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#224 Deism and Revealed Religion

August 01, 2011

Dear Dr Craig,

I'm a Catholic from Karachi, Pakistan currently residing in _______________. I have been doing a lot of reading the last 10 years or so, mostly (comparative)religion, history, the research and the occult/freemasory/international banking and so on. Recently,(not that i hadn't read up or come across it several times before) i've moved more specifically towards a lot more structured arguments directed from naturalists corner including the so called conflict between science/religion/ evolution and have been researchin quite a bit in this regards.

Coming down to my question,quite a few amongst the elite at our place in Karachi are stongly influenced by Dawkins (not me) these days. But i am more interested along the more philosophical/rational arguments that come into play and am therefore more interested in what Daniel Dennet has to say for instance. "My question therefore is about DEISM. I've heard it before and i heard it in his debate with you. He says a this entity beyond space and time is a "Deistic God at most". So here's what i want to understand. There have been concepts in the past, there was Spinoza's God a few hundred years ago, other several suggestions towards and impersonal God. Now heres the thing i want to know, because i do not fully understand it (i.e firstly their angle and then a response to the):

a) What angle EXACTLY do they take in leaning towards God being impersonal and Deistic (what to deist is the strongest rational as to why god does not interefere in our universe). I'm hoping to understand their side of it, so i hope you would answer it that way (as though a deist himself would have argued for an impersonal god), despite your own thoughts on these.

b) You best argument as to why god could and would interefere in the world. (Now i dont have a problem with historical issues, such as jesus' existence, death and resurrection and historians like josephus and other references by tacitus etc, so i'm hoping this argument need not fast forward to him). Without necessarily dwelling into the historical facts of things (you may if its necessary), but is there once again a rational argument as to why god can and will interefere in the universe,is there anything in space and time or anything else (including his timless nature or changless nature as a deist would put it) that a deist might think would keep god away from interefering but to which you would have a better reason to believe would not apply?

I really do hope you might address this question coming from a deistic strong point(afterall quite a few philosiphers have themselves beleive god to be that way) to your own views on then countering them.

I thank you very kindly and really do appreciate your efforts on rational arguments with this website.

Kind regards


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Dr. craig’s response

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Thank you for your brave stand for Christ in a very inhospitable part of the world, Abdon! I’m delighted to take your question.

(a) I read extensively in the Deist thinkers of England, France, and Germany in the course of my work on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus and so came to know them fairly well. If I were speaking in the guise of a Deist, as you ask me to do, this is what I’d say:

Abdon, where do you get the idea that we Deists believe in an impersonal God? Whom have you been reading? It’s true that Spinoza in his Ethics regards “God” as a synonym for “nature” (Deus sive natura), but that work should not be taken to be representative of Deism, but of pantheism. For Spinoza’s Deist phase, see rather his Tractatus theologico-politicus, which does hold to a personal deity. We Deists do not differ from traditional monotheists in our conception of God as a personal, perfectly good, transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe. Many of us even believe that mankind is morally accountable to God. What we reject are the claims of revealed religion, in contrast to the claims of natural religion. So we cheer when someone like William Lane Craig champions the arguments of natural theology against the atheists and agnostics of the day. Where we regard him as misguided is in his acceptance of Christian claims to divine revelation in Jesus of Nazareth or in the Bible.

As to why we think the God of nature does not interfere in the world, we have offered various arguments (some of which Craig has helpfully reviewed in his book Reasonable Faith). Spinoza thought that the laws of nature are the expression of the divine nature and so cannot possibly be other than they are, thereby excluding miracles. Similarly, the redoubtable Voltaire took the laws of nature to be mathematically necessary and inviolable truths, so that God could not intervene in nature. Hume took a more modest line: no event could ever be identified as a miraculous intervention because the law of nature which is violated by the supposed miracle will always have more evidence in its favor than does the alleged miracle. There are many such arguments, but candidly I think that our scepticism about revealed religion is largely due to a kind of weariness with the violence and intolerance characteristic of revealed religion, as well as an underlying incredulity at claims incompatible with a view of the world as a causally closed system described by modern science.

(b) As you doubtless know, I am sceptical of these Deist claims. So long as God is the transcendent Creator and Designer of the universe, as Deists themselves admit, then there seems to be no good reason why God could not act causally in the universe. As the Australian philosopher Peter Slezak remarked in our debate, “For a God who is able to create the whole universe, the odd resurrection would be child’s play!”

Underlying the Deist critique of miracles is the inept definition of miracles as “violations of the laws of nature.” Since natural laws govern only natural causes, they make no prediction whatsoever of what will happen if a supernatural agent intervenes in the series of natural causes. Miracles should not therefore be thought of as violations of nature’s laws but rather as naturally impossible events, that is, events which could not take place given only the natural causes operative at a certain time and place. If a transcendent God exists Who created the universe in the first place, then there’s no reason why He could not act to bring about further effects which are naturally impossible. (As for divine timelessness and immutability, I don’t ascribe to God either of those properties without qualification; and even the theist who does can still accept divine interventions if he adopts a so-called B-theory of time, according to which all events on the timeline are equally real and so present to God.)

As for Hume’s argument against the identification of a miracle, Hume lived prior to the development of the probability calculus and so failed to take into account all the factors necessary to compute the probability of an allegedly miraculous event, specifically, the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the event had not occurred. (For more on this, see the chapter on miracles in Reasonable Faith.) As for the quite understandable weariness with religious violence and intolerance, these are emotional factors irrelevant to whether, for example, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead or Mohammed or Joseph Smith experienced divine revelations. Such claims have to be assessed on their own merits.

So I think it’s evident that if a transcendent Creator such as Deists believe in does exist, He could intervene in the sequence of natural causes. Why would He? Well, presumably to communicate to us information that is too specific to be conveyed by His revelation in nature alone. This would be especially necessary if there is some plan of salvation which we need to be aware of and embrace as a remedy for our moral culpability before God. Indeed, on the Christian view, God’s intervention is not simply aimed to communicate more information to us but to actually do something: Christ’s death on the cross is the atoning sacrifice for mankind’s sin, thus making our spiritual and moral restoration possible. Unless God did something, if He just sat back and did nothing, as the Deist imagines, then we should all be doomed.

So now we must ask, has God so intervened in the world? Some have argued that the evolution of biological complexity, and especially of intelligent life, on this planet in so relatively short a time is not adequately explicable in terms of naturalistic mechanisms alone and therefore necessitates divine interventions. Or one might “fast forward,” as I am wont to do, to specific claims to divine revelation in order to assess the credibility of such claims. As you perhaps know, I am persuaded that Jesus’ claims are vindicated by God’s raising him from death, an event for which we have surprisingly good historical attestation. So I think that God is not the indifferent, do-nothing God of Deism. Rather He is the God of Israel, Who has revealed Himself to mankind in the history of the Jewish people, culminating in the person and saving work of Jesus.

- William Lane Craig