I often hear Christians talk about Satan, “The Great Deceiver.” When I tell them that I don’t believe in such a being, they ask me how can I know? This article explains why I find the existence of such a being to be extremely implausible.
Who is Satan? Satan is supposedly a powerful, supernatural being created by God. God intended Satan to be good. Yet Satan turned evil.
Many Questions–No Good Answers
How is it possible that God–from whom only good things come–created a supernatural being that turned evil? Right off the proverbial bat, this seems to make the idea of Satan hard to believe. Note that Matthew 7:18 says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” How could the “bad fruit” of Satan have come from the “good tree” of God?”
Say that God did create this supernatural being that turned evil. How is it possible that an omniscient God would not know that Satan would turn evil? Actually, some have argued that God did know it would happen, so let’s look at the question from both angles. If God did know Satan would turn evil, why would God have created Satan? If I made proverbial widgets, and I could tell that one of my widgets wasn’t going to meet my needs, wouldn’t I be a fool to make it anyway? If God knew his creation would turn evil, and created Satan anyway, doesn’t that mean God wanted Satan to turn evil or that He was at least ambivalent about it?
Some have said that Satan’s turning evil was known, and taken into account in God’s long-term plan. But why would an all-good God need an evil Satan in His long-term plan? One would think that an all-good God would be able to enact whatever plans He has without need of an evil super-being.
What if God didn’t know that Satan would turn evil? Wouldn’t that mean that God is not omniscient? Some argue that because of free will, God’s omniscience does not give God the ability to know what decisions will be made by His creations. So perhaps, by giving Satan free will, God did not know what Satan would do. But shouldn’t a perfect God at least have considered the possibility and made some sort of contingency plan?
Let’s move on and assume that somehow Satan did turn evil–whether or not God knew it would happen. Why did God not immediately destroy Satan? Or, if God doesn’t want to destroy his own creations, why did God at least not immediately contain Satan, perhaps lock him up in hell? Or take away his supernatural powers? I think that Christians say that God will do this at the time of judgment. Why wait? Why let Satan do evil in the meantime? If God can stop Satan now, and doesn’t, isn’t God guilty of allowing evil? Isn’t God acting as an accomplice to evil?
Now let’s assume that there is some explanation for this. So we have Satan, a powerful being, who is intent on corrupting man. Why does Satan only do things surreptitiously? For example, why doesn’t Satan shoot intense pain through every human on Earth until they confess their allegiance to him? I know that Christians say God acts as a “hidden God” because He wants to see if we will freely choose Him. But it seems unlikely that Satan, a pure evil being, would have any such motivation. So why doesn’t Satan just come on down and kill everybody or do whatever evil he feels like?
Maybe God wouldn’t allow Satan to act so boldly? Then why does God let Satan operate surreptitiously? God allows Satan to do surreptitious evil? This doesn’t seem to make any sense.
One explanation, offered by apologist Dr. Hugh Ross, is that Satan is not allowed to tempt us more than we are capable of withstanding. So I suppose that means that nobody is ever successfully tempted by Satan, right? If they are, then by definition, they have been tempted more than they can withstand, right?
I suppose Dr. Ross is saying that Satan is only allowed to tempt us to the extent that God expects us to be able to withstand. But how could this really work? If Dr. Ross is right and God limits Satan’s evil, then is Satan constantly asking God, “Hey God, can I, like, shoot massive pain through Joe’s body and see if that turns Joe against you?” And God says, “No, Satan, you may not.” And then Satan asks, “Well–can I, like, kill Joe’s baby and see if that turns him against you?” And then God says, “Oh, okay, Satan, I guess you can do that.” You might think I’m being sacrilegious but the point is that, although some theologies may sound logical when you read them in a book, when you try to take them off the pages of the book and see how they work in actual practice they are exposed as just being pat answers that have no real value.
[Note: If you think my pretend conversation between God and Satan is sacrilegious, a very similar conversation is depicted in the book of Job where Satan convinces God to allow him to kill Job’s family and servants. So, if someone close to you dies, it might be because Satan convinced God to let him kill them.]
It seems to me, then, that either option, Satan self-limits his evil for some reason or God limits Satan’s evil, isn’t very believable. But say I’m wrong, say that one or the other of these explains why Satan’s evil is at least somewhat constrained. However, if Satan does anything at all to influence man, how can man be said to have free will given that Satan has supernatural powers and we don’t? How can God really expect us mere mortals to be able to withstand any temptation by a supernatural evil being? If Satan can use supernatural powers–even “a little bit” against us mere mortal humans–how can we truly have free will?
At least a few Christians believe, for example, that Satan placed fossils on Earth to mislead man into believing in evolution. If true, this would mean that we cannot believe anything we see, or any of what our senses tell us–they could be just the conduit for satanic delusions. How can we have free will if there is nothing that we can know with certainty? Thus I say again, if Satan can use any of his supernatural powers against us, then free will does not exist.
Does Satan not know that God is omnipotent? How dumb could Satan be to think that he could possibly win out against the omnipotent Creator, the Creator of everything including even himself? Some Christians say that Satan does know he will eventually loose, but that he just wants to take as many people down to hell with him as he can. But how could Satan have ever been dumb enough to even consider revolting against God, knowing full-well that he could not possibly win? And how could have a third of God’s angels have been dumb enough to join Satan, as they too should have known from the beginning that they have no real chance to win?
What is the reason for God not revealing Himself to us in obvious ways? When a skeptic asks that question, Christians will often answer that God feels that if we were to have absolute proof of His existence, we wouldn’t have the free will to reject Him. Yet Satan, even though he had proof-positive of God’s existence, was still able to choose to disobey God. Thus, if Satan could have proof-positive of God and still have free will to disobey God, then so should we.
Finally, if Satan could become evil because of free will, how will God ever solve the problem of evil? Couldn’t tomorrow, some other creation of God use its free will to turn evil? Couldn’t this continue to happen for all eternity? How can heaven be any better than Earth if it is subject to the same problem of free will allowing beings to choose evil?
Let me summarize. I don’t believe an all-good God could have created a powerful, supernatural being that turned evil. But even if I am wrong, I don’t believe an omniscient God could not have known it would happen, or at least make contingency plans. If somehow this evil Satan did come to exist, I don’t think that an all-good God would let Satan continue to do evil. But if God did let Satan continue to do evil, I don’t think an all-evil super-being would be restrained or act surreptitiously–he would use his supernatural powers openly. But even if this evil being were for some reason at least somewhat restrained, the fact that he, having supernatural powers, could have influence over us mere mortals would mean that we don’t truly have free will. So, from start to finish, the concept of an all-evil, super-being Satan is untenable.