Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Fatalism of Cheating

One of the best parts of knowing so many people smarter than myself is that I get the chance to try out my thinking and have it corrected or validated quickly. This post has nothing to do with that. But I did learn something interesting by reading someone who is "book smart" and I wanted to share it.

I was reading a back issue of Psychological Science (from last January), specifically an article by Drs. Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler. In the article they discussed two experiments in which they observed the impact of determinism on morality. That sounds pretty heady but it's just big words.

In the first experiment, they had two groups read a two separate texts. One text encouraged people to believe they were the result of environment and genetics. The other was neutral. Both groups then took a math test that was rigged to allow passive cheating. The group that was told they were the product of their environment and genes cheated more.

In the second experiment, the texts had one deterministic and one endorsing free will. The group that read the deterministic statements actively cheated, the group reading about free will did not.

Now when I consider these results as applied to my personal world view it comes clear why I choose a doctrine of dual-responsibility instead of a the more Calvinistic extreme. Don't get me wrong, for practical purposes I usually align with the Calvinists. But like most aspects of my world view, I don't agree with the extremes they tend towards. Here's why:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. -- John 15:1-17

There are lots of other passages that speak to either grace or free-will. This for me is the clearest example of how they are to be reconciled in my world view. We are chosen, and we choose to accept and live with what is offered to us.

The notion of dual-responsibility is outside any of our social norms and you see how far outside we've fallen when you read about experiments like these. Just the suggestion that our free-will is gone, removes the guilt block and allows our true depravity to surface easily. Contrarily, suggesting we are responsible for our own choices increases the block and allows our better nature to come clean.

What was my take-away? Regardless of how I got here, spending time in the Word helps me stay clean and bearing fruit.

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