There are a lot of religious people who would love it if we could scientifically prove the existence of God. What would happen if, while attempting to prove the existence of God, we instead proved the existence of a devil?

Assume the proof is scientifically rigorous—it is repeatable, statistically sound, etc.

What we don't know:

  • The proof does not demonstrate anything about the nature of this devil, so we don't know if it is a singular Devil, a horde of devils, or the ghosts of Homo neanderthalensis with a vendetta against all Homo sapiens.
  • The proof still doesn't prove or disprove the existence of God. Of course, many people would correlate the existence of a devil with the existence of God, and although "correlation doesn't imply causation, ... it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'." In any case, further attempts to prove the existence of God will fail to do so but might solidify the proof of the devil's existence.
  • This doesn't prove or disprove any existing religions (though if there are any that have the specific doctrine "there is no devil", those have now been proven to not be 100% correct)

What we have been able to determine:

  • There is a real, malevolent psychic force that wishes ill upon humanity
  • This force doesn't necessarily want us to go extinct (then it wouldn't have anybody to torment)
  • Its goal is to make as many people as miserable as possible
  • Its influence is only psychic, and even then it cannot force anyone to do anything.
  • It is not limited to influencing a single person at a time
  • It is intelligent enough to not easily give itself away while influencing someone—people will usually mistake the influence as one of their own thoughts.

How would society at large react to this development?

  • $\begingroup$ Society is a very large subject to talk about. For example, the effects on science would be earthshattering. This would be the first proof ever that we exist in a dualist world made of two separate things: mind and matter. This also says that science will be in a position to begin making statements about what mental states actually are. This would utterly revolutionize all of philosophy and science, with a more profound impact than even the invention of Calculus. However, that would only touch a small fraction of society that is aware of just how immense this discovery is. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 25 '16 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also, is your devil weak enough to be trapped in a mere science experiment? For one intelligent enough to not usually give itself away, you must have struck quite a Faustian bargain to make him repeatable! Most devils would be smart enough to not be repeatable, preventing you from testing the theory scientifically. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 25 '16 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ But if they believe there is no devil, that means the devil is God. So you're question is really what if we proved there was a deity? Then, that makes this what if we proved there was a malevolent deity? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 25 '16 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ I think that handwavium malevolence detector could make for an interesting story, actually. It'd be especially interesting if there was a cost for humanity turning it on, so they have to balance out the benefits of being able to either detect the devil or shoo him out of range (so that he would not be detected) against the cost of keeping the device operational. There's a nice balance to that setup! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 25 '16 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon "half as smart without wikipedia" I'm impressed. I'm 10% as smart without wikipedia, and that's on a good day. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Nov 17 '17 at 2:40

It is hard to answer with precision on all aspects that that observation would bring to the society at large. Nevertheless, I think we can surmise the following points:

  • it would be a scientific revolution. As was noted in the comments by Cort Ammon, it leads to some implication on the soul-matter relationship, questions would arise about why he was never observed before? what is the nature of the devil? where does he live? or is he actually living? Many new branches of research would be started. Furthermore implications on evolution, history, big bang, etc. would be evaluated.
  • Many religions would claim that the existence of the devil is a proof of the existence of a God, and that they were right all along.
  • Some religions would probably appear with a unique God, but malevolent.
  • Some religions will claim that there isn't only one, but in reality many, so no single God, but several Gods.
  • The religiosity rate would increase considerably. Not everyone will trust the scientific results, but nevertheless many agnostic and atheists would convert to one or other religion.
  • Relationships with people and laws would have to go through a hard path: people behaving badly might be under the influence of the devil. Or they possibly might just claim it to get out of trouble. With increasing crime rate. And others might be wary of it by distancing themselves. Laws and law enforcement would have to evolve to include that new possibility. Can one be accused of wrong doing when acting under the influence of the devil? How to find whether they are lying or not? Etc.
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  • $\begingroup$ I love this answer. The implications of such an entity on time and space have so much depth that it's hard to even describe. Should any such entity be proved without a doubt, the question "Where does it live?" would move me in a very profound and emotional way. $\endgroup$ – The Anathema Jan 25 '16 at 21:14

I think the key word here is 'scientifically' I'm going to assume here that the scientific proof does not invalidate or substantially change our current understanding of how the universe works. With that in mind;

Given this scope, the impact on our society would be largely the same as if we found out our universe was a giant simulation, or that free will and our sense of consciousness are all illusions; it would be used as an excuse for every wrongdoing ever committed from then on.

The real impact would be on our understanding of crime and punishment; right now it's entirely based on the concept that we as individuals have free will and therefore any malfeasance we commit is a result of our choice and therefore our responsibility. If the Devil exists in the form you describe, then every illegal or immoral act - EVERY one of them, could potentially (and probably) be the work of the Devil instead. How do you manage a society in which 'the Devil made me do it' is a valid legal and moral defence?

The trick here may be that if we can scientifically prove the existence of such a creature, we could develop a defensive technology to protect ourselves from it. That (to me at least) would be the first order of priority.

It might actually make an interesting scientific experiment; measure criminal and immoral acts for the years preceding the application of this defence, then measure the incident counts for the same acts afterwards. Then we'd get some useful data on just how active he is, how much of an impact he's had on us and what percentage of malfeasance is inherent in our population without his influence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your first two points aren't accurate for this question, and I don't see how they help the rest of your answer anyway. They haven't necessarily figured out what form this being/beings take. Also, it would make for an interesting story if the original Christians got the devil's appearance wrong but the patent trolls got it right. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Nov 17 '17 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Rob, it wasn't the original Christians who dictated the Devil's appearance, it was Moses (Genesis, chapter 2, 3) And, my first two points are accurate according to my historical research. Further, I'd be happy to alter my view of the patent trolls if they listed their references. I will acknowledge that others may find 'other' sources that would reflect a different view. I'm actually swayed more by your argument that it's not relevant to the concise answering of the question, and tend to agree. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Nov 17 '17 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ I was just trying to make sure you understood the context given by my question. I agree that the points you had were accurate for the Biblical devil, but there's no guarantee that it is actually that devil and not just something else that behaves in a similar way. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Nov 17 '17 at 4:09
  • $\begingroup$ All good, I took it in good faith (no pun intended) $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Nov 17 '17 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB, Genesis chap2 is still Garden of Eden, Moses doesn't show up for another 2400 years. Also the devil doesn't appear in (modern) Judaism, so he was probably picked up somewhere else. The serpent is just a naughty serpent. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 17 '17 at 8:31

One of the first things that comes to mind is to use the (or this) Devil as a scapegoat. Imagine using a possession defense to stay out of jail after murdering someone: since this is the Devil we're talking about, you know some people will actually need this defense, it's just now everyone and their kleptomaniac mother is going to try it, and I bet it'll be harder than ever to tell if they're telling the truth.

Similarly, imagine you think some country's government is possessed by the devil. Now people may agree with you, and you could go to war over it.

Since the Devil wishes us harm, he's going to do whatever he can to turn this newfound knowledge against us. So expect a lot of bad people to go free and get the things they want, and a lot of good people to get punished and hurt/killed. The fact is, learning that the Devil exists doesn't really help; if we knew what he was doing, that might be useful, but just knowing that he's doing something is liable to make everyone extra suspicious and jumpy.

I actually think this is good reason to believe the Devil does not exist. If he did, he would probably make sure we knew about it, just so we would think we saw him behind every shadow.

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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Yeah, but I prefer it when the crazy religious arguments aren't backed up by science. Just imagine how much someone's campaign could be ruined if someone found their face on a piece of toast they'd dropped butter-side down. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 25 '16 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ Or "the lobbyist made me do it?" We have voices whispering in the governmental ears all the time ;-) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 25 '16 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh why in the world would they let you go? If someone is judged to be insane and their insanity can't be cured, they don't just let them go! $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Jan 25 '16 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but a lot of people/religions believe he can't take our choice, or free agency, away. So that makes the whole, the devil possessed me thing a lot less sound. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 25 '16 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, CS Lewis's book "The Screwtape Letters" deals with (among many other things) the reasons for the devil not to reveal himself (if he exists). I would suggest reading it (although, given the tendency of us worldbuilders to suggest books, your reading list is probably ten feet long at this point) $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Nov 17 '17 at 2:48

Society would likely react the way they react to current entities whose effect is similar, i.e. they don't want you gone, they just want to make you miserable... by tolerating the nuisance, and looking for ways to avoid contact or interaction.

Like, the tax collector. That's one for you, nineteen for me...

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