Written by Jason Petersen
What is Deism?
Deism is the view that espouses that the observation of the natural world shows that there is a creator. They claim that you can only know God via reason and observation of the natural world. What will follow will be a refutation of deism, and it will demonstrate that the deist worldview is inconsistent and reduces to skepticism. Giving a precise definition of deism can be difficult, as there are varying views. However, this article will focus on the tenants of deism that are generally agreed upon by deists. Other articles may follow this one as well. Christopher Cunningham wrote an article on deism on this website in 2013.
Can God Truly be Known without Revelation?
The deist holds that God can only be known through reason and observation. The Christian, of course, will disagree. While there can be arguments given through natural theology, at best a Christian can only show that there are better reasons to be a Christian than an atheist. It would be impossible, for instance, to prove that just Jesus died on the cross for our sins by reason alone. Such a fact can’t be known by reason, it can only be known through revelation of God through scripture. Certainly, there is strong circumstantial evidence surrounding Jesus’ death that are best explained by Jesus rising from the dead; however, we could never get the conclusion that Jesus died for our sins without scripture.
What of the deist’s claim that God can only be known through reason and observation of nature? Well, in order to know God, you must know his nature. If you don’t know God’s nature, then you don’t know God. It is interesting that deists express skepticism of any written revelation such as The Bible. If such is the case, how can deists be aware of what standards for reasoning that their creator set? Their answer amounts to an assertion, “God gave us the ability to reason.” In order to know that God gave us the ability to reason, revelation would be required. A claim such as “God gave us the ability to reason” would come from our own reasoning. This would amount to question-begging, which is unacceptable for any theorem that is used to explain intelligibility.
Perhaps, however, the deist could posit the idea that “God gave us the ability to reason” as an axiom. Where would that get the deist? It would go no further than presenting it as a theorem, because such an idea is self-defeating. To know that God gave us the ability to reason would still require revelation. Positing the idea as an axiom will not resolve the problem. First principles must be consistent with its own worldview and it would also have to be able to solve other philosophical problems. No one could know the standards for discerning the validity of reasoning without revelation from God.
In the deist worldview, there is no authority or standard, this is because deism must necessarily start with reasoning and observation of the natural world. There is no revelation from God in the deist worldview, so how they can know that God can only be known through reason and observation is certainly problematic. After all, any way of being able to know how to discover God would require revelation. Reasoning and empirical observation simply cannot identify anything about the nature of the God they are trying to prove.
Deists also claim that God’s nature is incomprehensible; however, such a claim would require that we know God’s nature. As we have established, God’s nature cannot be known without revelation. This is yet another strike against deism.
Can God truly be known without revelation? The answer is “no.”
God Created the Universe
The deist claims that they can know that God created the universe. However, it is interesting to note that according to deists, God does not intervene is his creation. If such is the case, one must wonder why God created the universe at all. God instills no purpose or meaning in man or the universe. This would entail that God’s action was arbitrary, and therefore, the God of deism is arbitrary. It is also rather superfluous to argue to an atheist that God is necessary for the diversity of life when you believe that natural processes are sufficient to start life. Furthermore, one would have to ask why the deist God fine tuned the universe for life if he had no purpose for man.
God and Humanity
Another core belief of deism is that God created all men equal. Such an idea clearly would require revelation, which is something that deism rejects. Recall that earlier in this article, we noted that deists believed that God can only be known through nature and observation. How would equal human rights come from reason and observation? Or perhaps, the proper question is, “How can a deist know that God created all men equal by reasoning and observation alone?” It seems that such concepts are not provable by reasoning. After all, humans can’t discover God’s nature or purpose through reason alone. We can only know if God tells us. Of course, such an idea is incompatible with deism, because deism holds that God does not interact with man.
Deism Collapses into Skepticism
Deists believe that people ought to be able to worship God in their own way, as long as their beliefs do not harm the rights of others. They believe that all views of God should be respected, as long as they don’t cause harm or suppress the views of others. It seems that based on their hostility to Christianity, deists have failed to follow their own creed. Deists will gawk at revelation, and they will attempt to destroy worldviews that believe that there is such thing as miracles.
Of course, hypocrisy has nothing to do with the validity of deism. We ought to turn our attention to how deism reduces itself to skepticism. According to deism, we can discover God by reason and observation. However, this assumes the validity of the senses as well as the validity of reasoning. Of course, deism can adopt reasoning as its first principle, but then the question arises, by what standard would we weigh the validity of reasoning when we have no standard given to us by God? In deism, God gives no revelation, just because the deist posits that they can reason doesn’t mean that they are able to reason correctly. What of the God of deism? We can’t know his nature, how can we know that he isn’t lying to us? There is no way of knowing because there is no revelation from God, therefore, any view on God in deism is completely arbitrary. If man were to start from reasoning, how would we determine whose reasoning is valid and whose isn’t? Perhaps the deist could appeal to reality, but if the deistic God could be a liar, how would the deist know this reality is real? The deist simply can’t, because there is no revelation from God, and God’s nature cannot be determined by reason and observation, for the deist holds that God’s nature is incomprehensible. This calls the assumption of valid reasoning and valid senses into question, and, therefore, deism reduces itself to skepticism. If deism is true, all interpreted facts are arbitrary, because the deist must start with himself in order to try and find the truth. No one’s opinion can be more valid than the other due to the relativistic nature of the deist worldview.
When we take the presuppositions of deism into account, we can easily determine that deism is not a rational view to hold.