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The founder of Deism was Lord Herbert of Cherbury. [1] He came up with 5 essentials of Deism which are "(1) a belief in the existence of the Deity, (2) the obligation to reverence such a power, (3) the identification of worship with practical morality, (4) the obligation to repent of sin and to abandon it, and, (5) divine recompense in this world and the next"[2]

Dictionaries definitions of deism include:

The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.[3]


"a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe."[4]

In other words, this is the belief that God started everything and then left it alone. This belief not only rejects the divinity of Jesus, but also rejects prayers for divine intercession.

This philosophy became popular in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and many secularists have claimed that some of the founding fathers of the U.S. were self-described deists. Thomas Paine espoused deism and popularized the term in his book The Age of Reason. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography about an earlier period in his life,

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.

At the Constitutional Convention less than three years from his death, however, Benjamin Franklin proposed prayers in such a way to indicate that he recognized the value of religion in society, though not necessarily suggesting that his Deism had lapsed.

Another Founding Father described as a deist was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson personally struggled with the divinity of Christ and produced an edited version of the Gospels, later known as the Jefferson Bible, which contained only the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus and omitted third-person accounts of his life, particularly the accounts of the miracles.

Ten years from his death Jefferson stated that "[The Jefferson Bible] show that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw."[5]

The closer Jefferson approached his death, the more Christian he appeared. He read the Bible daily as the end grew near. His grandson described Jefferson as follows:[6]

He was regular in his attendance [at] church, taking his prayer book with him. He drew the plan of the Episcopal church in Charlottesville, was one of the largest contributors to its erection, and contributed regularly to the support of its minister. I paid, after his death, his subscription of $200 to the erection of the Presbyterian church in the same village. A gentleman of some distinction calling on him and expressing his disbelief in the truths of the Bible, his reply was, 'Then, sir, you have studied it to little purpose.'"

  3. American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition
  4. Merriam-Webster online: deism
  5. Jefferson, Letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1815
  6. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, undated letter to biographer Henry S. Randall, reprinted in Masfield et al., The Real Thomas Jefferson, p. 321.