Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chapter 3: Carnal Nature ~ the second characteristic of Virtue is overcoming our fallen nature

Chapter 3: Carnal Nature

Links to Skip ahead
The meaning of carnal, sensual and devilish
We have two natures in conflict
Our bodies are built to reproduce
Effects of reproductive selection on our bodies
We can not overcome our physical natures by ourselves
Willpower alone is not enough: we must be born again
We are virtuous as we have the Spirit of God
The Spirit of God will guide us to what we need

Since the Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and 'fell', mankind has struggled with the opposition between the Spirit of the Lord and our own fallen natures. If we are to become virtuous, we must overcome the Fall. Mere innocence is not enough – But while the Fall makes us susceptible to sin, it also affords us the opportunity to become excel by way of opposition. (2 Ne. 2:23; D&C 29:39)
The scriptures tell us that because of the Fall, we experienced a spiritual death, that we were cut off from the presence of the Lord, and specifically we became “carnal, sensual, and devilish”. (Alma 42:9-10; also Mosiah 16:3; Moses 6:49; 5:13; D&C 20:20) Even that because of the Fall, our very natures have become evil continually. (Ether 3:2)

While 'devilish' means pretty much what we would expect, what do carnal and sensual mean exactly?

Carnal refers to things pertaining to the body and its passions and appetites. It means not only the natural man (Alma 41:11) but also that which is [σαρκικός (sarkikos) or σάρξ (sarx)] simply an animal appetite or our nature that comes from the flesh, as in Romans 8:7 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. ”. That already puts a great gulf between us and our Eternal Parents.

'Sensual' seems a bit odd to modern ears because it sounds as if it should exclude a great many good things that are sensory pleasures – everything from sunsets to sex itself. The word used in the New Testament for sensual is ψυχικός (psychikos). The same word is translated as 'natural' in “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ” 1Cor 2:14 The word psychikos conveys the meaning of what we have in common with animals, in that we are subject to appetites and passions. Sensual is also used in modern scripture where we can defer to modern definitions; “Devoted to the gratification of sense; given to the indulgence of the appetites; lewd” or “ pertaining to the flesh or body, in opposition to the spirit; not spiritual or holy” (Websters 1828 dictionary))

Thus, sensual refers to a preoccupation of the gratification of our appetites, particularly with sex. It suggests not merely a focus on, but a devotion to gratification of those senses. It may seem quite strange as God has given us both bodies and appetites, yet these can distract us from what is really important. Even from what is necessary to fully enjoy them, both in this life and in the next.

Are all our impulses and desires wicked then and something to be despised? Not at all. That would likewise be a preoccupation with the senses, and hence, carnal. But if we want to fully enjoy it, it is something we need to put in its proper place.

Yet on the other hand, we know that our bodies are temples. But what does that mean? The temple is a sacred place where we can feel God's Holy Spirit and come closer to him. It is a place where the Spirit of God is always present. But on the other hand, “what temple is defiled, God will destroy that temple”. Our bodies were meant to be filled with the Spirit of God but they were created with certain weaknesses inherent in them.

But here we have a problem, we are both spirit and body, and our bodies were built in such a way that the carnal and sensual is what comes naturally. The Brother of Jared in the Book of Ether said, “Because of the Fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2) Just how deeply ingrained is this?

These two natures, our bodies carnal nature and our spirits spiritual nature are in opposition to each other. That is not to say we have no choice, but we must pick which nature we will cling to. No man can serve two masters. Peter specifically warns us of “fleshy lusts which war against the soul”, and like no other sin, lust is addictive. It is built deeply into every one of us. Our bodies are tuned to emphatically direct us towards reproduction. Does this mean we can not escape our biological imperatives? Of course not. God has given us the tools to overcome. And when he has not given the tools we need, we can pray for what we need. (Which is not always what we expect we need.) A greater understanding of our bodies would do well to help us understand this temptation and how to withstand it.

Now, many have looked at the biological facts or of evolutionary lineages and concluded that because biologically, we are animals, we have every right to act like one. That is far from the truth. If we take that as a spiritual fact, we have completely missed the point. Regardless of the details of how we were created, evolved or not, the Creation story in Genesis teaches what we are spiritually. OR in other words, the Scriptures teach the lesson we should learn if we truly had all the details. You don't have to watch many murder mysteries or comedies to realize that facts do not always illuminate. For a more physical example consider Lookout Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. From the southern base of Lookout Mountain, the entire greater Phoenix area looks like a tiny mountain town. Part way up the mountain you begin to get a hint of city beyond the foothills surrounding it. It is not until you reach the summit, that you can see Phoenix for what it is – a very big city and that the city surrounds the hill you are on. But you don't have that point of view until you reach the summit.

Spiritually, we are children of God. Our bodies, though weak, are meant to be temples.

Biologically, however, we are built to reproduce. This is true regardless of your position on evolution. Even if Adam's DNA was more perfect than what we have now, it has had plenty of time for this kind of adaptation. Sexual selection can happen much faster than simple selection of the fittest, and often in a different direction. For instance, a peacock's tail makes him much easier to be seen by enemies and to be caught (and/or eaten). But females (pea hens) mate preferentially with males with big feather displays so the genes for big displays is selected for, even though predators would make it a liability. The feathers are, in essence saying, I am such a great peacock, that I can expend extra effort and energy on this, and still live.

It happens in virtually all animals. Elk, for instance, are favored if they have large antler displays. Those that have large displays win more fights with rivals, and breed more often. Runaway selection can make changes that are not always optimal for survival, if they are optimal for reproduction. Females eventually begin to prefer elk with large antlers regardless of how well it helps them. Elk antlers persist because of reproductive advantage even if they become a liability due to catching in trees in trees or even become too large to fight effectively with.

There are many ways that our bodies are built for reproduction. It happens in the kind of mates we tend to look for and the way we approach the opposite sex. It happens in specific ways that our bodies are built. It even comes in the organization of the nervous system itself. I must point out, that many of these traits that are selected for, depend on the environment they come from,

However, just because our bodies have become a certain way, by evolution or any other means, that does not make certain tendencies that come with it, good. That is called the naturalistic fallacy. We as well say that dying of plague, or being bit by a rattlesnake, is good, because it is natural. It is equally natural for us to gorge on sugar and high-fat foods and put on large rolls of fat, and yet, none of us would call that good! In contrast, to think that what should be, is what actually happens, is called the Naturalistic fallacy.

Our bodies are built to reproduce. Those with genes that were better at it or just more determined at it, had more children than those who were less interested. So, while we have many wonderful ancestors, we are also the children of those in whom this drive was strong. If affects the way our bodies are built, the attractions we experience, even the way our minds are hardwired.

The effect of reproductive selection has impacted the shape of our bodies in several ways.

For instance, one place reproductive selection has been particularly prominent, is testicle size and semen output. In the animal kingdom, some animals form lifelong bonds, while others are highly promiscuous as well as everything in between. If females are coupling with other males, then the genes that has the sperm that fights the most successfully, are the genes that are passed on to later generations. Among species, testicle size in males is proportional to female promiscuity. This phenomena is called “sperm competition” as the semen volume to tries to outcompete others that may be present in the vagina.

We can get a sense of how much this has affected our genes by comparing similar species. Gorillas have proportionately tiny testicles because you don't mess with an alpha male's harem more than once and live to talk about it. Gorilla harem members are faithful. Likewise, gorilla sperm are as weak as gorilla testicles are small because they have not had to compete with any others. On the other hand, in chimpanzees, while the male will try to prevent other males from coupling with his females, the females are wildly unfaithful (as much as 50 times a day). In both proportionate testicle size and semen output, humans fall somewhere between gorillas and chimpanzees. In other words, in human history, there has been significant infidelity, but not among all.

Even the shape of the penis in humans, and the way it is thrust, is designed to displace foreign sperm. Likewise, men's sperm production peaks after returning home from a trip.

Teste size: across species female promiscuity proportional to teste size and semen output


Speciestestes % of body massvolume of semenFidelity


Gorilla0.02 %50 milfemales fully faithful


Human.04 to .08 %250 milsomewhere in between, but closer to gorilla


Chimpanzee0.3 %600 milwildly unfaithful

Or have you noticed, that on average, men are 8% taller than women? Men are also 20% more massive. This difference between male and female, called sexual dimorphism, is proportional to the number of mates a male has. Swans, which are quite monogamous, are identical is size and appearance while alpha male gorillas are twice as big as females and have harems of up to six. The southern elephant seal male weighs around nine times as much as the female and average harems are around fifty. Thus male bodies not completely built to be monogamous.

Of course, when I mention these gender difference, these are averages. Obviously all of us know of some women who are taller than most guys, and some guys who are shorter than average. There is a lot of natural variation. What is of interest to us, is why Nature picks or encourages certain outcomes in the majority of cases.

Many other sex differences are used to advertise what a good mate the owner is. Many of the things that attract men to women, such as youth and beauty, are correlated with health and fertility. Once again, this is an average. Of course, the irony is, that the primitive parts of our minds are often fooled with cosmetics and plastic surgery.

Even so, our bodies and brains come preprogrammed to be attracted to certain things. Of course, this can be modified by culture, experiences and many other things. On average, men tend to be attracted to youth and beauty. And not only do they tend experience such attractions, it tends to make them stupid. A study by Wilson and Daly that showed that when men were shown pictures of the attractive women, and then given a choice between some money now or a larger amount of money later, they chose the smaller amount now. But when shown unattractive women, they picked the larger amount later. In other words, the sight of a beautiful woman, influenced them to make a stupid choice. While looking at attractive men did little for the women in the study, looking at attractive cars influenced them to make a stupid choice, though it was a less significant effect compared to men.

A paper by Bram Van den Bergh reached a similar conclusion, measuring the effect on men viewing women in bikinis, or even just handling lingerie had on choices in general. It effected some men more than others. The effect is particularly strong when sexually aroused, or “in the heat of the moment”.

However, as messed up an men can be, don't think you ladies are completely off the hook either. Across cultures, studies have shown that women have a strong attraction to wealth and power, and tend to ignore men they deem below a certain financial status. (Averages again! I am sure we all know exceptions) Just ask any guy who has tried to date when unemployed.

Even more interestingly is attraction to the so-called “Dark triad” of personality traits-narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Ignored nice guys and jilted women call them 'jerks'. In a word, think 'James Bond', or 'Sawyer', off of the TV show, 'Lost'. Men who exhibit these traits - narcissism (self-obsession and hedonism), Machiavellianism (deceitful to exploit and manipulate others for personal gain), and psychopathy ( impulsive, thrill-seeking, often with charm, and a grandiose sense of self worth but callous to others) – are both more successful with and more attractive to women.

The point of all of this, is not to condemn or mock, either gender. I bring it up purely so we can realize weaknesses and better understand the “natural man” that all of us, male and female, must overcome. As the ancient Greek saying goes, “Know thyself”.

But this is not all. The very way the brain is wired, is encourage both lust and sex effect the brain, and in particular, the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine's job is to reinforce behaviors, which makes it a key element of addiction. And while not all people become addicted, our judgment is certainly distorted by it. It is implicated in all kinds of risky behavior. Orgasm is the largest source of dopamine that is legal. Sexual arousal is not at all unlike heroin or other similar hard drugs in the effects it makes on the brain. We are literally wired for addiction before we even start. It is the addictive aspect in both overeating and illegal drugs. If rats are given the opportunity to self-administer dopamine releasing drugs like amphetamine or cocaine, they will do so in preference to food or water. They will keep going until they starve to death. Dopamine is that strong of a effect on behavior.

Our brains are set up with powerful reward mechanisms that are activated during sex and will try to override intelligent thought when the opportunity presents itself. Hence, large number of incredibly stupid things people do when they are in love, or simply in lust. Our brain has a number of subsystems. The more 'primitive' systems, such as the limbic and the so called “reptilian brain” are shared with the most primitive animals, while our most advanced brain parts are either shared with only a few primates, or are simply unique to homo sapiens. The neocortex is unique to mammals and is the seat of rational decision making. But other parts of our brain are continually geared towards sex and those emotions, and will override the neocortex if we let them. For instance, the hypothalamus portion of our brain is activated within 185 milliseconds of viewing an erotic image, long before we even can recognize what the image is. It will even introduce blindness around a fifth of a second while the brain focuses on the erotic image.

In the book “The Selfish Gene”, genetics expert Richard Dawkins explained,
“I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. … If you wish to extract a moral from it, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

Elsewhere he said,
“Much of the message of my first book, “The Selfish Gene,” was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.”

And this from one of the world's foremost atheists.

But our own fallen nature, inherent in the body itself, is no small thing to overcome. Let me re-emphasize, overcoming our fallen nature (not just good temporary behavior) is not just hard, but a sheer impossibility without the Atonement. In the book of Ether we read, “because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” Ether 3:2. How on earth can we overcome the fact our natures are “evil continually”?

The Spirit of God is intrinsically associated with virtue. D&C 42:23 and D&C 63:16 both warn us that we can not commit this sin, and have the Holy Spirit with us. Likewise, Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, that if we will “Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16) These two are diametrically opposed and where one exists, the other will not stay. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other”. I will go further and say, that the Spirit of God and Virtue are linked, so that if we have one, we have the other. And to fully become virtuous, we must overcome our own carnal nature.

This carnal nature is present in our mortal bodies, and also, to some degree in our spirits, because our bodies and our spirits are linked and what affects one, effects the other. Hence the word of God to Adam, “in that day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die”. (Gen. 2:17) And we shall, both physically and spiritually. Jacob goes so far as to say that without the atoning work of the Savior, “our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself” (2 Ne. 9:8-9) Paul was no less bold when he wrote, “in me (that is, my flesh) dwelleth no good”.(Romans 7:18) This spiritual death that the Fall brings us is very real and by ourselves, we are not only cut off from the presence of God, but from the source of all good. And slowly but inexorably because of our fallen natures, we would degenerate to the state of devils.

Sounds pretty bad doesn't it? So is all hope lost? By ourselves, the short answer is, yes. But that is hardly the full message of the Gospel is it? From the scriptures we learn, that not only are are fallen from our previous premortal glories, when we lived with God, but that we also may return to the presence of God, by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. I emphasize the extent of our weakness so we may better appreciate the reach of the Atonement, and the depth to which we need it in our own lives.

The prophet Alma taught his son Corianton,
[because of the Fall] man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man. And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will. ....and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, ....And now remember... if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord. And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience ... And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also. Alma 42:6-15

There was no way that Adam and Eve could fix their own problems. Like us, they had to rely on Jesus Christ.

King Benjamin eloquently explained,
“And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. ... men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” Mosiah 3:17-18

There is no way, no way at all, we can do it ourselves. We are stuck and (without Christ) only going downhill and the sooner we learn that, the better. Worrying about behavior is not enough; we must have our nature changed through Christ. King Benjamin further explains,
”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 3:19

There is not room in this book, or even several books to fully explain all the ways that our genes thwart our good intentions, or that the this spiritual death limits us, but we will learn the lesson we need if we learn this – without Christ, we can not overcome.

Specifically now in the context of virtue, what does this mean for us? Is willpower the answer? Certainly we need it but without the Spirit to help us, willpower alone is not sufficient to withstand temptation. Far from saying temptation must be given into, I am saying we can not save ourselves from our carnal, sensual, devilish natures (Alma 42:10). The scriptures are emphatic, that to be carnally minded, is death while spiritual minded leads to life. (2nd Nephi 9:39) To be spiritually minded is not mere nice thoughts, but a mighty change that comes through the baptism of fire, through the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 5:2)

The only way to win this battle with temptation, is to deny it battle. The longer you think about it (even thinking about not doing it) the more likely you are to do it. This is true of sexual perversions, as well as the more garden-variety sex. Worry and obsession can increase our inclinations.

If you want to withstand this temptation, you need to focus on Christ, and receive the Spirit of God. This may well involve great effort. But the effort needs to be to come to Christ, and He will help you with any temptation or anything that disturbs you.

Our natural bodies are very strong this way and unless we have the Spirit, and diligently seek the Spirit of God, it will overpower us. There is temptation that can tempt us more than we can bear by ourselves, but God has promised he would provide a way for us to escape temptation. We are just as accountable for escaping temptation as we are resisting it. Much of that responsibility, is avoiding even the least degree of sin.

The Prophet Alma likewise counseled, "Pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear. . . ." (Alma 13:28.)

It is not enough to merely try and do the right thing, without the Spirit of God. Unless we have the Spirit, and our natures are changed, then we will fail. The natural man is so ingrained in our bodies, that we must continually have our nature changed, or we will act according to our fallen nature. Note, this does NOT necessarily mean overt sin. The Pharisees, taught us that much.

We can fight against our own nature, but if we do not seek Christ, and to have our nature changed, then we are setting ourselves up for defeat. We can only win by denying battle to our fallen natures. We must have our fundamental nature changed. This is the primary danger of misapplied evolution theory, that we are fundamentally nothing more than animals. Biologically, they may have a point, but if we do not remember the teaching of the Savior, that we must be “born again”, then we will have been led far astray.

CS Lewis had this to say,
The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.
CS Lewis, Men without Chests emphasis mine

Unless our nature is changed, sooner or later, our famished nature will be avenged and we will succumb to temptation, in one extreme or the other. This is what Jacob meant in 2 Ne 9:7-10, when he wrote that were it not for the Savior’s redeeming work, we would all fall eventually. Our own fallen natures would bring certain death, like slow poison. Or course we can fight it and must fight it, but what we need most in this fight against the Fall, is the Spirit of God – it is the second birth. We need to be reborn. We need a new spiritual nature and that can only come through the Savior. This is what is called the baptism “with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”(3rd Ne 9:20)

I am not saying that just because a person is not a member of the church, or even believes in Christ, that they are not virtuous. There are many without the full knowledge of the Gospel who are more obedient to the light of Christ (their conscience) than many members are, who have more light and knowledge. Remember, it was the Lamanites and not the Nephites who were the great examples of virtue in the Book of Mormon. (Jacob 3:5-9)

To emphasize the Savior's power and how his ways differ from the ways of mankind, President Benson stated "the Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. . . . The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

And among our cultural philosophy of careless physical intimacy, sex obsession in media and decaying or non-existent families, we must go to the root of our problems. We have spent too long trying to solve our problems by ourselves. And while we must make that effort ourselves, in the end we need the Lord's guidance and saving grace.

His guidance is needed because it isn't even all just disobedience. We need His guidance to learn what the commandments really mean. “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth through disobedience from the children of men, and because of the traditions of their fathers.” D&C 93:39 Many of our problems are “traditions” or things we take for granted. It is obvious to us they are true... even if the are not.

Human nature MUST be changed. Part of that change is knowledge of the Gospel.

Human nature CAN be changed through Christ. He is the salvation from all of our problems.

Is it possible to over emphasize the importance of the Spirit of God? Perhaps, but doubtful. For while the words of Christ will tell us all things we should do (2 Ne. 32:3), it is the Holy Ghost that will show us all things we should do. (2 Ne. 32:5)

A few years after the death of the prophet Joseph Smith, Brigham had a dream, or a vision if you prefer, where Joseph appeared and talked with him. When Brigham asked for counsel for the saints,
"Joseph stepped toward me, and, looking very earnestly, yet pleasantly, said, 'Tell the people to be bumble and faithful, and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small, still voice; it will teach what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to convictions, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, strife and hatred, and all evil, from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord, they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in heaven, before they came into the world. Our Father in heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.'
"Joseph then showed me the pattern, how they were in the beginning. This I cannot describe, but I saw it, and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth, and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect chain from Father Adam to his latest posterity. Joseph again said, 'Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, and follow it, and it will lead them just right."'
(Manuscript History of Brigham Young: 1846-47, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pp. 528-31.) Emphasis mine

Likewise, President Woodruff was visited by the late Brigham Young and when asked if he had a message for the Saints, said "Tell the people to get the Spirit of the Lord and keep it with them.".

But be forewarned He has no intentions of just curing us of one particular sin only, as if He were medicine that stays in the medicine cabinet only brought out to cure a headache. He will not be satisfied, and may even put off help with temptation, until we have completely come to Him.

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