Baby Morality: A Case of Evolution vs. Creative Design?

This week, 60 Minutes will have a segment called The Baby Lab that will revisit the idea of Baby Morality.

Back in 2010, Dr. Paul Bloom wrote an article for the New York Times in which he discussed part of his work at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University.  He and his wife, along with researchers around the world had been looking into the “moral life of babies”

Why would anyone even entertain the thought of babies as moral beings? From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals. One important task of society, particularly of parents, is to turn babies into civilized beings — social creatures who can experience empathy, guilt and shame; who can override selfish impulses in the name of higher principles; and who will respond with outrage to unfairness and injustice.

A growing body of evidence, though, suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone.

With what Dr. Bloom writes about and what 60 Minutes will be showing is that children already have a basic understanding of right and wrong when they are born.  Now I am sure there is much debate on what this means, but as a Christian I see it that basic morality does not have to be taught as it is part of our genetic makeup.  If we are instilled with knowing right from wrong, doesn’t that imply that the Bible is correct to some degree?

What are your thoughts?


Filed under Child Development, Christianity

16 responses to “Baby Morality: A Case of Evolution vs. Creative Design?

  1. Ah, Xander: heads, my god wins, tails, my god wins. My god’s a winner!

    • I am not saying that evolution does not exist, but when we can see that babies have a basic understanding of morality, then society is not responsible for instilling those values in us. Am I wrong tildeb?

      • Clearly, society is not responsible for our moral foundation. Our sense of ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ is innate and reveals itself not just at a stage of development in humans where it can be expressed but in several mammalian species.

        This is where the religious like to take morality off the tracks of reality and into the realm of Oogity Boogity, where this moral sense is assumed to be ‘evidence’ to support the necessary existence for some external agency bestowing this sense into infants as if this were in any way a meaningful explanation.

        It’s not because we have neither causal evidence for such a claim nor any knowable mechanism by which such a transfer and insertion into neuro-circuitry could occur.

        Infant morality is very clear evidence of biology in action, indicating that what we call ‘morality’ is, in fact, part and parcel of our genetic make-up. In no way, shape, or fashion does this innate moral sense “imply that the Bible is correct to some degree.” Quite the opposite, in fact: god is an unnecessary complication for human morality.

  2. I see where you are coming from.

    I was not trying to say that we needed religion to make us moral, but that when the Bible says that we are all accountable since right and wrong was written on our hearts before we were created, it is proved to some degree with the observation of sense of morality in infants.

    • The act of writing is an indication of agency with intention. This is factually wrong when describing human morality; its source was by no means ‘created’; it evolved, which helps explain why our nearest cousins in the animal kingdom also exhibit the same concern about ‘fairness’.

      Evolution by definition is an agency-less, intention-less natural process. There simply is no evidence that either God or the bible or any holy text have anything to do with our morality… other than have many people assert by belief in divine fiat that it is owned and operated only by the religious, and then have the temerity to act on this colossal arrogance and ignorance of reality contrary to this belief to the detriment of all humanity. After all, this assumption of ownership is the very root of prejudice against non believers, not that they choose not to be moral but that they cannot be moral without access through faith-based belief in an invisible peek-a-boo moral law giver.

      • How did morality evolve in humans to the point where they have it at birth and then lose it to the point that adults must step in help instill it as the child matures? As a child matures and is exposed to a broader spectrum of people, the child will begin demonstrating what we expect to see in the wild and take what it wants. This behavior goes back to what psychologists have stated previously in that children are amoral animals and society must instill morality into them.

        Our “nearest cousins” will have moments of showing fairness, but it is an exception and not the rule. Those who are dominant and healthier always have more than the weaker animals. Isn’t that the premise of survival of the fittest, which is critical part of evolution?

  3. To be frank, Xander, I think what you write here is a very typical bias about children being amoral. There is overwhelming evidence that this is not true. Yet the canard is that we have to teach children the difference between right and wrong because they do not know. Well, I think they do know perfectly well but learn through their interactions with their environment when and how to promote and demote their feelings to their greatest advantage. What children need to learn is to stop modifying their behaviours based on extrinsic values and develop and intrinsic standard that contain all the hallmarks of a healthy, well adjusted, responsible and caring individual.

    Obviously, some people never develop these values… so they go into banking.

  4. My issues would be a comparison one – do animals have a sense of moral right and wrong? Just saw a Nova documentary on this and apparently they do as well – does this mean they get to go to heaven for being a good monkey?

    Truth is, I think humans are built with that inherent ability to read other humans – based on our abilities to feel, think, and touch (or our senses as well). In those we develop empathy and companionship – and babies do this as well. Does it mean we have a built in moral compass? maybe.

  5. “Evolution by definition is an agency-less, intention-less natural process” (tildeb)

    Whoa whoa whoa, slow down now. Agency less, sure you can have that one. Intention-less – uhm, it seems to me the whole earth works in continuum with each other piece involved in making it. The fact the earth can sustain life makes it have some intention to keep on doing so (which it does day by day, month by month, year by year).

    I watched a great documentary on the whole earth and it’s movements to sustain life on it – and it’s pretty intricate and wonderful how the earth can do such a thing – with it’s purges and renewals that happen all the time. This does not seem intention-less to me.

    • Intention: A thing intended; an aim or plan, synonym of purpose – intent – design – aim – object – notion – idea.

      You must have an agency to have a thing intended, an agency to produce and put into effect its aim or plan.

      Think of evolution in far simpler terms: erosion. We see the effects of erosion everywhere we look but this doesn’t mean erosion has intention because you see its ubiquitous effects. There is no plan or aim for this bit of water or that bit of wind to shape or fashion some intended design. It’s simply an aim-less, unguided, agency-less natural ongoing process we understand.

      Evolution is also and equivalently a natural process whereby life changes over time through interaction with various environmental pressures on successful reproduction.

  6. “There is no plan or aim for this bit of water or that bit of wind to shape or fashion some intended design.” (tildeb)

    It’s a very individualistic look, not a collective one. Even erosion in the big scheme of the earth serves a purpose (IE: fertilization). Also the dust/dirt created by erosion is actually sent, by the wind, from continent to continent to help another area to grow. Even deserts serve a purpose and natural disasters in the big scheme of the earth’s survival.

    “Evolution is also and equivalently a natural process whereby life changes over time through interaction with various environmental pressures on successful reproduction.” (tildeb)

    Evolution can be seen as intentional in it’s changes, namely for humans. It’s almost as if we are ;choosing’ our changes for the betterment of our species.

    Can something be agent-less (no creator) and still have intention (purpose)? I think so.

    Definition: a purpose or goal; aim (from free online dictionary)

    Does the earth have a purpose is the question?

    • You are confusing cause-and-effect with purpose-and-intention; these are neither synonyms nor substitutes.

      Just because you see effect does not mean you see intention, any more than just because you establish cause (for that effect) you can establish purpose (with that intention)… unless you can make the same link between mechanism (that links cause with effect)-and-agency (that links intention with purpose). This you cannot do, which is why the substitution fails.

  7. “same link between mechanism (that links cause with effect)-and-agency (that links intention with purpose).” (tildeb)

    Just maybe, the interconnectedness of the earth and it’s function, is a living being as well. Not the kind we could quite understand – but maybe it is.

    • Yes, this notion has been bandied about for some time, from the Gaia mothership to the Omega point (that the earth is a single original cell that will one day evolve to allow the universe to become self-aware).

      Many people have difficulty appreciating how function can occur without guidance, that for two functions to become integrated must somehow involve intentional guidance towards a fixed purpose. The problem is that when we look closely, we find no evidence where there should be evidence to explain this interconnectedness through intention or purpose. What we do find is opportunity for exploitation that serves as an advantage for a population that comes about quite by accident over time.

      One of the best examples is a long term study that had algae in different lines carefully held for decades where several underwent slight mutations leading one to be able to feed off the suspension fluid, and its population explode because of it. No intention was ever applied, no design necessary, for an organism to adapt and exploit a local resource. It is mindless opportunism combined with the ability to change through mutation over time that leads to increased function and what appears only later to be interconnected.

      The devil, as they say, is in the details.

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