The Slippery Slope of Deism
Sep 18, 2010

The Slippery Slope of Deism

The origin of our universe often gets debated as support for either deism or atheism. It is my contention that these two viewpoints are less different than they may first appear provided one is explicitly careful about what I term the "slippery slope of deism". From the naturalist perspective, the origin of the universe does not require a deity and indeed our current understanding of physics indicates that the very concepts of time and hence temporal causality originate at the big bang requiring no previous cause of our universe's origin. From a deist perspective, the origin of the universe requires a deity to have created it. I find the difference between these two be one of semantics and holds little meaning, a position that it innately critical of deism for that is the theory of the two which conventionally attempts to ascribe further meaning to its claims. 

I pause to note two conditions needed to frame my point. Firstly there should be a clear distinction with regards to deism vs theism where the word "deity" here means merely  "that entity which created the universe" and ascribes no properties, such as anthropomorphization, as given by any theistic religion. Most debates about deism either implicitly or explicitly quickly start piling on further connotations as to what this deity might be. This is the "slippery slope of deism" where additional properties get ascribed to the deity not justified by merely the "universe must have a creator" argument. What my point shall be is to show that if we remain devoid of any of these further unjustified connotations then the difference between natural origins and deistic origins is vacuous and one merely of loaded definitions. 

Secondly, I am just going to assume, despite disagreeing that it is necessarily true, the assumption that the origin of the universe requires a cause at all. Without this assumption the deity argument has no merit at all as the origin of the universe doesn't imply a cause without it. As mentioned earlier, the concept of temporal causality depends on time and if, as science postulates, time begins at the big bang our very notion of causality that motivates this assumption doesn't apply or even exist. It is a heuristic and not a demonstrable fact of physics that all effects have causes. Nevertheless, I assume for the purpose of this discussion, and to give the benefit of the doubt to the deists, that the effect, namely the origin of the universe, does indeed have a cause. 

Given this assumption needed in the deists argument and remembering our previous desire not to ascribe any unjustified connotations we now see the irrelevancy of this whole question.  Either the universe's origin was effected by some unknown (although there are some physical theories) process we call "natural" or perhaps "physical" or alternatively the origin was effected by some equally unknown (although their are some theistic theories) process we call a deity. It is simply a matter of what word we use to describe this process. Since we cant ascribe any further properties to the cause of the universe's origin, to give it a loaded name is disingenuous and doesn't add further meaning. The compelling aesthetic beauty, the innate mystery and wonder of the universe are no more or less poignant should we call a rose by any other name.

My point is of course vacuous in the following sense. Since I have removed all additional assumptions and connotations (such as it being omniscient or even an entity) about this deity to the point that the concept is meaningless it of course results in my conclusion that using the word deity or not has no meaning since it was I who stripped it of meaning. However since none of the additional properties and connotations of the word deity (starting at things like it being an entity and ending at theistic properties like benevolence) follow from the assumption that the origin of the universe requires a cause to create it, there is little reason for us to even call this such a loaded term as a deity.  Should it be true that, as the saying goes, that all paintings require a painter and likewise all creations require a creator, a priori we can ascribe no further meaningful properties to it. 

While the above is unapologetically critical of deists, it is not in support of the atheist claim. Indeed, attempts to describe the universe as definitively not the product of a deity as described above are equally subject to reduction to merely empty names. The concept of a deity here has been trivialized to the point that arguing for or against it is meaningless. If one wishes to call the unknown, compelling majesty that explains our universe's existence "God" I can raise no objection; however, I would submit we should focus on understanding the magnificence of the universe that we exist in for it's own sake and worry less about what loaded name we give to the nature of its creation. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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