Today's topics:

  • Amazon's New AI Model: Amazon's AI model showing emergent language abilities, sparking debates on AI's human-like intelligence.
  • Alabama Supreme Court Ruling on Embryos: Examined the ruling that embryos are human beings, affecting the infertility industry.
  • Justice Alito's Prediction on Religious Dissenters: Addressed how a prediction by Justice Alito regarding the treatment of religious dissenters to same-sex marriage has materialized.
  • Analyzing Movies Biblically: Tips for analyzing movies from a biblical perspective.
  • 'He Gets Us' Campaign and Foot Washing Ad: Critiqued the campaign's portrayal of love in political contexts.
  • Christian Couples and Having Children: Discussed whether Christian married couples are biblically obligated to have children.
  • Ending Life by Stopping Medications: Explored the ethical considerations of ending life by discontinuing medications.

Episode Transcript

Scott: Artificial intelligence exhibits language abilities it wasn't trained on, what are called emergent abilities. Alabama Supreme Court rules that embryos are people too, shaking up the infertility industry. And Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito saw his prediction about religious dissenters from same-sex marriage come true this week. These are the stories we'll discuss today on the Think Biblically Weekly Cultural Update. We'll also address some of your questions. I'm your host, Scott Rae.

Sean: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: And this is the Think Biblically Weekly Cultural Update brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Sean, story number one is a remarkable story about Amazon's new artificial intelligence model exhibiting capabilities it wasn't trained to do. And its founders are calling these emergent abilities. So, tell us a little bit more about this story and why it is so important.

Sean: Yeah, this story is fascinating because you have this new Amazon AI model that according to researchers who built it is exhibiting language abilities it wasn't trained on. So, in other words, there seems to be this artificial intelligence system that is going beyond what it was built for. And it seems to be the case that even the designers don't know exactly how this happened and some of these new properties and capacities are emerging. So, the team at Amazon AGI, what's called artificial general intelligence which is basically human AI. So there's what's called strong AI, which is akin to human level consciousness and abilities, versus weak AI which might be artificial intelligence that, for example, is used in Netflix to figure out what video they suggest to somebody. Well, in this one, what these academics at Amazon say—these researchers—is that their large language model is exhibiting state of the art naturalness at conversational text. Now, let me read a couple more from this article. This model was able to come up with all sorts of sentences that according to criteria crafted with the help of an expert linguist, showed who's making the type of language leaps that are natural in human language learners but have been difficult to obtain in AI. So this is like a novel kind of breakthrough and they're called emergent abilities. Now, what do I mean by this? Including things like the ability to understand punctuation, non-English words and emotions. So, they write like this model spat out sentences that would seem to human readers very naturally exhibiting kind of the ability to transcribe non-words like shh, for example, to indicate this deeper level of understanding that's taking place.

So, this is a huge breakthrough because when we talk about artificial intelligence, people are often asking the question, is it going to adapt into human-like intelligence which we see in science fiction all over the place? Now, if you look at debates amongst artificial intelligence researchers, some will say if a computer or artificial intelligence system gets to the point where it perfectly mirrors human intelligence, then we might as well just consider it human, so to speak, or human-like. Others would say, no, it's not human but it just comes to the level that it mirrors it. Well, this is a huge leap forward where we're getting closer and closer to where it may become impossible, or almost impossible, in a matter of time to decipher fact from fiction, human intelligence from artificial intelligence. That's the line we're going to. Now they call this emergent and have to highlight that this is somewhat of an idea you get in naturalism that consciousness just emerges at a certain level of complexity. That's not what is going on here. You hear words like learn, which we tend to think is a word that humans use when we learn something with consciousness. This is not a machine that's learning. It's just a sophisticated algorithm that is developing deeper capacities. So, I think, especially with the elections coming up, this is a massive step forward in artificial intelligence where the barrier between truth and fiction, reality and lies is going to get harder and harder to discern. And we're just seeing the beginning of this.

Scott: Sean, I think it'd be helpful for our listeners to understand what philosophers mean by an emergent property or an emergent capability. The best way I know to illustrate this is when you put two molecules of hydrogen together and one molecule of oxygen together, the property of wetness emerges from the combination of those chemicals that didn't exist before. But that's different from what I think you're describing because here, when we talk about the chemistry example, that's going from the natural element, the physical elements and a physical capability, physical property emerges from the combination of those physical elements. What doesn't happen is physical elements combining don't give way to non-physical emergent properties like consciousness. That's what I think makes this so challenging. This is not an emergent property in the same way that what you're describing with more of the strong artificial intelligence. And I think for AI to actually be independent, as the authors of this article suggest it's moving in that direction, you need an agent that's outside of the algorithm itself. And the article, I think, points out that to test the base AI, what they did was they trained two smaller models to see if they exhibited the type of language naturalness that they were looking for. So in essence, they trained the models for naturalness in the use of language.

So, the question is, are these emergent abilities coming from the algorithm itself that's designed that way or from something outside of the algorithm? And I think it's clear that this is still a part of what the algorithm is designed to do. And yes, it is able to recognize some things that we might not have thought about, but it's all part of the way the algorithm is designed. So, in my conversations with some philosophers on the scene, their conclusion was that there really is not all that much that's new about this. It's just a step forward in the ability of the designed algorithm to function in ways that we hadn't seen before.

Sean: That's a really helpful distinction. In his book on the substance of consciousness, JP talks about various kinds of emergent properties. And it's one thing to have wetness or some new feature of this algorithm within AI. It's another thing to have self-awareness, self-consciousness, agency. That's not gonna emerge just from more complexity, so to speak. That's the kind of emergence we are not seeing. So, what we are seeing is an emergence of greater sophistication, AI doing things it couldn't do before, but it's not anything new in kind. It's still the same kind of thing we have before that's just more sophisticated. So, I think that's important for people to recognize. This is not a step in the direction of agency or self-consciousness or any kind of emergent—ya know, qe see in science fiction films like Terminator or something like that. We're not any closer to that than we ever were.

Scott: All right, anything else on this, Sean?

Sean: No, good stuff.

Scott: All right, here's story number two is a big one. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday of this week that human embryos are human beings with the right to life. And to say that this sent a shockwave through the world of infertility clinics would be the understatement of the month. And just a little background on this, this stemmed from a 2020 lawsuit brought by a couple, who was in Alabama, who was suing their infertility clinic for the accidental destruction of their embryos that were in storage. And the court's opinion actually goes back to a law that was passed in the late 1800s that stated that parents can sue over the wrongful death of a minor child, which applies to unborn children, quote, "with no exception for extra uterine children." All right, now this, understandably, I think, sent like shockwaves and tremors through the infertility industry.

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: And on Wednesday, the largest hospital in the state, the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital, suspended its in vitro fertilization program. So here's, I think what we need to be clear about is what the decision did not do, okay? For one, the court's decision—this is again, it's the Alabama Supreme Court. The court's decision did not prohibit in vitro fertilization. It did not make any comment about whether embryos can be destroyed, whether they can be frozen, or whether they can be donated to research. What it ruled was that only that embryos can be the subject of a wrongful death action. And so there's a lot of questions that are still unresolved that will be very interesting to see how the state of Alabama works this out in the future and what kind of precedent will be set. Very interesting editorial that was published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times where, I mean, the commentators that favor liberal reproductive rights, just kind of, they kind of lost their minds over this decision. And the title of the editorial reflects a really familiar argument on this. And the title of the editorial was, “Would a fireman run into a burning building to save frozen embryos?” And that of course is this analogy that's often used in support of the idea that embryos are not human persons. To say that if you were walking in an infertility clinic, holding the hand of your two-year-old child and a fire breaks out and you can only save the life of your child, or you can save your frozen embryos, you can't save them both, which one are you gonna choose? And our intuitions tell us, and I think correctly so, that we would save our two-year-old child. And the conclusion that's drawn from that is that, well, what that means is that you don't regard your embryos with the same moral status as you do your two-year-old child.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: Now the problem with that is that, you're making that decision based on emotional grounds, not on philosophical ones. Because I can change the example a bit. Let's say that I'm in the clinic with a serial rapist. And I have the choice between saving my embryos or saving a serial rapist. That's a little different decision. Or if it's, to put it a different way, why do I grieve the loss of my dog more than I would the loss of a child, a nameless, faceless child halfway across the world that I've never seen before? Well, I would much more grieve the loss of my dog, but that has nothing to do with whether my dog has more moral status than a child halfway around the world. What that has to do with is the emotional connection that I feel to my dog. And the emotional connection that I feel to my two year old child, those are not always correctly philosophically related. You can't draw a conclusion about what kind of a thing my dog is as opposed to my embryos, just based on the emotional connection that I have to both of those things.

Sean: Right.

Scott: Your thoughts on that?

Sean: So, I have a few thoughts about this. Number one is, you're right. Those who are more say liberal reproductive rights have kind of lost their minds on it. So, you read an article from the LA Times, here's an op-ed from the New York Times, and this was yesterday. The title is, "Alabama's IVF ruling shows our slide toward theocracy." In many ways, you know this is coming. And he says, "If you don't think this country is sliding toward theocracy, you're not paying attention." Now, as you read through this, just a few things to keep in mind. He writes this, he says, "The idea that basically that embryos have the exact same rights as say a child or the unborn is absurd and unscientific.And I think this is not a scientific question. What human rights are, the right to life, what it means to be human. Science might help us determine if the unborn is human, but ultimately these moral questions are philosophical, not scientific. And it's amazing how many people confuse this.” Then he writes, "It's instead tied to a religious crusade to downgrade the personhood of women." So this is viewed as not elevating all human beings, which is how conservatives would view this, but downgrading the role of women. And then he writes, you could see this coming, "Control of women's bodies is the end game." Now, I have another friend who's written for, let's just say publications like the New York Times, and says, "I can't believe that people keep making this argument because this is not the argument that many Christians and conservatives make." So this reminds me that we have to be careful that we don't just point to chapter and verse. We don't just use biblical arguments, but we use secular arguments about rights and what makes us human in the secular square, so to speak. And so he goes on and of course brings in Christian nationalism and the Trump administration, a little bit of just scare tactics to talk people out of what's really going on here. Now, here's one point that he makes that I just have to comment on. Here's what this fellow says. He said, "To those advancing these ideas, the will of God counts more than the will of the American people, even when Americans object or disagree." Now, I thought that was really interesting because when you go back to the anti-slavery movement, what did people say? They said, "All human beings have value. It doesn't matter how light or dark your skin is. It doesn't matter where you're from. All human beings have value." And they leaned into this religious argument to argue for human rights. I'm assuming he would look back and thank God for people like William Wilberforce and others who fought against slavery and people like Martin Luther King Jr. who appointed or pointed towards specifically biblical arguments in their context. So I found it ironic. He says, "We should go with the majority of people rather than the will of God when it was actually people who went against the majority fighting against slavery and the will of God that led to liberation." So you can't have it both ways. Go ahead, jump in there. I'm guessing you have some thoughts.

SCott: Well, the fact that we have religious arguments undergirding public policy discussions, the fact that those have been ruled out of bounds is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout most of the history of our country, we have allowed religious arguments to carry whatever influence they could, but they were not ruled out of bounds. And to call it a theocracy is essentially an ad hominem argument that's being made without having to engage the argument itself. But there's one thing I think where science can help us. And that is the question that's raised by the author of this editorial in the Times says, "What exactly is a frozen embryo? It's a tiny blob of undifferentiated cells. By any normal definition, these blobs are not children." And so on. Now, embryology, I think, can tell us that you have a distinct individual from the time that fertilization is complete. It's a different genetic code. It's dependent on the mother. If it's in the uterus, it's dependent upon the mother, but not a part of the mother's body, technically speaking. These are embryos that are outside the body. So that argument doesn't really apply. But to say that they are simply like somebody put it, a bag of marbles or a clump of cells, I think does not do justice to the level of complexity that exists from the embryonic stage forward. Because from the earliest embryonic stage, that embryo has all the capacities it will ever need to mature into an adult human being. Nothing is added. It just matures according to what it already is. That's why we don't use the language that embryos develop or become fetuses—they mature. They don't develop, they don't become. It's not like metamorphosis, where they actually become something different than what they already are. That's, I think, one place where science can help us. But you're right, whether embryos are human persons is fundamentally a philosophical question.

Sean: One quick thought on this before we move on. That's such a helpful distinction, is that some of the language was embryos are the moral equivalent of children. And so people were able to say in their responses, we don't have three children, we have three embryos, and then we have two children, those who are born. And part of me is like the embryo, it's not a child, but it's also not a teenager, it's also not an adult. But it is a human being at a different stage of development. So it's a human embryo—go ahead

Scott: Yeah, and that stage of development is developmentally appropriate for what kind of a thing it actually is.

Sean: Exactly, well said, that's right. So sometimes if we get ahead of ourselves and call them unborn children, we allow the other side, so to speak, to say, well, that's absurd, that's crazy, it's not a child. And I understand that intuition, but if we lean in on our common humanity that transcends our stage of development and that humans have human rights, I think it's harder to push back and make that argument. But that's all I got on this one.

Scott: Yeah, me too. All right, now, story number three, Samuel Alito, Supreme Court Justice Alito, played prophet this week, and he had some very insightful comments that he made in the Obergefell decision in 2015 that he pointed out on Twitter this week actually came true. So what were his comments and how did they come true this week?

Sean: Okay, so this is in a case in which a woman who is a lesbian pushed up against this department that she worked for, the Missouri Department of Corrections, and said that she was mistreated because of her sexuality in particular, and she sued, and she won. Now, the Supreme Court refused to see this on different grounds, but what was a part of this that Alito commented on in his response was that he said something he had predicted in the 2015 Obergefell versus Hodges Supreme Court ruling, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, has now, almost a decade later, come true. Well, what did he say? He basically said what this ruling is going to do is officially make those on religious grounds, or really other grounds, who object to same-sex marriage bigots, and the rule of law will be used against them and they will be discriminated against. He took a ton of heat for that. Now, let me read just a couple things. You can go online. There are sources—people have lost their minds all over this debate like the other issue. So I went to the very statement that Alito made, and it's online, and everybody can find it at the Supreme Court website, and there's a few things that he said. He said, "The court below reasoned that a person who still holds religious views on questions of sexual morality is unfit to serve in a jury, in a case involved in a party who is a lesbian. That holding exemplifies the danger that I anticipate in Obergefell, namely, that Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be labeled as bigots and treated as such by the government." Now, Finney's attorney in this case, in this trial, said they asked all the jurors what he characterized as a tricky question, namely whether any of them went to a conservative Christian church where it was taught that people who are homosexual shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else because what they did was a sin. Now, here's Alito. He said, “The question was tricky 'cause it conflated two separate issues. Whether the jurors believed that homosexual conduct is sinful and whether they believed that gays and lesbians should enjoy the same legal rights possessed by others.” Those were equated. In response, again, Alito, some potential jurors raised their hands and Finney's lawyer then questioned them individually. So he gives an example. Juror four, a pastor's wife, said that homosexuality according to the Bible is a sin, but then she added, "So is gossiping, so is lying. None of us can be perfect. And so I'm here as a potential juror because it's an honor to sit here and perhaps be part of a civic duty." Now, here's the response where it gets fascinating. Finney's counsel moved to strike there were multiple jurors for cause, arguing that there's no way somebody who looks at a gay person and says you are a sinner could ever fairly consider a case involving a lesbian partner. That was Finney's lawyer. Now, the Missouri court of appeals affirmed Finney's lawyer in this rejection of the jurors on two grounds. The first one was they kind of agreed that because of this kind of bias, they couldn't be neutral and fair. Okay, fair enough. But the second point is where it gets interesting. This is Alito, again, in his response. He says, "Second, the court concluded that jurors had been dismissed not on the basis of their religious status, but on the basis of their religious beliefs. And this distinction it said made all the difference because in its view there are dismissals based on a juror's status as Christians." Now, here's where the response is. Hopefully this clarifies. Is some people have pushed back and said, "If you just said you're a Christian, you could serve as a jury." And Alito's saying, "Wait a minute. If you say you're a Christian and you hold what actually are Christian views on sexuality, then you are dismissed in light of your religion." So in other words, you can be a Christian if you're the kind of Christian that doesn't say homosexuality is wrong. So Alito's arguing that they were dismissed for their faith and beliefs that are a part of their faith from serving as a juror.

Now, I mean, I have so many thoughts on this, but I think, let me read one more thing from Alito and make a couple of distinctions and then jump in here. This is Alito again. He says, "When a court acquits an essential state actor finds that a person is ineligible to serve in jury because of his or her religious beliefs, that decision implicates fundamental rights." And when I was reading this, I thought of the distinction, I think it was unique to Colson, where he said, "Now in our country, you're allowed freedom of worship, but not freedom of religion. You can believe what you want to about God in the privacy of your home, but you can't live it out in your business and you will be discriminated against by the government if you express those beliefs." And I think he's right about this. Now, one piece of irony is, it's interesting that they would say, many people who have pushed LGBTQ ideas have said, "You can't look at me and say, I love you, but I don't affirm your beliefs. My beliefs and my practices are a part of who I am." But then they turn around and say to a Christian, "Oh, you can call yourself a Christian and we should separate those beliefs from what it means to be a Christian." There's clearly a double standard that's going on here. That's a really good distinction to make.

Scott: That's very helpful, I think, to point out the irony in that. And I think Alito probably could have said that his prophecy in the Obergefell decision came true within a week or so after that decision was handed down, because anybody who held to a traditional view of marriage, and especially on religious grounds, was now labeled a bigot.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: And I think part of this, to be fair, I understand a little bit of this. I think part of this was payback on the part of the LGBTQ community for years of mistreatment by men and women in the church. But the fact that it is now that discrimination is institutionalized in this example, in the court system, I think I've shown that Coulson was right, and that freedom of religion, especially with Christian faith, has an intrinsically public faith. And the idea that you can privatize your faith and have it just be what you do in the confines of your home, within your marriage and family, and within your church worship, I think is an incomplete view of what the lordship of Christ over all of life is about. And I think that's why the privatized faith is so dangerous. And that's part of the reason that we have so many people who name the name of Christ in the country, but have so little influence over the culture at large, is because most of them are practicing this kind of privatized faith, that is, I think, is being not only suggested, but is almost being mandated by various government agencies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had its own rulings on this. So, there are other arenas besides the courts that have weighed in on this as well.

Sean: Excellent thoughts. I've got a couple more points before we jump to questions. There was a Slate Magazine response to this. And I just wanna point out a couple of things. It says, “Samuel Lidl launches broadside against marriage equality in a homophobic juror case.” Now you'll notice a couple of things in this. If you're Christian and you hold traditional Christian views, by definition, you're homophobic. By definition, starts off, as the First Amendment protect anti-gay bigot's ability to serve on a jury in case involving the rights of gay people. In other words, if you hold traditional sexual ethic, you are homophobic and you are an anti-gay bigot, by definition, and if you hold and express those views, you should not be able to serve on a jury, at least if it has anything to do with topics of sexuality. So you see this person kind of making the same kind of argument that Alito warned at. Now people have made this argument long before, but now there's a legal precedent built in by Obergefell that I think makes it more powerful. He says, interestingly, this is the article again, “He would in essence, Alito, grant special rights to people whose faith dictates bigotry, allow them to sit in judgment of a person whose very identity they view as sinful.” Now, what's ironic about this is he's saying our very identity is bigoted and homophobic by its very nature. So, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And it's amazing to me, he just misses that double standard. Now, last thing at the end, he writes this, he says, “In the meantime, both will twist the rules, however they can to grandize the rights of homophobes at the expense of LGBTQ+ people who ask for nothing more than equal justice.” Well, one point I gotta ask is where does the idea of equal justice come from? This is not deeply rooted in secularism. The idea of equal justice, I heard a former president of ours said, I'm in favor of same sex marriage, even the Bible says we're all made in the image of God. And I said, yes, that's where we get equality, but also says we're made male and female and marriage is a sexed institution. So to argue against injustice and for justice and to argue against discrimination and for equality actually is a deeply Christian thing. So this is the point Tom Holland brings out is that our culture is borrowing from Judeo-Christian ideas to turn around and criticize Judeo-Christian ideas. That's at the root of this debate.

Scott: All right, shall we answer some questions?

Sean: Let's do it.

Scott; All right, the first question does not come from any particular episode, but Sean, I think, I know you've done a lot of thinking about how to analyze movies, especially with your kids. And so the question is what tips do you have for thinking biblically about analyzing movies?

Sean: You and I could do a whole show on this and probably should at some point. It's one of my favorite topics to actually teach on. In my book A Rebel's Manifesto, I have a chapter specifically on this. And here's just some of the questions that I use with my own kids. I use this in the classroom. I use this when watching a film. Now, of course, any movie, I think it's good to see movies that have different ideas that are not Christian to analyze them, but I'm taking for granted that we watch movies that are age appropriate, you know, for a 12 year old versus an 18 year old. With that said, some of the questions I ask is what is good about this movie that I can praise? Every movie, or almost every movie, there's gonna be something positive because it's made by people in God's image who yearn for goodness, even if it's pointing out sin. Second, what should I be concerned about? Third question I ask is do we see the consequences of sin or are sinful actions ignored or praised? Fourth, how are Christians or other religious people portrayed in the film? And finally, is there a worldview behind the film and what is it? I think the best way, especially with kids, is just ask movies, talk about it, dialogue, point things out. In fact, I teach a full unit just on analyzing movies through a Christian worldview. I think it's one of the best ways to do so. That's a few hints, but I go into more depth in the book, “A Rebel’s Manifesto: Choosing Truth and Real Justice.”

Now, that's a great answer. I appreciate the question too. I'm glad we get a chance to weigh in on that. Second question has to do with some comments you made last week about the "He Gets Us" campaign. It's a bit controversial, no debate there. And you mentioned that there were some of the parts that troubled you about the way the ads in the Super Bowl were done, particularly the pushback on the foot washing ad. Here's the question: What if the foot washing ad just shows love in tense and volatile situations without making a judgment on the things in the background that you were critical of?

Sean: Okay, so this is presented as a possibility. Well, isn't this possible? My answer is anything is possible, but I wanna know what's most reasonable and what's probable. Part of the suggestion here is maybe we just ignore those in the background. It says making a judgment on those in the background, scenes in the ad, but here's one thing that I know. This is a multimillion dollar campaign. The music, the camera angles, what's in front and what's behind is all planned out to advance a narrative. This is also true of movies. Once you learn that everything in a movie where scenes take place, what people wear, the dialogue, all of that is scripted and planned out. So, given that it's in the background, it's telling a story about what love looks like in that particular scenario. Now, Jesus did wash his enemy's feet in the sense that he washed Judas's feet, but that's different because he talked about—to his own disciples he had traveled with, he said, who wants to be first must be last. Rather than have others serve you, serve them. He's teaching them how to love and care for others. That's very different from going out towards other people, framed in a political way, saying don't maybe fight or resist certain moral ideas, just wash somebody's feet. That's taking something Jesus did and applying it in a different context that I would raise some questions about. But you also have, in Luke eight, I believe it is, the woman who washes Jesus' feet. It was never that way in the commercials. It was always one way and one sided who washed the other's feet. So, I would say to the question, sure, that's a possibility, interesting, but you're gonna have to convince me that's how we're supposed to interpret it. And that's the meaning of the commercial. And I just don't see it.

Scott: One thing to add on this, my oldest son produces commercials for a living. And one of the things I've learned from him is that everything in the commercial that's on the set, that's being filmed is there intentionally.

Sean: Yup.

Scott: Nothing is there by accident. And everything is well thought out. And, in fact, he's the one that actually thinks it out for the most part. But you're right about the camera angles. All those things are really carefully deliberated upon. And so I think to say that there might've been some things there that were incidental or I'm not sure the question is assuming that, but I think to suggest that, you can ignore some things that are in the background. That's a little harder to do, I think, because everything, background, foreground, above ground, below ground, all of that, is there for a reason.

Sean: Good stuff.

Scott: All right, question number three, this is a really good question. We've talked about singleness on the program on a handful of occasions. This is an extension of some of the discussion we've had about singleness. Here's the question. Are Christian married couples biblically obligated to have children, assuming that they are able? All right, now, I don't think the Bible has anything directly to say about this. Now, people might push back and say, well, what about Genesis 1 with the mandate to human beings to multiply, to fill the earth, and so on. In my view, I think this year, I think the world's population is gonna surpass eight billion. I think we have fulfilled the mandate to fill the earth quite well, and I say many times over. In fact, I think you can make an argument that by the time the canon of Scripture was completed, that mandate had been fulfilled. And the point of that was to fill the earth so that all of the earth could come under the dominion of human beings. So, I don't think you can appeal to Genesis 1 and 2 to say that there's a mandate for every married couple to have children. I say if for some reason you don't desire children, I think that's worth a lot more discussion. I'd wanna know why you don't desire children, because I think there can be good reasons and not so good reasons for not wanting children. I guess my inclination would be to say to someone, if you really don't wanna have a child, you probably shouldn't, but you oughta think about the reasons why you don't wanna have children and subject those to the light of Scripture. I think for couples that wanna say, I just wanna be free to live my own life, to come and go as I please, to pursue my own interests with my spouse. I think those are understandable, but I think incomplete reasons for not wanting to have children. I think it's possible that in the same way that there are kingdom reasons for remaining single there can be kingdom reasons for not having children. And I'd wanna make it clear that that's more the exception than the rule. And I admit I'm a little bit concerned about, in the West, the current drop in birth rates. In some countries is actually really alarming, particularly in some parts of the world where there's a strong preference for one gender over another, the combination of declining birth rates and the way we've sort of selectively practiced infanticide in some of the developing world, leave the gender imbalance is even more significant than it was 10, 20 years ago. So I would say to this couple, no, you are not biblically obligated to have children, but I wanna make sure that your reasons for not wanting to have children are kingdom oriented and not all about the couple themselves. Your thoughts on that?

Sean: Yeah, I actually see it differently. I would say, maybe not in these words, but I would say if somebody says, I'm thinking about getting married and we don't wanna have kids, I'd say then don't get married. A part of marriage is being open to procreation. What is marriage? It's a one flesh union of a man and a woman committed to one another for life. Well, that one flesh union is brought to fruition, so to speak, or consummated through the sexual union. And sex by its very nature is procreative. So if you wanna get married and you wanna have sex, being open to children comes with the package. That's what marriage is for. Now I totally agree with you. I was teaching a class at Biola and our apologetics program on sexuality probably, this might've been eight or 10 years ago. I'll never forget what a student said to me—it's a grad student, I think he was just sitting in this class to observe. And he said, "My wife and I don't wanna have kids, we're too selfish." And I said, "Well, you answered exactly the reasons why." So you're right to probe into why don't we? And I would say that maybe some of those are fears, maybe some of those are misunderstandings. I would wanna get to the root of it and help people understand the goodness and beauty and blessing of kids and what marriage is for. So if you don't wanna have kids, don't get married.

Scott: And I say, if you don't wanna have kids, search your heart for what the reasons are. And I think Paul's teaching on singleness that there are kingdom reasons not to get married because of the level of persecution that existed in Corinth at that time in 1 Corinthians 7. I think some of those reasons can be extended to the decision not to have children. So, but I think we'll just have to agree to disagree about that one for now. Although I think you're right that the general rule is if you're gonna get married, you gotta be open to having children. But I do think there are exceptions to that for legitimate kingdom reasons.

Sean: All right.

Scott: All right, question number four. What about people who end their lives by stopping their medications? Is this okay? And then the follow-up question, should this be considered suicide?

This is a really, really insightful question. We have addressed this on a couple of podcasts with our friend Dr. Katie Butler, who had a lot to say about end of life issues. Here's what I would say just briefly—We've done two shows on this already. We could easily do another one. This is, I'd say, if a person is terminally ill and further treatments are either futile or more harmful than beneficial, more burdensome than beneficial. Patients have the right, and I think the moral right, to say stop to medicine. The reason for this, theologically, is that death is a conquered enemy by virtue of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, which means it doesn't always need to be resisted. Because if we say that we are obligated under any circumstances to do everything to keep everyone alive at all costs, no matter what, we're making a theological statement that I don't think we wanna make. And that is we're making the theological statement that earthly life is the highest good, which clearly, biblically and theologically, it's not. Augustine was right when he said that our highest good is our eternal fellowship with God and earthly life is a penultimate good. It's close to the top, but it's not at the top of the pile. So, I think there's a difference between allowing an illness to take its natural course and being the cause of death yourself. This is the distinction we make between stopping treatments and euthanasia. When you experience euthanasia or assisted suicide, the patient under the physician's direction is the one who is the active causal agent in causing their death, where the physician or the patient does that himself or herself. I think when treatments are stopped, that is, I think, in one way, the person sort of entrusting themselves back to God for the Lord to extend their days in however he sees fit, but without the artificial interventions of medicine. Now, I'll give you an example of this. I have very vivid memories of wheeling my father-in-law out of the hospital for the last time after surgery for a bladder tumor.

Sean: Wow.

Scott: And it was a disaster of a hospital stay and he ended up much more compromised. And he motioned to me to come down so he could whisper in my ear to solve all the strength he had. And he said, "Don't ever bring me here again." What he meant by that was that I'm done with doctors and hospitals and tubes, treatments and technologies that I don't want. And although I don't think he could articulate it quite this way, I think what he meant to say is that I will take from the hand of the Lord whatever days he has left for me, but without the intervention of medicine. When those interventions are either futile or more burdensome than beneficial. So I would not consider this suicide. I think I'd like to know a little bit more about what medications they're actually gonna stop. And do those, are those really burdensome, do they create burdensome conditions where the burden outweighs the benefit? But I've often wanted to ask people who have, who are holding on for their loved ones and are unwilling to discontinue anything. I've often wanted to ask them, do you really believe all the stuff that you say you believe about resurrection and eternity?

Sean: Wow.

Scott: So, I think we can view this theologically, then I think it fits the distinctions that we're making between allowing disease to take its natural course and directly causing someone's death. Those are two different things, I think legally and morally speaking.

Sean: Great distinction, that was such a wonderful answer. And I would just echo what you said. There's a difference between removing food and water and necessities and removing things like drugs that may be keeping you unnecessarily alive in the sense of just preventing a sickness to run its course. That's very different, also different from euthanasia or taking medicine to end your life. Those things are great, that was a wonderful answer.

Scott: All right, I think we're out of time here today. Thanks so much for joining us today. If you have questions or comments or guests you'd like us to consider or issues or news stories you'd like us to comment on, feel free to email us at That's Weekly cultural update from ThinkBiblically is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University offering programs in Southern California and online in a variety of areas, including, for example, our Institute for Spiritual Formation, our program in Christian Apologetics, visit in order to learn more. Thanks for joining us, we'll see you next time.