The purpose of this article is to consider a brief examination of past and present religious, scientific and philosophical thought with a view to understanding Deism and in turn Deism's understanding of the world. Also within this context to examine what the purpose of life itself might be with particular reference to lessons given to us by Nature.
The first examination I want to present the reader with is how the world has been understood in philosophical terms. Basically speaking philosophers have discussed the nature of the universe with regards to two distinct and separate entities. These they have called Mind and Matter. Matter can be understood as that which is physical. Mind can be understood as that which is non-physical such as thoughts, feelings, perceptions, consciousness etc. For the purpose of philosophy Mind also encompasses that which would be regarded as Spirit, Soul, God or other such metaphysical entities.
There are generally two main types of philosophical view points that can be derived from these terms and they are these:
Materialism and Idealism. Let us look briefly at these two philosophical view points:-
This is the belief that Matter is the only material of which the world is ultimately composed. That is there is no such entity such as God or Spirit that is separate from matter or that brought matter into existence - therefore God or a Creator does not exist. Any such instances of mind that do exist in the world such as human or animal thoughts, consciousness or feelings etc only exist as a derivative of matter - that is they are made up by chemical compositions and other physical function of the brain. Once this brain ceases to exist, i.e. dies, so will the mind of the being that hosted it. There is no immaterial consciousness such as a soul that survives after death. This physical life and reality is the only one that exists.
This is a view point held today by atheists and many, although not all, scientists. This viewpoint usually asserts that the Universe is eternal and was never created - it just is.
This is the viewpoint that the universe is ultimately made up only of Mind and that Matter, (physical reality), is a manifestation of it. The view point postulates that the world was created by Mind, also called Spirit or God and that life may - or may not - continue on a spiritual plane after physical death.
This is obviously the classical viewpoint of most religions and spiritual paths. The only spiritual path that does not appear to believe this is Buddhism which usually believes the world to exist independent of a creator, but most Buddhists would not describe themselves as materialists in the classical sense either.
The Idea of God
For brevity in this article I am going to call the Creator of the universe God although this entity/force has been represented and is represented in many different words such as spirit, Mind, the creative force, Allah, the Supreme Architect, the First Cause etc.
Why and How Did the Notion of God Come Into Existence?
There are two ways in language that God can be conceived of and these are God as an objective reality and God as an idea - that is how human beings subjectively think of God. For the purposes of this article I am going to call God Him - although I believe the concept is beyond gender. I will not submit to Political Correctness in calling God Her it It.
God may or may not exist as an objective reality, (as a Deist I trust He does), but the idea of God has existed in virtually every culture known to mankind. Even within the Buddhist tradition local "deities" have come into existence in line with the belief of the ordinary folk much to the frustration of some of the Buddhist hard line monks and teachers. And also much to the frustration of present day materialist scientists and militant atheists God continues to be believed in world wide. This then poses a problem for the militant atheists and materialist scientists who hoped that once Science as a system of thought for explaining reality had been taught to people that belief in God would decline. Therefore they sought to explain why people still cling to the concept of God.
The Historical Explanation
According to the scientific theory of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin all life evolved from a common ancestor over millennia so man in his infancy was a very primitive and ignorant creature. Cast alone in what appeared to be a very chaotic and frightening world at times man sought explanations as to why things happened and looked for ways to make the world safer.
Being ignorant of Science man invented God or the Gods. God or the Gods were seen as all powerful Beings who controlled man's world. Seeking comfort and safety, (natural human desires), man attributed to God the power to intervene in the affairs of the world by various means of supplication - thus, God in essence could be bribed to benefit man's purposes. This could be done in a number of ways such as through prayer, sacrifice, shamanism, ritual etc.
Materialistic scientists hoped that when the apparent randomness of events in the world could be explained, predicted and controlled through Science that the belief in God as an entity would cease because there would be no further need for His intervention. Science would take care of man and God, as Nietzsche said, would be dead. This has clearly not proved to be the case.
The Psychological Explanation
God is regarded by materialist psychologists as a delusion that is held by emotionally immature individuals. God is conceived of to be a Father or Mother figure or even an Imaginary Friend who can comfort and protect the supposedly immature individual who is deemed not to have progressed mentally beyond childhood. That is that they have failed to mature psychologically into full adulthood, to take full responsibility for themselves and to desist from relying upon delusions for comfort and control about a Being that does not exist.
Interpretations About the Notion of God
There are principally three ways of interpreting the idea of God and they are Theism, Deism and Pantheism.
Theism is the belief in a personal God distinct in nature from the world but active within it. This is the kind of God that followers of the "revealed" religions believe in and this kind of God can forgive sins, answer prayers, perform miracles and generally demands to be or at least likes being worshipped. The "revealed" religions are those who believe that the nature and will of God is "revealed" through books and /or prophets. The major religions of this kind are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Deism holds that God's nature and activities are quite separate from anything in the world and God does not answer prayers, forgive sins, perform miracles or needs to be worshipped. God is not generally thought of in a personal sense.
In Deism faith is not necessary since Deists experience God given Reason and know that through the study of God's creation, Nature, and its derivative, Science, man can come to know God more. Since evidence exists through Nature and Science as to the existence of God, faith in his existence is not necessary. Deists trust in God rather than have faith in him and the only prayer a Deist might say is one of thanks. While Deists do not worship God in the Theist sense they are grateful and appreciate those things God has given such as life and gifts, such as Reason, and believe that exercising these gifts is one of the greatest ways they can show appreciation to their Creator.
This belief holds that God has no distinct existence apart from the world or Universe. In other words all things are God including people and rocks etc. If there is a spiritual realm separate from material existence that also is God. Much "New Age" thought is essentially pantheistic and as one might suppose with such a notion the beliefs within it can be very vague and diffuse. According to strict pantheism even events like the Holocaust etc was God but many pantheists prefer not to think their philosophy through to its logical conclusions.
The Two Ways Claimed to "Know" God" Faith and Reason
In considering faith and reason and their role in religion I am mainly going to concentrate on the history of the West and of one of the "revealed" religions, Christianity. This is not because other religions and regions of the world are not important, but the West and Christianity are what I know best. I have no doubt though that what I say about the West and Christianity will have parallels with other religions and regions.
As explained earlier in this essay, early man lived in a chaotic and dangerous world. Seeking to effect some control over this world man "invented" religion and various Gods to explain the events in the world e.g. the weather, why the crops failed, disease etc. Naturally within these religions arose a class of persons who had more knowledge of this God/Gods than the ordinary people and they were chosen to interpret the will of the Gods. These people would be the priest class and would wield much power. There would be other people attributed with gifts to know the will of God such as prophets and these laid claim to knowing Gods will through "revelation". In a pre-literate and uneducated society where the vast majority of people lived in fear and had no access to this hidden knowledge/gift the priests and prophets claimed to have, the priests and prophets wielded great power. Terrifying people with visions of hell in the hereafter, they controlled the peasantry for centuries. However occasionally an exceptionally intelligent man or woman might come along who questioned their beliefs and so the priest class became essentially political and joined kings and courts to wield power through prayer and torture. Heretics were burned at the stake and the common people forbidden access to the Bible which was written in Latin.
Then came the Reformation which pushed through reform of the Church. The Bible was translated into English and other mother tongues. Protestantism arose and people started to question the power of the established church - the Roman Catholic Church. Scientific instruments were invented and through observation and recording accurate details, (the start of the Scientific method), the real place of the Earth in the universe was established/reestablished. In contrast to what was taught by the Church, it was discovered that the Earth revolved around the Sun not the other way around. These early Scientists were persecuted by the Church as they were a threat to the Church's power. Many were tortured and killed. However a new way of looking at the world came to be established - the Scientific Method. This way of looking at the world rested on Reason, not on Faith.