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Deism: About the God who went away

Origins of life & species.
Is Richard Dawkins a Deist?


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About the origin of the species and of life itself:

There are multiple theories concerning the origins of the multitude of species of life on Earth that currently exist or have existed in the past:

  • Creation Science: One version of this theory teaches that God created all of the species of life, from bacteria to dinosaurs to oak trees, and humans. This happened during less than a week, perhaps 6 to 10 thousand years ago. This is one of many interpretations of the creation stories in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Creation Science is incompatible with the beliefs of Deism. They accept the conclusions of science that all life did not appear on earth suddenly, recently, and in more or less its present form and diversity. They believe that the fossil record and radiometric dating show that evolution happened over an interval of about 3.5 billion years. "In Deism, Intelligent Design has absolutely nothing to do with the ... Biblical myth of creation." 1
  • Naturalistic evolution: This theory suggests that the evolution of the species from the first one-celled form of life to present day humans took place over about 3.5 billion years as a result of purely natural processes, including natural selection. God was not involved in these processes. This is compatible with the beliefs of most Deists because it allows for a God who set up the world and the rest of the universe, started it up and then left.
  • Theistic evolution: This theory accepts most of the theory of evolution but suggests that God used evolution as a tool to guide the process towards the eventual development of humans. This is also incompatible with the beliefs of most Deists who believe that God set up a set of natural laws when he initially created the universe about 15 billion years ago. Then God left, and hasn't been actively involved in events on Earth since that time. However, some Deists do believe that God has interfered with species evolution. For them, theistic evolution is a viable theory.
  • Intelligent design: This theory suggests that there are processes, organs, and designs in nature that could only have been created by an advanced intelligence -- either a deity or deities or some life form that has advanced far beyond what humans are capable of. This designer intervened at multiple times in the history of the Earth. This is also in conflict with the beliefs of most Deists because, like theistic evolution, it is incompatible with belief in an creator God who is now absent.

Not included in the theory of evolution is the study of abiogenesis: the origin of life itself. Evolution only covers the origins of species that developed from the original single-celled life form. There is believed to be no consensus at this time among Deists as to whether the development of the first life from from inanimate matter was an act of creation by God or a natural process without divine intervention.

An article about theistic evolution in Wikipedia states:

"Some deists believe that a Divine Creator initiated a universe in which evolution occurred, by designing the system and the natural laws, although many deists believe that God also created life itself, before allowing it to be subject to evolution. They find it to be undignified and unwieldy for a deity to make constant adjustments rather than letting evolution elegantly adapt organisms to changing environments. 2


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Are Richard Dawkins' beliefs evolving toward Deism?

In his book "The God Delusion" Richard Dawkins stated that "Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive later in the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it." 3 That is, he does not believe in a creator God. Some commentators have cited this and other passages in Dawkins' writings to assert that he is a strong Atheist: a person who absolutely denies the existence of God.

During In 2005 an Internet site "Edge: The World Question Centre" asked some leading scientists: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Richard Dawkins responded:

"I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe." 4

Since he admits that he cannot prove that no creator God existed, it would seem that he might be better referred to as an Agnostic: a person who believes that the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproven.

Melanie Phillips wrote a column for The Spectator -- a UK magazine -- suggesting that Dawkins' beliefs are "still evolving" towards Deism. 5 She quotes a debate between Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford University in which Dawkins said: "A serious case could be made for a deistic God." Phillips speculates that Dawkins still regards belief in the God of the Bible is equivalent to "... believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden." However, an entirely different creator deity just might have existed: one that created and kick-started the universe, but has not been involved with humanity or the rest of the universe since. Unfortunately, this topic was not further pursued during the debate.

in Dawkins's 2006 program "The Root of All Evil?," he says:

Science can't disprove the existence of God. But that does not mean that God exists. There are a million things we can't disprove. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, had an analogy. Imagine there's a china teapot in orbit around the sun. You cannot disprove the existence of the teapot, because it's too small to be spotted by our telescopes. Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.' 6,7

Maybe we have to be technically and strictly agnostic, but in practice we are all teapot atheists.

This last statement, we suspect, reflects Dawkins' true beliefs: that one cannot rigorously disprove or prove the existence of Deism's absent creator God, the Jewish Yahweh, the Christian Trinity or Islam's Allah or Russell's teapot, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Thus one must remain Agnostic unless and until some proof is found. But that does not preclude an individual from having an opinion on the likelihood of any of these seven entities. If forced to make a decision based on the existence of one of these entities, Dawkins would probably assume that none exist. We suspect that he is a technical Agnostic but practical Atheist.


References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Deism Defined," World Union of Deists, at: http://www.deism.com/
  2. "Theistic evolution," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion," Bantam, (2006), Mariner Books, (2008), Page 31. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Last time we looked, used copies cost $2.05 plus shipping costs.
  4. Richard Dawkins, "Broadcasting House," BBC Radio 4, 2005-JAN. Cited in "The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 4," Evangelical Philosophical Society, at: http://www.epsociety.org/
  5. Melanie Phillips, "Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?," The Spectator, 2008-OCT-23, at: http://www.spectator.co.uk/
  6. Richard Dawkins, "The Root of All Evil?," a 2006-JAN TV documentary from Channel 4 in the UK.
  7. Part 1 of "The Root of All Evil?" can be viewed at: http://video.google.com/; Part 2 is at: http://video.google.com/

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Copyright 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-NOV-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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