The Satan Hypothesis (SH), “is the view that so-called natural evil, the evil suffered by sentient beings that is not caused by human agency, is caused by angelic agency, specifically that of Satan and other fallen angels” (Dunnington 2018, p. 266). Those that champion this view believe that Satan and his demonic host rebelled against God and suffered the consequences of their own cosmic Fall prior to that of Adam and Eve. As necessarily free, moral agents, however, Satan and his cohorts never lost the ability to interact with the physical realm, and so from their own Fall onwards, have sought to utilize their powers for the purpose of thwarting God’s will and destroying His very good creation.
Those drawn to this view do not necessarily buy into a complete libertarian view of free will, defaulting instead to a more Augustinian view that sets the locus of evil in the autonomous nature of angelic beings, much like Augustine did with Adam and Eve (Murray 2008; Guthrie 2017). Since almost all of those holding this view are either old-age creationists or theistic evolutionists, this destructive satanic influence over nature has been going on for hundreds of millions of years—hence a fossil record brimming with death and destruction.
The rationale for this theodicy is compelling enough; Satan was, after all in the Garden with Adam and Eve, before the Fall (Genesis 3). We also know that Satan inflicts suffering and pain (Job 2:7), causes at least some diseases (Job 2:7; Luke 13:10-17), whips up a storm (Job 1:19), and can inhabit both animals and humans (Mark 5:1-10; Matthew 8:28-34). Satan is also called “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV), and “the prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2 (ESV). And in 1 John 5:19 (ESV), we are told that “the whole world” lies in his power. Yet are these preliminary facets of Satan’s domain enough to warrant the SH? I do not think so and here’s why.
First, we know from Scripture that all natural processes ultimately emanate from God’s power over the universe, Psalm 18:14, Psalm 77:16-19, Job 37:11-12, Jeremiah 51:16, Mark 4:35-41, and especially Hebrews 1:3 (ESV), “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” So, when Scripture says “God makes the grass grow” (Psalm 104:14 ESV), we are not to think of a myriad of angels (or demons) actively bringing nutrients to the roots, “pulling” on the leaves, or “zapping” the aphids.
Rather, we are to think of God as the primary cause who sustains all secondary causes using natural laws (Dunnington 2018). This means that every atom that hits another that causes a chain reaction culminating in a future set of natural phenomena is ordained and predetermined by God. This fits with what we observe in nature and what we know from God in the Bible—that is, that this kind of “Creational” power belongs only to God and not to created beings, fallen or otherwise (Hebrews 1:3). Consequently, attributing population-destroying volcanoes, earthquakes, and/or tsunamis to Satan and his fallen angelic realm could only be legitimized by placing the actions of these spirit beings somewhere in the chain of natural mechanisms that lead to the disasters.
So, if we believe that Satan and/or his hosts produce, say a whirlwind (Job 1:19), then we must acknowledge that they somehow intervened in the natural chain of events that led to the disaster. In other words, we must invoke the only other option available—a miracle—which involves supernatural abilities that somehow manipulate physical objects and work against natural laws. Moreover, these supernatural abilities must be intrinsic to the spirit beings who wield them, thus allowing Satan and his demons to supernaturally alter the physical order without the aid of God.
Guthrie (2017) calls this ability psychokinesis (PK), but differentiates it from its typical paranormal sense by attributing to angelic spirit beings, whether fallen or unfallen, the ability to manipulate physical objects as God does—like the gate that opened of its own accord in Acts 12:10. According to Guthrie, and I agree, neither Satan, or his demons, or even unfallen angelic beings have this ability. Guthrie (2017, p. 40) concludes:
Herein the author describes “four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea.” Observable activities of the angels in this case their physical interaction with the material world is attributed to God’s bestowing of said power as the occasion demands. Since angels are consistently declared to be dispatched and resourced by God, along with the explicit references to God’s actions as the direct causes of various angelic intra-worldly interactions, then these are feats they cannot accomplish on their own on pain of divine superfluity (emphasis mine).
Guthrie here alludes to the four angels of Revelation 7, who are not just given God’s authority, but His supernatural power. He also points to the account of Balaam in numbers 22 (Guthrie 2017, p. 39), where Balaam’s eyes are opened to the spirit realm, “Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:31 ESV; emphasis mine). Humans can only detect spirit beings when and if God allows it. Guthrie’s point is that if the good angels depend on God’s divine power to act in nature, then so must fallen angels. For the SH to work, Satan and his demons must freely alter the physical realm using their own intrinsic powers supplied at their creative inception. In other words, they must be able to “push” physical things around, without requiring God’s direct authority and supernatural power. Yet as Guthrie (2017) and Dunnington (2018) demonstrate, this seems unlikely.
And there are other corollary ramifications as well. Imagine the results, especially in our scientifically wired world, where satellites, GPS, radar, sonar, etc., constantly measure, scan, probe, and prod just about every facet of our natural world. In many instances of natural disasters, scientists can predict end results based on long-running chains of naturally induced effects that stem from naturally produced causes. Disconnected physical phenomena, “whirlwinds,” would create ubiquitous physical anomalies that our modern devices of measurement would detect. Since such anomalies are absent from all operational forms of scientific enquiry, we can conclude that supernatural powers and/or miracles are not involved.
Some may object to the reasoning proposed above, favoring an ad hoc explanation, “perhaps Satan intervened in the natural order billions of years ago when the earth was first forming.” Perhaps, for example, Satan was somehow able to initiate the advent of plate tectonics in an initially immobile, and solid crust. This proposal must, of course, dismiss Guthrie’s objections above, but it at least places the miracles so far back in history that the anomalies produced by these miracles now lie buried in billions of years of naturalistic background noise.
Yet there are problems with this view. First, and not withstanding Guthrie’s objection, why couldn’t God just reverse Satan’s damaging work? In fact, every time Satan destructively intervened in the physical realm, God could afterwards simply reverse the chaos. Of course, this scenario would then repeat itself ad nauseum throughout history until we get to the present. This again brings us back to the objection raised above—Since such anomalies are absent from all operational forms of scientific enquiry, we can conclude that supernatural powers and/or miracles are not involved. Even more compelling, however, is the biblical evidence that discounts any kind of metaphysical dualism.
Quite simply, if Satan and his cohort could really alter the physical universe in ways that the SH demands, then absolute statements of Scripture that are explicit about God’s control over nature (Hebrews 1:3) would prove false—God, in protecting his own free-will directives and allowing fallen angels to run amuck, must equally fight against the same fallen angels for the sovereign right to sustain His physical universe. This is absurd.
And finally, Guthrie (2017, p. 41) points out that the power to alter earth’s physical systems in miraculous ways would actually prove fatal to the witness of God in Scripture:
Proponents of demonic PK are saddled with the burden of explaining why God would have empowered demons with the ability to perform such power if it is essentially indistinguishable from divine miracles by outside observers. There is no reasonable justification for supposing that Jesus‟ multiplying bread and fish or Moses‟ parting of the Red Sea could not be the results of demonic PK; and yet it is difficult, if not blasphemous, to think that demons might actually have accomplished such things.
In summary, the SH hypothesis suffers from several debilitating flaws that would require a complete and radical departure from even a more liberal approach to theology. Satan does have the power to distort that which God has created, but even this power is not intrinsic to either him or his cohort, being instead a delegated power that is vastly limited, requiring divine permission.
Part 2 on Satan’s influence in biology coming shortly.
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