Born Good? Babies Help Unlock the Origins of Morality – 60 Minutes

by gradycarter

Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality – 60 Minutes.


I have a lot that I want to say about all of this, but I would prefer that you pay more attention to the real reporting, so please ignore the stuff below if you only have time for the video.

This video made my brain go in many different directions. The 2 most conversationally challenging are the ones I’d like to address. This segment challenged me to think about genetics and science, and it also brought to my mind the spiritual implications of this for the many people in my life who I’ve had discussions with about the concept of “original sin”. I still consider myself a Christian, but in many ways I am disenchanted with Christian culture. I don’t say this to throw all Christians under a bus, but I have had trouble having patience with people who don’t want to learn things because it will challenge things that they already believe.

On Evolution / Adaptation:
These days (and by that I mean everyday since I first read the book I’m about to mention) I find myself almost constantly approaching people with a new platform of understanding thanks to my favorite book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about exceptional people, or at least people with exceptional stories, and it asks questions about why they are/were so exceptional. The main theme of the book is that being exceptional takes often hard, but definitely very dedicated work. It also explains that if examined closely these stories all seem to have another correlation, which is the exceptional opportunities that were provided to these people. It really is an amazing book (I’d suggest that it be your next read if you have yet to read it).

Well, in a portion of the book Mr. Gladwell talks about the importance of family heritage and inheritance in our experiences (be they biological or cultural). He describes the way that some people have a stronger desire for justice, and personal pride in one’s property. These people tend to have grown up in cultures described as “cultures of honor”, and they tend to come from cultures that descend from herders, who would’ve had to protect their livelihoods much more violently and personally than say a farmer. Even though the people who live with that stronger sense of personal/clan protection might not be herders themselves they still live as though they were in many regards. Gladwell explores this phenomenon.

When I think about this and ponder the nurture vs. nature side of this narrative I can’t help but think about the different behaviors of different breeds of dogs. Often “herding” dogs don’t have to be told to become upset when a group is parting ways, they just do it. In the same way I wonder if the question about being team oriented and justice oriented could be relatable for breeds of dogs and human babies. What do you think?

On theology:
Let’s talk about the meaning of life… Or at least, let’s talk about who we think we are really quick. I was raised in an incredibly loving home, and we went to a conservative Christian church. To this day that church is my home, even if I do have inquiries into certain theological principles. I won’t get too specific about that right now, but this piece from 60 minutes brought up a lot of unorganized thoughts in my mind about different churches and groups who I came in contact with growing up. The biblical idea of “original sin” has long been, and continues to be, something that is understood differently by many different people. For some the idea of original sin is that people are born with a blank slate, but that we all eventually choose to do bad things (Jesus being the only exception to this rule), and then we need a savior (Jesus). There are others who believe that we are all born sinful, and the only reason that Jesus (the savior) was not is that he was born of a virgin (meaning that you are to bear the sins of your ancestors). The second approach in my experience has been surprisingly common, and I say “surprisingly” because we live in a society that is so centrally based on the virtue of personal responsibility that the idea of atoning for the sins of those before you doesn’t necessarily match up as far as I can tell outside of the story being kept in tact regardless of cultures it may have endured.

By the way, I posted previously about Mormonism in the Election because I was struggling to understand why so many outspoken Christians seemed to go after the politics of convenience when it came to Romney’s religion. I’m not saying this to be partison, it’s a matter of consistency and accountability. The reason that I bring this back up is because the idea of “original sin” bypassing Jesus due to the virgin birth doesn’t match up with Mormon doctrine (Mormons believe that Elohim/God had sex with Mary). So if that is actually important to you make sure that you understand what you are making exceptions for.

Ok, sorry if that all seems off topic, but it really is all connected. This idea of babies and their morality should all be placed inside of this discussion, but we need to make sure that we are honest with ourselves. It’s ok to say I don’t know everything, but it’s very important that we don’t simply join theological teams out of convenience. In the video they discuss a babies tendency to have teams of us and them, and to desire punishment for “them”. I believe that this basic neurological reaction is the driver of political and theological inconsistencies based on conveniences.

Basic Summary:

-The babies were not vindictive until teams were established

-Religions/political parties/social groups have teams like this

Sometimes these teams change, the all important follow up question becomes about whether the realignment was based on principle by conviction, or out of populist convenience.

This baby video could inspire many fascinating debates and discussions, but I’m glad that you now know better how it challenged me.