The question, “Would there be less evil in a world without Satan?” could be relevant, for if the answer to this question is a yes, then we could plausibly ask, “Why did God create angels i.e. Satan, if evil in this world would be lesser without Satan?”
Within this context, if God had not created Satan, evil would have been less, and our world would have been a good world. However, since God created Satan, could we then infer that God erred in HIS decision to create Satan?
The entailment to this thought process could potentially debunk Historic Christianity. God (as a maximally great being) cannot err. If God erred in creating Satan, HE cannot be God. Hence God’s existence could be disputed. The infallibility of the Bible that reveals God to mankind could also be thus disputed. We could go on and on.
Let us discuss this theme by considering the following aspects albeit from a biblical standpoint.
The Source of Sin
Sin is an evil action or motive that opposes and assaults God. Sin replaces God with something or someone in God’s rightful place of supremacy. Sin entails evil.
Understanding the source of sin is vital to understanding the theme we are discussing now. If Satan is the source of sin and evil, one could argue that God should have not created Satan to keep the world free of sin and evil.
The “Animal Nature” of man is the source of sin, claimed British Philosopher and Theologian Frederick R. Tennant. Under this notion, humans possess natural animalistic impulses as a means to human survival that have intensified through natural selection based on their evolution from less highly developed forms. Other theologians have posited other sources of sin. However, each of these views has been found to be largely inadequate.1
The Bible teaches differently. Sin is not caused by God (James 1:13) but man is responsible for his sins (James 1: 14-15).
Man possesses certain innate desires. He could either satisfy those desires in moderation or sin by abusing those desires to either hurt himself or the others.
His ‘desire to enjoy’ could result in an enjoyment of eating in moderation or a sin by being a glutton, whereby he injures himself. His ‘desire to obtain’ could be satisfied either by legitimately acquiring material possessions or he could sin by exploiting and stealing from others. His ‘desire to achieve’ could be satisfied either through legitimate achievement or he could sin and achieve at the expense of others.
Man could satisfy these desires in a godly manner by dwelling within the divinely imposed constraints. But man sins when he fails to accept the divine limits to these desires and makes these desires as ends in themselves, which are the cravings of a sinful man (1 John 2: 16).
While desires are natural, there could be external inducements (Satanic or human) that motivate man to sin. Whatever be the case, man is wholly responsible for his sins. Sin is the choice of the person who commits it.
Function of Satan in Sin
Satan is a demon (cf. Luke 10: 17-20). He is the tempter and deceiver. Satan opposes God and the work of Christ by tempting and deceiving humans. Satan tempted Adam & Eve, Jesus, Judas etc (cf. Acts 5:3, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 2: 11, Ephesians 6: 11, 2 Timothy 2: 26).
Sometimes we state that Satan is the source of sins. While making such statements, we use the word “source” informally. In this informal usage, “source” refers to an ‘originator’ or an ‘instigatory cause.’
If we claim that Satan is the source of all sins i.e. if we use the word ‘source’ to mean, in an Aristotelian sense, the material cause (‘that out of which’) or the efficient cause (‘the primary source of…’), then we posit dualism. Dualism contradicts the Bible, for there are no two equally ultimate powers, one good and the other evil.
God is the only ultimate power and God is good. God is not the source or the originator of sin or evil. Moreover, Satan was originally created good; hence Satan is not the source of sin and evil.
Potency of Freewill to Sin without Satan
If asked differently, the title question would be, “Would Adam & Eve have sinned without Satan?” Since man is responsible for his sins, the answer should be yes.
The premise on which this argument is also predicated on is the freewill-based rebellion of angels in the heavenly realm. (This premise presupposes the metaphysical similarity of the freewill of the angels and humans.)
The angels that rebelled against God did not have an external inducement (as Adam & Eve had Satan as an external inducer). There were only two entities during the angelic fall – God and Angels. (Even if mankind was created before the fall of Satan, man was totally incapable of influencing Satan’s fall.)
Since God can neither tempt nor cause evil, the angelic rebellion was an entailment of their freewill. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to conclude that Adam & Eve had the potential to sin or would have sinned irrespective of the presence of Satan.
Satan merely accelerated the sin of Adam and Eve. Had Satan not existed, Adam and Eve would have sinned (or eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) sooner or later.
Satan is not the source of sin. Man’s freewill is the source of sin. Man would have inevitably sinned irrespective of Satan or not.
Would the quantum and the extent of sins be minimized if Satan was not created? Not necessarily so, for if Satan is to be considered as an accelerant of sin, then there is a possibility that the quantum and the extent of sins would be actualized at a later time. So the quantum and the extent of sins would have been the same with or without Satan, for the potency of man’s freewill to sin is independent of Satan.
The other possibility is that the quantum and the extent of sins would be lesser without Satan. In which case, the question, “If evil in this world would be lesser without Satan, then why did God create Satan?” gains legitimacy.
If Satan is the sole cause of evil, then evil would have been absolutely eliminated, had Satan not been created. However, since Satan exists and that Satan is not the sole cause of evil, only God, in HIS omniscient wisdom would be able to determine the extent to which evil would be reduced had angels not been created.
But on the other hand, if the good that is to be actualized from the good angels in ministering to people is commensurately immeasurable, then God would be justified to create Satan even with the potential of evil.
Finally, natural evil, which is devoid of human willing and acting, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. and suffering caused by a host of diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis etc. exist independent of Satan and adds substantial numbers to the victims of evil. The pain and suffering caused by natural evil and diseases are innate in the creational design of this world and the human body.
The fact of the matter is that evil would not cease to exist if Satan were to be non-existent. Hence, numbers need not matter. When evil exists, the terms ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ do not gain greater significance, for the world we live in would be evil even if only 1% of the total population (1 out of 10 people) are adversely affected by evil. Moreover, if only 1% of the total population is affected by evil, then there is a certain possibility for evil to increase.
Therefore, the question, “Would there be less evil in a world without Satan?” would neither debunk nor harm Historic Christianity.
1 Other theologians have posited various sources for sin. The “Anxiety of Finiteness” was proposed by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The idea of “Existential Estrangement” was proposed by Paul Tillich (1886-1965), the “Economic Struggle” proposed by the Liberation Theology, and “Individualism and Competitiveness” as argued by Harrison Sacket Elliott (1882-1951).