Pantheism – Part 4

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2001
Pantheism is self-refuting, at least all forms that claim individuality is an illusion caused by my mind. Dr. Geisler explains what pantheism is, and how it effects the lives of those who believe it.

(from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)


Self-Refuting Nature of Pantheism

Pantheism is self-refuting, at least all forms that claim individuality is an illusion caused by my mind. For according to pantheism, individual minds are themselves aspects of the illusion and can therefore provide no basis for ex­plaining it. If the mind is part of the illusion, it cannot be the ground for explaining the illu­sion. Hence, if pantheism is true in asserting that my individuality is an illusion, then pan­theism is false, since there is then no basis for explaining the illusion.

Pantheism also fails to handle the problem of evil in a satisfactory manner. To pro­nounce evil an illusion or as less than real is not only frustrating and hollow to those experiencing evil, but it seems philosophically inadequate. If evil is not real, then what is the origin of the illusion? Why have people experienced it for so long, and why does it seem so real? Despite the pantheist’s claim to the contrary, he or she also experiences pain, suffering, and eventually will die. Even pantheists double-over in pain when they get appendicitis. They jump out of the way of an on-coming truck so as not to get hurt.

If God is all, and all is God, as pantheists maintain, then evil is an illusion and ulti­mately there are no rights and wrongs. For there are four possibilities regarding good and evil:

  1. If God is all-good, then evil must exist apart from God. But this is impossible since God is all—nothing can exist apart from It.
  2. If God is all-evil, then good must exist apart from God. This is not possible either since God is all.
  3. God is both all-good and all-evil. This cannot be, for it is self-contradictory to affirm that the same being is both all good and all evil at the same time. Further, most pantheists agree that God is beyond good and evil. Therefore God is neither good nor evil.
  4. Good and evil are illusory. They are not real categories.

Option four is what most pantheists believe. But if evil is only an illusion, then ulti­mately there is no such thing as good and evil thoughts or actions. Hence, what differ­ence would it make whether we praise or curse, counsel or rape, love or murder some­one? If there is no final moral difference between those actions, absolute moral respon­sibilities do not exist. Cruelty and non-cruelty are ultimately the same. One critic made the point with this illustration:

One day I was talking to a group of people in the digs of a young South African in Cambridge. Among others, there was present a young Indian who was of Sikh background but a Hindu by religion. He started to speak strongly against Christianity, but did not really understand the problems of his own beliefs. So I said, “Am I not correct in saying that on the basis of your system, cruelty and non-cruelty are ultimately equal, that there is no intrinsic difference between them?” He agreed…. The student in whose room we met, who had clearly understood the implications of what the Sikh had admitted, picked up his kettle of boiling water with which he was about to make tea, and stood with it steaming over the Indian’s head. The man looked up and asked him what he was doing and he said, with a cold yet gentle finality,
“There is no difference between cruelty and non-cruelty.” Thereupon the Hindu walked out into the night. [Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 101]

If pantheists are correct that reality is not moral, that good and evil, right and wrong, are inapplicable to what is, then to be right is as meaningless as to be wrong (Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent). The foundation for morality is destroyed. Pantheism does not take the problem of evil seriously. As C. S. Lewis put it, “If you do not take the distinctions between good and bad seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that” (Mere Christianity, 30).

In this and other ways, the pantheistic concept of God is incoherent. To say God is infinite, yet somehow shares his being (ex deo) with creation, is to raise the problem of how the finite can be infinite, which is what absolute pantheists say. Otherwise, one must consider the finite world less than real, though existing. We have seen the problems with the first, absolute option. But the second option makes God both infinite and finite, for it is said to share part of its being with creatures which entails an Infinite Being becoming less than infinite. But how can the Infinite be finite, the Absolute be relative, and the Unchanging changed?

Pantheism’s God also is unknowable. The very claim, “God is unknowable in an intel­lectual way,” seems either meaningless or self-defeating. For if the claim itself cannot be understood in an intellectual way, then it is self-defeating. For what is being affirmed is that nothing can be understood about God in an intellectual way. But the pantheist expects us to intellectually know this truth that God cannot be understood in an intellectual way. In other words, the pantheist appears to be making a statement about God to the effect that no such statements can be made about God. But how can one make a positive affirmation about God which claims that only negative affirmations can be made about God? Plotinus admitted that negative knowledge presupposes some positive awareness. Otherwise, one would not know what to negate.

Critics further claim that the denial of many pantheists of the applicability of logic to reality is self-defeating. For to deny that logic applies to reality, it would seem that one must make a logical statement about reality to the effect that no logical statements can be made. For example, when Zen Buddhist D. T. Suzuki says that to comprehend life we must aban­don logic (Suzuki, 58), he uses logic in his affirmation and applies it to reality. Indeed, the law of noncontradiction (A cannot both be A and not A) cannot be denied without using it in the very denial. Therefore, to deny that logic applies to reality, one must not make a logical statement about reality. But then how will the position be defended?


Bhagavad-Gita, Prabhavananda, trans., with C. Usherwood; see esp. Appen. 2: “The Gita and War”

D. K. Clark, The Pantheism of Alan Watts

D. K. Clark, Apologetics in the New Age

G. H. Clark, Thales to Dewey

W. Corduan, “Transcendentalism: Hegel,” in N. L. Geisler, ed., Biblical Errancy: An Analy­sis of Its Philosophical Roots

R. Flint, Anti-Theistic Theories

0. Guiness, The Dust of Death

S. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy

G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

H. P. Owen, Concepts of Deity

Plotinus, Enneads

Prabhavananda, The Spiritual Heritage of India

Prabhavananda, The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, F. Manchester, trans.

S. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life

J. M. Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy

F. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent

F. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

H. Smith, The Religions of Man

B. Spinoza, Ethics

D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism



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