Did you know that Acts chapter 8 wasn’t the only time Simon Peter and Simon Magus crossed paths? According to Clement of Rome, they held many debates that lasted for days. In fact, it was almost as if Peter was following Simon from city to city. In many ways, they were rivals. Naturally (or should I say supernaturally), Peter won these debates. Consequently, Simon lost followers. Upon hearing the Gospel, people deceived under his false teaching were healed and set free. A portion of one of those debates, I think, holds apologetic value for us today as we face the objections of professing atheists, skeptics and unbelievers. I highly recommend reading these debates in their entirety if you have the opportunity.
In explaining how he could know from the Law what the Law does not teach, Simon Magus blasphemes God saying, “But even if the law had not given indications from which it might be gathered that the God who made the world is imperfect, it was still possible for me to infer from those evils which are done in this world, and are not corrected, either that its creator is powerless, if he cannot correct what is done amiss; or else, if he does not wish to remove the evils, that he is himself evil; but if he neither can nor will, that he is neither powerful nor good.” (Recognitions of Clement, Book II, ch. LIV)
“…there is no new thing under the sun.” ~Ecclesiastes 1:9
Professing atheists in our day use this same argument against God’s existence, though Magus used it to proclaim “another God more excellent and more powerful than all,” (ibid) namely, himself.1 But the argument is fundamentally the same: the God of the Bible is somehow imperfect because evil exists in this world and He apparently does nothing about it. Let’s examine Peter’s rebuttal:
“Peter answered, ‘O, Simon, they are wont to conceive such absurdities against God who do not read the law with the instruction of masters, but account themselves teachers, and think that they can understand the law, though he has not explained it to them who has learned of the Master (i.e. Jesus). Nevertheless now, that we also may seem to follow the book of the law according to your apprehension of it; inasmuch as you say that the creator of the world is shown to be both impotent and evil, how is it that you do not see that that power of yours, which you say is superior to all, falls and lies under the very same charges? For the very same thing may be said of it, that it is either powerless, since it does not correct those things which here are done amiss; or if it can and will not, it is evil; or if it neither can nor will, then it is both impotent and imperfect. Whence that new power of yours is not only found liable to a similar charge, but even to a worse one, if, in addition to all these things, it is believed to be, when it is not. For He who created the world, His existence is manifest by His very operation in creating the world, as you yourself also confess. But this power which you say that you alone know, affords no indication of itself, by which we might perceive, at least, that it is, and subsists.’” (Recognitions, Book II, ch. LV)
Peter turns Simon’s argument on its head, demonstrating its self-defeating nature. And when unbelievers, professing atheists in particular, use the same argument, it fails in the same way. First of all, it is absurd, and I love how Peter points that out! The anti-God arguments of those who reject God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ are, in fact, absurd. Next, Peter explains how Simon’s argument falls by the very logic he employs. We can do the same when unbelievers today use this objection. Whatever power (big bang, evolution, natural selection, etc.) the professing atheist credits with the existence of our universe is liable to the same charge by their own logic, since it does not correct the evil that is done in this world either and hasn’t shown that it has the power to do so. Our God, on the other hand, has the power. He displayed it in three ways: 1) in creating the world without evil; 2) in judging the evil in the world, both in this life and the next, and; 3) He will show it again when He remakes the world without evil. Their “god” – whatever they credit for the existence of our universe – has no such power; it “affords no indication of itself, by which we might perceive, at least, that it is, and subsists,” to use Peter’s words.
I believe this is an excellent example of ‘answering a fool according to his folly’ (Proverbs 26:5). Peter masterfully dismantles Simon’s argument, turns it on its head, and uses it against him. He continues on to defend and proclaim the goodness, righteousness, and justice of God. Not bad for an “unlearned and ignorant” fisherman!
1 As a side note, whenever a person claims that there is no God, they are also proclaiming another god, i.e. him/herself. How? In order for the ‘atheist’ to know there is no God, they would have to be everywhere and know all things for all time. In other words, for them to know there is no God, they would in essence have to be God. Needless to say, that is a self-defeating proposition.