TIA Tuesday: The Devil and Daniel DennettSeptember 9, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Ok, I screwed up: I said that last week was the end of Vox Day’s chapter on Daniel Dennett. Somehow I missed one last section, and it’s a beaut. Check this out:
Dennett’s admirable call for science and religion to lay down their arms and proceed in a spirit of amiable curiosity is subject to one final logical flaw, from at least one religious perspective. Many religious worldviews postulate the existence of intelligent, supernatural beings whose actions affect the physical world, but the Christian view, in particular, puts forth the disturbing notion that our present world is not ruled by God, but by an evil supernatural being, one who long ago usurped humanity’s God-given sovereignty. This being, Satan, is not only self-aware, but has been intelligent enough to fool the mind of Man from the very start, beginning with the first temptation in the Garden of Eden.
Vox, like so many others, is actually re-writing Genesis with that last comment. Nowhere in the Bible is it ever stated or suggested that Eve was tempted or deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden. A mere talking snake was the villain in that story—Satan didn’t become a character in Bible stories until after the Jews had been exposed to Persian dualism. But he’s a useful character in many ways, and Vox intends to use him to manufacture one final flaw to charge to Dennett’s account.
There can be no doubt that Satan, if he exists, is a powerful being. When Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to him, Jesus did not question that this was a meaningful offer, nor did he dispute that the world was Satan’s to give. If it was not, then it wouldn’t have been much of a temptation. Jesus also indicated that Satan was skilled in the arts of deception and specifically referred to Satan as the Deceiver on several occasions. And significantly, the apostle Paul mentions how the “god of this age” has exerted himself to blind the minds of unbelievers.
I love that first sentence. We might not know for sure whether Satan even exists, but we are certain that he’s a very powerful being. Of course, what Vox means is that Christians claim that Satan is a very powerful being, and very very smart. Not quite smart enough to realize that it’s a mistake to make an enemy of the Almighty, but still, pretty darn smart. And that, says Vox, is a real problem for Daniel Dennett.
Why? Well because the devil is smart enough to realize that he can do more evil by hiding his existence than by revealing himself, or at least that’s Vox’s argument. You see, even though Satan is the Great Deceiver, and even though he is so cunning that no mere mortal can ever out-smart him, and even though he is using nearly divine wisdom to implement a subtle plan that has been unfolding for ages and that has already given him near complete sovereignty over the entire world and over mankind in particular, a smart guy like Vox only needs about 2 seconds to see through his plot and lay it bare for the whole world to see, just by asking “What would you do if you were the devil?”
So put yourself in the hypothetical position of this evil being ruling over all the earth. Is it in your interest to reveal yourself to humanity? Or is it better to lie in wait, hidden in the shadows, as the mortal world convinces itself that neither you nor your plane of existence is real? Given the disastrous results of this past century in parts of the world that intentionally turned away the Christian God and His truth in favor of Man and his scientific proofs, the evidence would seem to suggest that unbelief in the supernatural serves the interests of this evil being.
There, was that so hard? And look! It even proves—by sheer coincidence, of course—that science and the skeptics are on the bad guy’s side. Golly, how does Vox do it? Must be a gift from God, eh?
Mind you, there are a few difficulties with this proposal. For example, one might point out that, of all the ugliness that happened in Soviet Russia since the 1940’s, remarkably few incidents can be traced back to a failure to believe in Santa Claus, ghosts, and other supernatural phenomena. The only way you can reasonably attribute bad things to a lack of belief in the supernatural is if those who do believe are notable for the absence of such evil behaviors. “Gott Mit Uns,” on the belts buckles of the SS, is but one of many examples that this is not the case.
Also, just because evil happened in a post-religious society, that does not mean that a real Satan could not accomplish a corresponding, or greater, amount of evil by supernatural manifestation coupled with an exercise in world domination. Vox is indulging in a little backwards thinking here: instead of starting with what we know about Satan, and reasoning forwards to understand what such a being might do, Vox starts with things the way they are (i.e. no evidence of Satan either) and dreams up the best rationalization he can think of to reconcile the story with the observed facts. The fact that this rationalization also “coincidentally” paints science and skepticism as part of the same Satanic plot just reflects Vox’s own biases.
Of course, the big problem with this particular plot is the role it demands of its unindicted co-conspirator: God. Nothing spoils an evil secret plot like an omniscient good guy—unless the good guy is willing to join the conspiracy and help keep it a secret. In order to ensure the success of Satan’s evil plan, God not only has to hide Himself personally, He must also order His angels to keep away from the earth, and put a ban on whoever that guy is that runs around painting Jesuses and Madonnas on cheese sandwiches and highway underpasses.
But wait! Why is God actively helping Satan? It’s bad enough that Vox has to portray science as cooperating with the devil to produce evil results, but God too? God help us all! Er, well, that is…um…
Vox teases us a bit with a rather convoluted argument about whether Satan has the power to conceal the supernatural realm from us. Obviously, the answer is going to be “No,” since if it were “Yes,” that would mean Satan had the power to prevent the Incarnation and/or the Resurrection. But Vox tries to make it sound like he’s thinking of saying “Yes,” before finally coming up with this particular explanation:
Fortunately, the Bible offers a way out of this apparent dilemma. It teaches that although the Deceiver rules over the Earth as the god of this age, he does not have the authority to prevent God from manifesting power on Earth through the person of Jesus Christ. It is here, then, to Jesus and those who worship him as Lord and Savior, that science will have to turn if it is to truly put Christianity to the scientific test and glimpse behind the veil of the supernatural. Following this logic, it becomes clear that scientists will find nothing if they continue to seek for evidence of the supernatural by examining occult phenomena such as ESP, telepathy, fortune-telling, and witchcraft. Satan is the lord and master of such things, and he does not deign to be unmasked, at least, not yet.
At this point, Vox apparently thinks he’s out-smarted the second-smartest being in existence. In just a few short paragraphs, he’s dismantled Satan’s devious plot, unravelled millennia of careful plotting and maneuvering, and uncovered the genuine, soul-saving truth. Being himself one of “those who worship [Jesus] as Lord and Savior,” Vox is part of the only hope science has of escaping the supernaturally intelligent and powerful deceptions of the Evil One. Only—what if he isn’t?
Vox is assuming that the Christian Gospel is the truth, despite the fact that there are at least a few points on which he himself thinks the traditional Christian teachings are in error. If, however, there is a Deceiver second only to God Himself in cleverness and power, whose goal is to make sure that we think we’re finding the truth when we actually aren’t, then isn’t it possible, and indeed extremely likely, that Christians are also deceived? Sure, they assure themselves that God would never let Satan fool them, but isn’t that exactly what Satan would want them to think, so as to prevent them from questioning what he’s convinced them of?
By Vox’s argument, it’s clearly true that God allows Satan to deceive at least most of us, at least most of the time. That suggests that, at the very least, God is not too concerned with preventing deceptions. If God does have a plan, then either preventing deception is not part of the plan, or else God’s a loser. What’s more, it’s clearly easier for Satan to deceive Christians if he first convinces them that they are immune to his deceptions. Having both near-omniscient wisdom and world-conquering supernatural power, in the face of God’s laissez faire policies concerning deception, wouldn’t Satan’s best strategy be to fake the whole Christian religion itself, with false miracles, deceived prophets, and deceptive Scriptures, so as to have complete control over the Faith?
But if Satan is really so devious and so powerful, perhaps a fraudulent religion is only the outermost shell of his manipulations. Perhaps his real plan is a feint within a feint within a feint…and then some. Or perhaps Vox’s line of reasoning is simply absurd speculation, and it’s pointless to try and follow it to a logical conclusion of which it is incapable. In the absence of an Almighty God who is willing and able to show up in real life, and to expose the Great Deceiver’s plots to the cold light of real-world truth, we would have no hope of outwitting such a superior being, and anyone who thinks they’ve outwitted him is only proving themselves a victim of the deeper deception.
In the meantime, those of us who wish to avoid being deceived need only remember that the truth is consistent with itself, and that by basing our faith on the self-consistent truth of objective reality, we need fear no imaginary supervillain nor worry about his alleged deceptions. What some imaginary invisible guy might be doing, we don’t know, and don’t need to care. All we need to worry about is what we find in the real world, independent of the stories men tell about gods and demons and magical Machiavellis.