Theists and theism

I was recently accused, on the basis of my general scorn for theism, of thinking that all theists were stupid. For the record then, I do not think theists are stupid. (For Thor’s sake, I was a theist just a couple of years ago!)

I think theism has been decisively discredited. (That’s an important difference.)

I like to make a distinction between deism and theism. Deism is the idea that a being (whom we can call God) originally wound the clock that is the universe but has since then had a total ‘hands off’ policy. That is, deism ‘answers’ the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” with “God”. Of course, this isn’t much of an answer. And I think what satisfaction it brings, it brings in virtue of some non-deistic assumptions (namely, some theistic assumptions), having to do with God’s ongoing involvement with and knowability through ‘creation’. But strict deism is, as far as I can tell, unfalsifiable as well as unverifiable. Philosophically this makes it uninteresting to me. I think it’s easier to stop the “why?” question before it gets to “God”, and stick with the mystery that is the universe. But perhaps that’s a matter of taste. Deists, if they’re consistent, should be functional atheists, so refuting deism is not an interesting philosophical project (to me).

Theism, on the other hand, is the belief that a being (whom we can call God) not only created everything but also continues to care about and be involved in ‘creation’. In the traditional monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), this means that in addition to ‘general revelation’ (that which is revealed about God through the workings of nature) there is ‘special revelation’ (that which is revealed about God in a holy book or tradition), typically coupled with some notion of providence. And these are (among other things) what make theism indefensible–not in principle, for certainly if there were a god, special revelation and providence would make sense, but as a matter of empirical fact. There is nothing about the world’s religious books that isn’t exactly what one would expect from such books if there were no God. That’s damning! And, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no real way to tell providence from luck. Again, that’s very damning.

In brief, Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) looks exactly the way it would if it were just a human product, a human system designed to deal with the vagaries of human existence. And there’s nothing wrong with designing systems of thought to deal with the vagaries of human existence. But the traditional theisms trumpet around on the claim that they are more than mere constructs–they are the divinely revealed True Religion.

So yes, theism is most likely false. It no longer deserves our intellectual respect. Theists, on the other hand, are (some of them, at least) intelligent, well-meaning folk. I am no friend to theism, but I am friend to many a theist.

And as a sign of my intellectual respect for my theistic friends, I don’t pooh-pooh them or lie to them about the fact that I think they are dead wrong and harmfully so.

This is not a final pronouncement, but an invitation to conversation–the very stuff of friendship.



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