, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 265–274 | Cite as

The Problem with the Satan Hypothesis: Natural Evil and Fallen Angel Theodicies

  • Kent DunningtonEmail author


In contemporary discussions of natural evil, one classically important theodicy—variously called warfare theodicy, fallen angel theodicy, or the Satan hypothesis—is rarely mentioned, let alone defended. This is the view that so-called natural evil, the evil suffered by sentient beings that is not caused by human agency, is caused by angelic agency, specifically that of Satan and other fallen angels. Although the Satan hypothesis has received scant attention in contemporary philosophy of religion, Richard Swinburne, Michael Martin, Robert Adams, and David O’Connor have each brought separate objections against it, but their objections fail. The real problem with the Satan hypothesis lies elsewhere. This paper begins by stating the Satan hypothesis and briefly sketching its scriptural and theological warrants in the Christian tradition. Second, it canvasses the objections that have been brought against the hypothesis and shows how each objection fails. Third, it isolates the real problem for the Satan hypothesis, namely the lack of any satisfactory account of how malevolent angelic agency could conceivably be the cause of natural evil. Finally, the paper offers three speculative proposals for such an account, highlighting problems with each. The upshot is that although the Satan hypothesis is a prominent theodicy in the history of Christian thought and in popular Christianity, it confronts philosophical challenges not yet met by its proponents.


Satan Angels Theodicy Natural evil Problem of evil Warfare theodicy Fallen angel theodicy Satan hypothesis 



I would like to thank Ben Wayman for comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and Tom Crisp, Alfred Freddoso, Steve Porter, and Gregg Ten Elshof for helpful conversations about the ideas in the paper.


  1. Abraham, W. (1985). An introduction to the philosophy of religion. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, R. (1985). Plantinga on the problem of evil. In J. Tomberlin & P. van Inwagen (Eds.), Alvin Plantinga (pp. 225–256). Dordrecht: J. Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aquinas, T. (1948). Summa theologiae (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, trans.). New York: Benziger Brothers. (13th Century CE).Google Scholar
  4. Augustine. (1991). De trinitate (Edmund Hill, O.P., trans.). Hyde Park: New City Press. (5th Century CE).Google Scholar
  5. Boyd, G. (2001). Satan and the problem of evil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.Google Scholar
  6. Hart, D. B. (2005). The doors of the sea. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  7. Kelly, S. (1997). The problem of evil and the Satan hypothesis. Sophia, 36(2), 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Martin, M. (1983). God, Satan, and natural evil. Sophia, 22(3), 43–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. O’Connor, D. (1998). God and inscrutable evil. London: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  10. Penelhum, T. (1971). Religion and rationality. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  11. Plantinga, A. (1985). Self profile. In J. Tomberlin & P. van Inwagen (Eds.), Alvin Plantinga (pp. 3–98). Dordrecht: J. Reidel.Google Scholar
  12. Swinburne, R. (1978). Natural evil. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15(4), 295–301.Google Scholar
  13. Swinburne, R. (1996). Why God allows evil. In Is there a God (pp. 95–113). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biola UniversityLa MiradaUSA

Personalised recommendations