Why Human Beings Are Not Basically Good


    There is a movement within society today to view human beings as basically good.  Humanism more or less preaches this, but I would argue that it's not logical or even possible, as follows.

First, a quote:

"While there remains to man, even in his present condition, a natural power of will by which he may put forth transient volitions externally conformed to the divine law and so may to a limited extent modify his character, it still remains true that the sinful bent of his affections is not directly under his control; and this bent constitutes a motive to evil so constant, inveterate, and powerful, that it actually influences every member of the race to reaffirm his evil choice, and renders necessary a special working of God's Spirit upon his heart to ensure his salvation."

Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology, 1985, p. 1371.

    Ok, so the argument usually boils down that human beings start off intrinsically or basically good and that society or something else corrupts them.  I have the following points that I believe discredits this philosophy:

Child Day Care

    I don't have to teach 1-5 year olds how to steal toys or cut in line or harm each other.  I have to be on guard that they don't.  Even the most sheltered child in an environment where they never saw someone strike another will punch or push another child to get "their" toy back.  Or will "steal" a toy another child is playing with.

Every Day Life

    Here's the basics of my life from yesterday.  I accidentally messed up my times clocking in and out, though it was not intentional.  (In some senses, evil and imperfection overlap.)  Some truck driver left a large piece of a tire on the interstate that I had to dodge.  My thoughts drift towards entitlement by default, so I have to exert control to keep them from this trap.  I get to Walmart and someone left a shopping cart in the parking lot rather than walking it TWO parking spaces away to the cart corrall (sp?).  People are driving their cars without headlights in the dark (whether poverty or laziness or failure to turn them on, or failure to reach out to a local nonprofit that helps with such things).  I know this sounds sort of silly, but the point here is that we human beings continuously cause our own problems.  If people are basically good, can we really say that society makes us this way?  In the mind of the person who should have pushed their cart into the holding area, did their thoughts tell them, "no one else is doing it"?  Or was it more likely that their thoughts went along the lines of "I don't care" or "I don't have time for this"?


    If anything is the biggest indicator of how messed up all of us are, it's addiction.  From the person who isn't in treatment for their addiction who can't stop eating fast food (and it is now affecting their health) to the person who can't stop saying ugly things about coworkers to people I help who are still using heroin, people who can't stop doing things that harm them are basically "addicted."  People I help are a mixture of their own bad mistakes, but also a mixture of the various harms that have been done to them.  From struggles with mental illness (which are not their fault) to the abuse and neglect they've been subjected to, it's quite clear that we human beings cause our own problems.  I mean this in the sense that all roads point back to a human being.  From the drug dealer that laces people's stuff with fentanyl to the family member that abused the person I'm trying to help, human beings have been causing their own problems for centuries.

    And recognizing my own imperfection and sinfulness helps me be compassionate with them.  Someone cared enough to help me, so I help them.  I've heard horrible stories of the abuse, trauma and neglect that other human beings have caused my patients.  And my patients have also done horrible things to themselves and others.  How are we basically good?

    Yesterday was spent gently challenging one person who refused to fix things in his life.  It was spent telling another person that they are not at fault for what someone else did to them.  It was spent with another person who harmed another person and wants to be forgiven but the person they harmed doesn't want to talk to them.  (Not saying they must be forgiven or must talk to the one they harmed, etc., but you get the point.)

Stories of Human Beings Who Might Have Excuse

     If we can accept the basics of "do not steal, do not murder," etc. of morality, ferral human beings are an example of how those who are not taught these basics can end up being immoral.

    As well, I know a very popular missionary (can't say his name because I'd dox myself) who was a missionary with his family to an indigenous tribe in Indonesia.  To fast forward, he spent years in the tribe learning their language and culture before he began to witness to them.  He had even become a fellow tribesman with them.  Ten years down the road he asked them about their practice of cannibalism.  He had noted they had stopped with their annual hunts and asked why they stopped.  They told him they thought it was wrong.  He asked them how they came to this conclusion.  They said they always knew it was wrong, they just did it because their ancestors did and they were taught to do it.

    There is still a factor in everyone (conscience, Holy Spirit, etc.) that convicts people of wrong.

Good Proves Evil

    This might sound weird, but the fact that some people do what is right and know what is right actually proves that we are all imperfect.  The fact that we know that we "should" be polite and respectful to others, we "should not" steal, etc., to me speaks of a higher etiology.  There is no light without absence of light, no heat without cold, etc. (though, yes, I am aware of what heat and cold are in the scientific sense).  The shadow proves the sunshine, as Switchfoot said.  When we make our choice, we can make it for evil.  I could have just rammed the shopping cart in the parking lot in anger and let it strike another car.  I chose not to.  I could've left the cart in the way of the next person who would park in the spot next to me.  I instead put it in the corrall.  But in that I can prove I knew what to do, or "should", I prove that all my actions that are not in line with what I know intrinsically is right are in fact wrong actions.  In that I know not to murder, and don't murder, I prove that I know there is some sort of higher law.

    Society's laws are not a moral treatise, they only punish what society thinks are unacceptable.  I've never met a patient in my work that didn't know what was legal or illegal.  I've never met a patient that didn't know, underneath their denial, that what they were doing was harming themselves and (in varying degrees) others.  And I'm no better than anyone else.  So I must point out that to know to do good judges me because even when I am at my best, I always have a choice, and the fact that my inside thought life wants to justify laziness and sins of ommission / commission only proves that I am what is wrong with the world.  I can't blame Trump, though I like to, because I must make my own moral decisions.


    So in conclusion, philosophically, I cannot assent to the belief that human beings are basically good.  I can say that I try to view others positively and I don't walk around thinking everyone is a dirty rotten sinner.  (Basically I have not succombed to the extremes of hyper Calvinism lol.)  I try to take a neutral stance.

    But I know that in a pinch people would have no problem doing evil, just like me.  I'm surprised we didn't see headlines of riots and brawls in shopping lines on Black Friday sales this time around: almost every year we see this.

    So the totality of my human experience disproves that human beings are basically good.  I think it better to consider everyone morally neutral and then watch and wait to see what kind of people they are.

    Does the Bible say we are all sinners?  Yes, and I agree.  Can atheists behave morally?  You bet.  One of my atheist friends is more morally upright than plenty of Christian friends I have.

    But to try to use humanism to preach that people are basically good is, to me, unfathomable.  If anything, it's a horribly dark joke to say that people are basically good.  We have always caused our own problems, from the Garden of Eden to present times.  We are broken.  And the solution, ultimately, to what ails us is not us.  It's an outside force.  Call it God if you will.