Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sorry, Deists — Your God Doesn’t Exist Either

In most of my discussions about God and whether or not there is any good reason to believe God exists I have focused on the various concepts of God that people actually worship, since those concepts of God are described as having specific characteristics and as having done and promised to do specific things. As such, those concepts of God make testable claims that we should be able to verify and for which there should be an abundance of reliable and objective evidence, so the complete lack of reliable and objective evidence and the fact that the various claims can and have been proven to be false is, in itself, compelling evidence that those concepts of God do not, in fact, exist. See, for example, Absence of Evidence IS Evidence of Absence. 

With such a focus on evidence and counter-evidence, however, I have often more or less given a pass to the concept of the so-called “Deist” God. The Deist God is described as the Creator of the Universe (as with most theistic concepts of God), but with the qualification that this Creator simply set the universe in motion and then let it run on its own ever since with absolutely no further interference whatsoever. This means that the Deist God has never revealed itself to humanity in any way, does not perform miracles, does not provide moral guidance, does not promise salvation, etc. And the reason I have more or less given a pass to this concept of God is basically because it seems to be a wholly irrelevant concept. I have even gone so far as to say that, while I am an atheist with regard to standard concepts of God, I would consider myself to be agnostic with regard to the Deist God, since there’s neither evidence for nor evidence against a God who, by its very nature, does not interact with the universe in any way.

Well, that was then and this is now. After giving the matter a lot of thought, I’m finally ready to assert that I know that the Deist God does not exist to the same extent that I know that all other concepts of God do not exist (which is to say, as much as I can claim to know anything in life, including that I am a conscious being, that I only have one head on my shoulders, that the earth is round and rotates, etc.). Some of the reasons for why I know this are included in another recent post (No, I Don’t Need to Explore the Entire Universe to Be an Atheist), but I thought it would be helpful to put them all into a post of their own and expand a bit on my reasoning. And please keep in mind that the following is not offered as any sort of “proof” that the Deist God does not exist, but simply to explain why I can now feel confident that I know that it does not exist, to the same level of confidence that I claim to be able to know anything.

First of all, many modern Deists like to claim that Deism is wholly separate from the ancient superstitions that produced every other concept of God, whether it be the Sumerian gods, the ancient Greek and Roman gods, the Egyptian gods, the Norse gods, or even the God of the Bible. “Those gods are all based on ignorant superstition,” they like to say, “but our concept of God is derived from wholly logical and rational considerations of the universe.” Except, this claim is not actually supported by the history of modern Deism:
Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Typically, these had been raised as Christians and believed in one God, but they had become disenchanted with organized religion and orthodox teachings such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy, and the supernatural interpretation of events, such as miracles.
In other words, Deism was clearly a response to the prevailing concepts of God that were rooted in ancient superstitions and not some sort of de novo theology that came up with the idea of God from first principles and careful consideration of the universe. Or, to put it yet another way, when Deists realized how untenable it was to assert belief in something for which there was no good evidence (and for which there was plenty of counter evidence), they decided to argue for an impersonal and undetectable creator God rather than abandoning their faith all together. As a result, if we can dismiss all the mainstream theist concepts of God as the product of ignorant superstitions, we can also dismiss the Deist God for exactly the same reason, despite all the pseudo-intellectual gloss that has been applied to the underlying concept over the years.

Second of all, since the Deist God — by definition — does not interact with the universe in any detectable way whatsoever, the only way in which Deists can claim to know that such a God exists in the first place is through various logical and philosophical arguments. And every single one of those arguments is flawed. Every single argument in favor of there being a Deist God is based in an Argument from Ignorance (or “God of the Gaps”) fallacy. Whether it be the so-called Teleological Argument (a.k.a. the Argument from Design), the Cosmological Argument, the Fine-Tuned Universe Argument, or what have you, they all basically claim that since we [supposedly] cannot explain some facet of the universe, the only possible explanation is a supernatural creator who exists outside of time and space and is somehow able to interact with matter and energy despite not being composed of either. Aside from the fact that we actually can now explain many of the things that used to be inexplicable (the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, for example, now perfectly explains the apparent design in the natural world), the lack of an explanation cannot, in itself, be evidence of some other explanation for which there is no independent evidence.

There have been many, many refutations of the various Deist arguments for the existence of God over the years, but here are some of my own personal attempts:
To quote the late, great Christopher Hitchens, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Deists acknowledge that there neither is nor can there be any direct observable evidence for the existence of their God, and all of their philosophical arguments are based on flawed premises that by necessity lead to incorrect conclusions.

Finally, even if the Deist God weren’t rooted in the same ignorant superstitions as mainstream theist concepts of God, and even if the various Deist arguments weren’t fatally flawed, the Deist God requires a belief in a logically impossible “supernatural” being of some sort that somehow exists “outside of space and time” and that is made made of neither matter nor energy (yet is somehow able to interact with matter and energy at least with regard to creating both). Can I “prove” that nothing supernatural exists? No, but I assert that the term itself is meaningless (a “one word oxymoron” as some have been known to say) and therefore I know (again, to the same degree that I claim to know anything) that the Deist God does not and cannot possibly exist. For more on this, see:
Of course, your mileage may vary, but this is what I know to be true and why I feel confident saying that I know it to be true.

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