Do Angels Really Exist?

Peter S. Williams examines the existence and possible nature of spiritual beings – angels.

One of the surprises awaiting those who start the study of angelology
is that angels are beginning to make tentative inroads
into serious philosophical enquiry once again.

- Dr Andrew R. Angel[1]

Christian testimony is bound up with the believability of a worldview pervaded by finite spiritual beings – generically known as 'angels' and 'demons' – that sometimes interact with human beings. The philosophical contemplation of such non-divine immaterial agents is called 'angelology' (a subject that includes the sub-discipline of 'demonology'). As Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr. explain:

(1) Sometimes by 'angels' people mean any sort of created spiritual being, including angels in heaven with God and the 'fallen' or wicked angels, also called demons [or 'devils']. (2) Sometimes the word 'angels' refers only to the good, heavenly angels, in contrast to the demons ... (3) Less common today, but still seen occasionally, is the use of the word 'angels' to refer to a specific rank of heavenly beings whose main task is the communication of messages (because the Greek angelos meant 'messenger'). It will usually be obvious from the context which meaning applies.[2]

Is a worldview that accommodates angelology a worldview that philosophically sophisticated, scientifically informed readers in the twenty-first century can accept with intellectual integrity? Tracy Wilkinson thinks not:

Religion is not logical. It is based on faith, not reason... In that context, belief in Satan, and in the power of prayer to combat him, is an easy-to-make leap of faith. As with all articles of faith, such belief requires the suspension of logic and reason.[3]

Wilkinson's assumed dichotomy between faith and reason is both intellectually unsustainable and deeply unbiblical, a repetition of the neo-atheism myth that all faith is by definition blind faith. Nevertheless, many contemporary intellectuals assume that rationality and belief in angels don't mix. As theologian Walter Wink comments:

if you want to bring all talk to a halt in shocked embarrassment, every eye riveted on you ... try mentioning angels, or demons, or the devil. You will be quickly appraised for signs of pathological violence and then quietly shunned.[4]

On the other hand, belief in angelic beings has increased over recent decades amongst members of the British public at large. The following table tracks the changing opinions of British adults surveyed about angels between 1995 and 2009:

British adults & angels


% Yes

% No

% Don't
know / NA

% Yes
– men

% Yes
– women



































Data compiled by Clive D. Field from polls conducted by Gallup, ICM, YouGov, MORI and TNS. British Religion in Numbers, University of Manchester, 2010.

Angels Diagram 1
Angels Diagram 2

I believe that the existence of angels and demons is something that philosophically sophisticated, scientifically informed readers in the twenty-first century can accept with intellectual integrity. Writing in the Journal of Religion and Health (Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring 2005), Professor Stafford Betty reports that:

In the West, several prominent psychologists have opened their minds to the possibility of 'demonic' oppression, gone public with their evidence, and participated in exorcisms.

we must allow the data to challenge our worldview

Moreover, Betty states: "there is mounting evidence today that evil spirits do oppress and occasionally even possess" people. William P. Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Centre, "regards as purely psychological many problems popularly attributed to demons today, but insists that there are real cases, including some that he has encountered, of actual spirits."[5] Anthropologist Alan R. Tippett writes that: "When one has eliminated the spurious and psychopathological cases one is still left with a considerable residue of material which appears to be genuine possession."[6] Anthropologist Raymond Firth acknowledges that, despite approaching the subject of spirit possession from a very different standpoint than Christian missionaries, social anthropologists from the Western world:

Have been faced in the field by dramatic changes of personality in men or women they were studying ... speaking with strange voices, assumption of a different identity, purporting to be a spirit not a human being, giving commands or foretelling the future in a new authoritative way. Sometimes it has been hard for the anthropologist to persuade himself that it is really the same person as before whom he is watching or confronting, so marked is the personality change.[7]

What one makes of such experiences is inevitably shaped by the worldview one brings to the interpretation of the data; nevertheless, at the risk of procrustean obscurantism, we must allow the data to challenge our worldview. As Boa and Bowman warn:

Two all-too-easy approaches to this subject seem to grab many if not most people. The first easy way is to take an attitude of uncritical acceptance toward any information about angels that comes our way, or at least any that appeals to us... The other over-simplistic attitude that some of us are inclined to take toward angels and demons is an unmeasured scepticism.[8]

Avoiding these two extremes, our method should be "to think critically – neither gullibly accepting nor casually ignoring what others say, but giving careful, reflective consideration to the subject."[9]

After a brief discussion of the nature and possibility of angels (the latter depends upon the former), we will focus upon the cumulative case for the existence of angels.

Angelology 101

The general study of angelology (and even of demonology) has more data to go on than the specific study of individual angels or demons:

The Bible lacks speculative and frivolous details about angels. It offers no exact count of the number of spiritual beings. Descriptions of angels when they visit humans are short ... and contain almost no details about their physical appearance. In marked contrast to angel literature of almost every age and culture, the Bible exhibits considerable restraint in its statements about angels. Scripture is similarly reserved in its comments about the Devil and his demons... The Bible names only two angels – Michael and Gabriel – and tells us little about either of them.[10]

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft reports:

the traditional theory of angels ... says that angels are (1) creatures of God, (2) bodiless spirits, (3) with intelligence (4) and will, (5) who live in God's presence in heaven, (6) obey his will, (7) carry his messages ... (8) assume bodies as we assume costumes, (9) influence our imagination (10) but not our free will, and (11) move material things supernaturally.[11]

Thomas Aquinas argued that "the angels did not have from the beginning of their creation that ultimate beatitude ... because such beatitude is no part of their nature, but its end; and consequently they ought not to have it immediately from the beginning."[12] Mortimer J. Adler explains that "according to Aquinas, the angels were not created in a state of bliss, which consists in being confirmed in goodness by the gift of grace; for if that were the case, no angel could have turned away from God. 'The fall of some angels', he writes, 'shows that the angelic nature was not created in that state.'"[13] In other words, angelic spirits who freely chose to serve God became the wholly good beings we know as 'angels', while those who chose against God became 'demons'. Richard Swinburne affirms and extends this traditional Christian theory:

Embodied humans are not the only kind of rational agent with free will there could be. God might well create non-embodied free agents; and some of them might indeed choose the bad. We may perhaps regard the initial choice of character by the angels as one extended in time, and, given that, if it is good that God should give us the ultimate choice over the period of our lives ... of being allowed to fix our characters beyond further change, it would seem to be similarly good that God should give to angels also the ultimate choice of being allowed to fix their characters. And he might well also, in giving them that initial choice, have promised them temporary and limited power over the world when they fixed their characters. That would have given a deeper significance to their choice than it would otherwise have ... If freedom and responsibility are good things, it is good that there be angels who have it, as well as humans ... [Since] angels could only choose the bad if they were tempted so to do, being already subject to bad desires, the bad [desires] must have pre-existed any bad choice by angels.[14]

'Demon' – the term for an angelic spirit who has freely chosen to reject God – derives from the Greek daimon, a term that originally indicated any and all spiritual beings. For example, the Greek philosopher Plato "used daimon of divinity and fate, and regarded the daimons as intermediate beings."[15] Indeed, belief in daimons "is not connected with any particular view of the cosmos. Demons have a very wide geographical and lengthy historical role as spiritual beings influencing man in his relationship to the sacred or holy."[16] However, the New Testament uses daimon only of evil spiritual beings. Noted philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga speculates on the demonic state of mind:

They know of God's power and know that they have no hope of winning any contest of power with him; nevertheless, they engage in just such a contest, perhaps in that familiar self-deceived condition of really knowing, in one sense, that they couldn't possibly win such a contest, while at some other level nevertheless refusing to accept this truth, or hiding it from themselves. Or perhaps ... knowing that they couldn't possibly win, they insist on fighting anyway, thinking of themselves ... as heroically contending against nearly insuperable odds, a condition, they point out, in which God never finds himself, and hence a way in which they can think of themselves as his moral superior. The devils also know of God's wonderful scheme for the salvation of human beings, but they find this scheme – with its mercy and suffering love – offensive and unworthy. No doubt they endorse Nietzsche's notion that Christian love (including the love displayed in incarnation and atonement) is weak, whining, resentful, servile, duplicitous ... and in general unappealing.[17]

Chief among demons, according to Scripture, is Satan. He is not an equal but opposite spiritual reality to God (a view called 'theological dualism'), but rather the greatest angelic creature to have rebelled against God and thus the most evil of actual beings. As C.S. Lewis argued:

To be bad, he [Satan] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power... And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things – resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.[18]

I cannot see much force in the statement that a pure consciousness is impossible.

- Keith Ward

Scripture assures us that God wins in the battle between good and evil. The demons are an enemy already defeated by Jesus, now capable only of succeeding in minor skirmishes against his kingdom. Satan and his demons are fallen, finite beings, evil and limited; they are no match for God, who promises their eventual eternal destruction (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).

According to the Bible, angels are created and sustained by God (cf. Nehemiah 9:6 and Colossians 1:16). There's nothing impossible in this, as atheist philosopher J.J.C. Smart admits: "Surely an omnipotent being could have created ... spirits directly."[19] Keith Ward affirms:

I cannot see much force in the statement that a pure consciousness is impossible. There is no contradiction in the idea... Believers in God seem to be committed to the possibility of at least one consciousness ... existing without a body. God has no body... So, theists seem bound to accept the idea that there can be conscious states without bodies... Thus, it seems plausible to say that consciousness of some sort could exist without material embodiment...[20]

There doesn't appear to be anything incoherent (or even implausible) about the idea that God might create finite unembodied conscious beings. Moreover, if one thinks mind-body dualism is true when it comes to the human mind, then one is likewise bound to be open to the possibility of non-embodied persons. Atheist Richard Dawkins has a point when he writes that mind-body dualists "readily interpret mental illness as 'possession by devils', those devils being spirits whose residence in the body is temporary, such that they might be 'cast out'."[21] Of course, Dawkins overplays the point because he wants to reverse it, damning mind-body dualism by association with belief in demons. Nevertheless, he is right to point out that mind-body dualists have to take the possibility of non-embodied persons seriously. With this point in mind, it is interesting to note that mind-body dualism has made something of a return within contemporary philosophy of mind as the research project of naturalistic materialism had hit a brick wall with the hard problem of consciousness. As J.P. Moreland observes: "consciousness has stubbornly resisted treatment in physical terms."[22] Consequently, as William Hasker reports: "the prevalent materialisms concerning persons and consciousness are in a state of incipient crisis..."[23] C. Stephen Evans confirms: "a careful look at recent work on the mind-body problem clearly shows that materialism is in what could be called a state of crisis."[24] As Moreland and Grace state: "there is turmoil today in philosophy of mind precisely because the discipline is dominated by physicalists who just do not know what to do with consciousness."[25]

These assessments can't be dismissed as the 'biased' view of dualists, because physicalists make the same admissions. In 2005 philosopher of mind David Chalmers observed:

Jaegwon Kim's new book, 'Physicalism or Something Near Enough' ... is especially notable for the fact that Kim, often seem as an arch-reductionist, comes out of the closet as a dualist... this makes at least three prominent materialists who have abandoned the view in the last few years. Apart from Kim, there's Terry Horgan and Stephen White... If I had to guess, I'd guess that the numbers within philosophy of mind are 50% materialist, 25% agnostic, 25% dualist.[26]

Indeed, a recent survey of philosophers indicated that while 56.4% accepted or leaned towards physicalism, 27% accepted or leaned towards non-physicalist views.[27] That physicalism still gets more 'votes' than dualism is rather surprising in light of what leading naturalists say about physicalism:

  • Susan Blackmore: "objects in the physical world and subjective experience of them seem to be two radically different things: so how can one give rise to the other? No one has an answer to this question ..."[28]
  • David Chalmers: "How are we going to be able to explain subjective experiences in terms of the objective processes which are familiar from science? How do 100 billion neurons interacting in the brain somehow come together to produce this experience of a conscious mind with all its wonderful images and sounds? I think right now nobody knows the answer to that question. One could argue about whether such a reduction of subjective experience to a physical process is going to be possible at all... Nobody tries to explain, say space or time in terms of something which is more basic... They end up taking something as fundamental. My own view is that to be consistent we have to say the same thing about consciousness. If it turns out that the facts about consciousness can't be derived from the fundamental physical properties we already have ... the consistent thing to say is 'OK, then consciousness isn't to be reduced. It's irreducible. It's fundamental. It's a basic feature of the world.' So what we have to do when it comes to consciousness is admit it as a fundamental feature of the world – as irreducible as space and time."[29]
  • Richard Dawkins: "Steven [Pinker] elegantly sets out the problem of subjective consciousness, and asks where it comes from and what's the explanation. Then he's honest enough to say, 'Beats the heck out of me.' That is an honest thing to say, and I echo it. We don't know. We don't understand it."[30]
  • Jerry Fodor: "Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious."[31]
  • Christof Koch: "exactly how organized brain matter gives rise to images and sounds, lust and hate, memories, dreams, and plans, remains unclear."[32]
  • Matthew D. Lieberman: "Given a materialist view of the universe, it makes no sense to talk about consciousness or experience at all. We have absolutely no idea what it is about the three pounds of mush between our ears that allows it to perform this trick of being conscious."[33]
  • Steven Pinker: "The Hard Problem ... is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head… no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place... No one knows what to do with the Hard Problem..."[34]
  • John Searle: "The hard problem of consciousness is to account for how it can exist and function in a way that is private, subjective, and qualitative, in a world that consists of public, objective, physical phenomena. How ... could the electrochemical activities of a kilogram and a half ... of matter in my skull cause all of my conscious experiences?... The equation one dollar = one hundred cents can work because both sides are sums of money. But you couldn't have one hundred cents = one month, because cents and months are in different dimensions. Mind and brain appear to be in different dimensions, because mind has qualitative subjectivity and brain does not. If you try to say, for example, that the experience of red is identical with neuron firings, the terms of the equation seem to be in different dimensions, because the conscious experience of red has the qualitative subjectivity that I described earlier, while neuron firings do not."[35]

No wonder materialist Mathew Iredale says: "There appears to be something of a crisis of confidence in materialist accounts of consciousness."[36] Frank Dilley observes: "The roster of the dissatisfied in contemporary philosophy of mind is impressive."[37] Naturalistic philosopher of mind John Heil likewise notes that "In recent years, dissatisfaction with materialist assumptions has led to a revival of interest in forms of dualism."[38] And a philosophy of mind that is open to dualism is a philosophy of mind that must be open to angelology...

In the process of arguing for the existence of the human soul, Richard Swinburne reasons thus:

A person has a body if there is one particular chunk of matter through which he has to operate on and learn about the world. But suppose that ... a man now finds himself no longer able to operate on the world, nor to acquire true beliefs about it; yet still to have a full mental life, some of it subject to his voluntary control. He would be disembodied. Or suppose, alternatively, that he finds himself able to operate on and learn about the world within some small finite region, without having to use one particular chunk of matter for this purpose. He might find himself with knowledge of the position of objects in a room (perhaps by having visual sensations, perhaps not), and able to move such objects just like that, in the ways in which we know about the positions of our limbs and can move them. But the room would not be, as it were, the person's body; for we may suppose that simply by choosing to do so he can ... shift the focus of his knowledge and control, e.g. to the next room. The person would be in no way limited to operating and learning through one particular chunk of matter. Hence he would have no body. The supposition that a person who is currently a man might become disembodied ... seems coherent.[39]

If such a scenario is coherent when applied to an initially embodied human spirit, its certainly coherent when applied to an originally un-embodied spirit.

Whether the entity in question is an atom or an angel, imagination isn't a barrier to intellectual seriousness

Many people find it hard to take angels seriously because they find it hard to imagine them seriously (anyone for halos, harps, feathers and nightgowns?). However, physicists take atoms seriously even though it's very hard to imagine them seriously (anyone for plum pudding, a tiny solar system or a particle that's also a wave?). Whether the entity in question is an atom or an angel, imagination isn't a barrier to intellectual seriousness, because we can conceive of things that we can't imagine (e.g. I can conceive but not imagine a 378-sided geometrical figure). We conceive what can apparently be coherently supposed. We can coherently suppose that both atoms and angels exist:

The cogency of the claim that the concept of a bodiless mind is incoherent depends on what one means by incoherent. If one means that the concept makes no sense, we disagree. Most people ... have little or no trouble grasping the concept of a mind that is not dependent upon a body. In most cases what sceptics mean is that they have difficulty understanding how a mind can function without a body. This we freely admit. Our experience as minds is limited to the bodily world, making it difficult if not impossible to understand how a mind can function apart from that world. But that doesn't make the concept of a bodiless mind irrational. It is not irrational to admit the existence of things we can't fully understand.[40]

Indeed, if it were, we'd admit the existence of very little indeed!

Boa and Bowman note that:

both the Hebrew word mal'ak and the Greek word angelos are occasionally used in the Bible to refer to human messengers. As the church father Augustine pointed out ... the word 'angel' tells us something about what angels do but does not tell us what they are. The biblical word that best describes what angels are is the word 'spirit'.[41]

To define 'spirit' as an immaterial, non-corporeal, non-physical substance (a thing that has properties) is inadequate, for as Antony Flew warns: "to characterize something as incorporeal is to make an assertion that is at one and the same time both extremely comprehensive and wholly negative."[42] Hence J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae write that "a positive characterization of 'spirit' is needed to give content to notions [about] God, angels and disembodied persons [in the intermediate state between death and resurrection]."[43] They suggest that this can be done by thinking of spirits as "the kinds of substances that possess the ultimate capacities for thought, feeling, consciousness and active volitional power."[44]

A substance is simply "an essentially characterized particular that sustains absolute sameness through (accidental) change and that possesses a primitive unity of parts, properties and capacities or powers."[45] An immaterial substance with the ultimate capacities for thought, feeling, consciousness and active volitional power is a spirit. As a spirit, an angel satisfies the classical definition of a person given by Boethius; namely, that "a person is an individual substance of a rational nature". A person can be more briefly defined as "a conscious purposive agent".[46] To be conscious means to engage in "acts of thinking, feeling, desiring, willing, believing and knowing".[47] To be purposive means "to have desires, intentions or aims, and set out to achieve them".[48] To be an agent means to be something with the ability "to do or achieve things in the world".[49]

Philosopher Dallas Willard defined 'spirit' analogically as non-physical personal energy (it does work and so has power) with the capacity to think, value and will (three properties that seem impossible to account for in merely physical terms):

spirit is unbodily personal power. It is primarily a substance... To understand spirit as 'substance' is of the utmost importance in our current world, which is so largely devoted to the ultimacy of matter. It means that spirit is something that exists in its own right... Thoughts, feelings, willings and their developments are so many dimensions of this spiritual substance, which exercises a power that is outside the physical.[50]

In personal correspondence with me, Willard made this comment upon his definition:

The point about spiritual beings (including angels) as non-physical energy – my precise phrasing is 'unbodily personal power' – is very important ... there is no contradiction involved in the idea of non-physical or spiritual energy unless you define 'energy' in such a way that it must be a function of what is physical ... anything has energy that is capable of doing work, i.e., bringing about change. Of course ideas, emotions, choices and so forth do work all the time ... I know that there is a long discussion about whether or not the mind is the brain ... I have been a part of that discussion for decades ... and I think the weight of the discussion in the last decade among philosophers has definitely gone against identity [of mind with brain] ...[51]

A recent peer reviewed scientific investigation of so-called 'Near Death Experiences' points in the same direction, showing that a human mind can function even though the brain with which it is associated is non-functional. As reported in The Telegraph:

The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism. But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria. And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of 'awareness' during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room. Despite being unconscious and 'dead' for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.

"We know the brain can't function when the heart has stopped beating", said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now at the State University of New York, who led the study. "But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn't beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped." The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for. "He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened."

Of 2060 cardiac arrest patients studied, 330 survived and of 140 surveyed, 39 per cent said they had experienced some kind of awareness while being resuscitated.[52]

This is not only scientific evidence for dualism and against physicalism, but for the possibility of unembodied finite consicouness and thus for the possibility of angelic beings.

Watch: Gary R. Habermas, 'Near Death Experiences'

Read: Sarah Knapton, 'First hint of "life after death" in biggest ever scientific study'

Sam Parnia et al., 'AWARE – AWAreness during REsuscitation – A prospective study', Resuscitation, September 2014,

A Cumulative Case for the Existence of Angels

Atheist Walter Sinnott-Armstrong argues that the burden of proof is on the person who believes in angelic beings:

"There's just no reason to believe in any kind of nonphysical creature. Stories about angels and demons are inconsistent: They're nonphysical but they have wings!" He continues: "Can you prove that they don't exist? Of course not." (It's impossible to 'prove' this kind of negative.) So what's left for the rational skeptic? "Just make the argument that there is simply no good reason whatsoever to believe in angels or demons..."[53]

The question is whether Sinnott-Armstrong is right when he asserts that "there is simply no good reason whatsoever to believe in angels or demons"?

Common consent

Agnostic Robert Lawrence Kuhn muses: "As I see it, a starting fact is that, yes indeed, most human beings believe in angels and demons. Across diverse cultures, nonphysical beings, in great numbers and variety, fly freely in collective myth and individual imaginations. How to explain such robust, broad-based belief?"[54]

As psychiatrist Richard Gallagher observes:

anthropologists agree that nearly all cultures have believed in spirits, and the vast majority of societies (including our own) have recorded dramatic stories of spirit possession. Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.[55]

Arguments from common consent are a relatively weak form of argument for any hypothesis, but such arguments are not fallacious and are stronger than no argument. At the very least, common consent shifts the burden of proof back onto the sceptic. As Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz affirm:

if entities of a certain kind belong to folk ontology [the ontological presumptions of our common-sense worldview], then there is prima facie presumption in favour of their reality ... Those who deny their existence assume the burden of proof.[56]

Despite their religious differences, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Pagan and New Age believers all recognize the existence of finite supernatural agents. Anthropologist Erika Bourguignon "sampled 488 diverse, ethnographically representative societies and discovered spirit possession beliefs in 360 societies, that is, in 74 percent (nearly three-quarters) of those studied."[57] (This statistic sets to one side the tradition of trance states wherein Shamans claim to communicate with spirits but do not appear to be taken over by them: "Some societies believe in possession but lack trance states; others link the two or have only the latter..."[58] Moreover, it should be noted that "the 'behaviour patterns' of many possession cases occur widely even in societies that do not construe them as possession."[59] ) Over 65% of the current world population believe in the existence of finite spirit beings, and belief appears to be on the rise. According to the Gallup Youth Survey, in a Teen Belief in the Supernatural poll in 1978, 64% of American young people believed in angels; in 1984, 69% of teenagers believed in angels and by 1994 that number grew to 76%, while belief in other 'supernatural' concepts (such as "the Loch Ness monster and ESP") has declined.

common consent shifts the burden of proof back onto the sceptic

According to research conducted in 2000, 81% of Americans agreed either strongly (49%) or somewhat (32%) with the statement that 'angels exist and influence people's lives' (only 15% disagreed, while 5% registered a 'don't know' response).[60] In 2006, an Associated Press-AOL News poll showed "that 81 percent of Americans, almost regardless of backgrounds and religious convictions, think angels are real... even among people with no religious affiliation, well more than half said angels are for real."[61] An August 2007 Pew poll found that 68% of Americans believe that "angels and demons are active in the world."[62] A 2008 survey of over 1000 Canadians found 67% believe in angels.[63] A 2009 poll showed that 65% of British adults believe in angels. A 2008 study by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion found that "more than half of all [American] adults, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life."[64]

Historically speaking, belief in angels and demons has been a constant factor across cultures: "Angels appear in almost every culture and religion in the world, from ancient Sumeria, Egypt and Assyria to contemporary civilizations."[65] A straw poll of G.K. Chesterton's 'the democracy of the dead' would find overwhelming support for the existence of angels and demons. As atheist Carl Sagan observes: "Despite successive waves of rationalist, Persian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim world views, despite revolutionary social, political and philosophical ferment, the existence, much of the character, and even the name of demons remained unchanged from Hesiod to the Crusades."[66] Either this majority is right, or not. If it's less plausible to believe that they are all either deluded or lying than that some of them are correct, then it's more plausible to believe that angels and demons exist than that they don't.


According to Moreland and Rae, for the Christian "formulating a biblical and systematic theology ... a burden of proof should be placed on any view that is at odds with what the majority of great thinkers have held throughout church history."[67] This principle doesn't suggest "that the voice of church history is univocal or infallible",[68] but simply that "the teachings of the great intellectual leaders of the past provide insights that should be taken seriously."[69] As Stephen T. Davis writes: "Respect for Christian tradition must (or so I would argue) grant great weight to views held by virtually all the fathers of the church unless there is serious reason to depart from what they say."[70] In other words, for the Christian, the weight of authority represented by church tradition should put the burden of proof on the sceptic. Of course, the weight of Christian tradition will not weigh particularly heavily with non-Christians.

Still, as Boa and Bowman observe: "Some of the finest minds in the history of the world – including some great thinkers of our own time – have accepted the existence of angels."[71] Indeed, the majority of the great philosophers have believed in the existence of non-divine immaterial agents (e.g. Anselm, Aquinas, Aristotle, Augustine, Bonaventure, Leibniz, Locke, Lombard, Occam, Plotinus, Scotus and Socrates). The list of modern philosophers who believe in such agents would include: F.C. Copleston, Winfried Corduan, William Lane Craig, Stephen T. Davis, William A. Dembski, Garrett J. DeWeese, Paul D. Feinberg, Thomas P. Flint, Norman L. Geisler, Étienne Gilson, Douglas Groothuis, Gary R. Habermas, J.J. Haldane, Peter Kreeft, John C. Lennox, C.S. Lewis, E.L. Mascall, Terry L. Miethe, J.P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, Scott B. Rae, Richard Swinburne, Ronald K. Tacelli, Phillip H. Wiebe, Dallas Willard and myself.

This argument from authority can be viewed as a special case of the argument from common consent wherein the emphasis is on the intellectual quality rather than the quantity of those consenting to the truth-claim at issue. The question of angelic existence is a metaphysical issue and philosophers are experts at answering metaphysical questions, hence an appeal to the authority of philosophers who believe in the existence of angels is a legitimate argument from authority. As Wesley C. Salmon writes:

It would be a sophomoric mistake to suppose that every appeal to authority is illegitimate, for a proper use of authority plays an indispensable role in the accumulation and application of knowledge... The appeal to reliable authority is legitimate, for the testimony of a reliable authority is evidence for the conclusion.[72]

The authority of Jesus and the Scriptures

Norman L. Geisler argues: "Those who take the Bible seriously are obliged to believe in Satan's existence, since the Bible unmistakably refers to the demonic... Once the authenticity and divine origin of the Bible are established ... the existence of Satan follows."[73] The same goes for angels and demons in general. According to Craig L. Blomberg:

a demonstration of the general historical trustworthiness of the [New Testament], particularly of the gospels and Acts, impels one to respond to the claims of Christ which confront us on almost every page. And if one accepts the [New Testament's] portrait of who Jesus is, then one ought to believe his teachings, not least with respect to his high view of [the Old Testament] Scriptures.[74]

The gospels consistently distinguish between exorcisms and healings

- Marcus Borg

Moreover, Jesus clearly thought that angels and demons were real, and "to be a disciple of Jesus means, among other things, to trust what he said."[75] Jesus' belief in angels can't be dismissed on the grounds that this belief was inevitable given his culture, since the Sadducees who controlled the Jewish Temple denied both the existence of angels and the idea of a future general resurrection from the dead (cf. Acts 23:8). Jesus' view on both matters coincided with that of the Pharisees, rather than the Sadducees (cf. Matthew 22:29). As Graham H. Twelftree observes, in Jesus' day, "not everyone believed in demons and exorcism."[76] Blomberg comments that "throughout the ancient Middle East illnesses were attributed to many different causes and were often dealt with in surprisingly 'scientific' ways."[77] Marcus Borg admits: "The gospels consistently distinguish between exorcisms and healings, not all healings were exorcisms, and not all maladies were caused by evil spirits."[78] Hence those, like Jesus, who believed in exorcism didn't do so because they couldn't draw a distinction between demonization and naturally caused illnesses (including psychological illnesses):

the New Testament writers did not regard all illness, or even all illness caused by brain disorders, as cases of demonization. The Gospel writers distinguish between the sick and the demonized ... and Matthew specifically distinguished between 'demoniacs' and 'epileptics'... Matthew, Mark, and Luke all clearly distinguish between those who are blind, deaf, or mute because they have demons and those who have such conditions because of some sickness or birth defect... The Gospels, then, do not display backward, superstitious thinking when they identify some people as demon-possessed. To the contrary, they apply this description sparingly and soberly.[79]


Given that an infinite God exists, and that he created human beings with naturally embodied immaterial finite minds, it becomes plausible to think not only that there could exist, but that there might well exist, naturally un-embodied finite minds: angels. As Keith Ward observes: "Theologians like Augustine have suggested that a creator God might act in accordance with a principle of plenitude – the principle that every sort of good that could exist should exist, so long as it does not give rise to an unacceptable level of evil."[80] If this principle of divine action is plausible, then so too is the existence of angels.

This argument can be seen as an extension into metaphysics of the scientific principle of plenitude. Physicist Paul Davies writes:

That which is possible in nature tends to become realized. It has generally been the experience of scientists that there are few rules or processes consistent with the laws of nature that fail to be instantiated somewhere in nature... Physicists find that if there is a place for the description of a certain sort of particle in [the mathematics of particle physics], then the actual physical particle is found to exist in suitable circumstances.[81]

Given that nature is the creation of God, this principle of plenitude give us reason for thinking that God isn't 'minimalist' in his creative tastes. There seems to be no reason to think that God's tastes suddenly change at the limits of the natural world. This being so, we have reason to expect that God has created in the realm of the purely supernatural.

This is a scientific mode of reasoning that has paid great dividends: filling in the blanks according to a known pattern. Mendeleyev's periodic table was based on the symmetrical arrangement of known elements by their properties. The resulting table contained several blanks that it was eventually possible to fill in as new elements were discovered. The blanks predicted that there were other elements to be discovered, and they were. Likewise, unless angels exist, there would be a sort of metaphysical blank in between God and humanity.

it would be very surprising if God had not created anything lower than himself but higher than us

- Thomas P. Flint

Once we believe that the world was created by God, we are struck by the huge gap between the two extremes of sentient mental power exemplified by humanity and God. Considering the pattern of successively 'higher' orders of existence, from subatomic particles to God, we see every possible 'level' occupied except the gap between God and humanity, and reasonably conclude that there probably exists some intermediate order of being. As the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote: "That there should be ... intelligent creatures above us ... is probable to me from hence: that in all the visible corporeal world, we see no chasms or gaps."[82] Hence F.C. Copleston argues:

We can discern the ascending order or ranks of forms from the forms of inorganic substances, through vegetative forms, the irrational sensitive forms of animals; the rational soul of man, to the infinite ... God: but there is a gap in the hierarchy. The rational soul of man is created, finite and embodied, while God is uncreated, infinite and pure spirit; it is only reasonable, then, to suppose that between the human soul and God there are finite and created spiritual forms which are without body.[83]

University of Notre Dame philosopher Thomas P. Flint states: "It seems to me to be perfectly plausible to believe that angels and demons exist ... though perhaps not with all of the cultural trappings – the wings and long robes."[84] Flint defines an angel as "simply a finite nonphysical person who has, so to speak, decided ... to obey God. And a demon is simply a nonphysical finite person who has decided ... to rebel against God."[85] To Flint, angels and demons are "free spiritual beings who have something akin to a human soul, but not a physical body connected with it."[86] And, he adds, "it seems entirely reasonable to believe that God would create such beings."[87] One reason, he says, is that "there seems to be a large distance between us and God", with "lots of possibilities for different kinds of beings for God to create [to fill the gap]. If anything, it would be very surprising if God had not created anything lower than himself but higher than us."[88]


Boa and Bowman note that "angelic encounters have always been rare, even during biblical times", a fact that highlights the need "to balance two legitimate concerns" when assessing contemporary reports of such encounters: "On the one hand, we want to affirm the honest experiences of people who sincerely report encountering angels... On the other hand, we want to reject erroneous reports about angels."[89] Assessing claims of angelic encounters means weighing alternative explanations:

Whenever someone ... thinks he has encountered an angel [there] are actually five possibilities. 1. He saw a human being (and mistook that human for an angel). 2. He was mistaken – he did not see anyone. 3. He lied ... 4. He saw an actual, good angel. 5. He saw an actual angel, but it was a demon... our study of what the Bible says about angel appearances leads us to expect that most (but not all) such reports today will fall into one of the first three options. We number these three options in the order we think most common ... We should caution that it is not always possible to reach a definite, certain conclusion about each reported angel sighting.[90]

Nevertheless, I suggest that by using 'argument to the best explanation', in light of the cumulative case for angels made thus far, it is possible to eliminate alternative explanatory hypotheses and to arrive at the defeasible conclusion that some purported angelic encounters are more plausibly true than false.

Assessing claims of angelic encounters means weighing alternative explanations

Philosopher Phillip H. Wiebe was a sceptic: "I was aware that exorcism had been practiced in the church but thought that a worldview allowing for possession, exorcism, and other supernatural beliefs was absurd. I thought that supernatural hypotheses either had been imposed on events capable of being explained in natural terms or that reports of events supposedly favouring a supernaturalistic explanation were exaggerated."[91] However, as "a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Adelaide [under atheist J.J.C. Smart] ... working on the general problem of defining corroborating evidence for hypotheses",[92] Wiebe met a Christian minister who conducted exorcisms, and he became "intrigued by the claim that evil spirits exist and startled by the contention, extraordinary to me at the time, that contemporary experiences might corroborate it."[93] Through the close study of such evidence, Wiebe did a philosophical U-turn, developing "an abductive approach to defending the existence of transcendent beings."[94] Wiebe now argues:

spirits can be meaningfully and plausibly postulated ... to account for several kinds of reputed phenomena... Physicalism cannot begin to describe what it will replace these explanations with, so it is not rational to abandon explanations provided by a transcendent reality in the absence of a better alternative... The claim that spirits exist who are capable of acting in our world does not appear to be either self-contradictory or so counterintuitive that it should never be proposed. In fact, phenomena continue to be alleged for which it seems a plausible explanation.[95]

Historical experience of the angelic

There are two approaches we can take in considering what positive evidential contribution the biblical witnesses can make to angelology. The first is to argue for the general reliability of the Bible (or of a particular book or letter within the Bible) concerning events presented as being historical, before appealing to events presented therein as involving the historical activity of angelic beings. The second is to bypass the question of the general historical reliability by using standard historiographical criteria to validate the reliability of specific biblical statements that provide relevant evidence. These approaches can, of course, be combined.[96]

Watch: Peter J. Williams, 'New Evidence the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts'

Read: Gary R. Habermas, 'Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels' 

J.P. Moreland, 'The Historicity of the New Testament'

Consider the specific evidence provided by Luke's account of the apostle Peter being sprung out of jail by an angel in the book of Acts (written c. AD 62). Peter was arrested and placed in prison, guarded "by four squads of four soldiers each" (Acts 12:4): "Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. 'Quick, get up!' he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists" (Acts 12:6-7). The angel tells Peter to dress and to follow him. Peter does so and is led out of the prison: "but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision" (12:9). Passing by the guards the iron prison gate opens for them "by itself" (12:10) and they make their exit: "Then Peter came to himself and said, 'Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches'" (12:11).

Realizing that he is free, Peter goes "to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying" (12:12). Peter knocks at the door, but when a servant answers it and recognizes Peter's voice she is so excited that she forgets to let him in and runs to tells everyone that Peter is at the door; but they don't believe her. This is the sort of real-to-life incident of which C.S. Lewis comments, "there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage [or else the writer] without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn't see this has simply not learned to read."[97] However:

Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison... In the morning [after Peter has fled to a safe location], there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. (Acts 12:16-19)

Here we have an incident recorded within thirty years of the event by a contemporary (Luke) known to be a careful and reliable historian.[98] Luke writes that the detail of Peter's escape from prison came from Peter himself: "Peter ... described how the Lord had brought him out of prison" (12:17). Luke's account includes plenty of detail in matters of important public record (e.g. Peter's escape from prison, the guards being executed by Herod), including people's names (Mary the mother of John, also called Mark) that would have been open to investigation by interested parties at the time. This indicates that Luke is confident of his facts. Another indication of authenticity is the embarrassing incredulity of the Christians involved. Peter doesn't realize his escape is actually happening until it's over. The Christians at Mary's house demonstrate their lack of faith by refusing to believe that their prayers for Peter have been answered. This means that the story meets the 'criterion of embarrassment' (i.e. people are unlikely to invent stories that put themselves in a bad light).

So what's the best explanation for Peter's escape from Herod's clutches? Luke specifically rules out any subjective, psychological explanation. Peter initially thought he was seeing a vision, but then he realized that his experience was real. What convinced him was obviously the fact that he was no longer in prison, chained by the wrists between two soldiers! Is it likely that Peter managed to escape his chains and his guards, the sentries and the prison itself, under his own steam? And even if he did, is it likely that this disciple of the world's greatest moral teacher – a man who was in prison for his commitment to telling what he believed to be the truth about Jesus – then proceeded to lie to his fellow believers by spinning a tall tale about an angel, a lie that puts himself in a bad light (as not believing he was really being rescued at first)? Only a dogmatic naturalist would accept such an explanation.

Contemporary experience of the angelic

Hope Price reports that "hundreds, possibly thousands, of men and women living today in Britain are quite certain they have seen angels."[99] In 1993 Time magazine reported that 13% of Americans claimed to have actually seen or otherwise sensed the presence of an angel.[100] Is it likely that all of these people are either lying or deluded? If not, then it is likely that angels exist. In 2008 Time reported: "In a poll of 1700 respondents, 55% answered affirmatively to the statement, 'I was protected from harm by a guardian angel.'"[101] Survey director Christopher Bader comments: "If you ask whether people believe in guardian angels, a lot of people will say, 'sure'. But this is different. It's experiential. It means a lot of Americans are having these lived supernatural experiences."[102]

agnostics and atheists have the same kinds of experiences as believers in orthodox religions

- Emma Heathcote-James

Marylin Hickey relates the cold-war story of a man who, like St. Peter, was released from prison. This man (she calls him Louis) was imprisoned in his own country and fellow Christians were praying for him. One night a man in the uniform of a military police officer unlocked the door to Louis's cell and told Louis to follow him. Doing so, Louis noticed that, although this 'officer' had unlocked his cell, he didn't unlock any of the other doors before them. They simply popped open. When they got outside the prison, the 'officer' told Louis to 'go home', and then he disappeared.[103]

Journalist Pierre Jovanovic relates the following report from a nurse in his book An Enquiry Into The Existence Of Guardian Angels (M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1993):

In the room where [the patient] was lying, there was a staircase leading to the second floor. Suddenly he exclaimed, 'See, the angels are coming down the stairs. The glass has fallen and broken.' All of us in the room looked towards the staircase where a drinking glass had been placed on one of the steps. As we looked, we saw the glass break into a thousand pieces without any apparent cause. It did not fall; it simply exploded. The angels, of course, we did not see. A happy and peaceful expression came over the patient's face and the next moment he expired. Even after his death the serene, peaceful expression remained on his face.[104]

Cindy Mackenzie relates the story of 'Keith', a young man jailed in 1990 for the culpable homicide of another young man, 'Steven', in a gang-related knife fight. Keith heard that Steven's stepfather had threatened to kill him in revenge. During the second year of his sentence, Keith became a Christian. After four and a half years Keith was given parole:

One day, in the middle of crossing a busy road on his way to the Lost and Found Office in Edinburgh, a man tapped him on the shoulder, and as Keith turned to him the man said, 'What you're looking for isn't in that building.' He told Keith where he should go instead to find what he was looking for. Keith did not know this man, nor had he told anyone where he was going. Still trying to register what he'd been told, he looked up to find the stranger gone. In that moment Keith knew an angel in the form of a man had come to warn him of some danger. He did not understand what or why, but was absolutely positive that God had saved him from something. The tears ran down his face as he stood in the middle of the road. Several weeks later Keith found out that if he had gone into the building as he'd intended, he would have come face to face with Steven's stepfather, the very same man who'd threatened to kill him.[105]

Having written her PhD thesis on angel experiences, agnostic Emma Heathcote-James reports that "people from all cultures, backgrounds and faiths report fundamentally the same types of experience [with angels]... agnostics and atheists have the same kinds of experiences as believers in orthodox religions."[106] Self-described atheists and agnostics comprised some 10% of the reported angelic experiences in Heathcote-James' study. She admits: "psychological and medical theories have not provided answers that could explain away every experience I have investigated."[107] As Peter Kreeft argues, there are only two groups of people who would disagree with the conclusion that some reported experiences of angels are true: "(1) the materialists, who claim to know that there are no spirits and thus believe no angel stories, and (2) people who even believe the National Enquirer and thus believe all angel stories."[108]

Watch: J.P. Moreland, 'Do Angels and Demons Exist?'

Historical experience of the demonic

Jesus' miracles fall into three categories: healings, exorcisms and nature miracles: "It may be surprising that the community of critical scholars appears to have adjusted its stance toward at least the first two divisions", writes Gary R. Habermas, but this is indeed the case: "A majority of recent scholars believe that Jesus was at least a healer and an exorcist."[109] Craig S. Keener agrees that "Most scholars believe that Jesus historically gained a reputation as an exorcist ..."[110]

For example, Marcus Borg states: "it is virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist."[111] John Dominic Crossan says: "You cannot ignore the healings and exorcisms" and that "throughout his life Jesus performed healings and exorcisms for ordinary people."[112] Habermas explains that "pre-Gospel sources and testimonies of opponents are two reasons that make Jesus' healings and exorcisms 'virtually indisputable' among scholars… these episodes are seldom questioned."[113]

A.M. Hunter's statement on the matter of Jesus' exorcisms is carefully worded: "No Christian with a respect for his intellectual integrity need doubt that Jesus ... cured those thought to be possessed by evil spirits."[114] As Habermas says of the consensus concerning Jesus' healings and exorcisms: "Usually, these are recognized as historical and explained cognitively. Both sick individuals as well as those who thought they were possessed by demons got better when they believed they were well."[115]

So the question remains: Is the gospel portrait of Jesus as an exorcist true? Can an investigation of the historical data lead us towards a more definite conclusion either way? One's answer to these questions will be primarily determined by a priori philosophical beliefs, but it may also be influenced by the evidence. As Habermas writes:

Scholars sometimes speak as if the factual data can be divorced from worldview concerns... Yet it is undeniable that everyone generally operates within his or her own concept of reality... Having said this, however, the factual data are still equally crucial... We do need to be informed by the data we receive. And sometimes this is precisely what happens – the evidence on a subject convinces us against our indecisiveness or even contrary to our former position.[116]

there are no scriptural accounts of demonisation which sound particularly like schizophrenia as we see it today.

- Chris Cook

If one accepts that Jesus and his contemporaries believed that he performed successful exorcisms, one can ask how best to interpret this fact, metaphysically speaking; and the data itself must play a role in this process.

Psychologist David Instone-Brewer notes that while one might suggest reinterpreting biblical accounts of exorcism in terms of various psychiatric disorders, such an approach has "only limited value as explanations of what is described in the Gospels."[117] For example, psychiatry cannot explain the insight that many of the demonized have into Jesus' self-identity:

The man in the synagogue shouted out that Jesus was the Holy One of God (Mk. 1:24 / Lk. 4:34). The mad man of Gadera called him Son of the Most High God (Mk. 5:7 / Mt. 8:29 / Lk. 8:28.) Many other demonised people are also recorded as shouting that he was the Son of God, and having to be silenced (Mk. 1:34; 3:11; Lk. 4:41). This insight into Jesus' character cannot be explained in psychiatric terms.[118]

Likewise, Chris Cook observes that "there are no scriptural accounts of demonisation which sound particularly like schizophrenia as we see it today."[119]

In the story of the Gadarene demonic (multiply attested by Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-39), signs of possession include not only great strength (Mark 5:3) and a disregard for pain (Mark 5:5), but also a stampede of local pigs into whom the demons beg to flee: "the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned" (Mark 5:13.) This event causes public uproar:

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man – and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mark 5:14–17)

As for the previously possessed man himself, he "went away and began to tell in the Decapolis [ten cities] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed" (Mark 5:20). To lay claim to such public knowledge of a particular exorcism and its bizarre results, and to do so within a generation of its advent (I would argue that Mark's gospel was published c. AD 49), is no way to make up a story! Wiebe comments:

other exorcism cases in the New Testament could perhaps be explained as instances of dissociative identity disorder, but this one cannot... I suppose that the behaviour of animals can be erratic and unpredictable, but the strange behaviour of as many as two thousand swine is remarkable... the behaviour of the pigs in the story of the Gadarene demoniacs, especially just after Jesus' command to the demons to leave the demoniacs, provides an impressive basis for thinking that evil spirits might exist... The conjecture that a 'something-we-know-not-what' – call it a 'spirit' – passes from the demoniacs to the swine, which resulted in the healing of the demoniacs and the strange behaviour of the swine, has some plausibility.[120]

Contemporary experience of the demonic

Clinical psychologist Gary R. Collins reports that "whereas twenty-five years ago the suggestion of demonic activity would have been immediately dismissed, many psychologists are beginning to recognize that maybe there are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophies can account for."[121] According to Boa and Bowman, "careful research has shown that demonic possession is a real, if rare, phenomenon, and that it cannot be explained away as a natural psychiatric disorder."[122]

In researching purported cases of demonization we should pay particular attention to evidential elements that go beyond stereotypical 'symptoms' (apparent personality change, speaking in a different voice than usual, claiming to be a demon, reacting negatively to the Bible, etc). The Revd James LeBarr "is chaplain at a psychiatric hospital and is well aware of the danger of mistaking psychological symptoms for spiritual ones."[123] LeBarr calls in a psychiatrist and a medical doctor before attempting any exorcism. Nevertheless, he observes that "there comes a point, when somebody is climbing up the wall or floating on the ceiling or talking a language they've never studied, when it's harder to put it in the 'psychological-problem' bin."[124] Theologian Craig S. Keener reports:

A boy in Indonesia, possessed after he was given an amulet by a witch doctor, terrorised the area, killing chickens. Even five men together could not restrain him, but evangelists cast the spirit from him, leading to his freedom. Likewise, Marino Shed wandered around terrorizing people in Madolenihmw, Pohnpei Island, in the Pacific for two decades. Finally, Steve Malakai, a pastor on this island, and another believer cast the spirits from him. Now Marino, transformed, is loved by his community, and he is involved in a respectable profession...

In another case, Nepali pastor Mina KC heard of three girls (Pramila, Rita, and Sunita) who, bound by a hostile spirit, were mute for three years. They were released when she prayed for them, and the cure was so dramatic that 'their whole village came to know Christ'; the three girls also began bringing others to Christ through their testimony. A South African psychology professor, head of the Department of Industrial Psychology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, explains his own former case of possession, with another personality controlling him and institutionalization proving ineffective, until his spontaneous exorcism by a Christian...[125]

The unusual strength displayed by an apparently possessed boy and the temporary mutism of the three girls are evidential elements that stand out in these accounts, as is the fact that a psychology professor should be convinced that he had himself been possessed. Again, W.E. Wright, a missionary in Western Nigeria, reports his encounter with a witch doctor:

He volunteered to read to me from his book, and before I could stop him, for I had seen enough, he began nonsense reading in an ordinary voice. Then suddenly his voice changed. He was possessed, and I heard a demon through his lips telling me that I had a sick little girl in my house. (My daughter had been sick for several days, and as he was a total stranger it was unlikely that he would have heard it.) I silenced him as quickly as I could, reading to him from my Book [i.e. the Bible].[126]

Here it is the knowledge displayed by a stranger that has a particularly evidential element.

Nor is such evidence restricted to the 'non-western' world. Rome based journalist Matt Baglio relates a number of exorcisms involving apparently supernatural knowledge on the part of the demonised subject:

Father Bamonte remembers an exorcism when a demon somehow knew that he was suffering from rheumatism. 'How are your bones feeling this morning?' the demon asked him sarcastically. Father Carmine once had a demon mock a recent trip he had taken, saying 'How stupid you are to think that visiting Lourdes would actually help you', even though he hadn't mentioned to the person he was praying over that he was going.[127]

Consider two cases of possession recorded by the Christian Deliverance Study Group (an Anglican group that helps train those who advise Anglican bishops in this area):

A twenty-four-year-old girl was admitted to a psychiatric clinic, claiming that she was possessed. She was showing some of the traditional signs of possession, for example the ability to speak in a foreign language of which she had no previous knowledge, and an unusual knowledge of events. The psychiatrists were divided as to whether she was suffering from a neurotic or psychotic condition, but agreed that a priest should be involved in the case. The priest saw the patient interviewed by two psychiatrists and then he interviewed the patient himself. When the priest entered the room, the patient (without knowing of his visit) knew his name and where he was from and that he was an exorcist. It was agreed that the rite of exorcism should be carried out. During this, the patient convulsed and spoke in the voices of three different men, claiming to be Lust, Greed and Death [notice the judicious "claiming to be"]. These spirits were exorcised one at a time, after which the girl collapsed and lost consciousness for a short while. On gaining consciousness, she asked for something to eat, and appeared to be quite normal.[128]

The exorcist was called in by the relatives of the possessed woman, who had been for many years a member of a witch coven centred in the country village in which she had lived all her life. The possessed was a middle-aged woman of limited intelligence and working-class status. She had never left the isolated village in her life except for shopping in the neighbouring market town. Immediately the exorcist entered the room, she started calling out details of his past life which he thought he had forgotten and which were relevant to a wild youth. The second priest in the team had served for many years in the Middle East and was an Arabic scholar. He questioned the woman in various Arabic dialects, and she replied in those dialects. Neither the past of the exorcist nor the dialects could have been known to this woman by any rational process. After exorcism she lost these extrasensory powers and renounced her witchcraft.[129]

Richard Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, gives the following testimony:

I'm a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether [a self-styled Satanic high priestess] was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism. (In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.) So I was inclined to skepticism. But my subject's behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she'd never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed...

The priest who had asked for my opinion of this bizarre case was the most experienced exorcist in the country at the time, an erudite and sensible man. I had told him that, even as a practicing Catholic, I wasn't likely to go in for a lot of hocus-pocus. 'Well', he replied, 'unless we thought you were not easily fooled, we would hardly have wanted you to assist us.'

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I've helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness – which represent the overwhelming majority of cases – from, literally, the devil's work. It's an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don't see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist – open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people – led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.

Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? Most of my scientific colleagues and friends say no, because of their frequent contact with patients who are deluded about demons, their general skepticism of the supernatural, and their commitment to employ only standard, peer-reviewed treatments that do not potentially mislead (a definite risk) or harm vulnerable patients. But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way... A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they've seen it in the course of their exorcisms.) He or she might demonstrate 'hidden knowledge' of all sorts of things  like how a stranger's loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment. These are skills that cannot be explained except by special psychic or preternatural ability.

I have personally encountered these rationally inexplicable features, along with other paranormal phenomena. My vantage is unusual: As a consulting doctor, I think I have seen more cases of possession than any other physician in the world.

Most of the people I evaluate in this role suffer from the more prosaic problems of a medical disorder. Anyone even faintly familiar with mental illnesses knows that individuals who think they are being attacked by malign spirits are generally experiencing nothing of the sort. Practitioners see psychotic patients all the time who claim to see or hear demons; histrionic or highly suggestible individuals, such as those suffering from dissociative identity syndromes; and patients with personality disorders who are prone to misinterpret destructive feelings, in what exorcists sometimes call a 'pseudo-possession', via the defense mechanism of an externalizing projection. But what am I supposed to make of patients who unexpectedly start speaking perfect Latin?

I approach each situation with an initial skepticism. I technically do not make my own 'diagnosis' of possession but inform the clergy that the symptoms in question have no conceivable medical cause.

I am aware of the way many psychiatrists view this sort of work. While the American Psychiatric Association has no official opinion on these affairs, the field (like society at large) is full of unpersuadable skeptics and occasionally doctrinaire materialists who are often oddly vitriolic in their opposition to all things spiritual. My job is to assist people seeking help, not to convince doctors who are not subject to persuasion. Yet I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners nowadays who are open to entertaining such hypotheses. Many believe exactly what I do, though they may be reluctant to speak out... Questions about how a scientifically trained physician can believe 'such outdated and unscientific nonsense', as I've been asked, have a simple answer. I honestly weigh the evidence...[130]

The testimony of an intelligent person convinced by personal experience to adopt a view contrary to their former position on a matter that falls within their field of professional expertise is particularly impressive evidence. Consider this account of demonization from psychologist David Instone-Brewer:

I have personally been persuaded away from [a sceptical viewpoint] by a series of events which occurred while I was studying psychiatry

- David Instone-Brewer

I once went to interview a patient but found that he was asleep. He was lying on his bed, facing the wall, and he did not turn around or respond when I walked in. I sat in his room for a while thinking that he might wake up, and after a while I thought I might pray for him. I started to pray silently for him but I was immediately interrupted because he sat bolt upright, looked at me fiercely and said in a voice which was not characteristic of him: 'leave him alone – he belongs to us.'

Startled, I wasn't sure how to respond, so we just sat and stared at each other for a while. Then I remembered my fundamentalist past and decided to pray silently against what appeared to be an evil spirit... because I was aware that an hysterical disorder could mimic demon possession. If the person felt that I was treating them as if they were possessed, this would exacerbate the condition and confirm in his mind that he really was possessed. I also prayed silently in case I was making a fool of myself. I can't remember exactly what I prayed but probably rebuked the spirit in the name of Jesus. Immediately I did so, I got another very hostile outburst along the same lines... I realised then that I was in very deep water and continued to pray, though still silently.

An onlooker would have seen a kind of one-sided conversation. I prayed silently and the person retorted very loudly and emphatically. Eventually (I can't remember what was said or what I prayed) the person cried out with a scream and collapsed on his bed. He woke up a little later, unaware of what had happened. I was still trying to act the role of a medic, so I did not tell him anything about what had happened. His behaviour after waking was quite striking in its normality. He no longer heard any of the oppressive voices which had been making him feel cut off and depressed, and his suicidal urges had gone.[131]

Until this event took place, Instone-Brewer was "fairly satisfied that the Gospel accounts of demonization can be dealt with in terms of modern psychiatry or medicine."[132] His report bears all the marks of a trained observer giving a careful account of something surprising. He is careful to distinguish between what he can and can't remember. He wasn't expecting these events. Nor did he leap to conclusions:

I have personally been persuaded away from [a sceptical viewpoint] by a series of events which occurred while I was studying psychiatry, and during my time in pastoral work... When I was dealing with the strange personalities which spoke out of [a] person I was always careful to speak silently, even if the person appeared to be asleep. If these personalities were part of a multiple personality syndrome or an hysterical reaction, it would have been counter-productive to speak out loud anything which might make him believe that these personalities were distinct from himself. These voices answered specific questions such as What is your name?, When did you come? This gradually convinced me that I was not dealing with a purely psychiatric disorder. After such 'conversations', which often involved much shouting, rage and abuse ... the person usually had no memory of any of these disturbing events.[133]

Instone-Brewer's experience finds corroboration in the experience of other educated people:

Reading back to myself what I have written above, it seems like the rambling of a rabid fundamentalist or the paranoia of someone who needs urgent psychiatric help. I can only invite you to assess this in the way in which I present it – as a report of experiences which I have been reluctant to air in public in case they provoke ridicule or condemnation. I have heard similar stories ... from other ministers who are also reluctant to mention such things in public.[134]

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck relates his involvement with two cases of possession. Having become "a left-wing liberal"[135] Christian who believed in God and in the reality of human evil, Peck says he "was left facing an obvious intellectual question: Is there such a thing as evil spirit?"[136] He says: "I thought not... Still priding myself on being an open-minded scientist, I felt I had to examine the evidence that might challenge my inclination in the matter."[137] Peck made it known that he was interested in observing cases of purported possession for evaluation:

The first two cases turned out to be suffering from standard psychiatric disorders, as I had suspected, and I began making marks on my scientific pistol. The third case turned out to be the real thing. Since then I have also been deeply involved with another case of genuine possession... As a hard-headed scientist – which I assume myself to be – I can explain 95 percent of what went on in these two cases by traditional psychiatric dynamics... But I am left with a critical five percent I cannot explain in such ways. I am left with the supernatural – or better yet, subnatural.[138]

Peck argues that while people like to ask whether a patient is possessed or mentally ill, this is an invalid question:

As far as I can currently understand these matters, there has to be a significant emotional problem for the possession to occur in the first place. Then the possession itself will both enhance that problem and create new ones. The proper question is: "Is the patient just mentally ill or is he or she mentally ill and possessed?"[139]

As Chris Cook writes:

We recognize that psychiatric illnesses, and also a wide range of so-called 'somatic' disorders, are of a multifactorial aetiology involving psychological and social, as well as physical components. Why, then, should not spiritual factors also play a part? For example, if people can become depressed because they are bereaved, or because of physical illness, why should they not also become depressed because of demonic interference in their lives? Thus, we must keep in mind a truly holistic view of the human condition, which involves spiritual, as well as psychological, social and physical dimensions.[140]

Peck affirms the importance of free will in possession and exorcism:

Possession appears to be a gradual process in which the possessed person repeatedly sells out for one reason or another... Free will is basic. It takes precedence over healing. Even God cannot heal a person who does not want to be healed. At the moment of expulsion both these patients voluntarily took the crucifix, held it to their chests and prayed for deliverance. Both chose that moment to cast their lots with God.[141]

Peck concludes:

Given the severity of their psychopathology before their exorcisms, the rapidity of their progress to health is not explainable in terms of what we know about the ordinary psychotherapeutic process.[142]

it is judicious to entertain the idea of the existence of some form of destructive spiritual entities not unreasonably designated 'evil spirits'

- Graham H. Twelftree

Former sceptic philosopher Phillip H. Wiebe reports a particularly intriguing case:

In one of the exorcisms that Leo [an Australian minister Wiebe knew] conducted, the spirits who were ordered to leave a man responded in a distinctive voice with the threat that if they did so, they would enter a certain young man, who was known to Leo. The young man also lived in Adelaide, which was a city of about 700,000 at the time. Leo said he told the spirits to leave in spite of the threat and ordered them not to enter the young man. Within a half hour or so of this exorcism, he received a telephone call from the mother of the young man who had been named. She begged Leo to come to the house immediately because 'something strange had come over her son'. When Leo arrived at the house [he] went to the young man's room and saw from the doorway that he was lying on his bed. Leo entered the room and shut the door behind him, whereupon the threatening voice that he had heard from the older man a short while ago now spoke to him from the bed, saying, 'we told you we would get him, didn't we?' Leo believed that the same spirits he had exorcised in a different part of the city were now in the young man...[143]

Wiebe comments:

The sequence of the reported events, the close timing of them, the coherence of the utterances involved, and perhaps also the similarity of the distinctive voice coming from the two men suggest that something left the first man and entered the second... The suggestion that we are merely looking at two unrelated instances of dissociative identity disorder seems less plausible than the claim that we are confronted with a coherent complex requiring some other kind of explanation.[144]

With theologian Graham H. Twelftree:

I remain convinced by the testimony of credible witnesses and reasonable arguments ... that it is judicious to entertain the idea of the existence of some form of destructive spiritual entities not unreasonably designated 'evil spirits'.[145]


John Piper, 'Have you exorcized a demon?'

16x9: 'Angels and Demons Part 1: Exorcism Investigation'

– 'Angels and Demons Part 2: Exorcist Reveals All'


Stafford Betty, 'The Growing Evidence for "Demonic Possession": What Should Psychiatry's Response be?' Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring 2005.

David Instone-Brewer, 'Jesus and the Psychiatrists'

Richard E. Gallagher MD, 'Among the Many Counterfeits, a Case of Demonic Possession', New Oxford Review, 8 March 2008


"Behind and beyond the physical universe, there is a realm of purely spiritual beings." - E.L. Mascall[146]

there is a sufficient cumulative case for belief in the reality of angelic / demonic persons

There appears to be nothing incoherent in the concept of angels and demons. Given a worldview with room for an infinite immaterial God and finite immaterial human minds it seems plausible to think that finite immaterial spiritual beings might exist (and eminently reasonable to think that these beings are not of a uniform moral character). It seems to me that there is a sufficient cumulative case for belief in the reality of angelic / demonic persons. Hence I conclude with Boa and Bowman that "you don't have to suspend critical thought to believe in angels."[147] As C.S. Lewis wrote:

I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies of God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils... [This belief] agrees with the plain sense of Scripture, the tradition of Christendom, and the beliefs of most men at most times. And it conflicts with nothing that any of the sciences has shown to be true.[148]

© 2015 Peter S. Williams

Recommended Resources


'Angelology' YouTube Playlist

Gary R. Habermas, 'Near Death Experiences'

Gary R. Habermas, 'The Veracity of the New Testament' [now available at:]

J.P. Moreland, 'The Case for Jesus' [now available at]

––, 'Do Angels and Demons Exist?'

Peter J. Williams, 'New Evidence the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts'


Beyond Belief (BBC Radio 4) '19th September 2011: Exorcism'

Craig S. Keener, 'The Historical Reliability of the Book of Acts'

Peter Kreeft, 'Aquinas and the Angels'

John Tancock, Will Van Der Hart and Jonathan Clatworthy, 'Demons: Do They Exist?'{B6316F55-34ED-4854-88A3-522B2FF953BA}

Michael Williams, 'Angels' ( [No longer available]

Peter S. Williams, 'Rational Belief in Angels'

–– and Carol Hathorne. 'Angels' (UCB Radio) [No longer available]

–– vs. Lee Warren. 'Do Angels Exist?'

Online papers

Aquinas, Thomas. 'Treatise on Angels', Summa Theologica (questions 50–64)

Betty, Stafford. 'The Growing Evidence for "Demonic Possession": What Should Psychiatry's Response be?' Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 44, No 1, Spring 2005.

Blomberg, Craig L. 'The Historical Reliability of the Gospels'

Bohlin, Sue. 'Angels: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly'

Bradshaw, Robert I. 'The Origin of Satan and Demons'

Clements, Roy. 'Demons and the Mind'

Cook, Chris. 'Demon Possession and Mental Illness' Nucleus, Autumn 1997,

Fry, Gill. 'Encounters with Angels: Interview with Emma Heathcote'

Gallagher, Richard E. 'Among the Many Counterfeits, a Case of Demonic Possession', New Oxford Review, 8 March 2008

Gibbs, Nancy. 'Angels among Us',9171,979893,00.html

Grimsley, Brent and Eliot Miller. 'Can a Christian Be "Demonized"?'

Habermas, Gary R. 'Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

–– 'Why I Believe the New Testament Is Historically Reliable'

Hickey, James. 'The Historical Reliability of Acts: Support from Extra-Biblical Primary Sources'

Instone-Brewer, David. 'Jesus and the Psychiatrists'

Johnson, Walter C. 'Demon Possession and Mental Illness'

Keener, Craig. 'Spirit Possession as a Cross-Cultural Experience'

Knapton, Sarah, 'First hint of "life after death" in biggest ever scientific study'

Knight, Kevin. 'Angels'

Kreeft, Peter. 'Angels'

–– 'Satan and the Millennium'

Ross, George MacDonald. 'Angels'

Magee, Joseph M. 'Aquinas and Angels'

Moreland, J.P. 'The Historicity of the New Testament'

Newsweek. 'Interview with an Exorcist'

Parnia, Sam et al. 'AWARE – AWAreness during REsuscitation – A prospective study', Resuscitation, September 2014,

Stephens, David E. 'Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits'

Warnock, Adrian. Nucleus, Winter 1992,

Williams, Peter S. 'Angelology and Biblical Scepticism'

–– 'Demons, Levitation and A Priori Scepticism'

–– 'New Testament Criticism and Jesus the Exorcist'

–– vs. Steven Carr. 'Do Angels such as Gabriel, Michael and Satan Exist?'


Adler, Mortimer J. The Angels and Us (New York: Macmillan, 1982)

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica 1a. 50–64: Angels v. 9 (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Baglio, Matt. The Rite: The Making of a Modern Day Exorcist (London: Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008)

Boa, Kenneth D. and Robert M. Bowman Jr. Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons (Grand Rapids, IL: Zondervan, 2007)

Habermas, Gary R. 'Did Jesus Perform Miracles?' in Jesus under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (ed. Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995)

–– 'Why I Believe the Miracles of Jesus Actually Happened' in Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2nd edn, 2006)

Hathorne, Carol. Assist Our Song: Angels Then and Now (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2006)

Heathcote-James, Emma. Seeing Angels (London: John Blake, 2001)

Kay, William K. and Robin Parry, eds. Exorcism and Deliverance: Multi-Disciplinary Studies (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2011)

Keener, Craig S. Miracles, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)

Kreeft, Peter. Angels and Demons (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995)

Lane, Anthony N.S., ed. The Unseen World: Christian Reflection on Angels, Demons and the Heavenly Realm (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1996)

Montgomery, John Warwick, ed. Demon Possession (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1976)

Peck, M. Scott. Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Account of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption (New York: Free Press, 2005)

–– People of the Lie (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983)

Perry, Michael, ed. Deliverance: Psychic Disturbance and Occult Involvement (London: SPCK, 1996)

Wiebe, Phillip H. God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Wilkinson, Tracy. The Vatican's Exorcists: Driving out the Devil in the 21st Century (New York: Warner Books, 2007)

Williams, Peter S. A Faithful Guide to Philosophy: A Christian Introduction to the Love of Wisdom (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2013)

–– The Case for Angels (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002)

–– Understanding Jesus: Five Ways to Spiritual Enlightenment (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2012)

Woolmer, John. Angels of Glory and Darkness (Oxford: Monarch, 2006)


  • [1] Andrew R. Angel, Angels: Ancient Whispers of Another World (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012), p.3.
  • [2] Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr, Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), p.9.
  • [3] Tracy Wilkinson, The Vatican's Exorcists: Driving out the Devil in the 21st Century (New York: Warner, 2007), pp.12-13.
  • [4] Walter Wink, Unmasking the Powers (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986).
  • [5] Craig S. Keener, Miracles, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), p.839.
  • [6] A.R. Tippett, 'Spirit possession as it relates to culture and religion', Demon Possession, ed. John Warwick Montgomery, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1976), p.148.
  • [7] Raymond Firth quoted by Craig S. Keener, Miracles, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), p.797.
  • [8] Boa and Bowman Jr., Sense and Nonsense, pp.16-17.
  • [9] Ibid, p.18.
  • [10] Ibid, p.27.
  • [11] Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), pp.28-29.
  • [12] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, question 62, article 1.
  • [13] Mortimer J. Adler, The Angels and Us (New York: Collier, 1988), pp.86-87.
  • [14] Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), p.108.
  • [15] Peter G. Bolt, 'Jesus, the Daimons and the Dead', in The Unseen World, ed. Anthony N.S. Lane (Paternoster, 1996), p.79.
  • [16] Cf.
  • [17] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (OUP), p.291.
  • [18] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Fount, 1986), p.47. For the whole of Lewis's argument against dualism in Mere Christianity cf. pp.44-47. See also Lewis's paper 'God and Evil' in Christian Reunion and Other Essays (London: Fount, 1990).
  • [19] J.J.C. Smart and J.J. Haldane, Atheism and Theism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p.27.
  • [20] Keith Ward, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God (Oxford: Lion, 2008), pp.83, 160.
  • [21] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006), pp.179-80.
  • [22] Moreland, op. cit., p.211.
  • [23] William Hasker, 'Persons as Emergent Substances' in Kevin Corcoran (ed.), Soul, Body and Survival (Cornell University Press, 2001), p.107.
  • [24] C. Stephen Evans, 'Separable Souls: Dualism, Selfhood, and the Possibility of Life after Death'.
  • [25] Grace & Moreland, op. cit.
  • [26] David Chalmers,, my emphasis.
  • [27] Cf.
  • [28] Blackmore, ibid, pp.3-4.
  • [29] David Chalmers in Susan Blackmore, pp.38 & 42.
  • [30] Richard Dawkins, quoted by Roy Abraham Varghese, The Wonder of the World (Tye, 2003), p.56.
  • [31] Jerry Fodor, 'The Big Idea: Can There Be A Science of Mind?', Times Literary Supplement, 3 July 1992, p.5.
  • [32] Christof Koch, 'Consciousness is Everywhere'
  • [33] Matthew D. Lieberman, 'Free Will: Weighing Truth and Experience: Do our beliefs matter?' Psychology Today, 22 March 2012,
  • [34] Steven Pinker, 'The Mystery of Consciousness', Time Magazine, 19 Jan 2007,,9171,1580394-1,00.html.
  • [35] John Searle, 'Minding the Brain', New York Review of Books, 2 November 2006.
  • [36] Mathew Iredale, 'Putting Descartes before the horse', The Philosopher's Magazine, Issue 42, 3rd  Quarter 2008, p.40.
  • [37] Frank Dilley, quoted by Mathew Iredale, 'Putting Descartes before the horse', The Philosopher's Magazine, Issue 42, 3rd Quarter 2008, p.40.
  • [38] John Heil, Philosophy of Mind – a contemporary introduction (London: Routledge, 1998), p.53.
  • [39] Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), p.152.
  • [40] Boa and Bowman, op. cit., p.21.
  • [41] Ibid, p.38.
  • [42] Antony Flew in Terry L. Miethe and Antony Flew, Does God Exist? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), p.6.
  • [43] J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul (Downers Grove, IL:IVP, 2000), pp.154-155.
  • [44] Ibid, p.155.
  • [45] J.P. Moreland, 'The Explanatory Relevance of Libertarian Agency', in Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1998), p.266.
  • [46] Stephen T. Davis, 'God's Actions', in In Defence of Miracles, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, (Leicester: Apollos, 1997), p.164.
  • [47] Ibid.
  • [48] Ibid.
  • [49] Ibid.
  • [50] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (London: Fount, 1998), pp.93-94.
  • [51] Dallas Willard, personal correspondence.
  • [52] Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent, 'First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study'.
  • [53] Walter Sinnot-Armstrong,
  • [54] Robert Lawrence Kuhn,
  • [55] Richard Gallagher, 'As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. And, sometimes, demonic possession', Washington Post (1st July 2016) 
  • [56] Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz, Substance: Its Nature and Existence (London: Routledge, 1997), p.7.
  • [57] Keener, op. cit., pp.789-790.
  • [58] Ibid, p.794.
  • [59] Ibid, p.790.
  • [60] 'Americans' Bible Knowledge Is in the Ballpark, but Often Off Base' [No longer available].
  • [61] Ron Rhodes, Angels Among Us (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), p.29.
  • [62] Dan Harris, 'Most Americans Believe in Guardian Angels: More Than Half of Americans Say Guardian Angels Watch Over Us', ABC News, 18 September 2008.
  • [63] News Service, Canwest. 'Believe in angels? You're not alone', ABC News, 23 December 2008.
  • [64] Dan Harris, 'Most Americans Believe in Guardian Angels', ABC News 
  • [65] B.J. Oropeza, 99 Answers to Questions about Angels, Demons and Spiritual Warfare (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1998), p.13.
  • [66] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (London: Headline, 1996), pp.110-11. Aside from tarring belief in demons by association with the stranger forms such belief has taken, Sagan provides a naturalistic explanation of demonic phenomena in psychological and physiological terms which he suggests (plausibly enough) may also account for purported alien abduction experiences. However, Sagan's explanation fails to match the accounts of demon possession in the Bible and in certain contemporary reports and is thus explanatorily inadequate. A Christian could quite happily accept Sagan's naturalistic explanation for some reports of demonic activity, while retaining a belief in literal demons to explain those reports that his naturalistic explanation seems unable to explain away. Sagan doesn't devote much attention to purported encounters with angels.
  • [67] Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul, p.43.
  • [68] Ibid.
  • [69] Ibid.
  • [70] Ibid, pp.43-44.
  • [71] Boa and Bowman, op. cit., p.20.
  • [72] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 3rd edn, 1984)
  • [73] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker, 1999), p.683.
  • [74] Craig L. Blomberg, 'The Historical Reliability of the New Testament' in Reasonable Faith, ed. William Lane Craig, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2nd edn, 1994), p.203.
  • [75] Gary R. Habermas and J.P. Moreland, Beyond Death (Wheaton, IL: Good News, 1998), p.66.
  • [76] Graham Twelftree, Christ Triumphant (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985), p.169.
  • [77] Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Leicester: Apollos, 2nd edn, 2007), p.121.
  • [78] Marcus Borg, Jesus: A New Vision (HarperSanFrancisco, 1987), pp.61-62.
  • [79] Boa and Bowman, Sense and Nonsense, pp.127-128.
  • [80] Keith Ward, The Big Questions in Science and Religion (West Conshohocken, PA; Templeton Foundation, 2008), p.47.
  • [81] Paul Davies, Are We Alone? (London: Penguin, 1995), pp.15-16.
  • [82] John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 3.6.12; cf. Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 4.16.12.
  • [83] F.C. Copleston, History of Philosophy: Medieval Philosophy (Tunbridge Wells: Search, 1979), p.329.
  • [84] Thomas P. Flint,
  • [85] Ibid.
  • [86] Ibid.
  • [87] Ibid.
  • [88] Ibid.
  • [89] Boa and Bowman, op. cit., p.96.
  • [90] Ibid, pp.96-97.
  • [91] Phillip H. Wiebe, God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience (OUP, 2004), p.8.
  • [92] Ibid, p.7.
  • [93] Ibid, p.7.
  • [94] Ibid, p.190.
  • [95] Ibid, pp.159-161.
  • [96] Cf.Gary R. Habermas, 'The Veracity of the New Testament' [now available at:]; J.P. Moreland, 'The Case for Jesus' [now available at]; Peter J. Williams, 'New Evidence the Gospels Are Based on Eyewitness Accounts'; J.P. Moreland, 'The Modern Search for the Historic Jesus' [now available at]; Craig L. Blomberg, 'The Historical Reliability of the Gospels'; Gary R. Habermas, 'Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels'; J.P. Moreland, 'The Historicity of the New Testament'
  • [97] C.S. Lewis, 'Fern-seed and Elephants', Fern-seed and Elephants (London: Fount, 1989), p.108.
  • [98] Cf. Craig S. Keener, 'The Historical Reliability of the Book of Acts'; James Hickey, 'The Historical Reliability of Acts: Support from Extra-Biblical Primary Sources'
  • [99] Hope Price, Angels (London: Pan, 1995), p.2.
  • [100] Nancy Gibbs, 'Angels Among Us', Time, 27 December 1993, p.56.
  • [101] David Van Biema, 'Guardian Angels Are Here, Say Most Americans', Time, 18 September 2008.
  • [102] Christopher Bader in Van Biema, 'Guardian Angels Are Here, Say Most Americans'.
  • [103] Cf. Marilyn Hickey, Angels All Around (Denver, Colorado: Marilyn Hickey Ministries, 1991), pp.45-47.
  • [104] Pierre Jovanovic, An Enquiry Into The Existence Of Guardian Angels (M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1993), p 37.
  • [105] Cindy Mackenzie, Angel Encounters (Belfast: Ambassador International, 2008), p.55.
  • [106] Emma Heathcote-James, Seeing Angels (London: John Blake, 2001), p.237-238.
  • [107] Ibid, p.15.
  • [108] Kreeft, Angels and Demons, p.102. In The Case for Angels (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002) I quoted evangelist Billy Graham's account of angels saving missionary John G. Paton from hostile natives (cf. The Case for Angels, p.129). Subsequent research has led me to conclude that this story is apocryphal (compare the story in Billy Graham's book Angels: God's Secret Agents (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975), p.15, with John G. Paton's own account of his missionary experiences in The Story of John G. Paton, or Thirty Years among South Sea Cannibals, 'Chapter XLI: The Last Awful Night' (access to the whole book is at
  • [109] Gary R. Habermas, 'Why I Believe the Miracles of Jesus Actually Happened' in Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2nd edn, 2006), p.117.
  • [110] Craig S. Keener, Miracles, p.784.
  • [111] Quoted by Habermas, 'Why I Believe the Miracles of Jesus Actually Happened', p.117.
  • [112] Quoted by Gary R. Habermas, 'Did Jesus Perform Miracles?' in Jesus under Fire (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996), p.124.
  • [113] Habermas, 'Did Jesus Perform Miracles?', p.130.
  • [114] Quoted by Habermas, 'Did Jesus Perform Miracles?', p.24.
  • [115] Habermas, 'Did Jesus Perform Miracles?', p.114.
  • [116] Ibid, p.126.
  • [117] David Instone-Brewer, 'Jesus and the Psychiatrists', in The Unseen World, ed. A.N.S. Lane (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996), p.135.
  • [118] Instone-Brewer, 'Jesus and the Psychiatrists', p.138.
  • [119] Chris Cook, 'Demon Possession and Mental Illness', Nucleus,
  • [120] Wiebe, God and Other Spirits, pp.32, 113.
  • [121] Gary R. Collins in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan, 1998), p.153.
  • [122] Boa and Bowman, op. cit., p.106.
  • [123] James LeBarr, quoted in 'If You Liked The Movie...' by David Van Biema, Time Magazine,3266,55722,00.html. [Now at,9171,998078,00.html - subscription required for full access].
  • [124] Ibid.
  • [125] Keener, Miracles, pp.814, 815.
  • [126] W.E. Wright, quoted in W Stanley Mooneyham, 'Demonology in the Mission Field' in John Warwick Montgomery (ed.), Demon Possession (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1976), p.211.
  • [127] Matt Baglio, The Rite (London: Simon & Schuster, 2009), p.173.
  • [128] Perry (ed.), Deliverance: Psychic Disturbance and Occult Involvement, p.125.
  • [129] Ibid, p.126.
  • [130] Richard Gallagher, 'As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. And, sometimes, demonic possession', Washington Post (1st July 2016)
  • [131] Instone-Brewer, 'Jesus and the Psychiatrists', p.140.
  • [132] Ibid, p.140.
  • [133] Ibid, p.142-143.
  • [134] Ibid, p.143.
  • [135] M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil (New York: Free Press, 2005), p.11.
  • [136] M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983), p.208.
  • [137] Ibid, pp.208-209.
  • [138] Ibid, pp.209, 224.
  • [139] Ibid, p.219.
  • [140] Cook, op. cit.
  • [141] Peck, op. cit., pp.217, 225.
  • [142] Ibid, p.227.
  • [143] Wiebe, God and Other Spirits, pp.11-12.
  • [144] Ibid, p.13.
  • [145] Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker, 2007), p.293.
  • [146] Eric L. Mascall, The Christian Universe (New York: Morehouse-Barlow, 1965).
  • [147] Boa and Bowman, op. cit., p.29.
  • [148] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Collier, 1982), p.vii.

© 2015 Peter S. Williams

This article is reproduced here by the kind permission of the author.