Deism is the notion that an all-powerful, perfect God exists, but he merely started the process of creation; he never intervenes within it. Deists hold that this is part of God’s perfection. He is so great at his job, so to speak, that he never needs to break his laws of physics. They allege that only a deficient deity would need to so intervene. This also helps get God off the hook for the existence of evil. If God intervenes all the time, why doesn’t he do so more often so as to stop evil?
I sympathize with the desire to see God as the most perfect being. I too think he must be perfect. I also sympathize with those who are grappling with the problem of evil. But I see some problems with the deist’s reasoning.
First of all, it is a bit presumptuous to suppose that for God to be perfect he would never intervene in his creation. In fact, many have pointed out that God would be less perfect if he never intervened. For example, a non-interventionist God would be supremely unconcerned to relate closely to his creation. That strikes me as an imperfection. God is essentially a dead-beat dad on deism, an apathetic father. A desire for relationship is one reason that an all-good God would have for intervening in his creation.
Second, if deism is true, it is hard to see how human beings could be created in God’s image. The image of God is essentially what makes human being distinct from the other animals. As image bearers, we have a unique responsibility to represent God on this earth. If we take away this attribute, we may be tempted to exploit the world rather than steward it. Stewardship requires humility. Humility was seen as a flaw by Aristotle, one of the earliest deists. And his view seems consistent with deism. On deism, why should we seek to care for those who are lower than us on the social strata? Why should we humble ourselves when we’ve sinned? God doesn’t give a rip much about it one way or another. He’s the dead-beat dad, right? He doesn’t humble himself.
Third, deists often refer to the laws of nature as unalterable. It would thus make God imperfect to violate his own unchangeable laws. But why refer to the laws of nature as unalterable? Why not think of them as patterns of God’s sustaining activity? Then an intervention is not a violation, but it is simply an addition or subtraction of something God is already causing to happen. Imagine for example, that you are sitting in the famous tree above Sir Isaac Newton. You are getting ready to drop the famous apple on his famous head. What stops the apple from descending to the selected target? It’s the strength of your arm. You are holding the apple from falling. Your arm muscles are keeping the apple aloft over Sir Isaac’s head by an addition of power. This seems to me to be a better analogy about how God could intervene in such a way as that it is not viewed as a violation.
Fourth, the problem of evil is actually worse on deism than on theism. As I mentioned, you have the dead-beat dad problem on deism. On theism, you can see that God is working for a greater good. The allowance of evil can be seen as a greater good because freedom of the will is greater than its lack. The deist could presumably agree with that sentiment. But without God’s interventions and general oversight of the world, it is hard to see how evil will be defeated in the end. Perhaps it could become some kind of optimal balance, but could it every really be defeated without God? Look at human nature for a millisecond and your hopes of that will wither. But maybe the most important issue here is that without interventions there would be no chance of God incarnate. God could never suffer along with his children. This is perhaps the greatest strength of Christianity among the theistic religions of the world. Not only has God not been silent, but he has made his voice deafeningly clear through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And the irony is that while most deists would be skeptical of the resurrection, it is the part of the Christian creed with the greatest amount of evidence.
While deism is a welcome half-way house between atheism and theism, it is a difficult place to remain. Theism is a welcoming respite to the lonely deist. It is calling. Come back into the hospitality of God.