All of Us Ought to Agree on the Fallen Nature of Humans

While the concept of “Human Depravity” is an historic Christian doctrine, it’s also a condition I recognized as an atheist. My career as a police officer and my time as a parent settled the issue for me. If people are “basically good” shouldn’t we be able to verify this claim in the lives of infants? My toddler children needed to be taught about patience, kindness and unselfishness; these virtues were missing from their default nature. And it didn’t take long as a police officer to recognize the depth and complexity of our fallen citizenry. Most people who believe humans are “basically good” simply haven’t spent much time in the world as an experienced law enforcement first responder. So I was grateful when my ministry partner and fellow law enforcement professional, Aaron Brake, posted an article on the doctrine of Human Depravity. Aaron did an excellent job as he established two important truths:

Human Nature Depravity

All Christians Ought to Acknowledge “Human Depravity” Theologically
Aaron correctly identified the theological importance of the doctrine for both Calvinists and Arminianists. I recently received an email from a Christian who loved our work online, but was concerned about prior articles describing the doctrine of Human Depravity:

“My one gentle criticism is that in your article on human depravity, there is no need to go into the whole TULIP controversy, Arminian vs. Calvinist. This subject is unnecessary to your basic mission, reaching the lost for Jesus and building the faith and ability of others to utilize insightful evidences. In fact, going into this subject will likely be divisive.”

That’s why I was grateful when Aaron correctly identified this doctrine as a common feature of both Calvinism and Arminianism. He cited the work of R.C. Sproul:

“Arminius was emphatic in his rejection of Pelagianism, particularly with respect to the fall of Adam. The fall leaves man in a ruined state, under the dominion of sin. Arminius declares: ‘In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened [attenuatem]; but it is also imprisoned [captivatum], destroyed and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace…’” (from R.C. Sproul’s Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will)

Aaron’s article demonstrates Arminius (and other historic Arminians like John Wesley) accepted the concept of “Total Depravity”. The depravity of humans is a theological reality that ought not divide the church. As Aaron writes, it is simply “the sad state… into which we are born: dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2), by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), darkened in understanding, excluded from the life of God, ignorant, and hard of heart (Eph. 4:18), in bondage to sin (John 8:34), unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), unable to accept and understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), and unable to come to God in our own power (John 6:44).”

All Humans Ought to Recognize “Human Depravity” Experientially
But even without the teaching of Scripture, “Human Depravity” ought to be obvious to all of us. Aaron provided several lines of empirical evidence to support the doctrine, including our observations of young children who have not yet been trained by their parents, the historic evil committed by humankind, and psychological evidence from studies such as the Stanley Milgram experiment and the work of Christopher R. Browning in his book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. If we are honest about our own experience in the world, we will recognize the fallen nature of humans, even before opening the pages of our Bibles.

It’s true that many Christians (and Christian Case Makers) have quietly benched the doctrine of “Human Depravity” on the theological sideline because they fear (like the emailer) it is “unnecessary to (our) basic mission, reaching the lost for Jesus and building the faith and ability of others to utilize insightful evidences.” Nothing could be more untrue. Our condition as fallen humans is foundational to the Christian offer of Salvation; one is inseparably connected to the other. When we take the time to explain how lost and fallen all of us are, the need for a Savior becomes all the more obvious. Only then will we be able to “reach the lost for Jesus” and interest people in the “insightful evidences.” The fall of humanity begins the Christian narrative in Genesis and it ought to be the starting point that motivates all of us to become intentional Christian Case Makers.


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46 replies
  1. John B. Moore says:

    If humans are fallen, that suggests they used to be higher than now. But there’s no particular evidence we were once better than today. Not everyone needs to believe in a Garden of Eden scenario.

    If humans are fallen, that suggests they might be raised up again, but there’s no particular reason to believe humans can suddenly get better. Not everyone needs to believe in a redeemer and a heaven.

    Everyone can see the truth about human goodness and badness, but this doesn’t suggest the Christian doctrines are correct. Your argument is just smoke and mirrors.

    Reply
    • Jamie Yonker says:

      There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that we ‘suddenly get better’. There is a process of sanctification that is we experience that moves the needle, but admitting our fallen nature doesn’t make it instantly go away. When we accept our current condition and look to God for the answer, He promises to help us overcome our natural desires for bad. However, we will still the battle between the old and the new self for the rest of our lives here on earth.

      The word ‘fallen’ in the context of this article entails a view of Eden from which we are ‘fallen’. Without an Eden to which we can return, the word ‘fallen’ would not apply. Without an Eden, how would you explain the fact that we know something is good or bad? Without Eden, would you say people have always been this way? If so, wouldn’t we have figured out by now how to fix it? To what utopia would you compare the current state of humankind?

      Reply
      • Ed Vaessen says:

        Like Utopia the Garden of Eden is a place where everything is OK en people are good.
        But they need not exist for us to be able to imagine them. Good and bad is what we define them to be.

        Reply
        • Jamie Yonker says:

          You’re correct that individuals can imagine a Utopia that does not exist. Individuals can also define good and bad arbitrarily. What happens when my ideas of utopia, good, and bad conflicts with yours? How, then, do ‘we’ define them?

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “What happens when my ideas of utopia, good, and bad conflicts with yours?”

            Same thing that happens when your God’s ideas conflict with the God of your neighbour’s – war. Or if everyone’s smart – debate, conversation, empathy, learning.

  2. ANTHONY says:

    Of course, we have not “fallen” from a higher state to a lower. We’ve evolved from a lower state to a higher.

    Reply
    • Jamie Yonker says:

      And in 200,000 years, we have yet to figure out how to be good. Seems like it’s taking an awfully long time. Why aren’t we there yet?

      Reply
        • Jamie Yonker says:

          Your contention was that we evolved from a lower state to a higher state. Do you foresee a time when we will have it all worked out?

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            Why would evolving from a lower to a higher state mean some day we’ll ‘have it all worked out’?

            I can conjecture that a tree grew from an acorn without figuring that means some day it’ll reach grow to reach the moon.

          • Ed Vaessen says:

            ANTHONY says:
            “Do you always answer a question with a question?”

            Seems like Jamie uses his questions here to give the reader the impression that his counterpart cannot give answers. It is a trick known as ‘JAQ-ing off’.
            Remember this is an apologetic site, so logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks are the weapons of those who are lying for Jesus.
            It is the same with Kalmaro, who uses the technique of dodging and wriggling.

  3. Andy Ryan says:

    I thought that a major criticism of natural selection was that it told humans we were animals, and thus would encourage us to act like animals. How is telling us we all have a fallen nature any different to that?

    Reply
    • Kalmaro says:

      In response to this question: http://crossexamined.org/us-agree-fallen-nature-humans/#comment-81467

      The Bible points out that when Adam and Eve were created, they were perfect. It was not until they sinned thanks to being tempted by Satan that sin entered their nature. So the idea is that we have a sinful inclination but we strive to be better than that because we want to be better and through God this can be possible.

      Natural selection just says that we are just more evolved than our predecessors and that’s about it. There’s no purpose or goal there.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “Natural selection just says that we are just more evolved than our predecessors”

        There’s no such thing as ‘more evolved’.

        “There’s no purpose or goal there”

        So what? That doesn’t mean we can’t have purposes and goals. That’s a genetic fallacy.

        Reply
        • Kalmaro says:

          “There’s no such thing as ‘more evolved’”
          I think you understand what I am saying.

          “So what? That doesn’t mean we can’t have purposes and goals. That’s a genetic fallacy.”

          Not exactly. While it’s true that in a universe with no God we could still try and come up with our own purpose, but it would not change the ultimate fact that we would lack an objective goal or purpose.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            Why would a God mean I’ve got an objective purpose? I might have a purpose that he came up with, but why would that be more objective or better than one I came up with myself?

            Presumably no third party came up with a purpose for your God, yet you figure he’s not suffering without an ‘objective purpose’, right? Or is he allowed to come up with his own?

      • James says:

        So, Adam and Eve sinned. And all of humanity pays the price.

        Wow. Really moral of god, punishing you and me and ALL of humanity because two people ate a forbidden fruit. Next time my child disobeys me, I’ll chastise his genealogy for millennia. That’s the moral thing to do 🤣

        Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      I don’t know what you mean by objectively good. If you mean ‘would it be to the benefit of the human race in general, increasing fairness and the sum total of human happiness and reducing unnecessary misery’ then yes, it’s good. If those things don’t count as OBJECTIVELY good to you, then so be it. But if they don’t then I can’t imagine what does. And if nothing does then them being simply good should be enough. If you don’t think those thing are even good, then I guess we have little common ground for discussion. But given that most other people DO agree on that, common ground can be found and discussion can commence. Just without you. Unless you DO agree those things are desirable objectives, in which case join us.

      Reply
      • Kalmaro says:

        Things like:

        Fairness and the sum total of human happiness and reducing unnecessary misery’

        Sound nice and I agree with you that I feel like those are good. However, are they good because you think so or because they ‘just are’ good?

        You are using words and ideas that can not be grounded in a universe with no purpose. Things like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ require there to be a standard. What I find interesting is that almost all people believe that there are things that are unquestionably bad, but when pressed, tend to have a difficult time explaining why something is wrong without just relying on their own opinions.

        Like rape for instance. I know it’s bad, I’m sure you feel it’s bad. I’m sure everyone will agree that it is just sick and wrong, but how do we prove it? One could argue that it does not help humanity but that seems to imply that humanity’s purpose is to thrive in the first place.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “However, are they good because you think so or because they ‘just are’ good?”

          This is not a philosophical problem in any way resolved by the existence of a God. Is it good because God declares it so or does God declare it is good because it ‘just is’ good. The former makes it arbitrary, the latter makes God irrelevant to the discussion.

          “You are using words and ideas that can not be grounded in a universe with no purpose”
          No, I’m saying that all that is required for discussion is common ground. If a group of us decide to go and see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, given that we have that common goal, we can discuss the brass tacks of the best route to get to the theatre, what mode of transport etc. No-one declares that we must first establish that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is ‘objectively’ the best film available to see, or that seeing the film is ‘objectively’ the best use of our time. You start at the common ground – we all want to see the film – and proceed from there.

          “but how do we prove it?”
          Even if God appeared before us both right now and declared it, you’d be no closer to proving it.

          Reply
          • Kalmaro says:

            “Is it good because God declares it so or does God declare it is good because it ‘just is’ good.”

            Neither, God bases what is good or not by his unchanging nature. He does not chose arbitrarily. What is good or bad and he does not have any authority higher than him.

            As for the ‘common ground’ point you have made, you are missing the point. The issue is not whether we have common ground or not. It is how we know if we are on stable ground in the first place. It is possible to agree and both be wrong.

            You seem to make the assumption that good is something that would be to the
            “benefit of the human race in general, increasing fairness and the sum total of human happiness and reducing unnecessary misery”

            I think we can both agree that is good but my point is this: “How do we know that is good?”

            If that is something that can’t be known then what you feel is good I just your opinion and holds no more weight than someone who says otherwise.

            I’m not sure I understand your last point with God. I may be missing something.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            How can you know that God’s nature is good? Why is you saying it is not arbitrary? Where did the attributes ofGod’s nature come from? Why is, say, ‘forgiveness’ a facet of God’s nature, and hence good, and not, say, ‘unforgivingness’? Saying ‘it’s good because it’s God’s nature’ doesn’t stop it being arbitrary. Could his nature have been any different or are these facets NECESSARILY good – could hatefulness and lies have been part of his nature, and would they be ‘good’ if they had been?

            In short, the ‘it’s his nature’ defence is not a cure for Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

  4. Jamie Yonker says:

    @ANDY RYAN

    Fair point, Anthony. I will attempt to answer the questions posed to me.

    Question: Why would you assume that there’s an objective “there”?
    Answer: I would argue that there is an objective ‘there’ that we know is true whether we want to believe it or not. When two opinions about what is bad or good don’t agree, only one or none of them can be true. Without an objective truth, we have no way to decide the matter to move from opinion to truth. I would say that without a destination, all the ‘debate, conversation, empathy, learning’ will only turn us in circles.

    Question: Really? I thought Christianity had it all worked out?
    Answer: For this, I would refer to the article above. The truth is that people are not good by nature, and that should be relatively apparent. Therefore, the answer can’t come from us. We will end up plateauing at some point and the evolution would stop. We are limited by ourselves. Christianity working it all out would require everyone to be a Christian and be perfectly obedient to God-everyone single person perfectly on the same page. Clearly that is not the case.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Jamie Yonker wrote: “When two opinions about what is bad or good don’t agree, only one or none of them can be true. Without an objective truth, we have no way to decide the matter to move from opinion to truth”

      It would be great to be able to objectively determine who’s right on a moral issue – it would certainly save us a lot of heartbreak. The problem is that never seems to happen, at least not in my experience. All I see is disagreements resolved either by “might makes right” or by a political process – both of which are completely subjective.

      Can you give me an example of a moral disagreement that was resolved by one side demonstrating that they were objectively correct? If so, how did they show that their view was objective and not just an opinion?

      Reply
      • Kalmaro says:

        If you are talking outside of the bible, that would only happen if some higher authority was evoked and the only time I can think of that happening is a church disagreement over something.

        Outside of that, I can’t think of anything.

        Reply
        • KR says:

          Yes, I’m talking outside of the bible. I’m talking about real-life moral issues where people have different views. If these objective morals never resolve any disagreements, then they’re obviously useless as a guide for our behaviour. I mean, we’d need to agree on what they are first, right? In fact, if you’ve never seen these objective morals demonstrated, what basis do you have for believing they even exist?

          Reply
          • Kalmaro says:

            That’s a fair question.
            I think first, you are giving people too much credit. Let’s assume, right now, that objective morals existed, that we managed to find some way to prove without a doubt that they are real and anyone can look at them and know what they *should* be doing.

            Do you believe that everyone would instantly stop being unjust and just be nice to each other until the end of time? It seems like you are claiming that, if people knew the rules and they existed then everyone would fall in line.

          • KR says:

            If there are objective moral values, then they should be demonstrable facts, no? If not, then what’s objective about them? Sure, people can deny demonstrable facts but that won’t change the basic truth that these facts can be demonstrated. So let’s start there: what are these objective moral values, is there a list? How do we access these moral values and – most importantly – how do we demonstrate that they are objective rather than subjective?

      • Jamie Yonker says:

        Stealing from others. Though the thief may think he is right in doing it, deep down he, and his victim, knows it is wrong. The objective morality to which I am appealing is inherit to us as human beings. You may think the veil of ignorance explains this, but that still relies on subjective truth-how we feel about the subject.
        This may have been a simple example and not likely to end the debate, but I believe it begins to answer your question. I’m sure you could come up with a counter-example, but I only really need to prove objective morality in one situation to show that it does, in essence, exist.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “Though the thief may think he is right in doing it, deep down he, and his victim, knows it is wrong”

          How are you getting from ‘The victim feels aggrieved’ and ‘Deep down the thief feels guilty’ to ‘The act of theft was OBJECTIVELY wrong’?
          Your conclusion does not logically follow.

          Reply
          • Ed Vaessen says:

            Were I responsible for school curriculum, then I would include a few lessons in which children learn how to reason logically, how to avoid the pitfalls of logical fallacies. The articles offered to this site can only be written by people who have learned to reason with their guts instead of with their brains.

  5. Kalmaro says:

    Not sure what you are talking about Ed, I’m pretty sure I’ve been straight forwards from the start. I will admit that I will sometimes give the wrong impressions without meaning too at times. ANDY RYAN and I went back and forth for a while earlier before it became apparent that I was agreeing with him for the most part.

    @KR
    I’ll answer your questions in a moment but I’d like you to answer mine first, if you don’t mine. Earlier you said:
    “If these objective morals never resolve any disagreements, then they’re obviously useless as a guide for our behaviour. I mean, we’d need to agree on what they are first, right?”

    I interpreted that to mean that you were saying objective values are useless if people do not follow them unanimously. Then I posted a hypothetical situation right under it here:
    http://crossexamined.org/us-agree-fallen-nature-humans/#comment-81563

    Would you mind taking a look at it? I’d like to see what you think.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Kalmaro wrote: “I interpreted that to mean that you were saying objective values are useless if people do not follow them unanimously.”

      I think you’re missing my point. I doubt these objective moral values even exist – and one of the reasons for this is that they don’t seem to resolve moral conflicts. Ever. You seemed to concede this point. Your example assumes the existence of objective moral values, which I think is an unwarranted asumption. I don’t know how people would react if the existence of objective moral values was demonstrated to them because I don’t understand how such a demonstration could be made. You need to start by explaining how you would demonstrate that a moral position is objective rather than subjective.

      Reply
      • Kalmaro says:

        Wait, why are you convinced that if objective moral values did exist that they would solve moral conflicts?

        Reply
        • KR says:

          You’re still missing the point. I will accept that there are objective moral values when someone can show me some evidence of their existence. One such piece of evidence would be that they can resolve moral conflicts. Apparently they can’t, so do you have anything else?

          I’d like to get back to my questions: what are these objective moral values, how do we access them and how do we determine that they are objective rather than subjective?

          Reply
          • Kalmaro says:

            It seems like you are working under the idea that having objective morals will just clear up conflicts though. Why do you believe that to be true?

            We can’t start to answer what they are and where they come from if you already have criteria that excludes anything they could possibly be.

          • KR says:

            I don’t necessarily believe that – although it would seem reasonable to expect it to happen at least some of the time. It would definitely serve as evidence of the existence of objective moral values but I guess we will have to look elsewhere. Can we move on to my questions now?

  6. Kalmaro says:

    @Andy
    Responding to this:
    http://crossexamined.org/us-agree-fallen-nature-humans/#comment-81709

    The answer is sound.

    Think about it, if God has all authority and bases good and bad on his nature which dies not change, then that would mean that his nature is good. It is impossible for it to be anything else because to say his nature is bad you would have to look to a standard higher than God and there is none. I don’t think God is good because I just believe he isle and that’s it. Logically speaking, it is impossible for him to be bad because even if he was, the only way we would know is if there was another standard to go by.

    Thus, God is good. There is nothing arbitrary about it since God does not change.

    Even asking if he would have still been good if he had a different nature fails because they only way to know if he was good is to go by his nature in the first place.

    So there really is no dilemma.

    Reply
    • ANTHONY says:

      You appear to be saying that rape, murder etc, are objectively bad, but somehow become objectively good if God orders them.

      This has to be nonsense.

      Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “Think about it, if God has all authority and bases good and bad on his nature which dies not change, then that would mean that his nature is good.”

      Why? You’ve got a God with an unchanging nature. What makes his nature ‘good’? You claim that his ‘authority’ makes it so. Why does the figure with authority by necessity have to be good? What gives God authority in the first place beyond him being powerful? Does power automatically make one good? This is quite literally a ‘might makes right’ argument.

      “It is impossible for it to be anything else because to say his nature is bad you would have to look to a standard higher than God ”

      That’s an argument against his nature being bad – you need to show that it’s GOOD, not that it isn’t bad.

      “Even asking if he would have still been good if he had a different nature fails because they only way to know if he was good is to go by his nature in the first place.”

      So it IS arbitrary that loving, forgiveness, kindness are good things – if your God’s nature included instead spitefulness and vindictiveness then according to your argument THOSE traits would be good.

      Reply
    • Ed Vaessen says:

      Kalmaro:
      “Logically speaking, it is impossible for him to be bad because even if he was, the only way we would know is if there was another standard to go by. ”

      The mirror is simple: logically it is impossible for god to be good because even if he was, the only way we would know is if there was another standard to go by.

      Yet Kalmaro tells us his god is good. Kalmaro is sure that he knows what good is.
      However, when WE (non christians) judge something to be evil, he tells us we cannot know what is good or bad.

      Behold the summit of christian wisdom!
      And I assure you that it has worked for at least 1500 years!

      Reply

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