Last night I watched an interesting episode of Horizon entitled “Are you Good or Evil?” – 9pm, BBC 2. It featured a number of researchers exploring what makes us pick ‘good’ over ‘evil’.
We saw that in an experiment 70% of toddlers picked ‘good’ over ‘bad’, at least how the researchers interpreted it anyway. They also looked at the military and how you can teach someone to kill, where human instinct is not to kill. Anyway it’s worth a watch.
The research of the scientists lead them to conclude that there was a “Psychopath Gene”. A gene which under the right (or more accurately wrong) conditions could lead to an individual being prone to ‘rage’.
The documentary then turned to the case of Bradley Waldroup, a man convicted of attacking his wife and killing her friend. It seemed likely that he would be convicted of first-degree murder. However, the fact that this gene was present in this man and the evidence of an abusive childhood meant he was only convicted of manslaughter. The scientist’s comment on Waldroup was that ”His freewill had been diminished”.
There were a number of points that stood out for me:
- The idea that humans have an innate moral compass, right from a very young age, was accepted as a given.
- Even under unhelpful genetic and social conditions no one denied that we are responsible for our actions.
- How social factors and conditions can work for good or evil in the life of an individual.
The questions that it missed out, which is why the documentary needed a spiritual dimension were:
- Who decides what’s ‘good’ and ‘evil’ anyway?
- If some sense of morality seems to be innate in humans, then where does it come from?
- What are the best social conditions for a human to flourish?