Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Return of Deism?

Before the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, atheists had no answer to “Where did everything come from, then?” And so, Deism. Deism is an attempt to “have your god, and ignore him too.” It is the belief that God created the universe, set it in motion, and left it to run on its own. Deism was the refuge of the intellectual and of the practical atheist. Of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen were avowed Deists, and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, just to name a few, were Deistic in much of what they wrote and said.

Deism was a big deal a couple of hundred years ago, as it dealt with the questions of origin by saying that “God made it,” but ignored any moral obligations that creatures might just, possible, owe their Creator. But, with the growing acceptance of Darwin’s work, God became unnecessary. Deism faded into the background to be replaced by hard atheism and agnosticism as evolutionary belief made it possible to be intellectually satisfied regarding questions of origins.

But as Intelligent Design, and other critiques of evolution, continues to make Darwinism less and less tenable a position, it seems that Deism may be becoming popular again. I recently received an e-mail from a friend who needed answers to Deism’s claims. It seems that my friend has a friend who has discovered “what he was looking for” in Deism.

Deism is an effort to reconcile the obviousness of the existence of a creator with the desire to be unaccountable creatures of that creator. Paul directly addresses this in Romans chapter 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

It is clear from creation that God is real and that He is vastly powerful, but that is all that we can learn from creation itself. We would know nothing else about God, if God did not reveal Himself to us. This He did through Scripture and through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1-2) Deists deny the truth of Scripture because of their unrighteousness. As Jesus put it, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20) If the Deists’ god is God, then there is no moral judgment to come, and they may do as they please, and decide right and wrong for themselves. But, if God is God…

Why should we believe what the Scriptures say about God? My reasoning goes like this: Jesus said that He was God (John 8:58 is just one example) – Jesus proved that He was God at the Resurrection (Acts 17:31; 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) – Jesus said that the Old Testament was true (Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 16:29,31) – Jesus chose the writers of the New Testament (John 15:16) and told them that the Holy Spirit would help them write the Scriptures (John 14:26), and this is what Peter said happened (2 Peter 1:19-21). Therefore, the Bible is true and reliable.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it this way:

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

And Article X clarifies that this inerrancy applies fully only to the original autographs (a document or text handwritten by its creator):

Article X.

WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

The issue of the autographs and textual criticism (the study of manuscripts in order to determine which preserved reading is the closest to the original writing) becomes important in addressing the “Deist Challenge to Christians” found at the World Union of Deists website. You see, their challenge centers around Mark 16:18 – “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” – Unfortunately for them, Mark 16:18 most likely shouldn’t be in the Bible at all. And, if it isn’t in the Bible, it can’t be used to disprove or challenge the Bible, nor those who believe the Bible.

Here’s the big problem with their “challenge,” textual critics say that, according to the best manuscript evidence available, the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8!

The external evidence strongly suggests these verses were not originally part of Mark’s gospel. While the majority of Greek manuscripts contain these verses, the earliest and most reliable do not. A shorter ending also existed, but it is not included in the text. Further, some that include the passage note that it was missing from older Greek manuscripts, while others have scribal marks indicating the passage was considered spurious. The fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Jerome noted that almost all Greek manuscripts available to them lacked vv. 9–20. (John MacArthur, the MacArthur Bible Commentary, Nashville, Thomas Neilson, Inc, 2005)

In fact, in an amusing twist, the Deist site links to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, and, on the very page the Deists link to, we read this:

Verses 9-20 were are not found in the earlier manuscripts and are therefore considered later additions. So the gospel of Mark ended without anyone seeing the resurrected Jesus or any of the cool stuff about snake handling, drinking poison, or damned non-believers.

Since these verses are believed, by believers and skeptics alike, to not be part of the original text of Mark, we are under no obligation to defend what is said in Mark 16:9-20. For a movement that prides itself on its commitment to reason, trying to force Christians to defend something that isn’t part of the inspired text of Scripture seems… unreasonable.

But, just for the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that these verses are part of the inspired text; what then?

Nowhere in the text does it say that all Christians would perform these signs. But it is worth noting that all of these signs, excepting the drinking of poison, are fulfilled by the Apostles in the book of Acts.

They will cast out demons” – Acts 5:16 records that Peter was both healing people and casting out demons. Acts 8:7 – Phillip was casting out “unclean spirits” – Acts 19:12 tells of “unclean spirits” departing in association with Paul’s ministry, but then Acts 19:13-16 tells one of my all-time favorite stories from the Bible of an exorcism that went very, and very funnily, wrong.

They will speak with new tongues” – Acts 2 records the first occurrence of this event in great detail!

They will pick up serpents” Acts 28:3-6 tells of what happened when Paul was bitten on the hand by a poisonous viper.

if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them” – there is no recorded instance of this in Scripture. It may have happened, it may not have happened.

They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” – There are many healings recorded in the book of Acts. Acts 3 tells about God healing a lame man through Peter. Acts 5:16 – God, again through Peter, was healing people of sickness. In Acts 9, Peter is used to heal a paralyzed man who had been bedridden for 8 years.

So, even though Mark 16:9-20 are not in the inspired text, there is ample evidence that the things spoken of were, in fact, fulfilled during the lives of the Apostles. This all powerful “Challenge to Christians” turns out to be just so much hot air.

Deism fails at a philosophical level. They posit a God powerful enough to create the universe and everything in it, but will not allow that God to intervene in His creation in any way. Nor, apparently, can God have any purpose in and for His creation. Nor will they allow the possibility of God communicating with His creature in any way. All such ideas are dismissed as “superstition” and rejected.

It seems to me that Deism is a bankrupt philosophy.

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