Irrational Hatred of Rational Religion

Joel Watts shared this image on his blog:

While green could have more naturally been used to indicate a positive situation, the maker of the image chose to throw in a snarky “but still irrational.”

What, pray tell, if anything, is irrational about Deism?

Deism is a viewpoint that only accepts that which is rational, eschews the supernatural, and only has room for the God that many philosophers have posited, an abstract prime mover.

One may disagree with Deism if one wishes. But isn't the suggestion that it is irrational an indication either that the person who made the graphic took a swipe at a label he or she does not fully understand, or that the individual has a general dislike of any and all sorts of religion which might itself be deemed irrational?

 

 

  • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

    Half-hearted attempt warning – I’m not sure I believe this, but I’ll give it a go!

    Deism is irrational because it is entirely superfluous. A deistic God has no effect nor explanatory power. It has no effect by definition, and no explanatory power because it simply adds to the list of things requiring explanation (why is there something rather than nothing? – because of God — why is there a God rather than nothing? – just because).

    Thus as something that has no practical effect, no philosophical use, and no qualities, it is the very definition of non-existent. To ‘believe’ in such a thing demonstrates nothing more than a need to give a referent to the term ‘God’. To postulate some existent based on nothing more than the way we happen to use language, is irrational.

    … or something like that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Well, I think that a Deist can respond that the universe seems to be neither eternal nor self-explanatory, and so positing something that by definition exists is not irrational. Why something exists rather than nothing remains a puzzle, but not necessarily more so than for a worldview that simply posits that universes simply pop into existence.

      …or something like that. ;-)

      • Philip Gray

        It’s turtles, turtles, all the way down.
        Except that rationally, it cannot be turtles all the way down.

      • David_Evans

        “the universe seems to be neither eternal nor self-explanatory”

        To adapt Wittgenstein *, what would it seem like if it seemed to be eternal and self-explanatory? Neither property is one we could expect to see just by looking.

        * http://blog.creativethink.com/2009/07/good-old-wittgenstein.html

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          But our universe seems to have a beginning, and so I am not sure how your comment relates to that. In an eternal steady-state universe, we could indeed simply identify the universe as that which always existed. And so there would be no reason to look beyond it to a cause. One might still do so, but the universe itself would not provide grounds for doing so the way our universe does.

          • David_Evans

            Our universe has a beginning only in the sense that general relativity points to a state of infinite density at a definite past time. But GR is not a complete theory of the world. It has to be supplemented at least by quantum mechanics and possibly by theories such as eternal inflation. The latter (if I understand it) postulates an eternal state in which universes such as ours arise continually.

            By the way, some theists argue that the more esoteric theories of physics have been invented simply to avoid the necessity of God. This is not true of inflation theory – it was invented to solve a problem in cosmology and has made successful predictions about the cosmic background radiation.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              It may be that there is a version of inflation theory that avoids the problem of a beginning. I know that Stephen Hawking sought to offer one. But there is not one, to my knowledge, which has this property and clearly fits observable data in a way others do not. Lawrence Krauss recently offered a different approach to the matter, but he too had to posit pre-existing laws of physics to have our universe come “from nothing.” And so my impression is that physicists think our universe points beyond itself to something else which is called for to account for its existence.

              • David_Evans

                “But there is not one, to my knowledge, which has this property and clearly fits observable data in a way others do not. ”

                I think you are right about that. It’s very difficult to decide between different models observationally. There is some hope of doing so with space-based gravitational wave detectors but that’s still some way off.

                “And so my impression is that physicists think our universe points beyond itself to something else which is called for to account for its existence.”

                Again I think that’s true. In brane theory and eternal inflation our universe is just a small part of, and causally dependent on, something more extensive in space and time. My impression however is that for most physicists the “something” is purely physical.

            • Omarzellal
      • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

        God is not self-explanatory, for the reasons I initially gave, it is worse than not being self-explanatory, it is strictly not explanatory at all. Positing a God does not explain the existence of itself. To presume that creating an idea of God provides an explanation for its own existence is irrational.

        The universe may not be eternal, but is maximally temporal. There is no such thing as time without it, therefore there is no place or time in which it can ‘pop’ into existence. There is no eternity before the start of time itself. To assume there must be time before the start of time because we struggle to comprehend the beginning of time is irrational, again. It is a projection of a human cognitive challenge into an ontological claim. We cannot comprehend something, therefore it must not be true.

        (I know we both know these rhetorical roads, and have travelled them before, and probably neither of us are particularly convinced by answers on either side, but like I said, I was trying to be game!)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          If time begins with our universe, that doesn’t reduce the sense that the beginning of time seems to call out for some explanation, in a way that some sort of timeless reality does not. Hence the philosophical penchant for explaining our temporal reality in terms of something that transcends it and that is timeless.

          • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

            A timeless reality is no more explanatory than a maximally temporal one. The universe existed since the beginning of time. ‘Timeless’ simply is another way to posit a context into which to place time. It doesn’t explain why there is time, because it does not explain why there is a context in which time can begin. When we think of a ‘context’ we’re merely restating the objection to taking seriously the idea of the beginning of time itself.

            There is no need to figure out what was happening before the beginning of time. The question itself is irrational.

            (round, and round we go…)

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              A maximally temporal reality with a beginning is not self-explanatory, in the way that a steady-state universe might be, on at least one level.

              • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                Why not? What does the latter explain that the former doesn’t, without assuming some context in which both are located?

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  Moments point beyond themselves to earlier moments. Even a first moment does so.

                  • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                    Exactly, but there is no earlier moment, by definition. To ask the question is to *assume* that there is an eternity of time, and that the ‘beginning of time’ we see is merely a name for a particular point in that continuum.

                    That is what I mean by this being a feature of a failure to take seriously the origin of time. If time began at the beginning of the universe, then the first moment doesn’t, by definition, point to an earlier moment.

                    Can you see how the assumption of that continuum of time, even at the first moment of time, prejudges your conclusion. It is no wonder you then find a story with an eternity more explanatory: you assumed its existence in the first place.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      No, I don’t think so. Everything in our experience that has a beginning was begun by something. And so to say that the universe has a beginning but unlike everything else in our experience it simply occurred with no prior cause is to go against everything that we know about events. Positing an endless string of events is perhaps just as unsatisfactory as positing an arbitrary first one. Positing something that simply exists does exactly what you propose – suggests that there can be a category of timeless realities and not just of temporal things. But many find that less difficult than positing that something simply began with no prior cause.

                      To be clear, I am not suggesting that positing an eternal first cause is necessarily more satisfactory than other options. My point is that it is by no means obviously less satisfactory, and then to try to show why some find it more appealing than other options.

                    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                      t simply occurred with no prior cause is to go against everything that we know about events

                      With respect, you’re fundamentally missing the point about the beginning of time. This is another way to restate your assumption that something could have happened before the beginning of time. I’m not saying the beginning of time happened with ‘no prior cause’, I’m saying the beginning of time had ‘no prior’, by definition.

                      If one takes seriously, and I mean really seriously, the fact that time began at the big bang, then there can be no ‘prior’ cause in any meaningful sense. Right?

                      That the amount of time there has ever been is finite does not mean there is any more of a ‘prior’ to it than if there had been an infinite amount of it so far. The universe has existed since the beginning of time either way, and the question of what happened before that is equally nonsensical in both cases.

                      Now – I have to say that I’m arguing for this idea somewhat experimentally, as I’m not convinced that physics does make this implication. But that’s besides the point, I hope you agree, if there was a finite beginning of time, then the question ‘what happened before that’ is no more sane than asking ‘what happened before eternity’.

                      My point is that it is by no means obviously less satisfactory

                      Yes, this was the caution I expressed with my original argument. I’m not sure ‘deism’ (though it seems we’ve rather abstracted deism in this case, anyway) is particularly any more ‘irrational’. Because they both seem to me to do the same thing: posit some arbitrary stopping point to the chain of being. The only thing against deism is that it goes one stage further than is strictly necessary – hardly a damning indictment.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well, since neither of us is wholeheartedly in this, perhaps we can leave it there. I would simply add that we do not know that time began at the Big Bang. That is the beginning of our universe, but there are many cosmological models which envisage something else temporal (Big Crunch, multiverse) existing prior to it. And the very fact that physicists point to such things, or to pre-existing laws of physics, suggests to me that some physicists do not find your logic as persuasive as you do. ;-P

                    • arcseconds

                      Didn’t Kant already deal with this in the the ‘first antionomy’ in the Critique of Pure Reason?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Didn’t Kant already deal with everything, somewhere? :-)

              • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

                It seems to me that what you are saying is only true if you first *assume* that something is eternal. Then in the later case, you have no more work to do, because the eternal universe can be identified with your eternal assumption. Whereas in the former case the universe with a beginning is embedded in your eternal assumption, and you have to fill the gap (the literally infinite gap between eternity and when the universe begin within it). So why is taking the beginning of the universe seriously and not assuming some eternal reality less explanatory?

      • Lobi

        Dawkins made some similar point with pantheism. He called it sexed-up atheism, on the grounds that if everything was divine, then being divine was mundane, general and not really worth fussing over. It would almost be a matter of labels – divine and natural would be the same.

    • VBoheme

      Atheism –

      Why is there something vs nothing?
      - Because that’s how it happened through science.

      Did god create anything?
      - No.

      Why is there no divine force vs having god?
      - Because it can’t be proven.

      — Which – brings up the point of deism. Deism asserts that IF there is a god (semantics, but we’ll use that), then it would exist on a higher level of reality or complexity than we could feasibly understand.

      Thus – just because it can’t be proven, doesn’t mean it’s disproven.

      It’s the classic logic illustration –
      Bobby is a boy.
      Boys play with trucks.
      Because Suzy is a girl, she doesn’t play with trucks.

      It’s been a long time since intro to philosophy, but that’s the basic idea.

      • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

        The point of the ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ objection to deism (and theism) isn’t that science has a good answer, but that positing the existence of another thing doesn’t explain why there is something rather than nothing. Believers tend to put forward God as if it explained why there is something rather than nothing, but of course, that is a logical absurdity.

        And there’s a nice little point half way through your post where you stuff the rabbit into the hat. When you say ‘because there is no proof’. Why is that the rabbit? Because it is the classic argument to the burden of proof. Proof is only for math. It is a useful heuristic that anyone who talks about proof about theology is probably talking nonsense (and I include Plantinga and Decartes in that).

        The point is not about proof, but about rationality.
        1. Posit: In the absence of any evidence for something, it is irrational to believe it exists.
        2. Observation: Deists put forwards the need to explain existence as evidence of God.
        3. Observation: Deists have no other direct evidence for the existence of God.
        4. As discussed above: God does not explain existence.
        5. Therefore, deism is irrational.

        You don’t need Bobby in your illustration of denying the antecedent. But I’m not sure where you think I was committing that fallacy. As you can see above, the logic is sound. The axioms may not be.

  • Evan Hershman

    Let’s not even mention the complete lack of any categories between “Spiritual” and “Fundamentalist.”

    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

      … or difficulty of fitting another color between yellow and blue that hasn’t been used elsewhere.

  • Unified Deism

    Deism has more explanatory power than atheism. It provides a root cause that supports the order we observe in the universe. Atheism doesn’t know how any of this came to be, either, but they “know” it isn’t God. It is intellectually dishonest.

    • BorealisMeme

      > Deism has more explanatory power than atheism.

      This is incorrect. It doesn’t explain anything, it merely makes an unjustified claim. When the answer is “we don’t know”, then any answer you substitute for that answer is an unjustified claim.

      > It provides a root cause that supports the order we observe in the universe.

      How exactly does it support the order we observe? Can you show that a deistic god is required for that order to exist? Do you have evidence showing how that order is established. Do you know what a deistic god could do to alter the parameters of the universe to alter the order we observe?

      > but they “know” it isn’t God.

      This is a misrepresentation of the atheistic stance. Atheism only requires that we not believe in gods, not that we can establish with certainty that gods do not exist. When dealing with cosmological origins, the answer we use is “we don’t know”, because (unsurprisingly) we don’t know. If you wish to assert that it is a god, you must provide evidence that this is true. Not asserting that it is a caused by a god requires no evidence.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Since the universe does not seem to be eternal, positing a first cause that has the intrinsic property of existence seems necessary. What that greater reality is like is something that I would expect anyone committed to rational discourse would confess that we can say very little about. But the fact that Deists use the term “God” for that prime mover, as per its use throughout the history of European philosophy, and not in any anthropomorphic sense, does not make Deism irrational.

        • Philip Gray

          “positing a first cause that has the intrinsic property of existence seems necessary.”

          Why? We base our knowledge on the commutative geometry that exists in our universe. Each area of our universe communicates through the laws of nature how each other area must behave.
          It’s difficult to fathom a non-communicative geometry, where there is nothing, no laws of nature to communicate how any contained area is supposed to behave.

          We’re prone to look for reasons due to our evidence from observing at the macroscopic level, yet practically every quantum physicist accepts a lack of reason at the quantum level.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Something which has a beginning requires explanation in terms of something which caused it. And so, whether it is the laws of physics, an uncaused cause, or a multiverse-making-mechanism, most would agree that there is a need to account for our non-eternal universe in terms of something that existed before it did.

            • Philip Gray

              I also reject the idea of something from nothing.
              Something must have caused something to come from nothing.

              What is nothing; There’s no evidence nothing exists.

            • TomS

              Without getting into the soundness of your premises, I don’t
              see how the deist hypothesis explains anything. What are the details of a deist explanation?”I can’t think of any other explanation” doesn’t offer an explanation.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                I suppose that’s a fair point, if one that can be made equally about simply positing a multiverse, or the laws of physics, with no means of accounting for where they came from or why.

              • VBoheme

                Deism does, but not in a blatant way. The deist belief is of causality. That there was a force that caused everything to be set in motion.

                But really, what does atheism explain? Nothing. Only that scientific explanations are the sole basis for belief. Which is fine. But by default, atheism doesn’t provide an explanation in and of itself.

                So asking deism for a explanation is just as fallacious as asking atheism. They serve a similar purpose. Rational thought and a nonreliance on religion as such. Deism exists because rationally, we do see patterns and order in existence, and explain that through the existence of a driving force.

      • VBoheme

        > This is incorrect. It doesn’t explain anything, it merely makes an unjustified claim.

        What exactly is justified by the assumption that there is no god? The atheist standpoint is “It can’t be proven, thus there isn’t.” Which was the Church’s stance to Galileo, I might add.

        > How exactly does it support the order we observe? Can you show that a deistic god is required for that order to exist?

        The deistic concept of divinity lies in the natural order itself. Your wording shows you know little of deism itself. The deistic “god” is not a personified being as seen in most religions. God is in the details (as it were) with deism. But again you say “we don’t know” as a justification that there is no god. Review your logic for inconsistencies. Dawkins made this assumption too, and started this trend of militant BS about things atheists “assume” as law.

        > This is a misrepresentation of the atheistic stance.

        No. Atheism by definition is the active rejection of theism. It uses the same root as theism itself because it acts in opposition. Atheism = there is no god. Non religious stance = we don’t know/don’t care.

        And the only reason I add anything to this is because that annoys me beyond words. When people “believe” something they either know nothing about or can’t explain and thus feel the need to be militant about it, bashing everything that conflicts.

        Ruse made the point that Dawkins’ and New Atheism are just as fanatical as religion, and for the same reasons. Atheism relies on a blind faith. Just like theism. The difference is that atheism’s faith lies in the opposite.

        Deism is rationalism. Louis Pasteur – nothing comes from nothing. We accept the fact that there is likely not a personified god as seen in revealed religion, but it’s also unlikely — based on our ability to understand — that there is no guiding principle or natural order.

        Deists don’t worship a “god” but revere the natural order. God is personified in religion because that’s how people understood the concept. And most deists, if we were faced with evidence that there was, in fact, no god, we would be willing to accept it because rational thought and acceptance of evidence are core beliefs.

        Deism is about morality and the human capability of thought. Not, as you seem to think, about a blind worship of a fairy tale creator.

  • Herro

    Believing that “magic man did it” surely is irration, and although deism uses that only in regards to a very limited scope (hence it being green) it’s still silly.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      No one who knows anything about Deism could characterize it as positing “magic” or “man.”

      • Herro

        “a personal supernatural being” Potato, potato.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Indeed, your reformulation is no closer to something that I can imagine a Deist saying.

          • Herro

            Do you think that a deism is a rejection of “personal”, “supernatural”, “being” or all or some of those?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Your view of God as being some supernatural GodMan a la Renaissance paintings has been left a long long time ago by many strands of more liberal religiosity. But the atheist evangelists love to strew him out as their trump strawman every chance they can.

          • Herro

            Andrew, what I said had nothing to do with Renaissance paintings. Theists generally think that their god is a person (with opinions and so on) and that he’s supernatural. This isn’t “my view of [g]od”.

  • Octavo

    I think the reason Deism is still considered irrational is that it posits a mind as a source for all things, when the evidence indicates that all minds are contingent on highly organized matter. I don’t think irrational is the right word, though. It just doesn’t line up with what we know about minds.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      But even physicists are of the view that whatever pre-existed the cosmos has mind-like qualities in the sense of order and reason which seem to characterize to laws of physics. This is why physicists, while not envisaging an anthropomorphic deity, often still feel that the term “God” is appropriate for use in denoting this mystery. It is God in the philosophical and Deistic sense, not in the sense of anthropomorphic theism.

      • Gary

        “God”, in the mathematical sense. :-)
        Physicists develop all the cosmology ideas with the mathematics as the driver. Then try to back it up with any experimentation that is possible. Gee, Back to Gnostics, knowledge verses reality. Valentinus would have loved 14 dimensions.

      • Octavo

        “But even physicists are of the view that whatever pre-existed the cosmos has mind-like qualities in the sense of order and reason which seem to characterize to laws of physics.”

        Which physicists state that there has to be teleologically imposed order on the universe?

        As far as I can tell, physicists don’t even agree that anything pre-existed the cosmos.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I have yet to encounter a physicist who does not think that either a Big Crunch, or a multiverse, or the laws of physics, preceded our cosmos, since our cosmos shows signs of having a beginning. That is what I was referring to.

          • Octavo

            Last I checked, Hawking doesn’t think that there is such a thing as “before the universe”, but my information may be way out of date, since he has revised his thinking many times.

            • Octavo

              Sean Carroll seems to think that it’s unjustified to even talk about anything before the first second after the big bang.

              “While the Big Bang model – the picture of a universe expanding from a hot, dense state over the course of billions of years – is firmly established, the Big Bang itself – the hypothetical singular moment of infinite density at the very beginning – remains mysterious. Cosmologists sometimes talk about the Big Bang, especially in popular-level presentations, in ways that convey more certainty than is really warranted, so it is worth our time to separate what we know from what we may guess.

              The success of primordial nucleosynthesis gives us confidence that we understand what the universe was doing about one second after the Big Bang, but anything before that is necessarily speculative. Even the formulation “one second after the Big Bang” should really be interpreted as “one second after what would be the moment of infinite curvature in the most straightforward extrapolation to earlier times.” But there are different degrees of speculation.”

              Of course, he goes on to speculate quite a bit in the essay.

              http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Yes, I confess I’m not up to date on whether Hawking’s proposal for a bounded spacetime panned out or not. But as you indicated, clear answers at present run out at the Big Bang, but that doesn’t mean that it is irrational for thinkers to ponder what might have preceded it.

                • Octavo

                  I agree. It’s not irrational to ponder what might have preceded the cosmos. When deists talk about someone having started the universe, I’m not sure what they mean, though. Since minds are always a property of highly organized bits of matter, are they saying that they think an atomic/Democritean being started the big bang?

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    I won’t claim to speak for Deists, and there are at least as many views among Deists as there are in any other grouping of human thought. Many Deists would not use an anthropomorphic term like “someone” when referring to God, which implies a personal being of a theistic sort. Most would probably be fairly agnostic other than to talk about the fact that the observable universe is intelligible, suggesting that attributes such as reason or reasonableness and intelligibility may be deduced as being inherent to whatever the Cause of this intelligible cosmos might be.

                    • Octavo

                      Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Thanks for taking the time to chat!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And on the subject of what may have been before or be outside our own universe… http://io9.com/evidence-that-our-universe-may-have-collided-with-anoth-565116455

  • http://aramaicdesigns.blogspot.com/ Steve Caruso

    Whoever made this infographic didn’t proofread their work either.

    They spelled “QUOTES” as “OUOTES.”

    Must have been in a hurry; hence blanket statements. ;-)

    Peace,
    -Steve

  • TomS

    I’ve resisted this long, but I can resist no longer.
    Why the strange order to the colors?

  • swbarnes2

    Okay, so if “something” created the universe, what are you claiming are the characteristics of that “something”, and what evidence do you have to support those claims?

    Just to get things straight, are you going to say that “acting in ways which are empirically detectable” is one of the characteristics of this “something”?

    Because I think it’s mighty irrational to say you believe in something, about which you can say literally nothing, except perhaps that it exists.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Most people agree that “something” created our universe. Some would say it is a multiverse-producing mechanism we do not understand, some would say it is the laws of physics the origin of which we cannot account for, some would say it is a personal deity that simply exists, and some would refrain from saying more than that whatever reality pre-existed our universe, it resulted in our universe coming into existence with the seemingly rational attributes that our cosmos has, and would emphasize that trying to say more is beyond our ability at present.

      So the debate, for most, is not about the existence but the attributes of that which brought our cosmos into being.

      • swbarnes2

        It seems very odd to insist that the laws of causality as we know them in the post-Big Bang have to apply just as we understand them at the point in space and time when space and time began. Seems akin to insisting that electrons must orbit atoms like planets orbit suns.

        But okay. So would you agree that the evidence doesn’t rule out “Grad school project” as the origin of our universe?

        Do you think that “since the big bang, acts in ways which are empirically detectable” is an attribute of your Deist God? If so, what evidence underlies this conclusion?

        If our universe was created by a grad school student, one of whose attributes was “sabotaged the work of colleagues, and stole their ideas, like the idea to make our universe”, what implications do you believe this would have for us homo sapiens?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          What makes it my Deist God?

          If our universe were created by a grad school student, I think it would say a lot about the quality of the grad school, as well as explaining a great deal about why the universe is as it is. But I think that, given what we are talking about, such statements can only be either humor or anthropomorphism.

          • swbarnes2

            Well, of course yours. Didn’t you have a whole post about how people can’t criticize the concept of “god”, because so many people apply the term to things like cats and the universe, and obviously those things exist?

            So I’m being specific. I’m not asking what every Deist on the planet thinks, I’m just asking you, so there can be no mistaking exactly what claims are being examined here, because you and you alone are enumerating them.

            It would “say a lot”? What exactly would it say? Exactly what conclusion do you think the evidence supports?

            If you think that debating the attributes of a Creator Deist god is fruitful, how do you debate the supposition “The creator of the universe was a dishonest grad student”? You clearly think that the attributes “dishonest” can’t apply to the Creator, how do you demonstrate that rationally with reason and evidence?

            Can you enumerate any claims that you hold about the attributes of this Creator Deist God that you believer are accurate, and not just humor or anthropomorphizing? If Deism is rational, you should be able to lay out the evidence and reasoning clearly.

            Perhaps the evidence supporting the claim “The universe can’t possibly be the byproduct of some non-intelligent phenomenon” would be a good place to start.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Are you for some reason assuming that I am a Deist? My point about Deism is made from my perspective as a religion professor, and someone who appreciates Deism’s historic stance of applying reason and critical thinking to religious subjects. Modern day atheism owes a lot to such thinkers and regularly quotes them with approval – hence my surprise at the graphic’s swipe at Deism.

              Or are you asking me to recommend a book about Deism, because you are interested in learning more about the subject?

              • swbarnes2

                I don’t see how one can argue for the rationality of Deism, or anything, without at least a single tangible claim to assess. You must have some in mind, or you would not have written that Deism is rational. I just want to know one such claim.

                So Deism applies reason and critical thinking to what questions, exactly? For instance, if the question is “What attributes does God have”, what are the rationally-based claims and beliefs that Deism make to that question? You said there was a debate on that exact question, so you must have at least two such claims in mind on that topic, right? I just want to know what they are, so I can assess their rationality for myself.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  If you are not familiar with Deism, then why are you commenting on this post in the way that you are? Or if you a familiar with it, then why not discuss some particular Deist’s views? Why this beating around the bush and asking for someone else’s summary of a Deist’s views? I am puzzled as to what you are trying to accomplish, and why you are going about it this way.

                  • swbarnes2

                    I thought I was trying to assess one particular Deist’s views, but I guess I was wrong. And yes, I consider myself familiar with Deism, but I’m trying to establish an honest conversation, which requires getting all the premises out on the table up front, so that we know we are talking about the same thing. I don’t want to be talking about “God”, and discover after 20 posts that you really meant “nature” or “cats”, right?

                    Since you are the one who bristled at Deism being called irrational, you must have at least one argument in favor of its rationality. You must have in mind at least one claim which you think is rational. I should like to know what it is, and I don’t see why it should be harder than pulling teeth to get it.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      It is hard to get me to express my own Deist views because I do not self-identify as a Deist, although I have a great appreciation for that tradition and its pioneering role in the application of reason in the evauation of traditional religious claims.

                      Do you want to discuss Thomas Paine’s arguments against the status of Jewish and Christian Scripture as supernaturally revealed in The Age of Reason? That seems like a perfectly good example of Deism as rational to the utmost.

                    • swbarnes2

                      And still, I have no concrete claim to examine. I’m not asking for any claim that you personally believe is true, necessarily. I’m just asking for ANY Deist claim. Whatever you had in mind when you wrote “Well, obviously Deism is rational” would be fine. I’ve asked for that multiple times, I don’t see why it is so hard to enumerate.

                      I’ve read Age of Reason. But I thought I would be laughed out of the room, and accused of arguing against strawmen that post-Darwinian Deists all dropped a century ago, if I said that I was basing my understanding of Deism on that text.

                      Reading through Age of Reason a year ago, I kept thinking “Paine probably would have thought differently if he’d known about evolution, and modern chemistry”. That thought didn’t strike you when reading it?

                      You are making this harder than it has to be. Whatever Deist claims you had in mind what you wrote: “What, pray tell, if anything, is irrational about Deism?”, why can’t you just tell me what you had in mind there?

                      When you wrote “So the debate, for most, is not about the existence but the attributes of that which brought our cosmos into being.”, why can’t you just tell me what those competing claims are?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Why do you view the Deist challenges to claims that various scriptures and texts are divinely revealed to not be a specific claim? If you don’t like that one, why not pick another yourself? Why this dancing around?

                      Of course anyone, scientist, philosopher, theologian, freethinker, whatever, who wrote in the past, would probably have written differently if they lived in our time. Does that have some bearing on the discussion? Are you suggesting that those who wrote rationally in the past might have written irrational things if they wrote today?

                    • swbarnes2

                      Okay, finally a concrete claim. Deists say that the Jewish and Christian scriptures are divinely revealed.

                      So what is the impeccable rationality behind that claim? Where’s the evidence? Why is it rational that God would give divine revelation to one group at one point in history, and fill it with so much ahistorical, unscientific, immoral malarkey? Or, if you are going to argue that God divinely revealed a lot of stuff to a lot of people, what is the impeccably rational way that we determine what’s divine revelation, and what’s not?

                      “Are you suggesting that those who wrote rationally in the past might have written irrational things if they wrote today?”

                      No, I’m suggesting that arguments which might have seemed rational given a paucity of evidence are no longer rational. If Thomas Paine had been able to google “parasitic worm ant”, maybe he wouldn’t have said that nature demonstrates the attributes of a good and beneficent God, or that morality ought to be derived from the goodness and beneficence of nature towards its creatures, because he would have realized that the evidence of nature doesn’t support that.

                      Darwinism basically demonstrates how you can get wonderfully complex phenomena without a mind directing their creation. Doesn’t that have bearing on the argument that something with “mind-like qualities” must have created the universe?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well, I guess you haven’t been entirely honest about what you’ve read. Or read what I’ve written here carefully. Deists argue that the Jewish and Christian scriptures are NOT divinely revealed.

                      I take it you haven’t really read Thomas Paine, then? Or did you just completely forget the entire thrust of The Age of Reason?

                    • swbarnes2

                      Sorry I misread you, but I don’t see the point of crowing about how rational Deism is because it asserts that water is wet. But I guess I phrased my request poorly. I thought it was obvious that Deism fails as a rational religion, even if it holds some number of rational propositions, if it stands on irrational ground, so therefore, the claims worth arguing over are the ones that appear at first blush to be irrational, but where Deists actually have the evidence to render them rational. For instance, at first blush, it violates Occam’s razor to insist that a mind is necessary to explain the existence of a complex phenomenon, when we have so much evidence that mindless processes create such a wild diversity of phenomena. But if Deists have hard, applicable evidence to apply to the case of what is and is not necessary outsides the bounds of space and time as we understand them, and that that evidence demonstrates that a mind as we understand the term is in fact necessary, or if they have direct evidence about beings that exist outside of space and time, I’d like to hear it.

                      I didn’t want to be the one furnishing the propositions to be discussed, because I didn’t want to be accused of arguing against 200 year old strawmen, But as you don’t seem to be furnishing any propositions that aren’t 200 years old, perhaps my fears are ungrounded.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Can I make a suggestion? Why not read something about Deism, or by a Deist, and then we can talk after that? Your statements still suggest that you do not have the faintest idea of what Deism does and does not claim.

                    • swbarnes2

                      I did. I read Age of Reason.

                      But if you want to argue that modern Deism is not substantially changed by the last 200 years of extraordinary scientific evidence of the mind-boggling number of phenomena which can be explained perfectly well with reference only to mindless processes, then I think you’ve lost the argument, because I don’t see how you can say a belief is “rational” if it is totally unmoored from evidence. I think you also have a problem if you are claiming that arguing over the attributes of God is rational, when the existence of that God isn’t demonstrated, but that’s a separate argument.

                      But if you wish, do some reading on parasites. Look at a lot of pictures. (Did you google “parasite worm, ant”? The large picture from the top hit is the kind of thing I’m talking about) Then you can defend Paine’s argument that nature is evidence that God is good and beneficent, and that the moral duty of man is to imitate the moral goodness manifested in nature. (I’m getting this from chapter 9, part I, and the recapitulation at the end of part I)

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      The view of a benificent God faces problems from all sorts of evidence, some of which was available in the 18th century, some of which we at least know more about today. But me remind you of how this conversation unfolded. You disputed that Deism is rational, even though you later showed that you know so little about Deism that you mistakenly attributed to Thomas Paine the opposite of his view. Now you are taking one particular belief of one individual Deist which you have finally looked up and are treating that belief, not distinctive of Deism, as though evidence against it has any bearing on the rationality or otherwise of Deism (as opposed to the persuasiveness of a Deist of times gone by in light of contemporary evidence). You still seem not to be aware of what Deism is and what it does and does not say. And so I am still confused as to why you are pressing ahead with this? If you do not know enough about Deism so as to not confuse it with its opposite, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish?

                    • swbarnes2

                      I did read Age of Reason, and I am sick and tired of being called a liar. I misunderstood you, not the text.

                      I misunderstood why you were bringing forth a “water is wet” argument as if it were relevant. I was trying to avoid assuming that 200 year old claims were still operative, and I walked into another assumption; that you would bring up claims worth discussing. Pretty much any religious belief system you would call irrational would still believe that the science of ballistics is accurate, so it would make no sense to bring it into an argument about the rationality of that belief system. It’s not enough to believe a few rational things to be a rational belief system; everything has to be rational, especially the foundational claims.

                      If you don’t want to discuss Paine, then fine. But you said “Read a text, and then we’ll discuss”. So I picked a text, asked about a claim from that text, and now I’m in the wrong for doing that? Are you claiming that modern Deists have actually rejected the claims I quoted? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could show me texts demonstrating that, but if they haven’t, and the evidence shows those claims I cited to be irrational, then your original claim is refuted.

                      You say that Deists engage in the totally rational debate of what attributes God possess. What are the points of that totally rational debate, and how can it be rational without first demonstrating that the God whose attributes they are discussing exists?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I am happy to discuss anything that you like, provided you don’t say that an author we are discussing says the opposite of what he says.

                      I had in mind the classic Deists simply because Deism is nowhere near as popular as it once was. But atheists quote Deists all the times as allied voices for reason, and that is why your dismissal of Deists as irrational, while not seeming to know much about Deism, puzzled me, as did the original image that this post was about. And I assumed that if you had actual reasons for viewing Deism as irrational, you would not need to be provided with the details of Deism, but would already know them, having based your view of Deism on your actual familiarity with the phenomenon. So far, you have convinced me that my assumption was too generous.

                    • swbarnes2

                      It’s insane how circular this is.

                      Like I said multiple times already, I don’t want to bring up a point, and have you shoot it down with “No one believes that any more, no one has believed that in 200 years! Why are you arguing against strawmen!” If you asked me to talk about the technical challenges of my work, I would not have taken 10 posts to provide any, and I would not have replied with anything inane, like “fast computers are expensive”. I would have brought up points actually worth discussing.

                      So I’ll bring up the point I’ve brought up multiple times once again.

                      You say that Deists engage in the totally rational debate of what
                      attributes God possess. What are the points of that totally rational
                      debate, and how can it be rational without first demonstrating that the
                      God whose attributes they are discussing exists? What evidence do Deists bring to bear on their arguments about God’s existence, and its (their?) attributes?

                      Perhaps you want to start with the kind of evidence you find when you google “parasite worm ant”?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      If you wish to start with parasite work ants, then let me ask you whether you are not assuming (1) that a Deist must view the Creator as having humanlike benevolence (I assume your point in bringing that up relates to the problem of evil), and also (2) a very non-Deist view that envisages God intervening to specially create individual organisms like “parasite work ants”?

                      If you wish to talk about my work, then I will feel much more comfortable and at home. But such a conversation will obviously not be about Deism.

  • Philip Typaldos Waters

    I’d posit that deism is at a minimum irrational because they chose and continue to use an irrational name. If the deistic god is simply the word the very first thing that ever happened they should have chosen a better word.

    I could call it the “prime mover” an elephant the same way deists use the word god but it’s my own damn fault when people start thinking my definition has some relationship to large grey mammals from Africa.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      God is a reasonably good translation of the Greek word theos, which was used by ancient philosophers to denote everything from an abstract prime mover to personal anthropomorphic entities as in classic polytheism. There is no confusion except apparently among some who presumably grew up using the word in only one way, perhaps because there were only monotheists in their immediate context, and assume that the meaning of the word is limited to that narrow experience.

      • Philip Typaldos Waters

        And what percentage of people would you say fall into, “There is no confusion except apparently among some who presumably grew up using the word in only one way,”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          It is hard to say – given the point I am making, I am loath to try to generalize from my own experience. But I will say that I have sometimes assumed based on my own usage of a word and particular regional upbringing that I knew what someone else meant. When I discovered that they were using what I thought was a familiar term in an unfamiliar way that was accepted in their own region or tradition, I considered myself to have learned something and apologized for having misunderstood. I have never asked them to provide evidence that more people use the word their way rather than mine, as though counting how frequent use in a particular way predominates removes less frequent uses from the dictionary.

          • Philip Typaldos Waters

            My original post attempting to be humorous and snarky has apparently not gone over well.

            Can I ask a follow up question though. How often do you have to have this conversation about how the deistic god you believe in isn’t necessarily supernatural and could be something as simple as a fluctuation of energy across a dimension that no longer exists?

            If it happens all the time why wouldn’t you switch to another word to describe your belief?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Since I am not a Deist and do not teach on Deism per se (we do read Hume and some other works from the time when Deism was most popular in one of my classes, but the issue of how Deists use the term God has never been an issue for my students, at least that they have indicated), the issue has never come up to my recollection. The issue has come up in relation to pantheism and panentheism more frequently.

  • newenglandsun

    I’d say deism is irrational because you’re maintaining contradictory positions. Religion is about mysticism. Deism is about rationalizing mysticism away. Is it really even a religion?

    “having lost God through neglect [negligentes], we recover Him [religentes] and are drawn to Him” (St. Augustine, City of God X.3)


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