dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label arguments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arguments. Show all posts

Sunday 23 March 2014

Logical arguments against the devil's existence: (2) the argument from theism

This is the second part of a three-part series looking at logical arguments which have been raised against the existence of a supernatural personal devil. In the previous installment we looked at the empirical argument, which denies the devil's existence on the basis of a lack of empirical evidence for his existence. We saw that this argument requires the professing Christian to maintain a double standard, because s/he is happy to believe in angels and the Holy Spirit in the absence of empirical evidence for their existence.

Another argument claims that if a supernatural, personal devil existed this would contradict the theistic view of God as omnipotent and absolutely good. If the devil roamed about wreaking havoc, this would imply either that God is unable to stop him (and therefore not omnipotent) or else that God is unwilling to stop him (and therefore not absolutely good). Thus we must either reject theism or else reject the existence of the devil.

In fact, this is nothing other than a special case of the argument from evil which has long been used by atheists to argue against the existence of God! The atheistic argument from evil goes like this:

1) A theistic (all-powerful and all-good) God would not allow evil to exist.
2) Evil exists.
3) Therefore, no theistic God exists.

The argument against the devil’s existence basically replaces ‘evil’ in the above syllogism with ‘the devil’ and then observes that if we assume the devil’s existence (premise 2) we arrive at an unacceptable conclusion, namely atheism. However, this argument is again self-defeating. If the above syllogism is valid then no theistic God exists, regardless of whether there is a devil. Hence, every professing Christian must reject the syllogism, and to use the very same logic to argue against the devil's existence would appear inconsistent.

On what basis do theists reject the above syllogism? The theist admits premise 2 but denies premise 1, at least with respect to every kind of evil whose existence he or she admits, such as nuclear disaster-inducing tsunamis and genocidal tyrants. How can theists deny premise 1? One approach is to argue that God may allow evil because in so doing he allows a greater good to be achieved than would be possible otherwise. This greater good could include things like free will, the prevention of even greater evils, character development through trials, and the joy of deliverance and salvation.

If a theist wanted to rework the syllogism above into an argument against the devil, s/he would need to show that, while premise 1 does not hold for evil in general, or for specific instances of evil such as tsunamis and tyrants, it does hold for a supernatural personal devil. The question is, why would premise 1 hold for a supernatural personal devil if it does not hold for any other kind of evil? What is it about the devil that makes it impossible for God to allow his existence but possible for God to allow Hitler's existence? Is it that a supernatural devil would be more evil and more powerful than Hitler? How far then does a being have to slide on the ‘evil scale’ or ‘power scale’ before it stops being morally justifiable for God to allow his existence and becomes morally reprehensible?

Put another way, if God could allow a being as evil and powerful as Hitler to exist because doing so allowed some greater good to be achieved, then couldn't God do the same for an even more evil and powerful being such as the devil? To deny that God could is to deny his omnipotence. Thus, ironically, the argument which sought to uphold theism actually undermines it.

The only other conceivable way to rescue premise 1 in the special case of the devil is to argue that the natural/supernatural or human/angelic distinction fundamentally alters the logic. However, such ontological distinctions are of no logical consequence. An archangel and an ant are equally powerless to thwart the prerogatives of an infinite God.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Logical arguments against the devil's existence: (1) the empirical argument

In my discussions with Christadelphians (and reflection upon my own past way of thinking), my perception has been that Christadelphians widely consider belief in a personal, supernatural devil to be intellectually bankrupt. This doctrine is seen not only as primitive (an objection by no means limited to Christadelphians) but also as logically incompatible with basic biblical doctrine concerning both God and humanity.

Personally I prefer to approach theological subjects biblically rather than philosophically. Nevertheless, as I have reflected upon three logical arguments that have been repeatedly raised against the devil’s existence, it has occurred to me that these arguments are largely self-defeating. I hope that you will find the following reasoning helpful to you in formulating your own worldview.

  1.  The Empirical Argument

One argument that has been used to show that the devil is illogical may be termed the empirical argument: none of us have observed a supernatural personal being tempting us; therefore such a devil does not tempt us. It should be apparent that, stated so baldly, this argument is self-defeating. If this logic disproves the devil’s active existence, it also disproves the active existence of angels, the Holy Spirit, and even God. One could say, none of us have observed angels protecting us; therefore angels do not protect us. None of us have observed God working in our lives; therefore God is not at work in our lives.

In the first place, this argument is wrong to assume that just because you or I have not experienced the activity of God, the Holy Spirit, angels, or the devil in an observable way, neither has anyone else. Even more problematic is the fallacy that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. As theists we do not refuse to believe in God because He does not make Himself visible to us. Why should we deny the devil’s existence because he does not make himself visible to us?

Another version of this argument relies on the testimony of Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness. If this devil is understood to be a personal being, then the encounter was vivid and empirically verifiable: the devil and Jesus engaged in dialogue, and the devil demanded worship from Jesus which implies he was visible. If the devil is personal then according to this template he ought to be both visible and audible when he tempts a person. Indeed, Hebrews 4:15 has been described as a guarantee that Jesus was tempted in the same way you and I are. Since we don’t have visual and auditory encounters with a supernatural personal tempter, neither did Jesus.

In fact, Hebrews 4:15 does not say that we are tempted in all points like Jesus was, but that he was tempted in all points like we are. Besides this exegetical misstep, the argument is again self-defeating. On any reading of the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus was not tempted in the same way you and I are. Have you ever been tempted to turn stones into bread? Have you ever been tempted to commit an act of worship and thereby achieve world domination? I very much doubt it. You would have to admit, I think, that Jesus’ temptations were not only quite unlike yours and mine; they were completely exceptional, and unmistakably supernatural in character. Yes, in their scope Jesus’ temptations not only matched ours but far exceeded them.

The bottom line is that Jesus’ overt, visible encounters with the supernatural were exceptional and not characteristic of ordinary human experience. The fact that angels did not publicly announce my birth does not persuade me that angels do not exist. The fact that the Holy Spirit did not descend on me like a dove at my baptism does not persuade me that the Holy Spirit does not exist. And the fact that the devil does not speak to me audibly or whisk me to the top of high buildings does not persuade me that the devil does not exist. All this convinces me of is that every aspect of Jesus' life was far more momentous than mine; indeed that Jesus is an absolutely unique member of the human race (a point which was not lost on the spirit world).

As such, the fact that we do not experience encounters with the devil in the same way Jesus did is no reason for us to dismiss or radically reinterpret the empirical evidence for the devil's activity which is contained in the Gospel narratives - and probably based ultimately on Jesus' own eyewitness testimony.

In summary, the empirical argument against the devil’s existence is not only unconvincing; it has more in common with atheistic materialism than a Christian worldview.

We will look at two other logical arguments in the next two posts.