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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Is Satan Really All that Bad? » Is Satan Really All that Bad?

Is Satan Really All that Bad?

Seth - April 18, 2009

“The Devil made me do it.”

We’ve all seen the cartoons where the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma and, “poof” a little angel with wings and a halo appears on one shoulder and a little horned devil with a pitchfork on the other. And then the hero stands idly by as the two outside forces compete for his support.

Personally, I think it’s all bunk, even if sometimes pretty funny to watch. But we still seem to get off on this “I’m an innocent bystander” rubbish anyway. It’s nice to think that humans really don’t suck as much as we often seem to, and that it’s really “his fault.”

Who’s fault?

Why our kid brother’s fault of course. Stinky ole Lucifer. “Mommy! I didn’t eat all the chocolate chips! It was Lucifer!”

Poor Lucifer. My kid sister used to do this to me. She would always follow me around and wait for me to do something wrong and then narc on me to mom.

“Mom, Seth’s sneaking cookies.”
“Mom, Seth hit me.”
“Mom, Seth won’t give Heather back her doll.”

She enjoyed it quite a bit. The fact that it made it easier to pass off blame on me, and the fact I was generally unconcerned about being in trouble as a kid made it somewhat easier I imagine. A tale is always more convincing when it’s based on accepted truth. Everyone in my family knew I was generally a twerp. So it wasn’t exactly a hard sell.

And we do the same thing with Lucifer. It’s not our fault we’re so screwed up. It’s our smelly brother who did it. I wouldn’t have turned out half as bad as I did if he hadn’t butted-in with his sly tongue and his devious ways…

Sure, there’s some scripture support for this, as we well know. But I’m not entirely convinced he’s all that bad. Certainly, I don’t think there’s much call to be naming him the “embodiment of all evil.” I mean really, what did he do to get that distinction anyway?

Philosophically, it doesn’t seem to make much sense either. If we buy into the line I keep hearing from Christian apologists about how evil isn’t really real, and how it’s just the “absence of good,” then Satan can’t really be the pure embodiment of evil. If he was, it’s quite possible he wouldn’t even exist, since existence – in itself – is quite likely a positive thing.

And if you hew more to Lehi’s view that good and evil are necessary opposites, then what reason is there to go and call Satan, the embodiment of one of those halves of the apple? I mean, Lucifer was reportedly a pretty impressive fellow, but putting him on equal status with Father seems a little bit much. I mean, who died and made him king of half the universe?

And then we’ve got that business with Cain, where Lucifer is all kissing-up to him and promising him his whole stash of Halloween candy if Cain will just “off” Abel. And then Cain does, and is reportedly going to be Satan’s master. What’s up with that? Thought Satan was supposed to be “king of hell” or “prince of darkness” or something, and all you have to do to take his job is kill a sheepherder? Heck, every Russian MIG pilot in Afghanistan during the 1980s managed to do that much. If this is true, I’d hate to think how far down the infernal totem pole brother Lucifer is at this point. He’s probably on latrine duty or something.

Nope, I just don’t buy it. Lucifer may have been a dramatic sort, and he may have had an original idea or two. But crowning him “Evil Incarnate” is just a tad much. It gives him waay too much credit I think.

I remember wondering in high school seminary once years ago if one of God the Father’s final acts in this story we’re in would be to offer forgiveness to Lucifer. I know that’s scripturally problematic. But I still think it’s a nice thought. I mean, he is our brother, even if he is a jerk. Anyway, I can hope…

I once heard a story that I’m sure is completely unsupported by accepted scripture. It might have been apocryphal, or perhaps a Jewish folk tale, or maybe something else. But it basically says that Satan was the first to introduce evil into the world. But it also stated that Satan was shocked with how far humanity took the evil he had started. It suggested that he never meant things to go as far as they have, and that we humans may indeed have the dubious distinction of outdoing the devil at his own game.

No idea if that’s true. But looking back at the 20th Century, you have to wonder sometimes.

73 Comments »

  1. Seth,

    I didn’t realize you actually posted on your own blog. My world is now turned upside down! :D

    Best wishes,

    TYD

    Comment by The Yellow Dart — April 18, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  2. Remind me to hit you if we ever meet.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 18, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  3. I should be in Utah for a while this summer, where are you at? :D

    TYD

    Comment by The Yellow Dart — April 18, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  4. Of course Satan isn’t the embodiment of evil. That dubious honor certainly belongs to Joseph Smith.

    (Hey, I gotta say stuff an evangelical would say every once in a while, I’m losing my creds.)

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 18, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  5. My sister is getting married in Provo at the end of June…

    I don’t know Jack. I think Ed Decker gave him a run for his money.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 18, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  6. The forgiveness of Satan part is problematic, but probably not as problematic as the idea that Satan is responsible for all the evil in the world.

    Comment by BrianJ — April 18, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  7. Okay, so here are my actual thoughts on the issue. Other than Satan literally being our spirit brother, I really don’t think there’s a huge difference between Mormons and evangelicals on who Satan is and what he does.

    1) Is Satan really, really bad? Yes. Did I mention true crime and the study of serial killers and mass murderers is one of my morbid hobbies? Yeah, I know, I’m sick. Anyways, there’s some really screwed-up stuff in this world that people do, and I just can’t imagine that when Satan sees it he goes, “Oh man! Come on now, guys, that is taking things WAY too far! You people are sick!” He’s just as sick. Sicker.

    2) That said, I cringe when people talk about how Satan tried to get them to do this or that. Satan is not omnipresent like God is; he can’t talk to all of us at once. Even if you assume that he has the ability to manipulate time and traverse vast spaces at incredible speeds, I really don’t think he bothers with most of us. I’m sure he has his hands full pestering Barack Obama and heading up the DNC.

    3) Do individual demons hang out around people and try to get them to sin, Screwtape Letters style? This is plausible. However, I don’t believe they can make anyone do anything, only suggest that we act on impulses that are already there.

    I’m not sure angels and demons actually fly around spiritually beheading each other after the manner of the characters in Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. As cool as that sounds and all, I rather doubt that it works that way.

    4) No. Satan is not going to be forgiven. Not a chance.

    5) All said and done, I think humans are perfectly capable of acting out in evil on their own without suggestions from demons.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 18, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  8. Bridget: There is a HUGE difference between evangelicals and Mormons on who and what Lucifer is. First, God created Lucifer from nothing with perfect foreknowledge that he would wreck evil and havoc in the lives of mortals. I see no way to escape the conclusion that God is an accessory to all of Satan’s evils — and if he won’t be redeemed, what possible motive could God have had for creating Satan?

    In Mormon thought, Satan is a free being who chose to do evil. The explanation of the existence of evil lies with free will that cannot be controlled by God.

    For traditional Christians, the Fall at Satan’s temptation is a disaster. However, evangelicals cannot explain the introduction of evil into the world by Adam’s free decision, but must revert to the pre-existing temptation to evil presented by Satan as the God-created condition in which Adam found himself. God created Satan and knew Satan was evil to the core and that he would tempt Adam and Adam would sin and the world would go to hell in a handbasket. (I’m not sure why it is going in a handbasket so don’t ask).

    Thus, I believe that evangelical thought posits an unacceptable view – that God himself knowingly creates evil.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  9. Is Satan really all that bad?

    Yes.

    This has been today’s edition of simple answers to simple questions. :)

    Comment by Dan — April 19, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  10. Well Blake, you do have to admit the Arminians at least try to account for it. You know… all that stuff about how foreknowing evil isn’t the same as actively creating it. And I know some Evangelicals who are pretty dang adamant that Adam had a free choice.

    I don’t really buy it, of course. But there is an argumentative framework out there for free will Evangelicalism. And I’d also point out that a lot of their rationales aren’t much different than what you’d hear from a lot of Mormons at Sunday School.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  11. Seth, if I push a button knowing it will cause the explosion that kills people, then I am indictable for killing people even if it was the bomb and not pushing the button that is the immediate cause of killing these people. That is just like the Arminian argument. Yeah, I know they make it. How cogent is that kind of argument for you?

    Perhaps Open Theists can escape this framework — except I don’t believe that libertarian free will of the type required to absolve God for such complicity in human evils is compatible with creation from nothing. Because Mormons of all stripes reject creation out of nothing, it cannot be argued that God brought Satan into existence with his free will knowing what he would do and knowing that he was irredeemable.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  12. It is also worth considering that we never actually hear Satan’s side of the story. We only get his enemies’ side, who label him things like ‘the embodyment of evil’. If Lucifer had won the war in heaven, I think we could make a reasonable guess at the types of labels that would routinely be dropped on Jehovah.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — April 19, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

  13. I’m not willing to go that far NorthboundZax.

    Father doesn’t seem like the sort to throw around unfair or one-sided labels to me. All I was talking about was what we humans have extrapolated from God’s word, and I’m just not sure we’ve always gotten it right.

    Blake,

    Unless you hew to Brigham Young’s idea of creation from “spirit element.”

    For the record, I don’t really accept Arminian explanations for the theodicy, on grounds that they just don’t make a lot of sense. I reject Calvinist explanations for the simple fact that they are reprehensible to me.

    But Arminians get points in my book for good intentions. And as I said, their rationales are alive and well in LDS congregations.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  14. Blake ~ Seth, if I push a button knowing it will cause the explosion that kills people, then I am indictable for killing people even if it was the bomb and not pushing the button that is the immediate cause of killing these people. That is just like the Arminian argument.

    Ridiculous Blake. The Arminian argument is that God created matter and then gave people and angels agency on what to do with it. It’s people who took that matter and formed it into things to set off bombs with and pushed the buttons, not God. He just gave them the choice.

    And this is all just the old problem of foreknowledge and evil. Coming from an Arminian viewpoint, I do believe in free will and that Satan has it the same as Mormons do, and taking God out of time solves all of my problems with foreknowledge and evil. And while you may be an Open Theist who rejects the foreknowledge of God, that is hardly the de facto view within Mormonism. Call it a problem for people who believe in the foreknowledge of God if you want, but it’s not just an evangelical problem. Evangelicals have open theists the same as Mormons do. In fact, as Seth has pointed out many times, the LDS scriptures make a much greater case for the foreknowledge of God than the Bible ever does. This is arguably a bigger problem for Mormonism than it is evangelical Christianity.

    I fail to see how creatio ex materia rescues the non-Open-Theist God from culpability as far as Satan is concerned. For Mormons who accept the foreknowledge of God, God still formed Satan from an intelligence to a spirit child and then let him run amok knowing what a bastard he’d be.

    Tomorrow’s the 10-year-anniversary of Columbine, Blake. Are you saying that if a parent knows that his child is about to take an assault rifle to school and shoot up his class, and he lets him do it anyways, he bears no culpability in the situation because he didn’t create the child out of nothing? Whatever.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 19, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  15. BTW, I thought I would explain something about my view of foreknowledge and free will.

    I really like the movie Primer. I recommend it to people all the time, and the reason I liked it so much was because it gave me more tools for understanding God. It’s about two men who build a time machine and begin going back in time again and again, trying to create the perfect moment. It’s one of those movies you have to watch at least 2 or 3 times to really “get it.” Seriously, nerds have constructed flow charts explaining the plot of the movie if you need help. Flow charts! (It’s also available for instant streaming on NetFlix right now if you have NetFlix.)

    At one point in the movie, Aaron says to Abe, “We know everything, okay? We’re prescient.” Why does he think they’re prescient? Because they’ve already lived through Timeline 1, and seen everything everyone is going to do, and now they’ve gone back in time and they’re watching it again. The end of the movie implies that they’ve done this again and again, making changes to the timeline as they go. Towards the end of the movie, one of the Aaron says, “[W]hat the world remembers, the actuality, the last revision, is what counts, apparently.” Timeline 1 where they had no idea what was going to happen did not matter in the grand scheme of thing. All that matters is the final timeline, after they’d made their changes.

    So what’s the difference between me and Open Theists? Open Theists think this is Timeline 1. I think this is Timeline 2, or 3, or 20, or 600, it doesn’t matter. In essence, there was a point in reality when God did not know what we were going to do, but now we’ve made our choices and He’s seen them and as far as we’re concerned, He knows everything.

    That’s helpful to me in understanding foreknowledge and God. If it isn’t helpful to you, don’t use it.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 19, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  16. I’m not willing to go that far NorthboundZax.

    Father doesn’t seem like the sort to throw around unfair or one-sided labels to me. All I was talking about was what we humans have extrapolated from God’s word, and I’m just not sure we’ve always gotten it right.

    Seth, I agree with your point – but there is no reason it can’t be extended further. The only reason you have for God not seeming like the sort to throw around unfair of one-sided labels is that He says He’s is fair and just about such things. We simply do not have the other side of the story, and we can make some reasonable assumptions of how the story would play out if the roles were reversed.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — April 19, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  17. Actually, I cited scriptures of God’s timelessness. Not foreknowledge.

    It may be a distinction without a difference, but it’s one I’d like to draw nonetheless.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  18. NorthboundZax,

    So what are you saying here? God is more like Zeus or something?

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  19. Fair enough, Seth. I still maintain that the problem of foreknowledge and evil is hardly evangelical Christianity’s baby.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 19, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  20. What would make you think I am going for a Zeus-type model of god?? Greek deities had very little interaction with notions of good & evil – not very applicable to this discussion.

    Quite simply, language like ‘father of all lies’ or ‘embodyment of evil’ is the type of language victors throughout history have used to describe formidable, but defeated foes. We must have more information than the description of the defeated from the victor to see how evil that foe was. The fact is, we do not have that additional information in this case – supporting your thesis in the OP.

    Your response (a very natural one) that God wouldn’t stretch the truth regarding His foes because he is good is just circular reasoning since the evidence He is good stems from scriptures (God’s story telling) in the first place.

    Seriously, had the war in heaven gone the other way, do you think any different labels would be hung on Jehovah than the ones currently hung on Lucifer?

    Comment by NorthboundZax — April 19, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  21. Yeah, but my post pretty-much just assumes the correct side won. I suppose if God the Father had lost that war, the labels would be different. Assuming the universe as we know it would have survived the event, of course…

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  22. Bridget: As you may guess, I take your charge of “ridiculous” to be an exclamation that this problem is not yours or at least not evangelicals alone. First, the you’ve really got to get clear that timelessness is even more problematic than foreknowledge. “God creates X at t1″ is really hard to make sense of in terms of timelessness. But I won’t rehash this in a post since I’ve written three chapters in my book explaining why timelessness is hopelessly incoherent and does nothing to resolve the problems of foreknowledge — in fact it makes them worse.

    Just how you think timelessness answers the problem I cannot see. God created Satan out of nothing. He knew when (or timelessly) that his act would result in evil. Therefore, he is an accomplice to evil. Pretty simple.

    I agree that merely having foreknowledge may create problems for explaining how God escapes culpability for the evils of the world. Mormons who believe that God has foreknowledge, however, don’t have any burden to explain why God would create Satan knowing what he would do and that he is irredeemable — since God didn’t create Satan at all. Ergo, no Mormon has this particular problem.

    Finally, your Primer example is interesting. The implications are interesting. First, it requires time travel and you must know that I regard time travel as incoherent if any changes are made to the past. Second, if God knows by experience, then he doesn’t have foreknowledge and he most certainly ain’t timeless. Further, you would be stuck with a view that God grew into his knowledge and you’d have a full fledged Mormon view of a less-than-divine being evolving into a divine being by having experiences. Not even I go that far!

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

  23. I fail to see how creatio ex materia rescues the non-Open-Theist God from culpability as far as Satan is concerned.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding his argument, it seems to me that Blake is saying that a creatio ex nihilo scenario puts God as the author of evil, whereas in a creatio ex materia scenario, Satan (as a free intelligent being) is co-eternal with God; therefore, God is not the source of it.

    So while in both scenarios, God has foreknowledge but still for His own sovereign reasons doesn’t intervene in Satan’s evil-doing, at least in the ex materia scenario, He isn’t the SOURCE of all wickedness, making Him less culpable.

    Nice post, Seth, but I have to say I have always enjoyed passing the buck to Old Scratch when I get caught sinning. I resent your trying to rob me of this.

    Comment by Katie Langston — April 19, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  24. Oh, I posted my response before I saw Blake’s.

    Comment by Katie Langston — April 19, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  25. Katie: You got it and you have also summarized beautifully why Satan is still so popular. Adam began his explanation of sin before God by blaming Eve, and Eve blamed Satan, and Satan took accountability and said: “you can’t blame me, this is just he way I am and it is what I always do.” The implicit charge? Hey, don’t bother me because I can’t change and you knew what you were getting when you put me in this darn garden.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  26. Katie, it’s not like I’ve never been resented before.

    Blake, I was wondering something about your own view on this.

    Is it your position that God could exercise meticulous control over the universe and everything in it, but voluntarily chooses not to in order to bring about an optimal universe?

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

  27. Blake ~ I’m really not following you. What you seem to be arguing is that a if a man creates gunpowder out of pre-existing materials and it’s used in a gun to shoot someone, he’s not responsible, but if he poofs the gunpowder out of nothing and it’s used in a gun to shoot someone, he’s responsible. Makes little difference to me where the gunpowder came from, either the one who made it accessible to the murderer is culpable or he isn’t.

    And I really don’t see what the alternative is for Mormonism. God had to give Satan a shot because it’s just the nature of the universe for there to be good and evil and He can’t help it? He didn’t know Satan was going to be such a bastard when He started things, and now that He knows He lets him run around just the same? That hardly seems like a superior solution.

    My Primer analogy is just that: an analogy. I can’t give you a perfect analogy for a timeless God because I don’t believe anything in creation is timeless. However, if you reject the foreknowledge of God, then your God is growing into His knowledge even as we speak, so I fail to see how you don’t take things “that far.”

    And as interesting as this is, I really think that a debate on the problem of evil, foreknowledge and whether God exists in time or not is really beside the point of Seth’s OP.

    Katie ~ Blaming Satan is so yesterday. I blame all of my sins on Blake Ostler.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 19, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

  28. Jack, pssst. Blake is Satan.

    Comment by Mick Jagger — April 19, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  29. Go where the dream takes you Jack. I don’t mind discussing the theodicy since it’s plausibly related. Although I would imagine some of the regulars may be irritated to find 9M currently imitating New Cool Thang.

    I think you have to take the Mormon view in light of Lehi’s pronouncement that “there must be opposition in all things.” Lehi basically made the point that joy cannot exist (or at least, be comprehended) without sorrow. So Mormonism does seem to at least flirt with a dualistic universe. And it does seem like the greatest good couldn’t even be experienced by us without an intensity of evil in the universe.

    Secondly, you’ve got this notion of free agency. The Mormon notion of a perfect universe doesn’t work without real freedom. I agree with Blake that creation ex nihilo is hard to square with real freedom since everything about ex nihilo posits God as the ultimate and final “Cause.” You end up asking God why he didn’t create me so I wouldn’t eat all the chocolate chips.

    But if you have a universe populated by free and uncreated beings, then the situation is different. Now, I agree with you just the idea of an organization from pre-existing materials does not absolve God of culpability. The bomb analogy makes this point well enough.

    BUT… you’ve got to weigh this against the absolute need to preserve human freedom. My own view is that God could intervene (and the Bible does describe him as doing exactly that on occasion). He could meticulously control the entire universe. But chooses not to because it risks compromising human agency. It’s weighing two evils against each other.

    You know…

    I’ve been thinking about this phrase “the condescension of God” quite a bit recently. And I wonder if maybe the atheists aren’t right in a sense. Maybe God IS responsible for the evil in the world in some sense. He could prevent it, but chooses not to. Maybe this is part of his own personal debasement that he does for us – so that we can freely become as he is.

    Just a random thought.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

  30. Jack,

    The problem is the combination of creation ex nihilo and exhaustive foreknowledge. These beliefs together entail God being completely responsible for every evil of Satan or anyone else for that matter. He created them knowing exactly what they would do and when in that scenario.

    Dumping one of those beliefs helps and dumping both is the best solution. Mormonism provides a framework to dump both. (Although you are right that most Mormons still prefer to believe in exhaustive foreknowledge despite its incompatibility with free will). While some creedal Christians embrace Open Theism (and wisely so in my estimation) I don’t personally know of any who have dumped creatio ex nihilo; though perhaps they are out there.

    The potential out for the open theism and creatio ex nihilo crowd is to say that God created completely neutral angels out of nothing, gave them free will, and some of them (like Lucifer) freely chose to become demons. If you are in that camp I suppose that is a coherent enough stance.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 19, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

  31. Agreed that we tend to give Satan far too much credit. For example, we learn from Moroni that the devil does not have power to tempt little children. However, we have all seen 3 year olds punch their sister or steal candy and do things that they know are wrong. Did the devil make them do that? He can’t! In the Book of Mormon we learn this is the natural man. The natural disasters of the earth are also a cause of much pain and suffering, no devil required for that either.

    However, this doesn’t preclude the devil from exacerbating the amount of evil in the world. It seems like he can put thoughts in my head. When I was on my mission in England sometimes I would find myself turning my head just at the right time to catch the sight of some slapper on a billboard as we sped by on a bus, as if he or one of his minions said, “look out the window… now!” He can’t read our thoughts, but he can see if we continue to stare at the billboard, or if we turn away and start humming the words to “I am a Child of God.”

    Comment by Mephibosheth — April 19, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  32. I kind of liked Robert Kirby’s description of his attempt as a missionary to take Elder Packer’s advice and “sing a hymn” to banish impure thoughts.

    He said that by-association, hymns started to become a form of erotica to him. He claims that, to this day, a few bars of “Come, Come Ye Saints” is enough to get him in the mood.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  33. LOL, Seth R. Gotta love the Kirby.

    Comment by Mephibosheth — April 19, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  34. Seth ~ If I felt ready to argue with all of you Mormon philosophy nerds, I’d be commenting over at New Cool Thang. :P

    I’m certainly open to the notion that evil is necessary to experience good. It just seems to me that shifting that burden from God to the universe by denying creatio ex nihilo is merely passing the buck at the expense of God’s power. Evil happens because it’s part of how the universe functions and God has to allow it because it’s part of “the rules,” I’m not sure that’s a better paradigm. I’d have to think about it more.

    Your #32 is perverse. I must be rubbing off on you.

    Geoff ~ As Seth and Blake both know, I’m in an odd position in that I’m an evangelical Christian who has had much more exposure to LDS thought and philosophy than traditional Christian theology. I sat in on a theology class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School last month where I was visiting because I’m thinking of enrolling in the fall. The class was discussing the differences between progress, classical and open theism, and I was a little bit stunned to find that I did not completely agree with everything in the classical theism column, though that seemed to be the professor’s favored view (I wrote about this on my blog here). I don’t think I fit very well into open theism either, though.

    You and Blake make a good case, but I’m not sure if I think it’s good because it is the best there is or it’s good because there aren’t any capable classical theists here who can disagree with you. Proverbs 18:17 and all that.

    The potential out for the open theism and creatio ex nihilo crowd is to say that God created completely neutral angels out of nothing, gave them free will, and some of them (like Lucifer) freely chose to become demons. If you are in that camp I suppose that is a coherent enough stance.

    I have a very positive attitude toward open theism, but I would not call myself an open theist. Then again, I’m also not sure I would call God’s foreknowledge absolute. I’m still working on this, and God knows I’m not a hasty buyer.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 19, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

  35. Make a strawman and then mock the strawman. It’s still a fallacy.

    For one, the scriptures never represent Satan as equal to God. Opposed, yes, but decidedly not equal.

    For another, the blame for human evil is split. We are not entirely to blame, because Satan has become an enemy to God (No brother of mine, not anymore he isn’t!) and has been trying to persuade or compel us to follow him since the first man walked the earth. On the other, he could do nothing without active human cooperation. I can’t imagine that persuading Cain to kill Abel (brother = sheepherder = cockroach?) was the only or even worst thing Satan ever did.

    As far as I can tell, Satan hasn’t entirely given up the idea of overthrowing God. Maybe he still imagines he has a chance. Or perhaps the suspended sentence already hanging over him is so unbearable to contemplate that he has decided it can’t get any worse no matter what he does. In the meantime, he takes what small delight he can in what he can still get away with.

    According to the scriptures I read, this runs to things like trying to make everyone else as miserable as he is, whispering lies, fomenting discord, whipping up anger against everthing good, and generation-spanning plots to destroy as much of humankind as he can reach in orgies of horror and blood. Not all that bad? I don’t want to know what could be worse.

    Not that I know what Satan’s ultimate fate is to be (as far as I know, it hasn’t been revealed). I am confident that he will get strict justice, not a hair more or less than what he deserves. Mercy is for the merciful, the repentant, the innocent, and even for the well-meaning but deluded. None of these apply to to him.

    We do get Satan’s view of things. Several of them, in fact. Step right up, pick your favorite, mix and match, custom tailored. True? Who knows? Your opinion is at least as good as anyone else’s, and probably better…

    Comment by Confutus — April 19, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  36. Seth R: Is it your position that God could exercise meticulous control over the universe and everything in it, but voluntarily chooses not to in order to bring about an optimal universe?

    No, my view is that God cannot abridge the free will of intelligences without destroying the intelligence in its existence, and doing that is more evil than any alternative. Thus, although God has power to eliminate intelligences and their freedom, he won’t because it is always the least optimal solution.

    Jack: The alternative for Mormonism is that the universe is populated by free creatures whose natures and free will God did not create and he does not foreknow how they will use their freedom. His goal is to assist them to move forward in love from wherever they they are.

    If God has foreknowledge and he foreknows that Satan won’t be redeemed. What is the purpose of creating Satan at all? If God creates Satan with the nature that he has, foreknowing exactly what he will do, why create him since he will propagate far more evil in the world than any good? If you reject foreknowledge, evangelicals still have to account for how a being could be free if God both brings into existence out of nothing and recreates (sustains in existence) this agent in each moment so that each “choice” must be directly created by God. In other words, creatio ex nihilo is not consistent with the kind of libertarian free will necessary to exonerate God from complicity in evil.

    If you give up on foreknowledge but retain creatio ex nihilo, then you just have to admit that God created things out of nothing not knowing what they would bring about and thus literally took one hell of a risk. In addition, he is still totally responsible for their imperfect natures. He could have created literally omniscient beings who would know what is best and given them a nature such that given their knowledge they would always act rationally (i.e., they would have a rational nature and omniscience so that they always knew what was most rational and thus would not sin).

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  37. Blake, and I just read a recent O. Kendall White article (I think, published 2008) about neo-orthodox Mormonism embracing Calvinism.

    I can’t believe it. What has that guy been smokin’?

    And Seth, here has been one of my emails to a sister this week about Satan.

    DAMN HIM!!!!!

    Comment by Todd Wood — April 19, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  38. Good point Todd. My bets are that he has been smoking Twizzlers because they are so twisted.

    Comment by Blake — April 19, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  39. That’s unusually intense for you Todd.

    Jack, I realize it’s unfair to expect you to be the defining representative of Classical Theism in this discussion. It probably does well for all of us to keep in mind that there are plenty of rather smart and compelling voices on the other side of the debate.

    Confutus,

    Sorry but, I still do consider Lucifer my brother. I have never encountered reason in life to do otherwise.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 19, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

  40. It has been an intense week, Seth.

    And it climaxed in a humorous way, yesterday, while I was in a board meeting in Park City, Utah at the Best Western Landmark Inn.

    The power went out in the whole city while we were right in the middle of our meeting.

    I do relish every word when I say,

    “Damn the Devil!”

    Comment by Todd Wood — April 19, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  41. Although I would imagine some of the regulars may be irritated to find 9M currently imitating New Cool Thang.

    If it would make you guys feel better over here, I could even the score by putting up a poll over at NCT entitled “The Mish: Biking or Walking?”

    Jack (#27),

    In your gun powder analogy, the person created the gun powder in both scenarios (either from pre-existing materials or ex nihilo). Like you say, he is responsible in both cases. However, imagine a case in which he never created gun powder in any sense (like your actual relationship to gun powder). In this case, he can’t be held responsible for the existence of gun powder. Further, if he’s never done anything bad with gun powder, he can’t be held responsible for the bad things done by gun powder elsewhere.

    Or course, the analogy breaks down quickly because gun powder doesn’t have free will and it is trying to serve as the analog to Satan, but that’s as well as I can do within the analogy to explain why you are missing the central importance of creation ex nihilo.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 20, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  42. I simply think evil exists whenever there are free agents. In spite of God, and independent of Satan.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — April 20, 2009 @ 9:41 am

  43. I simply think evil exists whenever there are free agents. In spite of God, and independent of Satan.

    Well done Eric.

    Forgive me as I catch myself from swooning due to Blake’s moral superiority. I always need to remind myself, Evangelicalism doesn’t have a problem with evil; EVERYONE has a problem with evil. All you have to do is flip the objection the other way to show the other guy has got some unexplained problems in his view.

    Whether Satan is real, an analogy or whatever, the problem of evil doesn’t go away without him. God can still get the blame in the Mormon view. Case in point; God knew that some of his spiritual children did not choose him in the pre-existence. Still he allowed Tim (me) to be born and due sinful/evil things in this world. Therefore it wasn’t Satan who made me do it, it was Heavenly Father. It’s his fault for the evil I do, all he had to do was keep me from getting a body.

    Blake you misrepresent the Orthodox view by claiming God created Satan SO THAT he could tempt Adam and Eve. Even if that were the case, if God later shows that he had a morally superior reason for creating Satan it would be justified.

    I know of a woman who let strangers take her child, knowing that they would cut open his stomach and rip out his intestines. That woman caused evil to happen but had justification to save her son from a ruptured appendix.

    Comment by Tim — April 20, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  44. Jacob ~ My gun powder thing was an analogy for matter, not Satan directly. Gun powder in itself is not bad; it can be used for good or evil. Same as matter. And with gun powder, either the one who makes it accessible to the world is responsible or he isn’t. Who cares where the shopkeeper got it from once it’s here?

    If you want an analogy with wills, go back to my high school gunman. God is the parent who apparently knows that his kid is a bad apple who hates Christians, blacks and Jews, has access to guns, and has talked about doing a school shooting with his friends, but is still going to let him do it because he feels like that’s his son’s choice to make.

    but that’s as well as I can do within the analogy to explain why you are missing the central importance of creation ex nihilo.

    I have to disagree with you there. The central importance of creation ex nihilo is that God’s power is absolute and God is in control.

    @ the topic… My thoughts on this subject are still very much formative, but I’m still not liking the paradigm where evil is something that’s just part of the universe which God can’t help. For example, if I’m understanding the Mormon Open Theist view correctly, God feels really, really bad about what happened at Columbine ten years ago this day, but He just couldn’t help it. He had no idea that was going to happen when He created the world, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had to have their agency down to every last bullet. Tragic, but free agency > all.

    I mean, hey, He intervenes sometimes, the Bible makes that much clear, but we don’t really know why. That’s apparently completely arbitrary. He doesn’t know the future so He can’t know when it’s best to intervene and when it isn’t.

    I think I prefer to believe that while Columbine wasn’t God’s plan A, it was something He allowed to happen because He wanted Harris and Klebold to have their agency and He knew perfectly that in spite of all the pain and loss, He could use it to bring about a much greater good.

    I’m not even sure that removing God’s foreknowledge from the equation actually solves anything. God sees a woman getting beaten up by her abusive husband, He knows the rage in the man’s heart and that he intends to shoot her, and He can’t stop the bullet at the last second and say, “Alright young man, that’s quite enough agency for you,” kind of like the pre-crime division in Minority Report? He just has to let it happen and make the best of it that He can, but He doesn’t really know how that’s going to work out?

    Okay. I guess that so far my conception of God does mean that He is the source of everything, including free agents who are allowed to be evil, so in that sense you can say He’s the source of what we call evil if you want.

    But your God still sounds awfully helpless to me. I think I prefer a God who knows how everything is going to happen and why over a God who’s just making this stuff up as He goes along.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 20, 2009 @ 11:15 am

  45. BJ:

    There is a difference between can’t and choosing not to when it comes to intervention. As far as I can tell intervention is still a mystery for both sides. But just because God does not appear to intervene does not mean that he couldn’t.

    We are also talking about absolutes here. Not having absolute forknowledge based on timelessness, does not know that God does not know the future very, very well. Nor does it mean he will not bring about his purposes in spite of what we free agents might do.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — April 20, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  46. Jack,

    The problem of evil is obviously multifaceted. There are, in fact, many ‘problems’ of evil and the number of problems depends on one’s assumptions. I agree with you that just saying evil exists independent of God does not absolve God of potential blame for standing by while evil is perpetrated when he could have stopped it. This aspect of the problem of evil exists for those who accept creation ex nihilo and for those who reject it. While I’m at it, I’ll acknowledge that I don’t have a solution to that aspect of the problem.

    But, at the same time, I don’t see any extra solutions to that problem that are introduced by ex nihilo creation. It seems most people who believe in God assume there is some purpose in the suffering God allows which will ultimately justify it. For this to be true, it seems to me that it requires a limit to God’s omnipotence, so I believe this common approach is much easier to maintain in Mormonism than in competing theologies where God is truly absolute. In traditional theism, it seems one can always ask “Why didn’t God just create everything in a perfect state where everyone is good?” and there is no possible answer. Creation ex nihilo has the effect of sealing off all possible solutions to the problem of evil. We still have big problems without it, but with it the prospects of solving the problem look truly hopeless. I suppose a person who believes in creation ex nihilo but also a God who is not omnipotent would have some options, is that your position?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 20, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  47. In traditional theism, it seems one can always ask “Why didn’t God just create everything in a perfect state where everyone is good?” and there is no possible answer.

    Couldn’t you just respond to this by saying that God knew that the greatest good would be accomplished by setting up the universe this way, which is why He did it?

    We have no comparison to a different universe, so we have no way of knowing whether more good could have been accomplished had everything been set up differently.

    Comment by Katie Langston — April 20, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

  48. Eric ~ If God lacks absolute foreknowledge of the future, how can He know absolutely when the best time is to intervene? Seems to me like the best He can make is a really, really educated guess.

    Jacob ~ In traditional theism, it seems one can always ask “Why didn’t God just create everything in a perfect state where everyone is good?” and there is no possible answer.

    Didn’t I already say that I’m open to the possibility that the statement by Lehi as quoted by Seth is more or less true—that on some level, evil has to exist in order to appreciate good? (I think C.S. Lewis also said something to that effect). We both agree that omnipotence is the ability to do everything which is possible to do. Perhaps a universe where people are free to choose evil but never do simply is not possible, and would be meaningless anyways.

    And before anyone says it, yes, I am open to the possibility that the Fall was a necessary or at least inevitable evil.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 20, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  49. Tim (#43),

    See my comment #30. The objection you bring up only applies to Mormons who hold that God has exhaustive foreknowledge.

    There are still lesser parts of the problem of evil that Mormonism must contend with, but Mormonism escapes the more devastating issues related the problem of evil. See a long discussion on this topic here.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 20, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

  50. BJ:

    I would say that God knows far better than anyone else when and how to intervene. I would rather stick to his really, really, good guesses than try to see any moral value in anything if there is no real free will.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — April 20, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  51. Katie,

    That could make sense, depending on the assumptions behind it.

    Do you mean to suggest that this world, as it exists, is the best possible world, or that free will is required for the best possible world and free will inescapably leads to genuine evil?

    Are you assuming humans have compatibilist free will or libertarian free will?

    When we say God created a free person out of nothing, does God have control over what free person he creates, or does he just have a kind of button he pushes to create free people but the button has no accompanying setting for how righteous the person will start out? IF he doesn’t have control, then why not?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 20, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  52. Jack,

    I am not fully up-to-speed on your beliefs, so I apologize if what I said does not apply to your set of assumptions. I restricted the comment you quoted in #48 to traditional theism not because I was necessarily lumping you in with that belief system, but because I know more about their assumptions than I do about yours.

    Perhaps a universe where people are free to choose evil but never do simply is not possible, and would be meaningless anyways.

    Which kind of possibility are you referring to? Hopefully we agree that it is logically possible. After all, God exists, so whatever kind of free will is apparently compatible with never choosing evil. Whatever kind of existence he has is presumably meaningful. So, we have an example of an actual being to verify the logical possibility. Which means, I think, that you are saying he is unable to create a person with free will who is all-good. This is exactly along the lines of the question I asked Katie about the button God uses when creating people from nothing. It is not clear to me why God is not able to create any person who is logically possible.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 20, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  53. Seth R., the exact quote is “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” (2 Ne 2:11, emphasis added)

    If that “is” were substituted with “should be” it would imply not only creatio ex nihilo, but also divine endorsement of evil. As “is”, I don’t think the passage states anything other than concepts must have an opposite to avoid meaninglessness. In other words, Lehi is stating a metaphysical necessity, not a moral necessity, and the only way one can escape that conclusion is to adopt the proposition that God created “all things” out of nothing.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 20, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  54. It is not clear to me why God is not able to create any person who is logically possible

    It is certainly logically possible for God to cause himself to cease to exist. Joseph Smith didn’t think it was actually possible though.

    Other logically possible by actually impossible propositions: Salvation without atonement, wickedness coexisting with happiness, creatio ex nihilo, free lunch, and so on.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 20, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  55. Can we get back to talking about how Blake Ostler is Satan please?

    kkthnx

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 20, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  56. Are you assuming humans have compatibilist free will or libertarian free will?

    Well Jacob, you just made me go Google “compatibilist and libertarian free will.” :)

    I guess I was assuming they had libertarian free will, because I had never heard of the other.

    I’m not sure it’s relevant whether or not God could create exclusively righteous free agents (I think He could if He wanted), because you’d also have to demonstrate that that kind of universe is preferable to the current one. Couldn’t you argue that there is something about the possibility of evil’s existence that accomplishes God’s purposes more perfectly than a universe in which evil does not exist?

    Comment by Katie Langston — April 20, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

  57. Katie,

    I apologize for the jargon. Even if there is the possibility of of evil’s existence, I don’t think you can argue that the universe is better of if there is actual evil than if there is not (based on the meaning of the word evil). Are you arguing that a universe with the possibility of evil but with only perfectly righteous free agents is not preferable to a universe with people actually perpetrating evil?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 21, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  58. Mark #54, I am asking the question from within the framework of traditional theism.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 21, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  59. Can we get back to talking about how Blake Ostler is Satan please?

    This joke was retarded the first time around… its retardedness seems redoubled the second time around… But perhaps I am missing something.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  60. But perhaps I am missing something.

    Psst. It’s called “a sense of humor.”

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 21, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  61. Hehe.

    Ok Jack, so some some anonymous douchebag comes along and takes an inane potshot at Blake; you think it is hilarious to actually repeat the retarded comment later; and I’m the one who has troubles with a sense of humor… gotcha.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  62. Geoff, years ago some anti-Mormons photoshopped a picture of Daniel C. Peterson to give him horns. LDS apologists responded by saying, “Oh, that picture is a photoshop, here’s the original,” then presented another photoshop wherein Peterson had even bigger horns and a huge Satanic nose to go with it.

    I talked with Dan Peterson about it my freshman year at BYU. IIRC, he thought both photoshops were hilarious.

    So you think people who joke about famous LDS thinkers and apologists being satanic are retarded? Oh well. At least I’m in good company.

    And yeah, I still think your sense of humor is likely deficient.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 21, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  63. You can take potshots at “famous LDS thinkers” all you want Jack. Apparently you find it hilarious. But when you take potshots at my friends don’t be surprised when I am not amused and don’t be surprised if I let you know about it.

    BTW — I am more annoyed with the cowardly tool who first took the shot at Blake. (Seth, do you recognize the IP address?)

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  64. Geoff, FWIW, I didn’t consider it a “potshot” at Blake when I said it, though I don’t know if that was “Mick Jagger”‘s original intention. My humor tends to be abrasive, it’s just my nature, but I had hoped he and everyone else would understand it as a good-natured joke. Blake and I have joked around before; he is my father after all.

    If I actually wanted to insult you, Blake or anyone else, trust me, I could do much better than “LOL u iz Satan!”

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — April 21, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  65. I’m with you Jack.

    I reacted because I am pretty confident that d-bag’s comment in #28 was not nearly so innocuous as your comment and I hate to see trolls like that validated at the expense of my friends.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  66. Are you arguing that a universe with the possibility of evil but with only perfectly righteous free agents is not preferable to a universe with people actually perpetrating evil?

    Essentially, yes.

    I’m saying it’s possible that there is something about the presence of evil that fulfills God’s purposes better than a universe in which evil does not present itself.

    This is not to say that God causes evil, or works evil Himself, simply that He allows free agents to choose it if they wish. What could this reason be that makes the universe better off because of the presence of evil? Hell if I know. I have some speculative thoughts about that, but given that evil does exist, and God doesn’t always stop it (regardless of your theological paradigm), I think it’s reasonable to conclude He allows it because it’s better–even if we can’t fully comprehend why.

    Comment by Katie Langston — April 21, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  67. Geoff,

    I don’t have access to IP addresses, so you’ll have to ask Rusty.

    And even if I did, I don’t really play that game.

    Jack and Blake have past history. I’m sure the remark was completely harmless and I doubt Blake saw it as serious either.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 21, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  68. Katie,

    Thank you for such a straightforward answer. I must say, that might be the craziest thing I’ve ever seen argued. The idea that the universe is better off with evil deeds than without seems to undermine the whole meaning of the word evil. It seems to suggest that sometimes it is good to be bad, which is a bit like a square triangle if you ask me.

    I don’t think the existence of evil leads to a reasonable conclusion that having evil is better. I think it is far more reasonable to conclude that the universe could be better than it is, but that there is no magic wand to make it that way (with the implicit limitation on God’s power).

    Comment by Jacob J — April 21, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  69. Well, I know that the movie “Dark Knight” would have totally sucked without evil.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 21, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  70. Geoff: FYI, the IP address for “Mick Jagger” is a one-timer. Not familiar, just a random troll.

    Comment by MCQ — April 21, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

  71. Hi, seth. Rev. 20:10 states clearly “where” Satan, that ole’ devil will end up. Definately not “forgiven” that’s for sure. :) God created a special place for him where he will tormented night and day forever and man forever is a loooooong time.

    Kind regards,
    gloria

    Comment by gloria — April 24, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

  72. gloria,

    I never said anything about where Satan would end up.

    I only speculated whether God would offer forgiveness.

    Actually, I rather doubt Satan would accept such forgiveness if offered.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 24, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

  73. Really? That sounds awfully noble for satan. I figured he was all about lookin’ out for #1. Taking a stand on principle ain’t exactly what he’s known for.

    Comment by MCQ — April 27, 2009 @ 12:16 am

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