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Out of the Mouth of Babes

Take a look at this interesting piece from The Guardian, detailing recent studies that suggest infants might have an inborn sense of morality and fairness. The studies are fascinating, and fly directly in the face recently popularized notions that humans are born as moral blank slates (i.e. Locke’s “tabula rasa”) on which culture then imprints its own moral consensus. As it turns out, babies not only seem to have an inborn sense of good and bad behavior (which would itself be interesting), but also seem to have nuanced beliefs about retribution and reward.

For Christians, these findings shouldn’t be at all surprising. Romans 2:15 has long suggested that the laws of God are written onto the very hearts of men, meaning that a sense of morality is actually built into the very fabric of being human – part of being made in the “image of God.” C.S. Lewis pointed to the incredible baseline moral consensus that we see across human societies and ages as evidence of this fact, and now scientific studies of infants are vindicating the same Christian doctrine. Certainly the moral landscape that we are required to traverse as adults demands a more sophisticated and deliberately developed sense of morality, but as we are now beginning to see, such honing and development is just building on what was already present, not creating moral sensibilities from scratch.

These findings, of course, have great cultural – not mere pedagogical – significance. Just consider: if morality is something inborn and not created by cultural fancy, then that suggests there is a law that pre-exists culture itself.  In other words, these findings suggest that there is an absolute law that culture is meant to develop, but that culture cannot be used to replace.

Do we act that way? When making decisions (great or small), do we tend to appeal to fundamental, inborn laws or morality? Or do we appeal to the cultural norms we see around us? Are they ever the same thing? How do we know?

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