Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature

Baby_meets_stuffed_animalLast Sunday on 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl did an investigative piece on a Yale baby lab which studies the human condition. The scientists who discovered how to determine a baby’s preferences when he is as young as three months old have been studying whether or not a baby has a sense of right and wrong—in other words, whether they have a sense of morality.

And the answer is, yes, resoundingly.

Wesley chose the good guy [puppet] and he wasn’t alone.

More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can’t control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.

Karen Wynn [Yale researcher]: Babies, even at three months, looked towards the nice character and looked hardly at all, much, much, much shorter times, towards the unhelpful character.

After a series of experiments and statical evidence that shows a trend, Lesley Stahl asked if babies actually had a sense of justice since they seemed to favor punishing puppets that did mean or selfish things. The researcher said yes, at an elemental level.

This, of course, is shocking to behaviorists. Stahl asked the question key question:

Lesley Stahl: So, remember B.F. Skinner, who said that we had to teach our children everything through conditioning. So, does this just wipe him off the map?

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: What we’re finding in the baby lab, is that there’s more to it than that — that there’s a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.

Uh, not a blank slate then. Moral beings. But wait a minute. How, then, do we account for evil. Is that learned behavior?

That would appear to be no. Another series of tests showed things like bias toward those most like us and a desire to withhold good even to anonymous other children and even at personal expense. The researchers concluded then that we’re hardwired not only to know good and evil but to choose evil. (And no, they aren’t using those terms that have religious connotations.)

Karen Wynn: In our studies, babies seem as if they do want the other to be punished.

Lesley Stahl: We used to think that we’re taught to hate. I think there was a song like that. This is suggesting that we’re not taught to hate, we’re born to hate.

Karen Wynn: I think, we are built to, you know, at the drop of a hat, create us and them.

Paul Bloom: And that’s why we’re not that moral. We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies.

The immoral behavior isn’t limited to bias against those who are different but extends to greed.

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid —

[Ainsley: I’ll pick green.]

— in some cases, a lot more.

Paul Bloom: The youngest children in the studies are obsessed with social comparison.

[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn’t get any.

Kendall: Yay!]

Paul Bloom: They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.

Similar experiments with older children, however, showed a reversal of this trend. Now boys and girls were choosing what was fair and in some cases even sacrificing so the other unknown child would have more. Here’s the conclusion:

Paul Bloom: They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for — the selfishness, the bias — but he says the instinct is still there.

Paul Bloom: When we have these findings with the kids, the kids who choose this and not this, the kids in the baby studies who favor the one who is similar to them, the same taste and everything — none of this goes away. I think as adults we can always see these and kind of nod.

Lesley Stahl: Yeah. It’s still in us. We’re fighting it.

Paul Bloom: And the truth is, when we’re under pressure, when life is difficult, we regress to our younger selves and all of this elaborate stuff we have on top disappears.

But of course adversity can bring out the best in us too — heroism, selfless sacrifice for strangers — all of which may have its roots right here.

Paul Bloom: Great kindness, great altruism, a magnificent sense of impartial justice, have their seeds in the baby’s mind. Both aspects of us, the good and the bad are the product I think of biological evolution.

Well, sure. Biological evolution.

And yet, this study basically says what the Bible has said about Mankind all along. We are made in God’s image–therefore heroic, kind, altruistic, filled with a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. And we are fallen so that we have biases and selfishness that no one teaches us. They come from within, from our hearts that are deceitful and, yes, desperately wicked. How much more wicked does it get than to hate? And that’s what those babies in the tests showed.

These Yale studies, by the way, have been written up in professional journals since 2007, so this “discovery” has already been scrutinized by the scientific community.

Anyone who’d like to watch the video of the 60 Minute segment can find it here and anyone who would like to read the entire transcript can find it here.

Published in: on August 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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So Who’s Right?

Which is right?As I was editing yesterday’s post about “The Lady or the Tiger?” I realized the story posed an ethical question. It’s a test of values really, challenging us to ask what we would do if we were faced with the dilemma the young princess in the story faced.

No matter what she chose, she was not going to be with her young man. But did she love him enough to let him go, enabling him to find happiness even if she could not? In other words, did she love him enough that she would sacrifice for him or would she demand that he sacrificed for her?

Is there a right answer? Clearly, yes. Someone who loves, gives sacrificially.

The Bible actually sets up a two-tier standard of right. Tier one–love God with all our being. Tier two–love other people in the same way we love ourselves.

Jesus said that’s the whole law in a nutshell.

But what happens when there’s a collision of values, when loving God and loving people seem to be mutually exclusive? I think, for example, of the story Corrie ten Boom told about one of her sisters during a Nazi raid of their home.

They were hiding a handful of young men in a space accessed through a trapdoor under their table so that they wouldn’t be conscripted into the Nazi military. When the soldiers stormed into the room, they asked, Where are the young men? Corrie’s sister had a firm conviction about not lying. Put on the spot like this, she nervously laughed, and said, “They’re under the table.” When the soldiers looked under the table and saw no one, they thought she was making fun of them and stormed off rather than searching the house.

Interestingly, others in the house didn’t think she’d done the right thing. They felt she’d put the men in jeopardy by telling the truth.

In a similar circumstance, with two Israelite spies hiding on her roof, Rahab lied to the men looking for them. Nowhere in Scripture is she reprimanded for the lie. In fact, in the book of James she’s commended for hiding the spies and sending them out another way.

The midwives in Egypt similarly lied, it would seem, when they explained to Pharaoh why they weren’t killing the Israelite baby boys.

Jonathan lied to his dad in order to help David escape Saul by saying that David wasn’t eating at the king’s table because he’d asked permission to go visit his family.

These three examples from Scripture seem to suggest that the higher law of protecting life supersedes that of telling the truth. This would be consistent with what Jesus said to the Pharisees about His healing people on the Sabbath. Quoting Scripture, He made a case that it was right to do good even if it meant breaking the Sabbath.

The most shocking example of all is when Jesus cites David’s lie to the priests about needing food because he was on an urgent errand for the king. The truth was, he was running for his life away from the king. The priest gave him the bread set out as part of their worship ceremony–bread only the priests were to eat according to Levitical Law established during the exodus–in other words, the law God gave them.

Jesus acknowledged the law but that David’s need trumped it. The shocking part is that as a result of his lie, the priest helped him. Saul then used that fact to accuse all the priests of siding with David in rebellion against him, and had them killed.

We’re talking seventy men. Killed because of David’s lie. And Jesus said the priests were right to help him, to give him what was not lawful to give.

You can see the dilemmas. In some instances, the lie seemed to save people. In the Ten Boom sister’s case, the truth saved people. And in David’s case the lie cost people their lives, though he and his men were saved.

What’s the right thing to do? Lie to save lives? Trust God as Corrie’s sister did and tell the truth? Is there a moral right? Or is there only a moral “it depends”?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a moral right. The problem is in the execution. We are to love God, then love people. When the two seem to be in contradiction, we are to do good.

But what does “good” mean? Sometimes “good” is discipline, as in the case of a naughty child who sneaks into the kitchen and steals cookies right before dinner. Good requires that the child learns, though undoubtedly she thinks good means letting her have cookies any time of the day or night, whenever she wants them.

All this philosophical pondering actually has an impact on how we view our government and our part in it. If there is a moral right, then we should be advocates for it in our democracy.

No system of government will establish God’s rule on earth. Only Jesus returning as King to take His throne will establish God’s governmental rule on earth.

Nevertheless, if “we the people” are behind the government, then it seems to me we, the people of God, should be making our choices as citizens based on moral right. We may be outvoted, but that doesn’t change our responsibility to advocate for moral right and to choose it whenever we can.

Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on So Who’s Right?  
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Who Defines Morality?

Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonPresident Obama’s administration has taken a few hits lately. One of the latest problems to come to light has to do with the IRS targeting for delays groups applying for non-profit status if they had a conservative moniker such as Tea Party.

As an aside, I find it interesting that “Tea Party,” associated with one of the brave acts of rebellion by the forefathers of the US in the process of gaining independence from England, has become a negative in the eyes of liberal Americans.

Maybe that isn’t so much of an aside. The question is, who defines morality? Once, standing up to a government that wasn’t really all that repressive, but was unilateral in its decisions, was thought to be a brave act worthy of acclaim.

Today, the group of people standing against a Big Brother type of all invasive government is ridiculed by the media and, in this latest Obama administration gaffe, targeted for unfair treatment by the IRS.

As it turns out, the President himself spoke out against this kind of unfair treatment. But the incident brings up the question, who gets to define morality? Those opposed to the Tea Party were making a decision based on what they believed to be right, I would have to assume. I mean, they were violating common practice if not legal precedent in targeting organizations with whom they disagreed. Who would do that unless they thought those organizations were wrong?

But do government officials get to define morality in this way? Do police get to target people because of their political views or religious persuasion? Some actually think they should–in light of terrorist threats.

How do we then keep government from going after those with whom they disagree, just as the IRS so recently did? This is the kind of action dictatorial regimes take.

No wonder President George Washington said in his farewell address

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

How, President Washington seems to say, can morality exist apart from religion? How can political prosperity stand without the support of religion and morality?

Here we are in the twenty-first century, stripping religion from the marketplace of ideas, claiming that it has no place in government, and we find ourselves in a morass of immorality–or morality defined by one’s own ideas and beliefs.

How can we expect otherwise when we have stripped away any authority upon which morality is to stand? Why shouldn’t the anti-Tea Party IRS agent believe he is doing his nation a service by thwarting their processes? Who’s to say he is wrong? That is, if there is no authoritative, objective moral standard.

But if not from religion,from where does morality come?

Interestingly, Jesus was asked by the Jewish leaders of His day where He derived His authority. They wanted to trap Him and He would have none of it. But later, when he talked with His disciples, He let them know that what He said, He’d first heard from His Father. He was not making things up on the fly, not moving according to the whims of His own heart. He had an authoritative standard, established in conjunction with the Father and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

All this to say, the further government gets from religion, the weaker will be the grasp of morality. The latter will become a malleable thing, bent to the will of men and women in power, whether for good or ill, without any authoritative standard to guide it. Expect, then, more IRS-like scandals.

Christian Morality: For Wimps And Weirdos?

In a recent post, blogger and critique pal Mike Duran offered two free copies of the latest issue of Midnight Diner, a genre periodical he worked for until his busy schedule required him to step down. In describing the content of the stories published by the Diner, Mike said

The Diner does not serve wimps: there is language, gore, and appropriate nastiness.

That triggered a thought that’s been rolling around in my head (without much obstruction, apparently 😉 ) for some time.

First, my reaction to the line from Mike’s post. It was a series of questions really. Is it wimpy to refrain from “language” (by which I assume Mike means “bad language”), to choose against gore, to shun “appropriate” nastiness? And if so, why? Why do we think it takes courage, toughness, fortitude to look at what is appalling? Is it a character strength to not be appalled by the appalling?

That line of thinking led me to the morality issue (they didn’t even know how to blush – Jeremiah 6:15). Of late I’ve been made aware of a number of professing Christians who apparently think nothing of engaging in premarital sex even as another group proclaim they are gay.

I scratch my head at this and think, What are they learning in church? Have we become so enamored with the way the world thinks that we no longer say, Here are the Biblical standards.

And there it is. The way the world thinks seems easier. Everybody’s doing it makes it appealing. Conversely, standing alone makes a person feel like a weirdo.

Someone I know recently made a decision to live the party life, at least a little. The fact is, he knows the Biblical standard, but he wants to have some fun first.

In my way of thinking, he’s exhibiting weakness and delusion. Weakness, because he knows the right thing, the best thing, but he’s giving in to what he wants now. Deluded because he thinks he’d be missing out if he passed on the stuff the world is doing—that somehow God would let him miss something important … or fun.

He reminds me of the people of Israel when they made the golden calf to worship. Moses had been gone too long. They wanted god now. In fact, they wanted a god of their own making. They wanted a god that let them play, not the One that scared them by speaking from a burning mountain and gave them a list of do’s and do-not’s.

The world probably looks at someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs or hook up, who doesn’t sleep with his girl friend or cuss when he’s mad (or glad or surprised or wanting to be cool) as a wimp or a weirdo.

But how much easier it is to give in than to stand against. How much weaker, less noble to live for self gratification than to live for Someone else.

It’s ironic. The Apostle Paul had a list of religious things he said he counted as rubbish in order that he might gain Christ. Today we Christians don’t even want to count as rubbish the rubbish of our lives in order to gain Christ.

Honestly, who’s the real wimp, who’s the true weirdo?

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Comments (18)  
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Seeing Worldviews behind the Art – Is There a Cost?

A couple excellent questions came up as a result of yesterday’s article discussing Brian Godawa‘s book Hollywood Worldviews. The first concerns whether or not there is a cost for the Christian in looking at worldviews behind the art.

Let me say up front, I don’t think a believer should violate his own standard of morality. And hopefully each understands the need to have such a standard in place.

There are black and whites in Scripture, but there are a lot of grays, too. We often think of the Ten Commandments as black and white, but what do we do about the command not to bear false witness, when Rahab lied to save the spies and Abraham lied to protect himself and Jacob lied to get Isaac’s blessing? In each instance were these people sinning? Is it ever “right to do wrong”? Or how about Jesus holding up David as an example for breaking Jewish law, to illustrate that His disciples were allowed on the Sabbath to pluck grain when they were hungry?

These questions, I think, are important for each believer to address in his own life. I’m not convinced there is a one-size-fits-all answer.

Then there are issues that are not directly addressed in Scripture, overtly or implicitly … such as what our standards should be for entertainment.

Does this silence mean we should have no standards or that we should shoe-horn clear principles into these areas in question and come up with a law for today’s Christian? No and No.

Paul addresses a matter that troubled the church in Corinth that seems similar to the issues we often refer to as gray areas. In so doing, he identifies some believers as weaker brothers and some as stronger.

I think the tendency today is to assume that I am in the stronger camp, and whoever sees things differently is in the weaker camp! 🙄 The truth is, in some areas, I know I am in the weaker camp and probably always will be.

Hence, there are some things I know personally I can not participate in without putting myself in the path of temptation. That’s my personal moral standard. I don’t expect others to abide by it because I don’t know if they have the same weaknesses I do.

All that to say, if I have my moral standard in place, I should not violate it for the sake of seeing what the rest of the world is thinking. However, there are plenty of stories I read or view because they don’t violate my personal morality. It is with these stories that I need to look beyond the art and entertainment value.

However, I think a lot of us Christians stop at this standard-of-morality level. We don’t look beyond. Perhaps we never have been taught to compare the ideas in a piece of fiction with what the Bible has to say about life and Godliness. Perhaps we don’t know what the Bible says about the nature of God or life or whatever the movie addresses.

Whatever the reason, I believe we Christians open ourselves to the influence of potentially false worldviews if we don’t examine the ones espoused in the fiction we engage.

No, we may not deny Christ or start to worship a tree because we saw Avatar. But without realizing it, we may take a step away from the uniqueness of Humanity—the image of God, breathed into us when He created Adam—because we don’t examine what it means to say, We are one with our Mother the Earth, as Avatar espouses.

In answer, then, to the question, Is there a cost in looking behind the art to see the worldview, I’d say there is a cost in NOT looking behind the art. I’d also add there may be a cost if we alter our standard of morality and justify doing so with the idea that we’re just trying to get to know what our culture thinks.

That’s like saying I’ll buy a big bag of candy so I can be aware of what people not on a diet are eating, put it in a candy jar, and stare at it without taking any because I’m limiting my sugar intake. Why would I put myself through such an ordeal?

On the other hand, if I already buy bread for sandwiches, why wouldn’t I take a close look at the labels and compare grams of sugar in one loaf with that in another?

My call for discernment isn’t one that requires a change in selecting entertainment. It’s a call to think about the stories we are already choosing to read or view, and to do so with our Bibles in hand.

The Making of a Post-Christian Culture

I found some notes I took in the margin of a short-term missions publication my church put out, but I don’t remember who delivered the address the notes cover. I’d really like to give credit because these thoughts made a lot of sense to me when I heard them originally and just as much sense again, once I figured out what my chicken-scratchings said.

Maybe it’s just me, but there are times I think an idea is brilliant, but later, when my mind has moved on, I’m not sure why I got so excited earlier. I might even think the ideas were just off track.

Not this time.

Here’s the premise. American culture is on a slide from Christian to post-Christian (some of us think we’re already past the dividing line and are getting comfortably adjusted to the post-Christian side).

The person explaining this idea went on to say, the culture leaves churches (and my notes say “schools” too, so I wonder if this was some address to Christian educators) that hold to strict moral teaching.

Thus, Christians respond by saying we are losing the culture because of our insistence on morality, so we’ll downplay the moral demands of our faith, in order to win more.

But this view is in error. The real issue was never strict moral teaching but a divorce of morality from holiness and a love of God.

One of the once popular phrases used to describe Christianity was, It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. Well, it’s also a religion, which is not a dirty word. But somehow, in the shuffle, even with people saying such things on Facebook as they are Christ-followers or in love with Jesus, we have forgotten what a real relationship looks like.

When a single girl meets a guy who sets her heart aflutter, she would not be content knowing his name and address. She would not be content having 30-second conversations before meals. She would not ignore his invitations to spend more time with him. If she knows he’s a Dodger fan, she wouldn’t give him a Yankee baseball cap. In short, she wants to know him and to acculturate to his likes and dislikes.

So if I am in a relationship with God, I should be interested in who He is. I should want to hear the stories of His past, what He’s done, what He plans to do, what He hopes, what He loves. And I should want to fit into His world. I should do what He wants, especially since He loves me perfectly and has promised to do what is good for me.

Morality, then, has nothing to do with compulsion. It is a free expression of love. First God’s love for me because He gave His moral law as a way to help me navigate this sin-cursed world. But also my love for God as I demonstrate with my life that I trust that He does in fact know what is good and right for me.

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