Start an apologetics conversation – Are people basically good or basically evil?

 

image courtesy of Ariane Middel via flickr.com
image courtesy of Ariane Middel via flickr.com

Not long ago, I attended a mandatory employees’ conference.  This conference emphasized the investigative arm of the law enforcement agency for which I work.  Much of the material dealt with violent crimes people commit against one another.  At the end of the two-day event, I was emotionally spent. 

I am aware of the evil we do to one another.  But to see how prevalent internet crimes against children are and to see photos and hear descriptions of many, many crime scenes was painful.  I was mourning over the condition of mankind.

One of my co-workers that has worked in the lab a little over a year is sometimes called to assist with crime scene processing.  She really seems to enjoy that aspect of the job.  Knowing this, I asked her what she thought about the conference.  The reply was very positive.  Learning more about how the agents work scenes and solve crimes was fascinating to her.  When the question was then turned back on me, I told her of my heavy heart and the mourning I felt after seeing how terribly people treat one another.

I then asked her another question, “Do you think people are basically good or basically evil?”  I wish I could remember her exact words, but they were something along the lines of, “Well, with what I see here I work, I have to believe people are basically good.  Otherwise, it would be depressing.”

I found her response to be very interesting.  Despite seeing murder victims at crime scenes and working in a forensics lab where evidence related to thousands of crimes each year is analyzed, she says she wants to believe people are basically good.  While I would like to think that too, I just don’t think the facts support it.  Consider the following questions.

If people are basically good:

  • Why do kids know how to lie without being taught?
  • Why do we honor character traits such as bravery and integrity?  Shouldn’t that those be the norm?
  • Why do people participate in rioting, causing more death and destruction than the event over which they are rioting?
  • Why do our public school campuses look more and more like correctional institutions – fences and gates and security guards and policemen?

Is it possible to answer these questions and still maintain people are morally good at their core?   I don’t see how.  Unfortunately, we people are basically rotten to the core.  And this is precisely the description given to us in the Bible.

Asking people their thoughts about the good vs evil nature of man is one of my favorite ways to begin an apologetics conversation.  I have found people will usually share their thoughts on this topic pretty freely.  I then ask some follow-up questions like the ones above.  This allows me to begin to understand their viewpoint and formulate more questions for further discussion.


I’d love to hear your responses to the following questions…

Do you think people are basically good or basically evil? 

What evidence do you use to support your position?  

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10 thoughts on “Start an apologetics conversation – Are people basically good or basically evil?

  1. “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” – Anne Frank
    Anne wrote that in her diary on July 15, 1944. Millions have read her book, and probably many have adopted this idea (of mankind’s innate goodness) within their own mind, primarily, I think, because living with the alternative is so very depressing and hard to deal with — unless you are a believer in Jesus Christ. Only He can change this (bad) nature within me to something that ministers to others and glorifies Him.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Brian.

      I haven’t read Anne Frank’s diary, but it is interesting that she would hold the position that people are basically good, even after all of the evil that she witnessed and endured.

      Many people accuse Christians of having a blind faith. Seeing all of the evil people perpetrate against one another, it seems to me that people holding the position of humanity’s inherent goodness are practicing a blind faith of their own.

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  2. Never being one who has ever been much of an optimist, my feelings tend to learn toward the evil. I love history, especially World War ‘ll. I had several family members serving in the armed forces at this time. A great uncle captured at Battle of the Bulge, second cousin on board a battleship during the kamikaze attacks, and my dad who celebrate his 18th birthday on the train to San Diego for basics. Going o to Saipan where Japanese snipers were still present. These family members never spoke much about their experiences. Most of my family is of German origin. When the Allies liberated Dachau, a little town just outside Munich, one American soldier whose was present stated he finally understood why they were here. I have been to Dachau and it is as disturbing as it seems. Walking the camp some of the original buildings were still standing. I came upon a mass grave where people had planted a beautiful flower garden,erected a memorial to the unknown with a monument in Hebrew. Shocked I felt a sense of peace. People had taken the very embodiment of evil and made it to places of beauty and remembrance of the millions who perished in camps over Europe. Allied soldiers also faced horrible experiences with the Japanese. I try to be more optimistic, but these things are still happening all over the world. People just seem to never learn from past histories. We have become so self involved they don’t often think how a few people can make a difference. I am guilty of that. I think “what good does it do, people don’t change.” I hope I am wrong!

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    • Thanks for your comments, Neesa Belle.

      Whether one considers themselves as either an or a pessimist doesn’t impact the whether people are basically good or evil. Throughout human history we read the records of the evil we have committed against one another. Murder, rape, assassination, thievery, kidnapping. And into our present day the trend continues – terror attacks, rioting, murder, rape, assassination.

      While much has changed throughout the course of human history, one thing has not – the poor, poor condition of the human heart. As Brian Mueller said on another comment to this post, Jesus is the only one who is able to change the human heart. If we were able to do it on our own, wouldn’t we as a race have done so already?

      At the end of your comment you said “People don’t change.” Do you think people can change and choose not to, or do you think it is beyond their ability to change?

      I look forward to continuing the conversation.

      Robert

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  3. I think this quote from the author behind Game of Thrones sums it up pretty well:

    “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.”

    I think Paul had it right when he referred to the ‘natural man’ – when the chips are down, unregenerate man will behave like animals and eat each other. Come to think of it, the chips don’t even have to be down for that to happen – in the last 250 years utopian ideals have probably killed more people than any other non-natural cause.

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    • LFB,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment. I agree that a person’s situation can be good, and yet we as people still find ways to demean and attack one another. Utopian societies are impossible because of the very condition you referenced – that of the unregenerate heart.

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  4. Just as love is an action more than a feeling, good and evil are actionable items. I think most people, even Christians, try to collect enough good items to offset the evil ones. When weighed out by societal standards, they arrive at a place of good.

    But using the standards of the law given to Moses by our Heavenly Father, we can measure ourselves by Gods standard. Everyone has broken most of the Ten Commandments and if we are honest, we’ve broken them all. No matter how much good you do in the world, by the standard of the Law, you’re still a thief, liar, adulterer etc…

    So I believe we are all inherently evil born into a fallen world. When I realized this, my appreciation and gratitude for Jesus swelled in my heart like never before. His blood washes it all away even though I don’t deserve it and that is love in action and the ultimate good news.

    Thank you for your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it.

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    • JD,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog. I am in agreement with you. We have done nothing to deserve anything from God. Yet, because of his love for me, he Jesus died on our behalf. Because of his action of love, I then want to share that love with others, both in word and in action.

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