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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do you believe in the devil?


Here's an interesting poll result from Jim West's Biblical Studies discussion group:

POLL QUESTION: Do you believe there is Biblical evidence for a literal "Devil"
and that such a being exists?

CHOICES AND RESULTS
- Yes, there is Biblical evidence and there is a "Devil", 25 votes, 52.08%
- Yes, there is Biblical evidence, but there is no "Devil", 11 votes, 22.92%
- No, there is no Biblical evidence for such a being, 11 votes, 22.92%
- I'm not sure, 1 votes, 2.08%

A couple of points which make this small sample poll particularly interesting. From the names I see on the group, and Jim can correct me if I'm wrong, it is a largely academic membership (am I right?). Biblical Studies now continues, if Jim doesn't mind me saying, after a small conservative group split off (am I right?).

UPDATE:

I reckon some bloggers should give their thoughts on whether they believe in the devil or not and in what form and non-bloggers in comment sections. Seems worth broadening Jim's experiment.

Jim has a poll on his blog and the results: they remain interesting reading and not too far removed from the Biblical Studies poll.

21 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Yes, you are right on both counts. And no one was more surpised than I.

What this suggests, I think, is that

a- most people who took the poll are conservative

or

b- a slim majority of academics believe in the existence of the devil!

July 26, 2006

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Yes I didn't quite what to make of the results. I can't offer any clever analysis (insert own joke here) but it is certainly striking or at least I didn't expect these results. But I'm still confident we could both predict several of the members who don't believe!

July 26, 2006

 
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I'd say yes for Biblical evidence, no for actual existence.

July 26, 2006

 
Blogger Jim said...

Loren answered as did I.

July 26, 2006

 
Blogger Jim said...

As requested - though simplified

http://petrosbaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2006/07/do-you-believe-in-devil.html

July 26, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

It was weird. I was kind of hoping that the 25 people who believed in a devil were 25 non-academic people on the list. But then it's just a sober remember that this is a funny discipline.

July 27, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

I just voted on your poll, Jim, and discovered that before my vote there were more devil believers reading your blog than not. Once I would have thought that that might suggest that there were less scholarly types reading your blog but now I'm not so sure. Maybe it suggests that having a doctorate doesn't actually mean that much.

July 27, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

... and now outnumbered again by the believers - who are they?!!

July 27, 2006

 
Anonymous Hugh Pyper said...

Dear James et al

Of course there's a devil, or where do you-all get your crazy ideas from?

July 27, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

There are two observations that lead one to think that, supposing that the devil (or similar) does not exist, it is odd that some phenomena appear which one would normally predict only on the supposition that he did exist:

(1) The death-wish phenomenon:
This is found among individuals who apparently 'cannot help themselves' taking a maximally malign view of things that are good and right, and indeed of God and of Jesus. The observation that they 'cannot help themselves' inevitably leads to the qeustion: 'If they are not in control of themselves, then who or what is? Who or what is pulling the strings? And why are those strings being pulled in such a contrary way?'.
(2) The prediction that those who show symptoms normally associated with 'possession' will respond negatively to the name of Jesus tends to be confirmed observationally. Why?

July 27, 2006

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Hugh: I thought I got them all from you, or at least I'm sure you've told me that. Hang on, wait a minute, if your logic is right then that makes you...

Christopher: if I understand you right, couldn't those details be explained by cross cultural analyses of exorcisms, psychological problems, psychosomatic issues, traditional healers etc.? The example of Jesus would be an example of a culturally particular issue.

July 27, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Yes - only provided one accepts the psychological and sociological categories as preferable in the first place. A lot of psychological and medical diagnosis is merely descriptive rather than in any deep sense explanatory.

I think of it as similar to the saying 'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Think of a negative and harmful violent crowd mentality which finds individuals behaving in ways they would not if they were on their own. Such a thing is properly called a 'spirit', even in contemporary secular English. It can be spoken of as something separate from any of the individuals: '*more than* the sum of its parts'. This 'more' is perhaps what people mean by speaking of demons and devils. Of course, one also wants to find the most wicked term possible when speaking of whatever is oppressing one's loved ones.

Yet if you took away the individuals in the aforesaid crowd there would be (at least apparently) nothing left. This does not mean that the 'spirit' does not exist: merely that it all depends on which level, collective or individual, one does the analysis. Neither level is 'right' or 'wrong' given that they both exist simultaneously.

Psychology does not always admit the reality that these states can regularly arise less as a result of some personal genetic psychological deficiency and more as a result of negative life choices that are known to be negative even at the time they are made. It is a genuine question why people feel forced to be contrary enough to do things that they know very well are not in their best interests, let alone anyone else's. The answer must be at a deeper level than those sometimes proposed: at least at the level of anthropology or human biology. Which is where original sin comes in.

July 29, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

Psychology and medical practioners can not only describe the problem but can also provide therapy or medicine which can help counter or control the problem. Causes can often be explained as social or even dietary.

July 30, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Steph-
What you say is true so far as it goes - yet it is relatively small-scale and we live in a big world. There are different levels of causation, depending on how broad one's focus is (e.g., if you ask someone why they are at work this morning, it is (a) because they caught the right bus; (b) because they were awarded the job some time back; (c) because their parents gave birth to them in the first place...etc). One has also to admit that life-decisions end up playing a massive role in causation: i.e. the will is an important factor.

August 01, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

Haven't really got any idea how "original sin" comes into it. Crowds create excitement ingiting an energy of positive reinforcement which becomes dormant as the crowd disperses, individuals choose to join and choose to leave, or are encouraged to join and encouraged to leave, or are forced, .... original sin?

August 10, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

As far as I remember, belief in original sin is based on a mistaken Vulgate/Augustinian translation and understanding of Romans 5, which had all humanity sinning 'in Adam'.

I think, though, that if someone said that sin was so deeply engrained in human beings that it is actually present as deep as the biological/genetic level, they would surely be right - based on the observation that sin/selfishness is part of human nature, and not a single person is totally free of it.

I also don't think one 'chooses' to go with the crowd. 'Choice' implies rationality, and things like crowd behaviour are precisely pre-rational/irrational. I.e. one is not in control of oneself, but at the mercy of larger forces.

August 10, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

Of course I agree that selfishness is part of nature - it's all wrapped up in the strange desire to live, to survive... we become rational when we work out that's it's better not to kill our neighbour because his survival could in fact increase our own chances of survival. We might also work out that it's better not to steal from him either, because if we don't he might carry on growing apples and we can exchange them for our carrots... When it comes to crowds, I think rationality plays a part there too. I think to suggest that we cannot be in control of oneself, but at the mercy of larger forces, is a slight exaggeration. I've been a member of a crowd which became boisterous so I left it. I've also not joined in at all on many occasions. I don't think any credit is deserved by exterior forces for my choice.

August 11, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Steph-
3 points there I slightly disagree with:
(1) there is a danger of reducing everything to survival of the fittest. Reductionism and 'nothing buttery' does not square well with the fact that we live in a vast and complex world, involving many dimensions of factors. There are all sorts of other things to study at uni apart from biology and anthropology, for example.
(2) Do you believe that genuine love and compassion can exist? Or did I just marry my wife for the benefit I could get out of it? Again, this seems a thin and poor worldview compared with the richer ones one sometimes encounters elsewhere, which seem better to do justice to the richness of human experience.
(3) On crowds, I agree. By walking away, you showed yourself both rational and free from the control of any higher transpersonal spirit, atmosphere or whatever. Those who remained in the crowd and suffered a personality-change were less praiseworthy. The crowd soon developed a unified/uniform 'personality', which is the sort of thing people sometimes call a spirit, because (a) it is a separate personality over and above that of any of the individuals; (b) it is transpersonal; (c) it drives the individuals, ie it has agency.

August 11, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

No of course I'm not reducing everything to survival of the fittest - maybe you are reducing me to my inadequate words - and yes I do believe absolutely in genuine love and compassion - that's the beautiful mystery of life for me, but I can't reduce it to God. Oh dear, it's very late and I'm very tired and my cat is too.... I'm not very good at these sorts of discussions. I always run out of steam and don't make much sense because what do I know? I'm agnostic in all things.

August 11, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

lol - I am glad u r agnostic as that is usually the position of an honest person, & honesty is the first requirement in a truth-seeker. Best however to distinguish between degrees of knowledge on a sliding scale rather than classify absolutely everything (!) as unknowable. Plenty of things are very knowable, while of the (rather large) remainder, some things are more knowable than others.

August 12, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

I'm not so sure about that...

August 12, 2006

 

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