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(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).

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The following article is from Conspiracies and Secret Societies. It is a summary of a conspiracy theory, not a statement of fact.


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.”

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References in periodicals archive ?
In the natural wisdom of the ancient heathens the deists found grounds for refuting the need for special revelation and for rejecting absurd Christian doctrines like atonement and original sin.
Having discharged himself of this counterblast against magical or naturalistic appropriations of Christian doctrines, this "summa against Renaissance magic, its whole way of thinking, and all its offshoots in the vast contemporary dissemination of magical practices,"(41) Mersenne in the following year attacked the skepticism of Pierre Charron, the "Renaissance naturalism" of Jerome Cardan and the hermetism of Giordano Bruno in L'Impiete des deistes, athees, et libertins de ce temps (1624).
Beadle believed that "future punishment" was "inconsistent with the goodness of God." Clemmens accepted the arguments of the well-dressed deist who came to Clarksburg espousing the doctrine that all souls returned to heaven.
This deist theme is contained in the Declaration of Independence: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them ...
As deists they believed it would imply a flaw in the creator if creation needed tinkering, but they also knew they weren't gods and their creation might require tinkering--as, surely, it did.
Late in this study Herrick summarizes 18th-century deistic arguments in this way: "The Deists propagated their corrosive approach to the Bible among a popular audience by employing a variety of distinctive rhetorical tactics, including--in addition to argument--ridicule, lying, disguise, profanity, insult, selection, and forgery" (206).
The deists did not deny a creator of the universe, but they were highly critical of the Bible, regarding all stories of divine intervention as superstitious and often immoral nonsense.
He looks at the philosophical roots of deist interpretation of the history of religion and sacred texts and at the work of Toland, Collins, Tindal, and others.
This is a very different stance from that of the old deists who believed in a divine creator but didn't believe in the inspiration of the Bible.
But many were deists, free thinkers and quite a few, including George Washington, were Masons.
Wilmington's Working People's Association numbered deists and Paineites, as well as Quakers and those who worshipped in mainline churches.
For, unhappily, scientists who wrestle with philosophical or theological implications (which is a positive gain in itself) are equating their concept of God with the God of the deists, unaware that theology has dismissed the divine clockmaker as a diminished and misleading metaphor for the Creator and Sustainer.