As with many other blog post ideas lately, this one came from the latest episode of The Atheist Experience, where a self-identified deist called in and started arguing that atheists should not be the enemies of deists because deists were so rational and logical and all that nonsense.
Sure, great claims, if only it was true. The problem is, it’s just not. I always found deism to be nothing more than misguided theism with no imagination. It’s got a lot of self-congratulatory, back-patting nonsense involved and it still manages to come to the wrong conclusion. Then it assigns characteristics to itself that fail miserably under even the most cursory evaluation. As Russell said on TAE, while deism may be somewhat better than theism, especially given it’s lack of churches and holy books and the inherent conflicts those things bring, it’s still got massive problems that deists refuse to address. If one actually cares about the truthfulness of one’s beliefs, deism isn’t any better, and in fact, is worse in some ways than theism. At least most forms of theism don’t try to hide their irrationality under a thin veneer of logic.
I wanted to address some of the “core beliefs” and point out exactly where they are problematic, if I may.
Reason? What reason? Now I suppose it depends on how you’re going to define your terms, which I think is clearly problematic in a lot of religious belief systems. Believing in something for which there isn’t a single shred of objective, demonstrable, testable evidence is not reasonable. The dictionary definition for the term is “to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic”. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, logic, and I mean pure logic, is very easily misused unless tempered by other forms of rational thought. Some people think that if they can form an idea into a valid logical syllogism, then it must be rationally valid. They are wrong. Just because they can come up with true premises, that doesn’t mean that their conclusion is going to be valid. Take for example, one of the classics:
- God is love.
- Love is blind.
- Ray Charles is blind.
- Therefore Ray Charles is God.
You take these truisms, sayings that are commonly heard, apply them improperly and come up with a conclusion that is wholly unjustified. Logically valid? Yes. True? No.
2. The order and complexity of nature and the universe make God self-evident.
No, this is the argument from ignorance, you don’t understand the complexity of nature, therefore you invent, out of whole cloth, the idea that some intelligence had to be responsible for it. This is no different than theism, deists just won’t put a name or characteristics on their imaginary friend. This is something that I’ll get into more deeply in the next question.
3. God’s full nature is incomprehensible due to limitations of the human mind and language.
Just like so many modern religions, they place any discussion of their god’s characteristics inherently beyond any ability to reasonably or rationally discuss. It always strikes me that these people are just giving up entirely too soon. It seems to me that there is nothing that is theoretically beyond the human mind and human understanding. Certainly, there are things that we don’t understand right now, but nothing I can think of that we can never understand, no matter how far we advance or how hard we try. It strikes me as a cheap dodge, we’re never going to get it so just stop thinking about it and believe. Sorry, that’s not the way a rational mind works. I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency among theists, and apparently among deists as well, that either we know everything there is to know right this second, or we know nothing and we never will. The only thing about the human mind that seems limited is the imagination of the theist.
4. God gave humanity reason and conscience so we could develop our own moral and ethical principles.
That’s a bald assertion for which no evidence exists. We have no evidence for God, we also have no evidence that God did anything whatsoever to provide mankind with anything. In fact, depending on what kind of deist you are, many think that their unnamed “something” started off the universe and then went away and never had a second thought about anything that happened in it. Man wasn’t part of this god’s plan because this god apparently never had a plan, beyond knocking over a beaker in his laboratory somewhere. Some deists won’t even claim that the creation of the universe was intentional. Therefore, given this statement, it seems to me like there are a lot of people using deism as a means to hide from the inherent irrationalities of theism. One question I often ask theists is how they know which god is real, considering there are thousands upon thousands of them that man has invented, how did they just so happen to pick the right one out of a hat, since they have no evidence to support their decision. I would suspect that the deistic claims of some people spring from a realization that they cannot justify any particular deity, but still want to have one. Then they do the same thing theists do, they arbitrarily assign characteristics to their unknown god which they cannot justify.
5. Human beings should be free to find, know and worship God in their own way. All views of God should be respected, so long as they do not cause harm or oppress the views of others.
All views are to be respected, so long as they follow your rules. Right. This seems to be a very accomodationist view, that nobody can ever be criticized, no matter how absurd, so long as they don’t criticize you first. This also smacks of universalism, the idea that all gods are the same god, even if nobody ever acknowledges them as such. Therefore, don’t say bad things about any religion because they’re all fundamentally the same. And of course, who gets to determine what constitutes “harm”? I’ve got a whole Religious Horror Show that proves just how harmful religion can be.
6. All human beings were created under God, with the same natural rights.
And finally, the all-too-common natural rights claim, which again comes without any evidence to support it. This is the same thing that we see among libertarians and I have yet to find any of them that can rationally justify the belief in natural rights. Please, will someone out there who believes in natural rights debate me? Try to demonstrate that these things actually exist and can be demonstrated, articulated and produce a means by which we can find what rights are actually true and which ones are not? This seems to be something that is wholly lacking among the natural rights crowd.
The problem I see here is that so many deists claim they’re better than religion because they’re not as bat-shit insane as many theists are. That’s not really comforting. It’s like the zombies in the fantastic Jonathan Coulton song Re: Your Brain, where the zombies try to convince their potential victims that they’re really not bad guys, they want to eat your brain, but at least they don’t want to eat your eyes too. Crazy is crazy, irrational is irrational, just because you’re not as crazy or irrational as those real whackos over there, doesn’t mean you’re get away scot free.
Long time readers may notice that when I talk about logic or reason, I almost always do it in the form of mentioning logic, reason and critical thinking in quick succession. One without the other can produce flawed results, all three together rarely do. A lot of deists try to claim the high ground when, in reality, their arguments aren’t any better, nor any more demonstrably factual, than their theist cousins. I don’t care how much lipstick you put on the pig, it’s still a pig and pigs just don’t qualify to be sitting at the dinner table with the rest of the actually rational folks who value logic, reason and critical thinking. You know, the people who actually care about truth.