A Reply to Michael: Further Thoughts on the Issue of Supernatural Deception
The question you left me with, was a clarifying comment on whether the human mind is subject to supernatural deception.
Again, you've pushed me beyond my previous thought with our interaction on this specific point. I can see that my previous post on 1 Tim 4 would be better if complemented with discussion of the rest of the Biblical witness on the subject of demons, in particular, demon possession.
I’m reminded of an old Star Trek episode – one from the original sixties series, perhaps you’ve seen it – where the Enterprise crew picks up a group of children who were orphaned by a scientific team that encountered disaster on some distant planet. The crew of the Enterprise don’t realize it, but these kids have supernatural powers. In one scene, the crew on the bridge of the starship are deceived into thinking that the ship is still orbiting a planet when in fact it’s traveling at maximum “warp” speed to another system. Poor Sulu and Chekhov are none the wiser – they’ve been supernaturally deceived.
What I’m saying is that, if my worldview sincerely affirmed the existence of supernatural beings, I don’t see how I could ever rule out the possibility such belief invites that I myself could be the victim of such deception. It seems extremely tenuous to think that Romans 1 alleviates such a possibility. Indeed, the whole approach that you’ve offered so far relies on inference, and thus assumes that one’s own mental faculties, including the ability to draw inferences, are immune to supernatural deception, which is the very thing in question. To date your approach seems to rely on assuming the very thing in question.
I can also see that I have not accounted for how the demonic teaching first enters into humans. So let me amend (and perhaps contradict) would I previously said. It seems I need to propose some kind of ability in demons to 'propose false teaching to a person's heart and mind'. How this actually works is beyond me. The Bible says little.
Let me turn to your actual question. A one word answer to your question is 'yes', I think the human mind is potentially subject to supernatural deception. This is because the Bible teaches that human minds do get deceived by demons and their teaching.
So it’s good to have a clear answer to this: Yes, you do think that the human mind is potentially subject to supernatural deception, given what the bible teaches.
Of course, I’m guessing there will now be a need to qualify this affirmation somehow, perhaps with a set of disclaimers which are intended to preserve other teachings also found in the bible, namely teachings which hold man culpable for his spiritual state, even though it is ultimately in the hands of supernatural forces beyond his control.
Demonic possession would obviously severely change the experience of the person who is possessed.
Perhaps this comes down to a distinction between “supernatural deception” and “demonic possession.” Perhaps Michael has something like The Exorcist in mind here. By contrast, I don’t have such spectacular depictions in mind. Rather, I’m thinking of the average human being who simply doesn’t realize that supernatural spirits have infiltrated his consciousness and imperceptibly influenced his cognition somehow. I’ve been talking about “supernatural deception” all along, but you’ve introduced the notion of “demonic possession” while interacting with my questions on the matter. I don’t know that they are one and the same. Again, “the Bible says little” here.
But would such possession be rightly called 'deception'? In certain ways, yes. We're limited in how much we can say about this, given the limitations of what the Bible says about demon possession. We have very little in the Bible about what it feels like to be demon possessed.
So in response to your point here, I would say that the person who’s been supernaturally deceived doesn’t feel any different. Since he’s been deceived, he has no idea that he’s been deceived, and whatever deception has taken root in his being feels perfectly natural. It’s seamless in is experience.
I'll try a few comments, nonetheless: I don't know what it feels like to be demon possessed, or whether one manifestation of that might be to have one's faculties playing tricks on you.
If human beings can be deceived by other human beings “unawares,” how much more can they be deceived by supernatural beings “unawares,” especially when the very nature of those supernatural beings is not only malevolent, but also beyond the reach of man’s senses as well as vastly more powerful than any human being? By nature it’s a ludicrously uneven match. But on the Christian worldview, this is all part of “God’s plan.”
Previously, Michael, you focused on I Timothy 4:2 (“by means of the hypocrisy of liars (A)seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron”) in order to draw the inference that supernatural deception finds its way into the stream of human thought through other human beings. Your interpretation of this verse apparently assumes that the “liars” mentioned in it were human in nature (even though the content of the verse does not necessarily require such an interpretation so far as I can tell). Specifically you had stated (in your 3 December comment to this blog, timestamped 3:25 am), regarding I Timothy 4:
Notice from verse 2 [I Tim. 4:2] that the deceitful spirits are doing their deceiving through teachings which come through human hypocritical liars.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
I do not see that Paul specifies that the ‘hypocritical liars’ he mentions are to be understood as *human*. I say this partly because I recall, when I was a believer, how my pastor & his crew would continually refer to certain “worldly folks” as “demons” and “devils,” and very often imply that the “wicked” individuals we encountered were actually malevolent supernatural agents disguised as human beings (perhaps sort of like Jesus being the Christian god “become flesh”). In other words, given Christianity’s overt supernaturalism and the powers it ascribes to supernatural spirits, I could not take it for granted that every individual I encountered was actually a human being. I really had no way of knowing one way or another. And I don’t think this kind of self-doubt and confusion is either unbiblical or accidental.
To lose control of one's speech and action etc. to another being who is within you, that seems to be what happens to some of the demoniacs in the Bible.
John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (How will it “teach” these things to those whom it teaches?)
John 15:26: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (How will it do this “testifying”?)
Acts 1:2: “until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” (Jesus “gives orders” through the “Holy Spirit”? How does anyone become aware of them?)
Acts 1:16: “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” (So, did David just mouth the words that were given to him by the “Holy Spirit” to speak, regardless of his knowledge of what they meant? Or was such knowledge just implanted into his head supernaturally?)
Acts 2:4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (So, these people supposedly spoke in some actual language that they had not already learned, and they did so because the “Holy Spirit” spoke through them?)
Acts 2:17: “’AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;” (So, this “Holy Spirit” will be “poured forth” onto “all mankind,” and as a result, this will cause them to “prophesy” and “see visions” and “dream dreams”? How is this not an example of a supernatural being taking over human cognition?)
Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (So, this “filling” with the “Holy Spirit” results in the ability “to speak the word of God with boldness”? Is it the ability to speak, or the ability to speak “the word of God,” or the ability to speak this word “with boldness” that the “filling” with the “Holy Spirit” gives to men?)
Acts 8:29: “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’” (How does an immaterial, incorporeal, non-biological, and invisible “spirit” tell a man to do something like this?)
Acts 8:39: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Here the “Spirit of the Lord” performs what is apparently a physical action, namely “snatching” someone from where they are. Perhaps many of the individuals who go missing each year have really just been “snatched away” by the “Holy Spirit.” How would anyone believing any of this know otherwise?)
Acts 10:19: “While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.” (How did “the Spirit” say this to Peter? How did the author of Acts know what a “spirit” said to one of the characters of his story, if not by imagining this?)
Acts 13:4: “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (How did the “Holy Spirit” send them “out,” such that “they went down to Seleucia”? How does that work?)
Acts 16:6: “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;” (How does the “Holy Spirit” forbid a person to speak? Is it through persuasion or by means of force? Again, “the Bible says little” here.)
Acts 16:7: “and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;” (Here the “Spirit of Jesus” inexplicitly prohibits people from doing something. Apparently people do not have the ability to make their own decisions. And how does one person know whether another person is being prevented from doing something because of some supernatural force?)
Also, consider the very phenomenon by which the “Holy Spirit” is said to manifest itself in believers, namely through “speaking in tongues.” If this is not a clear example of losing control of one’s own speech, I don’t know what is. Indeed, it seems quite strange, given the breadth of the unfolding epic of the Christian bible. In the Old Testament, diversity of tongues was a sign of divine punishment (cf. Genesis 11:1-9), while in the New Testament speaking an unknown tongue is evidence of the “indwelling” of the “Holy Spirit.” First it’s representative of something bad, then it’s representative of something good.
At any rate, I see no indication in anything I’ve read in the Christian bible which necessitates that a person who’s been taken over by a supernatural spirit will feel any different or notice the intrusion to begin with. Rather, it seems that supernatural spirits have the ability to take over one’s speech and other cognitive faculties while maintaining the impression that one is in full control of himself. Otherwise, how could it be legitimately called ‘deception’?
The curious thing to note here is that the “Holy Spirit” is characterized in the NT as behaving in a manner very similar to “deceptive spirits” in that it allegedly moves into the mind of a human being and essentially takes over. It is unclear whether or not the person so affected is actually aware of this or not. But this actually seems to be what believers are encouraged to desire: that they should invite a “spirit” to enter into their minds, hearts and/or souls and “indwell” therein, taking control or at least taking the lead in one’s life.
I remember a common piece of instruction I heard so often when I was a church-goer. The expression was “Let go and let God.” Even then I couldn’t keep images of Luke Skywalker flying an incredibly sophisticated piece of hardware through space, preparing to bomb a massive space station, and suddenly the voice of his deceased mentor could be heard, “Let go, Luke. Let go. Use your feelings.” For all the Christians who claim that atheists have no consistent foundation for reason, logic, science, morality and the rest, the appropriate response may simply be, “May the Force be with you!”
But clearly the NT indicates that spirits, both wicked and divine, essentially inhabit human beings somehow. The stories of the “Holy Spirit” guiding missionizing travelers in the Acts of the Apostles wouldn’t make sense otherwise, nor would he many instances in the gospels where Jesus is portrayed as “casting out demons” from characters inserted into these narratives.
But it's hard to guess what you would see and feel and think and know if that happened to you.
I can't think that anyone would choose to be demon possessed, or 'demonized' (to use a more accurate translation of the Greek verb), knowing all that it would imply.
Therefore I think it's fair to say that demons work in a deceptive way, in order to end up possessing/'demonizing' a person.
That being the case, and given the fact that “the Bible says little” on all of this, particularly on the epistemology of discovering and identifying what’s taking place in the “supernatural” realm, how can someone who believes that there are supernatural spirits malevolently seeking out victims of their deceptive tactics, have any confidence that their mind is free of any and all deceitful intrusions on the part of supernatural spirits?
I would discuss this topic under the theme of whether a person ends up with an excuse on the last Day before God.
For example, if a person were demon possessed at birth or at a very young age, they could complain on the last Day to God that they had no opportunity as an adult to process God's revelation of Himself to them, so they are not to blame for their rejection of him.
Or consider this: Do you think it’s simply not possible for someone genuinely to believe that Christian theism is irrational, that its claims about supernatural beings are false? My view is that supernaturalism finds its source in people’s imaginations. Do you think I’m suppressing some truth by coming to this recognition? If so, is that because you’re simply trying to be faithful to Romans 1? Or, do you have any objective input from reality (i.e., actual facts about the case rather than claims made by someone 1900 years ago to keep believers from straying from the churches he wanted to grow) to support this assessment?
Lacking control over one's actions would also seem like a potentially good excuse for evil actions.
Or how about when Greg Bahnsen writes: “God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 243)?
Or how about when he writes: “God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity)” (Ibid., p. 489n.43)?
If the Christian god is controlling everything that happens, determining “all events and outcomes,” including “those that come about human choice and activity,” it seems that a human individual really doesn’t have any control over his own actions. In fact, I don’t see how one could. And yet, Van Til & co. affirm this all-encompassing theistic determinism while still maintaining the “no excuse” doctrine. It all strikes me to be sheerly self-contradictory, or at any rate a complete mockery of morality (which is already evident in their view that evil is morally justifiable).
So again, it seems hard to maintain the “no excuse” doctrine with any logical consistency here.
Therefore, I would conclude that God does not allow very young children to be demonized.
Suppose a person in his 20s becomes demonically possessed and driven to suicide. Why couldn’t this person point to his being possessed by a demon as an “excuse”? Couldn’t that person say something like, “If you [God] protected me from the demon, I would have been able to call on Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But since you [God] allowed me to be demonized, all opportunity for me to repent was taken from me, so I have a legitimate excuse”? Clearly he could say this (since people can say pretty much anything they want). But I’m guessing you would say your god would not accept it for some reason, right?
Since people will have no excuse before God, it follows that God does not allow demons to possess children when they are very young, because that would give them an excuse on the last Day before God.
I think what likely happens is that God only allows a significant level of demonic possession/influence on people when they have done something wicked enough to deserve such possession/influence.
Also, your statement here suggests there are degrees of wickedness, some “level” of which will “earn” one the opening of the demonic floodgates. Of course, while some NT verses may confirm such a view, it does seem to go against the view expressed quite explicitly in James 2:10, that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” This NT verse suggests that there are no “degrees” of transgression, no “levels” of “sin.”
That's why seances and witchcraft are so dangerous…
…if you explicitly invite demonic power to manifest itself in and around you, there is a justice in the demons taking some control over you and (perhaps) taking some control of your cognitive powers.
And why suppose that “séances and witchcraft” are the only way to “explicitly invite demonic power” into one’s soul or life? If I recall, somewhere in the book of Proverbs it is intimated that the stubbornness of a defiant child is sufficient to “merit” death. Merely being born and “dying in one’s sins” is sufficient to “merit” eternal torment. Why isn’t using the Christian god’s name in vain or failing to observe the “Sabbath” sufficient to “invite demonic power” into one’s life? An “unsaved” person presumably does not have the protection of the “Holy Spirit” or the Christian god’s retinue of holy “angels,” so why not suppose that such a condition constitutes “open season” on behalf of the countless demons and devils seeking souls to consume and devour in their orgy of sin-making and soul-destroying? James tells us that one offence is sufficient to suffuse a soul with guilt.
You invited them, after all! (There are various embedded assumptions here that witchcraft and seances have real power on account of their using the real power which demons have)
I strongly recommend warning your daughter against witchcraft and seances, Dawson!
Incidentally, I also believe Christians can escape any potential demonization of themselves or their children, since if they 'resist Satan, standing firm in the faith... he will flee from them' (that's a conflation of a couple of Bible verses).
Of course, one could be deceived into thinking that he’s really saved in the first place. There are, after all, hundreds if not thousands of different denominations, sects, factions and divisions within Christianity, many of them vehemently criticizing others for getting Christian doctrine wrong and essentially sending people to hell. Given the enormous variation among Christian teachings, and the exclusivity to truth that they claim to enjoy, the question as to which version is the correct one (assuming one of them is correct in the first place) seems entirely unanswerable. It’s a spiritual crap shoot. One might think he’s found the right church, the right doctrine, the right interpretation of that doctrine, only to have been deceived by some conniving spirit that he can’t see, hear, taste, touch or smell. He could be deceived and simply not realize it. A person in this situation may think he’s going through the right motions in protecting himself against supernatural spirits bent on deceiving him, but he could be playing into their hand all along, given the premise of supernaturalism to begin with. There really seems to be no “epistemology of the supernatural” to equip believers with the cognitive resources they would need to navigate the spirit world with any confidence. That’s what it all really boils down to.
One strength of my take on all of this, is the number of people who actually describe 'weird' things happening through witchdoctoring, seances and so on.
Dismissing the reality of all these testimonies would be a weakness of your position, Dawson.
Have you not had any friends who've gone to seances and reported strange occurrences?
Have you not met any Africans who ascribe real power to witchdoctors?
Do you treat with sheer disbelief all the accumulated accounts all over the world of the power of witchcraft in its various forms and guises?
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Supernatural Deception