Yes, supernatural evil powers actually exist. Here’s how science helps us understand that.

By Brandon Evans:
I recently preached out of Ephesians 2:1-10, where the Apostle Paul describes humanity as following the “prince of the power of the air.” Paul calls this prince “the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience”. This is a real and sinister personal agent of evil who is active in the world.

The Bible frequently affirms the existence of evil supernatural beings that influence humanity. They go by a variety of names—Satan, demons, Sin with a capital “S”. These are “Evil Powers” at work in the world.

Ah, Rick. You nihilistic cartoon genius. Thanks for popping in. But I disagree. The Evil Powers are more than mythical concepts.
They manipulate.
They coerce.
They terrorize.
Look at the way the biblical writers speak of them:
  • The devil prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8)
  • The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)
  • Satan can fill the heart (Acts 5:3)
This small slice of passages points to an underlying truth—evil powers are more than abstract concepts.
They think.
They act.
They exist.
The Evil Powers are as real as you and I are.
And they are our enemies. Paul says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).”

I get your skepticism, Rick. But don’t let your rational mind dismiss the real existence of spiritual forces that interact with humanity.
There is more going on than meets the eye.
And science actually helps us understand the existence and agency of the Evil Powers.
Through a discipline called emergentism. Emergentism is employed in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, and theology to explain the relationship of complex entities.
The key concept of emergentism is supervenience. Are you familiar with it?


Alright, deal.
Supervenience, simply put, means that “higher level” entities emerge from “lower level” parts but are not reducible to them.
Take consciousness, for example. Consciousness is dependent on the physical brain but is more than the brain. Consciousness, therefore, emerges from the physical brain and supervenes on it.
Basically, emergentism shows that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And the whole that is produced by the parts can actually influence the parts themselves.
Another important thing is—wait a minute. Are you a pickle now?

But this is really interesting and important! Alright, Pickle Rick, here are some real world examples of emergentism that’ll stimulate your mind.
In Physics, there is the bizarre case of the Millennium Bridge in London. When it opened, crowds began to walk across it. Then the bridge began to sway side to side. So much so that it was shut down because it was unsafe.
And what caused the motion of the bridge? Video footage (linked above) shows that the pedestrians began to walk in synchronized steps which led to the swaying motion of the bridge (you can see this clearly in the video).

Yes way. Because of the swaying motion of the bridge, people had to adjust their steps to synchronize with the crowd’s so they could retain balance.
So the pedestrians caused the bridge to sway with their synchronized steps yet their steps were synchronized by the swaying bridge. The swaying bridge emerged from the steps, and then acted down the chain and influenced the steps themselves. That’s emergentism in action.
I’m building to that! Because it’s not just physics. Emergentism has been observed in living beings too.
For example, in genetic studies it’s becoming increasingly clear that the genetic headquarters is “everywhere and nowhere.” Genes are not the root cause of everything, biologically speaking. “Epigenetic” environmental factors control which genes are expressed.

You pretend you still don’t care, but you must be somewhat interested now since you’re no longer a pickle.
Well while you’re prepping your spaceship let me add a twist. It’s not just that the environment affects the individual. It’s that the “environment” can actually function like an individual.
This has been notably observed in bee colonies. Worker bees in the colony are genetically identical. What differentiates them into castes is epigenetic variation—certain genes are turned on or off by exposure to the queen bee’s pheromones.
And here’s what’s fascinating. Because each bee takes on the qualities of the queen, bee colonies function like an individual organism. The colony works in sync.
The ‘hive mind” is more than a metaphor. The bee hive can be thought of as a superorganism, a more complex individual unit than each of the individual bees that compose it. The individual bees form the hive, but the hive, in turn, forms the individual bees.
Are you though? This is where emergentism gets really interesting and helps us understand the real existence of personal evil “spiritual” entities.
The line between our individual selves and the external world is a blurry one, scientifically speaking. In 2012, Scientific American ran a study stating that the human body contains 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells.
So the question is raised—Where do you end and where does the external world begin?
Most of “you” is not actually you. Most of you is, in fact, bacterial. You are a higher level organism than a bacterium, but your existence is dependent on them.
So each individual human emerges from complex structures. And if you group individual humans together even more complex structures emerge. And these higher level structures can influence the individual humans that compose them.
For example, there is significant scientific evidence that social structures affect the individuals within them. Societal racism has been shown to alter individuals down to the neurological level. In other words, the “system” is real and acts down upon individuals. Society, therefore, can be seen as a superorganism like a bee hive.
To paraphrase sociologist Peter Berger, Society is a human product. Man is a social product.
And this indicates that humans are not the highest level entities in the universe. Emergentism effectively shows that individual existence is on a continuum, like a series of Russian dolls.

You could call this weird. Or you could see this as a helpful framework for understanding the real existence of supernatural evil powers. All good theology is interdisciplinary. And synching up emergentism with the Bible is an interdisciplinary approach.
So here’s how emergentism helps us understand what the Bible has been saying all along.
First, evil is individual. Human individuals rebel against God. This is the genesis of evil. Rejecting our maker. Denying his existence. Violating God’s will. In Romans, Paul plainly says that everyone has done this (Romans 3:23). Evil stems from human actions.
Second, evil is social. Humanity’s collective evil forms what Paul calls “the body of Sin” (Romans 6:6). This is why evil seems intensified in certain environments, working against people like momentum.
And then a higher level emerges from these social systems. From the evil of each individual and group emerges evil superorganisms. This is why Paul talks about sin as if it were a person. In Romans, Paul says that (S)in:
  • “Came into the world” (5:12);
  • “Reigned in death” (5:21);
  • “Seized” opportunity to “produce” covetousness (7:8);
  • “Came alive” (7:9);
  • Controls the human agent (7:17). (“So now it is no longer I who do it, but (S)in that dwells within me”).
  • And Sin uses systems, such as law, as a medium through which to enact its coercive power (Rom. 7:8).
Emergentism is a helpful tool to understand the picture of evil that is painted in the Bible.
Individual evil.
Social evil.
Cosmic evil.
Like a series of Russian dolls that really exist.
And the tragedy is that humans are under the oppression of the evil we create.
No Rick! That’s only half the story. The good news is that Christ has disarmed the evil powers.
Christ liberates us from bondage to the cosmic tyrant, Sin (Romans 6:6). He has freed us from the power of the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Through Christ we possess tools to fight evil—faith, righteousness, truth, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:10-20). And the Holy Spirit enables us to pursue holiness and not cooperate with evil (Romans 8).
Jesus has broken the power of evil through his death and resurrection. And our current struggle with evil begins with a struggle with the self. Fighting evil within us is a way to fight evil that emerges beyond us.
You seem enlightened now, Rick. But the biblical writers implicitly understood this. They didn’t understand emergentism, but they understood the real, personal presence of evil beings. And they also recognized the real power of God to break evil’s power.
So welcome back, modern mind, to an ancient worldview. Maybe we’re not so advanced after all?