Is Mankind Inherently Good or Evil?

Good or evilAuthors note: For clarification, the use of the word evil in this post refers to mankind’s natural inclination to be selfish, greedy, ungrateful, and entitled.  


The question of whether or not mankind is inherently good or evil has been debated for centuries. Fortunately for Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon provides the answer that yes, mankind is inherently evil. Book of Mormon prophets describe mankind as lost, fallen, carnal, devilish, sensual, and evil. That doesn’t sound too “good” to me. From First Nephi, all the way through Moroni, the Book of Mormon is saturated with examples of “mankind’s” utter failure to be good, not to mention Heavenly Father having to step in to humble his people so they will repent and obey.

I am sure many are thinking, “How can you believe that we are inherently evil after holding a baby in your arms?” First of all, we are born innocent, not evil. It is our natures that make us evil. Anyone who has kids understands that it takes a tremendous amount of effort to teach them to share, be kind, be honest, treat others with kindness, to sacrifice, to serve others, to delay gratification, and the list goes on. Despite parents’ best efforts, this battle over the “flesh” is never ending; it will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Below I have provided a list of scriptures from the BOM that show we are by nature, evil.

Ether 3: 2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.

1 Nephi 10: 6 Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.

Mosiah 3: 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Mosiah 4: 2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

Mosiah 16: 3 For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.

Mosiah 16: 4 Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.

Mosiah 27: 25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.

Alma 34: 9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.

Alma 42: 10 Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.

Those who believe in the goodness of man (secularists) attribute evil behavior to external forces, such as poverty, racism, and inequality. They reject the idea that mankind is “free to choose,” to rise above their circumstance and fulfill their potential. It is ironic that the belief in the goodness of mankind undermines our ability to grow spiritually. One of the unintended consequences of the secularist belief system leads people to transfer their personal responsibility onto others in order to exonerate them of their “bad” behavior.

Belief in our inherent goodness acts as a stumbling block to spiritual progression. Who is more likely to humble and submit one’s will to God, someone who thinks highly of oneself or someone who believes like the brother of Jared, “that they are evil continually?” One of the easiest ways to justify bad behavior is to judge ourselves by our intentions, rather than by our actions. This form of self-delusion comes as a result of thinking we are good, after all, our intentions are good, or at least we convince ourselves to think this.

This false doctrine comes from the father of all lies, who believed he was so good, so superior to both God and the Christ that he sought to “fundamentally transform” the plan of Salvation, to ensure that everyone would be saved. No doubt Satan had high self-esteem that I am sure played a role in his unwillingness to submit to Gods will, after all, why would he need to.

The belief in the goodness of mankind is contrary to the Gospel because it undermines mankind’s gift of agency, the very foundation of what God’s plan is built upon. This doctrine is empowering. Without it, nothing would exist. Believing we are inherently “bad,” is liberating. It means we have reached a point where Christ can make us into his image. To be molded, shaped and perfected according to his will. When we understand our true nature, then we will automatically become better parents, because we will help them to fight the greatest battle in life is which is within themselves.

Remember the words of the Brother of Jared, one of the greatest prophets to ever grace the earth, “we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually.” If feeling this away about himself is good enough for him, it’s sure good enough for me!

Categories: Blog, Religion

25 replies »

  1. I disagree with your interpretation of the Book of Mormon. I must be fooled by the devil. However, I am not a secularist. In general this confirms my feeling that while I belong to the same Church, I am do not share the same religion as many other Mormons.

    • Chris, its ok, theirs still time for you :), but seriously Chris, what do you use to support your assumptions. Believe me, i am open to being convoked other wise. I laid out in a clear way, why i believe what I do, I quoted scriptures from Nephi through Ether.

      We do share the same religious Chris, we may interpret things differently, but what is more import is that we value the same things, and I have no doubt that we do. That to me is whats most important in all of this. for this reason I enjoy having conversations with those I differ with but share the same values.

    • “Wouldn’t this mean we are not *inherently* evil?”

      No it would not because in mortality we inherit a body of flesh and blood that if left unchecked (I.e., the need for good religious values), leads to evil/sinful/bad (however you want to classify this) behavior. As President Benson said, the greatest battle in life is with our selves because of our natures. if you are a liberal, than you believe the greatest battle in life is to change peoples environments, two diametrically opposed paradigms.

      Lastly, my text for this post was the Book of Mormon, not the dictionary. Plus, my audience is the Latter-day Saints community who happen to believe that mankind is inherently good, which is a fallacy. If you believe the BOM is true than you have to concede that it teaches we are inherently evil. I would love to hear reasoning to the contrary.

  2. The fascinating thing about that question isn’t the question itself, but the psychology behind it. What leads people to look around at the complicated mess that is humanity, and assume that our natures are best understood as either “inherently good” or “inherently evil”?

    • Its really not complicated, and its perhaps one of the most important questions of life. More than 100 million people were killed in the 20th century because they got this question wrong. If you believe that our nature is basically good than you will be preoccupied with changing environments and peoples circumstances. If you believe our nature is evil, meaning that by nature we are selfish and only look out for what is in our own best interests, than you will be preoccupied with overcoming these tendencies. Its pretty simple actually. Keep in mind, my remarks are directed to believing latter-day saints, not the public in general. Although I would be more than happy to address this issue in that context. So the “fascinating thing” about thing question is quite relevant to those who believe in the Book of Moron because of what it teaches.

  3. I’ve heard a lot of strange arguments for libertarian politics that are based in human nature, but this is the first I’ve heard that it’s an inherent evil for which a limited government is the only answer. Of course, one can just as breezily use this as a justification for social democratic politics. The inherent evil of mankind means that only robust institutions and societal protections with strong checks and balances can guarantee the greatest freedom for all. (I think the fallacy here is in thinking that conservative/libertarian politics removes coercive power from the government and the coercive power simply evaporates. Instead, it transfers coercive power from the government to the neighborhood strongman, or the one who happened to squat on the most capital).

    The Calvinist strain (i.e. utter depravity of mankind) in early Mormonism is fascinating in light of our later softening/rejection of it, though. The difference is that utter depravity is based on a belief that mankind is an “other” work of God, and we now believe that we are of the same type.

    • “The inherent evil of mankind means that only robust institutions and societal protections with strong checks and balances can guarantee the greatest freedom for all.”

      When I wrote this post I didn’t have in mind advocating for any form of government. Although I believe that only a religious based people who believe their nature is inherently evil can self govern. This is because they look to a higher power to overcome their natures. When this form of self government breaks down, as we have seen over the past 40 years, the state must grow larger in order to exert more control in peoples lives.

      “The Calvinist strain (i.e. utter depravity of mankind) in early Mormonism is fascinating in light of our later softening/rejection of it, though. The difference is that utter depravity is based on a belief that mankind is an “other” work of God, and we now believe that we are of the same type.”

      How than do you explain the Book of Mormons teaching that mankind is inherently evil? As i said in the post, this is not a chary picked idea that i came up with, its through out the Book. Also, the “softer” touch is a product of the 1960’s what rejected any kind of expectations, especially form “White European Males.” God forbid

  4. To paint mankind as inherently evil takes away agency just as much as painting mankind as inherently good. In order for agency to work, a human must be in a position where he/she can choose to “be” either good or evil. God entices us to do good, whether it’s through the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, or righteous people around us. Satan entices us to do evil through himself, his minions, or unrighteous people around us. The fallen nature of our mortal bodies (which by definition cannot endure God’s presence) and the choices of many individuals to choose evil is what is being lamented in the above scriptures. If an individual makes just one “evil” choice, it by definition separates him from the presence of God and requires the Atonement of Christ for remedy. Given the multitude of choices and thoughts, it is easy to classify most mortals as having made at least one (if not many) unrighteous choices, putting them in the scriptural “evil” category. It is a stretch to suggest that mankind is inherently evil, as we interpret the word in modern times, though.

  5. The Book of Mormon teaches a lot of things, like the Trinity and the depravity of mankind, that we have to grapple with in light of later revelation. It is not a closed canon sufficient to itself.

    I think I mentioned the main LDS counterargument to mankind being inherently evil is the teaching that we are gods in embryo (and not 60s politics). So can’t be all evil. How do you deal with that?

    • Correct, section 93 teaches that our spirits are eternal and made from light and truth, which is the same material of our Christ. When we come into Mortality we are then “clothes” in a tabernacle of clay which infringes upon us a nature that must be overcome. This is the context i am speaking of, I figured the many scriptures quoted would have made them point self-evident, I was not talking out the inherent goodness of our eternal nature (created from light and truth). This is why we need a Savior, It is only through Jesus Christ that we can overcome the flesh and become like “God,” perfected i think is the word i used in the post. If we were inherently good, than why do we need a Savior (or a God for that matter) to make us good?

      • I prefer and am motivated by the tension of always being some degrees of separation from God, but not purely good or purely evil. I think you are using this idea to reach political conclusions, though, that I don’t think can be so cheaply won.

  6. My post has nothing to do with politics, but you seem to want to go there every time you reply. By the way, at no time did I assert that we are 100% evil or 100% good. But rather that our nature if left unchecked, will with without a doubt lead us to behaviors that are against gods commandments. its hard enough to keep them with what we already know about God and Christ.

    • You partly defined your idea as distinguished from secularists, who blame bad behavior on poverty, racism and inequality. I think your point here was that, if people just understood that we are inherently evil, we wouldn’t worry about these problems as a social concern. If that is not what you are saying, I am happy to hear it.

      • I got that same point from the use of “secularists.” Honestly the entire post, and especially the comments, reek of privilege. Male privilege, priesthood privilege, affluence privilege (also known as the prosperity gospel) and “self-righteousness privilege.”

        One of the things that also goes throughout the Book of Mormon is the caution against judgments of others, and of not being charitable towards the poor. That pride is what we are supposed to be guarding against. I understand that while, American, Mormon men who grew up in comfortable circumstances, and then went to college are those who have the most “privileges” to fight, and maybe that makes it more easy to imagine that yours are the only problems in the world.

        • “reek of privilege.” LOL, your comments bring to mind the “struggle sessions” that Mao rolled out during the culture revolution. It was intended to “humiliate, persecute, and/or execute political rivals and class enemies. In general, the victim of a struggle session was forced to admit to various crimes before a crowd of people who would verbally and physically abuse the victim until he or she confessed.

          Sounds a lot like modern liberalism with this latest crap of accusing those like myself of benefiting from “white privilege.”

        • Chris, when someone throws out the “white privilege” card, there’s no sense continuing the conversation. The LOL was my actual response because its so intelectually shallow. You know that I enjoy engaging in though provoking conversations with those I differ with, but the “white privilege card,” sorry, but I don’t engage with those who use “accuse” people like myself of such nonsense without a shred of evidence.

        • To be fair, I read her comments, and what i wrote has nothing to do with making judgements, or not being charitable to poor. I have no idea how my post has anything to do with the poor or pride. But since you bring it up, those who recognize the need for a Savior are far more likely to be charitable.

          My text comes directly from the BOM, I didn’t write the book, i am just sharing my thought sabot what IT says. My question to you is please provide evidence that backs up what you believe. Like i told Chris, i am open to being persuaded. in fact, some of the comments already written has given me some things to think about and in fact, i may edit my post accordingly.

          “I understand that while, American, Mormon men who grew up in comfortable circumstances, and then went to college are those who have the most “privileges” to fight, and maybe that makes it more easy to imagine that yours are the only problems in the world.”

          I presume you are referring to me? if not than my following thoughts do not apply, but it so. You are doing the very thing you advocated in not judging others. You have no idea what my circumstances were growing up. you have on idea what i have gone through in my life. To through out word privilege when you have no idea what your talking about is inappropriate. perhaps you need to take some of your own advice and not judge. By the way, how do you know I am white? Don’t make such “judgments.”

        • How nice to be dismissed before I have had the chance to explain myself. I feel just like I am at church.

          I suppose that there is a chance that you grew up feeling able to judge the entire human race, and condemn all those who are different from you, and not have all of those privileges, but that would make you as rare as a unicorn, in my life.

          I have seen this line of thinking at work in the lives of many Mormons, and I have not seen the results that you assume will come. “If all are evil and base,” so the thinking often goes, “then it is not my fault when I lose control occasionally, because most of the time I do not beat or rape my wife and quite often, I am able to control my desire to molest children.”

          Black and white thinking is not that of our Heavenly Parents. Who among us are willing to look at our children and believe that the first mistake after baptism marks them as evil? I have not ever, in any communication with my Heavenly Parents, felt condemnations for relying on the Atonement of the Savior. I have felt condemnation for those times that I have allowed myself to believe that I don’t have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters in all parts of the world.

          Saying that millions have died because they made bad choices is such nonsense. Who is your neighbor? Who can count on you? Christ was very clear that we serve Him when we serve those who are “the least” in our eyes. I feel called to say the words that I am given, even when it would be *much* easier to simply walk away from posts that are as damaging as this. If I do not speak up, there is the chance that someone reading the post mow, or 100 years from now, will mistake your words for those of the gospel.

  7. This is a great article. In the scriptures it lays out that man is evil but through the atonement we are made good. The Lord does not portrait gray areas in scriptures through ancient and modern day prophets. If we are in sin we are evil if we are not in sin we are good and pure. I don’t understand why this is so hard to understand for members of the church. Evil does not mean one is out attempting to hurt others or cause harm to society but the nature of man is sin therefore we are evil unclean before God the Father. But the good news is that Evil can be cleansed through our Savior Jesus Christ and the Great Sacrifice that Atoned for Our sins to become one with God.
    I want to reiterate that evil does not mean one is out to harm, evil is the words God defines those who are not capable to enter into his presence.

    Great Article Shaun Maher, you are Spot on.. Keep them coming 🙂