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What happened to Deism

01 February 2013, 14:04

A debate on religion or a lack thereof has been going on ever since I started to read and contribute to the News24 forum, and, according to some commentators, ad nauseum. Hardly a day passes without  believers (mostly Christians)  and unbelievers (Atheists) tackling one another.  The Christian viewpoint seems to be that Christianity is the cornerstone of Western morality, apart from determining what will happen to us in a presumed afterlife, while Atheists regard the many highly improbable events described in the Bible, the miracles, the  concept of the Trinity  and the narrowly defined set of moral restrictions as ridiculous. Besides, atheists do not believe in an afterlife. This conflict is not new, but has increased in intensity during the 20th century.  An early disagreement between organized religion and a highly regarded dissident was the expulsion of  “the prince of philosophers”, Baruch Spinoza, who did not believe in the biblical,  personalized God, by the Talmud Torah of Amsterdam in 1656.  

Nonetheless, Christianity provided Andrew Lloyd Webber with the background  to  some of his most popular works, such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Requiem”.   Earlier Richard Strauss used the character of Salome in his opera of the same name, the banishment of the Jews from their homeland by Nebuchadnezzar provided Verdi with the theme for his opera “Nabucco” and  Camille Saint-Saens used the biblical story of  Samson and Delilah in a  highly acclaimed opera of the same name.  Add to that the many oratoria and popular Requiems.   I can remember a beautiful performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Cape Town some years ago, while Handel’s Messiah is a favourite and often performed. It is, therefore, clear that  Christianity is not only a  cornerstone of Western morality, but also deeply embedded in Western culture. 

Has sufficient penetrating thought really gone into “Atheism” to make it an attractive and convincing alternative to Christianity?   Islam seems to have positioned itself such as to reconcile 20th century cosmological discoveries  regarding the origin of the Universe with what had been always been in the Quran, and, therefore, in the Islamic view recent progress in cosmology is not regarded as being  in conflict with the role of Allah in it all. The response of Christianity to the Big Bang theory was, and I suppose remain, mixed, with some theologians and physicists  accepting it as evidence in favour of theism. God thus created the Universe out of nothing, ex nihilo.  “Atheism”  explained  the origin of the Universe, also ex nihilo, by implicating something called vacuum fluctuations, in a Universe that has a total energy of zero.  But why would such a vacuum fluctuation be a once-off event and give rise to the relatively stable Universe, containing also the solar system that we live in?  It is, however, the intricacy, order  and complexity of Nature and laws governing it that baffled the greatest of minds and that lead them to believe in a higher intelligence which they called God.

If we are to accept an article by Francois Snyman ” in this forum on “What is an Atheist” as representative, their main defining characteristic is a disbelief in Gods and miracles. It is not clear to me, from the many arguments presented in this forum only, that Atheists concern themselves with topics such as why the Big Bang ever happened, the complexity of  the laws of Nature or the origins of life.

In an earlier article Atheists were called upon to unite and form a society, which I suppose will be a sort of denialist religion. Now, interestingly,  such a society, the World Union of Deists,  has existed for almost 20 years and their views are presented on their website, Deism.com.  They claim the intellectual prowess of a number of very influential  people as being representative of their creed, amongst them Thomas Jefferson, who played a major role in drafting the constitution of the USA and Albert Einstein, whose theories have  had a major impact on modern perceptions of the Universe, such as the role of gravity in the curvature of space.  Einstein saw a study of Nature as the gateway to an understanding of  God. He did not believe in  a personalized God that man has created in his own image, but rather as the source of the complex laws that govern all of Nature. The following interesting perspective (from Einstein and Religion by Max Jammer, Princeton University Press )  has been attributed to him:


"I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist.

We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations."

And in the “Quotable Einstein”:

“The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that , compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of  human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

I can really associate myself with both these quotations. And it always helps if you can get the great man on your side.

What deists believe in is explained in Wikipedia:

Critical elements of deist thought includes:

  • Rejection of all religions based on books that claim to contain the revealed word of God.
  • Rejection of all religious dogma and demagogy.
  • Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies and religious "mysteries".

Constructive elements of deist thought included:

  • God exists, created and governs the universe.
  • God gave humans the ability to reason.

Wikipedia has a very extensive section on deism that can be accessed at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism 

But let us see what else is on the Deism website, Deism.com., and on its main menu i.e. the first place a potential convert will look:

Well, you can buy yourself a bumpersticker that says: GOD  GAVE  US  REASON  NOT  RELIGION. Will cost you $5.00 each or $8.00 for two (I suppose you could then use them as doorstickers; so why not then buy four and ask for a discount?). That will really work well and I suppose it will fit the atheist mindset too, don’t you think?

You can subscribe to the hardcopy Quarterly journal  Deism. Will cost you a mere $20 for  the special introductory edition and then just $80 for an annual subscription.

You can buy a series of 18 books arming yourself with knowledge about Deism for a mere $137, but if you buy them all together you  get a massive discount of $57.

And then there are Deism lapel pins – another great way to get the word out about Deism, and they are really high quality:

We are now offering high quality professionally produced Die Struck hard enamel 1.25" Deism lapel pins as pictured above! Each pin is stamped using Die Struck process into brass and the recessed areas are filled with Hard Enamel which is then fired at a high temperature. This produces a jewelry quality pin with a high level of detail and color. Each pin is highly polished to a brilliant luster and smoothness and has a butterfly clutch fastener.   Cost you a mere $8.00.

For $9.00 each you can buy lovely 8 X 10 inch glossy prints featuring Leonardo da Vinci and Marie Curie, bearing quotations by these great scientists.

It goes on and on, this Deist market place, and by the time a ripe convert to the Deist creed emerges, like from  a shopping mall, he/she can only conclude that the best things in life are FREE and no Deism for Me!!  What a pity; such good ideas and such poor taste.

So, please Atheists, do not go this way. 

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