Deism

Deism

Overview
Deism
in religious philosophy
Philosophy of religion
Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science...

 is the belief that reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

 and observation of the natural world
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or "the Supreme Architect
Great Architect of the Universe
The Great Architect of the Universe is a conception of God discussed by many Christian theologians and apologists. As a designation it is used within Freemasonry to neutrally represent whatever Supreme Being to which each member individually holds in adherence...

") does not alter the universe by intervening in it.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Deism'
Start a new discussion about 'Deism'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Recent Discussions
Quotations

Let reason count the stars, weigh the mounta1ns, fathom the depths — the employment becomes her, and the success is glorious. But when the question is, "How shall man be just with God?" reason must be silent, revelation must speak; and he who will not hear it assimilates himself to the first deist, Cain; he may not kill a brother, he certainly destroys himself.

Henry Melvill, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 488.

[T]he Rev. R. Taylor, A.M., the Deist, now in gaol, infamously persecuted by the Whigs for his religious opinions, in his learned defense of Deism called the Diegesis, has clearly proved all the heirarchical institutions of the Christians to be a close copy of those of the Essenians of Egypt.

Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis (1833) pg. 787
Encyclopedia
Deism
in religious philosophy
Philosophy of religion
Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science...

 is the belief that reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

 and observation of the natural world
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or "the Supreme Architect
Great Architect of the Universe
The Great Architect of the Universe is a conception of God discussed by many Christian theologians and apologists. As a designation it is used within Freemasonry to neutrally represent whatever Supreme Being to which each member individually holds in adherence...

") does not alter the universe by intervening in it. This idea is also known as the Clockwork universe theory
Clockwork universe theory
The clockwork universe theory compares the universe to a mechanical clock wound up by God, or initiated by the Big Bang. It continues ticking along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics, making every single aspect of the machine completely predictable...

, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. Two main forms of deism currently exist: classical deism and modern deism.

The earliest known usage in print of the English term "deist" is 1621,
and "deism" is first found in a 1675 dictionary.
Deism became more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 — especially in Britain, France, Germany and America among intellectuals raised as Christians who found they could not believe in supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

 miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures
Biblical inerrancy
Biblical inerrancy is the doctrinal position that the Bible is accurate and totally free of error, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact." Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not.Conservative Christians generally believe that...

, or the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

, but who did believe in one God
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

. Deistic ideas also influenced several leaders of the American
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 and French
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 revolutions.

Overview



Deism is a theological position concerning the relationship between "the Creator" and the natural world
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

. Deistic viewpoints emerged during the scientific revolution
Scientific revolution
The Scientific Revolution is an era associated primarily with the 16th and 17th centuries during which new ideas and knowledge in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry transformed medieval and ancient views of nature and laid the foundations for modern science...

 of 17th century Europe and came to exert a powerful influence during the eighteenth century enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

. Deism stood between the narrow dogmatism of the period and skepticism. Though deists rejected atheism, they often were called "atheists" by more traditional theists. There were a number of different forms in the 17th and 18th century. In England, Deism included a range of people from anti-Christian to un-Christian theists.

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature that he configured when he created all things. God is thus conceived to be wholly transcendent
Transcendence (religion)
In religion transcendence refers to the aspect of God's nature which is wholly independent of the physical universe. This is contrasted with immanence where God is fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways...

 and never immanent. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

 and the observation of nature but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. See the section Features of deism, following. Deism can also refer to a personal set of beliefs having to do with the role of nature in spirituality.

Deism can be a belief in a deity absent of any doctrinal governance or precise definition of the nature of such a deity. Deism bears a relationship to naturalism
Naturalism (philosophy)
Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know...

. As such, Deism gives credit for the formation of life and the universe to a higher power that by design allows only natural processes to govern creation.

The words deism and theism are both derived from words for god: the former from Latin deus, the latter from its Greek cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 theós (θεός).
Perhaps the first use of the term deist is in Pierre Viret's
Pierre Viret
Pierre Viret was a Swiss Reformed theologian.- Early life :Pierre Viret was born to a devout middle class Roman Catholic family in Orbe, a small town now in Switzerland. He was a close friend of John Calvin....

 Instruction Chrétienne en la doctrine de la foi et de l'Évangile (Christian teaching on the doctrine of faith and the Gospel) (1564), reprinted in Bayle's
Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....

 Dictionnaire entry Viret. Viret, a Calvinist
Calvinism
Calvinism is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life...

, regarded Deism as a new form of Italian heresy.
Viret wrote, as translated following from the original French:

In England, the term deist first appeared in Robert Burton's
Robert Burton (scholar)
Robert Burton was an English scholar at Oxford University, best known for the classic The Anatomy of Melancholy. He was also the incumbent of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, and of Segrave in Leicestershire.-Life:...

 The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621).

Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) is generally considered the "father of English Deism," and his book De Veritate
De Veritate
De Veritate, prout distinguitur a revelatione, a verisimili, a possibili, et a falso is the major work of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. He published it on the advice of Grotius....

 (1624) the first major statement of Deism. Deism flourished in England between 1690 and 1740, at which time Matthew Tindal's
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), also called "The Deist's Bible," gained much attention. Later Deism spread to France, notably through the work of Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, to Germany, and to America.

Critical and constructive deism


The concept of deism covers a wide variety of positions on a wide variety of religious issues. Following Sir Leslie Stephen's
Leslie Stephen
Sir Leslie Stephen, KCB was an English author, critic and mountaineer, and the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.-Life:...

 English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, most commentators agree that two features constituted the core of deism:

Critical elements of deist thought included:
  • Rejection of all religions based on books that claim to contain the revealed word of God.
  • Rejection of all religious dogma and demagogy.
  • Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies and religious "mysteries".


Constructive elements of deist thought included:
  • God exists, created and governs the universe.
  • God gave humans the ability to reason.


Specific thoughts on aspects of the afterlife will vary. While there are those who maintain that God will punish or reward us according to our behavior on Earth, likewise there are those who assert that any punishment or reward that is due to us is given during our mortal stay on Earth.

Individual deists varied in the set of critical and constructive elements for which they argued. Some deists rejected miracles and prophecies but still considered themselves Christians because they believed in what they felt to be the pure, original form of Christianity that is, Christianity as it existed before it was corrupted by additions of such superstitions as miracles, prophecies, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Some deists rejected the claim of Jesus' divinity but continued to hold him in high regard as a moral teacher (see, for example, Thomas Jefferson's
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 famous Jefferson Bible
Jefferson Bible
The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson's effort to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by...

 and Matthew Tindal's
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 'Christianity as Old as the Creation'). Other, more radical deists rejected Christianity altogether and expressed hostility toward Christianity, which they regarded as pure superstition. In return, Christian writers often charged radical deists with atheism
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

.

Note that the terms constructive and critical are used to refer to aspects of deistic thought, not sects or subtypes of deismit would be incorrect to classify any particular deist author as "a constructive deist" or "a critical deist". As Peter Gay
Peter Gay
Peter Gay is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers . Gay received the American Historical Association's Award for Scholarly Distinction in 2004...

 notes:
It should be noted, however, that the constructive element of deism was not unique to deism. It was the same as the natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 that was so prevalent in all English theology in the 17th and 18th centuries. What set deists apart from their more orthodox contemporaries were their critical concerns.
One of the remarkable features of deism is that the critical elements did not overpower the constructive elements. As E. Graham Waring observed, "A strange feature of the [Deist] controversy is the apparent acceptance of all parties of the conviction of the existence of God." And Basil Willey observed

Concepts of "reason"



"Reason" was the ultimate court of appeal for deists. Tindal
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 presents a Lockean
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 definition of reason, self-evident truth, and the light of nature:

Deists did appeal to "the light of nature" to support the self-evident nature of their positive religious claims.
Once a proposition is asserted to be a self-evident truth, there is not much more to say about it. Consequently, deist authors attempted to use reason as a critical tool for exposing and rejecting what they saw as nonsense. Here are two typical examples. The first is from John Toland
John Toland
John Toland was a rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, who wrote numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion, which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment...

's Christianity Not Mysterious.

Arguments for the existence of God


Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 – a 17th century deist and important influence on subsequent deists – used the cosmological argument
Cosmological argument
The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God...

 for the existence of God at several places in his writings.

History of religion and the deist mission


Most deists saw the religions of their day as corruptions of an original, pure religion that was simple and rational. They felt that this original pure religion had become corrupted by "priests" who had manipulated it for personal gain and for the class interests of the priesthood in general.

According to this world view, over time "priests" had succeeded in encrusting the original simple, rational religion with all kinds of superstitions and "mysteries" irrational theological doctrines. Laymen were told by the priests that only the priests really knew what was necessary for salvation and that laymen must accept the "mysteries" on faith and on the priests' authority. This kept the laity baffled by the nonsensical "mysteries", confused, and dependent on the priests for information about the requirements for salvation. The priests consequently enjoyed a position of considerable power over the laity, which they strove to maintain and increase. Deists referred to this kind of manipulation of religious doctrine as "priestcraft", a highly derogatory term.

Deists saw their mission as the stripping away of "priestcraft" and "mysteries" from religion, thereby restoring religion to its original, true condition simple and rational. In many cases, they considered true, original Christianity to be the same as this original natural religion. As Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 put it:

One implication of this deist creation myth was that primitive societies, or societies that existed in the distant past, should have religious beliefs that are less encrusted with superstitions and closer to those of natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

. This became a point of attack for thinkers such as David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 as they studied the "natural history of religion".

Freedom and necessity


Enlightenment thinkers, under the influence of Newtonian science, tended to view the universe as a vast machine, created and set in motion by a creator being, that continues to operate according to natural law, without any divine intervention. This view naturally led to what was then usually called necessitarianism
Necessitarianism
Necessitarianism is a metaphysical principle that denies all mere possibility; there is exactly one way for the world to be. It is the strongest member of a family of principles, including hard determinism, each of which deny free will, reasoning that human actions are predetermined by external or...

  (the modern term is determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

): the view that everything in the universe – including human behavior – is completely causally determined by antecedent circumstances and natural law. (See, for example, La Mettrie's L'Homme machine.) As a consequence, debates about freedom
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

 versus "necessity" were a regular feature of Enlightenment religious and philosophical discussions.

Because of their high regard for natural law and for the idea of a universe without miracles, deists were especially susceptible to the temptations of determinism. Reflecting the intellectual climate of the time, there were differences among deists about freedom and determinism. Some, such as Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins , was an English philosopher, and a proponent of deism.-Life and Writings:...

, actually were necessitarians.

Beliefs about immortality of the soul


Deists hold a variety of beliefs about the soul. Some, such as Lord Herbert of Cherbury and William Wollaston
William Wollaston
William Wollaston was an English philosophical writer. He is remembered today for one book, which he completed only two years before his death: ....

, held that souls exist, survive death, and in the afterlife are rewarded or punished by God for their behavior in life. Some, such as Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, believed in reincarnation or resurrection. Others such as Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

 were agnostic
Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

 about the immortality of the soul:
Still others such as Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins , was an English philosopher, and a proponent of deism.-Life and Writings:...

, Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was an English politician, government official and political philosopher. He was a leader of the Tories, and supported the Church of England politically despite his atheism. In 1715 he supported the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 which sought to overthrow the...

, Thomas Chubb
Thomas Chubb
Thomas Chubb was an English lay Deist writer, born near Salisbury.Chubb regarded Christ as a divine teacher, but held reason to be sovereign in matters of religion, questioned religions' morality, yet was on rational grounds a defender of Christianity...

, and Peter Annet
Peter Annet
Peter Annet was an English deist and early freethinker.-Early life and work:Annet is said to have been born at Liverpool...

 were materialists and either denied or doubted the immortality of the soul.

Deist terminology


Deist authors – and 17th- and 18th-century theologians in general – referred to God using a variety of vivid circumlocutions such as:
  • Supreme Being
    Supreme Being
    The term Supreme Being is often defined simply as "God", and it is used with this meaning by theologians of many religious faiths, including, but not limited to, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Deism. However, the term can also refer to more complex or philosophical interpretations of the...

  • Divine Watchmaker
    Watchmaker analogy
    The watchmaker analogy, or watchmaker argument, is a teleological argument for the existence of God. By way of an analogy, the argument states that design implies a designer...

  • Grand Architect of the Universe
  • Nature's God
    Nature's God
    Nature's God may refer to:*A phrase, associated with Deism, that is used in the United States Declaration of Independence: "...the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..."...

    used in the United States Declaration of Independence
    United States Declaration of Independence
    The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

  • Father of Lights Benjamin Franklin
    Benjamin Franklin
    Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

     used this terminology when proposing that meetings of the Constitutional Convention
    Philadelphia Convention
    The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

     begin with prayers

Historical background


Deistic thinking has existed since ancient times. Among the Ancient Greeks, Heraclitus
Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

 conceived of a logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

, a supreme rational principle, and said the wisdom "by which all things are steered through all things" was "both willing and unwilling to be called Zeus (God)". Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 envisaged God as a Demiurge
Demiurge
The demiurge is a concept from the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy for an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics...

 or 'craftsman'. Outside ancient Greece many other cultures have expressed views that resemble deism in some respects. However, the word "deism", as it is understood today, is generally used to refer to the movement toward natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 or freethinking that occurred in 17th-century Europe, and specifically in Britain.

Natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 is a facet of the revolution in world view that occurred in Europe in the 17th century. To understand the background to that revolution is also to understand the background of deism. Several cultural movements of the time contributed to the movement.

The discovery of diversity


The humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 tradition of the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 included a revival of interest in Europe's classical past in Greece and Rome. The veneration of that classical past, particularly pre-Christian Rome, the new availability of Greek philosophical works, the successes of humanism and natural science along with the fragmentation of the Christian churches and increased understanding of other faiths, all helped erode the image of the church as the unique source of wisdom, destined to dominate the whole world.

In addition, study of classical documents led to the realization that some historical documents are less reliable than others, which led to the beginnings of biblical criticism
Biblical criticism
Biblical criticism is the scholarly "study and investigation of Biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings." It asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work...

. In particular, when scholars worked on biblical manuscripts, they began developing the principles of textual criticism and a view of the New Testament being the product of a particular historical period different from their own.


In addition to discovering diversity in the past, Europeans discovered diversity in the present. The voyages of discovery of the 16th and 17th centuries acquainted Europeans with new and different cultures in the Americas, in Asia, and in the Pacific. They discovered a greater amount of cultural diversity than they had ever imagined, and the question arose of how this vast amount of human cultural diversity could be compatible with the biblical account of Noah's
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

 descendants. In particular, the ideas of Confucius
Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

, translated into European languages by the Jesuits stationed in China, are thought to have had considerable influence on the deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

.

In particular, cultural diversity with respect to religious beliefs could no longer be ignored. As Herbert wrote in De Religione Laici (1645),

This new awareness of diversity led to a feeling that Christianity was just one religion among many, with no better claim than any other to correctness.

Religious conflict


Europe had been plagued by vicious sectarian conflicts
Sectarianism
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.The ideological...

 and religious war
Religious war
A religious war; Latin: bellum sacrum; is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences. It can involve one state with an established religion against another state with a different religion or a different sect within the same religion, or a religiously motivated group attempting to...

s since the beginning of the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. In 1642, when Lord Herbert of Cherbury's
Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury
Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury was an Anglo-Welsh soldier, diplomat, historian, poet and religious philosopher of the Kingdom of England.-Early life:...

 De Veritate was published, the Thirty Years War had been raging on continental Europe for nearly 25 years. It was an enormously destructive war that (it is estimated) destroyed 15–20% of the population of Germany. At the same time, the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 pitting King against Parliament was just beginning.

Such massive sectarian violence inspired a visceral rejection of the sectarianism that had led to the violence. It also led to a search for natural religious truths truths that could be universally accepted, because they had been either "written in the book of Nature" or "engraved on the human mind" by God.

Advances in scientific knowledge


The 17th century saw a remarkable advance in scientific knowledge: the scientific revolution
Scientific revolution
The Scientific Revolution is an era associated primarily with the 16th and 17th centuries during which new ideas and knowledge in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry transformed medieval and ancient views of nature and laid the foundations for modern science...

. The work of Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe....

, Kepler
Johannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican...

, and Galileo set aside the old notion that the earth was the center of the universe. These discoveries posed a serious challenge to biblical authority and to the religious authorities, Galileo's condemnation for heresy being an especially visible example. In consequence the Bible came to be seen as authoritative on matters of faith and morals but no longer authoritative (or meant to be) on matters of science.

Isaac Newton's
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 mathematical explanation of universal gravitation explained the behavior both of objects here on earth and of objects in the heavens in a way that promoted a world view in which the natural universe is controlled by laws of nature. This, in turn, suggested a theology in which God created the universe, set it in motion controlled by natural law and retired from the scene. (See the Watchmaker analogy
Watchmaker analogy
The watchmaker analogy, or watchmaker argument, is a teleological argument for the existence of God. By way of an analogy, the argument states that design implies a designer...

.)

The new awareness of the explanatory power of universal natural law also produced a growing skepticism about such religious staples as miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s (that is, violations of natural law) and about books, such as the Bible, that reported them.

Precursors of deism


Early works of biblical criticism
Biblical criticism
Biblical criticism is the scholarly "study and investigation of Biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings." It asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work...

, such as Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

's Leviathan
Leviathan (book)
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil — commonly called simply Leviathan — is a book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan...

 and Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise
Theologico-Political Treatise
Written by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the Theologico-Political Treatise or Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was published anonymously in 1670.It is an early criticism of religious intolerance and a defense of secular government...

, as well as works by lesser-known authors such as Richard Simon
Richard Simon
Richard Simon was a French Oratorian, influential advanced biblical critic, orientalist, and controversialist.-Early years:...

 and Isaac La Peyrère
Isaac La Peyrère
Isaac La Peyrère, or Pererius, was a French Millenarian theologian and formulator of Pre-Adamite hypothesis.- Life :Born into a Huguenot family in Bordeaux, and possibly of Jewish descent, La Peyrère was a lawyer by training and a Calvinist by upbringing, though he later converted to...

, paved the way for the development of critical deism.

Early deism


For main article, see English and French Deism in the Eighteenth Century
English and French Deism in the Eighteenth Century
Deism, the religious attitude typical of the Enlightenment, especially in France and England, believes that the existence of God can be only proved based on the application of reason and the world can be discovered through observation, experience and reasoning...




Lord Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648) is generally considered the "father of English deism", and his book De Veritate (On Truth, as It Is Distinguished from Revelation, the Probable, the Possible, and the False) (1624) the first major statement of deism.

Like his contemporary Descartes, Herbert searched for the foundations of
knowledge. In fact, the first two thirds of De Veritate are devoted to an exposition of Herbert's theory of knowledge. Herbert distinguished truths obtained through experience, and through reasoning about experience, from innate truths and from revealed truths. Innate truths are imprinted on our minds, and the evidence that they are so imprinted is that they are universally accepted. Herbert's term for universally accepted truths was notitiae communes common notions.

In the realm of religion, Herbert believed that there were five common notions.
It is worth quoting Herbert at some length, to give the flavor of his writing. A
sense of the importance that Herbert attributed to innate Common Notions will
help in understanding how devastating Locke's attack on innate ideas was for
Herbert's philosophy
According to Gay, Herbert had relatively few followers, and it was not until the 1680s that Herbert found a true successor in Charles Blount
Charles Blount (deist)
Charles Blount was a British deist and controversialist who published several anonymous essays critical of the existing English order.-Life:...

 (1654–1693). Blount made one special contribution to the deist debate: "by utilizing his wide classical learning, Blount demonstrated how to use pagan writers, and pagan ideas, against Christianity. ... Other Deists were to follow his lead."

John Locke


The publication of John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689, but dated 1690) marks a major turning point in the history of deism. Since Herbert's De Veritate, innate ideas had been the foundation of deist epistemology. Locke's famous attack on innate ideas in the first book of the Essay effectively destroyed that foundation and replaced it with a theory of knowledge based on experience. Innatist deism was replaced by empiricist deism. Locke himself was not a deist. He believed in both miracles and revelation, and he regarded miracles as the main proof of revelation.

After Locke, constructive deism could no longer appeal to innate ideas for justification of its basic tenets such as the existence of God. Instead, under the influence of Locke and Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

, deists turned to natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 and to arguments based on experience and Nature: the cosmological argument
Cosmological argument
The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God...

 and the argument from design.

The rise of British deism (1690–1740)


Peter Gay places the zenith of deism "from the end of the 1690s, when the vehement response to John Toland
John Toland
John Toland was a rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, who wrote numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion, which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment...

's Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) started the deist debate, to the end of the 1740s when the tepid response to Middleton's
Conyers Middleton
Conyers Middleton was an English clergyman.Middleton was born at Richmond in Yorkshire, and was educated at school in York and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated from the University of Cambridge, took holy orders, and in 1706 obtained a fellowship, which he resigned upon entering into an...

 Free Inquiry signalled its close."
Other prominent British deists included William Wollastson, Charles Blount
Charles Blount (deist)
Charles Blount was a British deist and controversialist who published several anonymous essays critical of the existing English order.-Life:...

, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury was an English politician, philosopher and writer.-Biography:...

 (who did not think of himself as a deist, but shared so many attitudes with deists that Gay calls him "a Deist in fact, if not in name,") and
Henry St John, First Viscount Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was an English politician, government official and political philosopher. He was a leader of the Tories, and supported the Church of England politically despite his atheism. In 1715 he supported the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 which sought to overthrow the...

. (This last was a patron of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, who regardless disagreed with his deist views by dint of being in holy orders in the Church of Ireland.)

Matthew Tindal



Especially noteworthy is Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), which "became, very soon after its publication, the focal center of the deist controversy. Because almost every argument, quotation, and issue raised for decades can be found here, the work is often termed 'the deist's Bible'."
Following Locke's successful attack on innate ideas, Tindal's "Deist Bible" redefined the foundation of deist epistemology as knowledge based on experience or human reason. This effectively widened the gap between traditional Christians and what he called "Christian Deists", since this new foundation required that "revealed" truth be validated through human reason. In Christianity as Old as the Creation, Tindal articulated a number of the basic tenets of deism:
  • He argued against special revelation: "God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason."

David Hume



The writings of David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 are sometimes credited with causing or contributing to the decline of deism. English deism, however, was already in decline before Hume's works on religion (1757,1779) were published.

Furthermore, some writers maintain that Hume's writings on religion were not very influential at the time that they were published.

Nevertheless, modern scholars find it interesting to study the implications of his thoughts for deism.
  • Hume's skepticism about miracles makes him a natural ally of deism.

  • His skepticism about the validity of natural religion
    Natural theology
    Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

     cuts equally against deism and deism's opponents, who were also deeply involved in natural theology
    Natural theology
    Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

    . But his famous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion were not published until 1779, by which time deism had almost vanished in England.


In its implications for deism, the Natural History of Religion (1757) may be Hume's most interesting work. In it, Hume contends that polytheism, not monotheism, was "the first and most ancient religion of mankind". In addition, contends Hume, the psychological basis of religion is not reason, but fear of the unknown.
As E. Graham Waring saw it;
Experts dispute whether Hume was a deist, an atheist, or something else. Hume himself was uncomfortable with the terms deist and atheist, and Hume scholar Paul Russell
Paul Russell (philosopher)
Paul Russell is a professor in philosophy at the University of British Columbia, where he has been teaching since 1987.He has been a research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ; a visiting assistant professor at the University of Virginia ; a Mellon Fellow and a visiting assistant...

 has argued that the best and safest term for Hume's views is irreligion
Irreligion
Irreligion is defined as an absence of religion or an indifference towards religion. Sometimes it may also be defined more narrowly as hostility towards religion. When characterized as hostility to religion, it includes antitheism, anticlericalism and antireligion. When characterized as...

.

Continental European deism



English deism, in the words of Peter Gay, "travelled well. ... As Deism waned in England, it waxed in France and the German states."

France had its own tradition of religious skepticism and natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 in the works of Montaigne, Bayle
Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....

, and Montesquieu. The most famous of the French deists was Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, who acquired a taste for Newtonian
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 science, and reinforcement of deistic inclinations, during a two-year visit to England starting in 1726.

French deists also included Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his...

 and Rousseau. For a short period of time during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 the Cult of the Supreme Being
Cult of the Supreme Being
The Cult of the Supreme Being was a form of deism established in France by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. It was intended to become the state religion of the new French Republic.- Origins :...

 was the state religion of France.

Kant
KANT
KANT is a computer algebra system for mathematicians interested in algebraic number theory, performing sophisticated computations in algebraic number fields, in global function fields, and in local fields. KASH is the associated command line interface...

's identification with deism is controversial. An argument in favor of Kant as deist is Alan Wood's "Kant's Deism," in P. Rossi and M. Wreen (eds.), Kant's Philosophy of Religion Re-examined (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991); an argument against Kant as deist is Stephen Palmquist's "Kant's Theistic Solution".

Deism in the United States


In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Enlightenment philosophy (which itself was heavily inspired by deist ideals) played a major role in creating the principle of religious freedom, expressed in Thomas Jefferson's letters, and the principle of religious freedom expressed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

. American Founding Fathers, or Framers of the Constitution
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

, who were especially noted for being influenced by such philosophy include Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Cornelius Harnett
Cornelius Harnett
Cornelius Harnett was an American merchant, farmer, and statesman from Wilmington, North Carolina. He was a leading American Revolutionary in the Cape Fear region, and a delegate for North Carolina in the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779.Harnett was born to Cornelius and Elizabeth Harnett in...

, Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris , was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. Morris was also an author of large sections of the...

, and Hugh Williamson
Hugh Williamson
Hugh Williamson was an American politician. He is best known for representing North Carolina at the Constitutional Convention.Williamson was a scholar of international renown...

. Their political speeches show distinct deistic influence.

Other notable Founding Fathers may have been more directly deist. These include James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, possibly Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

, Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen was a farmer, businessman, land speculator, philosopher, writer, and American Revolutionary War patriot, hero, and politician. He is best known as one of the founders of the U.S...

,
and Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

 (who published The Age of Reason
The Age of Reason
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionary Thomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of...

, a treatise that helped to popularize deism throughout the USA and Europe).

A major contributor was Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer was an author and advocate of Deism in the early days of the United States.-Life:Elihu Palmer was born in Canterbury, Connecticut in 1764. He studied to be a Presbyterian minister at Dartmouth College, whence he graduated in 1787. Soon after his graduation, however, he became a Deist...

 (1764–1806), who wrote the "Bible" of American deism in his Principles of Nature (1801) and attempted to organize deism by forming the "Deistical Society of New York."

In the United States there is controversy over whether the Founding Fathers were Christians, deists, or something in between. Particularly heated is the debate over the beliefs of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, and George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 wrote in his autobiography, "Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker) and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful."
Franklin also wrote that "the Deity sometimes interferes by his particular Providence, and sets aside the Events which would otherwise have been produc'd in the Course of Nature, or by the Free Agency of Man.
He later stated, in the Constitutional Convention, that "the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men."

For his part, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 is perhaps one of the Founding Fathers with the most outspoken of Deist tendencies, though he is not known to have called himself a deist, generally referring to himself as a Unitarian
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

. In particular, his treatment of the Biblical gospels which he titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, but which subsequently became more commonly known as the Jefferson Bible
Jefferson Bible
The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson's effort to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by...

, exhibits a strong deist tendency of stripping away all supernatural and dogmatic references from the Christ story. However, one unpublished Ph.D. dissertation has described Jefferson as not a Deist but a "theistic rationalist"
Theistic rationalism
Theistic rationalism is a hybrid of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, in which rationalism is the predominant element.The first-found usage of the term is in the year 1856....

, because Jefferson believed in God's continuing activity in human affairs.
The first-found usage of the term "theistic rationalist" is in the year 1856.
In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson stated that he "trembled" at the thought that "God is just," warning of eventual "supernatural influence" to abolish the scourge of slavery.

The decline of deism


Deism is generally considered to have declined as an influential school of thought by around 1800. It is probably more accurate, however, to say that deism evolved into, and contributed to, other religious movements. The term deist became rarely used, but deist beliefs, ideas, and influences did not. They can be seen in 19th-century liberal British theology and in the rise of Unitarianism
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

, which adopted many of its beliefs and ideas. Even today, there are a number of deistic Web sites.

Several factors contributed to a general decline in the popularity of deism, including:
  • the rise, growth, and spread of naturalism
    Metaphysical naturalism
    Metaphysical naturalism, also called ontological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, or just naturalism, is a philosophical worldview and belief system that holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences, i.e., those...

     and materialism
    Materialism
    In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

    , which were atheistic
    Atheism
    Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...


  • the writings of David Hume
    David Hume
    David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

     and Immanuel Kant
    Immanuel Kant
    Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

     (and later, Charles Darwin
    Charles Darwin
    Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

    ), which increased doubt about the first cause argument and the argument from design, turning many (though not all) potential deists towards atheism
    Atheism
    Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

     instead

  • criticisms (by writers such as Joseph-Marie de Maistre and Edmund Burke
    Edmund Burke
    Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

    ) of excesses of the French Revolution
    French Revolution
    The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

    , and consequent rising doubts that reason
    Reason
    Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

     and rationalism
    Rationalism
    In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

     could solve all problems

  • deism became associated with pantheism
    Pantheism
    Pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek meaning "all" and the Greek meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of...

    , freethought
    Freethought
    Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

    , and atheism
    Atheism
    Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

    ; all of which became associated with one another, and were so criticized by Christian apologists

  • frustration with the determinism
    Determinism
    Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

     implicit in "This is the best of all possible worlds"

  • deism remained a personal philosophy and had not yet become an organized movement (before the advent in the 20th century of organizations such as the World Union of Deists).

  • with the rise of Unitarianism
    Unitarianism
    Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

    , based on deistic principles, people self-identified as Unitarians rather than as deists

  • an anti-deist and anti-reason campaign by some Christian clergymen and theologians such as Johann Georg Hamann
    Johann Georg Hamann
    Johann Georg Hamann was a noted German philosopher, a main proponent of the Sturm und Drang movement, and associated by historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin with the Counter-Enlightenment.-Biography:...

     to vilify deism

  • Christian revivalist movements, such as Pietism
    Pietism
    Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to...

     or Methodism
    Methodism
    Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother...

    , which taught that a more personal relationship with a deity was possible

Deism today


Contemporary deism attempts to integrate classical deism with modern philosophy and the current state of scientific knowledge. This attempt has produced a wide variety of personal beliefs under the broad classification of belief of "deism". The Modern Deism web site includes one list of the unofficial tenets of modern deism.

Classical deism held that a human's relationship
Interpersonal relationship
An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring. This association may be based on limerence, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships are formed in the...

 with God was impersonal: God created the world and set it in motion but does not actively intervene in individual human affairs but rather through Divine Providence
Divine Providence
In Christian theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. " Providence" is also used as a title of God exercising His providence, and then the word are usually capitalized...

. What this means is that God will give humanity such things as reason and compassion but this applies to all and not individual intervention.

Some modern deists have modified this classical view and believe that humanity's relationship with God is transpersonal
Transpersonal
The term transpersonal is often used to refer to psychological categories that transcend the normal features of ordinary ego-functioning. That is, stages of psychological growth, or stages of consciousness, that move beyond the rational andprecede the mystical...

, which means that God transcends the personal/impersonal duality and moves beyond such human terms. Also, this means that it makes no sense to state that God intervenes or does not intervene, as that is a human characteristic which God does not contain. Modern deists believe that they must continue what the classical deists started and continue to use modern human knowledge to come to understand God, which in turn is why a human-like God that can lead to numerous contradictions and inconsistencies is no longer believed in and has been replaced with a much more abstract conception.

A modern definition has been created and provided by the World Union of Deists (WUD) that provides a modern understanding of deism:
Because deism asserts God without accepting claims of divine revelation, it appeals to people from both ends of the religious spectrum. Antony Flew
Antony Flew
Antony Garrard Newton Flew was a British philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, he was notable for his works on the philosophy of religion....

, for example, was a convert from atheism, and Raymond Fontaine was a Roman Catholic priest for over 20 years before converting.

The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey, which involved 50,000 participants, reported that the number of participants in the survey identifying themselves as deists grew at the rate of 717 percent between 1990 and 2001. If this were generalized to the US population as a whole, it would make deism the fastest-growing religious classification
Claims to be the fastest growing religion
Most increase in the population of any religious denomination is simply due to births. Still, the world's largest religions that are showing increases that outrun birth-rate include Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism....

 in the US for that period, with the reported total of 49,000 self-identified adherents representing about 0.02% of the US population at the time.

Modern deistic organizations and websites


In 1993, Bob Johnson established the first Deist organization since the days of Thomas Paine and Elihu Palmer with the World Union of Deists. The WUD offered the monthly hardcopy publication THINK!. Currently the WUD offers two online Deist publications, THINKonline! and Deistic Thought & Action! As well as using the Internet for spreading the Deist message, the WUD is also conducting a direct mail campaign.

1996 saw the first Web site dedicated to Deism with the WUD site Deism.com . In 1998 Sullivan-County.com was originally the Virginia/Tennessee affiliate of WUD and the second Deism site on the Web. It split from Deism.com to promote more traditional and historical Deist beliefs and history. From these effort, many other Deist sites and discussion groups have appeared on the Internet such as Positive Deism, Deist Info, Modern Deism and many others. In the last few years, the Deist Alliance was created so that many of the sites on the Internet could come together to support each other and advocate Deism. The Deist Alliance has its own quarterly newsletter that is written by members and readers.

In 2009 the World Union of Deists published a book on Deism, Deism: A Revolution in Religion, A Revolution in You written by its founder and director, Bob Johnson. This book focuses on what Deism has to offer both individuals and society.

In 2010 the Church of Deism was formed in an effort to extend the legal rights and privileges of more traditional religions to Deists while maintaining an absence of established dogma and ritual.

Subcategories of deism


Modern deists hold a wide range of views on the nature of God and God's relationship to the world. The common area of agreement is the desire to use reason, experience, and nature as the basis of belief.

There are a number of subcategories of modern deism, including monodeism (this being the default standard concept of deism), polydeism
Polydeism
Polydeism 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 and then ceased to interact with the universe...

, pandeism
Pandeism
Pandeism or Pan-Deism , is a term describing beliefs incorporating or mixing logically reconcilable elements of pantheism and deism Pandeism or Pan-Deism (from and meaning "God" in the sense of deism), is a term describing beliefs incorporating or mixing logically reconcilable elements of...

, panendeism, spiritual deism, process deism, Christian deism
Christian Deism
Christian Deism, in the philosophy of religion, is a standpoint that branches from Deism. It refers to a deist who believes in the moral teachings — but not divinity — of Jesus...

, scientific deism, and humanistic deism. Some deists see design in nature and purpose in the universe and in their lives (Prime Designer). Others see God and the universe in a co-creative process (Prime Motivator). Some deists view God in classical terms and see God as observing humanity but not directly intervening in our lives (Prime Observer), while others see God as a subtle and persuasive spirit (Prime Mover).

Pandeism



Pandeism combines elements of deism with elements of pantheism, the belief that the universe is identical to God. Pandeism holds that God was a conscious and sentient force or entity that designed and created the universe, which operates by mechanisms set forth in the creation. God thus became an unconscious and nonresponsive being by becoming the universe. Other than this distinction (and the possibility that the universe will one day return to the state of being God), pandeistic beliefs are deistic. The earliest allusion to pandeism found to date is in 1787, in translator Gottfried Große’s interpretation of Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

’s Natural History:
Here Gottfried says that Pliny is not Spinozist, but 'could be called a Pandeist' whose nature-God 'is not separate from the world. It is nature, it is the whole creation, and it seems to be designed with divinity.' The term was used in 1859 by German philosophers and frequent collaborators Moritz Lazarus
Moritz Lazarus
Moritz Lazarus , born at Filehne, in the Prussian province of Posen, was a German philosopher, psychologist, and a vocal opponent of the anti-Semitism of his time.- Life and education :...

 and Heymann Steinthal
Heymann Steinthal
Heymann or Hermann Steinthal was a German philologist and philosopher....

 in Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft. They wrote:
This is translated as:
In the 1960s, theologian Charles Hartshorne
Charles Hartshorne
Charles Hartshorne was a prominent American philosopher who concentrated primarily on the philosophy of religion and metaphysics. He developed the neoclassical idea of God and produced a modal proof of the existence of God that was a development of St. Anselm's Ontological Argument...

 scrupulously examined and rejected both deism and pandeism (as well as pantheism) in favor of a conception of God whose characteristics included "absolute perfection in some respects, relative perfection in all others" or "AR", writing that this theory "is able consistently to embrace all that is positive in either deism or pandeism", concluding that "panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations".

Panendeism


Panendeism combines deism with panentheism
Panentheism
Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it...

, the belief that the universe is part of God, but not all of God. A component of panendeism is "experiential metaphysics" – the idea that a mystical component exists within the framework of panendeism, allowing the seeker to experience a relationship to Deity through meditation, prayer or some other type of communion. This is a major departure from Classical Deism.

A 1995 news article includes an early usage of the term by Jim Garvin, a Vietnam veteran
Vietnam veteran
Vietnam veteran is a phrase used to describe someone who served in the armed forces of participating countries during the Vietnam War.The term has been used to describe veterans who were in the armed forces of South Vietnam, the United States armed forces, and countries allied to them, whether or...

 who became a Trappist
TRAPPIST
TRAPPIST is Belgian robotic telescope in Chile which came online in 2010, and is an acronym for TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope, so named in homage to Trappist beer produced in the Belgian region. Situated high in the Chilean mountains at La Silla Observatory, it is actually...

 monk
Monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

 in the Holy Cross Abbey
Holy Cross Abbey, Virginia
Holy Cross Abbey is a monastery of the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance , popularly known as the Trappists. The monastery is located near Berryville in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, United States...

 of Berryville, Virginia
Berryville, Virginia
Berryville is an incorporated town in and the county seat of Clarke County, Virginia, United States. The population was 2,963 at the 2000 census.-Geography:...

, and went on to lead the economic development of Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the U.S. state of Arizona, as well as the sixth most populated city in the United States. Phoenix is home to 1,445,632 people according to the official 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data...

. Despite his Roman Catholic post, Garvin described his spiritual position as "pandeism' or 'pan-en-deism,' something very close to the Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 concept of the all-pervading Great Spirit
Great Spirit
The Great Spirit, also called Wakan Tanka among the Sioux, the Creator or the Great Maker in English, and Gitchi Manitou in Algonquian, is a conception of a supreme being prevalent among some Native American and First Nations cultures...

..."

Spiritual Deism



Spiritual Deism is the religious and philosophical belief in one indefinable, omnipresent god who is the cause and/or the substance of the universe. Spiritual Deists reject all divine revelation, religious dogma, and supernatural events and favor an ongoing personalized connection with the divine presence through intuition, communion with nature, meditation and contemplation. Generally, Spiritual Deists reject the notion that God consciously intervenes in human affairs.

Spiritual Deism is extremely general and is not bound by any ideology other than the belief in one indefinable god whose spiritual presence can be felt in nature. As such, Spiritual Deism is not infected by political principles or partisanship of any kind. Because of this, Spiritual Deists are extremely welcoming and tolerant to all except dogma, demagoguery, and intolerance itself. Therefore, most Spiritual Deists are more comfortable contemplating the universe as a mystery than they are in filling it with belief systems such as eternal reward, reincarnation, karma, etc.

Spiritual Deists are likely to label themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious
Spiritual But Not Religious
Spiritual But Not Religious is a popular phrase and acronym used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that rejects traditional organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth...

.”

Opinions on prayer


Many classical deists were critical of some types of prayer. For example, in Christianity as Old as the Creation, Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 argues against praying for miracles, but advocates prayer as both a human duty and a human need.

Today, deists hold a variety of opinions about prayer:
  • Some contemporary deists believe (with the classical deists) that God has created the universe perfectly, so no amount of supplication, request, or begging can change the fundamental nature of the universe.

  • Some deists believe that God is not an entity that can be contacted by human beings through petitions for relief; rather, God can only be experienced through the nature of the universe.

  • Some deists do not believe in divine intervention but still find value in prayer as a form of meditation, self-cleansing, and spiritual renewal. Such prayers are often appreciative (that is, "Thank you for ...") rather than supplicative (that is, "Please God grant me ...").

  • Some deists, usually referred to as Spiritual Deists, practice meditation and make frequent use of Affirmative Prayer
    Affirmative prayer
    Affirmative prayer is a form of prayer or a metaphysical technique that is focused on a positive outcome rather than a negative situation. For example, a person who is experiencing some form of illness would focus the prayer on the desired state of perfect health and affirm this desired intention...

    , a non-supplicative form of prayer which is common in the New Thought
    New Thought
    New Thought promotes the ideas that "Infinite Intelligence" or "God" is ubiquitous, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind, and "right thinking" has a healing effect.Although New Thought is neither...

     movement.

Recent discussion on role of deism


Recently, Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor (philosopher)
Charles Margrave Taylor, is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec best known for his contributions in political philosophy, the philosophy of social science, and in the history of philosophy. His contributions to these fields have earned him both the prestigious Kyoto Prize and the...

, in his book on Secular Age
A Secular Age
A Secular Age is a book written by the philosopher Charles Taylor which was published in 2007 by Harvard University Press. The sociologist Robert Bellah has referred to A Secular Age as "one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime."...

 showed the historical role of deism, leading to what he calls an exclusive humanism. This humanism invokes a moral order, whose ontic commitment, is wholly intra-human; not carrying reference to transcendence.
One of the special achievements of such deism-based humanism is that it discloses new, anthropocentric moral sources by which human beings are motivated and empowered to accomplish mutual benefit. This is the province of a buffered self, disengaged, who is the locus of dignity, freedom, discipline, and carrying a sense of human capability.
According to Taylor by the early 19th century, this deism-mediated exclusive humanism developed as an alternative to Christian faith in a personal God and an order of miracles and mystery.

See also


  • American Enlightenment
    American Enlightenment
    The American Enlightenment is the intellectual thriving period in America in the mid-to-late 18th century, especially as it relates to American Revolution on the one hand and the European Enlightenment on the other...

  • Ceremonial Deism
    Ceremonial deism
    Ceremonial deism is a legal term used in the United States for nominally religious statements and practices deemed to be merely ritual and non-religious through long customary usage. Proposed examples of ceremonial deism include the reference to God introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance in...

  • Christian Deism
    Christian Deism
    Christian Deism, in the philosophy of religion, is a standpoint that branches from Deism. It refers to a deist who believes in the moral teachings — but not divinity — of Jesus...

  • Clockwork universe theory
    Clockwork universe theory
    The clockwork universe theory compares the universe to a mechanical clock wound up by God, or initiated by the Big Bang. It continues ticking along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics, making every single aspect of the machine completely predictable...

  • Cosmological argument
    Cosmological argument
    The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God...

  • Freethought
    Freethought
    Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

  • Ietsism
    Ietsism
    Ietsism is an unspecified belief in some higher force. It is a Dutch term for a range of beliefs held by people who, on the one hand, inwardly suspect - or indeed believe - that there is “More between Heaven and Earth” than we know about, but on the other hand do not necessarily accept or...

  • Infinitism
    Infinitism
    Infinitism is the view that knowledge may be justified by an infinite chain of reasons. It belongs to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that considers the possibility, nature, and means of knowledge.-Epistemological infinitism:...

  • List of Deists
  • Religious affiliations of United States Presidents
    • George Washington and religion
      George Washington and religion
      The exact nature of George Washington's religious beliefs has been debated by historians and biographers for over two hundred years. Unlike some of his fellow Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry, Washington rarely discussed or wrote about his religious...

  • Theistic evolution
    Theistic evolution
    Theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is a concept that asserts that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution...



Informational links


Works by Thomas Paine