If devils exist exactly as the New Testament describes them, they cannot serve as evidence to a certain kind of skeptic. Devils are devilishly easy to find, but damnably hard to prove.
Teaching Inferno last week brought devils to mind at the same time I got some good questions from a social media interlocutor. He (evidently) considers Satan and devils a problem for a modern Christian and asked me about both.
I think Satan exists as do devils and that they are active. But doesn’t the Bible “relate demons knowing things, breaking metal chains” and “react to holy things?” Shouldn’t we be able to test the existence of devils using a “blind holy water test.”*
Demons will disappoint everyone if we are hoping they will have evidential value to someone convinced that the supernatural does not exist.
I do not believe in the supernatural, because I have seen exorcisms, though I have. I do not believe in the supernatural, because I have heard devilish voices “knowing things” and showing great strength. Instead, given the evidence that convinced me God exists, I accept the simplest explanation that putative exorcisms are real: demons exist.
Sadly, this will not mean that experiences of devils, even documented ones, should convince a person to convert. If demons exist, we will not be able to prove their existence to someone determined to explain away their existence.
As is fitting, the existence of demons must always be a secondary belief . . . Interpretation of evidence depending on prior philosophy or assumptions. This is true, even if one is a theist.
First, there are well educated people who are exorcists who report and document the actions of demons.. Second, these accounts include great strength, certainly adequate to break ancient metal chains, unknown knowledge, and negative reaction to holy objects (such as the Bible).
I have seen all these things personally and have seen persons get lasting relief through an exorcism. I would never use this as evidence for the supernatural to a skeptic and no skeptic should be persuaded if I were foolish enough to do so even if I am right.
Demons, if they exist, are immaterial. They (generally) can only act by possessing our minds and using our bodies. A demon can give “super” strength, but not more than that human might be able to possess under a drug. The limits of the body possessed apply to the devil. Demons are not miracle workers! As a result, great strength (the small person needing four large men to restrain her) can be explained away as a being like people on drugs.
Second, devils are not omniscient. They can give “hidden” knowledge such as speaking in languages like Latin the person apparently does not know, but there are limits to what they know. We have no idea what those limits might be, though we do know they can only guess at the future. In a social media reality, there are few facts that can conclusively be shown to be unavailable (at least by extrapolation) to the non-demon possessed grifter.
There is always the possibility of trickery then or simply a failure to realize what a mentally ill person knows. The trickster learns a few Latin phrases, the mentally ill person studied Latin on her own unbeknownst to friends and family.
People make mistaken assumptions about what a person knows all the time. For example, I once went to a service where a pastor paused to speak to a friend in Afrikaans, a language they both spoke. Sadly, a person in the congregation shouted: “How does he know Dutch?” Fortunately, in Dad’s church, reason ruled and so an explanation was quickly given. It is easy to imagine, however, a less wholesome situation where the apparent “unknown tongue” was allowed to stand. Similarly a “demon possessed” person might know more languages than we realize.
There is also the case of a “cold read” where the person uses clues to make good guesses about another person. I have studied such techniques and they can seem to give amazing results. Many psychics (and more than a few pastors) use these fraudulent techniques to get “results.”Third, demons are not here to do party tricks or help humans. They have no reason to confirm their own existence beyond a doubt and good reasons not to do so. Demons have a reason to keep materialism alive as a rational option and Satanism. If devils exist, then one would predict they would do all the harm they could do without cutting off the possibility of materialism.
Fourth, aversions to holy objects are documented in putative cases of “demon possession.” This would, however, be just what a fraudster or a mentally ill person would do.
Finally, even if demons exist, mental and physical disease also exist. A person can have depression caused by biological and psychological problems. If demons exist, they might also contribute to depression! As a result, teasing apart the causes of depression will always be hard.
A materialist has decided (prior to considering demons) that there are good reasons to think matter and energy are all we have. We have immaterial consciousness and immaterial objects (such as God, demons, angels, number) do exist.
Given the nature of demonic possession, there will always be a plausible materialist account that “explains away” demons even if they exist. Theists or supernaturalists have no reason to explain away the simplest explanation, so we do not.
We need not think any particular case is demonic even then. Fraud exists. Misdiagnosis happens.
People receive exorcism and are immediately helped, sometimes forever. They have been documented to do things beyond their normal strength, while being on no drug. They know things we do not think they could have known (on their own).
A Christian is reasonable to think all three statements are true, given the evidence and that the demon possession of the New Testament still occurs (as recorded). The materialist should never be persuaded.
This is as it should be. The good God is there, not silent, and worthy of all our attention. If God does not persuade, the whining, mewling, puking devils never will.
They do not even wish to do so.
*These are quotations from my interlocutor.