Debate:Was Benjamin Franklin a deist?

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He states so in his autobiography, and again in a letter written to Ezra Stiles a month before his death. He did see Christianity as valuable, noting the positive effects of George Whitefield’s preaching to the colonists, and expressed his admiration of Christ’s moral teachings. --McIntyre 17:29, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

His autobiography was published in 1791. I added this to the article here. --Ed Poor 09:28, 18 May 2007 (EDT)

Was that a posthumous publication? Do we know when he actually wrote it?--Aschlafly 17:25, 18 May 2007 (EDT)

Franklin wrote it over a period of time, starting and stopping. He wrote the first few chapters in 1771, wrote more in 1784-5, and finished it in 1788. It was, like Ed Poor says, partly first published, posthumously, in French in 1791, and then translated into English in 1793.--Steve 19:53, 18 May 2007 (EDT)

Thanks for the enlightening information. Obviously any claim that Franklin said he was a deist should have a date next to it, as people's religious views change throughout their lives. Moreover, no one should claim that a work is an autobiography if it was published without his consent, as in posthumously. The best I can infer from this is that Franklin viewed himself as a deist in 1771, but by 1787 (Constitutional Convention) viewed the world differently, and by the time he died he viewed it still differently again. If our entry about Franklin does not yet reflect this, then I'll change it now. Thanks for your efforts. Godspeed.--Aschlafly 00:16, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

Further review reveals that Franklin did not even claim to be a deist in 1771, but merely said he was a deist in his youth! Really, the attempts by liberals to insist that Franklin was a deist towards the end of his life are astounding.--Aschlafly 00:50, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

Aschlafly, you are ignoring some ambiguity about the meaning of the word "deist." At the end of his life Franklin was not a deist, according to current dictionary definitions of the word, but his stated views in his "Creed" accord pretty well with the definition of deist according to Edward Herbert of Cherbury, who coined the word. And that may have been the definition that was current in his time.

Everyone in their life acquires what I'm going to call a stock of "fables," which are narratives that do have some connection with reality but have been grossly oversimplified and distorted. A good neutral example of one would be "Columbus thought the world was round when everyone else thought it was flat." The simple statement "The Founding Fathers were deists" is a good example of a liberal fable. It's certainly fair to say Franklin advocated public prayer, and admired Christianity in some sense. But he wasn't a traditional Christian or close to one, either. Dpbsmith 09:13, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

It's common for liberals to deny that people find faith in life. Once an atheist or deist, always an atheist or deist, according to anti-Christians. Under this view, Abraham Lincoln was there an atheist (not true, he found faith as he grew older), and Benjamin Franklin was a deist (not true, he request divine intervention at the Constitutional Convention). Citing what Franklin wrote in 1771 about his youthful deism is obviously not proof that he was a deist at the Convention in 1787. Quite the contrary, as deists do not believe in divine intervention.--Aschlafly 15:03, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

Read Franklin's letters to Ezra Stiles, written one month before his death. The first paragraph shows his deist leanings, while the in the second one he acknowledges the value of Christianity, but doubts that Christ was the son of god. --McIntyre 17:23, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

I did read them here: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin does not describe himself as a deist. Enough said. About Jesus's divinity, Franklin says he has not studied it and is open to the possibility. A deist, by the way, requires a non-interventionist God. Franklin rejected that.--Aschlafly 22:57, 19 May 2007 (EDT)

I must note the irony here in connection with a prior discussion. Liberals insist on calling all supporters of abortion "pro-choice" rather than "pro-abortion" because that is the term they use for themselves. But then liberals insist on falling Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson "deists" when they did not use that term to describe their views as adults! Franklin believed in an interventionist God and Jefferson frequently attended a Christian church until he died.--Aschlafly 15:18, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

A more careful reading of the letter to Stiles, written a month before Franklin's death, reveals his diest leanings. Franklin states that he believes in one God and that our behavior in this life dictates how we be treated in the next. Notice he does not identify the God, or use the term Christian. Sounds very much like a diest. As for the second paragraph, doubting if Christ is divine does not seem very Christian. Please respond to the content of Franklin's letter, rather than attempting to divert the discussion with references to current terms used in highly charged debates today. --McIntyre 15:45, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

The most important aspect of that letter is that Franklin does not call himself a deist. He'd known the term all his life, and he clearly would have used it if applied to him. It did not. We should not call him by a religious name that he himself rejected. Surely you wouldn't claim that someone is a Catholic, for example, if the person himself rejects that label. Where do you get that Franklin "does not identify the God"??? He says, "Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe."--Aschlafly 15:54, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

Odd, McIntyre, but that was what I was about to post to you. You are the one adding modern interpretations and your own suppositions, to almost 300 year old letters. Revisionist thinking at its finest! I think the fact that Jefferson attended church services weekly speaks louder than all the modernist "conclusions". --Sysop-TK /MyTalk 15:59, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

He was also familiar with the term Christian, and he did not use it. Plus, he doubts the divinity of Christ. That does not sound like a firm statement of Christian faith, does it? Eighteenth century deists tended to subscribe to the notion of God, but declined to identify the deity in question. As TK's objection: Where did you get the idea that I am using modern ideas? I also do not recall discussing Jefferson--McIntyre 16:04, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

You didn't respond to our rebuttal of your claim that Franklin did not identify God. I assume you're conceding that Franklin expressly did identify God. I would also like a concession that Franklin was not a deist towards the end of his life before moving on to the very different question of whether Franklin was a Christian. More generally, I don't want a perpetuation of the liberal view that people cannot grow into stronger faith. Many do.--Aschlafly 16:11, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

Franklin does identify there is a god or deity of some sort. But he does not identify it as Christian. Why do you want a concession that Franklin was not a deist? It appears (based on his writings up to the end of his life) that he was.--McIntyre 16:25, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

McIntyre, unfortunately I can only conclude that you don't have an open mind about this. Perhaps you're repeating something you heard elsewhere and won't reconsider your views about it. Franklin strongly believed in an interventionist God and that disqualifies him from being a deist. Franklin did not call himself a deist. It's slanderous to insist that Franklin was a deist, and a sign that you're pushing an agenda based on bias. Enough. Please move on to another topic here with more of an open mind. Thanks and Godspeed.--Aschlafly 17:06, 20 May 2007 (EDT)

This reminds me of a larger theme called "debunking the founding". The idea is that whatever flaws there may be in America's founding (and Founding Fathers) somehow invalidates America's special claim to being a Godly nation. Like, since we didn't immediately abolish slavery, we are worthless slime. Don't forget the prayer embedding in our patriotic song: "God mend thine every flaw and crown thy good with brotherhood". America is great because it strives to be good. It is the cream of the crop and will continue to be as long as it so strives. --Ed Poor 17:57, 22 May 2007 (EDT)

Aschlafly, I think your desire that McIntyre concede that Franklin was deist is unfortunate. He has cited primary sources--Franklin's own writings--rather than "something he heard.", He also correctly noted that Franklin did not identify the god in question--all hallmarks of eighteenth century deism. If someone does not have an "open mind" on the subject, as you put it, it is not McIntyre. I even think I know who McIntyre is, and when I see this person this weekend, I will ask him. He is really quite a scholar.--Jamest 12:12, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

The insistence on liberals describing Franklin as a deist continues to amaze me. I'll bet the correlation between those who insist Franklin was a deist and liberals is nearly 100%. It doesn't matter if the claim is made by a scholar or a student. Liberals want Franklin to have been a deist, even though Franklin himself implicitly rejected that label and prayed for divine intervention, something deists rejected.--Aschlafly 12:22, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

You should not be amazed. A reading of eighteenth century diest works reveals they have nothing against praying, and you have not addressed this point: Franklin never says he is a Christian, but he did say he was a deist. You say it "does not matter" who makes the claim, and that you willfully choose not to address the point that the writings McIntyre noted were Franklin's own. I think it is rather obvious who has the closed mind in this debate. --Jamest 12:42, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

By the way, the thought occurs to me: why do you reject what a Franklin scholar has to say? Surely a scholar has read more works by and about Franklin than you. Why do you reject their assertions out of hand or wish for them to concede something that they know--base on their research--is not true? Conservapedia wants to accurate and true, right? --Jamest 12:55, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

James, please disclose your political point-of-view along with that of the "scholar". Let me guess: do both of you oppose prayer in the classrooms of public schools? Enough said.--Aschlafly 13:11, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

We are discussing the past, not the political present. So, why bring up school prayer? What does that have to so with Franklin's deism?--Jamest 13:17, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

It explains your views. If you're opposed to prayer in the classroom, then there is over a 90% chance that (1) you'll insist that Franklin was a deist and (2) you believe in evolution. That extraordinary correlation suggests that the facts are irrelevant. If you're not open-minded about prayer in the classroom, then it's futile to expect you to be open-minded about these other issues.--Aschlafly 18:41, 24 May 2007 (EDT)

Mr. Schlafly, I fail to see how my position on school prayer (which, by the way, you do not know) is germane to a conversation regarding Benjamin Franklin’s spiritual beliefs. You also do not know my position regarding evolution (I am also uncertain as to how that is relevant to this conversation). As for your other suppositions (the 90% figure), do you have evidence to support this? Now could you please show a little intellectual integrity, and address the substance of McIntyre’s arguments, rather than engaging in distractions? I do have an open mind about such matters sir, and I hope that you have the same. --Jamest 08:23, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

I do know, with 95% certainty, what your positions are on classroom prayer and evolution. The 95% confidence level is all that science requires. I know your positions with greater certainty than I know what the weather will be like tomorrow. But why do you refuse to disclose your positions? Are you embarrassed about them? Do you feel they are indefensible? Conservatives don't hide their views; liberals do. Why?--Aschlafly 10:26, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

Mr. Schlafly, my positions on school prayer and evolution would probably surprise you. I do not discuss them because they are not germane to the topic at hand, namely, Benjamin Franklin’s spiritual beliefs. Please show a little intellectual integrity, stick to the topic, and stop engaging in distractions. Could you please address McIntyre’s arguments?--Jamest 10:34, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

One more thing Mr. Schlafly. I do not know how you arrive at a figure of “95% certainty.” But I will share one observation with you. I have long noticed that a debater who employs distraction and non-sequiturs is in a desperate position. Will you respond to McIntyre’s argument? Or are you unable to do so?--Jamest 11:05, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

James, liberals crave attention and don't mind being deceitful. See Essay:Liberal Behavior on Conservapedia. Whether you are a liberal or not, I observe that you are not willing to be forthright about your views here, so my time is better spent discussing issues with others. Please leave my talk page, which is respected as one's castle here on Conservapedia. See Differences with Wikipedia. Thank you and Godspeed.--Aschlafly 11:25, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

Mr. Schlafly, I am hardly a liberal. I will comply with your rules and stay off your talk page. However, if one does not have the intellectual fortitude to debate, one should not make unfounded assertions, such as “Franklin was not a deist” that are based on belief, rather than rigorous historical scholarship. Good day Sir.--Jamest 13:43, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

I don't find you to be forthright in stating your views. You may say that you are "hardly a liberal," but I'm not fooled by that. I'm 95% confident that you oppose prayer in the classroom, and that you believe in evolution. I know liberals insist on having the last word. But this is my talk page, and the last word will be mine. Don't post here again on this issue. Thank you and Godspeed.--Aschlafly 14:08, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

You still did not try to answer professor McIntyre. I thought this was about Franklin? Why are you talking about prayer and evolution? --Willed 22:38, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

Nice try, "Willed". You're a sock of Jamest, and both account IDs and IP address have just been blocked for this.--Aschlafly 22:44, 25 May 2007 (EDT)

Ok, then. I'm not a sock of Jamest or Willed, but I second the question. Why bring up questions about evolution and school prayer when they are irrelevant to the question of Franklin's faith and McIntyre's research? JohnSmith 15:26, 27 May 2007 (EDT)

Someone who insists on censoring classroom prayer, even when everyone in the class wants to pray, is going to have a bias on issues related to religion. He should disclose his position so that others can evaluate his bias. So should you if you are going to insist that Franklin was a deist towards the end of his life.--Aschlafly 15:47, 27 May 2007 (EDT)

So if everybody in the class wanted to smoke Marijuana, would that be acceptable, via your ad populum argument? --Ĥøĵĭmåçħôńğtalk 17:25, 27 May 2007 (EDT)

There are laws against smoking marijuana to prevent the harm it causes. But there is no harm from praying in a classroom, while there is much good. Also, praying is a form of speech, unlike smoking marijuana. At bottom, liberals insist on censoring speech in the classroom. But notice how they won't admit it. Those who insist on censoring prayer in the classroom are unlikely to be objective in evaluating the faith of others, such as Benjamin Franklin. It's a bit like asking a Red Sox fan what he thinks of the Yankees this year; the answer is not likely to be objective. Godspeed.--Aschlafly 18:10, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

Your response to the above posters does not make sense. They are trying to discuss Benjamin Franklin, and you try to make it about prayer. You also say you are 90% or 95% sure about their positions, but you provide no proof. It appears that you are really afraid of debating McIntyre on this point. He also seems to have proved his point, and you keep trying to distract people from the discussion. Why don't you simply discuss the Franklin/Deism question?--Franklin 18:54, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

I just read the conservapedia entry on Andrew Schlafly and I am very surprised. I am sure a graduate of Harvard law school knows that changing the subject is not a valid form of argumentation. If anything, it is the mark of an intellectual coward.--Franklin 19:20, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

We don't allow that kind of name-calling here. I've given you a very lenient block of only 2 hours. Next time it will be an infinite block if you engage in name-calling on someone's own talk page. See how Conservapedia differs from Wikipedia and have some respect for someone's talk page here. Thanks.--Aschlafly 19:31, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

Thank you for being lenient in your block. But the question remains: Why does a man of your obvious education and intelligence not forthrightly respond to McIntyre? Surely you can articulate a good argument for your position rather than engaging in distractions.--Franklin 22:19, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

Its nice the way that, failing to adequately change the subject when you are losing, you send Karajou to threaten the debaters on their talk pages. Classy, and, might i add, very Christian.GoddisapprovesofbulliesKarajou 23:07, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

Thank you for your sarcasm, but no thank you for your name. You will be blocked, but allowed to re-register with a non-offensive name, unless you turn out to be a sock.--Aschlafly 23:15, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

Sock of Sevenstring. See Karajou's and my own talk pages. --Sysop-TK /MyTalk 23:26, 28 May 2007 (EDT)

I tend to agree with the above poster (but I agree his name was improper). Now, enough with the distractions. Please respond to McIntyre--Franklin 06:15, 29 May 2007 (EDT)

Franklin, what am I missing here? Is this some debate forum? Is there some obligation that a user here incurs, in being forced to answer? I say this not to be argumentative, but some will take it so. I just have never figured out what about an online encyclopedia makes so many believe there is some burning need to debate every entry. I know people who are editors of traditional ones, and they assure me none of this constant arguing ever occurs? Is is because CP is branded and self-identified as a Conservative and Christian POV friendly? Is that all there is to this constant strife, that those who do not agree have set it as their "mission" to make the "nutty Christians" fall into line? You do know, right, that has been tried for thousands of years with any real success whatsoever? --Sysop-TK /MyTalk 06:42, 29 May 2007 (EDT)

TK, I don't think you are missing anything. But surely you do not think that simple unsupported asserations trump scholarship do you? I don't think that anyone is trying to make "nutty Christians" as you put it, fall into line. But to avoid responding to dircet questions, and avoidance of the issue is unseemly. So I ask again. Please address the question, please address McIntyre, and quit trying to change the subject. --Franklin 08:23, 29 May 2007 (EDT)

What I believe is that any person whatsoever has the inviolable right to refuse to respond, without prejudice. Intellectual discourse must come without rancor or "demands", and be in a civil tone, for any advancement to occur. I suggest sending a personal email, or even perhaps waiting a day or so to cool this item down a bit. Now, I am bowing out here. --Sysop-TK /MyTalk 09:01, 29 May 2007 (EDT)

Intellectual discourse should be done without rancor and I think most of the people that have posted here have avoided that. However, trying to divert the issue by raising issues of prayer, evolution, etc., does not advance the discussion.--Franklin 09:07, 29 May 2007 (EDT)

Wow. I have been away a while and I had no idea the discussion would expand like this! I notice one poster thinks he knows me (and I am pretty sure I know him). On to other matters. Do you concede that Franklin was a Deist? If you do not, please cogently articulate your reasons. Best, Mac.--McIntyre 10:55, 31 May 2007 (EDT) [e

The above section is overlong, and would likely be more informative and persuasive if some sub-headings or structure were introduced.--CPalmer 09:56, 12 December 2011 (EST)


Evidence against Franklin having been a deist is that during the formulation of the constitution, when things seemed to be falling apart, he bade the group stop and pray. Prayer seems inconsistent with deism (a watchmaker God who created and then went away, leaving things to run on natural law). (Thunkful 21:35, 17 June 2010 (EDT))


I guess this debate is over. No one answers "no." DebateKid 13:58, 30 June 2007 (EDT)

Yeah, Doctors McIntyre and Franklin did a pretty good job of "schooling" some people.--Jackbarry 13:49, 2 July 2007 (EDT)