[asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Date: Sat Aug 15 2009 - 02:07:49 EDT

One thing I've noticed in the various science & religion debates is the
beating the deists tend to take. You can see this now and then in the TE/ID
debates - TEs accusing ID proponents of believing in a God who is a cosmic
tinkerer, more brilliant (or not so brilliant) engineer than God. ID
proponents accuse TEs of believing in a God who is remote, either to the
point of impotence (God "starts up" the universe, perhaps, but controls and
foresees nothing) or being downright impersonal (God foresees everything to
the point where natural processes unfold according to God's will, such that
anything but secondary causes are not needed, or are needed in fantastically
few historical moments).

I can understand why Christians take it as an insult. Our faith is founded
on the concept of a God who loves, and loves personally. There's even that
famous quote from Pascal, "The God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of
Jacob *not the god of the philosophers*!" And I agree with Pascal that the
difference is paramount. Aquinas, giving his five ways, admitted outright
that even if his five ways work, they alone don't get a person to
Christianity - revelation and additional arguments are needed there.

But here's why I bring this up. I think for many people - I'm thinking here
in particular of western agnostics and practical (non-energized, ambivalent)
atheists - arguments that expressly bring one to at the very least a deistic
God, are necessary, but neglected. Not that there aren't popular arguments
that apologists admit only get someone as far as deism or a basic theism
(Craig is pretty open about this with regards to the cosmological argument,
ID proponents - whatever criticisms may be lodged against them - expressly
admit that their arguments get one to a Designer or Designer(s), etc.), but
a very popular reply is "Fine, even if that's the case you can't be sure
it's YOUR God! Or any religion's God!" - and just about every time I've seen
this charge made, the apologist's reply is to quickly move on to additional
arguments from revelation, from the historicity of the gospels, etc. And the
impression is that A) the apologist doesn't really view the existence of or
belief in at least a deist God as all that important [Reasonably so,
considering what's on the line], and therefore B) has little to no interest
in defending such an anemic, or at least vague, view of God.

I think this attitude is, while understandable, profoundly mistaken. And I
think it's particularly relevant as a topic about the interplay between
science and faith for numerous reasons, but these spring to mind: A) If even
deism is right, then atheism is wrong, B) Someone who moves from
atheism/agnosticism to deism is vastly more apt to seriously investigate the
claims of Christianity, and C) Even prominent atheists/agnostics (Lawrence
Krauss, most recently. Even the rabid and increasingly off-kilter Coyne, if
I recall) are willing to cede the compatibility of mere deism with science.

I'd further point out that, just as the scholastics (and the greeks they
worked off) realized, an intellectually rigorous path to God has to navigate
through the deistic/basic theistic waters at some point if the belief is not
already there. In other words, arguments and evidence that pointed at, or
was compatible with, such a simple God were recognized as important. One of
my favorite acts of Paul is when he takes note of the altar to an Unknown
God and makes use of it in his evangelizing, which I think is comparable

Either way, I bring this up to the list because I wonder: Am I alone in
this? Does anyone else see the value of deistic arguments and insights in
the west, as a stepping stone towards evangelizing a skeptical or jaded
audience? Or maybe there are pitfalls to this which I have not considered.
Whatever the case, I thought I'd put it to the ASA list for discussion.
Obviously, I personally think arguments and attitudes along these lines are
neglected, and are so to our detriment. And I think it's particularly
important in the science/religion interface debate, and with certain
audiences. (On this note, I'll relate how I often hear stories about how
missionaries will spend a lot of time learning the culture, beliefs, and
history of the peoples they're visiting in order to find the best way to
approach them about Christ. I think a similar approach is desperately needed
in the west.)

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Received on Sat Aug 15 02:08:50 2009

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