The True and False Definitions of Deism
by Jayson X and Tim Wingate
On August 15, 2013, I decided to
Google "what is deism", and here is the first thing that I saw:
Belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe."
That is a common definition of Deism, and I will refer to it from this point on as "the Google definition." Part of the Google definition I agree with, and part of it I disagree with. I agree that Deism is the "[b]elief in the existence of a supreme being," but I disagree with the part that states "specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe." I am convinced that some "revealed" religionists have lied throughout the years to distort the true definition of Deism in order to make Deism look worse and their religion/religions look better.
Before I continue, I should define what a "revealed" religion is. A "revealed" religion is a system of beliefs that includes one or more doctrines that can only be proven through a miracle. Religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are called "revealed" religions because most of their fundamental doctrines were supposedly revealed to them in a miraculous way. For example, God supposedly revealed a bunch of commandments to the Jews on Mount Sinai, God supposedly revealed His plan of salvation as Jesus of Nazareth to the Christians, and God supposedly revealed the Koran to Muslims through Mohamed. The reason that I put the word "revealed" in quotation marks is that I believe that the claims of divine revelations upon which such religions are based are false.
Would a "revealed" religionist ever lie to hinder a competing religion or philosophy and to promote his or her philosophy? Hell yes!
In the 5th century, John Chrysostom in his Treatise on the Priesthood, Book 1, wrote, "And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has not deceived" (http://www.fullbooks.com/A-Lie-Never-Justifiable2.html).
Ignatius Loyola of the 16th century states in his Spiritual Exercises, "To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it" (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/loyola-spirex.asp).
Martin Luther opined, "What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church . . . a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them" (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=40318).
OK, so maybe "revealed" religionists have worked to distort the true definition of Deism. What is the true definition of Deism then, and how can I prove that that is the true definition? I think that Wikipedia's definition of Deism is true enough: "Deism . . . is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism). Note that this definition agrees that Deism teaches that God exists, but it does not teach that God "does not intervene in the universe." Also note that this second definition of Deism, unlike the Google one, states that Deism bases this belief on "reason" and "observation of the natural world."
Let's suppose that the person who wrote the first definition was a "revealed" religionist who wanted to make Deism look bad. Why would he or she take out the fact that Deism bases its belief in God on reason and the observation of the natural world? The reason is probably that that belief makes a lot of sense. Since God created the universe, the universe can teach us that God exists; or as Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, "It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they may be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God" (Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason: The Complete Edition. Clearwater, FL: World Union of Deists, 2009, page 23.).
Still supposing that the person who wrote the first definition was a lying "revealed" religionist, why would he or she want people to believe that Deism teaches that God does not intervene in the universe? The reason is probably that that makes Deism seem worse and his or her religion seem better, at least to most people. Many people honestly believe that God exists because their reason and observation of the natural world lead them to that conclusion, and they also believe that God might be active in the universe even after God created it. The liar is hoping that such people will automatically reject Deism because the definition falsely asserts that Deism teaches that God is NOT active in the universe anymore.
Thus, someone reading the definition might think, Hey! Deism seems true because God seems true to me. But Deism seems false because I believe that God is (or might be) involved with the universe after God created it. That's too bad, because I might consider myself a Deist otherwise. I guess that I will have to keep searching for the correct religious/philosophical label for me.
Furthermore, guess what religions teach that God IS active in the universe still? Many "revealed" religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The person who wrote the Google definition is either a liar or a lexicographer who was tricked by one or more liars. In any case, he or she is wrong.
Below are pairs of quotations from two famous Deists. The first quotation in each pair proves that the individual in question considered himself a Deist, and the second quotation proves that he also believed that God is active in the universe even after God created it. Thus, together, these four quotations prove that the Google definition is false and the Wikipedia definition is true.
I. Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - April 17, 1790)
A. "Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist" ("Deism." Wikipedia. 22 June 2011. 28 June 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism.).
B. "My dear friend, do not imagine that I am vain enough to ascribe our success [in the American Revolution] to any superiority . . . . I am too well acquainted with all the Springs and Levers of our Machine, not to see, that our human means were unequal to our undertaking, and that, if it had not been for the justice of our cause, and the consequent interposition of Providence, in which we had faith*, we must have been ruined. If I had ever before been an atheist, I should now have been convinced of the being and government of a Deity!"
*(Ben Franklin much more than likely intended the meaning of the word "faith" as used here to be synonymous with "trust" and not as it's commonly used by the clergy as his statement "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason" strongly indicates. Click here for the WUD Glossary definition of the word faith. The editor)
In a letter to William Strahan,
August 19, 1784 (http://archive.org/stream/benfrankself01brucrich/
II. Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737
- June 8, 1809)
A. "The opinions I have advanced . . . are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues-and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now-and so help me God" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine).
B. "God almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who had so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent" (http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/essays/before-1800/thomas-paines-the-crisis-number-one-1776-richard-destefano.php).
Now it is time to connect the dots. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were both very intelligent and knowledgeable people who were Deists and who also believed that God intervenes in the universe even after God created it. Therefore, "Deism . . . is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge." Deism is not the "[b]elief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe." Some Deists believe that God intervenes in the universe, and other Deists don't. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is probably a lying "revealed" religionist or someone who was fooled by one.
(Here is the definition of Deism from our glossary: "Deism is the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation."
Another Deist who believed in Providence in the lives of people and in the affairs of the world is George Washington. He honestly and intelligently put a qualifier to it which prohibits the clergy from using it to control and to manipulate people. Washington wrote that Providence is "inscrutable." The editor)
The survey shows a giant step forward for Deism in the fact that it actually uses the word "Deist" and for the very significant raw numbers it shows as representing the number of people who are Deists. In reality, the number of Deists is actually higher than the survey shows because the survey uses an outdated definition of Deist. For a more accurate definition please see our Deism Defined page.
Click here to read the actual survey. (It's in PDF)
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