Wednesday 13 June 2018

Are some people 'born evil' (more than others)?

All the evidence, for what its worth, would say yes - some people are born more-Good than others; some people are, as far back as you go, apparently... well, evil.

In other words, there is a difference between individuals. 

But how far back does this difference go? The answer partly depends on how far back we go.

If we each go back eternally, in some primordial essence, then does this Good-evil differential go back to eternity? Do we begin morally different? Or do we all start out exactly the same and the difference arises over time? 

This is not a matter of 'evidence'; it is a matter of metaphysics - it is a primary assumption; and it can be validated only by intuition (and the validity of intuition in turn depends on its being the thinking of our divine self - that-within-us which is divine).

If we assume Men are entirely created by God (from nothing/ ex nihilo) and we all start exactly the same; then, because God is Good, this leads to the problem/ paradox of why God would make evil in the world, and men corruptible by it?

If we assume Men are entirely created by God (from nothing/ ex nihilo) and we all start different in terms of degree of Good and Evil; then this leads to the problem/ paradix of why a Good God would make some people more-evil (or more corruptible) than others - and thus more prone to damnation. 

But if (as I believe) we all start different, and we have always (in some primordial form) existed co-eternally with God (and therefore, in this independence-from God have the existential basis of genuine free will or agency) - then this difference in Good-evil was already-there before God made us his children.

...Then we can see that the problem of evil is built-in, and evil was not made by God, nor was evil deliberately made possible by God (almost equally problematic).

So, God's creative endevaor is therefore to deal-with the already-existing situation of the reality of evil, and of differential evil; in entities already-with the basis of free agency; while encouraging us to choose first salvation (and thereby join God's family); and then choose theosis (and thereby work towards participation in God's creation).


Chiu ChunLing said...

The real difference in metaphysics here is the question of what we are, are we the spirit created by God, or the free will which is uncreated.

In the traditional formulation, we are spirits created perfect by God and then given free wills. But this is like saying that production line cars, created to factory specification, are 'given' drivers. Normally, it would make more sense to say that the drivers are given the cars, rather than the other way round.

Or is this just our human bias, since the drivers are human and the cars are not?

Still, it is the driver that wants the car, not the car that wants the driver (or anything). But that is coming from a particular definition of 'want' in which it is a human action, a car needs a driver in order to fulfill the purpose of its creation. A driver only needs a car incidentally.

A car also needs a road (or a drivable surface connecting destinations, at least) in order to function as a car ought. But then we start getting past the limits of the analogy.

Are we our will, or our spirit? Or even, as materialists and epicureans would supposed, our bodies? Which of these owns the others?

Stephen Macdonald said...

Spend some time in Hollywood and you'll have your answer.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - That's well formulated (exept that this are abstract distinctions, and not wholly separable).

And I've give what I believe is the answer.

I think Christianity got itself into this situation ("spirits created perfect by God and then given free wills") by trying to force Jesus's message into a philosophical monotheism which demanded that an omni-God outside of Time created everything from nothing.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

If we have always existed, the question of whether we "started" the same or different loses its meaning. We never "started." We have always been different, AND all those differences have arisen over time as a result of our choices.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Yes. The point is that there is no reason to suppose that we ever were, at any point, exactly the same.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

If we did in fact have a beginning, and started different, it would mean some of us are better and others are worse for no particular reason, just because that's how we happened to start our existence. No one would be ultimately responsible for the kind of person he is. The doctrine of our co-eternity with God solves a lot of problems.

Nigel Worthington said...

"and it can be validated only by intuition (and the validity of intuition in turn depends on its being the thinking of our divine self - that-within-us which is divine)"

Do you ever doubt your intuitions or have believed incorrect intuitions? I can think of a somewhat obvious reason to doubt the thesis of this post.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nigel - Take it or leave it! Or, rather - you need to work this out for your-self.

@William - That could be true; and also it could be true that in our pre-mortal existence we behaved in such a way as to make ourselves relatively better or worse than we began. The point is - I suppose - what do we do now (in mortal life) with what we find ourselves to be, and our actual situation; in light of the fact that we presume these have the potential for us to experience and learn what we most need to learn?

Lucinda said...

I didn't like this idea when it was first presented to me a few years ago. It was hard to separate out from arbitrary pre-destination with no room for free will. But then I saw that the problem goes the other way too, if before we encountered God, we were essentially the same, then God arbitrarily originated what we will ultimately choose. And the only other choice is some kind of universalism.

Embracing the idea of freedom with all its consequences just really is that difficult. To think that we just do have a choice to improve on what we currently are or not does not sit easily. In my own thoughts I have noticed a battle to find something else to blame for my weak decisions. Often I find that my default position, unless I am actively seeking to experience personal accountability, is that nothing could really be my fault. I do think this is a necessary grace before we are perfectly converted to Christ. The will to survive can't withstand the pain that accompanies the honest acknowledgement of our own culpability and basic worthlessness without Christ.

Although most of what I've observed myself and others feeling guilty about is just socially-originated, a kind of unnecessary junk guilt that gets in the way of honest assessment, and it can take real effort to differentiate between the judgments of God and the judgments of Men in the early stages.

The idea of our having either more or less, or various kinds of, affinity for God and His goodness when we first became God's spirit children does ring true to me these days, but I think it is because I'm coming to feel more at home with the idea of freedom and a willingness to question the modern concept of equality as the ultimate measuring stick.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but I want to share an example of the change in my thinking. The problem of Satan having been an angel of light used to be difficult to me. How could he have 'fooled' God and have occupied any such position. Now I don't feel any contradiction there. Satan made choices, motivated by pride, because he had a real choice. I no longer feel the need to have been better than Satan from the 'beginning' in order to have hope of salvation for myself. I can choose. I can assess the good and evil in me more honestly. And on the other hand, I am more able to rejoice in the greater goodness than mine of faithful ones whose choice was to follow through and improve on what they 'began' with.

An obsession with equality led to pride on the one hand and envy on the other.

Thank you for this post and the chance to clarify for myself how my thinking has changed since first encountering this idea. I hadn't previously noticed it, and to be honest, it's quite a relief.

Bruce Charlton said...


Thanks - I agree that Satan and the demons are difficult to explain if we all began exactly the same. More importantly, so is Jesus Christ: how did he so far outstrip all of God's other children in pre-mortal life if he didn't start-out better?

(And if God made Satan and the demons worse; and Jesus better - then why didn't he make everyone like Jesus in the first place?)

I also have a sense that pre-mortal life in Heaven was more Heavenly, because we were children living in an environment of Good - but not because we ourselves were Good. We incarnate to mortal life (by choice) to develop our own resources, and progress towards divinity - but the risk is that our evil will overwhelm us and we will reject salvation. Nonetheless, incarnation and mortality is the only path of theosis.

It may also be difficult to judge the probabilities of mortality when we are spirit children living in a love-saturated environment - we are immature and spirits lack the same agency, we may overestimate ourselves...

Chiu ChunLing said...

The mention of essential inseparability of our various elements of a complete self reminds me of the psychological changes associated with driving as opposed to being a pedestrian. To a degree (which varies with the individual) the same human would have measurably different personality characteristic when driving as opposed to walking, or even driving one car as opposed to a different one.

Our desires can be roughly categorized in terms of carnal desires, spiritual desires, and perhaps willful desires. But while any desire might be characterized as one of these, that does not mean that the desire arises solely from one aspect of self, body, spirit, or will. Each of our definable desires has roots in all three. Even desires of which we are not consciously aware (such as the desire for our bodies to carry on parasympathetic functions) are affected by the state and inclination of our spirit and will, such that encouraging people to feel that there is meaning and purpose in their continuing to live are a crucial part of treating physical illness. Conversely, the health and functioning of the body is not a matter of indifference to religion (or spirituality).

There is a certain lack in our literature regarding the will as distinct from the spirit and body, but perhaps it is better to say that there is an excess of examination of the distinction between the body and the will and spirit. Or maybe it is perfectly natural to see the will and spirit as separable from the body, but not consider the case of the will as distinct from the spirit, since this is not something of which we can have direct experience in a shared context. Whereas considering the difference between our bodily desires and our spiritual (and/or willful) desires touches a natural focal point of practical moral thought, the question of when it is acceptable or required to lay down our mortal lives.

In essence, we are not who we were before we had spirits, nor even before we had bodies.

Nor even who we were before reading this post. As Heraclitus said, "No man ever steps in the same river twice."

Or even more relevantly to this particular topic, "Character is destiny."

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I suppose the parable of the talents/pounds is about people "starting different" but nonetheless being responsible for what they choose to do with what they start with. Predictably, the one who started out "best" (with 10 talents) also ended up the best -- but the servant who started with one talent was still held responsible for his failure to work with what he had.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Interesting meditations

@William - That rings true.

Most of us have a tendency to give-up and blame others when not-everything is in our favour. Resentment is a terrible, corrosive, sin - which may be a major reason for the state of things (since resentment is near the heart of all modern societies and systems).