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. The celebrated physicist, Albert Einstein who was also declared as the man of the century can be best described as a deist. Many Deists, however, reject the notion of Personal God, who intervenes in human affairs, for example through miracles and revelations.
Islam and the Holy Quran are much closer to Deism than Christianity or the Bible.
The Holy Quran makes a very lucid case for Deism or the Creator God. The very second verse of the Holy Quran claims Allah to be the Maker and Sustainer of the universe and then scores of verses lay down arguments for the Quranic deist claims. The Holy Quran opens itself to the humanity with these verses:
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds. (Al Quran 1:1-2)
The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani writes commenting on these verses, as he links Deism to Theism or Personal God. He writes:
Again, Allah possesses many varieties of beneficence. Of these four are basic. According to their natural order, the first is the Sustainer of the Universe, as cited in the first chapter of the Holy Quran, Sura Fatihah. This means that the Providence of the Supreme God — that is, creating, sustaining and leading to the desired perfection — is operative and pervasive throughout the Universe, in the heavens, in the earth, in the bodies, in souls, in the realm of substance and in the realm of essence and in animals, vegetables and minerals and all other realms. All are sustained by His Providence. Man receives sustenance from the spring of Divine Providence, from the early embryonic, even pre-embryonic state, to the time of death, and beyond in the stage of life in the hereafter. The Providence of God, because of its extending over all spirits and bodies and beasts and vegetables and minerals and the rest, has been called the most universal benevolence. For, every object that is extant is the beneficiary of this Divine Providence and every entity owes its very existence to it. Divine Providence is thus the creator of every existing thing and sustainer of every extant object, yet it is man that benefits most by it, for the entire creation of God is of service to man. Man has, therefore, been reminded that his God is the Lord and Providence of the Universe, so that the horizon of his hopes may be extended and he may believe that God, the Supreme, has immense beneficial powers and that He can bring into being an extensive variety of means for his benefit.” Read further.
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 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 well known 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 another of the Founding Fathers of USA, Thomas Paine did that. I have a separate article about 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, in which in addition to 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. This debate between Dawkins and John Lennox occurred in the natural history museum in Oxford, UK:
The Holy Quran after urging the believers to study nature in the spheres of astronomy, geology, biology and host of other areas, argues from the tangible to the intangible and after making a case for deism uses it as a platform to teach morality and spirituality. Further details about this will be examined in a separate article, titled, From Tangible to the Intangible, but, here let me provide a sample. 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 then presenting it as supernatural and forcing 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)
Philosophers have also provided for transition from a strict understanding of Deism or Creator God to Theism, by providing a stage called, ‘Spiritual Deism.’ This and the subsequent section is reproduced from Wikipedia.
Spiritual Deism is the religious and philosophical belief in one indefinable, omnipresent god who is the cause and/or the substance of the universe. Spiritual Deists reject all divine revelation, religious dogma, and supernatural events and favor an ongoing personalized connection with the divine presence through intuition, communion with nature, meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Generally, Spiritual Deists reject the notion that God consciously intervenes in human affairs.
Spiritual Deism is extremely general and is not bound by any ideology other than the belief in one indefinable god whose spiritual presence can be felt in nature and in man. As such, Spiritual Deism is not infected by political principles or partisanship of any kind. Because of this, Spiritual Deists are extremely welcoming and tolerant to all except dogma, demagoguery, and intolerance itself. Therefore, most Spiritual Deists are more comfortable contemplating the universe as a mystery than they are in filling it with belief systems such as eternal reward, reincarnation, karma, etc.
Spiritual Deists are likely to label themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious.” Read further.
Opinions on prayer
Many classical deists were critical of some types of prayer. For example, in Christianity as Old as the Creation, Matthew Tindal argues against praying for miracles, but advocates prayer as both a human duty and a human need.
Today, deists hold a variety of opinions about prayer:
- Some contemporary deists believe (with the classical deists) that God has created the universe perfectly, so no amount of supplication, request, or begging can change the fundamental nature of the universe.
- Some deists believe that God is not an entity that can be contacted by human beings through petitions for relief; rather, God can only be experienced through the nature of the universe.
- Some deists do not believe in divine intervention but still find value in prayer as a form of meditation, self-cleansing, and spiritual renewal. Such prayers are often appreciative (i.e., “Thank you for …”) rather than supplicative (i.e., “Please God grant me …”).
- Some deists, usually referred to as Spiritual Deists, practice meditation and make frequent use of Affirmative Prayer, a non-supplicative form of prayer which is common in the New Thought movement.
Alexander Pope, generally considered to have deistic sympathies, composed a poem he called “The Universal Prayer.
President Thomas Jefferson — Was he a monotheist?
This article is a compelling argument that Thomas Jefferson negated belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and affirmed the unity of God. Was he influenced by the Holy Qur’an? Read further.
Quantum Theory – Sign of a Personal God
Now I link a recent article by me and Sardar Anees Ahmad published in the Muslim Sunrise, the Oldest Muslim publication of North America:
A deist believes God created the universe, but rejects the notion of a Personal God – a God who answers prayers or intervenes in human affairs. Many deists are strict determinist, believing that causality governs the entire universe. Albert Einstein, by his own admission, held such a conception of God, “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.”
Einstein’s own views resulted from his own remarkable scientific discoveries, as well as that of Newton. Through these discoveries, great technological advancements surfaced and scientists came to believe that determinable laws governed the entire universe.
In turn, Einstein’s strict adherence to determinism lead him to reject the notion of free will: “If this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?”
Unlike his earth-shattering discoveries regarding space, time, gravity and light, however, Einstein’s determinism would not be able to command respect. Ironically, science itself would debunk Einstein’s determinism.
True Nature of Divine Revelations
Christopher Hitchens has been called one of the four horsemen of neo-Atheism. In a very well attended and televised debate in Mexico in 2009, regarding evolution and religion, he along with Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett represented atheism against theist debaters. In a friendly tone he suggested, “I do not know about you, but if I know someone in a public bus, who is hearing voices, I will quickly move away from him.”[i] This was a convenient trick of bait and switch! He described a schizophrenic and then implied a Prophet. There is only a superficial resemblance between them and there exists a clear distinction between the two, as will become apparent from the reading of this article.
Common sense understanding of sleep is that it is a period of inactivity of brain. But, since 1953, when dreaming or REM sleep was discovered, we know that it is very far from the truth. In REM sleep human brain is as active as in the awake state, if not more; just the activity is of a different kind.
REM sleep in adult humans typically occupies 20–25% of total sleep, about 90–120 minutes of a night’s sleep. During a normal night of sleep, humans usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep; they are quite short at the beginning of the night and longer towards the end. Many of the muscles are normally paralyzed during this sleep so that the subjects do not act out their dreams and cause injury to themselves or their bed partners. The phenomenon of REM sleep and its association with dreaming was discovered by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman with assistance from William C. Dement, a medical student at the time, in 1952 during their tenures at the University of Chicago. Numerous studies have suggested that REM and NREM sleep are important for consolidation of different kinds of memories and learning. NREM sleep has different stages and the deeper stages are called slow wave sleep, which are more restorative. Read further.
Christianity versus Islam
Christianity and Islam propose a Personal God. However, these two religions have different understanding of Transcendent God, miracles and revelation. In a trilateral discussion between Deism, Christianity and Islam, I believe we can appreciate reality better and come up with better theology.
A few words about the big picture including three parties, Christians, atheists and Muslims. 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. For further reading, see my article, Recruiting the four Horsemen of Neo-atheism into Cavalry of Islam.