An Introduction to Deism                      

  Jayson X, Deputy Director, World Union of Deists

Does anyone here have any children? I have one. His name is Zack, and he is currently nine years old. When Zack was about three years old, I did a little experiment with him.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." This is one of those nice sounding platitudes of the Bible, but what does it actually mean? Because this teaching is found throughout the New Testament in one way or another, I think it ultimately means believe everything that the Bible writers claim Jesus said. If we do that, we will probably go to Heaven. If we do not, we will probably go to Hell.  

With such thoughts in mind, I conducted my experiment. I pointed to a wall in my apartment and said to my son, "Zack, what color is that wall?" 

He promptly replied, "White," and he was correct. It was a white wall. 

However, I said, "No, Zack. That wall is not white. It is black." Then I immediately asked him again, "What color is that wall?" And guess what my son said. He said, "Black"!

Now, my son is not stupid, and he certainly knew the difference between white and black by age three. So why did he choose to disbelieve what his eyes and experience told him was true? Why did he choose to believe a lie? He chose to believe a lie because he trusted me. This is the type of trust the Bible writers say Jesus is encouraging us to have, but should we actually have it? Should we unquestioningly believe something just because someone told us it is true? Absolutely not! Even if that person is Jesus. 

Why should we believe something just because Jesus supposedly said it? Why not blindly trust Buddha or Mohammed or David Koresh? We should not blindly trust anyone! We should be a little skeptical of our own judgment because we are imperfect, and we should be even more skeptical of the judgment of others, because they also are imperfect and they might not be trying to help us as much as we hope. 

Incidentally, I am usually trustworthy. I hate lying in general, and soon after my son said black, I told him, "I am just kidding. The wall is white." Nor have I run a similar experiment on my son before or since. It was a once in a lifetime deception, but it was for a good cause. It proved just how foolish Jesus's teaching is! 

Why do we have to become like children to go to Heaven? Who benefits from adults becoming as gullible as children? Only people who want to mislead those adults! We should base our beliefs on reason not faith. Yes, we are imperfect, so sometimes our reason is flawed, but our reason is still the best way for us to know the truth. We should not accept anything as true if it contradicts our reason. 

Now, of course we all like to think that we base our beliefs on reason, but do we really? What is reason, and what are the implications of basing our beliefs on reason? 

Reason is one's ability to perceive reality as honestly and completely as one can, and then make logical conclusions based on what one perceives. Unless one is relying on reason, one is relying on superstitious thinking. Reason tends to embrace facts, and superstitious thinking tends to embrace superstitions. A superstition is a belief that is not based on reason. It is important to accept facts and reject lies because we have to understand reality to deal with it wisely. If a train is headed for us, we should use reason and get out of the way. We should not grab our lucky rabbit's foot and hope that the train misses us.

Not only does reason help us cope with reality, it also helps us be more moral. Mediaeval witch-hunts, the trial of Galileo, the Spanish Inquisition, and the current Arab-Israeli conflict are all examples of evil caused largely by superstitious thinking—or, if you prefer, a lack of reason. 

What did reason tell my son about the wall? It told him that it was white.  But what did superstitious thinking tell my son about the wall? It told him that it was black.  No harm done, you say. No one suffered and died from my little experiment. True, in this case. But what happens when people get used to embracing superstitions as facts? They embrace more superstitions. And what happens when people start believing major superstitions instead of just minor superstitions? They create major problems. 

What did reason tell Mediaeval Christians about witches? It told them that there is really no such thing as a witch. Most people accused of witchcraft are innocent, and the rest are lunatics or charlatans. 

But what did superstitious thinking tell Mediaeval Christians about witches? It told them that everyone accused of witchcraft was a witch and deserved to die, as it is written in the Bible: "A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death" (Leviticus 20:27). Many thousands of innocent people were tortured and murdered as a result.

What did reason tell people about the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun? It told them that they should investigate the theory and prove it correct or incorrect. In either case, no one had to be threatened or harmed. 

But what did superstitious thinking tell Galileo's captors and their supporters? The sun goes around the Earth because the Bible says so. Psalm 93:1 boldly proclaims, "[God] has established the world; it shall never be moved," and Joshua 10:12-13 adds, 

"On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD; and he said in the sight of Israel, 'Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.' And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. . . . The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about the whole day." 

Thus, the Earth supposedly stands still while the sun and moon circle it. If Galileo had not recanted his heretical (but true) theory that the Earth orbited the sun, he would have been murdered by these followers of the Prince of Peace. 

What did reason tell people about the Spanish Inquisition? It told them that the Inquisition was wrong. No one deserves to be tortured or murdered just because they are Jews, Muslims, or a supposedly heretical type of Christian. 

But what did superstitious thinking tell most Spaniards about the Spanish Inquisition? It told them that everyone in the whole world should be a Roman Catholic Christian and they should start that process right there in Spain. 

What does reason tell us about the ongoing Arab-Israel conflict? It tells us that the conflict has much to do with religious stupidity. The Jews believe they are the Chosen People, so they took back some land from the Arabs. The Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, believe that this supposed Holy Land should belong to them because their religion is much better than Judaism. Well, whom does the supposed Holy Land belong to? I'm not sure. Let's ask God. 

"Um, excuse me God. We've got a little problem here. The Jews believe you gave Palestine to them, but the Arabs believe you gave Palestine to them. Who should own Palestine?" OK, I'm bored. It has been 10 minutes, and God has not spoken to me. I guess that God does not favor the Jews or the Arabs. I guess God wants the Jews and the Arabs to use their reason to figure out how to live together without murdering or exploiting each other.  

But what does superstition say? That depends on what superstition you believe in. If you are a Jew or an American Christian, your superstition probably tells you that many Arabs should be killed. If you are a Muslim, your superstition probably tells you that many Israelis should be killed. Unfortunately, most people have not yet come far enough from the superstitions of the Dark Ages. 

Let's change the subject a little. I think that I have adequately demonstrated that it is far better to base beliefs on reason rather than superstitious thinking. Reason generally causes us to embrace what it true and good, and superstitious thinking generally causes us to embrace what is false and evil. But what religion would we have if we based our beliefs only on reason? 

The only choices I know of are Atheism, Agnosticism, and Deism. True Atheists base their beliefs only on reason and conclude that there is no God, that is no Supreme Being who purposefully created the universe. And true Agnostics base their beliefs only on reason and conclude that they cannot be certain whether God exists or not. 

Many Atheists and Agnostics maintain that their belief concerning God is not a religion. Atheists, for example, say that a religion must teach a belief, but Atheism is a disbelief, a disbelief in God to be precise. On the other hand, many people would argue that Atheism does teach the belief that there is no God. It is a negative belief, but it is still a belief. I respect both arguments. Yet for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Atheism and Agnosticism as religions. Please accept my apology if this offends you. 

Atheism and Agnosticism are much more familiar to many of us than Deism. We have probably heard many people on TV or in person claim to be Atheists or Agnostics, but probably few of us have heard many people claim to be Deists. What is Deism? Deism comes from the Latin word deus, which means God. Thus, Deism is the belief that the evidence for God's existence is much greater than the evidence against God's existence. So true Deists are people who base their beliefs only on reason and conclude that God exists. 

Do you base your beliefs only on reason, and do you believe that God exists? If you answered yes to these two questions, congratulations! You're a Deist like me! And we are not alone. Many great people throughout history were Deists: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking.

We know why we should base our beliefs—yes, even our religious beliefs—on reason, but why should we choose Deism over Atheism or Agnosticism? The main reason is that Deism is more likely to be true than Atheism. The universe is complex, magnificent, and balanced. If it were an accident rather than a work of God, it would almost certainly be homogeneous, bland, and chaotic. A haze of gray gas, is likely to exist without being created but not all the complex, magnificent, and balanced galaxies, stars, planets, and creatures of the universe. Therefore, God almost certainly exists. This is called the Argument from Design. In short, the universe seems designed, so it must have a designer. And a common name for this designer is God. 

The Argument for Design is not the only argument that favors Deism. There is also the First Cause Argument, which, simply speaking, disproves both Atheism and the existence of multiple Gods. The universe is full of things that exist. How did those things get here? Obviously, one thing caused another, and that other thing caused something else, and so on and so forth. If this is true—and it is obvious that it is—there had to be a first cause, one single first cause. Most modern Deists and Atheists agree that whatever caused the Big Bang was the first cause. The difference is that Deists believe that the first cause purposefully created the universe, and Atheists believe that the first cause was a haphazard act of Nature, perhaps a quantum fluctuation. 

Consider a human—me—for example. What caused me to exist? Here is the probable chain of events as I understand them: I am a human who came from other humans, and the first humans came from apes, and the first apes came from some other kind of mammal, and the first mammal came from a reptile, and the first reptile came from an amphibian, and the first amphibian came from a fish, and the first fish came from some other kind of multi-celled aquatic creature, and the first multi-celled aquatic creature came from a single-celled aquatic creature, and the first single-celled aquatic creature came from the Earth, and the Earth came from a nebula, and the nebula came from the galaxy, and the galaxy came from the Big Bang, and the Big Bang came from . . . something. 

Was that something God or a quantum fluctuation? Remembering the Argument from Design, we should conclude that that something is probably God. Thus, Deism is more likely to be true than Atheism. 

While Atheists and Deists are having these intelligent debates, Agnostics are looking on, either unable or unwilling to choose a side. This is not to say that either Agnostics or Agnosticism are stupid. Probably no mortal human knows for certain whether God exists or not. Many Agnostics are well-informed and intelligent people. So why should anyone choose Deism over Agnosticism?  

Deists believe in God because our reason tells us it is the most true and logical belief, not because we will receive any rewards for believing in God. However, if God does exist, God could provide benefits well beyond the power of humanity. Before I proceed, I should point out that Deism is a very simple religion that only teaches two things: One, we should base our beliefs only on reason; and two, reason leads us to believe that God exists—not the God of the Bible or Qur'an, but a Supreme Being who created the universe. Therefore, many Deists do not believe in the following benefits, but many Deists, like me, do. The existence of God allows for many wonderful possibilities. 

Because God exists, this life has profound meaning. There was a reason God created the universe and programmed it to beget life. God knew that creatures like us would someday evolve, creatures who can learn, think, understand, and change life on Earth and beyond for the better. God seems to have a very hands-off approach to managing the universe. If God works miracles at all, they seem like helpful coincidences, and they are probably few and far between.  

Perhaps God is like a scientist who built an unmanned spaceship like Voyager I or Voyager II. God could have fired the spaceship and just monitored its progress, or God could have occasionally intervened to steer the spaceship. The spaceship in this analogy can easily represent the whole universe, this planet, or even the life of a single creature like you or me. In any case, it is comforting to believe that God has a purpose for us, and that God might help us to accomplish that purpose from time to time. Because God exists, God might even love us and help us to be more good and happy right now. Think of all the good things God gives us every day. Not all of us equally enjoy these things, but we all know they exist and that many people do enjoy them. God gave life, that which sustains life, health, pleasure, beauty, and hope. Thanks to God's generosity, practically everything we truly want exists right now on Earth. The trick is to get it and share it. 

Because God exists, there might be life after death and true justice. This universe might be a school where God teaches and tests us. If we learn and do what God wants, we will be rewarded; and if we don't, we will be disciplined until we do. We should be good for goodness sake, but we should also be good because God might give us what we deserve once we die. 

All of this sounds very similar to some tenets of religions like Christianity and Islam. The difference is that a Deist can believe these things without sacrificing reason. The same cannot be said for those whose religions are based on superstitions. 

There is no compelling evidence that Jesus was the Only-begotten Son of God or that his death on the cross atoned for human sin. There is also no compelling evidence that Muhammad received the Qur'an from the angel Gabriel or that every assertion of the Qur'an is true. 

The Qur'an, like the Bible, is scientifically inaccurate. Like the Bible, it indicates that the Earth is flat and that the sun orbits it (Sura 16:15; Sura 78:6-7; Sura 21:32; Matthew 4:8; Rev 7:1). Furthermore, the Qur'an, like the Bible, advocates horrific actions. It tells Muslims to kill disbelievers wherever they find them, and it permits Muslim men to have unlimited sex with female slaves and captives of war (Kasem, Abul (2003). Islamic Terrorism and the Genocide in Bangladesh. Ibn Warraq (Ed.), Leaving Islam (pp. 199-200). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books). 

Unfortunately, the Bible has very similar doctrines. The Biblical god orders the extermination of the Canaanites, and Deuteronomy 21:10-14 declares, 

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

So an Israelite man can help massacre a girl's people, force her to marry him (which is a type of rape), take away her virginity, and divorce her. The god of the Bible is usually no better than the god of the Qur'an. 

All of us have to believe something. Thus, we all have to embrace a religion. To paraphrase an excellent song by the rock band Rush, "If we choose not to decide, we still have made a choice." The question is, What religion will we choose to believe? If we choose Deism, we can have the best of every religion. We can have reason and God. We can also believe in the true and good teachings of superstitious religions, while easily rejecting those teachings which are false and evil. 

Wise people throughout human history have chosen Deism, and think about how much better the world is because of their contributions. Now imagine how much better the world would be if the majority of humanity voluntarily chose to become Deists. It can and it should happen! If you are not a Deist already, please consider becoming one. All you have to do is base your beliefs on reason alone and believe that God exists. 

If you want to know more about Deism, please visit www.deism.com or email me at jayson@deism.com. May reason prevail!

 

                    posted by Brian Worley   April 9, 2010 Ex-Minister.org         All rights reserved

 



 



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