Is Moral Progress Possible? -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:699 (Jul 2018)
Article: Is Moral Progress Possible?
Author: John F. Walvoord

Is Moral Progress Possible?

John F. Walvoord

This article, originally published in 1944, is presented here with minimal editing to commemorate Bibliotheca Sacra’s 175th anniversary. John F. Walvoord served as Dallas Theological Seminary’s second president from 1952 to 1986, and as editor of Bibliotheca Sacra from 1952 to 1985.


There are few questions in the realm of human thought more arresting than the question of the direction of human experience. Are we making any progress, particularly in the moral sphere? Is there a teleological significance in history? What is the direction in which we are going? In Christian theology as well as in non-Christian philosophy, these age-long questions reappear like persistent moonbeams through a cloud-spattered sky. Sometimes the question is stated more directly, if more tritely, “Is the world getting better?” “Is it our duty to introduce a new moral order?” “Are we building a new world socially?” Many of these questions produce varying answers, due in part to difference of opinion in basic beliefs, partly from a failure to ascertain the real issues of the question. The present article is an attempt to outline the major considerations involved in the question of the possibility of moral progress—outline, because manifestly a full treatment would involve many times the space devoted to it here.

The Issue

The importance of the question is apparent even without a careful study. Dr. James H. Snowden, an ardent exponent of the idea that the world is getting better, in discussing the question wrote this analysis: “It is one of the great dividing ridges and shaping forces of human thought and experience. It is the watershed between two opposite views of the world, pessimism and optimism: the one holding that the world, though mixed with some good, is yet essentially evil and will grow worse and worse; and the other holding that the world, though infused with some evil, is yet fundamentally good and will grow better and better; the one destroying the value of life

and killing interest in it, and the other making life worthwhile and giving us courage and cheer in living it. It is still more profoundly the line of cleavage between two types of religion: impersonal pantheism and personal theism; between two systems of philosophy: materialistic monism and arid idealistic personalism; and between two hemispheres of the globe: the pessimistic Orient and the optimistic Occident. Such a radical distinction must enter deeply and vitally into our daily living and necessarily lowers or lifts our ideals and hopes, weakens or strengthens our wills, and colors with dark or bright hue...

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