Later criticism, orthodox and heterodox, upon the English deists inclines to charge them with the conception of a divine absentee, who wound up the machine of nature and left it to run untended.
Deists believed in a God of unmixed benevolence; Butler's contention is that justice, punishment, hell-fire itself are credible in their similarity to the known experiences of man's life upon earth.
Not to dwell upon earlier continental " Deists " (mentioned by Viret as quoted first in Bayle's Dictionary and again in the introduction to Leland's View of the Deistical Writers), Lord Herbert of Cherbury (De Veritate, 1624; De Religione Gentilium,.
Joseph Butler, a very original, careful and honest thinker, lifts controversy with deists from details to principles in his Analogy of Religion both Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736).
Deists and orthodox in those days agreed in recognizing not merely natural theology but natural religion - " essential religion," Butler more than once styles it; the expression shows how near he stood intellectually to those he criticized.
The God of Nature, whom deists confess, does punish in time, if they will but look at the facts; why not in eternity ?
The deists, compelled by their view of the relation of God to nature to regard miracles as interventions, disposed of the miracles of the Bible either as " mistaken allegory " or even as conscious fraud on k the part of the narrators.
Of the so-called deists Shaftesbury was probably the most important, as he was certainly the most plausible and the most respectable.
It owed much to the English deists, to the Pietistic movement, and to the French esprits forts who had already made a vigorous attack on the supernatural origin of the Scriptures.
His standpoint was that of the English deists, and he investigated, without hesitation, the evidence for the miracles recorded in the Bible.
Deists, though raising doubts regarding the historic narratives of the Christian faith, had never disputed the general fact that belief in one God was natural and primitive.
As before said, his metaphysic contains in abstracto the principles which were at that time being employed, uncritically, alike by the deists and by their antagonists.
If he never had any sympathy with Herbert's intuitionalist principles in philosophy, he was no less eager, as he afterwards showed, than Herbert to rationalize in matters of religious doctrine, so that he may be called the second of the English deists, as Herbert has been called the first.
During these years he was ceaselessly engaged in controversy with Nonconformists, Romanists, Deists and Socinians.
ABRAHAMITES, a sect of deists in Bohemia in the 18th century, who professed to be followers of the pre-circumcised Abraham.
Karl Schwarz happily remarks that, as the English apologists of the 18th century were themselves infected with the poison of the deists whom they end eavoured to refute, so Tholuck absorbed some of the heresies of the rationalists whom he tried to overthrow.
He stands between the earlier philosophic deists and the later propagandists of ' Paine's school, and "seems to have been the first freethought lecturer" (J.
The Analogy was written to counteract the practical mischief which he considered wrought by deists and other freethinkers, and the Sermons lay a good deal of stress on everyday Christian duties.
The Analogy, on the contrary, did not directly refer to the deists at all, and yet it worked more havoc with their position than all the other books put together, and remains practically the one surviving landmark of the whole dispute.
This position is assumed throughout the treatise, and as against the deists with justice, for their whole argument rested upon the presupposition of the existence of God, the perfect Ruler of the world.
It is, however, in some degree a defect; for his defence of religion against the deists rests on a view of reason which would for ever preclude a demonstrative proof of God's existence.
That he did not do so is, perhaps, due to his strong desire to use only such premises as his adversaries the deists were willing to allow.
As against the deists, however, he may be allowed to have made out his point, that the substantial doctrines of natural religion are not opposed to reason and experience, and may be looked upon as credible.
The deists, differing widely in important matters of belief, were yet agreed in seeking above all to establish the certainty and sufficiency of natural religion in opposition to the positive religions, and in tacitly or expressly denying the unique significance of the supernatural revelation in the Old and New Testaments.
The term "deism" not only is used to signify the main body of the deists' teaching, or the tendency they represent, but has come into use as a technical term for one specific metaphysical doctrine as to the relation of God to the universe, assumed to have been characteristic of the deists, and to have distinguished them from atheists, pantheists and theists, - the belief, namely, that the first cause of the universe is a personal God, who is, however, not only distinct from the world but apart from it and its concerns.
By the majority of those historically known as the English deists, from Blount onwards, the name was owned and honoured.
The chief names amongst the deists are those of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), Charles Blount (1654-1693), Matthew Tindal (1657-1733), William Wollaston (1659-1724), Thomas Woolston (1669-1733), Junius Janus (commonly known as John) Toland (1670-1722), the 3rd earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Viscount Bolingbroke (1678 - I 751), Anthony Collins (1676 - I 729), Thomas Morgan (?-1743), and Thomas Chubb (1679-1747).(Fn 2) Peter Annet (1693-1769), and Henry Dodwell (the younger; d.
Of the eleven first named, ten appear to have been born within twenty-five years of one another; and it is noteworthy that by far the greater part of the literary activity of the deists, as well as of their voluminous opponents, falls within the same half century.
He dwells much more pronouncedly than Herbert on the view, afterwards regarded as a special characteristic of all deists, that much or most error in religion has been invented or knowingly maintained by sagacious men for the easier maintenance of good government, or in the interests of themselves and their class.
Shaftesbury, dealing with matters for the most part different from those usually handled by the deists, stands almost wholly out of their ranks.
But he showed how loosely he held the views he did not go out of his way to attack, and made it plain how little weight the letter of Scripture had for himself; and, writing with much greater power than any of the deists, he was held to have done more than any one of them to forward the cause for which they wrought.
In the protest against the scheme of "judging truth by counting noses," Shaftesbury recognized the danger of the standard which seemed to satisfy many deists; and in almost every respect he has more in common with those who afterwards, in Germany, annihilated the pretensions of complacent rationalism than with the rationalists themselves.
Chubb, the least learnedly educated of the deists, did more than any of them, save Herbert, to round his system into a logical whole.
Though himself contemporary with the earlier deists, Bolingbroke's principal works were posthumously published of ter interest in the controversy had declined.
In the substance of what they received as natural religion, the deists were for the most part agreed; Herbert's articles continued to contain the fundamentals of their theology.
The small value they attributed to all outward and special forms of service, and the want of any sympathetic craving for the communion of saints, saved the deists from attempting to found a free-thinking church.
Of matters generally regarded as pertaining to natural religion, that on which they were least agreed was the certainty, philosophical demonstrability and moral significance of the immortality of the soul, so that the deists have sometimes been grouped into "mortal" and "immortal" deists.
And nothing can be more misleading than to assume that the belief in a Creator, existent wholly apart from the work of his hands, was characteristic of the deists as a body.
The deists were not powerful writers; none of them was distinguished by wide and accurate scholarship; hardly any was either a deep or comprehensive thinker.
Yet while the seed they sowed was taking deep root in France and in Germany, the English deists, the most notable men of their time, were soon forgotten, or at least ceased to be a prominent factor in the intellectual life of the century.
A theology consisting of a few vague generalities was sufficient to sustain the piety of the best of the deists; but it had not the concreteness or intensity necessary to take a firm hold on those whom it emancipated from the old beliefs.
That the deists appreciated fully the scope of difficulties in Christian theology and the sacred books is not their most noteworthy feature; but that they made a stand, sometimes cautiously, often with outspoken fearlessness, against the presupposition that the Bible is the religion of Protestants.
It was assumed by deists in debating against the orthodox, that the flood of error in the hostile camp was due to the benevolent cunning or deliberate self-seeking of unscrupulous men, supported by the ignorant with the obstinacy of prejudice.
The deists were, as usually happens with the leaders of English thought, no class of professional men, but represented every rank in the community.
None the less it is unquestionable that in the period preceding the Revolution the bulk of French thinkers were ultimately deists in various degrees, and that deism was a most potent factor not only in speculative but also in social and political development.
Many of the leaders of the revolutionary movement were deists, though it is quite false to say that the extreme methods of the movement were the result of widespread rationalism.
It deserves to be noted here that the former, the theology of the Aufklarung, was, like that of the deists, destined to a short-lived notoriety; whereas the solid, accurate and scholarly researches of the rationalist critics of Germany, undertaken with no merely polemical spirit, not only form an epoch in the history of theology, but have taken a permanent place in the body of theological science.
More certain, and also more striking, is the fact that the leading statesmen in the American War of Independence were emphatically deists; Benjamin Franklin (who attributes his position to the study of Shaftesbury and Collins), Thomas Paine, Washington and Jefferson, although they all had the greatest admiration for the New Testament story, denied that it was based on any supernatural revelation.
In England, though the deists were forgotten, their spirit was not wholly dead.
Moreover, the influence of the deistic writers had an incalculable influence in the gradual progress towards tolerance, and in the spread of a broader attitude towards intellectual problems, and this too, though, as we have seen, the original deists devoted themselves mainly to a crusade against the doctrine of revelation.