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An article donated by Alton C. Thompson

Theological Implications of Baby Research at Yale:

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Since 1990, researchers associated with the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University have studied the development of infants and young children.  Their research examines how babies reason and learn about their physical worlds (such as objects in their environment) and their social worlds (such as the people they interact with).

Researcher Paul Bloom’s interest has been especially in the development of moral thinking, and reports his findings in his book: "Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil." Here is a review of the book.

In their abstract of “Social Evaluation by Preverbal Infants,” J. Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn, and Paul Bloom state:

"Here we show that 6- and 10-month-old infants take into account an individual’s actions towards others in evaluating that individual as appealing or aversive: infants prefer an individual who helps another to one who hinders another, prefer a helping individual to a neutral individual, and prefer a neutral individual to a hindering individual.  

These findings constitute evidence that preverbal infants assess individuals on the basis of their behaviour towards others. This capacity may serve as the foundation for moral thought and action, and its early developmental emergence supports the view that social evaluation is a biological adaptation."

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Now if infants are able to recognize “good” and “bad” behavior, the implication is that humans are born good, and that “bad” behavior is learned rather than having a biological basis.  What that conclusion â€" one with a scientific, not merely, speculative basis â€" suggests is that the various laws/commandments/suggestions (as with, e.g., the Good Samaritan basis) in the Bible are misguided.  For what research suggests is that insofar as one engages in “bad” behaviors, one does so primarily because of the societal situation in which one is raised and lives.

That conclusion leads, in turn, to the conclusion that although “preaching” at others as to what one should, and should not, do, may provide one with employment as a clergy member, it is unlikely to result in “good” behavior.  For what “good” behavior, after infancy, requires is that one be raised in a home environment and societal situation that conduces “good” behavior.  Telling people that they are “sinners” places their (allegedly) “bad” behavior on themâ€"and, specifically, their “bad” choices, when it might more accurately be blamed on home and societal environments.  (Which is not to say, however, that humans lack an ability to make choices.)

If research shows that children are born "good" and later learn "bad" behavior, that finding will have a massive impact on the theological concept of "Original Sin:" This is is the widespread Christian belief in "scapegoating" -- the transfer of guilt, and punishment from persons who have sinned to others who were not involved in the committing of the sin. "Original Sin" involves Adam and Eve having eaten the fruit of a tree in the Garden of Eden against God's instruction. Many believe that this sin was passed from the original parents onto their children, grandchildren, and descendents all the way down to the present day. That belief teaches that babies are born today in sin and continue to be adversely affected by the "Original Sin" of their ancestors -- hundreds of generations removed.

Not only has the Bible led us astray as to how to get “good” behavior; clergy, over the centuries, have done so as well.  In fact, the societal changes that have occurred over the centuries have resulted from, e.g., technological developments rather than the efforts of clergy. The role of clergy has been primarily been to support the existing status quo rather than move society in a direction that would conduce “good” behavior.  Put another way, clergy have done nothing to create institutional situations that would promote “good” behavior as a norm.  Robert Owen is an example of an individual who did attempt to do so, but he failedâ€"unfortunately!

“Religious” institutions may provide people with an opportunity to socialize and act as leaders, and may help people cope with their lives, etc., but they do nothing to create situations within which “good” behavior would be “natural.”  If anything, they induce feelings of guilt in peopleâ€"which then serves to create a “demand” for the “services” that “religious” institutions offer!

Is that moral behavior?!  Have they become so alienated from their nature, as humans, that they are unable to perceive their behavior as immoral -- as even irreligious (according to how “religion” is defined in James 1:27:

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (King James Version)

If millennials are “leaving church in droves,” might one reason be that they sense that what the churches offer is in conflict with their (God-given?!) nature as humans?

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Bloom: "Just Babies:  The Origins of Good and Evil", (2014). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. The book is available in Hardcover, Paperback, Audible, and Kindle format. It was rated by Amazon customers at 4 out of 5 stars.


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Original posting: 2018-MAR-18
Latest update : 2018-MAR-18
Author: Alton C. Thompson

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