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Edward Herbert, portrait by Isaac Oliver


[dee-iz-uhm] – noun
Deism is the belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. It is derived from the Latin word for God: "deus." Deism involves the belief in the existence of God, on purely rational grounds, without any reliance on revealed religion or religious authority. They also disagree that God spoke to the people through the various religious books: the Bible, Qur'an, etc. Similar to theism, Deism recognizes that God is the creator of the universe. Deists believe that the harmony of the universe is a testament to God's existence. But while theism accepts the idea of divine intervention, believers in Deism (sometimes referred to as "freethinkers") conclude that God created the universe, but is no longer a part of it. God made the world so perfect that there is no need for Him to intervene. Man has to depend on his reasoning unlock the religious knowledge that Deists believe is inborn in every person, rather than revelation or church. Deism was influenced by the new scientific discoveries and philosophical ideas emerging at the time of the Enlightenment, notably the discoveries of Isaac Newton and the philosophy of John Locke. Deism was created in the 17th and 18th century and became prominent in England, France, and the thirteen colonies. It was appealing primarily to those individuals with at least some education. Deism was, in essence, one of the first steps towards complete atheism.


The Start of Deism
The Enlightenment
The Works of the Deists
Reasoning for the Existence of God

The Start of Deism

Many people believe that Deism started in the prehistoric ages. Since Deism requires no religious book but if more focused on nature and humans considering nature to influence there own beliefs on God and the universe. The first person to use the word Deism to describe his beliefs was Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who is known as the father of Deism. Lord Herbert's goal was to find answers to creed and conflicts with systems of government. Later he concluded the five articles of belief: (1) a belief in the existence of the Deity, (2) the obligation to reverence such a power, (3) the identification of worship with practical morality, (4) the obligation to repent of sin and to abandon it, and, (5) divine recompense in this world and the next. After Cherbury, Hobbes’s philosophical writings inspired mathematical and natural sciences. He explained different religions are the product of fear and natural phenomena in anthropomorphic form. He believed that miracles and revelations are improbable and are easily explained. He also believed that positive religion was inspired by the state and believed that mediating was the reconciliation of miracles. Hobbes also traveled to China, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, India, and other regions within the horizon of religious investigation. According to Samuel Clarke in his Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God (1704-06) there are four different classes of Deists. The first class believes God has no interest in the world after creation. The second class "admit a Divine Providence, but only in the material, not in the moral or spiritual." (Reese, 161) A third group believes in moral qualities to God, though not in life after death. The last and fourth class believed everything in Christianity, including a future life, except revelation. Deism started to become so popular with the philosophers because it was natural choice for those who were uncovering so many new discoveries in the fields of astronomy, physics, and chemistry. It tied in the discoveries important philosophers made about nature with a more focused religion, still connecting the people to God. It was a sort of compromise between religion and science.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement of the 18th century, characterized by belief in the power of human reason and by innovations in political, religious, and educational doctrine. The Enlightenment brought upon an age of questioning about the world and beliefs, including religion. At this time men were engaged in conflict between superstition and skepticism and the idea of a Supreme Being was put to the test. Due to the collision of superstition and skepticism, Deism was born. Deists consider themselves Christian, yet do not believe God to have the same attributes as the Christian God. Like the Christian God, their God was the creator of the universe, who "with a thrust of his almighty hand, had set rolling myriad spheres and had established a celestial harmony that preserved them in their courses without collision." (Bainton, 347) Unlike the Christian idea of an interactive God, this God was not concerned with human affairs because he had done his job so well that "he could withdraw into the cast silences and leave men rightly to wonder their own affairs guided by reason." (Bainton, 348) This means that God did not participate in any person's life, but rather secluded Himself in heaven.


In the mid-eighteenth century French philosophers continued viewing the universe using the beliefs of deism. Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are two notable French Deist thinkers. Newton had once described the world as a clock that was built and started by God, which was an idea that the French philosophers believed. They believed that God started the motion of everything from this and that by better understanding nature they would better understand the principles that God created within the universe. Common beliefs also included understanding the universe without needing to apply it to a divine power ruling over it. Physical and human actions could were believed to be started by God, but separated when they started working and didn't need to be explained using religious references. In 1784 a group of Deists had a debate in Coachmakers Hall discussing life questions and Deism as a religion. Later it was said that they ultimately started to reform Deism giving a certain code for all Deists to follow with rules applying to morality, conscience, and human kind in general. In 1789 many places tried to ban Deism as a whole. Wimbledon published a book of laws banning Deism and all religious practice outside of people's homes. Notable historical figures in United States history, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, believed in the ideas of Deism. In fact, the first three presidents of the United States supported Deist thinking. Later in time other famous people of our society such as Albert Einstein subscribed to Deism as well.

Reasoning for the Existence of God

Deists believed that they had to get rid of superstition and replace it with a rational religion. Many people believed the universal creative force which is the source of the laws and designs found throughout Nature. The question being presented was, is there a God at all? John Locke believed that to acquire the answer of a God, we must not look around us, but rather through reasoning and experience we can determine an answer. "We can grasp externals only through sensation. Without it we get nowhere because the mind is a clean slate; there are no innate ideas. But given sensations, the reasoning faculty of man can deduce the unknown from the known." (Bainton, 349) This means to find the answer, we must look at the world around us, reason with ideas and our own experiences, and come to a conclusion based upon what we observe. Lord Herbert believed that God created the universe and people and then left it for the people to control.

Voltaire, another Deist, looked up at the sky and wrote:
"Last night, I was meditating, absorbed in the contemplation of nature. I was filled with wonder at its immensity, at the stars in their courses, at the mutual interaction of these countless orbs, one upon another, which people look upon unmoved. And I marveled still more at the Mind which governs the whole mighty scheme. A man must be blind, I said to myself, not to be dazzled by such a spectacle, a fool not to acknowledge its Author, a madman not to adore him. What tribute of adoration can I pay him? Must it not be the same wherever it is offered? Whatever thinking being inhabits the Milky Way owes him the like homage. The light shines for Sirius, even as it shines for us."
The enlarged universe did not create conflict between science and religion, but rather enforced the Aristotelian arguments that God created the universe. Voltaire, looking upon the universe is in awe at what he saw. He praised God for his work, and wondered if there was anyway he could be repaid. There was no possible way to explain how the universe was created in Voltaire's time. Voltaire observes the universe, and like John Locke, uses what he sees to formulate ideas and then create a conclusion based upon the externals he observes.

The Works of Deists

De Veritate (Paris, 1624); Cherbury.
De religions Gentilium errorumque apud eos causes (London, 1645); and two minor treatises; Cherbury
De cause errorum and De religions laici (London 1645); Cherbury.
Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670); Hobbes
Bayle's Dictionnaire (1695-97); Hobbes


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