I have wanted to write this particular article for some years, but have not been properly equipped to do so until now; further, there are hardly any good write-ups about this topic on the internet at all. As such, I wish to present my case against the “Enlightenment” deistic view of God that should fill this void and help those who may wish to defend themselves against deistic arguments.
What is Deism?
We cannot refute deism if we do not know what it is; extremely simply put, deism is the belief that there is a God and He created all things, but He left things to “run on their own.” God is often compared to a clockmaker who creates a timepiece and watches it go. This is where the mechanistic philosophy and the current materialist philosophy comes from. This idea supposedly explains why there is defect, privation, and other such maladies in the world, because God no longer acts; He becomes just a passive observer.
Now if you read my previous essay (it is so tedious I would not blame you if you did not), there are quite a few issues with this belief, misunderstandings that would not crop up with a little reading into theology rather than Jefferson’s cringe bible.
The Eternal Will
I think no deist will struggle with the fact that God is eternal, viz., He is timeless, with no beginning nor end. Further, God is absolutely simple; in Him there is no composition of parts, He is All that He is; for example, His essence (viz., what makes Him God) and His existence are truly one and the same. We identify these qualities as separate only because we cannot fathom just how simple He really is (See Summa Theologica Q.3).
So in God, all qualities predicated of Him are actually one and the same, because He is simple; in fact, God not only exists, but He is His own existence. What then shall we say of His will? Clearly, His will must be one and the same with qualities above described, and it therefore follows that God eternally wills.
Let us draw a distinction before any wild conclusions may crop up. While God eternally wills, that is not to say that He wills everything (if He did, there would be no free will); all it means is that what He wills, He eternally wills. If God wills something, He eternally wills that thing. Perhaps the issue with deism is beginning to become visible.
(To parenthetically note, when I say God eternally wills, I do not mean that whatever He wills will forever be. For example, God may will that Joe should exist, but that does not mean Joe will eternally live as he lives now, because God further wills that Joe should die.)
Deism holds that clockmaker belief above described, that God made all things but then stepped away from it. This is impossible, since we know God to be the Being of beings willing from eternity. Whatever God wills, say, the universe, He continues to will. Further, since He is the source of existence itself, it follows that all that exists depends upon His willing that such-and-such should exist. Very basically, nothing can exist that God does not will to exist.
No man, for example, can exist of his own will. No, not even man and woman can will a child to come into existence without divine intervention of a sort. That any of us exist at all is only because God wills it. God cannot be the “clockmaker of the universe”, because the “clock” cannot even exist without His eternal providence.
Another Clockmaker Refutation
We have shown that, the Divine Will being eternal, means that God is eternally willing, thereby disproving deism, but there is another argument, perhaps more condemning than that, which, if accepted, would nullify essential properties of God.
God is often described in terms such as “all-powerful,” “all-knowing,” and other terms. These properties necessarily belong to God; anything less would be a privation and would make God not-God. So, to return to His will, if He stopped willing that would be a privation and would make Him not-God. To be clear, God willed/wills the universe, were He to cease willing, He would not be God at all, nor would there be a universe.
Perhaps I should explain in short-form what the upcoming terms mean. Potency/potential/potentiality mean that a thing can be. For example, in me there is the potential to know the German language, despite not actually knowing it. Act/actuality mean being, or is being. To further the example, if I know German, I actually know German, viz., my knowing German is no longer mere potency, but an actuality.
There are many potentialities in the world, or things that can be. In fact, there are some potentialities that are purely potentialities like a unicorn; unicorns do not actually exist, but could potentially exist (that is, they are not inconceivable). Further, there are some things which are completely inconceivable both in actuality and potency like a square-circle; this is because their essences are contradicting each other at the same time.
Now God is pure actuality; in Him, there is zero potency. To put it more simply, in God there is nothing lacking, for if there were, He would not be God. Now to stop willing as the clockmaker would leave a potential for willing; to follow this proposition to its conclusion results in negating God, for He cannot possess potency and be God at the same time. Therefore, God is active in the world and has not “stepped away from it,” so to speak, in the deistic view. If He did, He would not be God.
Natural Law and Forgiveness
Natural law is not as complicated a topic as some make it out to be; the gist of it is that there are actions in the world that are absolutely against human nature like murder and sexual depravity. Our hands were not made for killing each other nor our loins for pleasure alone. Though anyone that thinks can eventually arrive at these conclusions, there is the most bitter pill to swallow: we do a terrible job of following that natural law. Despite our best efforts and extensive knowledge, we fail miserably at doing what is right and succeed far too often at doing what is wrong.
“… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” – Romans 3:23 (RSV)
Knowing that we cannot save ourselves from hellfire, who will? Would the deistic clockmaker forsake his clock? and for that matter, why would he? does he not love his clock and all its parts?
Clearly, we are in need of forgiveness; all deists can say is that God will judge righteously… too bad God’s righteous judgment, without also His forgiveness for those who repent, will condemn every single human soul to eternal separation from Him. But if God forgives, then God acts and must be more than a mere clockmaker taking a break from his work. This should make clear the necessity of One who forgives.
The Absurd Jefferson Bible
Would you believe that Thomas Jefferson compiled his own “bible” about the life and morals of Jesus Christ? What he did was mostly remove all the miraculous parts of the gospels and turned them into some sort of secular moral narrative (You really don’t need to read it. I scanned it over: it is mostly copy-pasted Matthew, Mark, and Luke without the miraculous bits. Deists, understandably given their position, despise John). There are no miracles, no resurrection, nor eternal life. I suppose these were too “irrational” for Jefferson. (By the way, how is that whole secular morality schtick working out these days?)
But there really is no point in a secular nor deistic morality for they do not possess any foundation; in short, why do good? for the praise of men or some other vain pursuit? What do those things matter? God is just resting on His laurels, so there is nothing to fear, right? For deism, some hold that they will be judged (without realizing they are admitting a revealed truth!), but cannot articulate by what standard. They claim to know the natural law, but they do not seem to understand the necessity of the forgiveness of sins. After all, we have shown above how impotent deism is at describing God, how could deism possibly understand His law by which all will be judged?
Another point, specifically about the resurrection, is that it is not at all irrational nor inconceivable. Not to empirically prove it, but it is not beyond possibility that a man should live, die, and live again (Aristotle already argued for the immortality of the soul); whereas it is entirely inconceivable to have a 57-sided square. Why else would Jesus say,
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” – Matthew 17:20
To be short, more things are possible in this world than impossible.
Deism, like many other pseudo-theologies, reflects the profound ignorance of the follower. At least it is more reasonable than the typical empirical atheist, but that is not saying much.
To conclude, the way in which deists define God would, in fact, negate God in the Aristotelian and Thomistic schools, and deists that do believe in a final judgment are doomed if they believe they can be saved without forgiveness.