DEISM: The God that got away




The word "Deism" is derived from the Latin word for God: "Deus." Deism involves the belief in the existence of God, on purely rational grounds, without any reliance on revealed religion or religious authority.



  • Do not follow the fundamental beliefs by most religions that God revealed himself to humanity through the writings of the Bible, the Qur'an or other religious texts.
  • Disagree with Atheists who assert that there is no evidence of the existence of God.


They regard their faith as a natural religion, as contrasted with one that is revealed by a God or which is artificially created by humans. They reason that since everything that exists has had a creator, then the universe itself must have been created by God. Thomas Paine concluded a speech shortly after the French Revolution with: "God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon."




The term "Deism" originally referred to a belief in one deity, as contrasted with the belief in no God (Atheism) and belief in many Gods (Polytheism). During the later 17th century, "Deism" began to refer to forms of radical Christianity - belief systems that rejected miracles, revelation, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Currently, Deism is no longer associated with Christianity or any other established religion. Then, as now, Deism is not a religious movement in the conventional sense of the world. There is no Deistic network of places of worship, a priesthood or hierarchy of authority.


Deism was greatly influential among politicians, scientists and philosophers during the later 17th century and 18 century, in England, France Germany and the United States.


Early Deism was a logical outgrowth of the great advances in astronomy, physics, and chemistry that had been made by Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, etc. It was a small leap from rational study of nature to the application of the same techniques in religion.   Early Deists believed that the Bible contained important truths, but they rejected the concept that it was divinely inspired or inerrant. They were leaders in the study of the Bible as a historical (rather than an inspired, revealed) document. Lord Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648) was one of the earliest proponents of Deism in England. In his book "De Veritate," (1624), he described the "Five Articles" of English Deists:


1.         belief in the existence of a single supreme God

2.         humanity's duty to revere God

3.         linkage of worship with practical morality

4.         God will forgive us if we repent and abandon our sins

5.         good works will be rewarded (and punishment for evil) both in life and after death


Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed this belief system, including John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison Thomas Paine, and George Washington. Deists played a major role in creating the principle of separation of church and state, and the religious freedom clauses of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.


Beliefs and Practices:

  • Most Deists believe that God created the universe, "wound it up" and then disassociated himself from his creation. Some refer to Deists as believing in a God who acts as an absentee landlord or a blind watchmaker.  A few Deists believe that God still intervenes in human affairs from time to time.
  • God has not selected a chosen people (e.g. Jews or Christians) to be the recipients of any special revelation or gifts.
  • Deists deny the existence of the Trinity as conceived by Christians. They may view Jesus as a philosopher, teacher and healer, but not as the Son of God.
  • They believe that miracles do not happen. The "world operates by natural and self-sustaining laws of the creator." 2
  • A practical morality can be derived from reason without the need to appeal to religious revelation and church dogma.
  • Deists pray, but only to express their appreciation to God for his works. They do not ask for special privileges.