is a theological theory proposing that a god created the Universe but is an All-Powerful Bystander
who has since refrained from any activity in it. It was espoused by many European scientific thinkers of the 18th century (the Enlightenment age), some leaders of The French Revolution
and some US founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin
, Thomas Jefferson
and Thomas Paine
Essentially, you can view it as God created the Universe, set up all the laws of reality and everything, then either totally lost interest or simply stepped aside to let his creation run its course without interruption. He's still "around", but he doesn't do much, if anything, to interfere with mortal lives (And if He did, we mere mortals
probably wouldn't be in the loop; after all, God Works In Mysterious Ways...).
The ideology extols a reasoned evaluation of scientific evidence as supporting a rationally ordered universe, but not revelation, any absolute moral code
or any miracles. It was the more acceptable equivalent of modern atheism during the Enlightenment, rejecting any accounts about miracles or revelation until proven (e.g. Jefferson is controversial for creating a revision of the Bible without any miracles
), and espouses that science and reason are the most reliable ways to know the Creator.
The concept could be traced back to Aristotle's unmoved mover, but Lord Herbert of Cherbury is considered the first deist. Although he based his beliefs off of Christianity, being one of many religions claiming to be the one true way, his God was still a personal god who supernaturally interfered in the universe. In particular, deists from this era were tired of the devastation, totalitarianism, charlatans and propaganda caused by religious institutions and ideas fighting against each other
, and were looking for a true model of the cosmos that logic and science would dictate everybody had to agree on. It wasn't until John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century that deism took the form of what we now know as Classical Deism.
Classical deism is similar to Modern Deism in that they're both based on reason and naturalism, but Classical Deism's evolution from Christianity is more readily apparent. Classical Deism didn't have the benefit of evolution, the big bang theory, or even an idea of how old the earth and universe were. Newton's theory of gravity and Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe were the best they had to go on, hence why they believed in Intelligent Design. They viewed God as transcendental from its creation and impersonal, preferring neither the Catholic, nor Protestant nor the extremely anti-sexual and anti-liberty models of morality. However, at the time deism was part of a continuum with Christianity. Christian Deism and unitarianism were situated in the middle, but they were for the most part more individualistic or utilitarian
When conservatives cite the references about a Creator in their defense of the founding fathers being Christian, liberals in response cite the lack of scientific knowledge at the time as the reason why the founding fathers still referenced a Creator, even though it was obvious for them that religious interference in politics would directly contradict the Bill of Rights (First Amendment has "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", and Hell definitely counts under the prohibited Cruel and Unusual Punishment).
The turn of the century saw the Second Great Awakening in America and Christian revival in other areas of the world. In addition, while Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection theoretically only pushed back the date of God's role in the universe, it gave people confidence that alternative explanations for how we got here could exist. Quantum Mechanics later reinforced this notion. This attack from two sides caused Deism to wane in popularity, but The Nineties
saw a revival in Deism facilitated by the Internet. This form of Deism is known as Modern Deism. However, Deism is no longer the
liberated and enlightened worldview; Atheism displaced it from this position, and currently Deism fills a middle niche, along with Agnosticism, both of which are attacked by religious and atheists as "fence-sitters".
Modern Deism incorporates what science has discovered since the enlightenment and holds the nature of God is unknowable other than that God exists. In fact, Modern Deists are encouraged to use reason to determine God's nature for themselves.
Modern variations include:
- Pandeism: which incorporates Pantheism, the archetype for Pieces of God
- Christian Deism: a hybrid between Christian and Deist beliefs. It rejects Jesus's divinity and other supernatural claims of the bible but stands by Jesus's moral teachings, holding him up as Christian Deism's central philosopher
- Polydeism: the universe is a creation of more than one god, but all have since left the building.
- Used by Arthur C. Clarke as the prevailing religion in the last installment of his 2001: A Space Odyssey novels. Sort of. Everyone in 3001 believes "as little as possible", and the big split is between Theists, who believe "in at least one god", and Deists, who believe "in at most one god".
- Whether Clarke intended this or not, it's actually a pretty good definition. Deists believe in one god or none, depending on whether an inactive god "counts" as such — but not more than one, because if God is outside space and time and doesn't do anything, if there were two of Him, what would make them distinct?
- Also used in the Rama Series, although again it's not really present until the last installment, Rama Revealed (and a little bit in The Garden of Rama). The creatures who built Rama did so as part of a project to collect life from all over the universe, to learn about God's plan for it, and are committed Deists.
- British statesman Lord Chesterfield tended to this position, as shown in the Letters to His Son: "The object of all the public worships in the world is the same; it is that great eternal Being who created everything." (letter 29)
- He writes that Lord Bolingbroke also was this: "He professes himself a deist; believing in a general Providence, but doubting of, though by no means rejecting (as is commonly supposed) the immortality of the soul and a future state." (letter 95)
- The god of Star Maker could be this, though that one is so callous to the suffering going on in the Universe as to seem downright malevolent.
- All-Powerful Bystander: Practically the Trope Maker.
- The American Revolution: Deism would probably be almost completely forgotten today, if not for the fact that many leaders of the American Revolution considered themselves Deists. As philosophically-minded, anti-establishment figures in the 18th century, it's practically certain that at least a few of them would be. While exact numbers are hard to pin down and the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies, it's unquestionable that Thomas Jefferson took it upon himself to edit supernatural elements out of The Bible, and Ben Franklin found Deism so persuasive it led to a good quote for Strawman Has a Point.
- Cosmic Horror Story: Subverted. The idea of God not caring about you leads to this for mainstream Christian theists, but for Deists, it's not. Deism was in fact a justification for the Enlightenment ideas of Secular Humanism, Utilitarianism and the Bill of Rights in that, if the Creator does not favour anyone or anything, then all men are created equal, we have no reason to favour one religion against another, and are free to have our own private bedrooms and pursue happiness, while at least the Creator is not a totalitarian control-freak dictator. Deism reconciles Intelligent Design with the modern concepts of liberty and scientific progress, which often contradicts the dogma of mainstream religion. Saying that the "apathetic God" idea of Deism automatically leads to a Cosmic Horror Story is like saying that atheism automatically leads to Straw Nihilist Omnicidal Mania.
- The French Revolution: Deism and deists also had a huge influence on the French Revoluton. Voltaire was a deist, for example.
- Have You Seen My God? : Practically the Trope Maker.
- Neglectful Precursors
- Older Than Feudalism : Associated with the Enlightenment, but the idea originates in Ancient Greece.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions : Much Deist literature is about how silly are theistic ideas of revelations, miracles, talking snakes, virgin births, etc.
- By now, Deism has largely died out as a common Enlightened theological position now that there are solid naturalistic explanations for the creation of the world, since there is no longer a logical requirement for a creator to explain it. This has led to endless debates of what the positions of famous historical deists would have been if they lived today.
- No doubt some of them would suggest that rather than creating the universe outright God simply created the rules by which the universe governs itself.
- Sacred Scripture : Averted, as Deism rejects entirely the notion that a God has authored or inspired any sort of religious text, instead positing that such texts are always human inventions, and that God's only 'communication' to man is our Universe itself, the operations of which are discoverable through our gifts of reason and science.
- Take a Third Option : Some people say deism splits the line between atheism and theism (though initially it was the second option to theism). Others like this wiki say it's a form of theism.