Deist Worldview

Nature and Deity

A “Creator” has apparently formed our universe (the mechanistic universe of
Descartes and Newton) and set it in motion by mathematical laws that
include rational principles of conduct. Divine control is consistent and
rational. After establishing these laws, the Creator has retired from the
scene, leaving the Creation to pursue its rational course. Having shaped the
universe as a perfectly rational machine, this deity is aloof (not a God of
miracles and revelation).

Understanding of Beginnings

Human reason, addressed to the laws of nature, yields the conclusion that
there must have been a creation event, but that the Creator who established
those natural laws (Supreme Lawmaker) must also abide by them and
hence remain apart from the product of creation. The Creator is not involved
in the ongoing universe or in present-day natural or human affairs.

Conception of Time

Time is linear, since a Creation.

Mortality (and Afterlife)

Although the Deists denied the possibility of the supernatural as it might
appear in miracles or any phenomena contrary to natural laws, some
conceded the philosophical doctrine of a hereafter along with their
acceptance of natural laws and rational principles of conduct. Their belief
was that a rational person, deducing the advantages of a moral life, would
regulate his conduct so as to receive salvation in a life to come. This moral
way of life and the salvation have always been available to all people, as a
part of the fundamental laws that the Creator gave his creation. These
“immortal” deists rejected any future rewards and punishments, though, as
did all the Deists. Reasoning of the “mortal” deists yielded a denial of

Venerated Literature

Although not sacred to the Deists, the texts of Descartes and Newton
underlay the rational temper of their “religion of reason” and yielded the
mechanistic universe they perceived. Deistic context was one of Christianity,
with its Bible, but the Deists rejected revelation and the dogma and tenets of
the traditional religion. (David Hume’s
Essay on Miracles was but one of
many of the reasoned attacks on Christian scripture.)

Prophets and Founders

As it consists of emergent and changing doctrines of criticism and rational
thought, Deism has no prophets or founders. But, in evolving over the period
from about 1650 to the early 19th century, it drew upon the western
philosophers that had gone before and the currents of the burgeoning
scientific advances and Enlightenment thinking in Europe. Early names in
English deism include Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Antony Collins, and
Matthew Tindal. It is to Herbert we may attribute the naissance of a
rationalistic form of religion—the religion of reason. It began more as a
residue of truths common to all forms of positive religion, leaving aside their
distinctions, but progressed to depart from theism, particularly in its
emphasis that Nature ran its own course without God’s concern or
interference, and further from Christianity in that salvation was not reserved
to Christians alone.

Rites of Birth and Death

Deists of the 18th century participated to varying degrees in the rites and
observances stipulated by their surrounding (mostly Christian) communities.
Those in the upper classes, though differing in belief to the orthodoxy, still
continued generally loyal to convention, and so they remained technically
within their churches and participated on social grounds as expected (e.g.,
having children baptized, allowing a religious burial ceremony).

Festivals and Calendar Events

(See “Rites…” above.)

Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism