with the cause that athletes were claiming or because of the irony of multi-millionaires denouncing the nation to which they owed their success. Many fans just didn’t want to see football turned into yet another stage for political activism. Even when a cause is just, healthy societies have spaces where differences can be put aside in pursuit of a common experience, whether it’s something as trivial as a televised sporting event or something as important as forming the next generation of civic leaders.
High school debate has long served this second role. The National Speech and Debate Association is the largest league of its kind in the nation. For nearly one hundred years, it has trained students to reason and speak effectively about issues significant to people and society. According to its Wikipedia page, the NSDA serves more than 140,000 students and coaches each year. It would be reasonable to think that the debaters who rise to the top of this league have become masters of reason and argument, able to speak persuasively on a range of topics. That is no longer the case.
In a clip that recently went viral, the final round of the NSDA’s 2021 Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky featured two young women of Team A, one of whom identifies as transgender, and who apparently decided they would win the round by “out-woking” their opponent. They began the round by refusing to debate the resolution, which was about the costs and benefits of the International Monetary Fund. Instead, they highjacked the forum to protest the plight of transgender debaters, made the round “a debate about debate,” and promised to “occupy the debate space until trans debaters can participate safely.”
In a saner time (and league), such behavior would result in an immediate loss. However, that did not happen at this prestigious tournament. Instead, the young men of Team B immediately conceded the round and joined a 45-minute discussion on how debaters who misgender their opponents should automatically lose. One even offered, “It’s important to recognize that debate is not about winning an argument. It’s about making sure everyone feels okay and making sure everyone feels safe.” The judges then praised Team A for their “courage” and crowned them the national Public Forum Debate champions.
It would be easy to criticize these students for making a joke out of a competition that generations of their peers worked hard to win. However, that would miss the point. These debaters didn’t invent these tactics or the ideology upon which it is based. They were taught to turn every forum into an opportunity for activism, to dismiss and denounce anyone who questions their claims, and to play the victim to be rewarded. It’s the same training that taught the “Just Stop Oil” activists to deface and destroy priceless works of art to draw attention to their cause. Most recently, a pair of Just Stop Oil climate vandals took hammers to a famous painting in the National Gallery in London.
The painting had about as much to do with fossil fuels as much the IMF has to do with transgender debaters. To activists, however, that irrelevance is irrelevant. Their ideology, they’ve been taught, is the only thing in the world worth talking or doing anything about, and they will actively hijack or destroy all other human pursuits until everyone shares their singular obsession.
This reveals why such an all-consuming ideology is dangerous, no matter what you think of the causes behind it. The notion that no one should be able to do, pursue, appreciate, argue, or think about anything else but your cause is a form of intellectual tyranny that, if tolerated widely, can quickly erode the foundations of a free society. If everything must be sacrificed to yo
Want to Feel Superhuman?
If you find your mind darting from one thing to the next and struggling to concentrate for even short periods of time, there are two things to know. First, you’re not alone and, second, it’s probably related to technology.
In an article published at Motherboard, Kaleigh Rogers described her experiment banning all screens from her home for a month: no TV, no tablet, no smart phones, no computers.
The results were dramatic, and unlike with exercise or dieting, immediate. She experienced better concentration, found more time in her day, felt closer in her relationships, and gained a renewed sense of creativity. A Facebook commenter who conducted the same experiment described an almost “superhuman” focus and productivity.
Screens have profoundly shaped our lives, especially our minds and relationships. We need not be Luddites, but we can create boundaries and stick to them. Rather than allowing notifications, games, and texts to control our schedules and attention, we can control them, making time for relationships, concentration, and creativity. That doesn’t sound so superhuman...
For the Colson Center, I’m John Stonestreet.
This Point was originally published on February 14, 2017.
The Spike in Congenital Syphilis
The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of syphilis cases among newborn babies, according to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can be passed from moms to babies in utero. Last year, more than 3,700 babies tested positive for the disease, a 30% increase in a single year and a tenfold increase in the past 10 years.
According to the CDC, the situation is “dire.” To reverse the trends, the report proposed, “[a]ddressing missed opportunities for prevention, primarily timely testing and appropriate treatment of syphilis during pregnancy.” Likewise, a Houston-area doctor quoted in an NBC News article about the report said, “It is unbelievable how this could all be prevented if we just had patients get in for screening and treatment.”
During the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s, some acted as if the HIV virus could infect anyone at any moment, as if how it spread was a total mystery. This mentality is even more common today, especially among drug companies promoting medication to treat HIV. The recent biopic Bohemian Rapsody takes a similar approach to the story of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock band Queen. Mercury hid the fact that he had AIDS from all but his closest confidants until the days before his death, despite continuing to have multiple sexual partners and possibly playing an outsized role in the AIDS epidemic. The movie, however, depicts Mercury as a hero of self-expression and a victim of horrible illness. His promiscuity is never morally evaluated and barely mentioned.
It’s considered immoral, in this cultural moment, to limit anyone’s self-expression. The diseases and dangers linked to irresponsible sexual expression are disconnected from the behaviors. Instead, they’re often treated as evidence of injustice, as if the moral duty of medicine is to free sexual self-expression from any consequences. In this framing, risky sexual behavior is inevitable. Not only is it immoral to suggest that people stop doing those things that spread HIV and infect babies with syphilis, but to do so would be to suggest the impossible.
This pessimistic, deterministic view of humanity is demonstrably false. We often say politics is downstream from culture. The state has significant power to influence behavior. For example, in 1984, only 14% of Americans wore seat belts. I’m likely not the only one who remembers bouncing around unrestrained in the back of the family station wagon on long road trips. Just three years later, after 30 states enacted seat belt laws, that percentage tripled to 42%. Last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 90% of Americans faithfully buckled up while on the roads.
A similar phenomenon happened with drunk driving. Four years after the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Congress raised the legal drinking age to 21. MADD then launched an effort to replace the word “accident” with the word “crash” in common parlance, predicting that this would reinforce in people’s minds that drunk-driving collisions were crimes. These efforts to shift culture worked. Since 1982, the number of drunk-driving deaths in America has fallen by more than half.
Despite this success, most government-funded efforts to combat the spread of sexually transmitted infections never mention risky sexual behavior. Creators of proven, effective abstinence education resources testify how oddly difficult it is to even gain access to public schools. Even doctors concerned about the spread of congenital syphilis cannot seem to bring themselves to recommend sexual risk avoidance.
At the root of the selective outrage is a warped idea of what it means to be human. A worldview that says humans are fundamentally incapable of practicing sexual abstinence assumes that human beings are mere animals
Cancelling Anne Frank?
I didn’t think cancel culture would ever come for Anne Frank, but here we are. Parents of a German daycare center named after Frank proposed a name change because, they said, it was too difficult to explain the significance of Frank to their children. The director of the school agreed, and explained that a name “without political background” would be better.
After public backlash, the trustees reversed course, and for that we can be grateful. Anne Frank was a real girl who faced real horrors and met a real and horrible death. Erasing her memory helps no one.
History should not be edited to fit our comfort levels. Like real life, history has hard edges and unpleasant elements that don’t budge for contemporary fashion or fragile feelings. Its value lies in teaching us those hard lessons, not in conforming to what we wish were true. Anne Frank deserves better, and so do the kids learning her story today.
Johannes Kepler, Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him
November marks the death of Johannes Kepler, one of the most important figures of the Scientific Revolution and a scientist who was motivated by his Christian beliefs. The significance of Kepler’s work can only be understood in light of what he faced and risked. The settled science of his day was that the Earth stood at the center of the universe. To challenge that meant to challenge the entire, accepted understanding of physics.
When Copernicus published On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543, he argued that the universe was centered on the sun rather than Earth. His motivation was to preserve the idea that planets traveled at a constant velocity in perfect circles. In other words, his motivation was more philosophical and aesthetic than it was scientific. Few scientists accepted these ideas that contradicted settled science. As a result, there were only a handful of committed Copernicans prior to 1600. Johannes Kepler was one of them.
Kepler was a devout Lutheran who planned to become a pastor. However, he excelled at mathematics and had an interest in astronomy. In seminary at the University of Tubingen, he became convinced by Copernicus and defended him on both scientific and theological grounds. After graduating in 1594, he took up teaching mathematics at the Protestant school at Graz (now the University of Graz) in Austria.
While in Graz, Kepler began to develop a theory about the number of planets and the relative size of their orbits. He found that his theory worked for all planets except Jupiter. Though he adjusted the theory to make it work, he was convinced the problem would be solved with better observations. As it turned out, the best observational astronomer in the world, Tycho Brahe, lived nearby.
In 1600, Kepler negotiated with Tycho for access to his data. Tycho recognized Kepler’s genius and eventually agreed to work together. However, a year later, Tycho unexpectedly died. Kepler was appointed his successor as imperial mathematician, which enabled him to continue compiling and analyzing data on planetary motion in order to develop a more accurate model of the universe.
Tycho’s observations were as good as was possible with the naked eye, and Kepler was determined to use them. Initially, he could not find a formula, whether geocentric or heliocentric, that would work.
Heliocentrism was close, but not up to the known margin of error of Tycho’s observation. This led Kepler to give up on circles and try ellipses, which fit better, but not perfectly. After playing with some very complicated math, Kepler arrived at a solution that, in the end, proved Copernicus right about the Earth going around the sun. In the process, Kepler discovered his Three Laws of Planetary Motion which stand even to today.
Kepler’s work was motivated by his Christian faith. He believed that since God is rational, the universe must be as well. Because humans are made in God’s image, we can, as he said, “think God’s thoughts after Him.” In other words, understanding the universe is possible.
This commitment led Kepler to be a rigid empiricist. Because God had given him Tycho’s data, he was responsible to use it as fully as he could. For example, the earth’s orbit is less than .02% away from being a perfect circle. Even that small amount made Kepler willing to jettison the supposed perfection of circular motion favored by the scientists of his day. Though most others would have chalked that up to observational error, Kepler knew the margin of error of Tycho’s observations and believed God expected him to honor the quality of the data, rather than conform it to his preconceptions about how it “should” be.
Kepler knew his theories would be rejected by scientists, but he didn’t care. It had taken eons before anyone discovered how God had structured the universe, so Kepler figured he could wait another century or so to be proven right. H
More Historical Evidence for David and Solomon
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently conceded that the kingdoms of David and Solomon may have actually existed. New studies have revealed that “[r]emains of gates, defensive walls and a large administrative building at Gezer date to the early 10th century B.C.E., putting them in the right time frame to have been built by King Solomon, just as the Bible claims.”
In recent decades, skeptics suggested that these structures belonged to a later, supposedly more advanced time. Though the new studies don’t prove the Bible’s accuracy, the articles insist its reliability cannot be ruled out.
In other words, the thing that pretty much everybody thought was true until just a few decades ago turns out to be actually true. The more we dig, in fact, the more archaeological evidence suggests that the facts are on the side of the Bible, not its critics. And the more we dig, the more that skepticism of the Bible is shown to be not a sign of open-minded intelligence, but of close-minded assumptions of disbelief.
A Daily Dose of Sanity
In order to recognize a lie, it helps to know the truth. By analyzing the news through a Biblical lens, this podcast delivers on its tagline.
Such a helpful perspective.
I just finished listening to the 11-4-2023 episode on critical theory. Thank you so much for a thoughtful and helpful discussion and how we can graciously respond. So helpful.
Although I have been a long time listener and breakpoint is always my first message of the day…love the insight on all the varied topics…what I don’t understand is the need to play intense music in the background of the message… it makes me want to tune out!