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Polydeism (from Greek πολλοί ( 'poloi' ), meaning 'many', and Latin deus meaning god) is a polytheistic form of deism encompassing the belief that the universe was the collective creation of multiple gods, each of whom created a piece of the universe or multiverse and then ceased to intervene in its evolution. This concept addresses an apparent contradiction in deism, that a monotheistic god created the universe, but now expresses no apparent interest in it, by supposing that if the universe is the construct of many gods, none of them would have an interest in the universe as a whole.
History of the term
Creighton University Philosophy professor William O. Stephens, who teaches this concept to his students, suggests that C. D. Broad projected this concept in Broad's 1925 article, "The Validity of Belief in a Personal God". Broad noted that the arguments for the existence of God only tend to prove that "a designing mind had existed in the past, not that it does exist now. It is quite compatible with this argument that God should have died long ago, or that he should have turned his attention to other parts of the Universe," and notes in the same breath that "there is nothing in the facts to suggest that there is only one such being". Stephens contends that Broad, in turn, derived the concept from David Hume. Stephens states:
- David Hume's criticisms of the argument from design include the argument that, for all we know, a committee of very powerful, but not omnipotent, divine beings could have collaborated in creating the world, but then afterwards left it alone or even ceased to exist. This would be polydeism.
- Materialism (illustrated by the Epicureans), represented today by atheism, skepticism, and deism. The materialist may acknowledge superior beings, but they do not believe in a Supreme Being. Epicureanism was founded about 300 BC by Epicurus. Their world view might be called "polydeism:" there are many gods, but they are merely superhuman beings; they are remote, uninvolved in the world, posing no threat and offering no hope to human beings. Epicureans regarded traditional religion and idolatry as harmless enough as long as the gods were not feared or expected to do or say anything.
Etymologically disjunctive uses of the term
The term polydeism has occasionally been used as a direct substitute for polytheism – a usage which does not consider certain distinctions which have arisen between the respective root words, deism and theism. The above description of polydeism would be a distinct subset of polytheism.
Sociologist Susan Starr Sered used the term in her 1994 book, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister : Religions Dominated by Women, which includes a chapter titled, "No Father in Heaven: Androgyny and Polydeism." Sered states therein that she has "chosen to gloss on 'polydeism' a range of beliefs in more than one supernatural entity." Id. at 169. Sered used this term in a way that would encompass polytheism, rather than exclude much of it, as she intended to capture both polytheistic systems and nontheistic systems that assert the influence of "spirits or ancestors." Id. This use of the term, however, does not accord with the historical misuse of deism as a concept to describe an absent creator god.