Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If There is a Satan, then There is No God

A lot of people figure that a perfectly plausible explanation for the evil in the world is Satan, or maybe evil demons. The idea, I think, is that if Satan’s the cause of some misfortune, then it can’t be God’s fault. We know that Satan is evil, so there’s no incompatibility. But postulating Satan as the source of suffering and misfortune in the world really doesn’t make any headway towards reconciling those misfortunes with God’s existence.

There are really only two possibilities here. Either God can restrict or prevent Satan from inflicting those gratuitous harms or he cannot. If he can and doesn’t, then we still have the classic problem of evil just as much as the cases of human caused or nature caused evil. Inserting Satan as a cause doesn’t absolve God when God, presumably, has the power, the knowledge, and the goodness to want to prevent such things from happening. If one vicious kid whose bigger than the others savagely tortures another weaker kid on the playground, it’s really difficult to argue plausibly that there was a teacher present who knew about it, saw it happen, had the ability to stop it, and is also a perfectly moral and just person. Something’s got to give.

The critic might respond that God tolerates Satan’s inflicting these harms for some greater good. (Although you’d never accept that nonsense from the teacher who stood by and watched your kid get tortured by the bully.) That would be a different sort of discussion, and one that has gotten a lot of attention. If we’re going to discuss the likelihood or the possibility that all suffering that has ever occurred in the world is actually an indispensible means for achieving some greater good that God could not have achieved any other way, then there’s really no need to add Satan to the discussion. Doing so doesn’t absolve God of responsibility here because on this scenario God is fully responsible and intends for all of that suffering to occur. The claim that Satan is the immediate cause of the suffering doesn’t do anything to support the argument that God had a good reason to allowing the suffering and that the greater good could not have been accomplished any other way. If you think that all suffering is part of God’s plan, then Satan is irrelevant.

If Satan causes gratuitous evil in the world, and God could but doesn’t prevent it, then God must not be omnipotent, or omniscient, or omnibenevolent. An omni-being could and would prevent it. So it would follow that there is no omni-being.

The other possibility is that God is helpless to prevent Satan from inflicting all of that misfortune in the world. He would if he could because the things that Satan does are gratuitous evils, but God doesn’t have the power, knowledge, or goodness to stop it. But if we pursue this line, ironically, it becomes clear that there is no God. If a being is omnipotent, omniscient, and infinitely good, then that being would be able to prevent some lesser being from inflicting gratuitous harms. So it would follow that there is no such omni-being. And if there is no such omni-being, then there is no God.

Maybe Satan is omnipotent and omniscient too, but infinitely evil, and God is deadlocked with him? First, notice that this view is a radical departure from most Christian, Jewish, and Islamic doctrines. On those views, Satan is within God’s dominion. God gives Satan permission to torture Job. Or Satan is a corrupt angel cast out from heaven. God is alleged to be the creator of all things—the whole universe. If there’s this other force that God cannot control, then we seem to have a very different sort of religious view, one that few people hold, and one that has a whole host of its own problems.

Furthermore, all of the evidential problems that we have encountered regarding the existence and the nature of God will be as much or more of a problem with attempts to show that it is reasonable to believe that Satan exists. What evidence do we have, besides church doctrine, that such a wild fantasy being exists? If there is one of those, then couldn’t there also be elves, fairies, trolls, demons, ghosts, gnomes, goblins, and magic? Those things are all possible, I suppose, but are they really the most plausible explanation for events in the world given what we know? It’s frequently remarked that the world would be a much better place if the God hypothesis were true. Similarly, if there were a Satan and he was omnipotent or even just very, very powerful, then it seems like things would be much worse than they are. If you take the view from on high, there are bad things that happen to good people, good things that happen to bad people, and so on, more or less at random. There doesn’t seem to be any discernible pattern here that would suggest the existence of this elaborate supernatural pantheon. If we take the big view, the universe just looks ambivalent to our presence. Or at least it doesn’t look nearly as hostile as it would if there were a scheming, powerful, malicious being out there plotting to make you suffer as much as possible.

So if Satan perpetrates some of the gratuitous evil in the world, then if God could prevent it, all of that gratuitous evil in on God’s shoulders. So if Satan perpetrates some of the gratuitous evil in the world, then there is no omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being.

On the other hand, if God cannot prevent it because he lacks the power, knowledge, or goodness to do so, then again there is no omni-being. So rather than explaining away the existence of evil, the Satan hypothesis, if correct, would show that there is no God.


Slut said...

I just read some Xian blogger (Sandal Straps) who was reading a book in which the premise was apparently that god is not omnipotent. There are some things that god cannot do, according to this book, and preventing evil and suffering on earth are among them.

I'm not sure why they chose to forsake omnipotence, myself. It seems inconsistent with the evidence of a universe containing untold BILLIONS of galaxies and so on. Why not give up benevolence, instead? That seems more direct.

But there you go, it's all ad hoc explanations for the problem of evil.

slut said...

Nice blog, btw. You should add yourself to the atheist blogroll

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

The reason for not abandoning omnibenevolence is simple: if there were an omniscient and omnipotent being, but He wasn't good, He would not be worthy of my worship.

Anonymous said...

Maybe God can't prevent evil and suffering, but this does not impugn God's power. This relates back to the classic question, "can God create a rock too big for Him to lift?" This question is completely irrelevant when condemning Gods power because it is a falsifiable illogical statement. God can do all logically possible things and nothing which is logically impossible. Thus the rock question and prevention of sin are arbitrary. God created this world under physics which don't allow for illogicalities.

Anonymous said...

By saying Satin is responsible for all amounts of evil in this world wouldn't that be attributing a false power to Satin? He is indubitably less powerful then the creator of this world. Where does one draw the line?

Could and woulds...
Could God prevent evil and would He? This is a matter of free will. Does God have free will?
What is complete omnipotence...couldn't do anything or wouldn't?
Say there are two doors which I can go through and they are both unlocked and I know they are both unlocked. In every possible world I always go through door number 1, even though I could go through door number 2. If I were to choose door number 2 it would be locked even thought it was always unlocked, but because I chose it, it became locked. If I would choose door 2, could I go through it? Both are unlocked, but in all possible worlds I choose door 1 and if I were to choose 2 it would be locked even though I know before choosing it that it was unlocked. God knowing about sin and having the power do prevent it doesn't mean his preventing it is a possible reality in this would. It also doesn't mean God is any less powerful.

Alvin Plantinga suggests there are many possible worlds in which God could create and He choose to create the best possible world. In this best world its inhabitance commit at least one sinful act. (trans world depravity)

Diogenes Allen relates suffering to a "firm grasp of a friend". It is possible that in our deepest states of suffering we find our deepest feelings for God. This is not to say suffering is a necessary, but to ask how one is called to respond in the face of suffering? Is free will based on alternative choices?
Could you reject God if you saw him face to face? Can the Will over power Knowledge?

Alexander Geiger said...

My notion of Satan has never been as a Direct participant in malevolence and discordance, but rather as a tempter. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent did not force Eve to fall, he merely made a suggestion, and it was Eve's will that allowed her to fall. It seems to me at least that Satan could very well not be forcing people to commit acts of Evil, but offering temptation to them. God would not interfere because what is the greater good: an untested faith or one that has survived the fires of temptation? Neither God nor Satan is the cause of evil, but people are. And God won't interfere with the will of man, no matter how malevolent, because the will of man is the most important facet of our existence to him. Would you rather have a robot who loved you because it was programmed to, or a woman who loved you because she chose to? Would God rather have people who were good because he forced them to, or because they chose to?

Just a Thought

Matthew Griffin said...

Mr. Geiger,

Allowing Satan to tempt the will of humanity does seem not absolve God of the responsibility for moral evil; temptation is a form of coercion.

A coerced will is not a free will.

Therefore, God, who wishes for humanity to (freely) choose morality, would never allow "free will" to be disrupted by Satan.

Anonymous said...

dont bother alex. the atheist here cant even get to a black and white version let alone one which accepts degrees of behavior ie temptation, suggestive etc. the atheist here are so dumb. they are willing to allow degrees of movement in human life but when they refer to god he must be trapped in a bifurcated bubble ie god cant be good and evil (god can be just and merciful pending on the sitution) eevn a human can do that.

Humans can tempt and influcence and on the same day not tmept and not influence...

silly atheists

Jon Morgan said...

I am quite willing to agree that there is no supernatural Satan, since it is entirely inconsistent with how God acts. However, I can base that belief entirely on the Bible, since God says of himself:
Isaiah 45:5-7 (ESV)
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

You can pick over a God who creates calamity at your leisure, but it is quite clear that it doesn't leave much room for Satan.

Anonymous said...


His Joy said...

You see a man giving a child food but he is making this child walk over glass to get to food. You chase the man away with a stick, but the next day the child is following another man. So you take the child to your home and sit food down for it to eat, and it starts to break glass all over the floor to walk over to get to its food? He has been trained? So you hide everything breakable but it hit itself or bits it tongue anything to cause itself pain before it can walk to the food. Even with the absence of the man his ways have still been instill in this child. So you start to retrain the child. You try a number of things like reducing the glass a little at a time to see if the child will eventually not need it. But a month into your training a neighbor see this child only going to its food when you through done glass or it's hitting itself as it walks across the floor to get to it's food. The next day the child is scratching itself and the neighbor decide it has had enough and calls and reports you to the authority where you sit and try to explain why you a grow intelligent man would stand by and let this child be hurt over and over when you had the ability to stop it. God can simple remove evil or Satan but what you don't get is we have been trained. We have unlimited imagination with a unlimited thirst for pleasure if you add to this unlimited time, What if we never learn what "enough" is. Could it be that we could one day walk out of a perfect place simple because we THINK there maybe greater pleasure to be had another place. No, "not a maybe there must have been something wrong or missing so I wonder off place", I mean a real perfect place is it not at all possible that with this ability to imagine unlimited and thirst unlimited a being could possible forever seek and seek and seek..... even when that means leaving behind perfection to do so. But on another note I am always curious to why do we think we can figure out a God who made the brain we are figuring with... just wondering

Lover and Believer