The concept of atheism and deism has long being associated with the belief in deities. This has always had some contracting doctrines with that of Christianity. Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists, while Deism is derived from the Latin word “deus” meaning “god“, is a theological/philosophical position that combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.
ORIGIN OF ATHEISM AND DEISM
The term atheism originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”, used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.
Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment—especially in Britain, France, Germany and the United States—who, raised as Christians, believed in one God but became disenchanted with organized religion and notions such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy and the supernatural interpretation of events such as miracles. Included in those influenced by its ideas were leaders of the American and French Revolutions.
THE CONCEPT: DEISM AND ATHEISM
In George H. Smith’s book ATHEISM – THE CASE AGAINST GOD, it is stated that rationality will not lead to God. That instead, God can only be brought about by rationalization. The book describes rationality as first finding evidence, then arriving at the idea, like Newton seeing the apple fall to the ground and then discovering the law of gravity. It then describes rationalization as first accepting an idea and then searching for evidence to support it, like someone inventing the idea of God and then saying God created the universe. Deism says it is rationality and reason that leads to God. To the Deist, the evidence is the creation and the idea of what brought about the evidence is the Creator. There is absolutely nothing known to man that created itself. For example, if someone shows us a computer, and tells us that all the individual parts that make up the computer just came about by chance, that they somehow just formed into a perfectly working computer system all by themselves, we would be foolish to believe that person. Reason, if we use it, won’t let us believe a statement like that. Likewise, if someone tells us the ever growing creation and its perfect order “happened” by pure chance, we are under no obligation to believe them. From our own experience we know everything created has a creator. Why then should the creation itself be different? There is, however, one quality the creation has that makes leaving its existence to chance even more remote. That quality is motion.
Turning again to Thomas Paine we find the following pertinent observation he made regarding atheism in a speech to the Society of Theophilanthropists in Paris, France, shortly after the French Revolution:
“In the first place, admitting matter to have properties, as we see it has, the question still remains, how came matter by those properties? To this they will answer, that matter possessed those properties eternally. This is not solution, but assertion; and to deny it is as impossible of proof as to assert it.
“It is then necessary to go further; and therefore I say – if there exist a circumstance that is not a property of matter, and without which the universe, or to speak in a limited degree, the solar system composed of planets and a sun, could not exist a moment, all the arguments of atheism, drawn from properties of matter, and applied to account for the universe, will be overthrown, and the existence of a superior cause, or that which man calls God, becomes discoverable, as is before said, by natural philosophy.
“I go now to show that such a circumstance exists, and what it is.
“The universe is composed of matter, and, as a system, is sustained by motion. Motion is not a property of matter, and without this motion, the solar system could not exist. Were motion a property of matter, that undiscovered and undiscoverable thing called perpetual motion would establish itself.
“It is because motion is not a property of matter, that perpetual motion is an impossibility in the hand of every being but that of the Creator of motion. When the pretenders to atheism can produce perpetual motion, and not till then, they may expect to be credited.
“The natural state of matter, as to place, is a state of rest. Motion, or change of place, is the effect of an external cause acting upon matter. As to that faculty of matter that is called gravitation, it is the influence which two or more bodies have reciprocally on each other to unite and be at rest. Everything which has hitherto been discovered, with respect to the motion of the planets in the system, relates only to the laws by which motion acts, and not to the cause of motion.
“Gravitation, so far from being the cause of motion to the planets that compose the solar system, would be the destruction of the solar system, were revolutionary motion to cease; for as the action of spinning upholds a top, the revolutionary motion upholds the planets in their orbits, and prevents them from gravitating and forming one mass with the sun. In one sense of the word, philosophy knows, and atheism says, that matter is in perpetual motion.
“But the motion here meant refers to the state of matter, and that only on the surface of the Earth. It is either decomposition, which is continually destroying the form of bodies of matter, or recomposition, which renews that matter in the same or another form, as the decomposition of animal or vegetable substances enters into the composition of other bodies.
“But the motion that upholds the solar system, is of an entirely different kind, and is not a property of matter. It operates also to an entirely different effect. It operates to perpetual preservation, and to prevent any change in the state of the system.
“Giving then to matter all the properties which philosophy knows it has, or all that atheism ascribes to it, and can prove, and even supposing matter to be eternal, it will not account for the system of the universe, or of the solar system, because it will not account for motion, and it is motion that preserves it.
“When, therefore, we discover a circumstance of such immense importance, that without it the universe could not exist, and for which neither matter, nor any nor all the properties can account, we are by necessity forced into the rational conformable belief of the existence of a cause superior to matter, and that cause man calls GOD.
“As to that which is called nature, it is no other than the laws by which motion and action of every kind, with respect to unintelligible matter, are regulated. And when we speak of looking through nature up to nature’s God, we speak philosophically the same rational language as when we speak of looking through human laws up to the power that ordained them.
“God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon.”
In addition to motion acting as a perpetual preserver, it also acts as a continual source for the universe’s constant expansion. Every second the universe is expanding at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second). According to Astronomy Magazine, 2/14/92, page 49, “Astronomers presently believe there isn’t enough mass in the universe, even with dark matter, to stop its expansion.” This exciting realization should fill everyone with unlimited appreciation when we realize we are a part of this amazing and spectacular universe! The Creator is immeasurably generous!
Many things were not knowable in the past that are knowable today. At one time Europeans believed it was impossible to know what was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: but they were wrong. As we learn more about the sciences, we are learning more about the Power that put those principles in place. An eternal Being, as Thomas Paine said, “whose power is equal to His will.”
Deism is a theological theory concerning the relationship between the Creator and the natural world. Deistic viewpoints emerged during the scientific revolution of 17th Century Europe and came to exert a powerful influence during the 18th Century Enlightenment. Deism stood between the narrow dogmatism of the period and skepticismToday, deism is considered to exist in two principal forms: classical and modern where the classical view takes what is called a “cold” approach by asserting the non-intervention of deity in the natural behavior of the created universe, while the modern deist formulation can be either “warm” (citing an involved deity) or cold, non-interventionist creator. These lead to many subdivisions of modern deism which tends, therefore, to serve as an overall category of belief. Despite this classification of Deism today, classical Deists themselves rarely wrote or accepted that the Creator is a non-interventionist during the flowering of Deism in the 16th and 17th centuries; using straw man arguments, their theological critics attempted to force them into this position.
- Armstrong, K. (1999). A History of God. London: Vintage. ISBN 0-09-927367-5
- Berman, D. (1990). A History of Atheism in Britain: from Hobbes to Russell. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04727-7
- Buckley, M. J. (1987). At the origins of modern atheism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Drachmann, A. B. (1922). Atheism in Pagan Antiquity. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1977 (“an unchanged reprint of the 1922 edition”). ISBN 0-89005-201-8
- McGrath, A. (2005). The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. ISBN 0-385-50062-9
- Thrower, James (1971). A Short History of Western Atheism. London: Pemberton. ISBN 1-57392-756-2
- US dict: dē′·ĭzm. R. E. Allen (ed) (1990). The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
- “Deist – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary”. Merriam-webster.com. 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-10.
- “Deism”. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2012. In general, Deism refers to what can be called natural religion, the acceptance of a certain body of religious knowledge that is inborn in every person or that can be acquired by the use of reason and the rejection of religious knowledge when it is acquired through either revelation or the teaching of any church.