by Rob Lundberg
We really do not hear a lot about deism today. Some of us bloggers have mentioned it in the past when addressing the culture moralistic therapeutic deism that harbors in the thinking of many young people today. But deism as a whole has largely dropped off the radar of being a valid worldview.
The only places where deism may crop up is maybe in the liberal churches or in culture among the younger generation with the aforementioned moralistic therapeutic deism. But despite deism’s contribution of bringing the mind into the faith versus reason debate there are a few weaknesses on the matter of miracles and God’s relationship to His creation and people.
In this post, I want to put forth those weaknesses and give a few thoughts to each. Before I do that though let’s take a look at what deism espouses.
What are the core tenets of Deism?
When we look to summarize deism, we see a transcendent God as a First Cause, who created the universe, but then left it to run on its own. God is not immanent (or operating in the universe). God, according to deism is not fully personal, and not sovereign over the affairs of men. Although the 18th century deists believed in providence, the God interpreted by deism is not even providential.
The universe that God created is determined because it is created as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system. When we use the term closed system, there are no miracles and they are considered as impossible.
When it comes to man, we are personal, but we are also part of the clockwork of the universe that is winding down. Deism also rejects the fallenness of the creation and the universe. The cosmos, this world is understood to be in its normal state, it is not fallen or abnormal. Man can know the universe and he can determine what God is like.
When it comes to ethics, deists believe that ethics is limited to general revelation because the universe is normal, it reveals what is right. As a form of “theism,” history is linear, for the course of the cosmos was determined at creation.
Positive Contributions of Deism.
Looking at deism, some of you may be wondering if there are any contributions that can come from a faulty worldview. In fact there are few that I would like to point out here.
First, deists emphasized natural revelation. You may have heard it said, that God has two books: the natural creation (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation). Deists only focus on the first book and reject the second which is a supernatural revelation from Genesis to Revelation.
Another one is the stress on reason in matters of religious belief. Some Christians do not like reason, but deists are on the converse of this spectrum. There is NOTHING wrong with reason, because Christianity is a reasonable faith. For deists though, there is no reason for existential religious experiences, even if they are backed up by the written Word of God.
And lastly, whenever you have an aberrant philosophy creeping toward the altar of God, there do rule out, what we see in history, a calling forth of some of the most scholarly and stout defenses in favor of orthodox Christianity. Scholarly minds like Bishop Berkeley, Bishop Butler, William Paley, and three converts to the Christian faith: Lord Lytleton, Frank Morison, and Sir William Ramsay. All of these men, some of whom were atheists converting to the faith, led the charge with responses to deism in their day.
Negative Critiques of Deism.
Winding this down, let’s point out that deism does have its problems. For this I will list them, and if you would like to comment on these or anything else that you have gleaned from this posting, please use the comment section below.
The deist’s understanding of God is incompatible with their stand against miracles. While deists will admit that God miraculously created the universe and all that we see in creation, they reject any miracle after the first miracle.
The deistic concept of God is built on an invalid mechanistic model rather than on a personal model. God does not intervene. He does not answer prayer. That makes God personal in the creation but impersonal and uncaring during this life. Would you want to worship a God like that?
Following up the previous point, it stands to reason that a God who is concerned enough to create men in the beginning, should also be concerned enough to intervene on their behalf, especially men who have fallen into grave difficulties.
If one is willing the admit the first miracle of creation, but reject subsequent miraculous and supernatural events, we see that deistic arguments intended to eliminate the basis for belief in a supernatural revelation cancel out to elimination of the deistic belief in creation.
The deistic criticism of the trustworthiness of the biblical documents and writers is definitely lacking. This idea was key in the beginning of Enlightenment thinking in the 18th century, and the removal of God from throne of the hearts of man. What is the result?
I opened up using a term in the beginning of this post. That term is moralistic therapeutic deism. Many of our young people today are falling into the idea that God does not care and is detached from society. This where we need to show that God is personal and bring the good news of the gospel to those who are willing to hear, and bring down the objections of those wanting to throw down the gauntlet, with gentleness and respect.