The Claim: Christianity isn’t really monotheistic
The monotheism of modern Christians and Muslims is also rather dubious. For example, they believe in an evil ‘devil’ called Satan (Christianity) or Shaytan (Islam). He goes under a variety of other names too, such as Beelzebub, Old Nick, the Evil One, the Adversary, Belial, Lucifer. They wouldn’t call him a god, but they regard him as having god-like powers and he is seen, with his forces of evil, as waging a titanic war against the good forces of God. Religions often inherit ideas from older religions. The notion of a cosmic war of good versus evil probably comes from Zoroastrianism, an early religion founded by the Persian prophet Zoroaster, which influenced the Abrahamic religions. Zoroastrianism was a two-gods religion, the good god (Ahura Mazda) battling it out with the evil god (Angra Mainyu)…
Christianity verges on polytheism in other ways, too. ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ are described as ‘three in one and one in three’. Exactly what this means has been disputed, often violently, down the centuries. It sounds like a formula for squeezing polytheism into monotheism. You could be forgiven for calling it tri-theism.
Dawkins, Richard, Outgrowing God, Chapter 1: So many Gods!
Dawkins’s claim that Christianity isn’t monotheistic rests on two assertions:
- Satan has god-like powers and therefore is a god.
- The Trinity is a disguise for polytheism.
When thoroughly examined, these assertions prove to be generalizations aiming to suggest that Christianity is not unique among religions. They lack the nuance necessary for a compelling argument.
What Makes God, God—and Satan not?
Possession of Supernatural Power Does not Make One a God
The first argument Dawkins uses to discredit Christianity’s claim to monotheism is that Satan has some power as a spiritual being. He argues that even though Christians deny it, Satan is a god because he has god-like powers.
This is problematic because the mere possession of supernatural power does not make one a god. For example, while Satan has some power, he is a created being, which means he was given his power. Angels have power in the Bible (in Genesis 19:10-11, for example, angels strike men with blindness), but angels are not gods. In the same way, it is possible for Satan to have power and not be God.
Only God is Eternal and Omnipotent
The argument that Satan’s power disqualifies God Himself from being the only God fails to consider that God possesses unique attributes beyond supernatural powers that make Him alone God. Eternality and omnipotence are two characteristics that clearly and uniquely define the Christian God alone as God.
God is not created but simply is, was, and always will be, meaning that He is eternal, and His power is demonstrated in creation, salvation, Jesus’s resurrection, and many other ways. Colossians 1:16-17 confirms that God alone is eternal and, therefore, the only uncreated being. It states,
“For in [God] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (NIV) (see also Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6)
This verse clearly states that “in him all things were created.” To emphasize this, Paul, the author of Colossians, gives a list - things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible - to make sure his readers understand that “all things” means “all things.” This verse takes this a step further by saying that not only were all things created in God, but all things were created for him. This means that Satan was created by God and given limited supernatural power for the purpose of serving God (Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6). Therefore, while God has always existed, the fact that Satan had to be created means that there was a time when Satan did not exist. If there was a time when Satan did not exist, he could not be eternal, and, thus, could not be God.
The eternality of God goes hand-in-hand with the fact that He is inherently all-powerful (omnipotent). While God gave Satan power, the power of God comes from God Himself. The fact that Satan is a created being and derives his power from the God who created him shows that he is subject to God the Creator. Reliance on another being for existence and power precludes the possibility of deity; therefore, Satan cannot be God.
This leads to the obvious conclusion that He is inherently all-powerful (omnipotent). The fact that Satan is a created being and derives his power from the God who created him reveals that, rather than a god, he is someone under and subject to God the Creator.
Only God is Sovereign
Dawkins’s assertion that Satan is a god is further dismantled by the fact that even when Satan wars against God, Satan answers to Him. God uses Satan’s schemes for His will and purposes—a demonstration of yet another exclusive attribute of God: sovereignty
In both Job 1:9-12 and Job 2:5-6, Satan comes before God with the other angels and tells God that Job is faithful to God because of the protection and blessing God has given him. In the first passage, Satan challenges God, saying,
“But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 1:11 NIV
God responds by giving Satan power over everything Job owns. However, God sets limits on what Satan can do to Job, commanding that he is not to harm Job himself.
After Satan does all the harm he was permitted to do to Job, he comes before God again. He says,
“But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 2:5-6 NIV
God permits Satan his request, but, again, sets a limit on how far Satan is able to go in his efforts, telling him he is to spare his life.
In both instances, Satan had to ask permission from God before he was able to act. He also did not have the power to go past boundaries God set on his actions. He could not disobey because he is subject to God’s rule; he had to have God’s permission before doing anything. This is a clear indication that Satan is not sovereign - only God Himself is.
Warfare Doesn’t Indicate Opponents are Equal
Dawkins suggests that the reality of cosmic warfare is evidence that Christianity could be polytheistic. To prove his point, he points out that Zoroastrianism was a two-god religion in which an evil god and a good god war against each other, saying that this influenced the Abrahamic religions (p. 7). However, Satan did not wage war against God in the same mode that the gods of Zoroastrianism waged wars against each other.
Because God is good and all that He creates is good, God created Satan good (1 Timothy 4:4; 1 John 1:5; James 1:13). Satan rebelled against God and now wars against humanity as an assault on and against God’s rule and purposes. Revelation 12:7-17 gives an account of the beginning of this ongoing war. After Satan and his followers were hurled to the earth, he waged war against those “who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Matthew 12:24; 1 John 3:8, Revelation 12:7-17).
While our wars or the wars between gods in other religions are fought between two opposing forces that are sometimes equally matched, Satan never has a chance because he is not omnipotent or sovereign, while God Himself is. God does not have to strive against Satan as if Satan’s power and knowledge match His own. Satan is fighting on borrowed time, and the only reason he is still roaming the earth trying to thwart God’s purposes is that God is fulfilling His sovereign purposes for humanity (Acts 26:18) (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
God, in His omnipotence and omniscience, has already secured the victory from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; Colossians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57). So there is, indeed, a cosmic war—but not like those proposed by other religions, as Dawkins’s claimed. We already know that God, not Satan, will be the victor. There is nothing polytheistic about a cosmic battle with a sure victor!
Isn’t Belief in a God Consisting of Three Persons Polytheism?
Dawkins claims that the existence of God as three-in-one (known as the Trinity) is polytheism disguised as monotheism. This disregards the fact that the Trinity is one being (one God/monotheistic) with three persons, which Nabeel Qureshi explains in this video:
Dr. Qureshi clarifies that the Trinity is one in being - one God - who exists in three persons. He uses a helpful analogy in that we are all human beings, but exist as different persons (for example, I am Lindsay Brandt, and you are yourself; both of us are humans). In this way, God is one being - God! - but exists as three persons: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of God has a different role, but just as you and I and billions of others around the world are human beings, each person in the Trinity bears the essence of God Himself and is therefore God.
Dawkins’s arguments against Christianity’s claim to monotheism lack both theological accuracy and depth. Satan cannot be God because he does not have essential attributes of God, including eternality, omnipotence, and sovereignty. The Trinity is not a clever disguise for three gods, but instead an encapsulation of one being who exists as three persons.