Tough Questions Answered

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Can Man Save Himself?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If there is no benevolent and omnipotent God, then man seems to be the only viable solution to solving man’s problems.  We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps because there is nobody to help us.

Nowadays it seems laughable to think, after all we’ve been through in the last hundred years as a race, that we will create a paradise on earth by ourselves.  In the early 20th century, however, there were those who thought that mankind was on the brink of something wonderful, that we could solve all our problems.

Take the famous author, H. G. Wells.  Here is an excerpt from his book, A Short History of the World, written in 1937.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state…form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do.

As Christians, this viewpoint is ruled out by Scripture.  Man cannot pull himself out of the quicksand he is in – we need a divine hand to reach down and pull us out.  The sin nature that resides in each person renders Wells’ assessment of the abilities of man hopelessly naive.  Man has boundless capacity for evil when given the power to do so, and there is nothing we as a race can do to completely eradicate this propensity.

After Wells witnessed the atrocities of WWII, he came to understand how far he had misjudged mankind:

The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether…“Homo Sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. — A Mind at the End of Its Tether (1946)

If you are a Christian, you not only know that we need a divine hand, you know that we are getting it.  Victory over sin is certain.  Rather than placing our hope in the violent heart of man, we place our hope in the Prince of Peace.

 


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Comments

  • Mick Curran

    It’s true that people do bad things but it’s also true that there is plenty of good to be found in just about every area of human endeavor so if one does not believe in a benevolent and omnipotent God then one is left to conclude that the source of the good has to be found in human nature. If one assumes that people are inherently good the notion of something akin to a paradise on earth brought about by the people for the people doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

  • Pingback: Can Man Solve All His Problems? « Coming World War 3 / One World Government()

  • Andrew EC

    Why exactly did God create us with a “boundless capacity for evil” again?

  • Bill Pratt

    That’s the price of creating a finite creature that has the capacity for love – the capacity for evil.

  • Erik

    Bill, you’re right; a Christian Worldview rules out the paradise that man has projected so many times. Many have difficulty with accepting the fact that a Biblical worldview assumes that no-one is righteous – not even one, but analysis of our world confirms it. Our rebellion is against God and his way and the results are clear to see. Does this mean if everyone became Christians all our problems would be solved? ‘No’ is the Biblical answer. We will continue to struggle with sin.

    Many other belief systems claim the opposite – man is fundamentally good, a ‘just and right’ world is coming.

    The atheist has no right or wrong – just survival of the fittest – even at the expense of others is fine.

    Look at the evidence, the existence of a world with much injustice, violence and man’s rebellion against God is clearly evident over any part of History. The last 100 years is as good as an example as any. At the same time the many glimpses of love and hope which also exist from man are testament to us being created in God’s image – and not just survival machines.

    Thanks for the many good articles on the website.

    Erik

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    Look at the evidence, the existence of a world with much injustice, violence and man’s rebellion against God is clearly evident over any part of History. The last 100 years is as good as an example as any. At the same time the many glimpses of love and hope which also exist from man are testament to us being created in God’s image – and not just survival machines.

    Have you considered the possibility of the flipside — that we’re actually made in Satan’s image, and the “glimpses of evil” in human nature are evidence of that fact? And the “glimpses of love and hope” are just proof that “in order to create an evil entity, it must also have the capacity for love and hope?”

  • Andrew Ryan

    Bill: “Man cannot pull himself out of the quicksand he is in – we need a divine hand to reach down and pull us out.”

    This seems a very liberal, socialist viewpoint.

    Stereotypical right-wing view: Rugged invidualism, personal responsibility, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
    Stereotypical left-wing view: Individuals can’t make it on their own, help from above is required, some criminals are as much victims of circumstance as their own victims.

    You seem to be putting forward a view much closer to the latter.

    Erik: “The atheist has no right or wrong – just survival of the fittest – even at the expense of others is fine”

    Sorry Erik, but what has ‘survival of the fittest’ got to do with atheism? Where do you get the ‘at the expense of others is fine’ idea, and what’s that got to do with atheism? In general I find it is the right-wing Christian who is much more likely to espouse an ‘only the strong must survive’ view of the market place and capitalism, and insist that the state supporting the weak is a bad thing.

    If you mean that without God we have only nature, and therefore ‘survival of the fittest’, then this is still nonsense – nature is full of both symbiotic relationships and altruism.

  • erik

    Tim..

    “Have you considered the possibility of the flipside — that we’re actually made in Satan’s image, and the “glimpses of evil” in human nature are evidence of that fact? And the “glimpses of love and hope” are just proof that “in order to create an evil entity, it must also have the capacity for love and hope?”

    Is the glass half empty or full? Different people have a different outlook. I came to christian faith after examing what it states about the state of man – especially through the word of Jesus Christ as in the Gospel accounts. One of the reasons for my faith is that I felt Jesus accurately describes the world as it is (i.e. fundamentally broken – and in need of a rescuer). I concede that 12 years after becoming a Christian I don’t give completely different points of view the seroius attnetion that I should (don’t we all). i.e. are things actually the other way around as you propose? But I would say I am still sure in my faith and stand by my original reasons for accepting Jesus. For me the bibles assertion that we don’t do a good job of looking after our fellow man, the world and honouring God best fits the world I see, both in my own heart and from what I see around the planet. I concede that others may have a different view. I think the the words of Jesus do divide opinion; I would encourage you (unless you’ve already done so) to read one of the gospels (e.g. Mark) to discover for yourself what he says about the world (don’t take my clumsy reasoning here as any kind of sustitute).

    Andrew:
    Looking at my post I have to agree that I did put in a few comments without taking the care to explain my views fully. I’m not sure that Bill’s topic above is the best place to have that discussion, but I might post on it again if a topic of that nature comes up in the future. I wouldn’t recommend you take the position of any ‘right-wing-Christian’ whether word or action into any consideration of the Christian faith. Instead look at Jesus as described in the bible. I think you’ll find no resembelence to the market place, right wing, capitalist ‘Christian’.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Point taken Erik.

    But equally my point stands that you cannot draw a line from ‘not believing a God exists’ and ‘there is no right or wrong’, or ‘tread on others to get your way’.

    If you believe that Jesus’ ideas are good ones to live by, then you must believe they are good ideas independently of their origin. You must believe they would be good ideas regardless of who they came from, and therefore can easily be accepted by a non-theist.

  • Andrew EC

    Erik says:

    “The atheist has no right or wrong – just survival of the fittest – even at the expense of others is fine.”

    Care to substantiate this statement? Because I’m pretty sure 3,000 years of western philosophy stands at the ready to refute it.

  • Erik

    Andrew EC: As with my reply to Andrew Ryan – you’re right, I did not take care to substantiate or explain myself well on that comment. It’s not even really part of the topic at the top (although I see 47 articles on Atheism on this site).

    Andrew Ryan: Thanks for engaging on this topic.

    quote ”If you believe that Jesus’ ideas are good ones to live by, then you must believe they are good ideas independently of their origin. You must believe they would be good ideas regardless of who they came from, and therefore can easily be accepted by a non-theist.”

    I’m not sure of your own belief system-although your comments here gives me some in-sight – thanks for sharing. I am a follower of Jesus. Part of my reasoning in choosing to follow him is because of the bold/outrageous claims that he makes about himself. Our knowledge of Jesus comes from the bible, mainly the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). The claim he makes in the bible is that he is God (or the Son of God). This I believe to be true – when I say I follow Jesus, I’m actually saying I’m following God.

    So… to your comment

    “You must believe they would be good ideas regardless of who they came from, and therefore can easily be accepted by a non-theist.”

    Because of who I believe Jesus is (God), you will see why I can’t agree with the sentence above. If you do not accept Jesus as God (maybe you think he is just a wise man) then my answer would be different. The decision as to whether Jesus is indeed God or not (and therefore deserves our attention), is one that everyone must make – clearly not everyone makes the same decision ;-).

    I would venture to say that the issue of ‘who is Jesus’ is not an issue of my opinion vs. yours, he either is divine and God or he’s a someone else (both can’t be true at the same time).

  • Andrew Ryan

    Erik, is your answer then that Jesus’ ideas were not intrinsically good? In other words, they were only good because of who they came from? The same idea from someone else would somehow not be the same?

    This seems a strange assertion. They were either good ideas or not, surely?

    If I’ve made a leap here that you do not follow, then I think you misunderstood my original post. I gave you the choice that either they were only good ideas because they came from Jesus, or they would be good ideas regardless. You appear to reject the second option. Please clarify if I misunderstand you.

  • Andrew Ryan

    To clarify on my part, the ‘ideas of Jesus’ that I refer to are the moral teachings – as you seem to say that atheists cannot have morals. My point was to suggest that if you believe the moral teachings of Jesus are intrinsically good, then there shouldn’t be a problem with accepting that atheists can have the same morals. If you think one must accept His divinity to believe his moral teachings are good, then it seems you don’t see the teachings as intrinsically good in their own right.

    I clarify as it seems you might have taken my reference to”Jesus’ ideas” as referring to his claims of divinity. That’s not what I meant.

  • Erik

    Andrew R:

    Yes, I got the wrong idea here a bit.

    To ensure I do better this time, is the issue something like…

    “Are Jesus teachings, (the ones regarding morals – not his other teachings regarding of his identify and purpose) universally good, to both the Chrisian and non-Christian alike?” Assuming the answer is yes, you can then argue that therein there is a way for an athiest to have morals – since they then subscribe to something fundametally good?

    If I’ve got the issue right then I’m not sure of the answer! Sorry. The world moral would need to be carefully defined, and I can see the disucssion going on a bit. We’re off track from the original topic anyway. What do you think of the claims of Jesus’s divinity?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “What do you think of the claims of Jesus’s divinity?”

    Erik, therein lies another long discussion.

    Well done for simply saying you’re not sure of the answer to my question. You need to think that through before you make a statement about atheists having no right or wrong. The question I asked about Jesus’ moral teachings is central to understanding why I think your assertion about atheists is incorrect.

    All best.

  • Todd Pratt

    If I may, I think the ability to see that morality exists outside of religion is important for man’s ability to ‘solve his own problems’. I would venture to say that nearly all of the morals that Jesus teaches in the bible we can find in one form or another from more ancient civilizations. Babylonians, Greece, China and others all had earlier copyright on the golden rule. Confucius saw the wisdom in ‘turn the other cheek’ and wrote it down in 500 years earlier. “If you repay injury with kindness, then what do you repay kindness with? Repay injury with justice, and kindness with kindness.” – Confucius. Perhaps the topic for another post could be “What morals did Jesus provide that didn’t already exist or that we don’t hold to be self evident?”.

    I think that trying to create a utopia is a fool’s errand. Mama always said you can’t please all the people all of the time. However, as a species we have made significant strides towards the well-being of humanity, with several notable setbacks. Imagine someone from the dark ages plunged into a modern american home. It would probably be a paradise the likes of which he never imagined. I’ll take my iPad over a river of milk and honey any time and I bet they would too. Despite ourselves we have progressed rather well in my opinion.

    I would also address, “Man has boundless capacity for evil when given the power to do so, and there is nothing we as a race can do to completely eradicate this propensity.” Power corrupts for sure, both the pious and atheist alike. But will religion help to eradicate humans behaving badly? I don’t think so. While in many cases it can be a benevolent organization, like when my father-in-law takes a week to travel to central america to build houses; it can also be a source of poor judgment, take any tragic example in today Africa, the middle east’s view of women, etc.

    Science has a lot to say about how to bring about the well being of humans. It will certainly not have all the answers, but it can address major issues like whether or not honor killings, tribal warfare, child abuse, etc. are best for the well being of society. Sounds funny that one would have to prove that, but perhaps if empirical evidence can be provided on those matters, it will be taken more seriously on other less obvious matters like forced wearing of burkas, feet binding, genital mutilation, abortion, stem cell research, etc.

    Ultimately, we are responsible for solving our own problems. Continuing to wait for supernatural intervention will not bring us closer to a solution for anything.

    – exit soapbox. The caffeine must be strong this morning!

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Todd,
    Thanks for your comment. You said, “Science has a lot to say about how to bring about the well being of humans. It will certainly not have all the answers, but it can address major issues like whether or not honor killings, tribal warfare, child abuse, etc. are best for the well being of society.”

    The problem is that before science even gets started measuring anything, we have to all agree that we should all act for the well being of society. This is a prescriptive moral statement, not a statement of science. Science must smuggle in morality before it can help us.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Science must smuggle in morality before it can help us”

    One can say the same for religion. You have to start with the desire to help others before any argument for morality makes sense, and that includes arguments involving a deity. At some point you’ll ‘smuggle in’ a pre-existing moral notion.

  • Andrew EC

    “Smuggling in morality” is not the same as — and indeed, I would say it is contradictory to — believing in your Jesus.

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    I think all sides agree that there is a universal human desire to be moral. That is the data we all have. Where worldview comes in is when we want to come up with a reason why we should follow these moral desires. Science can never answer this question. All it can do is measure what can be empirically observed.

  • http://thatfresnoblog.com Benjamin Baxter

    Pelagianism seems appropriate to mention at this point.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Religion can’t give an answer to why should follow these desires either. Unless you want to include self-interest, in which case science can give the same reason – doing good makes people feel good, for which there is a good scientific explanation too.

  • Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    We’ve trod this ground before in the comment thread for Why Ought I Act morally? Part 2. I assume you haven’t anything new to add, so I’ll leave the discussion off where we left it last time.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Indeed, I think I pretty much dealt with that argument before.

  • Andrew Ryan

    By the way, I kind of assumed you had conceded the argument last time.

    Please tell me if there’s a point you think I didn’t address last time, or a problem you feel remains for the view I’ve put forward.

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