Why does Deism get so much flack from atheists?

I consider myself a deist. Not specifically because of it’s spiritual meaning, but more so because of it’s rejection of revealed religions. As a Deist, I believe 'something’ created the universe. I call that something God, for lack of a better term. That connot be proven nor disproven, just a belief. Why do Atheists seem to be so against a non-religious view such as deism. Deism and Atheism run hand in hand on some things, especially the rejection of revelation. Why does Deism get so much flack for just saying there may be a God, but we will never know if there is one, or what one might consist of? Deism stays in the rational boundaries of 'I don’t know’ while choosing to believe a god might possibly exist. Deism and agnosticism are the only choices, to me, that make sense, because they don’t try to explain something, or state they know, what they can’t possibly know anything about. Certainty is most definitely wrong. So why the harsh criticism of Deism from atheists?

Posted: August 17th 2010


First the obvious.

If atheists thought that deism made sense, they would be deists.

I personally don’t have a problem with deists – their beliefs don’t tend to have much (if any) impact on my life.

As for the merit of deistic beliefs, I’m a bit too pragmatic for them to make sense. There may or may not be something that you are going to label as “god”, but we can never know the answer to the question, and as a deist god, by definition it doesn’t have any impact on the universe.

I really don’t see the point of such a belief. What does it get you?

Posted: August 18th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Dave Hitt www

I don’t care what you believe. I really don’t, not until the moment it interferes with my life or the lives of people I care about. (That includes fellow citizens I don’t know, like kids in school.) As Paula pointed out, the dangerous and intolerant features of most religions are absent in Deism, so if it makes you feel better to believe there’s an uninvolved god out there, that’s none of my business. It’s goofy, but harmless.

Posted: August 18th 2010

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Steve Zara www

Deism is actually an even more bizarre belief than theism. At least with theism there is supposedly some evidence in the world that there is a supernatural mind, that evidence being miracles. There is no such evidence for deism, just some vague feeling of incredulity that reality is just too much to have happened by itself. As deism is beyond the reach of investigation it should be abandoned as pointless nonsense.

Posted: August 18th 2010

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George Locke

I’m not really sure what you mean by “so much flak”. I think deism is unjustifiable and unfalsifiable. I think deism is not a tenable conclusion based on the available evidence. Does that count as “harsh criticism”? I’ve never seen atheists say anything much harsher than that.

Certainty is very often justified on religious matters. I have a great deal of certainty that just about every religion is dead wrong. The gods that religious books refer to do not exist, and that is as good as fact. Likewise, religious notions such as the soul and the afterlife are inconsistent with what we know about our bodies.

Regarding some beliefs, one must be a bit more circumspect. Deism, pantheism, and many brands of liberal religion (the ones for whom God is essentially non-interventionist) are fantastic, insubstantial hypotheses that they are essentially unfalsifiable. If a hypothesis is unfalsifiable, there is basically no reason to believe it. I could invent all kinds of unfalsifiable hypotheses (e.g. invisible pink unicorns) and defend them on the grounds that they “cannot be proven nor disproven”, but belief is not justified by a lack of contrary evidence! See answers to this question.

The idea that a supreme being created the universe but has had no other interaction with it is called deism. This deist creator is highly specified and therefore highly unlikely. The universe may have a “cause”, but it’s quite a leap from there to say that this cause is at all god-like. To start with, a creator has some sort of personal identity, but it would be simpler to assume nothing or that that the cause was more along the lines of a random fluctuation. Deists often believe that the creator has some special intentions, such as making the universe suitable for intelligent life. The mere assertion that the cause of the universe is capable of having intentions is highly specific, entirely baseless, and how much worse to assume what intentions those might be! On what evidence?

So, the belief that the universe was caused by an intelligent being is highly suspect and should be rejected. If you do not hold this belief, or if you treat it as merely one possibility, then calling the cause of the universe “god” is very confusing. God, by any definition, is some sort of intelligent being, and you’re not communicating your beliefs by misusing the word “god” to refer to your concept of first cause.

Part of the problem is a failure to define terms. Your statement that deism “stays in the rational boundaries of 'I don’t know’” almost makes deism identical to agnosticism. Well, are you a deist or an agnostic? The word deism doesn’t refer to the belief that there may be a creator. A deist believes that there is a creator. You seem circumspect as to what this creator is like, but if you are a deist, then you believe that there is some sort of intelligent being that created the universe. If you don’t believe this then you’re not a deist.

Posted: August 17th 2010

See all questions answered by George Locke

Paula Kirby www

I’d be interested to read or hear some of this flak you think atheists level at deists. I’ve never known any atheists bother with deism at all. That’s why we’re called a-the-ists, not a-de-ists.

Why isn’t deism worthy of our flak? Because a deist god, by definition, wouldn’t intervene in our universe and would therefore be utterly unprovable and irrefutable … and also utterly irrelevant. By definition.

Deists don’t go round preaching. They don’t claim to possess superior morality. They don’t demand government subsidies. They don’t indoctrinate our children with their beliefs. They don’t torment people with obscene threats of eternal torture. They don’t divide the world into 'righteous’ and 'unrighteous’. They don’t teach that we are all burdened with 'original sin’ even at the very moment of our birth. They don’t, so far as I am aware, try to subvert proper science teaching. They don’t lobby governments to obstruct the march of gay or women’s rights. They have never declared war or committed an act of terrorism to further their beliefs. They don’t obsess about what consenting adults get up to in private. They merely posit a supernatural being for which there is zero evidence and zero need.

I’m sorry to disappoint, but we have more pressing things to worry about!

Posted: August 17th 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby


My pet saying is scratch a deist, you will find a theist, albeit often a liberal one. In additional, deism is woo. Why believe in a god that put everything in motion and walked away? Deism still falls in the god of the gaps territory. Who created your deist god/something? It does not answer anything really important, just like theism does not either. A deist’s earthly existence may not be demon haunted, but her/his universe is. In general, deists are not focused upon because they present no pressing dangers, except they do give respect/deference to the god concept. Deism is a hangover from theism occupying so strongly our history. It is theism lite.

Realizing that god might possibly exist is the stance of weak, that is, agnostic atheists. I am such an atheist—I have no god belief, but I do not know if there are no gods because a negative can’t be proven putting the burden of proof squarely with the believers (and they have not delivered the goods yet). Agnostics who self-identify often refuse this definition of an atheist and insist that the only kind of atheist is one who states there are no gods. However, they are wrong, as most atheists who identify as atheist are agnostic.

Some theistic gods, like the Christian one, are clearly not logically possible, so one can be a strong atheist concerning that particular flavor of god. However, each and every Christian modifies/custom makes their god belief, so you really need to examine each individual god concept to conclude that they are logical impossibilities.

Agnostics (not agnostic atheists) infuriate atheists (agnostic or not) because they frequently do not challenge the intellectual dishonesty of theism, or seem much concerned about the dangers of non-evidential beliefs. Some believe in belief, and that it is for the most part good for people. Other agnostics, the proud apathetic ones (!) say it is none of their business, are not interested in god belief, do not give a fig what others do, and please leave them alone. Still other agnostics are either passively or actively searching for some kind of divinity. Some theists are temporary agnostics until they shop around and buy a new belief system.

The short answer is that agnostic is perceived as a weasel word (as many agnostics are functional atheists, as they have no active god belief), weaseling out of the reality that religious beliefs are a big problem and something needs to be done to constrain them and keep them impotent in the tax-paying public realm. And that is not easy, because of the vicious circle of deferential respect given to religion, of which agnostics are usually a part. People who identify as atheists are often activists.

Posted: August 17th 2010

See all questions answered by logicel

Blaise www

I’m not really sure that your definition of deism is shared by others. The deists I know believe there is a creator-god, they don’t “choose to believe a god might possibly exist”. What you are describing is more of an agnostic stance than a deist one.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard what I would call “harsh” attacks on deism, but I agree that many atheists find it an untenable philosophical position. The problem is that it’s a non-answer to very questions that religion is supposed to answer, so why bother?

The deist god is unknown and unknowable, since it doesn’t interfere in the operation of the universe. Given that, what can you say about it, and how could you ever rely on the truth of any opinion on it? Theists, at least, claim that their deity pokes it’s head in from time to time to whisper secrets to them. As crazy as that may be, it is at least a logically sound argument as to how they know their ideas are right.

If you can’t observe a thing, and there is no way to receive reliable information about its existence, purpose, or attributes, then you can’t even define it to a useful degree. It must be a fantasy, because by it’s own basic properties, nothing could ever have informed anything or anyone of its existence.

Posted: August 17th 2010

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