Final Response by Peter S. Williams


Do angels such as Gabriel, Michael and Satan exist?

Gary R. Habermas and J.P.Moreland ask what it means to say that something has a claim on one's intellectual allegiance, pointing to the obvious fact that not all beliefs are equally reasonable: 'Some are very, very reasonable (7+5=12); some are very, very unreasonable (George Bush is a Martian); and others fall somewhere between these extremes.' I would think it safe to say that belief in angels falls somewhere between the extremes of rationality, being neither certainly true nor certainly false. According to J.P.Moreland:

'A belief P can be rational in the sense that it is a rationally permissible belief. A belief P is permissible in case believing P is just as warranted as believing not-P or suspending judgement regarding P in light of the evidence. A belief P can also be rational in the sense that it is a rationally obligatory belief. A belief P is obligatory if believing P has greater warrant than believing not-P or suspending judgement regarding P in light of the evidence.'

That is, an argument for a hypothesis need not provide certainty for our belief to be rationally compelled: 'rational compulsion arises even when we are dealing not with certainties but with probabilities. . . not only strict entailment but also partial entailment yields a form of rational compulsion.' I think that the arguments make belief in angels both rationally permissible and rationally obligatory. However, this discussion glosses over an important simplification. As Habermas and Moreland note:

'A second feature of rationality is this: Often a particular belief is a part of a larger system of beliefs, and it gains rational support from its role in that system. In cases like these, it is less rational to accept the belief if it is evaluated on its own, apart from its supporting web of beliefs, assuming, of course, that the system itself is reasonable.'

The rationality of belief in angels is an instance of a belief that gains support from its role as part of a system of belief, namely Christian theism; a system I hold to be demonstrably reasonable. Some of the arguments for angels can stand alone, but other arguments depend on one or more facets of the Christian system being true. For example, if the Bible is the word of God then there is a strong reason to believe in angels because the Bible clearly teaches the existence of such beings. Of course, that the Bible is the word of God is premise that some people (including Steven) would wish to dispute. Hence, the arguments for angels that draw upon the web of Christian belief will only carry weight with those who accept, or can be brought to accept, that 'the system itself is reasonable.' Hence we can distinguish between arguments that are and are not 'independent' of the Christian system.

Suppose a naturalist were to consider the case for angels; I would hardly think it likely that the arguments could plausibly be expected to do more than to convince them that it is rational and/or obligatory to believe in angels if one accepts certain other beliefs - beliefs such as 'God exists' and 'the Bible is the word of God' or 'Jesus is the Son of God. The naturalist may think that these beliefs are false and even irrational (just as the Christian will think naturalism false and even irrational), but it is surely reasonable to expect them to concede that belief in angels is rational and/or obligatory for someone who holds these beliefs. I doubt that the evidence independent of the Christian system for angels is sufficient to make belief in naturalism irrational. On the other hand I think that the independent evidence might make belief in angels rationally permissible and that the total evidence makes belief in angels rationally obligatory for anyone who accepts premises such as 'God exists', etc. Moreover, I think that the evidence for the existence of God and the evidence for Jesus and the Bible being the incarnate and literary Word of God respectively sufficiently strong to make faith rationally obligatory. This being so, it follows that, absolutely speaking, belief in angels is also rationally obligatory. As Stephen T. Davies argues in his discussion of theistic proofs: 'There can be no such thing as a subjectively fool-proof [theistic proof]. . . We should not expect that there will be a [theistic proof] that convinces every atheist. . . Rather, successful [theistic proofs] should convince atheists that God exists.' The same point applies to argument for angels, whether or not they depend in turn upon theistic proofs.

It is now received wisdom that the arguments for God are cumulative, or, at least, are best approached cumulatively; that is, the weight of evidence for God accumulates as one adds arguments to an overall case that doesn't rest on any one argument: 'Cumulative case arguments consider all of the relevant evidence. . . jointly rather than singly.' Individual arguments are like strands in a rope. Those individual strands may be of differing strength, but when they are twined together the result is stronger than any of the strands on its own; the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts, due to the mutual coherence of those parts. Another good way to describe this argumentative procedure is by the court analogy. Isolated pieces of evidence may be insufficient on their own to warrant convicting someone 'beyond reasonable doubt', but taken together the evidence does warrant conviction. It is invalid to argue that as none of the evidence warrants conviction no conviction is warranted. Likewise with the case for angels: individual arguments for the existence of angels may be insufficient to warrant the conviction that angels exist, but presented with a cumulative case, the court may have to decide that angels exists.

As C.S.Lewis explained: 'Some people believe that nothing exists except Nature; I call these people Naturalists. Others think that, besides Nature, there exists something else: I call them Supernaturalists.' A consistent naturalist must not believe in angels; for angels are supernatural, and as naturalist Corliss Lamont says: 'a naturalistic metaphysics or attitude towards the universe. . . considers all forms of the supernatural as myth [because it] regards Nature as the totality of being and as a. . . system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness.' Of course, whether the incommensurability of naturalism and angels is so much the worse for angels, or so much the worse for naturalism, is another kettle of fish. I happen to think that it's so much the worse for naturalism. Still, the fact remains that: 'Naturalism is antisupernatural, so it will not take seriously Christianity's claim to truths such as the existence of God and the soul, angels and demons. . .' Of course, a supernaturalist might not believe in angels. A supernaturalist may believe in one or more of a whole variety of supernatural agents and entities, such as: God, gods, angels, the human soul, and ghosts. Supernaturalism as such is not a package deal like naturalism; belief in particular supernatural entities must be approached on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, the supernaturalist will at least have to take the question of angels seriously, and 'Christian belief is a type of 'supernaturalism,' which connotes at least that nature is not the fundamental reality.' For the Christian supernaturalist, God (understood in Trinitarian terms) is the ultimate reality. Such a belief lays a foundation that is a priori sympathetic to the existence of other supernatural realities, including angels. If human minds are immaterial, or if God exists, why couldn't (or wouldn't) angels exist? In fact, there would appear to be no reason to doubt the possibility of angels existing that would not equally count against the existence of God. Therefore, if God's existence is possible then the existence of angels is possible.

Jay Wesley Richards observes: 'We may fairly dub naturalism as the 'orthodox' metaphysical view of contemporary secular culture'; and this despite the fact that it 'has explicit advocates only among relatively few academics, who hold a disproportionate amount of influence and power.' As John Drane reports: 'In 1900, something like 6% of the worlds population were self-confessed atheists. Today that figure has shrunk to just a little over 4%. While naturalism is more academically respectable today than in past centuries, I seriously doubt that it ever been is such patently poor shape intellectually speaking. Hence Phillip E. Johnson's confident assertion that: Materialism as a philosophy is superficially powerful but moribund.' As Terry L. Miethe reports:

'Many philosophers are today talking about the collapse of modern atheism - not necessarily that there are less atheists, but that there is less reason for being one. The claim is that 'there is a collapse of the intellectual grounds for holding an atheist position.' (Varghese 1984, p128) because of the philosophical, scientific, and ethical evidence for the existence of God. Even the editors of Philosophy Today have said:'No responsible philosopher can escape reflecting upon the unique character and problems of contemporary atheism.'

As Alvin Plantinga testifies: 'theistic belief does not (in general) need argument. . . But it doesn't follow, of course, that there aren't any good arguments. Are there some? At least a couple of dozen or so.' It is thus small wonder that 'Even opponents of religious faith are coming to respect its rational integrity.' These days, one can almost feel the tide of naturalism beginning to turn. The public seems to have caught on to this mood, if not its rationale:

'Fewer people than ever before are now inclined to deny the existence of something or somebody they can call 'God.' Every opinion poll for the last two or three decades has shown a steady increase in the level of religious belief. In Britain - supposedly one of the least religious Western nations (certainly when compared to the USA) - more than three-fifths of the population believe in God. On top of that, another 9% describe themselves as agnostics. . . This means about three-quarters of the population either believe in God or would be open to do so given the right time and place.'

We know that 'throughout human history and its varied cultures three great external types of reality commonly have been assumed to exist. These are the external physical world, the world of other minds, and the transcendent spiritual world, for example, of God or the gods [and of angels].' Belief in finite spiritual beings besides the gods, both good and bad, can be traced back to ancient Indo-Iranian religion from which evolved early Zoroastrianism with its malevolent daevas, and early Hiduism (as reflected in the Vedas) with its benevolent devas and malevolent asuras (evil lords). Chinese religion includes belief in the demonic kuei-shen:

'In India, the Raksava represented every hostile force. They appeared either in horrible guises or in a very beguiling form. It was said that they entered abandoned corpses, ate the flesh and them made them obey their will, in order to spread evil all around them. The Raksava's leader was Ravana, the enemy of Rama. He was the head of a kingdom which was always in conflict with the gods and the work of the devout.'

There were also Babylonian demons (such as the man crushing Alu, the murdering Gallu, the baby attacking Lamast and the mountain trembling Pazuzu). Malevolent beings in pagan religions also include 'evil spirits in nature. . . the narakas (creatures of hell) of Jainism, [and] the oni (attendants of the gods of the underworld) in Japanise religions. . .'

Walter Martin reports several cases of demon possession, including an instance involving a non-believing psychologist caused to change his mind by the weight of personal experience:

'I had a psychologist friend who was present with me at an exorcism in Newport Beach, California. Before we entered the room he said, 'I want you to know I do not believe in demonic possession. This girl is mentally disturbed.' I said, 'That may well be. We'll find out very soon.' As we went into the room and closed the door, the girl's supernatural strength was soon revealed. Suddenly from her body a totally foreign voice said quietly, with a smirk on the face (she was unconscious - the psychologist testified to that), 'We will outlast you.' The psychologist looked at me and said, 'What was that?' 'That is what you don't believe in,' I said. We spent about 3 ½ hours exorcising what the psychologist didn't believe in! At the end of the exorcism he was not only a devout believer in the personality of the devil, but in demonic possession and biblical exorcism as well.'

Of course, not all encounters with angels are encounters with fallen angels, as Billy Graham relates:

'The Reverend John G. Paton, a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, tells a thrilling story involving the protective care of angels. Hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. When daylight came they were amazed to see the attackers unaccountably leave. They thanked God for delivering them.

A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Jesus Christ, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, 'Who were all those men you had with you there?' The missionary answered, 'There were no men there; just my wife and I.' The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard - hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission station so that the natives were afraid to attack. Only then did Mr. Paton realise that God had sent His angels to protect them. The chief agreed that there was no other explanation.'

Do I believe in levitation? I certainly believe it possible. Levitation is a psychokinetic phenomenon in which objects and/or people lift into the air without any apparent physical means of so doing, and float about. As such, levitation is a 'paranormal' or supernatural event comparable with miracles. Sometimes God is thought to be the cause of the levitation, other times the cause is thought to be an Angel or a demon. Angels are persons and as such have libertarian freedom: 'Persons are agents and, as such, are first-movers, unmoved movers who simply have the power to act as the ultimate originators or their actions.' Agents have libertarian free will or 'active power', the 'dual ability to exert or refrain from exerting one's power.' As Emily Dickinson wrote:

A deed knocks first at thought

And then it knocks at will

That is the manufacturing spot

And will at home and well

It then goes out an act,

Or is entombed so still

That only to the ear of God

Its doom is audible.

Such acts of active volitional power, whether originated by a human, an angel, or by God, are supernatural occurrences: 'When an agent exercises libertarian agency, the act is supernatural in the sense that it cannot be subsumed under a law of nature plus initial conditions, and in this sense agent acts transcend nature.' Hence C.S.Lewis writes that 'The rational part of every man is supernatural in. . . the same sense in which both angels and devils are supernatural.' Any supernatural act in causal contact with the natural realm is a temporary exception to the natural order of things, to what would have happened if the supernatural cause had not acted. Thus, as J.P.Moreland testifies: 'I see [angelic,] divine and human action in terms of libertarian agency and believe that free acts leave scientifically detectable gaps in the natural world.' However, as Lewis pointed out, once a supernatural act has been performed, subsequent events follow natural law: 'If events ever come from beyond nature altogether she will [not] be incommoded by them. Be sure that she will rush to the point where she is invaded as the defensive forces rush to a cut on our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it will obey all the natural laws.' Hence my arm, when I cease to make it rise, quite naturally falls to my side; and a tomb-stone, rolled away by an angel, would, when released from the angelic power, quite naturally falls to the ground.

Can angels act to produce effects in the natural world? It would seem so: 'God, angels and demons are not physical, but they can actually interact with matter. Even if one does not believe in their reality, it is strongly conceivable that if they existed, they could interact with matter. Moreover, your intending to raise your arm brings the latter about, and if you get stuck with a pin, you feel pain, so soul-matter interaction is perfectly intelligible and actually takes place.' How an angel can be the immaterial cause of a material effect is no more mysterious in principle than how the human soul can cause material effects, or how an immaterial God can cause the existence of the entire universe. There may be little else to be said in any of these cases besides that effects are brought about by acts of volition within the range of an agent's power of active volition:

'I have no idea (nor even a very firm opinion) whether psycho kinesis actually occurs, but I am quite sure that it is conceivable - that the notion of psycho kinesis is coherent. And if it is conceivable, it seems a short step to hold similarly that an immaterial thing [such as an angel] can conceivably cause physical events to occur - to act as an agent.' Moreover, 'It does not seem that anyone is in a position to insist dogmatically that no event in the physical world can be brought about by an immaterial thing. After all, it is a crucial tenet of mind-body dualism that this sort of thing commonly occurs.'

Notorious arguments against the possibility or believability of miracles have been advanced by the likes of David Hume and Immanuel Kant, but as Stephen T. Davies reports: 'the vast majority of philosophers today, whether theists or non-theists, are of the opinion that the relevant arguments of Hume and Kant are seriously defective. At the very least, rather devastating critiques of the relevant views of both philosophers have appeared in the past forty years. . . You cannot rule out a priori the possibility of miracles or of rational belief in miracles.' Hence the real question is that of evidence:

'Numerous incidents of levitation have been recorded in Christianity and Islam. . . incidents reported among the Roman Catholic saints includes the incident of Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663). . . Saint Teresa of Avila was another well known saint who reported levitating. . . One eyewitness, Sister Anne of the Incarnation, said Saint Theresa levitated a foot and a half off the ground for about half an hour. . . Incidents have also been reported in the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. . . During the Middle ages and Renaissance levitation. . . was said to be an unusual phenomena generated by. . . demons. Even to the present levitation is often thought to be involved in cases of demonic possession. Many times beds, tables, chairs and other objects have been witnessed flying through the air apparently by themselves. They frequently aimed themselves at the exorcist or his assistants. . . Skeptics of levitation have come up with several theories as to its cause including hallucination, hypnosis, or fraud. These theories are not applicable to all incidents, however.'

If demons are real, then one might very well think them capable of causing levitation. To respond to a reported levitation claimed to have taken place in the context of an exorcism that 'levitation can't happen so this can't have been a genuine case of possession' would clearly be to beg-the-question in an a priori manner that contradicts any claim to be open to the evidence. Being open to the evidence needn't entail believing every supernatural claim, but it does entail being ready to accept sufficient evidence as warranting a supernatural explanation. Perhaps a contemporary eyewitness report by the ordained chaplain of an American psychiatric hospital isn't sufficient warrant for belief in a supernatural occurrence. If so, this does not disprove levitation, let alone demon possession.

Steven says he does not rule demons our a priori and that he is willing to consider evidence for their reality. Any evidence for the reality of demons is of necessity evidence for unusual phenomena, phenomena that has no adequate naturalistic explanation. Someone behaving normally, using their native language and obeying the laws of gravity hardly constitutes plausible evidence of possession! However, as soon as I present cases involving such unusual phenomena (speaking in a previously unlearned language, levitation, etc), Steven objects to the evidence! There are only two possible grounds for objecting to this evidence. The first is the a priori assumption of naturalism; the second is that the available evidence is judged insufficiently strong a posteriori. The evidence for the reality of genuine possession includes multiple contemporary eyewitness reports, including reports from initially sceptical professionals with doctorates in psychology and psychiatry. This evidence should not be considered in isolation from the context of its role in a cumulative case argument for the existence of angelic beings. The other arguments for angels form a cumulative background conducive to the plausibility of the experiential evidence, just as the experiential evidence contributes to the plausibility of the other arguments.

Conclusion

Angelology employs a typically scientific mode of argumentation, namely 'argument to best explanation'. In an argument to the best explanation the conclusion is justified by its being reasonably judged to constitute the simplest adequate explanation of the available data: 'Suppose we have a set of items xi through xn that stand in need of explanation and we offer some explanans E as an adequate or even best explanation of the explanda. In such a case, E explains xi through xn and this fact provides some degree of confirmation for E.'Argument to best explanation is simply a constructive use of Occam's Razor, the rational principle that enjoins us not to multiply entities beyond necessity. Here is a set of explanda:

1) The majority of humanity believes in angels.

2) The majority of philosophers believe in angels.

3) There are various Occult phenomena that would be coherently and economically explained if demons exist.

4) There are multiple historical and contemporary reports by evidently honest and intelligent eyewitnesses (including psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy) to the reality of Angels and demonic possession (including Satanic possession).

5) There is a pattern of hierarchy in creation that would come to an abrupt and unexpected end if angels do not exist.

6) The Bible teaches that Angels and demons (including Gabriel, Michael & Satan) exist.

7) Jesus teaches that Angels and demons exist.

I offer the existence of angels as the best explanation of the above explanda.

If one considers only the independent evidence (1-4) I would estimate that the arguments make belief in angels rationally permissible, just as long as one does not begin with belief in naturalism (a belief against which I believe there is a sufficient weight of evidence to prove false). This means that belief in angels is, subjectively speaking, rationally permissible not only for Christians, but for people of various other worldviews, including Jews, Muslims, New Age believers and agnostics, and, objectively speaking, rationally permissible per se. The argument from experience is surely the hardest evidence to discount here, but we should not forget that one's assessment of the evidence depends upon what background knowledge one allows. For example, the initial plausibility of angels is lower for the agnostic than for the philosophical theist.

On the other hand, if one additionally takes into consideration the non-independent evidence, then, presuming one accepts the relevant background knowledge (as I would argue one ought to do), belief in angels is surely rationally obligatory. Certainly, consideration of the cumulative force of the total evidence makes belief in angels not only rationally permissible but also rationally obligatory for Christians, and perhaps for philosophical theists and for theists from other religions (e.g. Judaism and Islam).

Peter William's Opening Statement

Steven Carr's First Response

Peter Williams's First Response

Steven Carr's First Response

Peter William's Second Response

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