Babies know right from wrong

So concludes some Yale researchers, who have devised experiments that show babies as young as five months making moral judgments:

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.

But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and evil.

An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as “blank slates”– and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.

Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

In one experiment involving puppets, babies aged six months old showed a strong preference to good, helpful characters – and rejected unhelpful, ;naughty” ones.

In another, they even acted as judge and jury. When asked to take away treats from a “naughty” puppet, some babies went further – and dished out their own punishment with a smack on its head.

Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said:  “A growing body of evidence 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 bones.”

For one study, the Yale researchers got  babies aged between six months and a year to watch a puppet show in which a simple, colourful wooden shape with eyes tries to climb a hill.

Sometimes the shape is helped up the hill by a second toy, while other times a third character pushes it down.

After watching the show several times, the babies were shown the helpful and unhelpful toys. They showed a clear preference for the helpful toys – spending far longer looking at the “good” shapes than the “bad” ones.

“In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual,”Prof Bloom told the New York Times.

“This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.”

Two more tests found the same moral sense.

In one, the researchers devised a “one-act morality play,”  in which a toy dog tries to open a box. The dog is joined by a teddy bear who helps him lift the lid, and a teddy who stubbornly sits on the box.

They also made the babies watch a puppet cat play ball with two toy rabbits. When the cat rolled the ball to one rabbit, it rolled the ball straight back. But when the cat rolled it to the second rabbit, it picked up the ball and ran off.

“In both studies, five-month-old babies preferred the good guy – the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back – to the bad guy,” said Professor Bloom.

When the same tests were repeated with 21-month-old babies, they were given a chance to dish out treats to the toys – or take treats away.

Most toddlers punished the “naughty rabbit” by taking away treats. One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment.

via Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months, study reveals | Mail Online.

This seems to be evidence for the objective reality of moral truth. It isn’t just a cultural construction, since babies have not been enculturated.

It also seems to be in accord with the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith. Does it undermine the position of those of you who believe in an “age of accountability”?

Can any of you provide any other, perhaps less scientific evidence, about very young children exhibiting moral or spiritual awareness?

I’ll go first: My grandson showed evidence of guilt very early, just shriveling up and crying when he would be caught doing something wrong. Then again yesterday–he is now three–after he went up for the blessing during Communion, he kept saying, “Christ given for you. Christ given for you.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    I’m surprised that there is still anyone at Harvard who would study this premise. I thought morality was ruled out of bounds for “science” long ago. (OK, perhaps I shouldn’t impugn the institution of Harvard, so I withdraw the name. I’m surprised that the ever-convenient and amorphous “they” would ever do this study.)

    I simply mean that, as Dr. V point out, the results strike at the heart of some rather core beliefs of secular (evolutionary) science. (I’m not even mentioning the implications for “age of accountability” theology!)

    I thought it was very interesting.

  • Dan Kempin

    I’m surprised that there is still anyone at Harvard who would study this premise. I thought morality was ruled out of bounds for “science” long ago. (OK, perhaps I shouldn’t impugn the institution of Harvard, so I withdraw the name. I’m surprised that the ever-convenient and amorphous “they” would ever do this study.)

    I simply mean that, as Dr. V point out, the results strike at the heart of some rather core beliefs of secular (evolutionary) science. (I’m not even mentioning the implications for “age of accountability” theology!)

    I thought it was very interesting.

  • Dan Kempin

    Whoops! Good thing I withdrew the good name of Harvard, since it was Yale who did the study! Please mentally edit the previous post accordingly.

    (I have some theories on how I made the error. Either the ivy league schools have lost their distinction so that one is as good as the other in my mind, or else I have been so conditioned to associate George W. Bush negatively that I subconsciously assumed the study could NOT have come from Yale.)

    Surely it could not have been the result of a quick and careless read!

  • Dan Kempin

    Whoops! Good thing I withdrew the good name of Harvard, since it was Yale who did the study! Please mentally edit the previous post accordingly.

    (I have some theories on how I made the error. Either the ivy league schools have lost their distinction so that one is as good as the other in my mind, or else I have been so conditioned to associate George W. Bush negatively that I subconsciously assumed the study could NOT have come from Yale.)

    Surely it could not have been the result of a quick and careless read!

  • bunnycatch3r

    Evolutionists Pharyngula are not discussing “objective morality” as much as how the study supports the position that one does not need scripture (or God for that matter) to be “good”.

  • bunnycatch3r

    Evolutionists Pharyngula are not discussing “objective morality” as much as how the study supports the position that one does not need scripture (or God for that matter) to be “good”.

  • http://bethanylc.org Rev. C. D. Trouten

    This “hard-wired” moral sense has been noted before:
    “Thus, the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind. I have myself observed a baby to be jealous, though it could not speak; it was livid as it watched another infant at the breast.” – Augustine, Confessions, Book I, VII:11

  • http://bethanylc.org Rev. C. D. Trouten

    This “hard-wired” moral sense has been noted before:
    “Thus, the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind. I have myself observed a baby to be jealous, though it could not speak; it was livid as it watched another infant at the breast.” – Augustine, Confessions, Book I, VII:11

  • Bob H

    Of course we know the law is written on the human heart from scripture, as in Rom 2:15, so this demonstration of it is as expected, and as most parents would say they have also observed. And so we are all without excuse.

  • Bob H

    Of course we know the law is written on the human heart from scripture, as in Rom 2:15, so this demonstration of it is as expected, and as most parents would say they have also observed. And so we are all without excuse.

  • Orianna Laun

    My daughter is only 5 months old, so I have no interesting anecdotes; however, it might be interesting to try out the stories as outlined and see what happens.

  • Orianna Laun

    My daughter is only 5 months old, so I have no interesting anecdotes; however, it might be interesting to try out the stories as outlined and see what happens.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics/dp/1606088203/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273499497&sr=8-1 Matt C.

    The study doesn’t so much prove an objective morality as it does the fact that humans naturally believe in one. If this belief corresponds to a reality, then it’s simply natural law (which both requires and implies some kind of lawgiver). From the evolutionary perspective, however, there is no reason to think that this natural belief actually corresponds to anything. It may tell us what kind of behavior is (or was at some point in our past) advantageous to the survivial of humanity, but it need not tell us anything about whether a behavior is “right” or whether that category even exists.

    If we are going to trust that natural sense of morality, there’s no reason for the Pharyngulian half measures of trusting it only far enough to be self-righteous, but not far enough to recognize our violation of it and consequent need for forgiveness.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics/dp/1606088203/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273499497&sr=8-1 Matt C.

    The study doesn’t so much prove an objective morality as it does the fact that humans naturally believe in one. If this belief corresponds to a reality, then it’s simply natural law (which both requires and implies some kind of lawgiver). From the evolutionary perspective, however, there is no reason to think that this natural belief actually corresponds to anything. It may tell us what kind of behavior is (or was at some point in our past) advantageous to the survivial of humanity, but it need not tell us anything about whether a behavior is “right” or whether that category even exists.

    If we are going to trust that natural sense of morality, there’s no reason for the Pharyngulian half measures of trusting it only far enough to be self-righteous, but not far enough to recognize our violation of it and consequent need for forgiveness.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    @bunnycatch3r

    I lurk on that blog quite a bit. I found it funny watching them argue over how to define morality.

    I haven’t actually read the research article yet so I really won’t comment on it, but it does seem to be intriguing.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    @bunnycatch3r

    I lurk on that blog quite a bit. I found it funny watching them argue over how to define morality.

    I haven’t actually read the research article yet so I really won’t comment on it, but it does seem to be intriguing.

  • Louis

    Bunnycatch3r: Interesting. Here is what I don’t understand. These atheistic evolutionists (with the emphasis on the word – atheistic) seems to be determined to negate believe in God. However, it seems they do not want to entertain an argument that would say describe theistic beliefs as a natural, ie evolutionary expresion of that inherent moral compass, just like any other human tradition. Simple observation is that humans naturally gravitate to some form of tradition in how they live, and that theistic / moralistic beliefs are nearly always part of that (I’m trying to speak in a neutral, scientific way here). Therefore, to want to insist on non-theism at all costs to me seems to want to deny the resluts of the evoltionary process as they believe in. Thus, evolution itself seems to point away from atheism. Atheism can thus be described as an evoltionary aberration, or a minor diversion in the evolutionary process, one that can lead to extinction, given atheism’s brief track record. Tradition has been shown to be largely beneficial – just see the analysis of food tradition by Pollan. Non-tradition, in that case, leads to the degeneration of the species.

  • Louis

    Bunnycatch3r: Interesting. Here is what I don’t understand. These atheistic evolutionists (with the emphasis on the word – atheistic) seems to be determined to negate believe in God. However, it seems they do not want to entertain an argument that would say describe theistic beliefs as a natural, ie evolutionary expresion of that inherent moral compass, just like any other human tradition. Simple observation is that humans naturally gravitate to some form of tradition in how they live, and that theistic / moralistic beliefs are nearly always part of that (I’m trying to speak in a neutral, scientific way here). Therefore, to want to insist on non-theism at all costs to me seems to want to deny the resluts of the evoltionary process as they believe in. Thus, evolution itself seems to point away from atheism. Atheism can thus be described as an evoltionary aberration, or a minor diversion in the evolutionary process, one that can lead to extinction, given atheism’s brief track record. Tradition has been shown to be largely beneficial – just see the analysis of food tradition by Pollan. Non-tradition, in that case, leads to the degeneration of the species.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Louis
    I’ve argued on Pharyngula that since we have a genetic capacity for a moral perspective and for belief in God then theistic expression must be beneficial to our survival. The response I received fell along the lines of “not everything which is permissable by way of our genetic code is beneficial -take cancer for example.” Scientific naturalism is very interesting as a discipline and perhaps the best way to peer into the mysteries of the cosmos. But I liken it Jesus’ words “man cannot live by bread alone”. What then becomes of love (a mere bio-chemical reaction), compassion, or hope?

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Louis
    I’ve argued on Pharyngula that since we have a genetic capacity for a moral perspective and for belief in God then theistic expression must be beneficial to our survival. The response I received fell along the lines of “not everything which is permissable by way of our genetic code is beneficial -take cancer for example.” Scientific naturalism is very interesting as a discipline and perhaps the best way to peer into the mysteries of the cosmos. But I liken it Jesus’ words “man cannot live by bread alone”. What then becomes of love (a mere bio-chemical reaction), compassion, or hope?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Pharyngulians love to comment/poll bomb other blogs and news sites. It would be interesting to see the favor returned. There are several well informed and well written commentors on this blog who I think could make the pharyngula blog far more interesting than the PZ Meyers/Richard Dawkins love fest that it is. This article that Veith is writing on would be a good cross over point. Anybody who ventures that way better have a thick skin, they don’t tolerate dissenting opinions very well.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Pharyngulians love to comment/poll bomb other blogs and news sites. It would be interesting to see the favor returned. There are several well informed and well written commentors on this blog who I think could make the pharyngula blog far more interesting than the PZ Meyers/Richard Dawkins love fest that it is. This article that Veith is writing on would be a good cross over point. Anybody who ventures that way better have a thick skin, they don’t tolerate dissenting opinions very well.

  • sg

    My sister in law says that when you have children, you invite the serpent into your house.

  • sg

    My sister in law says that when you have children, you invite the serpent into your house.

  • sg

    The blog author at pharyngula is a liberal anti Christian zealot. Compare him to the more rational advocates of evolution/atheism at gnxp.com.

  • sg

    The blog author at pharyngula is a liberal anti Christian zealot. Compare him to the more rational advocates of evolution/atheism at gnxp.com.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Dr Luther in 21st Century
    I’d love to see the ensuing discussion. But I think ultimately the disconnect would come with the question “How do you know?” Christians answer with “from authority” and the materialists with “from testable observation.”
    I just don’t see how that would be bridged.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Dr Luther in 21st Century
    I’d love to see the ensuing discussion. But I think ultimately the disconnect would come with the question “How do you know?” Christians answer with “from authority” and the materialists with “from testable observation.”
    I just don’t see how that would be bridged.

  • Purple Koolaid

    My previous church taught the “age of accountability” for sin. They believe that a child is still a sinner and can still knowingly sin, but they are not held accountable for that sin. This changes at age 13, when Rabbinic Jewish law (not biblical) says that you are responsible for your actions…you are an adult, hence the bar/bat mitzvah celebration of becoming adult.
    They also believed that every baby, child under 13 is saved. So if a baby born into a Hindu family dies at 11 years old, they are saved.
    I don’t think this research will change their mind.

  • Purple Koolaid

    My previous church taught the “age of accountability” for sin. They believe that a child is still a sinner and can still knowingly sin, but they are not held accountable for that sin. This changes at age 13, when Rabbinic Jewish law (not biblical) says that you are responsible for your actions…you are an adult, hence the bar/bat mitzvah celebration of becoming adult.
    They also believed that every baby, child under 13 is saved. So if a baby born into a Hindu family dies at 11 years old, they are saved.
    I don’t think this research will change their mind.

  • Tom Hering

    “Can any of you provide any other, perhaps less scientific evidence, about very young children exhibiting moral or spiritual awareness?”

    “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb …” (Luke 1:41).

  • Tom Hering

    “Can any of you provide any other, perhaps less scientific evidence, about very young children exhibiting moral or spiritual awareness?”

    “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb …” (Luke 1:41).

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    How is a “sense of morality” – defined by behaviour as it is here – really different from what we observe in wolf packs and apes?

    It doesn’t seem to me that this study says anything one way or another about morality or moral accountability.

    I especially don’t understand how the study “seems to be in accord with the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith.” But maybe that is because I have yet to hear anyone explain the Lutheran teaching coherently (for real, not meaning to be sarcastic here). Any references would be appreciated.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    How is a “sense of morality” – defined by behaviour as it is here – really different from what we observe in wolf packs and apes?

    It doesn’t seem to me that this study says anything one way or another about morality or moral accountability.

    I especially don’t understand how the study “seems to be in accord with the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith.” But maybe that is because I have yet to hear anyone explain the Lutheran teaching coherently (for real, not meaning to be sarcastic here). Any references would be appreciated.

  • Ryan

    You all talk about evolutionists – what could this kind of study do the ‘age of accountability’ crowd? I guess baptism at 5 months is prescribed? :)

  • Ryan

    You all talk about evolutionists – what could this kind of study do the ‘age of accountability’ crowd? I guess baptism at 5 months is prescribed? :)

  • Jon

    Tom @16, I wonder about Luke 1:41.
    Elizabeth hears, but her baby leaps. Then Elizabeth is filled with Holy Spirit. Don’t we tend to read the event as if it illustrates a cognitive or emotional reaction on the baby’s part? But “leaped” must mean only “moved about,” a common act by a baby in the womb. The verse centers not on the baby but on Elizabeth’s reaction to finding herself in the presence of the mother-to-be of God. Am I wrong?

  • Jon

    Tom @16, I wonder about Luke 1:41.
    Elizabeth hears, but her baby leaps. Then Elizabeth is filled with Holy Spirit. Don’t we tend to read the event as if it illustrates a cognitive or emotional reaction on the baby’s part? But “leaped” must mean only “moved about,” a common act by a baby in the womb. The verse centers not on the baby but on Elizabeth’s reaction to finding herself in the presence of the mother-to-be of God. Am I wrong?

  • Tom Hering

    Jon @ 19, what happened doesn’t have to be understood in a one-or-the-other way. The baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. AND Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, is it a common thing for babies in the womb to move about? Sure. But God’s choice of the word “leaped” (skirtao) indicates something more than just movement happened (especially as it’s impossible for a baby to literally leap in the womb). It’s an expression of something more than just movement on the baby’s part.

  • Tom Hering

    Jon @ 19, what happened doesn’t have to be understood in a one-or-the-other way. The baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. AND Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, is it a common thing for babies in the womb to move about? Sure. But God’s choice of the word “leaped” (skirtao) indicates something more than just movement happened (especially as it’s impossible for a baby to literally leap in the womb). It’s an expression of something more than just movement on the baby’s part.

  • Jon

    Thanks, Tom @20
    Now granted, Elizabeth herself later describes the baby’s leap as “for joy,” but it’s difficult to understand how she knows the baby’s motivation for moving. Even assuming the baby’s movement was more than a normal shift of position, it may have been intended as a sign to Elizabeth that she was filled with the Holy Spirit, much as elsewhere we read of physical signs marking what to observers and even participants must have been invisible, e.g., the filling itself.
    I guess what I mean is the event seems to tell us nothing, really, about what the baby thought or felt. But I could be wrong. I often am.

  • Jon

    Thanks, Tom @20
    Now granted, Elizabeth herself later describes the baby’s leap as “for joy,” but it’s difficult to understand how she knows the baby’s motivation for moving. Even assuming the baby’s movement was more than a normal shift of position, it may have been intended as a sign to Elizabeth that she was filled with the Holy Spirit, much as elsewhere we read of physical signs marking what to observers and even participants must have been invisible, e.g., the filling itself.
    I guess what I mean is the event seems to tell us nothing, really, about what the baby thought or felt. But I could be wrong. I often am.

  • Tom Hering

    Jon @ 21, we could simply say that the baby was able (had the innate ability) to recognize and respond to the presence, nearby, of the sinless One. Not in the sense of forming thoughts about Him. Maybe more like the stones crying out. :-)

  • Tom Hering

    Jon @ 21, we could simply say that the baby was able (had the innate ability) to recognize and respond to the presence, nearby, of the sinless One. Not in the sense of forming thoughts about Him. Maybe more like the stones crying out. :-)

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    I don’t know, Jon; why would Luke bother to record Elizabeth’s erroneous and uninformed opinion about the baby’s movement? It’s not like his Gospel is meant to be a comprehensive recording every insignificant detail, so why intentionally give a false impression?

    Sure we could read it that way, and it might, strictly speaking, be logically consistent, but why on earth would we? Assuming a detail to be insignificant unless absolutely proven otherwise is a very poor way of reading just about any great literature, let alone Scripture.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    I don’t know, Jon; why would Luke bother to record Elizabeth’s erroneous and uninformed opinion about the baby’s movement? It’s not like his Gospel is meant to be a comprehensive recording every insignificant detail, so why intentionally give a false impression?

    Sure we could read it that way, and it might, strictly speaking, be logically consistent, but why on earth would we? Assuming a detail to be insignificant unless absolutely proven otherwise is a very poor way of reading just about any great literature, let alone Scripture.

  • Josie

    Hey Joel, I used to have a bunch of good sites saved that really helped explain the Lutheran position on Holy Baptism and especially that of infants (I’m an adult convert to Lutheranism). Unfortunately I’ve somehow lost those on my favorite list, so here’s a couple of sites that I could find just from memory, sorry its not longer.
    http://www.gslc-gsls.com/Romans10-9-Intro.html Sorry the page is kind of hard to read.

    http://www.messiahseattle.org/education/aic/videos/index.htm This is Pastor Lassman’s Adult Info class. I haven’t found a more comprehensive video online anywhere..He does an excellent job of explaining core Lutheran doctrine…and you can download it via itunes as well I think.

    And finally, you can do an archive search at http://issuesetc.org/ This is a radio program and they occasionally have the topic up for discussion.

  • Josie

    Hey Joel, I used to have a bunch of good sites saved that really helped explain the Lutheran position on Holy Baptism and especially that of infants (I’m an adult convert to Lutheranism). Unfortunately I’ve somehow lost those on my favorite list, so here’s a couple of sites that I could find just from memory, sorry its not longer.
    http://www.gslc-gsls.com/Romans10-9-Intro.html Sorry the page is kind of hard to read.

    http://www.messiahseattle.org/education/aic/videos/index.htm This is Pastor Lassman’s Adult Info class. I haven’t found a more comprehensive video online anywhere..He does an excellent job of explaining core Lutheran doctrine…and you can download it via itunes as well I think.

    And finally, you can do an archive search at http://issuesetc.org/ This is a radio program and they occasionally have the topic up for discussion.

  • Bobby

    Joel @ 17,
    You were wondering about “the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith.”
    First, infant sin. St. Paul tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Thus Lutherans would say that the sin of Adam completely warped his descendants by passing on this sinful nature that we call “original sin.” Original sin makes us sinners, and so we sin. “A bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:17)–not the other way around. Psalm 51:5 applies this directly to infants: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
    Second, infant faith. If you understand faith as mental assent to a set of propositions, then infants cannot have faith. But if you understand faith as a gift that the Holy Spirit gives that allows a person to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ, then infants can have whatever God wants to give them. St. Paul writes, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may uderstand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:12-13). Jesus Himself even acknowledges the existence of faith in “these little ones” (Matt. 18:6). Thus faith is a gift that God can give to whomever He wants–even infants.
    Third, infant baptism. Very briefly, if infants are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and eternal life, and God can give them faith that receives these blessings, then how does He do all this if an infant is so very helpless? Lutherans believe God does this by combining His life-giving Word with water as St. Paul writes, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). Infant Baptism is a perfect picture of God saving helpless sinners, like us.

  • Bobby

    Joel @ 17,
    You were wondering about “the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith.”
    First, infant sin. St. Paul tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Thus Lutherans would say that the sin of Adam completely warped his descendants by passing on this sinful nature that we call “original sin.” Original sin makes us sinners, and so we sin. “A bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:17)–not the other way around. Psalm 51:5 applies this directly to infants: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
    Second, infant faith. If you understand faith as mental assent to a set of propositions, then infants cannot have faith. But if you understand faith as a gift that the Holy Spirit gives that allows a person to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ, then infants can have whatever God wants to give them. St. Paul writes, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may uderstand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:12-13). Jesus Himself even acknowledges the existence of faith in “these little ones” (Matt. 18:6). Thus faith is a gift that God can give to whomever He wants–even infants.
    Third, infant baptism. Very briefly, if infants are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and eternal life, and God can give them faith that receives these blessings, then how does He do all this if an infant is so very helpless? Lutherans believe God does this by combining His life-giving Word with water as St. Paul writes, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). Infant Baptism is a perfect picture of God saving helpless sinners, like us.

  • ElizabethF

    If someone could please let me know if I am on the right track with the following thought that would be great.

    After reading through all these comments the fall of man kept standing out. When the serpent approached Eve he told her that eating the fruit would give her knowledge of good and evil. Following that line of thought, are babies born with original sin not under the curse of knowing good and evil? Before sin man knew only good. Now we all are subjected to both.

  • ElizabethF

    If someone could please let me know if I am on the right track with the following thought that would be great.

    After reading through all these comments the fall of man kept standing out. When the serpent approached Eve he told her that eating the fruit would give her knowledge of good and evil. Following that line of thought, are babies born with original sin not under the curse of knowing good and evil? Before sin man knew only good. Now we all are subjected to both.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Bobby @ 24,
    Thanks for the response. That helps, but it breaks down for me where explanations of this concept usually break down.

    I think our concepts of faith are similar — I too reject the idea of saving faith as mental assent to facts, and agree it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is enough for the purpose of this discussion for me to grant that the Spirit may bring saving faith to an infant.

    Infant baptism is where it breaks down for me. Yes it can be a very good, accurate picture of God saving sinners, but your comment seems to say it is meant to actually effect, not merely depict. Even if we grant that infants need saving faith and that God can/does give it to them, the always-overlooked point is that this baptism is something being done to the infant by a third party without any insight into whether this faith has in fact been given. This raises a number of questions for me. At what age does this involuntary baptism cease to be efficacious? Can I have my pastor baptize my unsaved college roommate without him realizing it ahead of time? The Bible does, after all, teach that we are all “helpless” (“dead in sins”) and unable to save ourselves. Surely, under the Lutheran doctrine this unregenerate roommate is just as much in need of help as the infant; he cannot will himself to come to the “washing of water by the word”. Are all infants who are baptized saved, or deemed to be saved, regardless of the fruit they bear later in life?

    My own thought is that the physical helplessness of the infant to unambiguously express faith is a qualitatively different factor than the helplessness of all sinners at any age to bring themselves to faith without the Holy Spirit. As an depiction made in hope and faith of what we desire God to do for the infant, it has value and certainly cannot hurt. To say that it is a means of actually saving or protecting an infant’s soul seems to be claiming more than what God has ever told us.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Bobby @ 24,
    Thanks for the response. That helps, but it breaks down for me where explanations of this concept usually break down.

    I think our concepts of faith are similar — I too reject the idea of saving faith as mental assent to facts, and agree it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is enough for the purpose of this discussion for me to grant that the Spirit may bring saving faith to an infant.

    Infant baptism is where it breaks down for me. Yes it can be a very good, accurate picture of God saving sinners, but your comment seems to say it is meant to actually effect, not merely depict. Even if we grant that infants need saving faith and that God can/does give it to them, the always-overlooked point is that this baptism is something being done to the infant by a third party without any insight into whether this faith has in fact been given. This raises a number of questions for me. At what age does this involuntary baptism cease to be efficacious? Can I have my pastor baptize my unsaved college roommate without him realizing it ahead of time? The Bible does, after all, teach that we are all “helpless” (“dead in sins”) and unable to save ourselves. Surely, under the Lutheran doctrine this unregenerate roommate is just as much in need of help as the infant; he cannot will himself to come to the “washing of water by the word”. Are all infants who are baptized saved, or deemed to be saved, regardless of the fruit they bear later in life?

    My own thought is that the physical helplessness of the infant to unambiguously express faith is a qualitatively different factor than the helplessness of all sinners at any age to bring themselves to faith without the Holy Spirit. As an depiction made in hope and faith of what we desire God to do for the infant, it has value and certainly cannot hurt. To say that it is a means of actually saving or protecting an infant’s soul seems to be claiming more than what God has ever told us.

  • Bobby

    Joel @ 26,
    Lutheran theology reads Scripture as saying that Baptism effects, not merely depicts, salvation. In Luther’s Small Catechism, he writes, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” He is simply echoing the apostles. St. Peter, said in his Pentecost sermon, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). St. Paul wote, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3,5). And again from Peter, “[Baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe. 4:21). Logically, it makes no sense that God would give us such blessings in ordinary water. But it is not just the water but “the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). Certainly the Word that created the universe can also create faith and give salvation (Rom. 10:17). It is no more surprising to find this Word in water than it is to find it in ink on paper. The salvation given by means of the Scriptures is the same salvation given by means of Baptism because God’s Word is found in both. This works out well for infants because they can not read or understand a word of the written Scriptures but the Holy Spirit, present in Baptism, teaches them “spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13).
    So should your unbelieving roommate be baptized forcefully? Though God gives the aforementioned blessings in Baptism, a person can reject these blessings. It would be irresponsible to give such a gift to someone who explicitly says that he will reject it. An infant, on the other hand, will presumably be taught by his parents and pastor the eternal gifts given in Baptism. Nourished by the Scriptures, the child will continue to believe (by God’s grace) and even come to a greater understanding of Baptism.

  • Bobby

    Joel @ 26,
    Lutheran theology reads Scripture as saying that Baptism effects, not merely depicts, salvation. In Luther’s Small Catechism, he writes, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” He is simply echoing the apostles. St. Peter, said in his Pentecost sermon, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). St. Paul wote, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3,5). And again from Peter, “[Baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe. 4:21). Logically, it makes no sense that God would give us such blessings in ordinary water. But it is not just the water but “the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). Certainly the Word that created the universe can also create faith and give salvation (Rom. 10:17). It is no more surprising to find this Word in water than it is to find it in ink on paper. The salvation given by means of the Scriptures is the same salvation given by means of Baptism because God’s Word is found in both. This works out well for infants because they can not read or understand a word of the written Scriptures but the Holy Spirit, present in Baptism, teaches them “spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13).
    So should your unbelieving roommate be baptized forcefully? Though God gives the aforementioned blessings in Baptism, a person can reject these blessings. It would be irresponsible to give such a gift to someone who explicitly says that he will reject it. An infant, on the other hand, will presumably be taught by his parents and pastor the eternal gifts given in Baptism. Nourished by the Scriptures, the child will continue to believe (by God’s grace) and even come to a greater understanding of Baptism.

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