What is Theism?
Answer by Tony Fahey
Given the confusion that often arises between Theism and Deism, this is a question to which a response is worth considering. Theism is the belief that there is one God, a personal entity with every perfection; creator of the world, manifested in the world, interacting with the world, yet, at the same time, existing separately from the world. It is the theory of the nature of god that is embraced by the majority of religious traditions in the western world. To reiterate, it is the approach that holds that there is a god, or Gods, who stand in some kind of personal or direct relationship with human beings, while at the same time standing removed from the world. In short, Theism is the belief that god is both immanent in the world while also being transcendent.
Deism, on the other hand, rejects the Theist approach. For Deists, following the Aristotelian view of god as the first Mover, reason rather than revelation provides the truth about God’s existence and nature. For Deists, God is understood to be the First Cause and supremely intelligent creator of an ordered universe that obeys the unchangeable divinely ordained laws of reason. For Deists God is seen as the ‘perfect watchmaker’, who created or regulated this mechanism according to the best rational principles, and then, having set the machine in motion, no longer played any role in the affairs of the natural world.
Answer by Eric George
Hi there Carlos, thanks for the question and I can see why you have asked it to begin with, definitions are very important within Philosophy and at times can seem a tad overwhelming with all the ‘ism’s’ and what not, especially within the specific realm of Philosophy of Religion. Let me try to approach your question by first clarifying some misunderstandings, this way, we can attempt to clear the fog-of-ambiguity, before it clouds our searching minds. More than oft, in western-society, when one talks of ‘Theism’ one usually confuses this with Judaeo-Christian Theism (which is Monotheistic in nature) – however, the term Theism in actuality is broader than this, it really means a worldview which is inclusive to one or many spiritual entities or deities. For example; what would be termed as a ‘Theistic Religion’ would be a religion which posits the acknowledgement of one or more deities, and bases its theological implications around such deities (such as ceremonial and ritualistic aspects). In this instance, Theism is dedicated to the belief of, at the very least; one deity.
Deism on the other hand is a far more recent expression of Theism, Deism is actually a form of Theism – where Theism is dedicated to (more than often that is) a personal or interactive deity or group of deities, Deism holds that there exists only a single ‘transcendent being’, a mind prior to the human mind, so to speak. Deism does not posit a personal-relational first cause. But it does indeed posit a first-cause to begin with, whether this cause of origin can be labelled as ‘God’ or not. It has been said that Deism is a religious philosophy, and rightly so, however by ‘religious’ we do not mean this within the context of an ‘organized religious philosophy’ such as a given Religion like Islam, Hinduism or the likes. Rather, we mean that Deism is religious due to its grasp of a metaphysical-first cause explanation of reality and all that it encompasses. Many of the founding fathers of America were Deists.
In conclusion then, we see that Theism is a far more broader term than most realise and that Deism although a tad more specific than Theism, exists actually as an expression and form of Theism, and not the absence of it.