Has human nature changed?

Monday Musings for March 20, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

A non-believer asked, does human nature ever change? Or are we “stuck” being like we are? These kinds of questions engender other questions.

For instance, when a person changes profoundly — like someone who attends AA and has remained sober for years — does that constitute a change in the person’s nature or merely a change in the person’s function? I ask because the traditional introduction at AA —  and even among people who have been sober for decades is — "Hi, my name is... and I'm an alcoholic." That’s a powerful statement on human nature… and you’ll find little argument from gospel-loving Christians. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to answering this question: it challenged my stand on human nature. We Christians understand that the Bible is the story of redemption — and only sinners need to be redeemed. Furthermore, the biblical narrative teaches the fall of humankind at its very start. Then it develops the theme right through Revelation. So, we learn that no non-Jesus person has lived without sinning… but there’s a reason: it is our nature and our choice to sin. Every orthodox Christian doctrine has this in view… but the world is not like us.

Why has America morphed into a society where everyone gets a trophy? Because self-esteem has been redefined as a state where nobody in the group feels sad. So, let me ask you, could society have changed that way without its people being educated amorally… and notice that I didn’t say immorally. That may happen, too… but it’s not required to squeeze God out. Why would we need a God if we have a functional set of moral standards which include, “Though shalt not challenge people in a way that makes them sad” … and they could be right. Guilt is old-fashioned and counter-productive, right?

That notion kills the gospel. Where there is no cut, there is no cure.

In increasing numbers, people at large are joining humanists and therapists in taking the position that — in spite of doing things that are commonly identified as wrong — people are “basically” good by nature… and the Bible knows nothing of that (Romans 3:23). Now, an increasing number are joining the materialist atheists who argue against the good/bad paradigm altogether. They insist that we have a biological nature and not a moral one and that any moral-looking behavior is illusory — being an adaptation for group survival. But I find neither of these compelling because human nature is defined by what humans do… and they do bad things.

Yes… they do good things too. But I still categorize a child molester as bad even after he donates $100K for cancer research. All that would do is make him a philanthropist also. It has no power to make him a philanthropist only — and I won’t let him watch my kids. The standard biblical model is the winner here; it is the best explanation for the empirical data of human behavior. People do good and people do bad — and the Bible unravels that paradox. So do I in today’s answer.

Do any of you remember the recapitulation theory? It’s a dated (and discredited) idea that embryos go through all the stages of their ancestral evolution before developing fully. Ernst Haeckel coined the phrase ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny — which is what many remember of it. But I’ve adapted the model for Christian use because I see us going through the same ancestral stages of sin during redemption; you’ll see how that works in the article itself.

But in principle, I argue that all humans have an unchanging nature that is essentially sinful — but which allows for a range of good and bad behavior. That’s consistent with the Bible, and that’s what I’ve observed in myself and of others. Enjoy the musing.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)