GOOD AND EVIL:
THE DUAL NATURE OF MAN
In 1886, Scottish-born author Robert Louis Stevenson created one of the most enduring and influential literary characters in the form of Dr. Jekyll, a mild-mannered and devoted English doctor who experiments with “things better left alone and in the hands of God,” a reference to Jekyll’s fantastic transformation into Mr. Hyde whom Stevenson describes as “pure evil, malevolent, and possessed by the devil” (Williams, 1989, 256).
As literary archetypes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have often been compared to what is known as a doppleganger, a German term meaning a spiritual or physical double of an individual, much like twins with one good and the other evil. However, Stevenson did not invent this “doppleganger,” nor did the Germans, for it dates far into the ancient past and is perhaps best exemplified by the biblical story of Cain and Abel, two brothers, one good, the other evil, with Cain cursed by God to wander the earth for murdering his brother.
Thus, one might ask, by nature, is man good or evil or both? Is he naturally good and naturally evil at the same time? The answers to these questions have long baffled philosophers, scholars, psychologists and theologians, yet one thing is abundantly clear, that good cannot exist without evil, due to a natural balance between the two with one supporting the other. Take for example, Dr. Jekyll who at first wished to remove the evil side of man, thus creating a divinely good human being. But he soon discovered that this was not possible because good and evil relies upon each other, a sort of “yin and yang relationship in which one cannot be separated from the other” (Williams, 1989, p. 267).
From a psychological standpoint, good and evil could be described as emotional entities that exist within the human subconscious mind in the form of the human soul. Of course, when a person expresses either good or evil emotions or acts upon something in a good or evil way, most researchers would agree that these two entities are based upon chemistry and biology, meaning that they only exist as chemical action and reaction in the human brain (Peterson, 2004, p. 215). In essence then, good and evil are nothing more than emotionally-based attitudes that rise to the surface via the subconscious mind when a person is confronted with certain decisions, i.e., whether to act/react in a morally good way or an evil way.
However, in the opinion of religious theologians, good and evil as they occur in man are directly related to the eternal struggle of God against the forces of evil, with Satan serving as the propagator of evil and God as the divine goodness of the universe. In some respects, good and evil is inseparable from intent; thus, “Defining good and evil by purpose or intention permits one to know good and evil even when the result is not visible” (”Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet), meaning that a person’s intentions are sometimes hidden, especially when intention springs from evil thoughts and desires.
For example, in the Holy Koran, the most sacred book to those who practice Islam, Mohammed points out that “He that meditates in a good cause shall gain by his meditation; but he that meditates in a bad cause shall be held accountable for its evil. . .” (Dawood, 2003, p. 69). The key word in this passage is “meditate” or to think long and hard about something; therefore, a person who thinks good thoughts is good and one who thinks bad or evil thoughts “shall be held accountable” for the evil that results.
This passage from the Holy Koran seems to indicate that good and evil is naturally inherent in man, due to being influenced by not only God but also by Satan whom the Holy Bible describes as the antithesis or opposite of God, i.e., Satan is the doppleganger of God. In the Book of Confucianism, believers are told that there are six extreme evils as opposed to the five sources of happiness or goodness. These are “misfortune which shortens life; sickness, distress of mind, poverty, wickedness and weakness” (”Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet).
Notice that these six traits are all related to the body and the mind, such as being ill with a disease or doing something based on wicked intentions like committing murder or rape. Similarly, in the teachings of the religion known as Jainism, the believer must understand that an activity “which is performed with good intention is good and that which is performed with evil intention is wicked” (”Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet), another indication that intent is almost always founded upon either good or evil motives.
According to Derek Williams, from a Christian perspective, the differences between good and evil are clearly laid out in the Old Testament. For example, the word “evil” comes from a root Hebrew expression which means “to spoil” or “break into pieces” and binds “both the evil deed and its consequences” (1989, p. 160), a reference to evil being caused by some kind of malevolent spirit in league with Satan or perhaps caused by Satan himself. Also, “Moral evil arises from mankind’s sinful inclinations” (Williams, 1989, p. 161), a reference to mankind being a sinful creature as a result of expulsion from the Garden of Eden for failing to obey God’s orders not to eat the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge.
In contrast, the word “good” as used in the Old Testament, means “moral or physical quality and sometimes that which is noble, honorable, admirable or worthy” and as a biblical concept refers to “moral and spiritual good which is thoroughly God-centered.” As found in the Book of Romans in the New Testament, all Christians “are to do good even in the face of evil” (Williams, 1989, p. 199) which clearly shows that good and evil are not only physical entities but are also spiritual in nature.
In contrast to the definitions and understanding of good and evil as taught in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, these being the three major world religions, those who practice the Bahai faith see things in a completely different light. First of all, the Bahai faith “does not teach that the physical desires of human beings are evil or bad,” due to believing that “everything in God’s creation is. . .essentially and fundamentally good” (”On Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet).
In the words of the founder of the Bahai faith, Abdul Baha, the concept of the relationship between good and evil in man can be explained as “There is no evil; all is good. . . .good and evil are innate in the reality of man. . . it is the same with all the natural qualities of man. . .If they be used in a good way, they are praiseworthy; but if they are used in an evil way, then they are blameworthy” (”On Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet).
Therefore, it can be assumed that good and evil are “innate” in man, or in other words, are part of his natural composition. In addition, the Bahai faith does not accept the biblical concept of original sin which sprang from the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were expelled by God for sinning against Him. In addition, the Bahai faith does not support any doctrine which “considers that people are basically evil or have intrinsically evil elements in their nature. All the forces and faculties within us are God-given and thus potentially beneficial to our spiritual development” (”On Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet). Basically then, the Bahai faith denies the existence of Satan, an “evil force” which tempts man to commit and contemplate evil things. Thus, evil “is simply the absence of good,” much like darkness is the absence of light or cold is the absence of heat (”On Good and Evil,” 2009, Internet).
But when it comes down to the reality of the question as to whether man is good, evil or both by nature, we must heed the message contained in the New Testament which equates traits like “ungodliness,” “lawlessness” and especially “evil” as being based upon “moral and spiritual depravity which links sin with Satan” (Peterson, 2004, p. 287). In this respect, man is both good and evil but has the power to practice either one at his discretion, due to being a free-thinking individual.
As Michael D. Peterson reminds us, good and evil “is part of man’s inner composition as a member of the natural world” and although some equate good and evil with religious beliefs and principles, “they are indisputably a duality which exists in the minds of men; a duality which cannot be separated nor done away with” (2004, p. 297). Therefore, it could be said that good and evil are part of God’s way of separating human beings from the beasts of the fields; however, man must also remember that at one time in the far distant past, he too was a beast, much like Mr. Hyde, the doppleganger of all that is intentionally evil.
Dawood, N.J., trans. (2003). The Koran. New York: Penguin books.
“Good and Evil.” (2009). World Scripture. Internet. Retrieved May 28, 2009 from
“On Good and Evil.” (2009). Bahai Topics. Internet. Retrieved May 28, 2009 from
Peterson, Michael D. (2004). “The foundations of human good and evil.”
American Psychological Association Bulletin. 25 (2): 234-243.
Williams, Derek, ed. (1989). The New Concise Bible Encyclopedia. Oxford, UK: