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deists(dē`ĭsts), term commonly applied to those thinkers in the 17th and 18th cent. who held that the course of nature sufficiently demonstrates the existence of God. For them formal religion was superfluous, and they scorned as spurious claims of supernatural revelation. Their tenets stemmed from the rationalism of the period, and though the term is not now generally used, the tenor of their belief persists. The term freethinkers is almost synonymous. Voltaire and J. J. Rousseau were deists, as were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
See E. R. Pike, Slayers of Superstition (1931, repr. 1970); G. A. Koch, Religion of the American Enlightenment (1933, repr. 1968).
Deists believe in the existence of a God, a supreme being, but deny the revelations claimed by organized religions and are content to follow what they maintain is a common sense approach to spirituality. A Deist believes that nature and reason reveal the design of a creator throughout the universe.
Frequently accused of being atheists, Deists counter such criticism by pointing out that they believe in God as an eternal entity, whereas atheism teaches that there is no God.
Another charge leveled by conventional religionists is that Deism is a cult. Deists answer this indictment by emphasizing their teaching of self-reliance. Deism cannot be a cult if it teaches its adherents to question authority and to use reason at all costs.
The Deist definition of God can perhaps be glimpsed in the following quotation from Albert Einstein: “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”