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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Vol.4: Man in Adam and in Christ





Chapter 1.  What is Wrong With Man?
Chapter 2.  The Problem of the Will

Appendix: Physical and Mental Deterioration


Publishing History:
1967 Doorway paper No. 40, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975  Part I in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol.3 in The Doorway Papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997  Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001  2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)

     pg.1 of 6     

           One of America's most astute thinkers, Reinhold Niebuhr, has recalled to our consciousness a fact which both liberalism and Marxism have ignored with almost fatal consequences to our civilization. Evil, he points out, is something real, not an appearance only, and the proper name for it is sin. Its locus is not in institutions, which are but a reflection of human purposes, but in human nature itself.
           It is pride, self-righteousness, greed, envy, hatred and sloth that are the real evils and the ones from which social evils spring. When man is thwarted in his attempts to realize justice it is because he is thwarted by his own sinful predisposition. The recognition of this inherent predisposition to sin helps to explain why the best laid plans of men never quite succeed.

    John H. Hallowell                    
      Professor of Political Science  
    Duke University                      


     pg 2 of  6     



     TO MY MIND, one of the saddest and most disastrous results of the theory of evolution as applied to man is that it has led to an entirely false conception of what man's true nature is.
     If human evolution is true in the sense that Huxley and Simpson have held it to be, then man is an angel in the making, changing steadily for the better as he moves further away from his animal ancestors. His propensity for wickedness is recognized as unfortunate, but more in the nature of a relapse, a temporary set-back, a kind of unfulfilled-ness, which there is every reason to believe he will in time grow out of.
     But if man is a divinely created being who has fallen from grace and can by nature change only for the worse, then his propensity for wickedness is something more than merely evidence of unrealized potential. From the biblical point of view it is a demonstration that something has gone dreadfully wrong from which there now seems no possibility of self-recovery.
     It is important to know which of these two alternatives is the correct interpretation. Science has learned to deal with the forces of Nature with increasing success, a fact which suggests that within the limits of the tools we use, we do have a valid and accurate understanding of these forces. And the greater the measure of success that science has in gaining dominion in this way, the more critically important it becomes to achieve a proper understanding of the nature of man himself, for otherwise in the final analysis science is only enlarging man's potential resources for evil. Yet it is pretty generally agreed that whereas the physical sciences have advanced tremendously, the social sciences have scarcely even taken the first faltering steps.
     If man is part of Nature, as evolutionary philosophy insists he is, then how has it come about that a method which is so successful in dealing with the one part of Nature, the world outside of man, has

     pg 3 of  6     

failed so miserably in dealing with the other part of Nature, that which lies within him?
     When a machine breaks down, we make the general assumption that it really had no intention of doing so. Inherently, we hold that it merely needs repairing. So long as man is treated as though he were nothing but a physico-chemical machine, essentially no different from the rest of the order of Nature that we have learned to analyze and manipulate so successfully, we shall assume that he merely needs repairs -- that he is not really deliberately behaving wickedly, that his sinfulness is a failure to be good rather than an intention to be evil. What the theologians would consider to be reflections of the Fall, are by the scientists and philosophers now looked upon in a fundamentally different way. Man falls back, not down. He merely relapses, without actually losing his potential for good.
     The point is really fundamental. For whether one looks upon the wickedness of human nature as something which is negative (i.e., default) or positive (i.e., a preferred occupation when it is felt safe), this must ever after be the basic guide to all corrective measures whether applied by the individual or society, to himself or to his fellow men.
     One of the Greek philosophers -- I think it was Heraclitus -- suggested a rather intriguing way to resolve certain types of conflict of opinion. He suggested that if two quite reasonable people, intelligently arguing about the significance of the same piece of evidence, find that they have come to entirely different interpretations which are mutually contradictory, they may resolve the contradiction in the following way. If they will trace back the logical steps of their reasoning until they arrive at the very first point at which they are once more in agreement, they will probably find that this is the point at which they went astray. This is the point at which an erroneous assumption was made, which by its very untruth permitted the extension of the argument along the wrong paths.
     In answering the question, What is wrong with man? we have a case of such a disagreement. All are agreed that something is wrong, and up to this point there is no question. But there is not the same agreement about the diagnosis of what ails human nature, and therefore how to deal with it. John H. Hallowell bears witness to this impasse:

     It is my conviction, shared by many others and based on a study of the historical evidence, that the present-day crisis in which we find ourselves is in large part the product of the unsuccessful attempt of

1. Hallowell, John H., Religious Perspectives in College Teaching: In Political Science, Hazen Foundation, New Haven, Connecticut, 1950, p.13.

     pg.4 of 6     

modern times to found our political philosophies and systems of government upon a conception of man that ignores or minimizes his capacity for evil, and hence has no adequate means of dealing with it.

     Essentially, there are four commonly accepted views about what is wrong with man. The evolutionist argues that the trouble with man is that he has not had time to develop sufficiently. In due course he will learn by experience how to handle himself. The second view, held by those who believe in eugenics, is that proper breeding will eliminate or greatly minimize the problem by a process akin to the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The third view is that of many sociologists. They argue that the problem is one of environment. Allow a child to be brought up in an atmosphere where violence and dishonesty are considered normal and you cannot expect anything but juvenile delinquency to result. The answer is to correct the environment. There is also the fourth view. The Educationists, like the Greek Philosophers, have tended to equate sin with ignorance. In fairness to them it must be said there is considerable evidence that this optimistic view, so characteristic of the close of the last century, is receiving thoughtful re-appraisal. Yet, the conviction is still very strong that if a man can only be shown what is best, he will adopt it.
     Now we may apply the Philosopher's theorem. What is the single point of agreement in all these views? It is simply that man's wickedness is the result of something lacking. The evolutionist says time is lacking; the eugenicist, that breeding is lacking; the sociologist, that the proper environment is lacking; the educationist, that knowledge is lacking. We might argue perhaps that the basic fallacy which has led to divergence of opinion and an unsuccessful attempt to deal with the problem thus far is to be found here. It is not because there is something lacking, something yet to be achieved, but something that somehow got in at the very base of human nature. Sin is positive, active, effective, there! Sin entered (Romans 5: 12 ), and has ever since found expression at the root of every man's nature. This is what is not being recognized.
     According to the Bible, therefore, the trouble with human nature is not that it lags in the achievement of perfection, but rather that it is possessed by a positive bent towards wickedness. This view, once almost universally believed in Christendom, is not popular today because it is pessimistic, because there is an air of finality about it, because it implies that no matter how successful science is in other areas of endeavour, its methods will not work here. At this point, man is inadequate, a view of human capability which is not acceptable any longer. Yet, though it is indeed not a popular view, the whole of history bears witness to its truth and, as we shall show, many lines of research

     pg 5 of  6     

lend their weight in support of it where they were least expected to and where, in fact, they were undertaken in the optimistic hope of proving precisely the opposite.
     One of the difficulties in admitting this sad truth comes from the fact that sin affects not merely the spirit of man but also his mind. These noetic effects have so clouded man's reason that he is simply no longer able to diagnose the situation accurately. Where scientific reasoning has succeeded elsewhere and proved itself a most powerful tool, here it has served only to sharpen man's weapons of self-destruction, to arm his wickedness. The expected gains from improving his lot have somehow been turned into opportunities for greater displays of perversity by reason of the very increase in leisure, security, and power resources which have become available. He is not more wicked, he has merely increased his opportunities to express the potential he has in this direction, a fact which makes it all the more imperative that we should achieve a true understanding of what the root of the problem really is. But because of the very nature of the Fall, man cannot give genuine intellectual assent to the proposition that he is incapable of dealing with his own perversity successfully. Even when he admits that such perversity does exist in a distressingly persistent form he is still unable to see how hopelessly lost he really is apart from divine intervention. The anomaly of a man upon occasion telling lies in order to "prove" his innocence (!) is merely an illustration of what goes on all the time -- if he reflects upon his own behaviour. He sins in one way to conceal some other sin, never achieving a totally honest appraisal of his true nature as a fallen creature, except by revelation. A. J. Carlson stated the secular view succinctly when he said, "The answer to the claim that science is insufficient is more science."
(2) Herein lies the problem, the refusal of man to admit his own inadequacy, a refusal that results from pride and a diseased mind.
     But let us now look at the evidence.

2. Carlson, A. J., "Science and the Supernatural," Science, vol.73, 1931, p. 217.

     pg 6 of  6     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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