Deism

Deism

Deism is not a religion, but a religious philosophy. It advances the theory that God exists, that He created the universe, but does not intervene in the affairs of humankind.Deism emerged during The Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, initially in England, later in France and other European countries, and also in America.Deism serves to rationalize the existence of God with newly surfacing scientific discoveries and belief in the existence of free will. Some elements of Deism survive today in Unitarianism.Washington, Franklin, Jefferson and Paine were prominent deists in 18th century America.Franklin summarized much of the philosophy of deism in his Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion, which he published in 1728 at the age of 22. It began:

For I believe that Man is not the most perfect being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him.Also, when I stretch my Imagination thro` and beyond our System of Planets, beyond the visible fix`d Stars themselves, into that Space that is every Way infinite, and conceive it fill`d with Suns like ours, each with a Chorus of Worlds for ever moving round him, then this little Ball on which we move, seems, even in my narrow Imagination, to be almost Nothing, and my self less than nothing, and of no sort of Consequence.When I think thus, I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. More especially, since it is impossible for me to have any positive or clear Idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even infinitely above it.

Deism - The History of Classical Deism - Early Deism

Lord Edward 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.

  • There is one Supreme God.
  • He ought to be worshipped.
  • Virtue and piety are the chief parts of divine worship.
  • We ought to be sorry for our sins and repent of them
  • Divine goodness doth dispense rewards and punishments both in this life and after it.

The following lengthy quote from Herbert can give the flavor of his writing and demonstrate the sense of the importance that Herbert attributed to innate Common Notions, which can help in understanding the effect of Locke's attack on innate ideas on Herbert's philosophy:

No general agreement exists concerning the Gods, but there is universal recognition of God. Every religion in the past has acknowledged, every religion in the future will acknowledge, some sovereign deity among the Gods. .

Accordingly that which is everywhere accepted as the supreme manifestation of deity, by whatever name it may be called, I term God.

While there is no general agreement concerning the worship of Gods, sacred beings, saints, and angels, yet the Common Notion or Universal Consent tells us that adoration ought to be reserved for the one God. Hence divine religion— and no race, however savage, has existed without some expression of it— is found established among all nations. .

The connection of Virtue with Piety, defined in this work as the right conformation of the faculties, is and always has been held to be, the most important part of religious practice. There is no general agreement concerning rites, ceremonies, traditions. but there is the greatest possible consensus of opinion concerning the right conformation of the faculties. . Moral virtue. is and always has been esteemed by men in every age and place and respected in every land.

There is no general agreement concerning the various rites or mysteries which the priests have devised for the expiation of sin. General agreement among religions, the nature of divine goodness, and above all conscience, tell us that our crimes may be washed away by true penitence, and that we can be restored to new union with God. . I do not wish to consider here whether any other more appropriate means exists by which the divine justice may be appeased, since I have undertaken in this work only to rely on truths which are not open to dispute but are derived from the evidence of immediate perception and admitted by the whole world.

The rewards that are eternal have been variously placed in heaven, in the stars, in the Elysian fields. Punishment has been thought to lie in metempsychosis, in hell. or in temporary or everlasting death. But all religion, law, philosophy, and . conscience, teach openly or implicitly that punishment or reward awaits us after this life. . here is no nation, however barbarous, which has not and will not recognise the existence of punishments and rewards. That reward and punishment exist is, then, a Common Notion, though there is the greatest difference of opinion as to their nature, quality, extent, and mode.

It follows from these considerations that the dogmas which recognize a sovereign Deity, enjoin us to worship Him, command us to live a holy life, lead us to repent our sins, and warn us of future recompense or punishment, proceed from God and are inscribed within us in the form of Common Notions.

Revealed truth exists and it would be unjust to ignore it. But its nature is quite distinct from the truth . he truth of revelation depends upon the authority of him who reveals it. We must, then, proceed with great care in discerning what actually is revealed. e must take great care to avoid deception, for men who are depressed, superstitious, or ignorant of causes are always liable to it.

—Lord Herbert of Cherbury, De Veritate

According to Gay, Herbert had relatively few followers, and it was not until the 1680s that Herbert found a true successor in Charles Blount (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."

Famous quotes containing the word early :

&ldquo The secret of heaven is kept from age to age. No imprudent, no sociable angel ever dropt an early syllable to answer the longings of saints, the fears of mortals. We should have listened on our knees to any favorite, who, by stricter obedience, had brought his thoughts into parallelism with the celestial currents, and could hint to human ears the scenery and circumstance of the newly parted soul. &rdquo
&mdashRalph Waldo Emerson (1803�)


Failure of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine's Age of Reason was an attempt to save Deism from the onslaught of atheism and extremism in France. It failed in several respects:

  1. It alienated Paine from many people such as George Washington and John Adams by his open attacks on Christianity.
  2. In America and England, Deism was closely intertwined with Unitarianism and operated within the fringes of liberal Christianity. The Age of Reason and the reaction to it served to sever it totally from Christianity, just as Paul severed Christianity from Judaism.
  3. The Age of Reason for many merely became a weapon for undermining Christianity, not promoting Deism. Paine so buried his religious beliefs in anti-Christian rhetoric it's easy to define him as an atheist, something he clearly wasn't.
  4. This led to new a counter-offensive by Christianity called the 2nd Awakening.
  5. His view of God is so poorly defined that some such as political science professor Fruchtman (Towson State Univ., Md.) "argues that Paine was a pantheist who saw God's handiwork in all nature and in humanity's struggles to improve the common good." See Thomas Paine, Apostle of Freedom.

Reaction to Thomas Paine and His Age of Reason

I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that . . . the consequence of printing this piece will be a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others.

He that spits into the wind, spits in his own face. But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? . . . [T]hink how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue . . . . I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person . . . . If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it? I intend this letter itself as proof of my friendship.

Ref. The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, Ed., (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1840) X:281-282, to Thomas Paine in 1790.

[W]hen I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States. The people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase, are fast returning to their first love.

Will you excite among them the spirit of angry controversy at a time when they are hastening to amity and peace? I am told that some of our newspapers have announced your intention to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of your Age of Reason. Do you think your pen, or the pen of any other man, can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?

Ref. William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1865) III:372-73, to Thomas Paine on Nov. 30, 1802.

And as Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813:

John Quincy Adams declared that "Mr. Paine has departed altogether from the principles of the Revolution."

The French Revolution was based on reason alone led to only bloodshed and tyranny. Reason without an underpinning of God or a higher power leads only to ruin. To quote Noah Nissani:

Another source for study

The primary influences of the US Constitution were John Locke, Montesquieu, the Bible, Greek philosophy, and the Freemasons. Another excellent reference for Deism is The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes. (Buy it here.) To quote one book review:

Why is this book important to read? Simple, there are extremists on the right and left that have utilized historic revisionism to push their political agendas and they do this by twisting the founder's beliefs into something that will backup their political claims. This has lead to a general confusion in regards to what the founders actually believed.

The secondary importance of this book lies in its focus on the Enlightenment religion of Deism. In truth, there are very few books regarding the richness and diversity of Deism in early America and the important role that it played in founding the USA. Most books use a few sentences to state that Deism was a belief in a God that created and then abandoned the universe. This "definition" was the creation of preachers during the Second Great Awakening to damage the theology of Deism that had become popular among the educated.

Holmes devotes more than just a few sentences to the subject of Deism. He devotes 3 chapters to the subject and goes into detail how diverse Deism was among its adherents and that it had its own sects just as Christianity did and does. Despite what many believe, Deism was (and is) a faith that is rich with diversity and is not the "God who abandoned" religion that has been put forth for far too many years. He breaks down the belief of the founders into three categories which are Non-Christian Deism, Christian Deism and Orthodox Christianity.

An important fact to consider is Deism is a private belief system, not a "church" with a dogma. As Holmes points out, the Founders didn't push their beliefs even on their own families. Many of their wives (the exception of Mrs. Adams) and children were pious Christians. Holmes also doesn't push a political agenda.

An interesting e-book on Rousseau entitled Rousseau and the Real Culture War by David Heleniak can be downloaded for free at http://www.lulu.com/content/844957. To quote, "In his examination of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Second Discourse, David Heleniak contends that libertarians are the heirs of the Greco-Roman pagans and the "modern pagans" of the Enlightenment, conservatives are the end product of the Christian doctrine of original sin, and the American Left is the consequence of the doctrine as transformed by Rousseau." I've read this and highly recommend it.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (no friend of Deism): " Thus there have been French and German deists as well as English while Pagan, Jewish, or Moslem deists might be found as well as Christian." Many people tend to be Deists or have deistic thinking, but really don't know it or what to call it. They go on to say in regards to Deists in general and this still applies today,

Because of the individualistic standpoint of independent criticism, which they adopt, it is difficult, if not impossible, to class together the representative writers who contributed to the literature of English deism as forming any one definite school, or to group together the positive teachings contained in their writings as any one systematic expression of a concordant philosophy.

The deists were what nowadays would be called freethinkers, a name, indeed, by which they were not infrequently known and they can only be classed together wholly in the main attitude that they adopted, viz. in agreeing to cast off the trammels of authoritative religious teaching.

Deists do not accept the authority of so-called "religious leaders" or their man-made holy books. Because we tend to be individuals, it's unlikely one will ever see deist' churches. I don't believe such an institution is even possible, while perhaps non-formal fellowships would work well.


Deism in History

At the time I found Deism and "formed my own religion", there was no internet. But shortly after I discovered that my beliefs had a name - I came across what I call the smoking gun.

A website called Pagan Origins of the Christian Myth. This is what I call the smoking gun, and it totally and completely opened my eyes. It also explained exactly why I felt that Christianity was wrong and I was right.

  • When Osiris is said to bring his believers eternal life in Egyptian Heaven, contemplating the unutterable, indescribable glory of God, we understand that as a myth.
  • When the sacred rites of Demeter at Eleusis are described as bringing believers happiness in their eternal life, we understand that as a myth.
  • In fact, when ancient writers tell us that in general ancient people believed in eternal life, with the good going to the Elysian Fields and the not so good going to Hades, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Vespatian's spittle healed a blind man, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death, we understand that as a myth.
  • When the Pythia , the priestess at the Oracle at Delphi, in Greece, prophesied, and over and over again for a thousand years, the prophecies came true, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Dionysus turned water into wine, we understand that as a myth. When Dionysus believers are filled with atay, the Spirit of God, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Romulus is described as the Son of God, born of a virgin, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Alexander the Great is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth.
  • When Augustus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal , we understand that as a myth.
  • When Dionysus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman,we understand that as a myth.
  • When Scipio Africanus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth.

how come that's NOT a myth?

It is perfectly clear that Jesus was just another story - but this time a church (the central authority) grew up around this old belief and it is the church that has kept the story of this son of god alive for the last 2000 years. And caused no end of misery to the human race as a result.

I have long since stopped thinking of the dates BC and AD. I now prefer to use the neutral dating system - CE and BCE. CE means Common Era and BCE is Before the Common Era.

I dont openly broadcast my beliefs. That is now how Deism works. We do not go around Prosetylizing.

I have no trouble saying that I believe in God - even if my version of God is most certainly NOT the god of the bible.

As Thomas Paine said - Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man. And the church has certainly been very cruel over the last 2000 years.


The Founding Fathers, Deism, and Christianity

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For some time the question of the religious faith of the Founding Fathers has generated a culture war in the United States. Scholars trained in research universities have generally argued that the majority of the Founders were religious rationalists or Unitarians. Pastors and other writers who identify themselves as Evangelicals have claimed not only that most of the Founders held orthodox beliefs but also that some were born-again Christians.

Whatever their beliefs, the Founders came from similar religious backgrounds. Most were Protestants. The largest number were raised in the three largest Christian traditions of colonial America—Anglicanism (as in the cases of John Jay, George Washington, and Edward Rutledge), Presbyterianism (as in the cases of Richard Stockton and the Rev. John Witherspoon), and Congregationalism (as in the cases of John Adams and Samuel Adams). Other Protestant groups included the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Lutherans, and the Dutch Reformed. Three Founders—Charles Carroll and Daniel Carroll of Maryland and Thomas Fitzsimmons of Pennsylvania—were of Roman Catholic heritage.

The sweeping disagreement over the religious faiths of the Founders arises from a question of discrepancy. Did their private beliefs differ from the orthodox teachings of their churches? On the surface, most Founders appear to have been orthodox (or “right-believing”) Christians. Most were baptized, listed on church rolls, married to practicing Christians, and frequent or at least sporadic attenders of services of Christian worship. In public statements, most invoked divine assistance.

But the widespread existence in 18th-century America of a school of religious thought called Deism complicates the actual beliefs of the Founders. Drawing from the scientific and philosophical work of such figures as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaac Newton, and John Locke, Deists argued that human experience and rationality—rather than religious dogma and mystery—determine the validity of human beliefs. In his widely read The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine, the principal American exponent of Deism, called Christianity “a fable.” Paine, the protégé of Benjamin Franklin, denied “that the Almighty ever did communicate anything to man, by…speech,…language, or…vision.” Postulating a distant deity whom he called “Nature’s God” (a term also used in the Declaration of Independence), Paine declared in a “profession of faith”:

I believe in one God, and no more and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and in endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

Thus, Deism inevitably subverted orthodox Christianity. Persons influenced by the movement had little reason to read the Bible, to pray, to attend church, or to participate in such rites as baptism, Holy Communion, and the laying on of hands (confirmation) by bishops. With the notable exceptions of Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison, Deism seems to have had little effect on women. For example, Martha Washington, the daughters of Thomas Jefferson, and Elizabeth Kortright Monroe and her daughters seem to have held orthodox Christian beliefs.

But Deistic thought was immensely popular in colleges from the middle of the 18th into the 19th century. Thus, it influenced many educated (as well as uneducated) males of the Revolutionary generation. Although such men would generally continue their public affiliation with Christianity after college, they might inwardly hold unorthodox religious views. Depending on the extent to which Americans of Christian background were influenced by Deism, their religious beliefs would fall into three categories: non-Christian Deism, Christian Deism, and orthodox Christianity.

One can differentiate a Founding Father influenced by Deism from an orthodox Christian believer by following certain criteria. Anyone seeking the answer should consider at least the following four points. First, an inquirer should examine the Founder’s church involvement. However, because a colonial church served not only religious but also social and political functions, church attendance or service in a governing body (such as an Anglican vestry, which was a state office in colonies such as Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina) fails to guarantee a Founder’s orthodoxy. But Founders who were believing Christians would nevertheless be more likely to go to church than those influenced by Deism.

The second consideration is an evaluation of the participation of a Founder in the ordinances or sacraments of his church. Most had no choice about being baptized as children, but as adults they did have a choice about participating in communion or (if Episcopalian or Roman Catholic) in confirmation. And few Founders who were Deists would have participated in either rite. George Washington’s refusal to receive communion in his adult life indicated Deistic belief to many of his pastors and peers.

Third, one should note the religious language a Founder used. Non-Christian Deists such as Paine refused to use Judeo-Christian terminology and described God with such expressions as “Providence,” “the Creator,” “the Ruler of Great Events,” and “Nature’s God.” Founders who fall into the category of Christian Deists used Deistic terms for God but sometimes added a Christian dimension—such as “Merciful Providence” or “Divine Goodness.” Yet these Founders did not move further into orthodoxy and employ the traditional language of Christian piety. Founders who remained unaffected by Deism or who (like John Adams) became conservative Unitarians used terms that clearly conveyed their orthodoxy (“Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Resurrected Christ”).

Finally, one should consider what friends, family, and, above all, clergy said about a Founder’s religious faith. That Washington’s pastors in Philadelphia clearly viewed him as significantly influenced by Deism says more about Washington’s faith than do the opposite views of later writers or the cloudy memories of a few Revolutionary veterans who avowed Washington’s orthodoxy decades after his death.

Although no examination of history can capture the inner faith of any person, these four indicators can help locate the Founders on the religious spectrum. Ethan Allen, for example, appears clearly to have been a non-Christian Deist. James Monroe, a close friend of Paine, remained officially an Episcopalian but may have stood closer to non-Christian Deism than to Christian Deism. Founders who fall into the category of Christian Deists include Washington (whose dedication to Christianity was clear in his own mind), John Adams, and, with some qualifications, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was more influenced by the reason-centred Enlightenment than either Adams or Washington. Orthodox Christians among the Founders include the staunchly Calvinistic Samuel Adams. John Jay (who served as president of the American Bible Society), Elias Boudinot (who wrote a book on the imminent Second Coming of Jesus), and Patrick Henry (who distributed religious tracts while riding circuit as a lawyer) clearly believed in Evangelical Christianity.

Although orthodox Christians participated at every stage of the new republic, Deism influenced a majority of the Founders. The movement opposed barriers to moral improvement and to social justice. It stood for rational inquiry, for skepticism about dogma and mystery, and for religious toleration. Many of its adherents advocated universal education, freedom of the press, and separation of church and state. If the nation owes much to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is also indebted to Deism, a movement of reason and equality that influenced the Founding Fathers to embrace liberal political ideals remarkable for their time.


How Deism Differs from Christianity

The Genesis account of creation says that “God created the heavens and the earth” which were “without form and void” (Genesis 1:1). Deism and Christianity agree God is the Creator, but the two hold vastly different beliefs on key issues.

1. God is actively involved in human life.

Christians believe that God is not detached but deeply interested and involved in our story. The entire Bible is testimony to this fact. For example, God spoke to people on several occasions to share promises, some beautiful (a baby for Sarah in her old age, Genesis 17) and some terrifying (destroying creation with the flood, Genesis 6:13).

2. Christ is the source of salvation, not morality.

Christians believe in Christ for their salvation, not their morality (Ephesians 2:8-9). Being basically good is not enough to get into heaven. Jesus said in John 14:6, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

One of the greatest commandments is to love one another the way Jesus loves us (John 13:34). Love denotes a state of heart in contrast to the good behavior described by Modern Therapeutic Deists love motivates a Christian to model the love of Jesus for the sake of others.

3. The Bible is God’s word.

For Christians, the Holy Bible is the inspired word of their Father: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16).

Memorizing the words and the rules found inside the bible will not save a person, but in John 5:39 Jesus says that scripture “bear(s) witness about Jesus.” Christians will find wisdom and guidance there (Proverbs 2). Christ even finds power in Scripture to rebuke the devil and overcome temptation (Matthew 4:1-11).

4. Satan and hell are real.

As Matthew 4 shows, Satan and hell are real, not mere symbols as deists assert. 1 Chronicles 21:1 describes how Satan incited David to take a census in Israel, which angered God. Matthew 5:22 and Matthew 18:9 both refer to the ‘fire of hell.’ Hell is ‘where the fire never goes out’ (Mark 9:43).

5. God answers prayer according to his will.

“God hears and answers every prayer, but there are a precious few to which he always says, ‘Yes,’” Gary Miller said in his Desiring God article. Miller agrees with the MTDs that God serves us: “God gives to us we don’t give to God. We ask he gives. Prayer depends on what he has done in us and for us, and on what he will do in us and for us,” he said.

Miller is not suggesting, however, that we put a coin in a slot and receive our wishes from God. Instead, the Father shows us how to pray to Him and what to pray. Prayer is worship, even in difficult times a sign that we trust our Lord.

An example: After his infant son died, King David “arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” (2 Samuel 12:20).

Prayer is a response to God’s invitation that we have a relationship with Him, not a list of demands. If we “delight in the Father” He will give us “the desires of our heart” (Psalm 37:4). In the view of Christians, God is not remote but very, very close.

NewStatesman.com, “Britain’s Hidden Religion.” Sholto Byrnes, 2009.

GraceUniversity.edu, “Religious Convictions in 21 st Century America.” Dr. Jim Eckman, 2012.

Candice Lucey lives with her husband and daughters in (mostly) tranquil Salmon Arm, BC, Canada. Here, she enjoys digging into God’s word when not working or taking part in ministry activities. Her prose and poetry have previously appeared in such publications as Purpose and Creation Illustrated, and her short plays were performed at Christmas by Sunday School students for several years. Catch up with Candice’s scriptural studies at her blog Wordwell.ca.

Photo Credit: Pexels/AndreyGrushnikov

This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:


5 Amazing Facts About Deism

From the belief that god is either dead or gone, to all the famous people you’ve heard of but never would imagine were deists. This is a list of 5 amazing facts about Deism.

God is Dead

Deism is one of the few religions that doesn’t believe in god in a conventional sense. Where as most religions believe there is a supreme being, that created the Universe, and has ultimate power. Deists do believe that there was a God who made the Universe, and created people, and gave us the ability to reason, but after giving us all this he disappeared for reasons unknown, or died.

They Don’t Worship God

Deists generally do not worship their Gods, since he is no longer around, why would he care or even notice if you believe in him or not. They also believe that God doesn’t even care if you believe in him or not. Deists also feel that you shouldn’t follow prophets, instead you should rely on your own experiences, and your god given reason. Although God left he still cares about how you live your life, God wants to live morally, and believes that you should decide how to live well using the rational thinking, and logic he gifted to humans.

The Age Of Enlightenment

Deism became popular in the age of enlightenment, mostly in France Germany, the USA, and Britain. It’s following was mainly comprised of ex-Christians who believed in god but wanted to be able to live rationally and believe in god for reasons other than faith. The watchmaker theory was popular among deists. The theory being that if you see a watch on the ground you assume it must have a watchmaker, and that the same goes for the universe. Although the watchmaker argument has since been disproved at the time it was quite the enticing theory.

There Is No Set Doctrine

Deism can be a confusing religion since there is no set doctrine, many deists believe very different things. For instance some deists believe in the soul, and some don’t. Some believe that souls survive after you human body dies and carries on into the afterlife, to be rewarded or punished by god. Deist Benjamin Franklin believed in reincarnation, or resurrection. It’s estimated that in 2001 there were 49,000 deists in the U.S. At the time it was the fastest growing religion.

Famous Deist

There are many famous Deists including six of America’s founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, John Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. There are still many other famous deists like, Abraham Lincoln, Neil Armstrong, Voltaire, Albert Einstein, Napoleon Bonaparte.


Origins of life & species. Is Richard Dawkins a Deist?

There are multiple theories concerning the origins of the many of species of life on Earth that currently exist or have existed in the past:

    Creation Science: One version of this theory teaches that God created all of the species of life, from bacteria to dinosaurs to oak trees, and humans. This happened during less than a week, perhaps 6 to 10 thousand years ago. This is one of many interpretations of the creation stories in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Creation Science is incompatible with the beliefs of Deism. Deists accept the conclusions of science that all life did not appear on earth suddenly, recently, and in more or less its present form and diversity. They believe that the fossil record and radiometric dating show that evolution happened over an interval of about 3.5 billion years. "In Deism, Intelligent Design has absolutely nothing to do with the . Biblical myth of creation." 1

Not included in the theory of evolution is the study of abiogenesis: the origin of life itself. Evolution only covers the origins of species that developed from the original single-celled life form. There is believed to be no consensus at this time among Deists as to whether the development of the first life from from inanimate matter was an act of creation by God or a natural process without divine intervention.

An article about theistic evolution in Wikipedia states:

"Some deists believe that a Divine Creator initiated a universe in which evolution occurred, by designing the system and the natural laws, although many deists believe that God also created life itself, before allowing it to be subject to evolution. They find it to be undignified and unwieldy for a deity to make constant adjustments rather than letting evolution elegantly adapt organisms to changing environments. 2

Are Richard Dawkins' beliefs evolving toward Deism?

In his book "The God Delusion" Richard Dawkins stated that "Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive later in the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it." 3 That is, he does not believe in a creator God. Some commentators have cited this and other passages in Dawkins' writings to assert that he is a strong Atheist: a person who absolutely denies the existence of God.

During In 2005 an Internet site "Edge: The World Question Centre" asked some leading scientists: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Richard Dawkins responded:

"I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe." 4

Since he admits that he cannot prove that no creator God existed, it would seem that he might be better referred to as an Agnostic: a person who believes that the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproven.

Melanie Phillips wrote a column for The Spectator -- a UK magazine -- suggesting that Dawkins' beliefs are "still evolving" towards Deism. 5 She quotes a debate between Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford University in which Dawkins said:

"A serious case could be made for a deistic God."

Phillips speculates that Dawkins still regards belief in the God of the Bible is equivalent to

". believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden."

However, an entirely different creator deity just might have existed: one that created and kick-started the universe, but has not been involved with humanity or the rest of the universe since. Unfortunately, this topic was not further pursued during the debate.

in Dawkins' 2006-JAN British television documentary "The Root of All Evil?," -- later renamed The God Delusion -- he said:

"Science can't disprove the existence of God. But that does not mean that God exists. There are a million things we can't disprove. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, had an analogy. Imagine there's a china teapot in orbit around the sun. You cannot disprove the existence of the teapot, because it's too small to be spotted by our telescopes. Nobody but a lunatic would say, 'Well, I'm prepared to believe in the teapot because I can't disprove it.

Maybe we have to be technically and strictly agnostic, but in practice we are all teapot atheists." ' 6,7

This last statement, we suspect, reflects Dawkins' true beliefs: that one cannot rigorously disprove or prove the existence of Deism's absent creator God, the Jewish Yahweh, the Christian Trinity, Islam's Allah, Russell's teapot, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Thus one must remain Agnostic unless and until some proof is found. But that does not preclude an individual from having an opinion on the likelihood of any of these seven entities. If forced to make a decision based on the existence of one of these entities, Dawkins would probably assume that none exist. We suspect that he is a technical Agnostic but Atheist in practice.

References used:

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Deism - The History of Classical Deism - Deism in Britain - David Hume

The writings of David Hume 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 cuts equally against deism and deism's opponents, who were also deeply involved in natural theology. 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.

The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from an anxious fear of future events and what ideas will naturally be entertained of invisible, unknown powers, while men lie under dismal apprehensions of any kind, may easily be conceived. Every image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice must occur, and must augment the ghastliness and horror which oppresses the amazed religionist. . And no idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity. —David Hume, The Natural History of Religion, section XIII

As E. Graham Waring saw it

The clear reasonableness of natural religion disappeared before a semi-historical look at what can be known about uncivilized man— "a barbarous, necessitous animal," as Hume termed him. Natural religion, if by that term one means the actual religious beliefs and practices of uncivilized peoples, was seen to be a fabric of superstitions. Primitive man was no unspoiled philosopher, clearly seeing the truth of one God. And the history of religion was not, as the deists had implied, retrograde the widespread phenomenon of superstition was caused less by priestly malice than by man's unreason as he confronted his experience.

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 has argued that the best and safest term for Hume's views is irreligion.

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2. Encyclopedists

The Encyclopedists removed from Deism the great factor of natural religion, retaining only its critical method as applied to the history of religion. The head of this school was Denis Diderot (d. 1784), and its great organ of expression was theEncyclopedie. The state censorship, however, compelled the projectors to call to their aid a number of contributors of conservative views and to bring their skeptical method to the task of defending the compromise between reason and revelation. In this spirit the main religious topics were treated, but by a subtle infusion of the spirit of Bayle and the expedient of cross-references from these articles to topics which might be handled with greater freedom, Diderot succeeded in supplying the desired corrective. It was the circle of Holbach (d. 1789) that dared to apply the most extreme consequences of materialism to religious questions. Helvetius (d. 1771) prepared the way with his De l’esprit (17,58), in which he expounded a materialistic psychology and ethics. Their moral theories, deriving though they did from Hobbes and Hume, lost all connection with the position of Deism, which became for them a mere armory of weapons for the destruction of all religion with its consequences, intolerance and moral corruption. Holbach is undoubtedly the author of the Systeme de la nature, which appeared in 1770 as the work of Mirabaud. The Systeme is not original in ascribing the beginnings of religion to human hope and fear and to ignorance of the laws of nature. Fraud, ambition, and unhealthy enthusiasm have made use of it as a means of political and social influence and have succeeded in crystallizing its primitive emotions into positive creeds, within which animistic tendencies have been developed and subtilized into systems of metaphysics and theology — the sources of irrational intolerance. From Holbach and his circle, and from the cognate group of the Encyclopedists, proceeded the so-called ideological school, who held the main problem of philosophy to be the analysis of the mental conceptions aroused by sensations from the material world (Condorcet, Naigeon, Garat, Volney, Dupuis, Saint-Lambert, Laplace, Cabinis, De Tracy, J. B. Say, Benjamin Constant, Bichat, Lamarck, Saint-Simon, Thurot, Stendhal). Out of this school, in turn, developed the positivism of Comte.


9. Hume’s Influence

Far greater is the influence of David Hume (d. 1776), who summarized the Deistic criticism and raised it to the level of modern scientific method by emancipating it from the conception of a deity conceived through the reason and by abandoning its characteristic interpretation of history. He separates Locke’s theory of knowledge from its connection with a scheme of mechanical teleology and confines the human mind within the realm of sense perception. Beginning then with the crudest factors of experience and not with a religious and ethical norm, he traces the development of systems of religion, ethics, and philosophy in an ascending course through the ages. He thus overthrow the Deistic philosophy of religion while he developed their critical method to the extent of making it the starting-point for the English positivist philosophy of religion. Distinguishing between the metaphysical problem of the idea of God and the historical problem of the rise of religions, he denied the possibility of attaining a knowledge of deity through the reason, and explained religion as arising from the misconception or arbitrary misinterpretation of experience (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, written in 1751, but not published till 1779 Natural History of Religion, 1757). Against the justification of religion by other means than rational Hume directs his celebrated critique of miracles, in which to the possibility of miraculous occurrences he opposes the possibility of error on the part of the observer or historian. Human experience, affected by ignorance, fancy, and the imaginings of fear and hope, explains sufficiently the growth of religion. Hume’s contemporaries failed to recognize the portentous transformation which he had effected in the character of Deism. The Scottish “common-sense school ” saved for a time the old natural theology and the theological argument from miracles to revelation but in reality Hume’s skeptical method, continued by Hamilton and united to French Positivism by Mill and Browne, became, in connection with modern ethnology and anthropology, the basis of a psychological philosophy of religion in which the data of outward experience are the main factors (Evolutionism, Positivism, Agnosticism, Tylor, Spencer, Lubbock, Andrew Lang). In so far as Hume’s influence prevailed among his contemporaries, it may be said to have amalgamated with that of Voltaire the “infidels,” as they were now called, were Voltairians. Most prominent among them was Gibbon (d. 1794), whose Decline and Fall offers the first dignified pragmatic treatment of the rise of Christianity. The fundamental principles of Deism became tinged in the nineteenth century with skepticism, pessimism, or pantheism, but the conceptions of natural religion retained largely their old character.

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