Newspaper headlines can sometimes mislead, attempting an eye-catching summary of a complex report in the paragraphs below.
Arrested by such a headline this week, I recalled an incident from the autobiography of David Sheppard, the England Test cricketer who later became Bishop of Liverpool.
Passing a newsagent’s one day he noticed a poster which said, ‘Bradman fails again!’
Eagerly he bought a newspaper and scanned the sports pages, to discover that ‘The Don’ had made ninety runs.
To anyone other than Bradman, I suppose, ninety would not have been rated a failure,
Last week’s headline in the Daily Telegraph read,’ Shocking proof that we are naturally good’.
That headline purported to summarise an article in the journal ‘Nature Neuroscience’, which dealt with research carried out at University College, London.
Apparently twenty-eight couples (a rather small sample, I should have thought) were paired off anonymously and given the ability to give each other small electric shocks.
In the trials participants gained money when inflicting pain on themselves rather than on another. Analysis of brain reaction seemed to show that the brain finds decency more satisfying than deception.
On the basis of that fairly obvious detail, the headline writer leapt to his amazing conclusion.
In one sense, the headline reflects Biblical truth.
The Book of Genesis tells us that when God completed his work of creation, he looked on it an pronounced it ‘very good’(Genesis 1;31). But then sin crept in, as recorded in the story of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. However we may choose to interpret these stories, they assert that human kind has fallen from a nobler estate. Initially, we were naturally good.
But if the human brain finds decency more satisfying that deception, it is a result of the sense of guilt which God has planted within us when we choose the wrong.
The apostle Paul spoke of those who did not know God’s law but who were guided by conscience; ‘their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing and now even defending them’ (Romans 2;15).
The researchers, I think, are just catching up with the Bible.