Wednesday 9 June 2021

Why lying is evil

Lying is evil. But there is an 'obvious' way that lying is pragmatically evil; and this should not be confused with an 'absolute' way that lying is spiritually evil. 

First of all - in 'lying' is included all forms of dishonesty, untruthfulness and misleading - for example misleading by partial, selective, distorted facts; and by saying something factually accurate but with the intent that it be misunderstood as meaning something else (this is SOP in legal situations and bureaucracies). 

All are evil - and the indirect and devious evils may well be the worst

Lies are (nearly always) expedient: i.e. beneficial to the liar in the short term - which is why they happen. 

But lying is pragmatically evil in human society in a strategic, long-term sense; because lies are dysfunctional in any social system. 

This ought to be obvious, it ought not to need explaining - but modern people cannot think more than one step ahead to consider the consequences; therefore even such simple logic is beyond the contemporary 'mind'. 

If you need the help of a thought experiment; consider trying to do an engineering project - something like designing, building and operating a bridge, or an airliner - when the participants are lying to each other. Or the fact that what was 'science' is dead - because it is no longer truth-seeking and truth-speaking (as it was until just a couple of generations ago). 

So a society where truth-telling is not encouraged and enforced but instead punished; where lying is encouraged, subsidized, and celebrated; is a society at best inefficient and ineffective - and ultimately (because lies feed on lies) will collapse. 

Lying will extract a price; and the more lying the greater the price; until it is socially lethal. 

But that is not evil as such. So why is lying evil as such? 

Lying is evil because it is a denial of truth, which is reality; and reality is God's creation. That is why lying is intrinsically evil.

If you do not believe in God's creation, then lying is not intrinsically evil; and if you do not take the side of God and divine creation - you will not regard lying as intrinsically evil. 

Thus, the reason that there is so much, and ever-more, lying in 2021 is that few people believe in God's creation and many people are opposed to God and divine creation. 

Either they regard everything as just pragmatics, and favour their own short-term expedience over long term functionality; or else they positively want to destroy whatever is true, real and Good: i.e. whatever is God's creation. 

Liars are troops on the front line of Satan's army; and that it true whether the liar is a politician or journalist, a philanthropist or a Christian church leader. And whatever the kind of lie: whether endorsing one of the Big Lies like the birdemic, climate change or antiracism; or one of the carefully-misleading managerial misrepresentations in public relations, mission statements and bureaucracy. And whether you are lying to 'the public', employees, employers - or to your-self. 

Note added. The reason it is important to emphasize the evilness of lying, is that people will often state some version of "there is no point in me/us being truthful"; because "me/us being truthful about this one specific things will not make any difference to what happens". 

They fail to recognize that the lie is itself evil - no matter what the probable consequences of truth-telling may - or may not - turn out be. 

Indeed; truthfulness - starting with our-selves - is perhaps the single most important act of Good an individual can accomplish in these ever-more-evil End Times (where recovery is unlikely, and all pragmatics lead to ruin); valuable in itself and in its potential spiritual consequences. 


Jacob Gittes said...

I know this is a freshman level philosophical and moral question, but:
Is it evil or immoral, neutral or moral to lie to an evil state functionary who is asking you the question in order to do evil to you?

My basic approach is to simply not answer questions to state or other bureaucratic agents who are pursuing evil agendas. But others may end up in more dicey situations, where not answering becomes a crime.

Evan Pangburn said...


You have 3 options, Tell the truth, tell a lie*, or tell nothing. Do you imagine there is some hidden 4th option?

I'd say in the type of situation you describe the high road would be to tell nothing and accept the punishment.

Of course, I don't imagine myself a person so brave and virtuous, that I would rather die than lie, but I do suppose that would be the ideal.

*(misleading half-truths are just lies, as Bruce Charlton has written about at length)

Jon said...

@Jake in my view it is the actions which are good or evil, I think this is the standard view of Christian philosophers when it comes to Ethics because otherwise we would fall into consequentialism/utilitarianism which is very characteristically modern and wrong.

By the way interesting to see how leftists in media, TV shows etc always portray the past as being 'the same as today' 'some things don't change' showing everyone as dishonest, when in reality people used to be much more honest than today! (for example in ancient Rome)

Dynamic said...

"Thus, the reason that there is so much, and ever-more, lying in 2021 is that few people believe in God's creation and many people are opposed to God and divine creation."

Absolutely. Furthermore, I think that lack of belief in God necessarily leads to an ever-increasing amount of lying.

Without a belief in God and moral structure that can only be provided by a Higher Power, there are no absolute standards of morality and (as you said) everything boils down to pragmatics. Without consistent moral values, lying is the pragmatic choice. One could always reason that whether he lies or not has no effect on whether others lie, so might as well get the advantage that comes from lying than not. And the amount of lying keeps goes up and up and up...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jake - As EP says, silence is an alternative. But I am not saying that I *expect* everybody to tell the truth all of the time about everything - any more than I expect anybody to be courageous or loving at every moment; because we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world.

The point is that we ought to recognize, acknowledge and repent when we have lied. As with any other sin.

being truthful is a difficult virtue (like most virtues) but it was closely approximated in science up to about 50 years ago. Scientists really strove to be truthful in their science (not in all of life, but in science) - and this ideal was upheld and enforced by the group. This was the basis of much that science achieved in its golden age - showing the 'pragmatic' benefits of truthfulness.

But as society, and scientists, become thoroughly secularized, there was no reason except pragmatism to be truthful - and that is a very remote and unpredictable outcome compared with the immediate benefits from exaggeration, selectiveness, hype, spin, misleading etc; so modern 'scientists' are as dishonest as they can get away with: deniably dishonest, just like politicians, lawyers and managers.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dynamic - Yes, agreed.

@Jon - I would say that, strictly, it is the intentions (motivations) which are good or evil - but we may sometimes infer intentions from actions. On the other hand, actions can be compelled (eg. when a slave does the action on orders) - then it is the compeller's intentions that are relevant.

(Strictly, even a slave could refuse at the cost of being tortured/ killed - but short of accepting death may be compelled.)

Hamish said...

@Dynamic - As you stated, to lie is a classic prisoner dilemma. The only way out is think outside of the rules of the ‘game’ of the dilemma at a higher level and not to lie, even though it will probably not be ‘rewarded’ in this life.

Bruce Charlton said...

The reason I harp-on so much about lying is that 1. I was an idealistic scientist of the old school, who saw science wholly-corrupted (top-down) by the expansion of lying over the 35 year period I was active; and 2. Lying seems the prevalent major, unrepented sin among church-active devout Christians - perhaps especially in their workplaces.

I have been astonished to see Christians in professions such as medicine, law, finance and business - who claim to be living a Christian life in their work, when I *know* that they are lying every day, every hour - often with every paragraph they speak or write.

Lying by commission and omission, and in support of the agenda of evil.

Such is mandatory in the modern world. If people cannot or will not stop lying; they absolutely must recognize, acknowledge and repent.

steve said...

"nature of their church"
the catholic and ortgodox church is a big tent multi level organization. Decentralized in many ways. there is a spiritual and a institutional church as well.

the institutional church both east and west was in arguably worse shape in the 10th century. And still it had a very bright future.

You and Berger have no humility and no mercy.
Show me any church without sin? Even a church with one member? Then join it. It will no longer be pure.

Jacob Gittes said...

Thanks to the thoughtful responses to my philosophy 101 question. It's funny how the most basic questions become interesting and require a real basis for elucidation when you go down to the basics.

I have already refused to answer questions regarding my status vis a vis the peck.
That is my approach, and I'm sticking to it.
Now, if it came to my child's welfare, I know myself well enough to know that I would probably lie to agents of evil bureaucratic organizations to protect him. I would then repent.

I think I'm a bit younger than Bruce, but I was also in science until I burned out, in a PhD program. This was the 1990s. The rot and dishonesty had already become fairly significant. Professors I knew were caught for making up results. Others maliciously tried to ruin the careers of post-docs or students they did not like.
I can only try to imagine how it is now. Basically, our civilization is living off the the virtues and scientific and pragmatic/engineering abilities of the past.
Even in computer tech, devices that run on software constantly break down and crash now, even bringing down airplanes that depend on the software.

Back to dishonesty - the temptation to lie has never been bigger in my lifetime. Ever day. Every hour. In order to scrape by as the system puts up more and more obstacles to being allowed to live in peace while being a Christian or even God-believing man or woman of any faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@steve - You are avoiding the substantive points.

"You and Berger have no humility and no mercy."

Yes, that's right... Make it all about Berger and Charlton; not about the people who humbly and mercifully locked the churches, ceased to minister, prevented Christians gathering, and suspended Mass worldwide for the first time in history.

Get real. If your personal discernment is that are going to go wherever 'the church' (however your discernment defines that entity) leads; and do whatever it asks - regardless of what that may be (currently including volunteering for the mRNA pecks and boosters - whatever they may contain - forever, open borders and mass migration, climate change agenda, antiracism) you need to take personal responsibility for what that actually entails.

Lucinda said...

Most individuals are not intelligent/problem-solving enough for their "truth-telling" to be much help, even to themselves. The manly minority whose truth-telling was useful to the rest have been systematically replaced in leadership. For most people, the reason believing in God and his creation is so important is the alleviation of Stockholm Syndrome kind of loyalty to the worst kinds of people, who are all evil liars, among other evil character traits. Once you believe in life beyond death, you can begin to act free with your loyalty, you can discern and take on personal responsibility and learn to value God's truth despite mortal threats. This has been my personal experience as someone without any sense of truth beyond consensus. I have to view it as a matter of loyalty.

Evan Pangburn said...

Lying is the verbal branch of the broader sin of dishonesty. You can be dishonest through many means, not just through words.

Ingemar said...

I ordered a print copy of your book "Not Even Trying: The Corruption of Real Science" and hope to have a review of it soon.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ing - It's a heartfelt book for those who love (or once loved) real science. A minority audience!

Lucinda said...

Sorry to come back at this late. I wanted to explore more about the connection between loyalty and truth.

Biologically-speaking, a woman must identify and avoid liars to thrive. But the method for doing this is not to identify truth and discern matches. Rather it is by measuring and discerning true love, i.e. willingness to sacrifice for her and her children's well-being.

"Lying seems the prevalent major, unrepented sin among church-active devout Christians..."

The way I see it, the major unrepented sin for Christian women is disloyalty to those who truly, personally love them, chasing after attention from liars and fearing female-hive-mind censure.

Lucinda said...

Okay, I think I finally know what I'm trying to say. The vector of the disease of lying with men is in their relationship with women because godless truth-seeking cannot provide sufficient impetus against the sex-drive. Fatherlessness is a huge generational morality drain. With birth-control, modern man was able to leave birth decisions and attendant responsibility with women. This would not have been a problem if women acted like men believed they should. But instead it became the norm for women to believe the biggest liars (feminism). Without Christian marriage to shield from instinctive female-hive-mind devotion to dominant males, and as "the hand that rocks the cradle" was less and LESS likely to be governed by truth-seeking men, the value of truth-seeking gave way to sheer dominance-seeking. In other words, for truth-seeking to retain dominant social status, men need to be in a certain kind of relationship toward women as mothers, which strikes even truth-seeking men as highly impractical. Once men had sufficient reason to stop forcing each other to live up to fatherhood, that was the kernel of all other big lies.

Bruce Charlton said...

@lucinda - I'm not saying you are wrong, but it is a rather convoluted argument to be sure of. I prefer simpler arguments that I can be more sure of having grasped fully - then I can at least know if they are wrong.

In general I would simplify this towards saying that two factors were afoot. First, marriage had in the past always had a substantial communal input, especially from parents of the spouses (especially the woman's parents). When this was removed, men and women (and especially women) relied on their own unaided discernment about partners (and this was socially-encouraged), which was not good enough.

The other factor is that society was - in most times and places in history - usually a net-positive influence on marriage, because natural law and common sense were its basis. But with atheistic-modernity, 'society' became more and more net evil; and orientated against God, divine creation and The Good. So that the dominant external inputs to the marriage became (more and more) net harmful.

I suppose another side of the same coin is that the corruption of men and women - their alignment to the side of Satan - has proceeded apace; so that one or both sides of most marriages are on the side of evil, and society ensures that only one evil person is required to destroy a marriage.

Lucinda said...

I suppose part of my presumption is that civilization and its marriage are male reproductive strategies, with a particular focus on alleviation of natural selection, and generational knowledge build-up. As such, I believe civilization-founding men built-in ways to thwart female evil, but more important was to thwart male evil, since evil males have a mega reproductive advantage compared to evil females. Birth-control gave civilization-maintaining men the impression that controlling the reproduction of evil men could be handled by the women. I think this was a miscalculation based on the idea that women were as eager for successful genetic reproduction as men, which they aren't, not even close.

On the spiritual battle side of things, I think civilization itself is incompatible with the eternal life God desires us to participate in, partly from being too complex for individual freedom to work with. In particular, civilizational marriage was a kind of training-wheels phase, as was church, to help us have confidence in certain kinds of relationship mechanics and dynamics. But heavenly eternity is going to be a free creative association of loving individuals. The training wheels will be off, and just like with riding a bike, this will significantly simplify... everything.

*Women don't value honesty, but politeness, which is a kind of aspirational honesty in relationships. Political correctness is politeness on steroids, but being careful of loved one's feelings is good in the proper scope. I personally try to value honesty because I want to care for my relationship with God and his feelings. I do it badly compared to most men I know, but I've felt God appreciates my efforts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - I think one decisive aspect of Heaven - indeed what enables Heaven to exist at all - is that with resurrection we become able to make permanent commitments.


Mormons tried to replicate this in mortal earthly life with marriage (and other) 'sealings' for eternity in the Temple; but (it seems to me) this clearly hasn't worked as hoped-for.

Although sealing probably helps, the CJCLDS divorce statistics show that it does not make the *qualitative* difference to marriage that I presume Joseph Smith intended.

(i.e. CJCLDS marriages breaking-up surprisingly frequently, and more so with time. Yes modern Mormon marriages do *better* than with other modern Americans, but that is a pretty low bar!)

Lucinda said...

I suppose Mormons struggle with a kind of lack of seriousness that is an inescapable consequence of all saving ordinances being available to those who have died. My own parents were legally divorced, though my mother never sought to have the temple sealing cancelled, believing it unnecessary since the sealing either wouldn't matter if my father stayed his course away from God or would be post-mortally desirable if he changed course.

The commitment is to refrain from sexual relations with anyone you are not legally married to, but many who are sealed but legally divorced still hope the sealing will somehow work out in the next life if people repent, etc. This seems to be true particularly for "first-wives". But, obviously this creates a perverse incentive to not take a first marriage very seriously.

The way I think about the situation is that the gaming mentality is incompatible with Heaven, but it can be repented. I regard it as one of the most difficult to repent, since the motivation is to get away with something, or outsmart God, to defeat him even.

Lucinda said...

I used to be surprised that temple marriages didn't do much better than civil marriages.

But I'm coming to see the lack of seriousness as a feature, not a bug.

What is done in temples most of the time is vicarious saving ordinance work for those who have died. It is hoped that every person ever born will be authoritatively baptized and ritually exchange promises with God, every marriage ever created will be authoritatively sealed and children sealed to parents. But it is well understood by the members that it all rests ultimately on acceptance by the individuals who have died.

What is the acceptance rate? Depends on who you ask. Some members seek personal spiritual feeling about whether the individual accepts the work. Some members have a sense of being guided by ancestors to discover forgotten individuals. But mostly we know a good deal of our effort will ultimately not be accepted. We understand that many marriages aren't compatible with lasting forever, for instance.

And that's where the lack of seriousness comes in, in accepting the desires of individuals. People who take things too seriously often end up really bugged by individual agency and freedom of preferences.