Problems with Deism

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
What are some philosophical or theological problems with Deism (and/or how would one demonstrate it is in error?)? I realize that it is a bit of a broad question, since different kinds of Deism exist, but just the general sort of Deism that exalts reason to combine religion and science with a god that is not involved in the world but started the Big Bang and left the universe to evolution and laws of nature (I hope this question is answerable; I might not be able to descend into further specifics than that, given my state of knowledge). Also, what would you say to a person who held to it (in hoping to persuade the person otherwise, perhaps by giving them something to think about)?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
What are some philosophical or theological problems with Deism?

Apart from it not being terribly interesting, not many. The only thing I could think of is maybe that a god who didn't reveal himself wouldn't be knowable (ie: we would be utterly unaware of his existence) but that objection might be answerable, depending on how such a god is conceived.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Philip said:
Apart from it not being terribly interesting, not many. The only thing I could think of is maybe that a god who didn't reveal himself wouldn't be knowable (ie: we would be utterly unaware of his existence) but that objection might be answerable, depending on how such a god is conceived.
That might be why I've heard (though it could be wrong) that Deism was difficult for people to rebut back when it was popular. Perhaps I should extend my question of "problems" to include whatever one might use to show it is in error. I was thinking about the knowability problem too; I suppose if a Deist acknowledged a "light of nature" sort of thing, so that God's existence was implanted in all minds in some way, then the person would know the god existed.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I guess the one other thing is that an apathetic god is not worth worshipping. In a world of Divine apathy, I'm with Hemmingway, Sartre, and Captain Ahab in a rage against the Heavens, thank you very much.
 

A5pointer

Puritan Board Sophomore
They are suppressing the truth just like all those under God's wrath. Speak the words of life to him presupposing that the one true "just" God exists. Using his belief as a starting point is great but you need not reduce the Gospel to an apologetic against the error of Deism or any other false belief for that matter. Tell him what you believe the best you are able. If the Lord wills the Spirit will work.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Philip said:
I guess the one other thing is that an apathetic god is not worth worshipping. In a world of Divine apathy, I'm with Hemmingway, Sartre, and Captain Ahab in a rage against the Heavens, thank you very much.
Yes, I suppose that perhaps--if the Ontological argument were accepted--such a being is not the greatest that one can conceive and so.... Well, I'm not sure what. But maybe there's something to look into there. "It were cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all, and then left it."--Calvin

A5pointer said:
They are suppressing the truth just like all those under God's wrath. Speak the words of life to him presupposing that the one true "just" God exists. Using his belief as a starting point is great but you need not reduce the Gospel to an apologetic against the error of Deism or any other false belief for that matter. Tell him what you believe the best you are able. If the Lord wills the Spirit will work.
:up:
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Yes, I suppose that perhaps--if the Ontological argument were accepted--such a being is not the greatest that one can conceive and so.... Well, I'm not sure what.

You're onto something. The god of deism is not worship-worthy (and the Ontological argument is using worship-worthiness as standard).
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Furthermore, the god of Deism might as well not even exist. Is there any system of morality or standards of justice and ethics that the god of Deism has revealed to mankind? If in fact such a god existed who created everything and then left us to ourselves, there is really no difference between this and simply saying that everything came to be through random chance and evolution. It all boils down to the fact that the god of deism does not provide us with any standard of morality or justice (why should such a god care at all what we do to ourselves?). There would still be no such thing as evil or good in the world, whether the god of deism existed or no god existed at all.

By the way, I do think the Ontological argument could be very useful here. I imagine that not many people would argue that the god of deism is worthy of any worship.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Does the God of deism uphold or sustain the universe by the word of his power? If not, how do deists explain the continuance of the universe and the laws by which it is governed?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Does the God of deism uphold or sustain the universe by the word of his power? If not, how do deists explain the continuance of the universe and the laws by which it is governed?

I think they would argue that their god set up the universe to run continuously. I'm not sure there would necessarily have to be a doctrine of immanence here.

Is there any system of morality or standards of justice and ethics that the god of Deism has revealed to mankind?

A consistent Deist would argue that morality is discovered (possibly even created by man) not revealed.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally Posted by Peairtach View Post
Does the God of deism uphold or sustain the universe by the word of his power? If not, how do deists explain the continuance of the universe and the laws by which it is governed?
Philip
I think they would argue that their god set up the universe to run continuously. I'm not sure there would necessarily have to be a doctrine of immanence here.

Is that consistent with the laws of science and the uniformity of nature?

Here's an article by Poythress on that subject.

God and Science: Has Science Made God Obsolete? | The Works of John Frame and Vern Poythress
 

A5pointer

Puritan Board Sophomore
These answers are well thought out and also well intended but we need not argue that our God makes more sense in a logical or as Paul would say in a sense of "wisdom". We must in our apologetic declare the gospel with the presupposition that our God (with His attributes and will revealed to us) is the only God. Beyond this foundation there is no gospel message. in my opinion philosophical arguments are unproductive and there fore unnecessary. We need simply tell people what we believe when given the opportunity. Our Lord will reap according to His sovereign decree. Speak boldly and leave it to the Spirit.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
in my opinion philosophical arguments are unproductive and there fore unnecessary.

But aren't you then requiring a leap of faith? As a Christian, I believe that I am called to use my mind for the kingdom in a posture of faith seeking understanding. To reason with unbelief is not the same as to admit its truth, nor does it mean giving up one's presuppositions.
 

A5pointer

Puritan Board Sophomore
in my opinion philosophical arguments are unproductive and there fore unnecessary.

But aren't you then requiring a leap of faith? As a Christian, I believe that I am called to use my mind for the kingdom in a posture of faith seeking understanding. To reason with unbelief is not the same as to admit its truth, nor does it mean giving up one's presuppositions.

Good question. We do know faith comes from hearing. And if we model Paul at Mars Hill, He acknowledges the audiences interest in gods and moves right into proclamation of our God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pointing out that the attributes of a false god don't make sense is in a way presupposing that the false god may exist. And yes proclaiming the gospel is a leap of faith. Faith that conversion is outside of our control. Thank God.
 

A5pointer

Puritan Board Sophomore
Pointing out that the attributes of a false god don't make sense is in a way presupposing that the false god may exist.

So Elijah was presupposing that Baal might exist when he taunted the false prophets on Mount Carmel?

Not sure where this is going. Respectfully I think you are mixing categories in introducing this question in the context of New Covenant evangelism. Conversation about whether the ancients including the prophets of YHWH held to a monotheism that did not exclude the existence of other gods would be interesting. Weak inferior gods when measured against YHWH.) But I am not seeing the relevance here.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
The deists depend on their reason ,and to meet them on that ground is fruitless.
Daniel Rowland preached," Reason is a goodly gift of royal extraction, but like Mephibosheth it is lame
in both feet." Preach the word Timothy is the rule,and is the sword that defeats the enemy.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Respectfully I think you are mixing categories in introducing this question in the context of New Covenant evangelism.

I don't think so. If to refute and to argue is to presuppose the possibility that the Scriptures might be false, then communication with the unbeliever is logically impossible. I'm no disciple of Van Til or Clark, but I stand with them on this point contra Barth. This is sounding like, "belief cannot argue with unbelief. It can only preach to it." Yet what is Paul doing in Acts 17? He is presenting the Gospel using a point of contact.
 

A5pointer

Puritan Board Sophomore
Respectfully I think you are mixing categories in introducing this question in the context of New Covenant evangelism.

I don't think so. If to refute and to argue is to presuppose the possibility that the Scriptures might be false, then communication with the unbeliever is logically impossible. I'm no disciple of Van Til or Clark, but I stand with them on this point contra Barth. This is sounding like, "belief cannot argue with unbelief. It can only preach to it." Yet what is Paul doing in Acts 17? He is presenting the Gospel using a point of contact.

Hey, that is what I said. Point of contact fruitful, answering every objection with logic or wisdom not fruitful. As to what precedes in your statement I am not able to understand what you are getting at.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Point of contact fruitful, answering every objection with logic or wisdom not fruitful.

So is logic no longer part of God's natural revelation? Is wisdom no longer from God? Is the fear of the Lord no longer the beginning of wisdom? As I understand it, all of God's people are to be lovers of wisdom, and therefore philosophers in the truest sense.

As to what precedes in your statement I am not able to understand what you are getting at.

If presenting a logical objection to X on the grounds of Y presupposes X, then really there's no objection possible. If I can't present a logical problem with unbelief without conceding it, but only preach to it (Barth), then really there's no point of contact. But there is a point of contact, therefore such objections are possible. Indeed we see them in Scripture: throughout the OT prophets, there is ridicule (argumentum ad absurdum) of idol worship; in Ecclesiastes, we also see the posture of unbelief taken to its logical conclusion of despair. If there is a point of contact, logical argumentation is not only possible, it is vital that we make use of it.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Philip, you make some excellent points. In response to your earlier statement that a consistent deist would say that we are discovering (or creating) our own morality, that simply brings up alot of questions for the deist. First of all, they have to show that a god that created the world and then left it to its own devices actually cares about what the creatures do to each other. Why would the god of deism judge anyone for what they have done? How could we as humans possibly know what the standards were if the god of deism does not actually intend to reveal himself (nor actually cares about his creation)? And if we 'create' our own morality, then morality simply reduces to moral relativism, and therefore absurdity.

But I agree that we can use our minds (including logical and philosophical arguments) to defend our beliefs. There are several times in Scripture where it describes Paul as debating with other groups, including Jews. He didn't just share the gospel, but he probably engaged in a back and forth dialogue with people as a means of explaining the gospel as well.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
First of all, they have to show that a god that created the world and then left it to its own devices actually cares about what the creatures do to each other.

Except that the whole point of deism is that he doesn't.

How could we as humans possibly know what the standards were if the god of deism does not actually intend to reveal himself

The standards, for a deist, might simply be independent of god, or implicit in the created order.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
I agree, the point of deism is that he doesn't care. And given that the god of deism doesn't care about his creation, then creatures themselves ought not feel constrained about any system of morality that may or may not even exist.

Ultimately, the standards for the deist simply devolve into moral relativism, because one deist might have a completely different view of morality than another deist. Who is right? Neither one of them knows.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Ultimately, the standards for the deist simply devolve into moral relativism, because one deist might have a completely different view of morality than another deist. Who is right? Neither one of them knows.

Not necessarily. You might have a version of Kantianism.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Well, even Kantianism devolves into relativism, because not everyone agrees with the same Kingdom of Ends that Kant comes up with. Any system of morality that tries to find its foundation outside of the Triune God of Scripture will always find itself on unsure footing, without a firm foundation (and therefore ultimately crumbles).
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Well, even Kantianism devolves into relativism, because not everyone agrees with the same Kingdom of Ends that Kant comes up with.

So disagreement=relativism? Wow, I guess Christian ethics devolves into relativism, then, given the number of things we all disagree on. True, we have a common standard, but a common standard rarely solves disagreements where the parties have personal commitments. It's very true that in theory, there is a method that can solve disagreements, the trouble is that in practice, the disagreements usually persist regardless.

Any system of morality that tries to find its foundation outside of the Triune God of Scripture will always find itself on unsure footing, without a firm foundation (and therefore ultimately crumbles).

But the problem of saying this regarding deism is that it's not an ethical system---this isn't necessarily a question that it's trying to answer. It may end up being an unanswered question as a result, but every system has plenty of unanswered questions. It's just a matter of which ones you're content with leaving unanswered.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
I would not argue that disagreement equals relativism. But what I am saying is that when you study Kant's Kingdom of Ends, the system of morality that you come up with always ends up being founded upon the Ad Populum Fallacy. That is what I meant when I said that it devolves into absurdity. Again, any system of morality that tries to build its foundation upon anything other than Christ will always be reduced to absurdity and inconsistency. If a consistent, logical, and fully justifiable system of morality could be built apart from Christ as its foundation, then it would seem that the uniqueness of God as the sole source of truth and morality would be in danger.

I understand that Deism was not trying to necessarily solve or produce an ethical system. But if that is the case then it is no more useful than neo-Darwinianism. If what you say is true about deism, then a deist is on the same moral ground as the atheist. There would be absolutely no reason to adopt a deist worldview when provides no difference or benefit compared to atheism.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
But what I am saying is that when you study Kant's Kingdom of Ends, the system of morality that you come up with always ends up being founded upon the Ad Populum Fallacy.

Ad Populum is a fallacy if and only if the popularity of X is irrelevant to its truth-value. This, of course, could conceivably be a point of contention here.

I understand that Deism was not trying to necessarily solve or produce an ethical system. But if that is the case then it is no more useful than neo-Darwinianism.

Actually, it might solve for the Darwinian argument against naturalism, so I would disagree.

If what you say is true about deism, then a deist is on the same moral ground as the atheist.

Well which atheist and which deist are we talking about? Is the atheist in view here Bertrand Russell? Rudolf Carnap? A.J. Ayer? Carl Jung? Johann Fichte? As for deists, is it Voltaire? Benjamin Franklin? Tindal? Antony Flew? The diversity of ethical beliefs within the groups that affirm either proposition (for each of these views is, in reality, a single proposition) is astounding. Neither one of these is necessarily trying to produce an ethical system.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, but consider how the Kingdom of Ends functions. I could go into great detail about Kant's theories, but I will simply quote one section from his work Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals:

"The natural end which all men have is their own happiness. Now humanity might indeed subsist, although no one should contribute anything to the happiness of others, provided he did not intentionally withdraw anything from it; but after all this would only harmonize negatively not positively with humanity as an end in itself, if everyone does not also endeavor, as far as in him lies, to forward the ends of others. For the ends of any subject which is an end in himself ought as far as possible be my ends also, if that conception is to have its full effect with me."

Now, when we boil everything down in Kant's thinking, you can make very similar connections between it and Utilitarianism. The greatest happiness for the greatest number of people becomes the final goal (humanism). Such is the logical outcome of a worldview that is man-centered, not God-centered. Yet terms such as 'usefulness', 'happiness', 'harm', and 'hurt' are all dependent per person. Not everyone agrees on what those things are, or what constitutes 'goodness'. That is why such a man-centered system of morality is reduced to a majority vote (and hence is fallacious). When you remove God from any system of morality, you ultimately have to find some other method of determining what is right and wrong. Usually this comes down to society deciding through popularity what will be the 'flavor' of the day.

How would deism solve for the Darwinian argument against naturalism? And even if it did, why would it matter? It would have no effect on how men are to treat each other.

In the end you can list as many deists and atheists that you want. The problem is you will rarely find a consistent one. Many deists are influenced by other worldviews (such as Christianity), and in fact they borrow from that worldview and incorporate it into their own. The same is true for atheists. There are many atheists who do 'relatively good' things to other people. They can't justify why those things are particularly good, but they do them anyway. Their foundation is usually: "because I was raised that way" or "because that's what society thinks is good". Is their system of morality truly consistent, logical, and justifiable? Not at all.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
That is why such a man-centered system of morality is reduced to a majority vote (and hence is fallacious).

Not necessarily fallacious, given that you haven't demonstrated why an objective fact of the matter apart from anyone's judgment is absolutely necessary.

Then too, many are content to live with a vague answer to this question.

How would deism solve for the Darwinian argument against naturalism?

By denying naturalism, thus solving the epistemic conundrum that natural selection would place us in if naturalism is true.

And even if it did, why would it matter? It would have no effect on how men are to treat each other.

Because it solves the epistemological problem in a way that most forms of atheism couldn't.

In the end you can list as many deists and atheists that you want. The problem is you will rarely find a consistent one.

Tu Quoque. This is as much an objection to Christianity as to deism or atheism---in fact, I daresay that in terms of acting out their beliefs (however disjointed those beliefs would be if they were systematic, which they often aren't trying to be), atheists and deists are much more consistent than most Christians.

Many deists are influenced by other worldviews (such as Christianity), and in fact they borrow from that worldview and incorporate it into their own.

So? Proposition A may be consistently incorporated into system x or system y. This is like arguing that "Professor MacGuffin's new widget can't possibly work because he used a part from Dr. Jones's perpetual motion machine." Does using an idea that I read in Duns Scotus make me any less of an Occamite in my understanding of universals?

You are, in other words, assuming internalism with regard to justification. That is, in order for belief X to be justified, I have to have a belief Y to explain it (I don't believe this, by the way; if an epistemology rules out the belief in Christ of the down syndrome man at my church, it is false). The question is not whether one can come up with an internally self-consistent theory---for that, I recommend Leibniz or Berkeley. Perfectly logical and self-consistent---also great jokes on philosophers who take them seriously.

But seriously, how do we justify a belief? If I have belief X, what justifies it? I am justified in belief X if I have sufficient warrant for that belief (that is, my faculties are properly functioning). I believe that all men, as per Romans 1, have the law of God written on their hearts, and therefore they are competent to make moral judgments, and therefore are justified. Is this necessarily consistent with the metaphysical story they tell themselves about it? No. But your metaphysical system has nothing to do with whether you are, in fact, competent to make moral judgments (and therefore justified in doing so).

The whole point of this is to say that you have to take each deist and each atheist individually. Because each one has a unique account of morals or whatever you wish to discuss. But neither or these bare propositions constitutes anything resembling a system.
 
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