The universe is a vast, marvelous, spectacular thing beyond the comprehension of most human beings. I personally struggle with physics and am thankful and appreciative for the more brilliant minds among my fellow humans who can sort these things out and make some sense of them. It is easy to find a time in history when we knew very little, and this time is in our recent past and well documented. We didn’t know why natural things occurred, things that we now understand and take for granted, like an eclipse which once stopped a war between the Medes and the Lydians, with everyone fleeing in terror. An eclipse today may get some folks interested enough to take a few moments to look at a video of it that someone posted on Facebook.
So it requires little imagination to visualize our ancestors curiously peering around and trying to solve the mysteries that enveloped them. Look at how the sun goes around the earth in a regular pattern, to provide us light and heat. In the darkness we can see the little pinpricks in the black shell that surround us, allowing the white that must be outside our shell to show through. How did all of this get here, and why? While an inquisitive brain would set about to solve problems in some systematic way, the creative mind would solve it simply: it was created this way. The natural question then would be, created by whom?
The deist proposition is therefore an easy one to understand and even accept. The simple solution to everything we see is that a being of great power created the universe, the sun, the earth and all of life. Even as we’ve advanced in our knowledge of the natural world and reached a stage where we can see back in time as light reaches our telescopes and paints a picture of the early universe, where we can see the DNA within our own cells, we still hang on to the simple solution that is creation.
The arguments presented to support this creation by a deity are on the surface, compelling:
Everything must have a first cause and the creator is the first cause of the universe.
Look at the complexity of life and everything in our universe, clearly it shows evidence of design, which necessitates a designer.
The laws of our universe are so finely tuned that if even one were slightly different, we could not exist.
While each of these arguments fails to hold up to rigorous scientific examination, it’s not difficult to understand why they persist. They feel about right don’t they? They address the issues well enough to satisfy most people’s curiosity and allow them to settle the matter in their minds and move on about the business of surviving and multiplying. So let’s take these arguments as factually correct for a moment. Let’s allow them to be the answers we’ve always sought, since our earliest moments of awakening as a species where our larger brains forged a cognitive process that was intent on problem solving. The answers to how we got here, how the universe got here, how life began is simple: a deity created it all.
How do we get from this proposition to the theist proposition? How on earth do we go from a creator deity to a deity that talks to us and has plans for us? It would seem a particularly astronomical leap of faith to go from a being of such incredible power as to be able to create universes to one who sits down with Abraham and asks him to cut the skin off his penis. The level of narcissism required to assume the creator takes such an interest in our little lives as to burn commandments into the side of a mountain with a fiery extension of the burning bush he chose to inhabit for the occasion should embarrass us all.
The theist has looked in the figurative mirror and given all his traits to the creator. This being of unimaginable power is extremely interested in being worshipped. Demands it in fact, and is an angry and jealous deity. The theist believes the creator is just as obsessed with him as the theist is obsessed with the creator. The creator is very interested in what we eat, but the thing that really captures the creator’s attention is sex. The deity who has the power to spin galaxies from his fingertips is deeply offended if a man should touch a woman while she has her period. The deity is so incensed by a man’s unwillingness to get his brother’s widow pregnant that he kills him on the spot.
How is it that we as a species are not mortified by our belief in such things? It is easy to see the attraction of community and fellowship that belonging to organizations brings us. Going to a gathering of friends and family on a given day at a given time each week to celebrate a common bond is innately human. But the underlying premise of these gatherings is essentially a child’s fantasy, which once planted in our brains has grown to such incredible heights that we could climb it like Jack’s beanstalk and steal the golden goose. I’d be willing to bet that a poll of the human beings at these gatherings would show us that most do not even know the intricate details of their theistic belief systems. I’d be willing to bet that if asked, these folks would state unequivocally that they do not believe all the dead will rise from their graves like an armada of zombies to be judged by the creator. Yet the three Abrahamic faiths that were born from the theist’s imagination believe exactly that.
Theism is cliquish, branching off into any number of iterations with their own particular idiosyncrasies. One clique believes the creator will send a messiah to usher in a new world (as if the one we have just isn’t good enough) while another believes the creator impregnated a woman with his spirit so that she might bear him a man-god son who would preach goodness and righteousness, albeit with eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth in hellfire for those who didn’t follow his rules. Yet another clique believes an angel prescribed the true rules to follow and those rules are quite regimented and require a level of dedicated worship to the deity that should make any self-respecting deity blush.
It would seem logical that as man has advanced our knowledge of the natural world and solved some of the seemingly unsolvable mysteries of just a few generations ago, that the light of reason would shine on the demon infested supernatural mumbo jumbo of theism and extinguish it. Based on the growth of non-theism in the population and the stagnant or declining ranks of the faithful among the world’s large religions, perhaps it is happening. The fact that it is an agonizingly slow process is painful evidence of how the human mind clings to its beliefs. Once implanted, there they tend to remain, sometimes even under the weight of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Deism is a relatively harmless belief in an unknowable being which started the universe in motion, created the laws of nature and moved on to whatever it is that beings of such magnificence do when they’re not creating universes.
Theism is a belief of a different color; one that encroaches into the lives of every man, woman, child and fetus. Theism’s deity didn’t go anywhere but remains here among us and reads our minds, knows our thoughts before we even think them and sits in perpetual judgment. Theism’s deity watches with indifference as we suffer calamity after disastrous calamity, but is very angry if we choose to worship another deity or blasphemy against his most holy spirit. Theism’s all powerful deity has an evil counterpart; a deity of arguably equal power who awaits the souls of those men, women and children who didn’t follow the rules of the creator deity. He has eternal torture on his mind, and the creator deity cares not if we fall into that abyss to suffer for all of eternity.
The leap required from deism to theism is not a leap of faith as is so often said, but a leap of lunacy! One would have to literally surrender their critical faculties to believe such nonsense to be true. The theist puts forth as evidence of his ridiculous claims only the assembled texts of goat herders from man’s dark days of ignorance. Tales of giants, unicorns, men who lived to be 1,000 years old, a man who lived in the belly of a whale for three days, these are the proofs the theist presents and expects to be believed. A deist is someone whose beliefs, while not supported factually, can still be respected and understood. After all, the universe is a vast and marvelous thing, as I stated at the outset. But the theist, the person who truly believes the basic premise of any theistic faith to be truth, and holds up the holy texts as his evidence, this person has shown only that he will believe anything, however ridiculous it may be.