From time to time, people do come along and write things like this “response to Pandeism” put forth by noted Christian apologist John Oakes. And, well, such things as these, I must answer.
Defining the Problem:
Oakes begins his “response” complimentarily (sic), at least, offering that “Pandeism is an interesting philosophy,” and observing that “it is not a religion, but a philosophical/worldview perspective.” Additionally he qualifies at several points that he is “far from an expert on this philosophy” and has done “little research” on it. As to his critique proper, Oakes actually begins by launching a volley against Pantheism, describing its premise that “God fills up the universe and the universe is, essentially God”, but noting as well that “if God is, essentially, the universe, then the universe cannot have been created.” But, Oakes continues:
This is a big problem for pantheism, because science tells us that the universe is not eternal, neither can it be eternal. The universe was created about 13.5 billion years ago out of nothing. It is not an oscillating universe. The second Law of thermodynamics tells us that the universe cannot be eternal. Where does this leave the thinking pantheist? Classical pantheism cannot be supported in view of clear cosmological evidence. Pandeism comes to the rescue.
Now, this is an interesting critique coming from a Christian apologist, in that it inherently throws out the timeframe of the Creation story of the Judeochristian Scripture (a sore point for fundamentalists, who require the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve with the apple to set up the notion of original sin). In so doing Oakes at least hypothetically ought to be allowing for a Creator who has set forth a wholly evolutionary Universe (verily, as Pandeism does). But Oakes eschews this logical step; instead he retreats to his premises and simply describes Pandeism as an “ad hoc and a weak marriage” of deism and pantheism:
The marriage seems to be, as it appears, at first glance, to be self-contradictory. The deist believes in a Creator who created the universe but who is not personally invested in the universe. This Creator does not intervene in the universe. The Creator is not personal but rather impersonal and, obviously, distant. An impersonal universe is certainly consistent with pantheism, but pantheism has an eternal, uncreated universe. The pandeist proposes that there was an impersonal Creator who, after the creation, allowed himself to be absorbed into the Universe. To the outsider, this seems like a patch-up to save pantheism in a world in which creation is clearly implied by the data. What is the nature of this Creator? How can the Creator become the creation? This is hard to explain.
Part of Oakes’ problem may lie in his fundamental misstatement of what Pandeism is. For he is hardly the first to mistakenly claim that the pandeistic Creator “after the creation, allowed himself to be absorbed into the Universe” when in fact Pandeism makes no claim of absorption into an already-created Universe, but of the quite distinct act of Creation itself being the singular act of our Creator wholly becoming the Creation itself.
It worth asking, as well, if “creation is clearly implied by the data,” ought we not to dispose of all belief systems which fail to follow what is implied by the data? Ought we not dismiss all faiths inconsistent with a Universe “created about 13.5 billion years ago”? And if we are to follow what is implied by the data, ought we not to build our theological model by first examining all available scientific date, and then extrapolating from that the set of logically consistent theological models?
As to Oakes’ difficulty with the notion of a Creator able to become its Creation, perhaps this ought to be ‘hard to explain’ to an atheist, but one would think that a theist would readily acknowledge that their Creator had the power to do such a thing. Indeed, a Creator creating from its own substance, and not needing to exercise an additional power of ex nihilo Creation, is the simplest kind of Creation which can be. If it is indeed “hard to explain” such a thing, then it must be an especially weak and incapable Creator which Oakes would take in place of one which has the power to have set forth our Universe pandeistically.
Argumentum ad populum:
Oakes is additionally quick to raise an argumentum ad populum, contending that “this esoteric philosophy is not held to by any world religion,” and to note his knowing of “no influential philosophers or teachers who have publicly called them selves pandeists.” As to these propositions, I can only suggest that Oakes make a more searching reading of the Bhagavad Gita. Though Oakes seems content to pigeonhole Eastern faiths generally as pantheistic instead of pandeistic, it is immediately apparent in a full reading of that seminal work, and in others along its same lines, that many strains of Hinduism and other Eastern religious philosophies envision a Creator-deity who has in fact become our Universe, and revels in the sharing of the experiences of lives arising within it.
In fact, many faiths have scriptural passages which may be so interpreted. And, many have sects or scholars which have expressed such interpretations quite explicitly (though perhaps Oakes was looking for somebody to declare “I am a Pandeist,” as though the name of the theory invoked some special significance). We need not stand on such ceremony in philosophy — Benedict Spinoza is universally acknowledged as one of the originators of Pantheism, though he never uttered that word because it had not yet been coined when he set forth his ideas.
An Anthropic Critique:
Back to the critique, Oakes states that “this philosophy was created purely from human thinking in order to solve a perceived rational problem with both deism and pantheism.” Yes, but so is all religion. So is theological thought generally. And indeed, so is Oakes’ Christianity, and every other theism. But theistic faiths cannot fathom the human capacity for inventing religions except to have faith that their own is true and to propose as to all others that deity-made evil spirits have broken loose and run amuck amongst us dispensing theological falsehoods. And yet Pandeism fully accounts for theistic faiths without making any such contorted assumptions.
It is the honest forms of theology which admit that they are products of human reflection, that there is no reliable proof for a universally true revelation or scripture, and that what theological truth there is must be what can be gleaned and extrapolated from a logical, reasoned, scientific examination of our Universe itself. And Deism and Pandeism happen to accord with scientific knowledge without needing to mutilate facts to meet ancient accounts, nor to posit a deceiver deity who makes things appear other than as they are, or makes and sets upon us superpowered evil spirits capable of effecting this deception by proxy.
A Straw Man in the Mirror:
Oakes closes with the assessment that Pandeism is “self-contradictory,” and “a patch-up, created to solve a logical problem, rather than based on any evidence for the truth of the philosophy.” But, again, he has early on disclaimed actual knowledge of Pandeism, or study of it, and so apparently speaks in ignorance of what proof is claimed to support Pandeism, and indeed of what Pandeism actually is all about. At the least, he makes no effort to summarize this proof and address it with specificity.
And so, the contradiction that Oakes believes he finds in Pandeism is a straw man born from Oakes’ own misunderstanding of what Pandeism actually contends. It is not the sort of contradiction embodied in the claim of an all-powerful, all-benevolent intervening deity who nonetheless watches placidly while children are tortured to death and wars are fought by competing claimants to its name, for Pandeism makes no such claims, and bears no such contradiction.
And, lastly, as to Pandeism being “a patch-up,” such evaluation mischaracterizes a genuine reconciliation of coherently compatible elements of systems as to which each is partially explanatory. One might as well call any modern computer “a patch-up,” because it combines various pieces of technology initially invented for different reasons into a whole more useful than any one of the things for which such technology was first developed. Perhaps a better example of a ‘patch-up’ would be a religion built on bits and pieces stolen from other, more ancient mythological traditions — a flood myth here, a virgin birth there, any number of returns from death elsewhere.
A Closing Suggestion:
Oakes’ conclusions need not be further addressed, because his premises are simply entirely wrong. His conclusions simply cannot be reached. I would only suggest to Oakes that, in the future, if he deigns to take on such a topic as Pandeism, he ought to actually study it enough to know what claims are made by it, and what the history of it is, before proposing reasons for which to dismiss it. And, naturally, he ought to take care that what criticisms he gives are not those which are more powerfully directed at the beliefs which he would uphold in the place of his target.
First of all, I do not “throw out the timeframe of the Judaeo-Christian Scripture.” I, along with a majority of Christian believers, interpret the “days” of Genesis 1 metaphorically, as did many Jewish and Church Fathers in ancient times. I believe that the biblical creation story is in good agreement with science. The Bible proposes that: 1. God pre-existed the universe and he created it from light. 2. Having created the universe from nothing (Hebrews 11:3), he created the earth, covered by water, with land later emerging from the water, after which life appeared in the sea, the atmosphere evolved to where the sun, moon and stars could be seen from the surface (on the fourth “day”), after which life appeared on the land, ever-more complex life forms, and finally, man appeared in the image of God. This is in essential accord with the discoveries of science. So, although I believe that pandeism was created as a pseudo-pantheistic philosophy which can be in accord with science and the fact of the creation of the universe, both pandeism and Christianity are in accord in proposing that the universe was created by a Creator. So, I am essentially in agreement with this gentleman that the idea of God creating a universe which evolved over time according to the laws of nature that God created is reasonable and I believe it is fully consistent with the Christian scriptures.
Nevertheless, I will not back off from my opinion that pandeism is an ad hoc response to the science.
In fact, here is how Wikipedia defines pandeism:
Pandeism (or pan-deism) is a theological doctrine which combines aspects of pantheism into deism.
Here you can see that my charge that this is, in essence, a “patch-up” in that it is a purposeful combination of two traditional theologies. Wikipedia continues:
It holds that the creator deity became the universe and ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity. Pandeism is proposed to explain, as it relates to deism, why God would create a universe and then abandon it, and as to pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.
The word pandeism is a hybrid blend of the root words pantheism and deism
Again, although my description may not be particularly elegant, Wikipedia authors agree with me that this is a modern conglomeration of pantheism and deism. It is a marriage of convenience of two ideas that, at least from my own perspective, seem to be inherently contradictory.
Our pandeist friend makes the following statement: “Part of Oakes’ problem may lie in his fundamental misstatement of what Pandeism is. For he is hardly the first to mistakenly claim that the pandeistic Creator “after the creation, allowed himself to be absorbed into the Universe” when in fact Pandeism makes no claim of absorption into an already-created Universe, but of the quite distinct act of Creation itself being the singular act of our Creator wholly becoming the Creation itself.”
My response is that to me, as an outsider, this is a distinction without a difference. His rewording of the idea does not undo any of my arguments, although I am willing to concede that he has the right to restate it the way he does.
After this, my friend says this: “It worth asking, as well, if “creation is clearly implied by the data,” ought we not to dispose of all belief systems which fail to follow what is implied by the data? Ought we not dismiss all faiths inconsistent with a Universe “created about 13.5 billion years ago”? And if we are to follow what is implied by the data, ought we not to build our theological model by first examining all available scientific date (sic), and then extrapolating from that the set of logically consistent theological models?”
To this I give a qualified yes. Actually, I do not think we should “build a theological model from the scientific data.” This is putting the cart before the horse. However, I believe that we should reject any worldview which clearly contradicts the scientific evidence. I am prepared to accept that neither the biblical nor the pandeist creation model contradicts the science on creation of the universe.
My pandeist friend claims that I have made an argumentum ad populum, (argument against the idea based on the fact that it is not an historically popular idea) and perhaps this is not completely unfounded. However, my argument is not actually from the popular. My argument is that pandeism is a recent phenomenon—that it is recent because it was created as a patch-up to save the pantheistic idea in the light of the recent discovery that the universe is created. This is not a popularity argument but an argument for the origin of the belief. My friend then proposes to disprove my contention by claiming that there have been many pandeists in the past. Unfortunately he uses as his examples the Baghavadh Gita and Spinoza. These examples do not work well for his point of view, in my opinion. I respectfully disagree that either of these are pandeists by the definition of this philosophy.
I will definitely concede that there is a fantastically wide range of philosophy and religion that falls under the simplistic title “Hinduism” for us in the West. This is true, but I definitely do not agree that the worldview of the Bhagavad Gita is pandeistic. The author(s) of this epic have a cosmology which includes cycles of time, repeated creations by Vishnu and destructions by Shiva. This eternal uncreated universe is the cosmology of the Bhagavad Gita. It is difficult or impossible to squeeze pandeism into this work. Sorry, but this does not refute my claim that pandeism is a fairly recent philosophical invention which was created to have a pseudo-pantheistic world view which is consistent with a created universe. The same can be said for Spinoza. He was strongly committed to the idea of an eternal universe. He was no pandeist. Spinoza’s pantheist-influenced cosmology of an eternal uncreated universe is incompatible with pandeism.
So, I may be wrong and I may even be unfair in my depiction of the genesis of pandeism, but the best I can tell, this is a recent invention, the genesis of which is motivated, in part at least, by the creation of the Big Bang model. If my friend can provide evidence that I am wrong, then I will concede this point. Put it this way, invoking Spinoza or the Baghavad Gita is not helpful. It is ironic that our pandeist friend says this: “Benedict Spinoza is universally acknowledged as one of the originators of Pantheism” Perhaps this was a typo, but I can agree that Spinoza was instrumental in bringing pantheism to the West, but not pandeism!
Next, my pandeist friend makes the following statement: “Back to the critique, Oakes states that “this philosophy was created purely from human thinking in order to solve a perceived rational problem with both deism and pantheism.” Yes, but so is all religion. So is theological thought generally.”
Sorry, but I am going to vigorously disagree with this statement. It is a mere statement, but the author does not support it with anything other than his statement. I believe that the Bible is the result, not of human thinking, but of the inspiration of God. The evidence for this is overwhelming. The fulfillment of historical prophecy, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the scientific reliability of the Bible, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the consistency of the Bible’s worldview with what we know of reality, and much more proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the Christian view is not the result of mere human thinking. That all religion is the result of pure human thinking is simply an opinion. I believe that this opinion is not consistent with the overwhelming evidence for the miraculous ministry of Jesus, of his resurrection and of the inspiration of the Bible. Basically, what the author is doing is admitting that his pandeism is nothing more than an invention of human minds. This is not a very strong basis for convincing me that pandeism is the Truth. There is plenty of evidence that Jesus was who he said he was. I prefer to go with evidence rather than human conjecture. Therefore I reject pandeism and accept biblical theism.
This author accuses me of “mutilating facts.” What facts have I mutilated? If we are going to make such strong accusations, we need to be more specific than this. He provides no facts that I have mutilated, so it is really tough to respond to this unfounded claim. I believe that the resurrection of Jesus is well-founded. I believe that the deity of Jesus, based on his fulfillment of prophecy and his miracles is well-founded. So, please help me out and tell me what facts have been mutilated so that I can respond. As for proposing that I believe in a deceiver deity, this is a very serious charge! However, my pandeist friend, again, provides no specifics but appears to be mudslinging at this point, unless he will provide an actual example of his claim. I absolutely reject the claim that the God of the Bible is a deceiving deity. This is a slur which ought not to be made without providing a reason for the calumny.
Lastly, our friend accuses me of a straw-man argument. But then he fails to explain why it is a straw-man argument. By definition, a straw-man argument is a presentation of an opponent’s position which is much weaker than his/her actual position. The straw-man arguer then argues, not against the actual position of the person, but against a simplistic and weaker version of the argument.
OK, then, in what sense is my argument straw-man? I claim that pandeism as an idea was created out of human thinking (a point that my pandeist friend actually concedes) and that it was created fairly recently as a means to sustain pantheistic thinking in light of recent discoveries. I believe this is the case. It certainly appears to be true based on what I have seen, but I will happily change my opinion if my pandeist friend can provide reasons to change this claim. But in the mean time, this is not a straw-man argument. Which part of pandeism have I misrepresented? Which of your beliefs have I described in a way which is not fair and then argued unfairly against it?
My pandeist friend then concludes by restating what he said before, which is that in his opinion, pandeism is logical and simpler than biblical theism. I am not sure I entirely agree with this contention, but, to me, how logical something is really is not particularly relevant to whether it is true. If this is his strongest defense of pandeism then I say it is not a very stong one. In fact, I do not agree with this claim that pandeism is more logical than biblical theism at all. The biblical idea of a non-physical non-created Creator makes much more sense than a “Creator-deity who has in fact become our Universe” How can a thing become the thing which it created? Sorry, but this illogical and self-refuting in my opinion.
By the way, the author throws out some other calumnies. He claims that God does not care and stands by placidly while children are abused and while wars are fought in his name. This is a straw-man argument, if there ever was one. He is arguing against a God who is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible created the universe so that he could love us, that we could love him and one another. This loving Creator gave his created beings free will to choose whether to do good or to do evil. The biblical story is that created mankind rebelled against God and, because he loves us, God has allowed us to rebel. Love does not force. Love gives a choice. Love does NOT force people to do what is right. The existence of sin and of evil in the world is not an apologetic against the Christian idea of God. Not at all. This “placid” uncaring God that my friend argues against is not the God of the Bible, but one of his imagination. Look at Jesus, who was, arguably, the most compassionate man who ever lived. Consider his love, his concern, his healing ministry, his compassion, his disavowal of violence. This is the God of the Bible. This is the God whom my friend ought to argue against.
My friend then makes unsubstantiated claims that the Bible writers stole such things as the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus from older religions. The problem is that he makes this claim but then presents no evidence to support this. Throwing out unsubstantiated charges is not an honorable way to argue. The reason that Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is that there were hundreds of eye-witnesses to this event. The claim was made within days of the execution of Jesus. It is not credible to claim that Christians stole this idea from more ancient religions. I need a better argument than this, to be honest. If he will parrot the weak claims of characters such as Robert Price that the Bible stories are stolen from other ancient religions, I will happily engage in this debate. It will not stand up to the evidence.
My friend concludes by stating that “his premises are simply entirely wrong.” OK. Which premise is wrong? That pandeism is a recent philosophical movement? I believe that it is so. Wikipedia (the expert on all topics, as we know) traces its birth to modern times. That it is a convenient if illogical patchwork combination of deism and pantheism? I believe that this is an accurate description. What premise is entirely wrong? The statement is not backed up by specifics. It is an unfounded statement.
So, although I will still admit that I have not spend vast amounts of time studying this philosophical idea, I was asked an opinion by a questioner, I gave the best response I could in light of what I DO know, and, to the best that I can tell, this pandeist person’s criticism does nothing to change what I said about pandeism.