Deism is the belief that the natural world and universe is so vast and so amazingly complex that it could not have been formed without supernatural intervention. Deism is contrasted with various types of theism in that deism does not claim that this supernatural entity who created the universe presently intervenes in its workings.
Deism was an offshoot of Baruch Spinoza’s Pantheism, which claims that God and the universe are intertwined.
Deism was a common-held belief during the Enlightenment and up until the early 1800s by leading politicians and intellectuals, and it was about as close as a public official could be to atheistic. Several early presidents were deists, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and maybe even Abraham Lincoln.
Deism was attractive to thinkers of the time because it allowed them to reject the immorality described in the bible without rejecting the notion of god altogether. I considered myself a Deist for a couple years, because it sort of allows the best of both worlds – you get to reject the lunacy coming from the fundamental fringes, yet you don’t have to necessarily reject the warm-and-fuzzy aspects of religion, such as the idea that we’re not alone, and that supernatural beings ensure continued order.
Deism, as a philosophy, didn’t last very long in any meaningful sense. The reason it didn’t last is because of its target market. Intellectuals and scientists originally found deism appealing because it safely allowed them to reject logical inconsistencies about God described in the Christian bible. But once you reject Christianity, and the claims made in the Christian (or any other) bible, that forces you to investigate Deism through a more skeptical lens, which is what intellectuals and scientists are often inclined to do.
What natural problem does Deism solve? What questions exist(ed) that could not be better answered by more natural investigation and explanation? Doesn’t the injection of a God hypothesis just make our understanding cloudier?
The point is that Deism makes us feel better about rejecting Theism. It’s “God did it” without Jesus (or Muhammed or [insert religious revelation character here]). And we know that “God did it” is just an excuse to stop investigating the questions we haven’t answered yet.
How did life begin (abiogenesis)? What happened before the big bang? Did time exist before 13 billion years ago, or do we simply exist in a “Universe From Nothing” as Lawrence Krauss puts it? If black holes are the ingredients it takes to make a universe, and our universe exists, did our universe come from a black hole? If we have black holes in our universe, what makes us so sure we did not come out of a pre-existing universe?
These are important questions, and questions that are admittedly difficult to solve with the tools we currently have. But the answer that “God did it” only serves to stifle our investigation. And it doesn’t really help us to gain any clarity or arrive at any truth. I think we’ll be able to answer some of these questions sometime soon, in particular, the question of how life originated. But we wouldn’t get anywhere close to an answer if we simply concluded “God did it…move it along.”
When Charles Darwin proposed that existing species have come to be via a process of natural selection and change, he had no corroboration other than his observations. He didn’t understand what DNA was, nor did he have any means to compare the genetics between species. So, all he had was physical evidence that led to a very strong hypothesis. That hypothesis was corroborated via a number of scientific breakthroughs that came well after his death, such as fossil discovery, radiometric dating, and the discovery of DNA.
Deism is “God did it.” And “God did it” stifles progress without answering anything.