God and Lucifer

Kenny asked:

Who can explain why Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) are regarded as monotheistic religions whilst they recognise Satan/ Lucifer as an evil immortal powerful force (a god… an evil god). Is Satan/ Lucifer not part of the whole system of beliefs? These religions believe he exists and they believe he has power… an evil power. That means Lucifer is an enemy of their god (Divine being, High Spirit) he is an opposition, meaning he is a god himself. Then logically there are at least two gods in these religions.

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

Over millennia, Lucifer has been regarded as the personification of evil, although the recent TV series (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4052886/) has gone a long way to rehabilitate his image. Is Lucifer a man? a very powerful man? a kind of a god, maybe? What does it take to make a ‘god’?

Two and a half thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Xenophanes posed this question.  Possibly influenced by stories about a people who believed in one all-powerful God, he argued that the gods on Mount Olympus were too human-like to be worthy of worship.

One of Xenophanes’ arguments — which interestingly resembles the case made by Hobbes for a single Sovereign in Leviathan two millennia years later — is that if you have two or more gods their power is limited by the need to agree with one another on a course of action. The same argument presumably applies, with greater force, to two rival gods (a ‘good’ god and an ‘evil’ god) in permanent opposition to one another.

Traditional theology solves the problem by making the one God ‘infinite’ in power, knowledge and goodness. In a universe ruled by an infinite deity, a being such as Lucifer must necessarily play a subordinate role. He may have power to influence human beings but he exists only at God’s pleasure. An infinite being can snuff out a finite being in an instant.

So that would be one answer to your question.

However, from around the 20th century onwards, theology has become more equivocal on the nature of the one God, with some philosophers such as William James arguing for a deity who is finite in power, although still incapable of intentionally committing an evil act. Such a being would find itself in serious contention with a finitely powerful being who was willing, on occasion, to choose evil over good. (There’s no reason to go the whole hog and make Lucifer incapable of ever doing good. Why?)

Then, as you say, we would have two ‘gods’. But is either god on this scenario worthy of worship? You can cheer for your ‘God’ and boo Lucifer. Or, if you are that way inclined you can support Lucifer’s heroic resistance against a being who is simply ‘too good’ for the rest of us.

I don’t have a horse in this race. Make up any story you like. Maybe out there in the universe there are ‘good’ aliens who made us and ‘bad’ aliens who want to destroy us. Or maybe the ‘good’ aliens have gone ‘bad’ (as in Prometheus and Alien Covenant). It’s just a story, and stories are for children.

An argument for a finite god, which seems pretty strong to me, is that given that the universe is finite, any effect on the universe caused by a supposedly ‘infinite’ being can be matched by an effect caused by a sufficiently powerful finite being. The notion of ‘infinity’ is redundant. (This bears on the Teleological and Cosmological arguments: cf. Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and Kant’s discussion of the arguments for the existence of God in his Critique of Pure Reason.)

The ontological argument, on the other hand, allegedly ‘proves’ the existence of an infinite being but I have yet to see a convincing version of it. If you are a believer of the traditional kind, or find the ontological argument convincing, then a question to ponder would be why such a God allows for the existence of Lucifer — which relates to the ‘Problem of Evil’.

But that’s another story.