I was trying to find a way into Keith Burgess-Jackson’s eponymous blog, which seems to have been closed to public view since he defended Roy Moore’s courtship of a 14-year-old person. (Perhaps Moore might have been cut some slack by a segment of the vast left-wing conspiracy had the person been a male.) My search for an entry has thus far been futile, but I did come across an intriguing item produced by Burgess-Jackson last August: A Taxonomy of Religions.
In it, KBJ (as I will refer to him hereinafter) claims that there are religious atheists (e.g., Jainists and Buddhists) as well as irreligious ones. Atheistic religions (a jarring term) seem to be religions that prescribe moral codes and ways of life (e.g., non-violence, meditation, moderation), but which don’t posit a god or gods which created and in some way control the universe.
What’s interesting (to me) about KBJ’s taxonomy is what isn’t there. The god or gods of KBJ’s taxonomy are “personal” — a conscious being or conscious beings who deliberately created the universe, exert continuous control of it, and even communicate with human beings after some fashion.
What isn’t there, other than atheism, which denies a creator? It’s the view that there was a creator — a force of unknown qualities — which put the universe in motion but may no longer have anything to do with it. That kind of creator would be impersonal and therefore uncommunicative with the objects of its creation. This position is classical deism, as I understand it.
The only substantive difference between this hard deism (as it’s sometimes called) and non-religious atheism, as I see it, is the question of creation. A hard deist believes in the necessity of a creator. The atheist rejects the necessity and holds that the universe just is — full stop.
But if a hard deist sees no role for the creator after the creation, isn’t he really just an atheist? After all, if the creation is over and done with, and the creator no longer has anything to do with the universe, that’s tantamount to saying that we’re on our own, as an atheist would say.
But a deist could subscribe to the view that the creator not only set the universe in motion, but also did so by design. That is, things like light, the behavior of matter-energy, etc., didn’t arise by accident but are part of a deliberate effort to give order to what would otherwise be randomness.
If one accepts that view, one becomes a kind of soft deist who sees a semi-personal god behind the creation — something more than just a brute force. This position resembles the stance of the late Antony Flew, an English philosopher:
In a 2004 interview … , Flew, then 81 years old, said that he had become a deist. In the article Flew states that he has renounced his long-standing espousal of atheism by endorsing a deism of the sort that Thomas Jefferson advocated (“While reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings”).
I take the view that a creator is a logical necessity:
1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.
1. There is necessarily a creator of the universe, which comprises all that exists in “nature”.
2. The creator is not part of nature; that is, he stands apart from his creation and is neither of its substance nor governed by its laws. (I use “he” as a term of convenience, not to suggest that the creator is some kind of human or animate being, as we know such beings.)
3. The creator designed the universe, if not in detail then in its parameters. The parameters are what we know as matter-energy (substance) and its various forms, motions, and combinations (the laws that govern the behavior of matter-energy).
4. The parameters determine everything that is possible in the universe. But they do not necessarily dictate precisely the unfolding of events in the universe. Randomness and free will are evidently part of the creator’s design.
5. The human mind and its ability to “do science” — to comprehend the laws of nature through observation and calculation — are artifacts of the creator’s design.
6. Two things probably cannot be known through science: the creator’s involvement in the unfolding of natural events; the essential character of the substance on which the laws of nature operate.
I would add a third unknowable thing: whether morality is implicit in the creation, and if so, what it comprises. But if it is implicit in the creator’s design, it is therefore discernible (if imperfectly).
How and by whom is it discernible? By clerics, reasoning from religious texts? By philosophers, reasoning from the nature of human beings and the discoveries of science?
Here is my view: If morality is something ingrained in human beings by their nature, as dictated by the “terms” of the creation, it reveals itself in widely accepted and practiced norms, such as the Golden Rule.
Such norms precede their codification by philosophers and holy men. They reflect what “works“, that is, what makes for a cohesive and productive society.
Positive law — legislative, executive, and judicial edicts — often undoes those norms and undermines society. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is but one glaring example.
The Golden Rule and the State
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
In Defense of Marriage
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
The Atheism of the Gaps
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Why Conservatism Works
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
The Limits of Science (II)
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Fine-Tuning in a Wacky Wrapper
Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
The Fragility of Knowledge