Metaphysical Dualism and the Origin of Satan
In his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil, Gregory Boyd defines dualism as “the belief that there are two ultimate powers running the world, one good and one evil” (421). More precisely, metaphysical dualism holds that the coexistence of good and evil is eternal and is built into the very nature of things.
D’Souza addresses the literal meaning of metaphysics when he says, “Our world looks so physical, and yet we know . . . that it was the result of a force beyond physics. This is the literal meaning of the term metaphysics—that which is after or beyond physics” (125). Metaphysics is concerned with what is ultimately real beyond experience (cf. Sturch 428). Therefore, metaphysical dualism contends that ultimate reality involves the ideas that both good and evil have always (eternally) existed, and that Satan, like God, is an eternal being who has always been in existence.
I am affirming here that metaphysical dualism is untenable both philosophically and biblically. Philosophically, it involves a contradiction because of the nature of God and goodness. Biblically, metaphysical dualism implicitly denies the claim of special revelation (the Bible) concerning both the creation and the cessation of history.
Definitions of God and Satan
I am in agreement with Jackson who, in an excellent brief essay on “Satan: His Origin, Mission and Destiny” (103), accepts the following definition of the devil: “A created, but superhuman, personal, evil, world-power, represented in Scripture as the adversary both of God and man” (Sweet 2693). Concerning God, British philosopher David Conway, whose arguments for the existence of God, have been praised by former atheist Antony Flew, has affirmed and defended the following definition of God, which I also accept:
In sum . . . [God is] the Being . . . considered to be the explanation of the world . . . [possessing] the following attributes: immutability, immateriality, omnipotence, omniscience, oneness or indivisibility, perfect goodness and necessary existence. There is an impressive correspondence between this set of attributes and those traditionally ascribed to God within the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It is one that fully justifies us in viewing Aristotle as having had the same Divine Being in mind as the cause of the world that is the object of worship of these two religions. (emp. added 74).
Richard Swinburne (Oxford, England) has been called by some the most distinguished British philosopher of religion today. In his defense of theism, some even say Swinburne has developed the most sophisticated and highly developed natural theology the world has seen. His tetralogy on Christian doctrine has been praised highly in contemporary philosophical and theological circles. Swinburne affirms that God is “. . . eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things” (7). Concerning God being the creator of all things,
Swinburne says, “. . . I understand that everything that exists at each moment of time (apart from [H]imself) exists because, at that moment of time, [H]e makes it exist, or permits it to exist” (7, emp. added.) If this claim of Swinburne is actually the case, it has crucial implications concerning the origin of the devil, the problem of evil, and the origin of sin. In dealing with such issues, most “Christian” theologians, according to Ramm, “. . . have tried to avoid dualism. They have not tried to solve the problem by postulating opposing and independent eternal sources of Good and Evil” (7).
A Philosophical Response to Dualism
Metaphysical dualism is untenable because of the meaning of good and evil. C. S. Lewis explained this point in the following:
There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. . . . They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other. . . . Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other . . . or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now if we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.
But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in additional to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him. (33-34).
The very meaning of good and evil implies the nonsensical nature of any explanation of reality that says God and the devil have coexisted eternally. Lewis defines badness (i.e. evil) as “only spoiled goodness. . . . [T]here must be something good first before it can be spoiled” (35, emp. added). Logically, good then must be prior to evil, and good must be superior to evil. “In the conflict between Good and Evil, Goodness is prior and Evil is the corruption of the Good.” (Nash 210-11, emp. added). Before something can be described as objectively evil there must
exist an absolute, objective standard of reference by which evil is defined. “. . . [T]hat standard must be the Absolute Good” (211) which is God. Philosophically, God is prior to all and is above all. C. S. Lewis describes evil as “a parasite” (35). Nash explains:
. . . As we know, a parasite is an organism that survives by living in or off of a host organism while contributing nothing to the survival of the host. . . . In order for a parasite to grow and survive, it must prey upon a healthy organism. The parasite needs its host; the host is not dependent upon the parasite. Following this analogy, Lewis states that the Good is primary and Evil is always a corruption of some prior good. It would be odd to contend that the healthy human body is the parasite and the tapeworm is the host. (210, emp. added). In view of the above, I submit the following argument:
1. If good is both prior and superior to evil, then God (Deity) is prior and superior to any, and every, being (whether good or evil).
2. If God (Deity) is prior and superior to any, and every, being (whether good or evil), then God is prior and superior to the devil.
3. If God (Deity) is prior and superior to the devil, then metaphysical dualism is false.
The first premise (1) is true. This is the case because, as earlier affirmed, good, by its very nature, is both prior, and superior, to evil. If such is the case, then it must be true that God (Deity), who is infinite in goodness, is prior, and superior, to any, and every, other being, whether good or evil. Furthermore, if God (Deity) is prior and superior to any, and every, other being, then He obviously is prior, and superior, to the devil (2).Therefore, it must be the case that metaphysical dualism is false (3).
Not only is it the case that metaphysical dualism is untenable because of the meaning of good and evil, but it is also untenable because God is omnipotent. Metaphysical dualism undermines the omnipotence of God. This is the case because any doctrine that implies the devil necessarily exists (i.e. an existence that is eternal and self-contained without beginning or end) also implies that God is not omnipotent. The following argument explicates this point:
1. If God (Deity) is omnipotent, then God (Deity) possesses the power to destroy (if He freely chooses) any, and every, being.
2. If God (Deity) possesses the power to destroy (if He freely chooses) any, and every, being, then no being (except God) is a necessary being (i.e. a being that cannot not exist).
3. If no being (except God) is a necessary being (i.e. a being that cannot not exist), then the devil is not a necessary being.
4. If the devil is not a necessary being, then metaphysical dualism is false.
Swinburne explains the crucial implications of a necessary being. He wrote, “The theist holds that God possesses the properties [attributes] described in some sense necessarily, . . . [H]e is . . . a necessary being that is to say, God could not suddenly cease to be . . . omnipotent. . . . God could not not exist. His existence is not dependent on any other being” (95). To affirm the omnipotent God and an omnipotent devil is to affirm a contradiction. Any being which has within itself a reason for its own existence is non-contingent (not dependent on any other being) and would undermine the supposed omnipotence of another being unless both were of the very same nature and perfectly one as is the case with the Triune God (Deity). Given the infinite nature of God, it is logically impossible for the devil, or any other being, to be a necessarily existing (non-contingent, eternal, always having existed) being. Any doctrine that implies a contradiction is false, and the doctrine of metaphysical dualism implies a contradiction.
A Biblical Response to Dualism
In addition to the above line of argumentation that proves metaphysical dualism to be false, appeal also can be made to information in the Bible for proof of the unsoundness of this doctrine. Biblical information concerning (1) the beginning of all things (creation) and (2) the end of all things (cessation) implies that this kind of dualism is false. First, note the following argument:
1. If the Bible is the word of God, and the Bible teaches that God created all principalities and powers, and the being now identified as the devil is included in the class of principalities and powers, then God created the being now identified as the devil.
2. If God created the being now identified as the devil, then the devil has not always (eternally) existed.
3. If the devil has not always (eternally) existed, then metaphysical dualism is false.
For the purpose of this presentation the Bible is assumed to be the word of God. [Note: See any of the following for the basic argument that proves the Bible is the word of God: “The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.” 1971 Bible Lectureship of Harding Graduate School of
Religion. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1971; What Shall We Do with the Bible? Jonesboro: National Christian, 1975; Warren, Thomas B., ed. “The Inspiration of the Bible.” The Spiritual Sword. 1. 2 (1970).]
If it is the case that the Bible is the word of God, and if it is the case that the Bible teaches doctrine x, then we can know doctrine x is true. This is as simple as understanding that, since it is impossible for God to lie, when God says something is the case, then we can know that it really is as God says. If the Bible is the word of God, and the Bible teaches the doctrine of creation, then one can know the doctrine of creation is true. Crawford defined creation as “. . . that free act of God by which in the beginning He made, without the use of preexisting materials, the whole visible and invisible universe” (47). “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on [E]arth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16, emp. added). Olbricht summarized: “. . . Jesus is the Creator of all things. . . . Jesus was instrumental in creating ‘all things.’ . . .” (116, 119). Robertson identifies “all things” here as the universe as in Romans 11:36, and says, “The permanence of the universe rests . . . on Christ far more than on gravity. It is a Christo-centric universe” (478). Concerning the terms “visible and invisible”
Olbricht writes, “. . . [I]ncluded [are] visible earthly inhabitants and invisible spirit beings outside the earthly realm, as well as angels of God and of the devil” (120). The usage of “principalities or powers” here finds parallel with Ephesians 1:21 and 6:12. In the latter reference, principalities is “applied here to powers of evil” (Salmond 383). Liddell and Scott also say that it refers to “powers of evil” (252). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology has the following comment on archai (principalities): “In Eph. 6:12 . . . the evil world of spirits ruled by the devil against which Christians have to fight. In Rom. 8:38 the archai, alongside angels and powers, denote a special category of heavenly or supernatural beings which are at work at the present time but cannot separate the believer from the love of God” (Bietenhard 167). Delling writes, “In the plan of creation they [principalities] were originally meant to be good . . . and were created as such (Col. 1:16). . . . By the crucifixion of Christ they have been deprived of their power (Col. 2:15). . . . This does not mean . . . their power is destroyed. Man is still engaged in continuing conflict with them (Eph. 6:12)” (483).
Cottrell sums up the biblical evidence that proves the first premise (1) in the above argument, and by implication, proves premises (2) and (3).
Anything that exists besides God belongs to the category of created beings. This includes the visible universe, the physical world of our own existence, and the invisible universe, primarily the spiritual world of angels. . . . The invisible universe is the world of spiritual realities as distinguished from physical. This includes the souls or spirits of human beings, which are at home within the physical universe but are not made of the physical stuff of the universe. It mainly includes the whole world of angels, both good and fallen. We must never forget that this invisible universe is part of the creation of God, too. Just because human spirits and angelic spirits are spirit, this does not mean that we are metaphysically equivalent to God, who also is spirit. Angels and human spirits are created, finite spirits, subject to limitations of space and time. God alone is infinite, uncreated spirit, and thus occupies a distinct metaphysical category all by himself. It is important to remember this so that we do not attribute divine characteristics (such as omniscience and omnipresence) to angels, and especially to Satan and the other fallen angels. (106)
Since the being now identified as the devil has not always existed, it has to be the case that he was created in an original state that was good (cf. Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4; James 1:17). In some past situation, the details of which are not provided by divine revelation, it must also be the case that this one (i.e. the devil) freely chose a course of action which was a violation of the will of God. Lewis explains the implication of such a situation in the following lengthy statement:
One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind . . . sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. . . .
Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems. Is this state of affairs in accordance with God's will or not? If it is, He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?
But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, “I’m not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.” Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will had made it possible.
It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying. (36-38) As Francis Schaeffer emphasized, “. . . Christianity is a creation-centered . . . system. . . . [I]t begins with the fact that there is a Creator . . . the God, the Triune God who has existed forever. He has created all things, so there is nothing autonomous from Him” (186, emp. added). Scripture says it best when it provides the revelation of the words of the twenty-four elders who fell down before the heavenly throne, worshipped God, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For you created all things And by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Finally, metaphysical dualism is false, not only because of biblical information concerning the beginning (creation) of all things, but because of biblical information concerning the end (cessation) of all things. Paul wrote:
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24-28) In light of the above biblical information I set forth the following argument:
1. If the Bible teaches that God will put an end to all rule, authority, and power, then there is no rule, authority, or power (whether good or evil) that exists absolutely independent of God’s authority.
2. If there is no rule, authority, or power (whether good or evil) that exists absolutely independent of God’s authority, then there is no rule, authority, or power (except God) that is self-existent.
3. If there is no rule, authority, or power (except God) that is self-existent, then the devil is not self-existent.
4. If the devil is not self-existent, then the devil has not always existed.
5. If the devil has not always existed, then metaphysical dualism is false.
Paul declared an end will come to all rule (arche), all authority (exousia) and all power (dunamis). Bietenhard says, “In the event of the end-period . . . Christ will destroy every arche, dynamis, and exousia . . .” (167). This implies there is no rule that exists absolutely independent of God (premise 1). That such is the case further implies that there is no rule (except God) that is self-existent. The ultimate reason for anything being permitted to exist is dependent on God (Deity). Blanchard explains, “Every . . . living being in the universe is dependent on people or
things, and ultimately on God, but God is totally independent of [H]is creation” (453). God’s existence is self-contained, and He, needing nothing or no one outside Himself to sustain His existence, “. . . gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). Therefore, premise 3 in the
above argument is true, and premises 4, 5 logically follow. Therefore metaphysical dualism is false.
I have presented four valid arguments the conclusion of each argument being that metaphysical dualism is false. In explicating these arguments, I have shown the truth of the premises. The arguments are sound, and therefore any worldview that implies that Satan or the devil has always existed is false.
The correct view of reality entails an ethical or provisional dualism. Summers says, “. . . [I]t is at the most a limited dualism” (142). This is not to underestimate, or falsely minimize, the power of Satan, his agencies, or evil. However, divine revelation explicitly states, “. . . He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Metaphysical dualism does not have its basis in the doctrine of Christianity, but in the false philosophy of Manicheanism developed by Mani (Gk. Manes) whose life is dated circa AD 216-276. [Cf. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge 153-61.] Manicheanism is an ancient Persian (Iranian) religion that competed with Christianity in the late Roman Empire. It is a mix of a form of Gnosticism (i.e. matter and the physical world are evil) and ancient Babylonian-Aramaic beliefs. No less a person than Augustine subscribed to it before he accepted Christianity. Donald Guthrie provides us the following excellent summary statement:
There is a general belief that although the kosmos is God’s world, it is under the influence of evil to such an extent that the word itself can be used of mankind at enmity with God. An impression of dualism is unavoidably created by this means, but it is never a metaphysical dualism, only an ethical. . . . There is also general agreement that spiritual agencies have a powerful influence. . . . There are constant evidences of the clash between God and Satan, but never any doubt about the ultimate issue. What is adumbrated in other NT books comes to expression in
the ultimate overthrow of Satan in the book of Revelation. (150).
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