Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Leading atheist Richard Dawkins has written that "Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism."* With these ten words, it seems Dawkins intends to dispose of these two historical theological models and dive into the main event of challenging Theism, in its patchwork array of tens of thousands of faiths, sects, and cults. Naturally, the dismissive handwave Which Dawkins gives to Pantheism and Deism has profound implications for Pandeism, which is both a form of Deism, and an expression of the most poignant elements of Pantheism (those being that all things are part of 'God,' a force expressed through the laws of nature which govern the unfoldment of our Universe).
Indeed, had Dawkins thought to address Pandeism directly, he would likely have labelled it "sexed up Deism," and perhaps rightly so in light of Pandeism's overt case for the seeking of sexual pleasures (along with all of the other pleasures of life). But let us dig a little deeper into what Dawkins means by his characterizations of Deism and Pantheism. Firstly, as to Pantheism, Dawkins proposes that those who call themselves Pantheist are simply callng our Universe 'God,' but in so doing they are denying all of the characteristics traditionally accorded to a deity -- the infinitudes, the role as Creator, the conscious interventions, and such. And it is correct to observe that Pantheism as a theological model finds no use for these characteristics. But this does not itself render Pantheism a form of Atheism, as many different flavors of Pantheism exist, expressing a wide range of levels of spirituality.
Onward to Deism, Dawkins' notion of Deism as 'watered down theism' is that Deists are people who simply want to believe in a God, but are embarrassed by the childishness of scriptural myths and their failure to accord with scientific discovery, and by the egocentrism inherent in the human belief that a Universe-creating deity ought to stoop to giving directives to humans, or bending the laws of nature in answer to human desires expressed as prayers. And so, in Dawkins' estimation, the Deists take the religious beliefs which they've essentially inherited from their theistic ancestors, including whatever circular logic upheld those theistic beliefs, and stripped from them the most rhetorically reprehensible and logically unsustainable elements, leaving behind vague beliefs held for no reason but cultural momentum. And though Dawkins does address those arguments which appeal to both Deists and Theists, the fine tuning argument and the prime mover argument, for example, he tends to focus on theistic iterations of them, and to discredit their ability to actually prove a theological outcome, instead of addressing the degree to which they make it rational to believe ours to be a created Universe. And in fact Deists have long been formulators of new and novel approaches to the question of why we ought to believe in an ultimate power, and indeed why we ought to believe in a deistic theological model as against all others. Indeed, even Dawkins' associate Christopher Hitchens has given Deism credit for its comparative reasonableness, levying the criticism at Theism that one cannot get to Theism from the proofs which support Deism.
My answer to this charge is that Deism generally and Pandeism especially are not 'watered down' forms of Theism in any sense except that they wash away the human inventions which the ignorant and egotistical authors of the documents of theistic faith have over the centuries piled upon logically or intuitively perceived theological notions. Michelangelo is reported to have told a visiting Prince once that he did not create his statues; he simply removed the excess bits of marble which surrounded the forms already held within the stone. I will put aside for the moment the question of whether Pandeism itself might be called a work of art, and instead analogize it to a steel framework which has over time become covered with mud; watering down the structure washes away the mud, but reveals the framework as having a much stronger appearance than the structure would have been accorded before this cleansing. And so I would answer Dawkins' proposition with the counter that Deism is a much stronger position than any Theism, and can not be so cavalierly dismissed as to call it a 'watered down' anything.
But I'll concede that Pandeism is nicely sexed up, as formulations of Deism go.
* Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, "A deeply religious non-believer", page 40, 2006.