dianoigo blog

Thursday 3 April 2014

Logical arguments against the devil's existence: (3) 'The Devil made me do it'

This is the final installment in a series responding to logical arguments against the existence of a personal devil. Previously we looked at the empirical argument (which decries the lack of tangible evidence of the devil) and the theistic argument (which says an all-powerful, all-good God could not allow the devil to exist). We found that, upon closer examination, both of these arguments are self-defeating.

We now turn to an argument which is probably more popular than either of the other two. This argument is more often insinuated than stated logically, but it goes something like this: "People who believe in a personal devil tend to use it as a convenient excuse to avoid taking responsibility for their sins." The catchphrase that is often placed on the lips of these guilt-shirking Christians is, "The devil made me do it!"

As it stands, this is nothing more than an unsubstantiated ad hominem. There probably are people who use the devil as an excuse or a license for sin, but to my knowledge no evidence has been published to suggest a negative correlation between belief in the devil and perceived moral responsibility. Conversely, the studies of Swatos (1988)1 and Wilcox et al (1991)2 found a positive association between belief in the activity of Satan and political activism for moral causes. This is not what would be expected if belief in Satan inspires complacency toward sin.

However, let us return to the logical form of this argument. As a syllogism this argument might proceed something like this:

(1) If human beings were influenced by an evil tempter too powerful to resist, God would not hold them morally accountable for their sins.
(2) God holds all people morally accountable for their sins (apart from the redemptive work of Christ).
(3) Therefore, no person is influenced by an evil tempter too powerful to resist.

In this case, the conclusion (3) really does follow from the premises. However, it will be seen that premise (1) is not valid. Regardless of belief or disbelief in a personal devil, all Bible believing Christians would agree that human beings are influenced by the carnal mind, or sinful flesh. Paul is quite clear in Romans 6-7 that 'sin that dwells in us' is an evil tempter too powerful to resist, try as we might. We who are of the flesh are enslaved to sin, "sold under sin" (Romans 7:14). Paul is also clear throughout Romans (especially chapters 1-2, and see Romans 14:10) that God holds all people morally accountable for their sins.

Here is an inconvenient truth: all human beings, left to ourselves, are powerless to resist the temptation to sin which is built into our nature through no fault of our own. And yet God holds all human beings morally accountable for sinning. This is why, apart from faith in Jesus Christ we are utterly lost.

'The flesh' therefore serves as a counter-example to premise (1), and proves that sources of temptation - whether internal or external, powerful or weak - do not absolve human beings from guilt should they yield to the temptation and sin. In short, the existence of a personal devil is no more problematic for the issue of human moral responsibility than the existence of a fallen human nature. Said another way, if the syllogism above rules out the existence of the devil, it also rules out the existence of the carnal mind. Therefore, whoever believes in the carnal mind and in moral accountability cannot use this argument to disprove the devil's existence.

This is no different from human legal systems. The intentional criminal act of a sane person incurs guilt before the law, regardless of what pressures and influences the person faced. A judge might show leniency in sentencing a youth who ‘fell in with the wrong crowd’, but such circumstances do not remove the guilt.

This principle can be seen in the very first sin in the Garden of Eden. Adam tried to shift responsibility for his sin to Eve, and perhaps indirectly to God. Eve tried to shift responsibility for her sin to the serpent. However, God still held both of them responsible for their sins notwithstanding any external influences (even supernatural influences, in the serpent’s case, as it is difficult to see how the serpent came to have the powers of speech and reason naturally). In fact, God held the serpent morally responsible for luring Eve into sin, but this did not absolve Eve of her own guilt. Thus we can say generally that while external temptation may bring guilt upon the tempter (cf. Luke 17:1-2), it does not remove the guilt of the tempted if he or she yields to the temptation.

To conclude this series we can simply remark that these three logical objections have failed to dislodge the biblical testimony that mankind faces a great personal enemy called the devil and Satan. He cannot be detected by the scientific method, but then neither can angels, or God himself. His existence is compatible with God's limitless power and righteousness, because God is able to use evil to accomplish a greater good that is beyond our comprehension. His power over us is compatible with our own moral accountability, just like the carnal mind's power over us is.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ has promised that through him, the Father will "deliver us from the Evil One" (Matthew 6:13).

1 Swatos, William. (1988). Picketing Satan enfleshed at 7-Eleven: A research note. Review of Religious Research 30(3): 73-82 (September).

2 Wilcox, Clyde, Linzey, Sharon & Jelen, Ted G. (1991). Reluctant Warriors: Premillennialism and Politics in the Moral Majority. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(3): 245-258.