The Briefing 04-29-16

The Briefing 04-29-16

The Briefing

April 29, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, April 29, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this isThe Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What happens when a baby is bribed with graham crackers? Their sin nature is revealed.

Here’s headline news for you: Human beings are sinners. The reality is that the secular society around us is repeatedly shocked by behavior undertaken by human beings; that seems to surprise that society.

Amongst the most surprising developments to a secular society is the fact that children, and even young children, infants and toddlers, exhibit bad behavior that can only be described as sin. For example, the Washington Post ran an article just this week by Ana Swanson, telling us, well, here’s the headline,

“The disturbing thing scientists learned when they bribed babies with Graham Crackers.”

Yes, we’re talking about a serious, straightforward, scientific study in which scientists tried to bribe babies with Graham crackers. Here’s the bottom line: It worked. The story in the Washington Post tells us a very great deal about the scientific worldview based upon the ideology of evolution and, as we’ve seen repeatedly, what we are witnessing is the effort to try to explain everything merely in terms of evolutionary explanation. That’s what we see in this article by Swanson.

She begins by writing,

“Humans appear to have a strong and innate sense of fairness. When somebody cheats other people, breaks the rules, or otherwise behaves badly, we instinctively try to avoid dealing with them, psychological research suggests.”

Now, let me just pause for a moment. If you need psychological research to tell us that we’d rather be around people who please us rather than people who displease us, you probably don’t need to look at this research any further. But the research tells us a great deal not just about the research subjects, but about the researchers. The Washington Post continues,

“This tendency is probably an evolutionary adaptation that has allowed cooperative humans to thrive, and it may be a big factor in our incredible success as a species.”

Now, once again, here you have a straightforward effort to explain human behavior solely in terms of evolution. Evolution, says this article, explains that probably our desire to behave as moral creatures, more often than not behaving rightly, is probably because evolution demonstrates this has been a part of our stunning success as a species.

But with all that as foundation, the question undertaken by the researchers is whether or not it would be possible to bribe human infants and toddlers to do business with a bad person rather than a good one. Well, according to the results from the researchers, a few Graham crackers will not lead a baby to violate that baby’s moral knowledge. But if you bring out enough Graham crackers, the child will take them from the bad actor rather than the good actor, because after all, the child likes the Graham crackers.

The researchers dealt with several groups of children, some as young as toddlers, and others as old as elementary school. They tested whether or not the children would develop a relationship and accept Graham crackers from one depicted as an evil character, as well as someone who behaved well. It turned out that if it was just a few Graham crackers, nothing bad happened; but if you brought out enough Graham crackers, according to the researchers the magic number was 16 Graham cracker cookies, it turned out then the child would violate a moral norm and accept the cookies from the bad character.

Why is this of interest? Well, first of all, it’s of interest because it appeared in the Washington Post, one of the nation’s most influential newspapers. Secondly, it’s important because it tells us what researchers do in conducting what is labeled as scientific research. Third, it tells us just how confused the world is and how surprised when it turns out that humans choose the bad choice rather than the good one, morally speaking. An evolutionary secular worldview has no explanation for why this is true. The evolutionary worldview can’t really ever come to terms with explaining moral behavior.

As we saw in the beginning of this article, the effort to try to explain this in terms of evolution comes down to arguing that somehow this behavior, which can’t actually be right or wrong, must be right or wrong in the sense that it either leads to or detracts from the possibility of biological reproduction. That’s all evolution can deal with.

Fourth, it turns out when the secular world looks at children and even babies, the secular worldview is shocked to find out that there is the opportunity for bad behavior, and that children take that opportunity for bad behavior; that children misbehave, that they make a bad moral choice rather than a good moral choice. Here you have the collision between the biblical worldview and the secular worldview. The biblical worldview begins by telling us that even as every single human being is made in God’s image, and is thus a moral creature, the reality is that everyone of us is born a sinner. Indeed, the Bible says we are conceived in sin. Thus, according to the biblical worldview, we are not surprised when a child exhibits bad behavior. We’re not surprised when a child sins. After all, the child is already a sinner.

The secular worldview lacks all these theological categories, and researchers seem to continue to scratch their heads wondering where, why, and when human beings learn this kind of bad behavior and why it happens. The headline in the story really does tell us all. Here you have a group of researchers trying to find out just how many Graham crackers it takes to bribe a baby. That’s right in the headline of the story.

It’s also, fifth, important for us to recognize that this story on this research ends with a question, and the question is, “Why?” Even after discovering that the magic number was 16 on average of how many Graham crackers it took to bribe a baby, in reality, the researchers can only say how many. They can’t say why.

Part II

Lying comes naturally to young children even though it takes more energy than truth telling

Meanwhile, in the very same week, the Associated Press ran a story that appeared in several newspapers. The headline in the Knoxville newspaper is this,

“Liar, liar. Study finds all people tend to fudge the truth.”

This story deals with sinners of all ages, but again, it has a particular interest in the very young among us. The article’s written by Seth Borenstein, and it has to do with the political season and lies told by politicians.

According to researchers, we are accustomed to being told lies by politicians. As a matter of fact, when politicians speak, the researchers tell us we recalibrate our understanding of reality, understanding that we are probably being lied to. There is also information in this article from the Associated Press saying that,

“Voters actually want to be lied to by certain politicians, as long as the lies we hear are the lies we want.”

Once again, the really interesting thing in this article is the reference to age, and the seeming shock that comes on the part of the researchers here that children as young as toddlers lie and quickly learn how to be better liars.

Borenstein writes,

“Children learn to lie at an average of about three years old, often when they realize that other people don’t know what they’re thinking.”

That according to Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto in Canada. According to the article, this professor has done extensive research on children and lying. He set up an experiment in a video-monitored room to see if he could catch children lying about peeking at a toy when an adult left the room. According to Professor Kang Lee, at age two, only about 30% of the children lied, but at age three, half do. By five or six, 90% of them lie at least sometimes. According to Lee,

“He worries about the 10% who don’t”.

That’s probably the most interesting line in the article. What it actually reflects is the fact that developmental psychologists should be worried, according to this argument, if children don’t learn to lie on time, and if they don’t actually get better at it. That’s how a secular world tries to deal with human beings as sinners, even with very young human beings, especially with the question of telling the truth or lying. Also apparent in this article is a form of moral rationalization which suggests that evidently lying is a coping behavior, that learning to lie is an essential human skill, and furthermore, that we shouldn’t expect people not to lie when lying becomes so customary in society.

Then, in terms of moral insight, consider these words:

“But there’s a high cost in everyday society — a loss of trust that is difficult to regain — when someone is discovered to be lying . . . There are also costs to the liar, he said, noting studies that measure the effect of deception on the body and brain and how much energy it takes to create and maintain a lie.”

Professor Lee said that when you tell lies, it costs your brain a whole lot more in resources than when you tell the truth. Now that is a stunning statement, and it’s one that shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who is a Christian operating from a biblical worldview.

It turns out that telling lies comes with a cost not only to the person who is lied to, but to the person telling the lie. It turns out that telling a lie is not even very economically efficient, because it actually costs more energy to tell a lie than to tell the truth. In major research project one released this week, you had scientists trying to decide how many Graham crackers it took to bribe a baby. And in major research project two, you had scientists discovering that children begin to lie as early as age two, get better at it at age three, and much better at age four and five, becoming experts by the time they are teenagers.

You also have a secular analysis here that indicates that lying is probably not a good idea. It’s probably not a good strategy, because as it turns out, it’s not very efficient. It costs far more to lie than to tell the truth. Once again, we have thousands, if not millions, of dollars directed to research that tells us what any sane person ought already to know, and what the biblical worldview has already told us; but what, in an increasingly confused society is evidently rare and surprising knowledge indeed.

Part III

Study shows parents who give their kids early sips of alcohol open gateway to alcohol abuse

Next, we shift to the New York Times, and here, children and parents are both involved. The story is in the Check-Up column by Perri Klass, who is a medical doctor. According to Klass, alcohol has a parental gateway when it comes to children. The article begins,

“I discovered a new category for myself as a parent when I read a study published in March in the journal Pediatrics called, ‘Parents who supply sips of alcohol in early adolescence. A prospective study of risk factors.’

“I confess,” says the author, “I bridled a bit at the idea that the investigators might mean me. A ceremonial drop of champagne on New Year’s eve, a token “sip” of wine at Passover, doesn’t this sound a little, well, puritanical?”

Then the author goes on to say,

“It turns out that there’s a growing body of research, much of it in specialized journals on alcohol use, on parents providing small tastes of alcohol to relatively young children in the context of family events, and trying to tease out what it does or doesn’t mean in terms of children’s later relationship with alcohol.”

“Mind you,” according to the article, “the sipping children aren’t high school students. We’re reaching back earlier than that. The research came about because it is so common for parents to offer those sips at home before children have had other tastes of alcohol.”

The whole point of the article, based in an accumulated research in major scientific journals, indicates that early sipping of alcohol by children given the alcohol by their parents is connected to an earlier use and abuse of alcohol that can lead to all kinds of problems, clearly unforeseen by those parents.

John E. Donovan, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, said in the article,

“Child sipping is related to earlier initiation of drinking, which is a risk factor for a lot of other problem behaviors, and is related to binge drinking and drug use.”

His conclusion,

“Parents should not be providing alcohol to their kids.”

Once again, you might think this should be morally obvious, but evidently it is not. Also, once again, it tells us a great deal that this appears in a very influential newspaper. In this case, arguably, the nation’s most influential newspaper, the New York Times, and in an article on medicine. Once again, the researchers tell us the what, but they also tell us they cannot explain the why. They can’t explain exactly why early exposure to alcohol by parents leads to an earlier initiation into drinking and even problem drinking on the part of their children when they become adolescents, young adults and beyond.

Here, Christians need to remember that it is not our proper question to ask why. The “why” question, when it comes to human behavior, is fundamentally unanswerable in many cases. The scriptural view instead tells us that God has embedded in creation certain principles and precepts, and has given us in his Word certain laws and moral teachings that will enable us to do what is right, even if we are unable to answer fully the questions of “why”. Another study cited in the article points out that many of the parents with children studied in the article were clearly attentive parents, who otherwise would have been considered outstanding in terms of their parenting ability and the seriousness with which they undertook the parenting task.

In this one act, the act of giving children even small sips of alcohol, the parents had, as the headline said, actually created a gateway to alcohol for their own children. As we might expect to read in the Book of Proverbs, a word to the wise should be sufficient.

Part IV

Failure to launch: 65% of Italians aged 18 to 34 still live with their parents

Next, the scene shifts to Rome, where the Telegraph of London gives us a report of a recent court decision there, in which a court,

“ordered a middle-aged father to keep supporting his 28-year-old son through university after he turned to the law to try and force his offspring to get a job.”

“The case underlines,” says Nick Squires, “Italy’s problem with ‘bamboccioni’, that is spoilt ‘big babies’ who refuse to leave home and instead sponge off of their parents.”

Now, again, this court has ordered the parents to continue to financially support a 28-year-old son who is, after all, still living at home. According to the Telegraph, the son has already completed a degree in literature, taking several years longer than expected. He’s now enrolled in a post-graduate course in experimental cinema in Bologna. That’s right. A course in experimental cinema.

His father who, according to the article, makes a modest living through writing, argued that his son should get a part-time job and start paying his own way. The court in Italy ruled that the cinema course is in keeping with the son’s “personal aspirations” and must be paid for by his father. At this point, the story gets a great deal more interesting.

“Italians,” says the Telegraph, “are notorious for staying at home with their parents into their 20s, 30s and even 40s, often until they marry.”

Now, just wait just a minute. The words “often until they marry,” when it’s talking about the 20s, 30s and 40s is already odd enough, but we are told that this case is one of over 8,000 similar disputes to end up in Italian courts every year.

The stunning statistic given in this article is that around 65% of Italians aged 18 to 34 still live with their parents. That is the highest percentage of young stay-at-home adults anywhere in Europe. Let me repeat that again: 65% of Italians aged 18 to 34 still live with their parents. The majority of them are young males. I will not call them young men. According to the article,

“Italian families are tight-knit, and many adult children relish living at home where ‘Mamma’ cooks pasta for them every night and takes care of their laundry.

“Young Italian males” says the article, “who are particularly attached to their mother’s apron strings, are known disparagingly as ‘mammone’, or mama’s boys.”

According to the article, Britain has its own problem with young adults not growing up and leaving home. Included in these are a group known as “KIPPERS”, that is for: Kids In Parent’s Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings, and “IPODs”, known as the generation: Insecure, Pressurized, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden.

Bringing this back home, it is clear that an increasing percentage of young Americans are also behaving in the very same way, and we are noting the same phenomenon. Thankfully, at least at this rate, not with this kind of percentage. I’d go back to the fact that according to this report in the Telegraph, 65% of young Italians aged 18 to 34 are still living at home with their parents.

On the one hand, this story points to the insanity of this Italian court; but on the other hand, it points to a problem. That problem is the failure of so many young adults actually to become adults. That, in any country, is a big problem.

Part V

400 years ago two literary giants, Shakespeare and Cervantez, died on the same day

Finally, we can’t let this week pass without noting that it marks the 400th anniversary of the deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes. Both of these men, one the most powerful author in the history of the English language, and the other the most influential author in the Spanish language, died on April 23 in the year 1616. The odd historical anomaly of these two most influential writers in western history dying on the same day in the year 1616, 400 years ago this week, that’s odd enough. It’s also odd to note that even though they both died on April 23, they didn’t actually die on the same day. That’s because Britain and Spain followed different calendars. Britain was following a Protestant calendar, and Spain was following a Catholic calendar. That means they were just a few days off.

In any event, the stated historical date of the death of both Cervantes and Shakespeare was April 23 of the year 1616. We can’t let that pass without pausing to reflect on just how individuals can change language, literature, the storyline of civilization, and even the future shape of those civilizations. Every civilization is based upon a set of stories, and those stories are often provided by literature. William Shakespeare, by any measure, was the most influential single author. By his plays, his sonnets, and his other writings, Shakespeare provided western civilization, in particular the English-speaking world, with indispensable storylines, indispensable characters, and for that matter, even vocabulary that has emerged through William Shakespeare and is now into common english language.

The English language has come to us through many streams, but you cannot speak about the English we now speak without reference to William Tyndale, the courageous and convictional translator of Scripture; without the King James version of the Bible, known as the authorized version released in the year 1611; and without Shakespeare who died in 1616.

A couple of quick notes about Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote with a deeply moral universe in mind. Even in plays such as Romeo and Juliet, which present a very conflicted moral storyline, the reality is that good and evil were constant reference in Shakespeare’s writings.

The New York Times, in an innovation, ran an obituary on William Shakespeare, as if it were a contemporary death. They wrote,

“As long as we speak of star-crossed lovers, or cold comfort, or a pound of flesh, or a laughing stock, or a wild goose chase; as long as we refer to jealousy as the green-eyed monster; as long as we use phrases like ‘it’s greek to me’ or ‘to thine own self be true’ or clothes make the man’ or ‘the lady doth protest too much’ or ‘give the devil his due’, Mr. Shakespeare will be shaping our everyday speech.”

As for Miguel Cervantes, his great work Don Quixote became the master narrative of the Spanish language. Cervantes, though never exhibiting the kind of individual influence that could match William Shakespeare, nonetheless eclipsed any other Spanish writer of that language and its history. It also tells us something about the English language that William Shakespeare has translated into Spanish less than Don Quixote has been translated into English. It also tells us something, that about 50 major motion pictures have been made of Don Quixote; over 1,000 related to Shakespeare.

Through their language and stories, whether it was Romeo and Juliet or Don Quixote tilting against windmills, both of these men shaped the stories we still know today, and the language we use in two different languages. Both of these men, William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, dead August 23 of the year 1616.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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