Lessons In Apologetics #5: Deism
The tests or methodologies of epistemology are just the first step into the realm of Apologetics. These, in turn are applied to the assorted worldviews.
The first worldview examined will be Deism. As with Christianity, Deism believes that God created the universe and set it up to operate in accord with a system of natural laws both physical and moral that are discoverable by mankind. What sets Deism apart from Christianity is the extent to which each believes God intervenes in the affairs of both nature and man.
Often, Deism is described as the watchmaker view of God. Those holding to this view believe that, while God created the world and set it into motion, the natural laws He established were so comprehensive that God no longer intervenes in or on His creation’s behalf. This assumption puts it at odds with orthodox Biblical theology on a number of points.
As a system, it could be said that Deism served as a transitional set of beliefs between two great epochs of Western intellectual history. Following the upheaval of religious conflicts such as the Thirty Years War, in a sense Deism was a recoil to the horrors of dogma that had been exorcised of the doctrines of compassion and moderation.
Deism also softened the shock to those wanting to turn their backs on a Biblically-based understanding of life but not yet ready to embrace the rampant secularism characterizing the more recent contemporary era. Deism was also the end product of the scholastic undertakings of the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration whereby European thinkers had to come to grips with the realization that a world, a goodly portion of it consisting of cultures as at least as complex as their’s, existed beyond the borders of Christendom.
The Father of English Deism was Herbert of Cherbury. In his book “On Truth“, Herbert established the following principles as common to all men: that there is one supreme God, that he ought to be worshipped, that virtue and piety are the chief parts of worship, that we ought to be sorry for our sins, and that a divine goodness dispenses rewards and punishments both in this life and the hereafter (153).
At a quick glance, the list does not appear all that controversial and there is not much there the orthodox Christian would disagree with. However, it is what is not on the list that Deists following after Herbert of Cherbury expanded upon that brought this worldview’s anti-Christian underpinnings to full fruition for all the world to see.
One thinker that most have at least a cursory knowledge of connected to Deism was John Locke. According to Geisler, Locke in “The Reasonableness Of Christianity” endorsed the Deist unitarian view of God and denied the deity of Christ.
Among early Deists, the average Christian would really have to be on their toes to detect the subtle attacks against the faith. Often then the attacks were carefully aimed at other religious systems rather than directly on the Bible itself. However, as society became more accepting as to the amount of dissent that could be openly expressed, a number of Deists more bluntly stated their antagonisms with varying degrees of success.
For example, Matthew Tindal in “Christianity As Old As Creation” argued that, since God is perfect by definition, the revelation of God in the created order is so complete that the idea of the Bible is superfluous and is actually inferior as Tindal considered the Bible to be full of errors anyway (160). And by the time of the founding of the United States of America and the early years of the Republic, Thomas Jefferson edited a version of the Bible exorcising the Scriptures of their miraculous content. Our third president ended the Gospel with “there laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone in front of the sepulcher and departed”, thus causing this version of the good news not to be all that good as Jesus had not risen according to this act of censorship (165).
Source: Geisler, Norman. “Christian Apologetics”. Baker Academic, 1988.
by Frederick Meekins