"Do Babies Demonstrate Sinfulness? ...And what about Calvinism?" A conversation with a friend

Hey David!

So after our conversation I've been reading and thinking, go figure. So you don't believe in human depravity?

I have always been under the impression that we are not good at the core. Experience has seem to show me that too. Also if my first thoughts were broadcasted out loud I would be quite ashamed.

What do you make of this video?

I'm really trying to look at this thing clearly. :)

Check out this video on YouTube:


Hi Friend,

This video is confused on several levels.

1.       It assumes morality throughout; it doesn’t demonstrate origins. For example, it labels “being nice” as moral. That assumes a Moral Law. In no way does the experiment of a child picking a toy suggest that the kid understands or is attempting to be moral. We simply have no idea if a child understands morality based on observation. It is the same with the higher primates. We can only observe; we cannot know if they perceive of the Moral Law. The only possible way to know is to communicate with them. They would have to tell us that they feel an intuitive sense of “ought.” And…that they feel guilt when they didn’t do the “right” thing.

2.       Picking a toy that slams down the box is associated with violence, not necessarily “being bad/immoral.” As creatures, we will stay away from that which causes violence/damage naturally, since our brains are wired to survive (unless the Moral Law tells us we “ought” to face that violent thing for some greater good).

3.       The video and study seems to be arguing for the “origin of morality.” It does no such thing. Instead, at the very most, it would demonstrate how early humans can perceive of morality. By analogy, if tests were done that tested the “origin of math,” and showed how babies can gather things together in groups, it would in no way demonstrate when math begins. It would only demonstrate, at most, when babies can begin apprehending mathematics. In morality, this is called “moral epistemology,” which is the study of how people come to know or apprehend morality. So, the study should have been called, “A study of moral epistemology.”

4.       As far as my view of depravity goes, I think I hold the NT’s view (even though that term is never used in the Bible, depending on how you translate ἀδόκιμον in Rom 1:28): that all humans are in a state of sinfulness, unable to fulfill perfectly the obligatory commands to love God and neighbor on their own free will. Humans do not want to perform these commands perfectly on their own. Thus, because of this inability, humans do not fulfill the purposes for which they were designed. They need divine aid to perform this task. Because of Jesus’s teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, humans who receive His Spirit are now able to perform those tasks, thus fulfilling their original design.

Where I disagree with most/all people I’ve heard who speak about depravity is this: they suggest that sin affects every area of a human person (i.e., to them, “total” = “affecting all areas”; but to me, “total” = “affecting my entire moral self”). I don’t find their view compelling based on anything taught in the Bible or found in Christian philosophical reflection. For example, I don’t think sin affects anything that is amoral (e.g., mathematics, art, scientific discovery, language arts; and all basic decisions involved in life that are not moral, such as whether I choose red or blue, eat fish or eggs, etc.).

The real issue is whether or not, in my free will, I am able to respond to the gospel positively. On that issue, I am ambivalent. There are texts that suggest I can’t. There are texts that suggest I can. What I don’t find compelling is any suggestion that God forces me to love him (e.g., Calvinism) or that God frees me to love him preveniently (e.g., Wesleyanism). These are attempts to “fill in the gap” between my sinfulness and my response to the Gospel. (There’s more here, but I’m out of time.)

That’s what I think, at least!!


Hey David,

Yeah good points on the video.

I see that selfishness, bias, greed etc. seem like they aren't taught, we lean towards that as kids (like in the video they showed in older kids, but as the kids got older they began to be less selfish) and we have to be taught to do the opposite, be giving, think of others first, put anything above ourselves even God.(pride) Our first inclination is "me first" and herein I see the place where man breaks the first commandment. Nothing should go before God or try to take the place of and yet in man's nature it's our tendency.

About Calvinism( I'm not arguing for it only trying to understand) I never was under the impression that God ever forced himself on anyone, free will still stands. Because like you said, we don't have the capacity in our own free will to live up to the standard, God has to intervene so that we can. It seems clear to me that in our fleshy state we are dead and when God intervenes we are changed.

This goes back to my questions that you did the blog on about desiring God. If a person is changed we should see change at least happening. Can anyone really know the things of God or want to know the things of God without first him imparting revelation? And who ultimately gets all the glory? Me, partially because I came to my senses and decided to believe?

To what degree is God sovereign and is God really providential?

This is tough stuff and I can see why people argued over for centuries. My brain is tired and it's still morning. Ha!

Thanks for taking the time to share. I'm picking your brain cause after all you are a doctor. :)


Hi Friend,

Yeah, I’ve not made up my mind yet on whether or not you can determine the moral awareness of children by observing their behavior. The reason is: every psychologist I know would say that kids not wanting other people to take their toys, etc., is perfectly healthy because they’re learning ownership. I’m not suggesting they are necessarily right in their assessment, but it does make sense to me that it’s part of our natural development. Then, as we age, we learn that we can have ownership and not lose the toy. And, we learn that always playing with our “own” toys is selfish.

So, I’m kinda’ in between those two views. Can you elucidate that for me?

Good point about Calvinism concerning the definition of “free will.” I think most Calvinists would say we have a free will, but it’s corrupted. That is, we freely want to sin. But, I don’t know if that’s the consensus view--or if there is one! But, on that understanding, I was thinking that in their view, God “takes over” their “corrupted free will” and regenerates it and changes their desires to God. In fact, I think they’d say, God absolutely must take over their will because they are totally depraved. They can't even “will” the right thing. If this is true, I think “forcing Himself” on a sinful, corrupt person is the right phrase. I might be wrong about that, of course. And when people ask, “Why those people?” They say, “It’s just grace. God in His infinite wisdom has chosen certain people to love Him.”

As far as “who gets the glory,” that’s another good point. Again, as usual!, I might be wrong, but it seems to me that this isn’t part of the discussion in who “gets the glory in saving” (if that's what you mean). It seems to me, by analogy: Imagine I were dangling off a cliff, completely unable to pull myself up, and you reached down to grab my hand. You initiated the saving effort; you let me know that you were there; you did this just because you're awesome--especially if you and I were enemies! But…I have to choose to let go of the rock to grab your hand. You pull me up (= "save me”). It just doesn’t seem to me that at any time after that event anyone would every think to say, “Wow! It's incredible that David kinda’ saved himself….I mean, when you look at it, he was instrumental in this whole thing.”

Of course, Calvinists would alter one aspect of my analogy: David couldn’t even choose to let go of the rock! You would have to grab my hand without me ever wanting it at all or, perhaps you would “talk me into it and change my whole desire to be saved.”

Whatever. It just seems to me that, even in my original analogy, you would clearly receive all the credit for saving me…the “glory.” Could I be happy that I made the choice? Sure! Why not? I’m extremely happy every single time I make a right choice in life! My in-laws gave us a generous cash gift for Christmas. I accepted the check. I didn't earn it. I didn't ask for it. I didn't know it was coming. But I took that junk to the bank! And I'm so glad that I decided to keep the check. Simultaneously, it would never occur to me to praise myself for receiving the cash--it was a grace gift!

Of course, I completely appreciate the desire to be clear that my "saving process” is not based on my earning some “merit” that God needed to recognize. I just don’t think it needs to go as far as they do, based on the biblical texts and on philosophical reflection. Of course, I could be wrong!

Concerning the “sovereignty,” great question. I’ll guess I chat more in person. lol

Let me know what you think if you want to…especially where I'm wrong!



One other thought on the kids morality -- "Train up a child in the way he should go" why train him in any way at all? Why not let him make his own choices?

I've seen over and over with family friends society that without guidance and training when developing they more often than not get themselves into a heap of trouble. So why would that be? Is it because they need to be trained taught to not give into those natural tendencies of self first.

And I see it that anytime we put self first in general we are taking Gods proper place.

Good mind strengthening gong on. :)


Hi Friend,

Great stuff.

I certainly do think we should teach morality to our children. I think morality can be taught just as mathematics can be taught. Children can discover math on their own and they can discover morality on their own, but it sure saves time to teach them.

For me, it depends on why the child is doing what she is doing. For example, if she thinks that if you play with her toy that she will never see it again, then she is not being selfish. She is just ignorant about what psychologists call "object permanence." She thinks that the toy is being taken away from her forever so she is protecting it. 

If she does not think that way, then I would be happy saying that she is being selfish, which is immoral. The problem is, of course, we just don't know what the baby is thinking.

That's what I think at least. :)



Good point.                                              

Also good things to think on concerning Calvinism.

Thanks again for the brain workout.