Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
Deism (pronounced /ˈdiːɪzəm/, us dict: dē′·ĭzm) is a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme being created the universe, and that this can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without the need for either faith or organized religion. President Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin were popular proponents of it. Many Deists reject the notion of Personal God, who intervenes in human affairs, for example through miracles and revelations.
On the other hand, both Christianity and Islam propose a Personal God. However, these two religions have different understanding of miracles, revelation and salvation. In a trilateral discussion between Deism, Christianity and Islam, I believe we can appreciate reality better and come up with better theology, especially if the discussion not only involves the Creator of the universe, but, also His complete Transcendence, Original Sin and evolution of life on our planet, Trinity and Eucharist.
A few words about the big picture. Atheists are right in exposing the irrationality of the Christian dogma. However, the Christians are right in as far as their claim that there needs to be a Creator of this universe, Who employed natural means to do His work. However, both parties in their self-conceit are not listening to how Islam resolves their conflict; Islam as understood by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
The Holy Quran urges us to reflect on the Laws of Nature. It draws examples from cosmology, physics, biology and medicine, as signs for all men of understanding. For example the Quran says:
Do they not then look at the camel, how it is created? And at the heaven, how it is raised high? And at the mountains how they are rooted, and at the earth how it is outspread? (Al Quran 88:18-21)
When the Qur’an describes the origins of life on a very broad basis, it is extremely concise. It does so in a verse that also mentions the process of the formation of the Universe. The verse is in Sura or chapter Anbiyya:
Do not the Unbelievers realize that the heavens and the earth were a solid mass, then We split them asunder and We made every living thing out of water. Will they then not believe? (Al Quran 21:31)
In this verse Allah makes some far reaching and profound claims. The precision of the claims and their accuracy in light of modern science is a proof of the truth of these claims. Allah then asks a rhetoric question that should not these accomplishments and His sharing of this information with the mankind, make them believe in His existence. Allah starts the description of onset of life with the mention of starting of the Universe with the phenomenon of the Big Bang. After the creation of the universe and the solar system through the natural mechanisms, God directed His attention to the creation of Life, and as always is the case with His creativity, the Omniscient and the Omnipotent resorted to the natural mechanisms. He utilized Laws of Nature for the creation of life on this planet earth.
The phrase ‘We made every living thing out of water’, means that every living thing was made of water as its essential component. It could equally mean that every living thing originated in water. The two possible meanings are strictly in accordance with scientific data. Life is in fact of aquatic origin and water is the major component of all living cells. Without water, life is not possible. When the possibility of life on another planet is discussed, the first question is always: does it contain a sufficient quantity of water to support life?
Most organisms are made up of more than 50% water. In the case of humans, water makes more than 70% of the weight of the body. In some organisms like Jelly Fish their bodies are 98% water.
Big Bang theory is the widely held theory of the evolution of the universe. It’s essential feature is the emergence of the universe from a state of extremely high temperature and density. It is proposed that it occurred at least 10 billion years ago. Although this type of universe was proposed in the 1920s, the modern version was developed in the 1940s.
The Earth and the Solar system were formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago. As the earth cooled, water in the atmosphere condensed and the Earth was pounded with torrential rains, which filled its great basins, forming seas. The primeval atmosphere and waters harbored the inorganic components hydrogen, methane and ammonia. These substances are thought to have combined to form the first organic compounds when sparked by electrical discharges of lightning.
One of the spokesmen for Atheism or Agnosticism, Prof. Richard Dawkins acknowledges that a reasonable case for Deism can be made from our scientific information and in my opinion President Thomas Jefferson and one of the Founding Fathers of USA, Thomas Paine did exactly do that. I have a separate article on Thomas Paine’s book the Age of Reason. Here let me introduce a short ten minute clip from a debate by Prof. Richard Dawkins, with a Trinitarian theist, Has Science Buried God?” – Richard Dawkins vs John Lennox debate. where in while conceding that a reasonable case could be made for a Deist God, Dawkins very nicely articulates what is terribly wrong with the Christian understanding of God:
Prof. Dawkins partially approves the Deist God of Einstein and Paul Davies but then goes onto criticizing the understanding of Trinitarian God of John Lennox. He in the very beginning exposes Lennox’s understanding of miracles by claiming that even though he is a scientist, yet he believes that Jesus literally converted water, that is the molecules of H2O into alcohol with all the chemical ingredients in alcohol. Dawkins exposes the irrationality of vicarious atonement by saying, “John Lennox believes that the Creator of the Universe, who devised the laws of physics, the laws of mathematics, the physical constants, who created the billions of light years of space, billions of years of time, this Paragon of physical science, this Genius of mathematics, could not think of a better way, to rid the world of sin, then to come to this speck of cosmic dust and have Himself tortured and executed, so that He could forgive Himself. That is profoundly unscientific, not only unscientific, it does not do justice to the grandeur of the Universe! It is petty and small minded! And that is the Christian God, John Lennox believes in.” The point of this article is that the weaknesses of Trinitarian theology terribly weakens the case for Theism and it begins to show in many a debates between Christians and atheists. For example, Christian theists build their case on the hypothesis that there is a Creator, Who has made the Universe, made it biophyllic, He has a purpose in His mind, He has made the Natural Law that has done His work since the Big Bang, including the creation of life, suggesting theistic evolution. What was not said, however, as there was no Muslim theist there, that an Omniscient and Omnipotent God, after having created such harmonious Natural Laws had no need to then quickly violate them with phenomena like resurrection or Christian style miracles, which are alleged to be supernatural and suspend the laws of nature. If an Omniscient God has created the universe, then one can be certain that in keeping with His infinite entity, He would have left innumerable ways to influence the universe. So that His divinity is not suspended in any way at any time. Science is possible only because the Law Giver honors the Law, otherwise there will be total chaos and anarchy. Atheists even when unable to defend their positions are very easily able to poke holes in theology filled with resurrection of dead and miracles that are in violation of the natural order and harmony! The basic understanding of miracles in the Christian tradition is flawed because of the historical baggage and limitations of the Bible. The Christians invariably understand miracles to be violation of natural laws and that immediately sets them up against the insightful scientists and introduces an unavoidable conflict between the Christian religion and science. If we accept the Christian premise that there ought to be a Creator for our universe, then given the vulnerabilities of Christian dogma, the only reasonable theology of Theism, left standing is that of Islam. If we rationally define our paradigm as I am in this post then the only game in the town of Monotheist religions available to all of us is that of Islam.
Islam and the Holy Quran are above and beyond such criticism that applies to Trinitarian Christianity. The Holy Quran builds its case of Transcendent Being starting off with recognition of Deism and at no point requires its reader to believe in supernatural in violation of the natural order. Even when arguing a case for accountability and hereafter, it argues from the tangible to the intangible and presents the natural law as a proof for the hereafter, rather than presenting it as supernatural and insisting belief on force of authority:
Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne. And He pressed the sun and the moon into service: each pursues its course until an appointed term. He regulates it all. He clearly explains the Signs, that you may have a firm belief in the meeting with your Lord. (Al Quran 13:3)
The Holy Quran addresses the issue of hereafter in greater detail in the following verses in the chapter Yasin, adding the domain of biology to that of astronomy as the argument is built further:
Does not man see that We have created him from a mere sperm-drop? Yet lo! he is an open quarreler! And he coins similitudes for Us and forgets his own creation. He says, ‘Who can quicken the bones when they are decayed?’ Say, ‘He, Who created them the first time, will quicken them; and He knows every kind of creation full well. He Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, and behold, you kindle from it. Has not He Who created the heavens and the earth the power to create the like of them?’ Yea, and He is indeed the Supreme Creator, the All-Knowing. Indeed, His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, ‘Be!,’ and it is. So Holy is He, in Whose hand is the kingdom of all things. And to Him will you all be brought back. (Al Quran 36:78-84)
- Professor Abdus Salam. Islam and Science – concordance or conflict. Review of Religions; 90(3): 26-40, March, 1995.
- Dr. Mohammad Iqbal. Life: its meaning and origin. Review of Religions; 88(2): 26-30, February, 1994.