Devil or Angel
By Wendy Wippel
Arber Tasimi was your basic carefree collegiate until targeted in two completely random attacks in just a few weeks. Then he didn’t leave his house for months. When he did, it was to study the basic nature of humankind using the “raw materials”. Meaning babies. Before societal morals were introduced. His findings? well…downright Biblical.
Tasimi went to work as a researcher at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center, intent on discovering where, as humans, our ethical framework really comes from, his recent Series of Unfortunate Events causing him to wonder, in his own words, “are we a failed species?”
The experiments that ensued were ingenious. The lab produced animated videos that that featured three specific animated shapes with goggle eyes. The main character, let’s say a green square, is depicted as a man on a mission-specifically, to climb up a mountain. The second character, maybe a blue circle, plays a villain, who constantly knocks the protagonist back to his starting point, and the third, a helper (maybe a yellow triangle) comes to the main character’s assistance by knocking the villain out of commission.) The scnenarios-with the same characters, readily identified by shape and color-were repeated six times, with very minor differences, so that the children got the chance to confirm that the blue circle was always mean, and the yellow triangle was always nice.
Researchers then determined how the babies (initially 6-12 months old) felt about the characters by giving each child an opportunity to choose which character (offered now as plush dolls in the same outfits) they wished to interact with.
Even the head of the lab thought that chances of this experiment, in 6-12 month old children, had little chance of yielding meaningful information. Until the results came in. Pretty much every child tested chose the helper doll when given the chance.
The researchers arrived at the obvious conclusion; human beings seemed to be hardwired with ethics. Nice is good. Mean is bad. This was so contrary to their expectations (and, dare I say it, the “survival of the fittest” gospel of evolutionary theory” they no doubt all espoused-after all, it was Yale.) that they didn’t believe the results. Until they repeated the experiment and got the exact same outcome.
But then they wondered if, even at this young age, ethics from parents, other caregivers, or even exposure to children’s programming like Sesame Street could have already helped form their ideas about what’s good and what’s bad. And they wondered even if the their judgments were hardwired, how early that programming may kick in.
So they repeated the experiment with babies three months old. This time, however, since three month-old babies can’t necessarily choose their favorite character by reaching, the lab rigged it up so that the researchers could follow specifically what the babies’ favorite character to look at was.
And again, no question who won the Most Popular with the diaper crowd. All the babies-overwhelmingly– kept their eyes glued on the helper character on the screen.
Again, the researchers were kind of puzzled. AS the head of the lab explained it, if our ethics stemmed from our experiences, there shouldn’t be strong natural feelings about ethical situations in kids this young, nor such astounding unanimity. She went on, with her conclusion: “Maybe we are built to identify … that some things are good and some things are not.”
For full disclosure I must confess that critics of this research (i.e other toddler ethics researchers who didn’t think this up first -I spent 15 years in basic research) accuse Yale’s results of being shaky science because the babies might have just liked the helper color better. When the experiment was rerun, however, with the colors switched, the results were the same.
My conclusion is that we can only conclude, from these experiments, that babies are, in fact, born with an innate sense of right and wrong. From birth.
Which shouldn’t surprise any of you, dear readers, since that’s exactly what the Bible says. God made Adam and Eve and blew his own spirit into their nostrils. They came preloaded with his righteousness, confirmed by Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts….As well as Romans 2:15, which explains in a little more detail: “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Romans 2:15 NLT.
God put His own spirit in us, and wrote His laws on human hearts.
But we are all surrounded with evidence of sin, and Tasimi would probably be the first one to ask us “So what gives?”
We have the answer. Man walked with God and knew good. Nothing but good, in fact, but then chose evil. And we are living with the consequences. Scripture says (and it’s backed up every minute of human experience: that after the fall, every baby born was born with a sinful nature. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”)
And interestingly enough, the Yale Child Cognition Center pretty much made the same observation. Their research showed definitively that children knew that nice was good and mean was bad. but by the time the children were 2 years old, with pretty much full control of their body and awareness of their autonomy from their mother (i.e. they figured out that they can, in fact, say no!) the children are banished from the research center. The two year-olds are just too uncooperative and ornery to work with anymore.
And There we have it. The very beginning of the lifelong struggle with sin that besets all of us, as best expressed, probably, by the apostle Paul.
But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:8-19 All too true on this end.
Tasimi admitted to his interviewer that, after living through two violent attacks, “only his research gives him hope.”
Ostensibly the research showing that the awareness of good vs evil seems hardwired into our human psyche. But he’s seen the flipside up front and personal. Pray for Tasimi to find hope in the redeemer, the only one “takes away the sins of the whole world.”
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, and all the rest of us too. not hardwired, bud downloaded at the fall.
But there is a balm in Gilead. Best expressed, in my opinion, in Jude:
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”
In His presence, with no sense of shame! Can you imagine?
Waiting for that one moment in time…. Aren’t we all!!