Thursday, February 23, 2012

Defending Deism

I have made it a habit for myself, when reading philosophy, to never stop at views that I am interested in but to always search for counter-views and counter-arguments and attempt, in my own silly little way, to reply to them. My arguments are mostly sufficient for myself but often I read objections to my objections and I have to re-think my position again. And I think that this thinking and re-thinking, making way for your mind to go past the barriers of tradition and one-dimensional-thought; I think that is something that I will continue to do mainly for how much I have learned following that particular paradigm than any other paradigm. I guess Alija Izetbegović says it best in his Notes from Prison: 

Only he who asks gets the answer. 

So in this particular post; I'll be viewing some arguments, or bits of arguments, attacking Deism. Deism is the philosophical view that admits God to exist but only as a First Cause for the Universe and does not intervene in our personal lives in any way or form. The classic analogy for Deism is that God is much like a Divine Watchmaker who, having made the watch, then let it run on its own. Deism admits God and the human ability to reason but rejects all forms of organized religion.

Though I have not seen it demonstrated yet, mainly due to my limited reading, I believe arguments for God often cited by Biblical theists can be made in the same vein to a Deistic, non-interventionist God. I am talking of course about arguments like the cosmological argument from contingency, the Kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument, etc. I think it's self-evident that these arguments are rather agnostic about the interventionism of God and therefore pose no particular problem to the Deistic worldview. It's also note-worthy that, of all forms of theism, Deism is the only one that seems a little less repulsive to some of the 'New Atheists', most prominently Dawkins who, when debating John Lennox, said that:
a serious case could be made for a deistic God 
Similarly problems that are posed to such arguments can also be posed to a Deistic God. So an argument from moral evil can be met with Plantinga's free-will response as well as rejections based on infinite regress that are raised due to the cosmological argument. In this post, however, I'll review only three simpler objections found from random writers on the web (atheists and theists alike). I'll then narrate my brief thought process about those arguments. The simple replies I mention are simply springboards for you to build your own arguments, or counter-arguments, and are not ripe arguments, per se.

Objection 1: God Intervenes With Miracles: 
God seems to limit His intervention in the universe to creation miracles and miracles that demonstrate His power and love
Full article here.

I think a lot of miracle claims, like the one above, usually have no basis in empirical evidence or in the arguments of logic and are, ultimately, unfalisfiable.

For the sake of argument, let's suppose God does allow miracles to be performed. Why does this eliminate the possibility of a non-interventionist God? It could well be the case that God created the universe with the tendency towards miracles that arise and that God has no immediate involvement in any miracle as the miracle happens.

Under this particular paradigm, the miracle is not unlike an 'Easter egg' in a piece of software. You don't see people proclaiming that the extra feature they found is proof that the programmer intervened directly with them while the program was running. But rather this 'Easter egg', this software miracle, was really part of the system all along. A special and seemingly strange part on first sight but yet, it was there all along waiting to be found and discovered. So my proposition, regardless of whether or not miracles can be based in empirical evidence, they are compatible with the image of a non-interventionist God that deism proposes. Deists, like Paine, however, do admit to the greatest 'miracle' of all: that of the very existence of man and nature.

Objection 2: The Fine Tuning Objection:
Yet, for a personal Being to so powerfully and meticulously formulate such a finely-tuned universe for the preponderance of Human life, it would follow that He would also have significant interest in humanity's existence
Full article here.

This is an interesting claim and it is the first time that I see the argument from fine-tuning twisted around to justify a personal God. First of all, I am not a fan of any argument from fine-tuning mainly because most arguments of this form are easily dismissed with the much more logical alternative of the anthropic principle or the modern cosmological idea of a multiverse or both of these concepts combined. The anthropic principle is a simple, but elegant, principle of cosmology that tells us that the Universe is not fine-tuned for the universe; the universe does not "fit" us, but rather we fit the Universe. Douglas Adams put it quite well in his 'sentient puddle' analogy:
  ... imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. 
Even if we do admit the Universe is fine-tuned for us existing in it; why does it naturally follow that God must have some significant interest in who we are, what we believe in, what we eat or drink, etc. which are ideas exclusively dictated by the theism proposed by most forms of organized religion.

Objection 3: Deism = Atheism:

So for any practical purposes, deism is indistinguishable from atheism. An entirely non-interventionist god -- one who doesn't intervene even with any afterlife we might or might not have, much less with this life -- is, in any useful day-to-day sense, utterly indistinguishable from no god at all.
Full article here.

This is an interesting objection but the trouble is that it assumes too much about deism and its proponents throughout history. Modern-day deists are, at best, agnostics when it comes to the afterlife, the nature of human existence, the existence of the soul and its immortality, etc. The only two ideas that deists confirm beyond any reasonable doubt are the existence of God and human reason which is most definitely not atheism.

It's also, I think, a very superficial idea to limit God to a 'day-to-day' God. Why is that assumed to be an essential idea for God? Isn't that begging the question against deism?

As I said before, my thoughts here are just springboards for you to try and think over these objections and over Deism in general.

Until we meet again,
Take care.  

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