Recently Film4 in the UK screened ‘Experimenter’ based on the actual ‘Obedience to Authority’ experimental studies conducted by Professor Stanley Milgram, Ph.D Social Psychology, Harvard University, and his team.

What very quickly became apparent are the parallels between Milgram’s studies into human nature and the ‘freedoms’ of Darwinism.

Milgram’s motivation for conducting the experiments was, as a Jew, to understand how apparently ordinary German citizens could carry out atrocities during WW2. One scene in the movie shows actual film footage of Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 for his part in the Holocaust.

Eichmann’s defense is that he was “only a facilitator following the orders of my superiors.” Hence Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ title of his experimental studies.

The focus of Milgram’s experimental studies was to try to understand how and why people respond to authority figures even when asked and instructed to commit acts of violence on total strangers. He believed his studies would give understanding into how and why Eichmann and ordinary Germans acted as they did.

 Method

Milgram set up a laboratory situation which contained equipment for causing electric shocks administered by a ‘Teacher’ to a willing ‘Learner’ both of whom had been paid for their participation in what they believed was a study of memory and learning and told they could quit the experiment at any time they wished and still retain their fee.

In reality, the Learner was a team member who had been given instructions how to respond to ‘electric shocks’ in range from a mild 45 volts up to a potentially lethal 450 volts – that he did not in fact receive.

The Teacher and Learner would together meet with the ‘Experimenter’ an emotionless grey coated (Milgram considered that a white coat would come across as ‘too medical’) team member who had an authoritative air.

The Experimenter explained the process. Teacher would administer an electric shock to the Learner on each occasion the Learner gave a wrong answer to a multi-choice question. On every occasion of a wrong answer the Teacher was to increase the voltage from the initial 45 volts electric shock to continue up the scale.

Both parties agreed to proceed. Lots were drawn to decide who would be Teacher and Learner. In reality,the draw was rigged and the Teacher was a member of the public and object of study.

Electrical shock equipment had been installed in adjoining rooms separated by a shared wall. Experimenter, Teacher and Learner entered room 2 and Learner was strapped into his chair and wired to the electric shock equipment. Learner, on cue, started to appear slightly nervous and mentioned that he had a heart condition and wondered if the experiment was safe. Experimenter replied that the gel placed on Learner’s arm would ensure no serious burns. He was then given a test run by having 45 volts administered. He reacted saying he felt the shock but would continue. In reality, no electric shock was delivered.

When Experimenter and Teacher departed to return to room 1 on the other side of the wall Learner unstrapped himself form the chair, disconnected from the ‘electric shock machine’ which was a non-working model, and set-up a tape recording machine that contained his pre-recorded ‘responses’ to each shock administered and which would be heard by Teacher in the adjoining room.

Teacher sat at his machine and Experimenter quickly gave user operation instructions. Experimenter explained that it was only fair given that Learner had received an electric shock that he, Teacher, too should experience a shock. Gel was applied to his arm and the conductive clamp was attached. Learner was instructed to close his eyes, an electric shock of less than 45 volts was administered, he was instructed to open his eyes and asked what voltage he thought had been given. Teacher thought he had been given 190 volts. He was informed that he had been given the same 45 volts as administered to Learner.

Experimenter took his seated position directly behind Teacher who was facing in the opposite direction away from Experimenter. Teacher was instructed to begin the experiment. He spoke into the microphone and asked Learner if he was ready. No response. He turned to Experimenter saying that Learner did not respond, to be told, coldly, authoritatively and unemotionally (which would be the manner of all Experimenter’s responses to communications) “He heard you but he has not got a microphone. Proceed with the experiment.”

Teacher asked the first multi-choice question. Leaner responded by deliberately making the wrong choice of number which flashed on Teacher’s panel. Wrong answer. Teacher pressed the 45-volt button. The next question was asked. Again, the wrong answer. The 90-volt button was pressed. From Learner came the response: “Ouch, I felt that.”

At 190 volts Learner was demanding: “Get me out of here. I’ve had enough.” Teacher would turn to Experimenter who looked up from his note-taking. Teacher said: “He wants to quit.” To which Experimenter replied. “Continue with the experiment.”

And on and on this would continue with Learner making ever more desperate pleas to be freed and with Teacher expressing his level of uncertainty about continuing only to be instructed to proceed.

On reaching the potentially lethal 450 volts Teacher would turn to Experimenter mentioning that Learner had a heart problem and asked if it was safe to continue only to be told to proceed with the experiment. Teacher asked if Experimenter was accepting responsibility to which Experimenter responded in the affirmative and so Teacher proceeded to press the potentially lethal 450 volts and continued to do so for every wrong answer until such time as there was no further verbal responses from Learner.

Teacher turned to Experimenter expressing his concern that Learner may be dead.

At this point Stanley Milgram, who had been observing through a one-way mirror in an adjoining room, would appear. He explained to Teacher everything that had been going on was a set-up and explained the purpose of the experiment.

“Why did you continue with the experiment?”

Response: “Because he (pointing to Experimenter) told me to.”

In total Milgram conducted about 780 such experiments and the above account is fairly typical of what occurred in that 65% of Teachers continued up to and pressed the potentially lethal 450-volt button. Interested persons can find many articles going into greater detail by using an Internet search engine.

Milgram’s experiments are indeed controversial and he came in for much criticism and even abuse from other psychology professionals about the ethics of his experiment accusing him of coercion, deceiving his subjects, and being guilty of authoritarianism.  Quite ironic really coming from those psychologists who considered they speak with authority.

Milgram’s experiments raise many questions. A central key question is: “Would those ‘Teachers’ have participated in such shocking experiments unless violence was part of their nature?”

In other words, if the nature of participants was violence free could they and would they have willingly engaged in such shocking experiments?

Man is a fallen, flawed, corrupt creature and does not even know his own heart.  (It would be interesting to know whether or not Milgram shared this view.)

“The heart is treacherous and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19

“When tempted, no-one should say, ‘God is tempting me’. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13 – 15

Some months after the conclusion of the experiments Milgram followed through by interviewing a number of participants to get their feedback with particular interest on how those persons felt about themselves and their willing participation.

Quite a number of those interviewed expressed their discomfort and, no pun intended, shock that they could inflict such ‘pain’ onto a total stranger.

What Milgram did was to give those participants license to express those ‘hidden layers’ of evil desires contained within their hearts.

Those participants, ordinary men and women, were discomfited by those ‘hidden’ desires that they never knew they had but when given the right circumstances including the cop-out factor of blaming others i.e. the Authority figure of Experimenter, were tempted and drawn out by the evil desires of their own treacherous hearts.

Richard Dawkins, strident militant atheist whose goal it is to see Christianity proscribed has said: “Darwin has given us freedom to be intellectually fulfilled atheists.”

In reality, Darwinian evolutionary naturalism has given license to fallen humans to reject the Authority of God and to give free reign to their desires.

And what ‘fruits’ have been produced by those treacherous heart desires?

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Galatians 5: 19

“And the like” includes abortion, sexually transmitted disease, drug taking, and wars raging across the globe.

So, rather than Darwinian evolutionary naturalism giving ‘freedom’ to humans, belief in that unscientific anti-Christian worldview, it has given fallen, flawed, corrupt man at enmity with God the license to sin and express their evil desires to which they are held captives and enslaved.

It would be most interesting to see the outcome had Professor Milgram conducted the same experiment in which specifically selected subjects of study were Christians who subject themselves to the Authority of the Sovereign God who is Creator.