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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).


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.”

References in periodicals archive ?
Once he has argued that Spinoza has a deist conception of God that undermines traditional morality, Velthuysen then makes an even more crucial point.
Stated simply, a deist believes in God, but considers Him an absent master, unconcerned with the quotidian comings and goings of His earthly creations.
37) As in France, the English Deists (a strong influence on Voltaire) (38) had made an impression on German intellectuals and had been promoted at the court of Frederick II of Prussia.
She reveals what she argues that the Framers and many other leading Americans really believed--in their own words--rescuing the Founders from images of dusty, pompous old men in powdered wigs, and resurrecting them as the revolutionaries they truly were: a hodgepodge of freethinkers, Deists, agnostics, Christians, atheists, and Freemasons, radicals all.
According to Holmes, America's founding fathers were largely creatures of the Enlightenment, Deists who believed the Creator had endowed all people with a freedom of conscience and religion on which no government should trample, and who had good reason to fear an intolerant religion at the helm of the ship of state.
Was his God the god of deists or the God of Abraham and of orthodox Christians?
New Light evangelicals such as Isaac Bachus and John Leland joined forces with Deists and skeptics such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to fight for a complete separation of church and state.
suggest that Miller and Peacocke--and Haught implicitly--are really closet deists.
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration; James Madison, who wrote the Constitution; and virtually all the Founding Fathers, even though some were deists and some were atheists, they were to a person believers in the natural law.
The conversation covers the vexed question of whether the fraternity itself is too religious; though most Masons agree that it is not, as Dumenil explains, many have tried, using its Bible-based ceremonical lore, to fashion it into an alternative source of ritualistic dogma and spirituality, to the dismay of deists and other free-thinkers, who have contended that [u]nlike the churches, it [Masonry] was not concerned with theology; in particular, it offered no plan of salvation.
Backus's work, The Sovereign Decrees of God, sought to demonstrate that the conclusions reached by Neo-Edwardsians did not truly represent the real doctrines of Calvinism, and that Deists and others who criticized the harshness of Calvinism's teaching on the God's immutable decrees were "slanderers.
Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts, and above all does not intervene with capricious miracles.