Scientists just proved telling lies can sear your conscience

Telling little fibs leads down a slippery slope to bigger lies — and our brains adapt to escalating dishonesty, which makes deceit easier, a new study shows. –Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer

My faith is based on trust in the word of God, so I am amused when scientists finally figure out a fundamental truth that has been taught in the Bible for thousands of years. This is a complicated technical paper, but if you can follow detailed Bible studies, you will be able to read and understand it.

Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions. –The brain adapts to dishonesty by Neil Garrett, Stephanie C Lazzaro, Dan Ariely & Tali Sharot in Nature Neuroscience (2016)

Over 4000 years of Bible teaching about lies and dishonesty

Read about an old prophet who lied to a man of God (1 Kings 13). Read about King David’s attempt to cover up his sin by lying (2 Samuel 11). Read about the lying prophets who prophesied falsehood (Jeremiah 23:26). Read warnings from the Holy Spirit for us today…

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. (1 Timothy 4:1 NLT)

through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,  (1 Timothy 4:2 ESV)
These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. (1 Timothy 4:2 NLT)
Such teachings come through hypocritical liars,
whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:2 NIV)
These people will speak lies disguised as truth.
Their consciences have been scarred as if branded by a red-hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:2 GWT)

4:1-5 The Holy Spirit, both in the Old and the New Testament, spoke of a general turning from the faith of Christ, and the pure worship of God. This should come during the Christian dispensation, for those are called the latter days. False teachers forbid as evil what God has allowed, and command as a duty what he has left indifferent. We find exercise for watchfulness and self-denial, in attending to the requirements of God’s law, without being tasked to imaginary duties, which reject what he has allowed. But nothing justifies an intemperate or improper use of things; and nothing will be good to us, unless we seek by prayer for the Lord’s blessing upon it. –Matthew Henry Commentary

Having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more. (Ephesians 4:19)

Don’t let yourself get caught in lies. Don’t practice dishonesty yourself. Don’t allow others to lie to you.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

There is hope. Don’t keep lying. Don’t keep telling lies. Let the power of Jesus Christ change you.

So then, get rid of lies. Speak the truth to each other, because we are all members of the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil any opportunity [to work]. Thieves must quit stealing and, instead, they must work hard. They should do something good with their hands so that they’ll have something to share with those in need. Don’t say anything that would hurt [another person]. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. Don’t give God’s Holy Spirit any reason to be upset with you. He has put his seal on you for the day you will be set free [from the world of sin]. Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ. (Ephesians 4:25-32)

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

For deeper study:

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One Reply to “Scientists just proved telling lies can sear your conscience”

  1. Now scientists have uncovered an explanation for why telling a few porkies has the tendency to spiral out of control. The study suggests that telling small, insignificant lies desensitises the brain to dishonesty, meaning that lying gradually feels more comfortable over time.

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