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THEISM is the philosophical worldview that perceives the orders of existence (physical things, organisms, persons) as dependent for their being and continuance on one self-existent God, who alone is worthy of worship. Theists differ among themselves about the nature of God and the relation of God to these orders, but they close ranks against deists, who, in principle, exclude revelation and divine intervention in world order, and against pantheists, who identify God with these orders. Theists hold that God, transcendent creator of the orders, remains an indivisible unity as he sustains them in accordance with their capacities and his ultimate purposes.

In formulating their views, philosophical theists remind themselves of the many obstacles that impede the human search for the true, the good, the beautiful, and the holy. They distinguish between the ultimate mystery of being and mysteries that vanish as human understanding increases. Aware that the last word on the mystery of being is beyond their grasp, they pursue the best clues to the relation of the ultimate reality to themselves and the quality of their existence. In the history of theism and of monism, it is almost invariably claimed that immediate experiences of the divine are the most authentic, inspiring sources of truth about the ultimately real, and that these religious experiences take priority over claims based on rational, moral, and aesthetic experience.

However, since religious experients, including seasoned mystics, make conflicting claims about what is revealed, most philosophical theists (hereafter referred to simply as "theists") will take into account the claims based on religious insight but will not grant them arbitrary priority over other interpretations of experience. Broadly speaking, the drift in theistic thinking is toward improving insight into the nature of God and the attributes that are essential for conveying his transcendence and immanence. This essay, in the main, stresses the drift of these reflections without expounding paradigm arguments as such, even as they have been articulated by great theists.

Ontological Argument

When Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (10931109), formulated the ontological argument for God, he was expressing an invincible conviction: the human intellect is, in fact, gripped by at least one idea that, clearly understood, proves the knower's kinship with the ultimate reality as inherently one and good. Anselm's fascinating proposal is that every mind has the idea of a perfect being, namely, of "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" (Proslogium, chap. 2). The uniqueness of this idea is missed by any opponent who counters that to argue thus is like deducing the existence of an island from the idea of a perfect island; after all, any island, to be an island, must be perfect. But the idea of a perfect island is not "that than which nothing greater can be conceived," namely, a self-existent being.

Proponents deduce that this one self-existent being is intrinsically immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and good. These attributes dominate their interpretations of the perfection of this transcendent God's immanence in the world orders. The conclusion of the ontological argument is not grounded in interpretations of human experiences of sense and of value. Indeed, the mind's awareness of perfection is the guiding norm for evaluating claims based on these dimensions of human experience. Nevertheless, theists, whether or not they are sufficiently impressed by the ontological proof, usually explore the family of ideas associated with perfect being in order to help resolve conflicts that do originate in experiences of sense and of value.

Cosmological Argument

The cosmological argument for God centers attention on the explanation of the dependable regularity of changes among the countless beings that make up the spatiotemporal world and constitute it an orderly whole (a cosmos). The cosmological theist emphasizes that the cause-and-effect connections (and other relations) in this world are contingent and not self-existent, that they cannot of themselves ground the cosmic order assumed in so much theory and practice. The Theist therefore proposes that this, or any, cosmic order is the product of a self-existent cause. For without such a cause, the successions of beings and events, having no reliable frameworks of their own, are in fact happenstance. Moreover, the cosmos is a collective whole whose unity is actually contingent, unless the succession of beings and events is grounded in the activity of a self-existent cause. Such a cause is not one supreme being alongside other beings, and it cannot be conceived adequately on the model of any dependent being.

The argument thus far presented allows all contingent beings to be modes of the One, which is consistent with forms of monism. But, for reasons to be noted, the theist holds that the cause, although immanent in all orders, must not be conceived as absorbing them, as in panentheism, nor identified with them, as in pantheism.

While some theists regard such cosmological conclusions as logically demonstrative, most theists regard them as more reasonably probable than alternative explanations of the cosmos. "More reasonably probable" does not mean statistically probable, however. Because there can be no observation of a series of world orders (as there can be of, say, repeated throwings of dice), there can be no calculation of mathematically probable trends. After all, cosmological theists seek the explanatory ground for trusting connections (including statistical calculations) that underlie the uniformity of nature.

Some critics of cosmological theists charge that they commit the fallacy of composition in affirming that a whole of contingent parts must itself be contingent. For example, they contend that a whole of overlapping, contingent beings and events may logically be an everlasting cosmos. To this a cosmological theist replies that to explain cosmos by self-existent cause is, in fact, not to commit the fallacy of composition. Surely, there is no fallacy in concluding that a group composed of blind members is never more than a totality of blind individuals. Similarly, a whole composed of intrinsically contingent beings and relations cannot be other than contingent. Moreover, the theist points out that a continuous, everlasting contingency is still contingency and certainly no substitute for a whole, unified by a self-existent cause.

Theists and monists agree that the self-existent cause (the One) is indivisible and immutable. Were it composite or changing in any way, we would be back seeking an adequate ground for dependable change. Other philosophical considerations influence the theist's and monist's differing conceptions about the immanence of the transcendent One. But they agree, in principle, that analogical inferences from the dependent orders can serve as pointers to the nature of the One. They both discourage the mythological mode of anthropomorphism in depicting the One. And it is on the foundation of the self-existent, immutable One as the essence of perfection that they proceed to refine conceptions of the transcendent One in itself and in its immanence within the dependent orders.

Thus, both theists and monists agree that the self-existent One is incorporeal, since corporeal being is limited by its spatial nature. But is this incorporeal One to be conceived as a person? For example, is its nature compatible with the influential, first formal definition of a person as proposed by Boethius (c. 480525): "an individual substance of a rational nature" (Against Eutyches 6)? The line of reasoning that favors belief in the personhood of the One is fundamental also to the cosmological argument for the self-existent, immutable cause: any successive change cannot be a succession independent of an unchanging, unifying agent. Furthermore, a succession cannot be known as a succession apart from a nonsuccessive experient of succession. In the last analysis, reasoning itself is not possible without a time-transcending unity, free from limitations of corporeal composition. The self-existent cause is best conceived, therefore, as an unchanging, indivisible Person.

However, monists in the West (e.g., Plotinus, Spinoza, Hegel, F. H. Bradley) and in the East (especially Indian exponents of Advaita Vedānta, from Śakara in the ninth century ce to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in the twentieth century) developed the concept of incorporeal unity, but they considered the attribution of any concept of a person to the suprapersonal One as misleading. The theist, nevertheless, contends that an infinite Person, inherently and fully rational, is the least misleading view of the contemporaneous One. Can the adherent of the suprapersonal One intelligibly deny that the One is self-aware and aware of all that is (omniscient)? Moreover, can we avoid theoretical shipwreck if the very insistence on the fathomless depths of the One leads to the conclusion that the finite person's ideals of logic and of truth, goodness, and beauty bear, in principle, no trustworthy clue to the nature of suprapersonal unity?

Nor does the theist stop here. The spearhead of the theist's rejection of an all-absorbing One is the conviction that the individual person experiences free will to choose between alternatives within his powers. The theist stresses that without free will it makes no sense to refer to conclusions as true or false. For a conclusion that cannot be drawn from a relatively free, impartial weighing of evidence for and against hypothesis is nothing but the outcome of the regnant play of factors in the knower. Such an outcome is one event among other events and is neither true nor false.

Furthermore, if personal free will is nullified, so is the difference between moral good and moral evil, since each depends on a person's having the free will to choose between alternative courses of action deemed to be good or evil. It is such freedom of will that is vital to the theist's conception of a person's responsibility to other persons and to his interpretation of a person's relation to the physical, the subpersonal orders of being, and to God himself.

Hence, when the theist is told that the orders of being are ultimately machinelike and indifferent to the values of persons, or that the whole framework of things is a logical network that allows for no (supposedly capricious) free will, or when mystical union with the One is taken as indubitable evidence that a person is in fact only a particular center of God's being, the theist will stand by a person's experience of limited free will while pointing out the theoretical and moral consequences of its denial. This stand is basic to his conception of the Creator as person.

Although theists are not of one mind as to the self-existent Person's relation to the order of physical things and of subpersonal living beings, they concur that God creates persons out of nothingness (creatio ex nihilo). This concept, unthinkable to any Greek or Indian philosopher, is admittedly mysterious, but what is posited must be understood in its context. Creatio ex nihilo does not mean that God, as it were, takes nothing and makes what he creates therefrom. Rather, he creates what did not exist prior to his creative act. God does not create from being(s) independent of him, nor does he create from his own being; the created orders do not emanate from his being. God creates persons to be free within their potential and in relation to the other orders. The Indian philosopher Rāmānuja (c. 10171173) argued against the absorption of persons in the distinctionless One (brāhman), as held in the prevailing advaita (nondualist) philosophy of Śakaraalthough, in the end, he, too, insisted on their ultimate union with the suprapersonal One.

Does the creation of persons, free to develop their own potential and, within limits, their own environments, not conflict with the attribute of God's omnipotent will? No, since God's creating of free persons is self-imposed and is, therefore, an instance of God's omnipotence.

But may not a person's use of freedom influence the fulfillment of God's purposes? On this, theists disagree, depending, in good part, on their conception of God's other attributes. It is worth noting that often, when it seems that God's attributes in effect conflict with each other, theists warn that God's attributes must not be isolated from each other, since this would violate the indivisibility of God's being. The application of this doctrine here supports the view that God's self-imposed creating of persons as free and not as puppets will not issue in the thwarting of his purposes.

But, if the attribute of God's omniscience is defined as God's knowing all that is, has been, and will be, must not God's foreknowledge be limited (and his power affected) by a person's freedom? What can it mean to affirm human freedom of choice if God knows in every instance and in every detail what any person will choose? Some theists take omniscience to mean that the Creator knows all there is to know (including all the options possible and available). They cannot understand how the freedom of persons at the point of choice is compatible with foreknowledge of what the choice will be, let alone compatible with the necessary fulfillment of the omnipotent God's will. Their theistic opponents, however, urge that the creation of free persons should not be interpreted as curtailing either God's power or his knowledge in any way that would limit his control of all there is and will be. They argue that we should not impose on the perfect, timeless Person the conditions of temporal succession to which finite persons are limited in knowing. They suggest that something like human intuitive knowing "all at once," which differs markedly from discursive inference "from one meaning to the other," provides a more helpful clue to God's knowing.

It is plain that the self-existent Creator, whose immutable transcendence is contemporaneous with his immanence in the temporal world, leaves theists with theoretical tensions. But they find these tensions more acceptable than the identification of all that exists with the One.

Teleological Argument

In advancing the concept of the contemporaneous cause as Creator-Person, the theist implies his conviction that causal order is best understood in terms of some goal. Such teleological thinking examines composite things and series of events that strongly suggest design, namely, the cooperation of parts that produce one kind of goal and not another. The spring of a watch is best understood in terms of its relation to the other parts that, along with it, effect the purpose of the watch. So, also, although every animate cell has its own order, understanding of that cell is increased once its contribution to the orderly function of the whole organism is specified.

Accordingly, the teleological argument for God does not arbitrarily add purposeful goal seeking to nonpurposive causes. It centers attention on the designs that can be reasonably inferred as causal patterns when they are viewed in the context of unifying goals. For theists moving from cosmological considerations to teleological understanding, the controlling conviction is that the physical, the organic, and the human orders are most reasonably understood as fitting together within the comprehensive purpose of the Creator. Moreover, teleological theists hold that the inanimate and subhuman orders are so created as to provide for the good of persons, persons who can and should realize that they live in God's world, a training ground for the life to come.

Insofar as theists expound and defend a teleological argument that calls to mind a Creator-Architect-Carpenter who provides the specific physical environment for specific biological species and who does so to suit the created endowments of persons, they continue to encounter strong opposition from scholars who draw on scientific data to support their conviction that no such planned creation and no such Creator is tenable. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) spurred on the explanation of present organic structures as consequences of gradual modifications that favored the survival of the fittest. Other scientific discoveries relevant to the theory of evolution and scientific and philosophical interpretations of pertinent new data have enlarged the area of confrontation between teleologist and nonteleologist.

The teleological theist argues, however, that, even granting explanation of evolution in terms of the survival of the fittest, it is the arrival of the fit that still calls for teleological explanation. Nonetheless, the Darwinian theory of evolution led many theists to emphasize the demands of moral consciousness and religious consciousness as independent sources of belief in God.

Wider Teleological Argument

All the more significant is the comprehensive rethinking of teleological theism that has produced a "wider teleological argument," a position that has developed systematically in the context of historical philosophic issues. The outstanding statement of this position is in the two volumes of Philosophical Theology (19281930) by Frederick R. Tennant. Tennant defends the irreducible unity of the person and explores the cognitive limits of knowledge based on a person's sensory and nonsensory capacities; he concludes that no dimension of personal experience can arrive at logically coercive beliefs.

Tennant does not assume that a nonteleological view of the universe is already established. Nor is our world, as known, more reasonably explained as the product of ultimate, random variations or chance happenings. Rather, such knowledge as we guide ourselves by is the joint product of continuing human interaction with an amenable framework of things. Accordingly, to postulate planning in the ultimate collocation of things is to understand better what the human search for truth and values presupposes, namely, the basic relevance of cognitive activities to the order of things. Thus, "If Nature evinces wisdom, the wisdom is Another's" (Tennant, 1930, p. 107).

This wider teleology is articulated when Tennant points out that the nonbiological, physical order does not itself require either the existence or the progressive evolution of species. Yet, the drift of subhuman evolution allows for the arrival of the new order of conscious-self-conscious persons, for whom "survival of the fittest" does not adequately account. Persons, in turn, cannot exist unless their comprehensive reasoning with regard to the other orders guides their moral efforts to improve the quality of their individual and communal survival.

Tennant does not exclude the inspirational value of religious experiences from the chain of evidence for the Creator-Person. But, in his analysis of the varieties of religious experience, he does not find the immediate, uninterpreted knowledge of God to warrant the conclusion that religious experience should be independent of criticism grounded in the rational and moral dimensions of experience. Religious experience with all its suggestiveness is not given cognitive priority, but it does serve as an important confirmatory link in the chain of evidence, reasonably interpreted.

All in all, then, the claims to reasonably probable knowledge are the more reliable insofar as they can be viewed as joint products of persons interacting with each other in their ongoing interchange with their total environment. No one link in this chain of evidence for cosmic teleology is, by itself, strong enough to justify the conclusion that the Creator-Person is immanent in the orders of being. Consequently, the wider teleological argument is to be judged for its reasonableness as a cumulative whole. But this is no cause for alarm, since, to take an example from the scientific realm, the hypothesis of biological evolution is accepted as a cumulative whole despite weaker and missing links of evidence. Accordingly, the theoretical backbone of the broader teleological theism is its more reasonable interpretation of human experience cumulatively viewed.

Moral Argument

There are theists sympathetic with Tennant's wider teleology who hold that his view of the ethical link simply does not do justice to the experience of the moral consciousness. Their crucial contention is that the value judgments of persons, although related to their desires and feelings, are not experienced as originating in them. Rather, the irreducible moral consciousness becomes increasingly aware of an objective order of values that exerts imperative authority over persons' lives. This unique, normative order, not dependent on human desiring and not descriptive of actual processes in the natural world, is most coherently interpreted as expressive of the Creator's goodness.

In sum, according to this moral argument for God, an unconditional, universal order of values is gradually revealed not only as morally imperative for persons but necessary in their struggle for fulfillment. Most reasonably understood as rooted in God's nature, it is this objective order of values that is the strongest link in any argument for a God worthy of worship. Indeed, without this independent source of normative values, the cosmological and teleological arguments do not suffice to assure the goodness of God.

Tennant, however, provides an elaborate critique of this account of the moral consciousness and the objectivity of value judgments. He argues that to root value-experience in desires and feelings does not, of itself, justify the charge that value judgments are relativistic. He interprets the objectivity and universality of value-experiences and value judgments as joint products of each person's interaction with at least the natural and social orders. It is the most coherent organization of such value judgments that is, indeed, the capstone of the wider teleological argument. For now, persons, experiencing and organizing their values as joint products of their interaction with orderly trends not of their own making, can better interpret the immanent direction of the collocation of things. Hence, the progressive appreciation of the conditions of the qualitative range of value-experiences remains the normative insight into what kind of personal growth this kind of world fosters.

Theoretical Problems

Whichever of the above approaches to God is most acceptable to the traditional theist, central to his vision remains the perfection of the self-existent, transcendent Creator, immanent in his creations and, especially, in the optimum development of morally autonomous persons. This vision of "absolute" perfection poses obstinate theoretical problems for the theist himself, as he tries to clarify the dynamics of the perfection of an immutable Creator-Person who is immanent in his temporal, changing creation. This article confines itself to three questions of especial concern to theists. Adequate discussion of these alone would require analysis of other knotty metaphysical issues (such as the ultimate nature of space and time or the specific nature of God's relation to the spatiotemporal world).

The first question is "How can God be immutable and yet immanent in a changing world, let alone in the kind of changing relations that obtain between him and developing moral agents?" The theist invariably does not flinch as he grants that this theoretical conflict is intrinsic to the theistic transcendent-immanent situation. For a perfect Creator cannot create without creating dependent, imperfect beings; and he will not annul the will of persons free to choose changes within their power. Nevertheless, while thus holding that there is no intelligible bridge from the changing created realms to the immutable Creator, the theist urges that God's immutability is not to be conceived in rigid and timeless mathematical fashion. He does suggest analogies within human experience that render the impasse less stark, such as those concentrated moments in which the past and future seem to fuse with a timeless, transcendent unity.

The second question moves the first into perhaps the most sensitive area of the theist's belief: the passibility of God, that is, God's responsiveness to human need. If God's immutable perfection is appropriately responsive to the created orders in their kind, how can he be unchanged and unchangeable? If he is unchanged and unchangeable, how can he be anything but impassive to the moral struggle of persons? What can it mean to say that he appropriately responds to their situations (that he "knows," "suffers," "redeems," or "liberates") without enduring any change himself? Here the theist, avoiding anthropomorphism, urges us to realize that the Creator-Person will not, in the nature of the case, undergo the psychic states of persons and suffer as we do.

Nevertheless, the moral-religious thrust of the theist's resistance to both deism and monism is at stake, for he defends the concept of a morally free person who is ultimately responsible to God, a God who "knows" and is appropriately responsive to the ranges of human striving. Can this person-to-Person relation be honored by a God who, in his immutability, does not change at all in response to even the worthy appeals of his repentant creatures? In the face of this impasse, some theists hold that God's immutability is compatible with his passibility, if his responses to need are conceived as the overflow of his essence and, hence, neither diminish nor improve it.

The third question is "In view of the amount and quality of evils, how can one reasonably believe in a Creator who, omniscient and limited by nothing beyond or within himself, is perfect in purpose and accomplishment?" The response of the theist depends to some extent upon what he claims to be the pearl of great price in the human ideal of the good. There are differences among theists on this matter, but the exposition here takes as vital to all theistic views of the ideal good the freedom of persons to choose, within limits, their own destiny. Such freedom does not exist in a vacuum; indeed, it would be powerless without a network of order that helps a person to know the good and evil consequences of his actions. Without such freedom a person would not experience the profound satisfaction of building the character so essential to the conservation and increase of values available to him as he develops.

So important is this pearl that the theist, never unaware of the maldistribution of values and disvalues, is poignantly mindful of the undeserved and vicious evils inflicted by man's inhumanity to man and by natural forces beyond human control. He is not given to holding that evil is illusory, or that it exists as a privation of goodness. But neither will he minimize a fact that becomes the foundation of his thinking about evil. Evil, in the last analysis, has no independent power of its own; it lives parasitically on the good. The theist's trust in the goodness of the Creator-Person is, therefore, grounded in this priority in the very nature of things. This fact also fortifies his belief in a personal immortality that is not an external addition to life in this imperfect world but is, rather, the extension of the creative goodness of God.

Even if all this be granted, serious concerns persist. Can it be conceded, even to so acute a theist as Tennant, that a Creator-Person, both omnipotent and omniscient, cannot, in the collocation and governance of things, create water that quenches thirst but does not drown? Again, it may be granted that, without the possibility of evil, persons would not experience the qualities of creativity resulting from their developing virtues. Nevertheless, would a Creator who is all-good, omnipotent, and omniscient create a world in which so much "nondisciplinary evil" occurs? Nondisciplinary evils are evils that, as far as we can see, are not instrumental to the realization of other values. They are those evils that undermine even the most heroic moral effort; they finally fell the oak that has weathered many storms. They, too, are parasites upon the good, but whatever the source, they are the irreducible evils that defy being classified as means to some good.

The traditional theist now reminds us of our keyhole vision in this life. To other theists, this appeal to ignorance is unavailing. After all, it is open to opponent and exponent alike. These "finitistic" theists, determined to explain the evidence at hand as reasonably as possible, reexamine the concept of perfection presupposed by traditional theists. They suggest that the impasses of transcendence-immanence ultimately hinge on the assumption that perfection necessarily excludes all temporality and change in the self-existent Creator. Why must we hold, finitists ask, that self-existence necessitates God's immutability in every respect? Why cannot perfection characterize a transcendent, self-existent Creator who expresses his purposes in the temporal orders without danger of becoming the victim of the changes required? Indeed, why suppose that only immutable perfection is worthy of worship?

In any case, finitistic theists contend that the actual course of natural and human history is more reasonably explained if the Creator-God's omnipotence and immutability are limited in the interest of his creative goodness. And his moral perfection consists in God's conservation and renewal of value realization despite recalcitrant conditions within his own being. This Creator-Person, thus limited in power by uncreated conditions within himself, creates and recreates situations most consistent with his purposes.

The specific way in which the morally perfect Creator-Person is limited in power depends upon the particular theist's conception of God's immanence in the inorganic, organic, and personal orders and, especially, on that theist's view of God's relation to persons as individuals and in community. Finitistic theists, however, cannot tolerate, theoretically, the conception of a self-existent Creator limited by any being(s) completely independent of his own will. Such theists vary in their description of the recalcitrant factor(s) that are inherent in the self-existent Creator. But the basic thrust of their views inspires the worship of a God who, dealing creatively with recalcitrance, continues to create, in accordance with his concern that the conditions for creativity be preserved and increased at every level possible.

Such finitistic theism saves transcendence from the pantheistic absorption of persons. At the same time, it is free from the dangers of a theism that, in the name of immutable perfection, sets up impasses that encourage the conception of a deistic Creator who knows not the quality of continuing, creative caring.

See Also

Atheism; Deism; Monism; Pantheism and Panentheism; Proofs for the Existence of God; Theodicy; Transcendence and Immanence.


The books in this highly select bibliography contain, each in its own scope, the needed expansion, significant particularity, and helpful context for explication of the condensed discussion of central topics in this article. The suggestions in the next paragraph include comprehensive cultural and religious background for the theistic themes focused on in the main presentation. Elaboration on these themes, with an eye to the variety of interpretations, is provided in the remaining suggestions.

Arthur O. Lovejoy's The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (Cambridge, Mass., 1942) is a fascinating study of the historical roots and the growth of ideas involved in this article. Alfred E. Taylor's "Theism," in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1921), is a classic historical analysis of theistic philosophy in the West up to the early decades of the twentieth century. Étienne Gilson's L'esprit de la philosophie médiévale, 2 vols., 2d ed. (Paris, 1944), translated by A. H. C. Downes as The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (New York, 1936), emphasizes the assimilation of Greek philosophical ideas by formative Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Duns Scotus. James D. Collins's God in Modern Philosophy (1959; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1978) examines critically much of the modern debate. In chapter 8 of Indian Philosophy, 2d ed., vol. 2 (London, 1927, 1931), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan expounds the main tenets in the monistic system of Śakara, and, in chapter 9, he contrasts these with the theism of Rāmānuja. Annemarie Schimmel's Gabriel's Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muammad Iqbal (Leiden, 1963) gives a vivid account both of Islamic thought and culture and of the reevaluation of the essential tenets of Islam by the poet-philosopher Iqbal; further, it provides a comprehensive bibliography.

See H. P. Owen's Concepts of Deity (New York, 1971) for discriminating definitions of attributes of the traditional theistic God and for contrasts with dominant themes in the work of six twentieth-century thinkers; this book includes a select bibliography. The studies by Eric L. Mascall, He Who Is, rev. ed. (London, 1966), and Existence and Analogy: A Sequel to "He Who Is " (1949; reprint, New York, 1967), are standby expositions of theistic issues. Milton K. Munitz's The Mystery of Existence: An Essay in Philosophical Cosmology (New York, 1965) is included here for its searching critique of theistic approaches to mystery.

John Hick's "Ontological Argument for the Existence of God," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards, vol. 5 (New York, 1967), is an able exposition of the argument (with solid bibliography). The specific analyses in The Ontological Argument, edited by Alvin Plantinga (London, 1940), provide welcome context. John Laird's Theism and Cosmology (1940; reprint, Freeport, N.Y., 1969) examines metaphysical issues relevant to the God of theism. The Cosmological Arguments: A Spectrum of Opinion, compiled and edited by Donald R. Burrill (Garden City, N.Y., 1967), includes noteworthy excerpts from classical discussions of both the cosmological and the teleological arguments as well as commentary by recent and contemporary philosophers. Natural Theology: Selections, edited with an introduction by Frederick Ferré (Indianapolis, 1963), is an abridged version of William Paley's Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature (London, 1802). The judicious introduction frees Paley's underlying teleology from shallow stereotypes. Frederick R. Tennant's Philosophical Theology, vol. 1, The Soul and Its Faculties (Cambridge, 1928), and vol. 2, The World, the Soul, and God (Cambridge, 1930), is probably the most broadly based, yet closely reasoned, study, to date, issuing in a teleological theism. The most systematic critique of it is Delton L. Scudder's Tennant's Philosophical Theology (New Haven, 1940).

For systematic presentation of ethical ideas and their objectivity in relation to other arguments for God and his attributes, there are few works that equal William R. Sorley's Moral Values and the Idea of God, 3d rev. ed. (Cambridge, 1918). Herbert J. Paton's The Modern Predicament (London, 1955) is lucid in its exposition and evaluation of the issues evoked by a moral approach to God's nature and attributes. Edward H. Madden and Peter H. Hare's Evil and the Concept of God (Springfield, Ill., 1968) finds both traditional and finitistic theistic explanations of evil inadequate. Edgar S. Brightman's A Philosophy of Religion (1940; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1969) includes a comprehensive survey of philosophic issues, a brief historical exposition of absolutistic and finitistic theism, and his defense of a "finite-infinite" God. It also provides an extensive bibliography and a helpful lexicon. John Hick's Evil and the God of Love, 2d ed. (London, 1977), explores traditional and recent accounts of evil and defends an Irenaean view. S. Paul Schilling's God and Human Anguish (Nashville, 1977) stands out for its well-annotated account of various historical and recent explanations of excess evil as well as for his own temporalistic theism.

New Sources

Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Theism. Downers Grove, Ill., 1996.

Beaty, Michael, ed. Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy. Notre Dame, Ind., 1990.

Cowan, Paul, and Paul Moser, eds. The Rationality of Theism. New York, 2003.

Craig, William Lane, and Quentin Smith, eds. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. New York, 1995.

Frame, John. No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. Nashua, N.H., 2001.

Morris, Thomas. God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason. New York, 1994.

O'Connor, David. God and Inscrutable Evil: In Defense of Theism and Atheism. Lanham, Md., 1998.

Smart, J. J. C. and John Haldane. Atheism and Theism. 1996; rpt. Malden, Mass., 2003.

Peter A. Bertocci (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 21 2018


Etymologically theism is indistinguishable from deism except that the former term is derived from the Greek word for God, θεός, while the latter comes from the Latin, deus. The term "theism" was first used by Ralph Cudworth in his Intellectual System of the Universe, in 1678. The terms "theism" and "deism" were employed indiscriminately until the 19th century, when it became customary to restrict deism to philosophical positions involving a denial of some part of the traditional Christian teaching concerning God's providence. Every form of deism includes at least the repudiation of divine revelation. It is on this point that deism and theism are distinguishable. While theism, like deism, is philosophically independent of revelation, the theist does not deny the possibility of divine revelation. While deism tends to regard God as totally outside the material universe, theism favors the notion of an immanent God. In general, theism is monotheistic; since its knowledge is attained by reason rather than revelation, however, theism is not trinitarian, nor does it include such essentially Christian doctrines as the incarnation or the redemption.

According to a popular but not precise use of the term, Christians such as SS. Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas are referred to as theists, a form of reference that is justified inasmuch as these men, as well as other Christian theologians, have provided philosophical arguments for the existence and nature of God. Many of these arguments have been adopted by those who are theists in the stricter sense; that is, by men who, without taking a position against the possibility of revelation, limit themselves to knowledge attainable by experience and reason alone.

In contradistinction to pantheism, theism does not regard God and the universe as identical. While God is thought to be immanent to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the particular system of theism, He is also considered to be transcendent. That is, while God is operative "in" the universe, He is also to some extent beyond it. Finally, the God of theism is a personal Godomniscient, omnipotent, free, and infinitely perfect, a being worthy of unlimited worship. Certain modern philosophies that propose a god-in-process-of-becoming are, therefore, not theistic (see immanence; transcendence).

Early Forms of Theism. It is perhaps impossible to identify with exactitude the first theist in the history of Western philosophy. While there are intimations of theism in the philosophies of anaxagoras and pythago ras, it is generally maintained that plato, in Book 10 of his Laws, provides definite beginnings of a "natural theology" that concludes to the existence of a supreme, intelligent, beneficent spirit (ψυχή). This spirit is the source and governor of all motion in the universe, and even, in some sense, the cause of the being and nature of things in the universe. This divine being, however, supreme among the various "spirits" in Plato's universe, might be inferior to the Ideas (εδη), which completely transcend the universe governed by God.

Plato's argument as found in the Laws was adopted, with significant changes, by Aristotle. Since Aristotle rejects Plato's transcendent Ideas, the first source of all motion, the "prime mover," is for him absolutely supreme, and there is no question of dependence on the Ideas. In Aristotle's Eudoxian universe of concentric spheres, the outermost sphere, while communicating various movements to the inner spheres and ultimately to the earth, itself moves eternally and at an unchanging rate. Therefore, the unmoved mover of this outer sphere must be eternal and immutable; this immutability further entails that the prime mover eternally think one unchanging thought. Since only thought of himself is worthy of such a thinker, the prime mover is "self-thinking thought" or "thinking about thinking" (Meta. 1074b 1535).

Here already is embodied much of what was to become theistic doctrine through the centuries. According to a widely accepted interpretation of Aristotle, however, he himself ought to be classified as a deist rather than a theist, for the Aristotelian prime mover is totally without cognizance of, or interest in, the happenings of the universe; he is completely transcendent. Whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of Aristotle, we can see here two problems that are most perplexing for the theist: (1) How can an unchanging God know a changing universe?(2) How can God be "interested" in the universe and yet be totally unaffected by it, as He must be if He is to be infinitely perfect, orto use the Aristotelian terminology"pure act"? These are questions, of course, for the Christian theologian as well as for the theist, and it was the genius of men such as St. thomas aquinas to suggest reasonable answers to them.

Neoplatonic Emanationism. With the advent of the Neoplatonists new theistic arguments were suggested and new problems raised. While opinion differs on whether the "One" of plotinus is identically God, the fact that the One is absolutely supreme and the source of all the multiple beings of the universe by way of emanation would seem to justify this identification. The One, however, is so utterly transcendent that it cannot be called "thought"; it cannot even be called "being." It is above all thought, above all being. Nothing, in fact, can be predicated of the One. Moreover, nothing can be compared with the One; its eminence is absolute, not a matter of degree. This, too, poses a problem for both theist and theologian: how can one talk about God, or even name Him, without implying that He can be compared with creatures? The use of terms such as "super-good" and "super-intelligent" by pseudo-dionysius, as well as St. Thomas's theory of analogical predication, suggests means of meeting this difficulty.

Plotinus also questioned the way in which God is the cause of the universe. Assuming that the universe emanates from the One, is this emanation necessary, or a result of free choice? For Plotinus, it seems, no freedom is involved; since the One is above thought, no choice is possible (see emanationism). Later philosophers and theologians maintained that an absolutely perfect being ought to be free; yet they had difficulty explaining absolute freedom without ending in some form of divine arbitrariness. The history of theism includes those who, like Plotinus, have seen God as necessitated by His own nature and those who, like william of ockham and R. descartes, have made the Will of God supreme in such a way as to posit a divine capriciousness extending even to the fundamental laws of logic and morality. A third solution, putting into question the absolute supremacy of God, is that of G. W. von leibniz, who maintained that God, whose absolute goodness requires that He create the best possible world, is still determined by "essences" or "possibles" that are somehow independent of Him.

Evil and God's Existence. Another thorny problem facing the theist is that of evil in the universe. Granting an omnipotent, infinitely beneficent God, evil would seem to be impossible. Either God "cannot" prevent evil, the argument runs, and then He is not omnipotent; or He "will not" prevent evil, and then He is not infinitely beneficent. St. augustine proposed one way out of this dilemma, namely, that evil in the universe serves to highlight the good, by way of contrast. Thus no evil is totally evil; it serves a purpose and is, on this account, reconcilable with an infinitely beneficent God. Leibniz, whose theodicy was particularly concerned with the problem of evil, maintained that God creates as much good as is possible, but that all essences or possibles are not mutually compatible, or "compossible." Therefore, if God chooses to actuate certain essences, other essences become incapable of actuation. Evil, then, has its source, not in God, but in essences. For St. Thomas and scholastics generally, evil is an absence of good, a "nothing," and as such requires no cause.

These proposals, of course, are particularly intelligible when understood in relation to the doctrines of origi nal sin and Redemption. The theist, having no access to such mysteries, is left with a problem that is practically insoluble. Nor does this seem strange when one considers that even his most elementary problem, the problem of whether God exists, has been the source of so many difficulties. Indeed, a man as brilliant as Immanuel Kant was to reject as inconclusive all traditional proofs and to substitute one of his own, based on what he took to be the natural foundation of ethical conduct, the categorical imperative. Yet the Kantian argumentfor which Kant himself never claimed scientific certitudehas few adherents today.

Another approach to a natural theology, this one based on modern science, is outlined by P. teilhard de chardin in his Phenomenon of Man. Here God is considered as an end toward which the universe is tending in its evolutionary process. While Teilhard's thesis is appealing in its timeliness, its emphasis on the dynamic, and its possibilities for a better understanding of the relation of the universe to God, it does not employ a logic sufficiently rigorous to compel assent.

In brief, the development of theism, from Plato to the present, can be regarded as a confirmation of St. Thomas's observation that it is extremely difficult for man, by reason alone, to arrive at a knowledge of God that is evidently true and not compounded with error (Summa theologiae 1a, 1.1).

See Also: god, proofs for the existence of; rationalism.

Bibliography: d. j. hawkins, The Essentials of Theism (New York 1949). j. j. mclarney, The Theism of Edgar Sheffield Brightman (Washington 1936). p. a. bertocci, The Empirical Argument for God in Late British Thought (Cambridge, Mass. 1938). g. santinello, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 4:11078. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3v. (4th ed. Berlin 192730) 3:231. a. e. taylor, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 12:261287. f. solmsen, Plato's Theology (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 27; Ithaca 1942). b. p. bowne, Studies in Theism (New York 1879). s. harris, The Philosophical Basis of Theism (New York 1883). f. w. newman, Theism, Doctrinal and Practical (London 1858).

[r. z. lauer]


views updated May 14 2018


Theism refers to belief in the divine. It is a personal choice that forms part of the social fabric as "believers" come together to form religious groups based on such beliefs. The opposite of theism is atheism, the denial that there is anything beyond human reason.

Theism is closely related to polytheism, the belief in many divinities, as well as to pantheism, the belief that everything is divine, and also to panentheism, the idea that everything is in the divine. Theism is a characteristic that many diverse religious traditions share, whether they call their divinity or divinities God, Goddess, the Buddha, Allah, Supreme Being, or the like.

As a belief system, theism has played a central role in the development of U.S. culture during the twentieth century. As a country founded on the principle of freedom to worship as well as on the separation of church and state (or of religion and government), the United States is a unique laboratory allowing competing forms of theism to coexist, if not always peaceably. In study after study, an overwhelming majority of the population call themselves "believers," though virtually no study has sorted out what the American people believe.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the United States was largely a three-religion culture. Protestants were in the majority, Catholics a growing second, and Jews a distant third. Native Americans, Hindus, Buddhists, and other small groups were all but ignored. The "God" of that society resembled most closely the liberal Protestant deity—a strong father figure who put emphasis on hard work and whose very presence was seen as ensuring progress.

Two world wars dampened this view. The magnitude of evil embodied in the Holocaust, the sheer numbers of war dead, and the inability of those who believed in God to stop the slaughter left a chastened neo-orthodoxy in its wake. What kind of God would have permitted such cosmic destruction? In reaction, revelation came back into vogue as the source of knowledge about the divine. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth described "the God of the Gospels" as the real thing.

However, other intellectual and social factors came into play as well. Karl Marx's economic and political teachings regarded religion as "the opiate of the people." Sigmund Freud's increasingly influential writing took all theistic propositions to be mere projections of the psyche, naive at best and neurotic at worst. Darwin's theory of evolution cast aspersions on biblical creation stories and left little scientific room for a creator God. But the urge to believe persisted for most Americans despite these moves toward postmodernity.

Political theology was one such response in the 1960s. Far from being a way to placate the poor, a figment of a fertile imagination, or a sop for biblicists, the divine in this framework is a full-fledged player in social justice efforts. Humans cooperate with the divine in building a just society. Political theology laid the groundwork for the many liberation theologies to follow.

Meanwhile, a small but influential movement held sway in the 1960s and early 1970s. Radical theology, better known as the "Death of God" movement, proclaimed the end of belief in a personal God, the brand of theism that had predominated since the founding of the republic. As described in a cover story in Time magazine, the personal God of Christian and Jewish theism was pronounced dead on arrival in a culture that was increasingly secular, increasingly pluralistic religiously, and increasingly skeptical that any divine force could be at play. Whether the word "God" had lost its usefulness, or whether all theistic affirmations were considered intellectually bankrupt, the impact of this short-lived movement was undeniable. One could be a socially acceptable atheist in the United States.

From the 1970s on, in the wake of the Vietnam War, the civil rights and women's movements, and in the face of the sexual revolution, most claims to theism in the form of a personal God who ruled the universe, a reference point for universal laws and a moral compass, prompted questions and doubts. As a result, perhaps as a kind of backlash, two competing constructive theistic tracks emerged: progressive or liberation theologies, and conservative or evangelical approaches.

The progressive or liberation schools were built on the political theology model. Beginning in Latin America, where economic and political oppression was rampant, and proceeding north, where the gap between rich and poor was growing, the idea that "Yahweh, who does what is right, is always on the side of the oppressed" (Psalm 103:6) gave rise to a range of related but unique theistic strands in Christianity.

In the Latin American line, the God of liberation theology is a source of justice and mercy, a friend to people who are poor. Black theology takes a similar approach. In its lexicon, God is black, at one with those who suffer racial injustice. Likewise, feminist theology developed a radical critique of the patriarchal nature of even the most progressive approaches. Feminists connected patriarchal language and imagery for the divine with male power in society. Words such as "Father," "Lord," "Ruler," and "King" were replaced by inclusive, nonhierarchical imagery such as "Source," "Companion," "Friend," and "Spirit." Female images were rediscovered and/or introduced: "Shekinah," "Sophia-Wisdom," "God the Mother." Goddess worship returned to favor among some theistic people.

By the 1990s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people were initiating their theological arguments. One result was the claim that God is "queer." Ecological, and especially ecofeminist, models of the divine put special emphasis on natural images of the divine, including wind, breath, and cosmic spirit.

Given this diversity, theists could and did choose from among a wide variety of options in the linkage between their faiths and their worldviews. What all of these articulations have in common is an explicit appeal to the divine as an expression of and support for a particular social concern. Such forms of theism assume that images of the divine and names used to describe the divine are human constructs that have real economic and political consequences.

The same assumption is true of the other movement that grew from the aftermath of the 1970s and is often in conflict with the progressive approach. The conservative or evangelical movement, sometimes referred to as the "religious right," has a particular theism at its heart. By contrast with the progressive movement, its God is the God of the Christian scriptures understood in very literal terms such as Lord and Father. This God—and in this view there is only one—is in charge of the universe. Biblical authority is absolute. Conformity to the will of God is the human goal.

Late-twentieth-century culture in the United States has been shaped in large measure by these competing views of the divine. Such issues as abortion and the death penalty, for instance, are debated and voted on largely on the basis of conflicting theistic assumptions. Progressives generally tend to favor reproductive choice and oppose the death penalty; this position is based on their view of a divinity who encourages human freedom and gives life to all. Conservatives generally tend to oppose abortion and favor capital punishment; this is based on their view of a God who judges wrong deeds and exacts retribution.

These are complicated and difficult social conflicts in a society in which the normative position is theistic, albeit in a range of interpretations of the word. The U.S. religious landscape comprises all manner of belief systems now, including Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, not to mention sects and cults of various stripes, all of which place their faith in something more than human reason can grasp, thus qualifying as theistic. Such variety broadens the definition and expands the percentages of those who affirm the divine.

By contrast, in many European countries, and in Australia and New Zealand, the percentage of theists is much smaller. One reason for this is that in the United States there are a wide variety of options for theism—including New Age and other unaffiliated groups—that are readily available and socially acceptable. To be a believer is sometimes taken to be more important than what one believes.

Theism is so prevalent in the United States that a certain generic Protestant brand of it was dubbed "civil religion." It is expressed by the phrase "In God we trust" found on money and in prayers as part of the presidential inaugural ceremonies. Strong legal challenges to the "right" of communities to display a crèche at Christmastime or the "right" of military services to prohibit the wearing of religious gear are slowly eroding some of the liberal Protestant assumptions of God the Father that were so pervasive at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Capitalism places supreme value on money and the accumulation of resources, leading some to say that in the United States "money is God." The new rapprochement between science and religion is perhaps the most challenging dimension of contemporary theism. Whether the "big bang" was caused, allowed, or ignored by the divine, it is sure to influence the way Americans think about God. Thus far, theism reigns. Surely not all of the definitions of the divine correspond to what the country's founders had in mind when they conceived of "one nation under God." But the liberty to be theistic or not, as one chooses, and the justice required to respect people's various choices remain cherished American values. In the twenty-first century, the United States will still be, it seems, a theistic if differently theistic country. While most people still believe in what they call God, it takes a great deal of imagination and religious tolerance to discern just what they mean by it and how to live fruitfully with the diversity.

See alsoAgnosticism; Allah; Atheism; Civil Religion; Death of God; Divinity; God; Goddess; Liberation Theology; Pantheism; Theodicy.


Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4000-YearQuest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 1993.

Eck, Dianna L. On Common Ground: World ReligionsinAmerica. 1997.

McFague, Sallie. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. 1987.

Mary E. Hunt


views updated Jun 08 2018



The Greek word theos means god or divine power. Hence, theism is the belief in a god, or the view that there is a god. Generally, theists think of god as a very powerful, personlike being who has control over some or all of the natural universe. To say that a god is personlike is to say that god is capable of thinking, acting, and communicating with other persons, especially human beings. Hence, theists typically refer to god by using pronouns such as he or she rather than it. Theists believe that god has a personality, that is, a set of character attributes or traits in accord with which god acts. To varying degrees, theists think of god as interested in some or all of the affairs of human beings.

Theism may be contrasted with atheism, deism, and agnosticism. Atheism is the belief that there is no god. Deism is the belief in a very powerful being who created or designed the world but who is not concerned with the affairs of human beings. Deists tend to conceive of this being as an impersonal force. Agnosticism is the view that one cannot know whether there is a god. Some agnostics hold that it is in principle impossible ever to know whether or not there is a god; others hold more provisionally that it is currently impossible to tell whether there is a god.

There are various forms of theism. Polytheism is the belief in more than one or many gods. Monotheism is the belief in one god, usually capitalized as God and used as proper noun to refer to this one being. This convention is used in the discussion that follows.

Many people in the ancient world were polytheists. Polytheists developed elaborate belief systems according to which there are many gods who rule over different parts of nature. Often, one god is thought to be the supreme ruler, such as Zeus for the ancient Greeks or Jupiter for the Romans. In some cases, a human king or emperor could be identified as a god himself. Polytheists tend to understand the gods as imperfect in both their power and moral qualities. The gods are not in complete control of nature or themselves, and they do not always act with moral consistency. They are not interested in all the affairs of mankind, but they do intervene on occasion, especially if propitiated by worship and devotion. A hallmark of polytheism is the practice of representing the gods in the form of idols or graven images, which are then used in the context of ritual worship.

The most populous form of polytheism in the world is a certain form of Hinduism. However, at least one form of Hinduism (articulated by Ramanuja in the eleventh century) is monotheistic. If the traditional Hindu gods are viewed as ultimate and independent entities, Hinduism is polytheistic; if the gods are viewed as outward manifestations of one underlying, personlike reality, Hinduism is monotheistic. Buddhism is generally polytheistic, but some forms of Buddhism, such as Zen Buddhism, are usually understood to be atheistic. If the gods are viewed as ultimate powers, Buddhism is polytheistic; if the gods are considered illusory or unreal, Buddhism is atheistic. Aside from Hinduism and Buddhism, many other forms of polytheism are still found elsewhere, such as in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans.

While polytheists tend to understand the gods as limited and imperfect, monotheists tend to understand the one God as unlimited and perfect. Many monotheists think of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good. God is thought to be the creator, king, and judge of the universe. Generally, monotheists believe that God has made certain demands on all humans, and that God directs human history with providence toward some great cosmic end.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the most well known forms of monotheism. In Judaism and Islam, God is conceived as not having bodily form. Linked with this view is a strict ban on any representation of God in the form of an idol and a ban on any form of idol worship. Although the sacred scriptures in these two traditions use bodily language to describe God, these are generally interpreted as metaphors. In Christianity, the oneness and nonmateriality of God is complicated by the belief in the divinity of Jesus, who is understood by traditional Christians to be both divine and human. Traditional Christians maintain that in some sense God is a nonmaterial being who became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Others tend to view the incarnation less literally.

For theists, the highest purpose in life is for humans to develop an interpersonal relationship with God. Precisely what form that relationship takes and how one goes about attaining that relationship differ from one tradition to another. In Judaism, the most intimate relationship with God is found through the observance of the commandments of the Torah, which Jews believe to be Gods revealed teaching to the people of Israel. In Christianity, the most intimate relationship is found through good works and through faith in Jesus as the manifestation of God. In Islam, the best relationship is found through submission to God and obedience to divine law as expressed in the Quran, which Muslims believe to be the revelation of Gods word to the prophet Muhammad. All three forms of theism teach that respect or love for ones fellows is part and parcel of respect and love for God. At the same time, these forms of theism traditionally teach that those who reject God or his commandments are in some sense deserving of punishment.

Over the centuries, philosophers, theologians, and others have debated whether it is rational to believe in God. Some insist that belief in God is not supposed to be rational; it is a matter of faith. Others argue that it is rational to believe in God. The most popular arguments for monotheism are based on the existence and orderly nature of the cosmos, on the phenomenon of religious experience or revelation, and on purported miracles. Some have argued that it is rational to believe in God because of the potential value of living the life of a believer. Still other philosophers have argued that belief in God is not rational. They argue that the cosmos can be sufficiently explained without belief in God and that religious experience is not a valid source of truth. They point to the existence of evil and suffering in the effort to show there is no God, and they argue that life is meaningful enough without a belief in God. The question of whether it is rational to believe in God remains a contested question to this day.

SEE ALSO Atheism; Buddhism; Christianity; Hinduism; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Judaism; Lay Theories; Monotheism; Polytheism; Religion; Supreme Being


Armstrong, Karen. 2004. A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Gramercy.

Fenn, William W. 1969. Theism: The Implication of Experience. Ed. Dan Huntington Fenn. Peterborough, NH: Noone House.

Mascall, L. E. 1970. He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Monson, C. H., Jr., ed. 1965. Great Issues Concerning Theism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Joshua L. Golding


views updated Jun 11 2018


The central claim of theism is that God exists. According to a standard version of this doctrine, God is omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good, and the creator of all contingent things. According to more developed versions, God intervenes in the created world in order to answer prayers and perform miracles. Developed versions of theism are often contrasted with deism because deists hold that God created the contingent world but does not subsequently intervene in it.

Various aspects of theism are discussed in the following articles in the Encyclopedia:

Agnosticism; Analogy in Theology; Atheism; Common Consent Arguments for the Existence of God; Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God; Creation and Conservation, Religious Doctrine of; Degrees of Perfection, Argument for the Existence of God; Deism; Epistemology, Religious; Evil, The Problem of; Faith; Fideism; Foreknowledge and Freedom, Theological Problem of; God, Concepts of; Hiddenness of God; Infinity in Theology and Metaphysics; Miracles; Moral Arguments for the Existence of God; Mysticism, Nature and Assessment of; Ontological Argument for the Existence of God; Pantheism; Perfection; Philosophy of Religion; Philosophy of Religion, Problems of; Physicotheology; Popular Arguments for the Existence of God; Providence; Religious Experience; Religious Experience, Argument for the Existence of God; Revelation; Teleological Argument for the Existence of God; Theism, Arguments For and Against.


views updated May 29 2018


Theism is the belief in the existence of a supernatural force or forces, understood to have a personal nature. The term is often used synonymously with monotheism. Taken generically, however, theism should include a broad variety of metaphysical positions that are opposed to atheism: polytheism (the belief in many gods), monotheism (the belief in a single God), deism (the belief in a creator God who does not have any subsequent influence upon the world), and panentheism (the belief that the world is within God, although God is also more than the world). Theism contrasts with nonpersonal understandings of ultimate reality, such as the law of karma or the principle of emptiness in Buddhism. Theistic beliefs can set the stage for the science-religion dialogue because these beliefs are not contained within contemporary scientific theories and may stand in prima facie tension with them.

See also Deism; God; Monotheism; Panentheism

philip clayton


views updated May 18 2018

the·ism / ˈ[unvoicedth]ēˌizəm/ • n. belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures.Compare with deism.DERIVATIVES: the·ist n.the·is·tic / [unvoicedth]ēˈistik/ adj.


views updated Jun 08 2018

theism A term which refers to the belief in the existence of a divine being, especially in the existence of a single God, who is thought to be personal and who is the Creator of the universe. Theism involves the idea of divine revelation, and consequently is contrasted with deism, the rational belief in divinity independently of faith in a revealed truth. See also MONOTHEISM; RELIGION.


views updated May 23 2018

Theism. The doctrine that there is one transcendent, personal God who freely created all that exists out of nothing, and who preserves and governs it. He is believed to be self-existent, present everywhere, all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, and therefore worthy of human worship. Theism is nowadays distinguished from Deism: the latter denies God's personal governance of the world, usually by ruling out the possibility of providence, miracles, and revelation.


views updated Jun 27 2018

theism Any of various philosophical and theological systems that profess belief in the existence of one supreme being, who is the creator of the universe. In most theistic systems, human beings have free will, and religious doctrines are usually based on divine revelation. See also monotheism; polytheism