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Deism is a theological theory proposing that a god created the Universe but has since refrained from any activity in it. It was espoused by many US founding fathers including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. The ideology extols a reasoned evaluation of the scientific evidence as supporting a nonintervening Creator, and dismisses accounts of miracles and revelations. Essentially, you can view it as God created the Universe, set up all the laws of reality and everything, then totally lost interest. He's still "around" but he doesn't do much, if anything, to interfere with mortal lives (And if He did, we Mere Mortals probably wouldn't be in the loop; after all, God Works In Mysterious Ways...)


The concept could be traced back to Aristotle's unmoved mover but Lord Herbert of Cherbury is considered the first deist. Although he based his beliefs off of Christianity being one of many religions claiming to be the one true way his God was still a personal god who supernaturally interfered in the universe. In particular deists from this era were tired of the devastation caused by religious institutions and ideas, and were looking for a true model of the cosmos that logic would dictate everybody had to agree on. It wasn't until John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century that deism took the form of what we now know as Classical Deism.

Classical deism is similar to Modern Deism in that they're both based on reason and naturalism but Classical Deism's evolution from Christianity is more readily apparent. Classical Deism didn't have the benefit of evolution, the big bang theory, or even an idea of how old the earth and universe were. Newton's theory of gravity and Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe were the best they had to go on. They viewed God as transcendental from its creation and impersonal. At the time deism was part of a continuum with Christianity. Christian Deism and unitarianism were situated in the middle. Conservatives site this ambiguity in their defense of the founding fathers being Christian and Liberals site the lack of scientific knowledge at the time as to why the founding fathers didn't slide more towards the deism side.

The turn of the century saw the Second Great Awakening in America and christian revival in other areas of the world. In addition while Darwain's theory of evolution by natural selection theoretically only pushed back the date of God's role in the universe it gave people confidence that alternative explanations for how we got here could exist. Quantum Mechanics later reinforced this notion. This attack from two sides caused Deism to wane in popularity but The Nineties saw a revival in Deism facilitated by the internet. This form of Deism is known as Modern Deism.

Modern Deism incorporates what science has discovered since the enlightenment and holds the nature of God is unkowable other than God exists. In fact Modern Deists are encouraged to use reason to determine God's nature for themselves.

Modern variations include:

  • Pandeism: which incorporates Pantheism, the archetype for Pieces of God
  • Panendeism: incorporates panentheism
  • Christian Deism: a hybrid between Christian and Deist beliefs. It rejects Jesus's divinity and other supernatural claims of the bible but stands by Jesus's moral teachings, holding him up as Christian Deism's central philosopher.
  • Polydeism: the universe is a creation of more than one god

Examples of Deism include:


  • Used by Arthur C. Clarke as the prevailing religion in the last installment of his 2001: A Space Odyssey novels. Sort of. Everyone in 3001 believes "as little as possible", and the big split is between Theists, who believe "in at least one god", and Deists, who believe "in at most one god".
    • Whether Clarke intended this or not, it's actually a pretty good definition. Deists believe in one god or none, depending on whether an inactive god "counts" as such -- but not more than one, because if God is outside space and time and doesn't do anything, if there were two of Him, what would make them distinct?
    • Also used in the Rama Series, although again it's not really present until the last installment, Rama Revealed (and a little bit in The Garden of Rama). The creatures who built Rama did so as part of a project to collect life from all over the universe, to learn about God's plan for it, and are committed Deists.


  • The American Revolution: Deism would probably be almost completely forgotten today, if not for the fact that many leaders of the American Revolution considered themselves Deists. As philosophically-minded, anti-establishment figures in the 18th century, it's practically certain that at least a few of them would be. While exact numbers are hard to pin down and the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies, it's unquestionable that Thomas Jefferson took it upon himself to edit supernatural elements out of The Bible, and Ben Franklin found Deism so persuasive it led to a good quote for Straw Man Has a Point.
  • Have You Seen My God? : practically the Trope Maker.
  • Older Than Feudalism : associated with the Enlightenment, but the idea originates in Ancient Greece.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions : Much Deist literature is about how silly are theistic ideas of revelations, miracles, talking snakes, virgin births, etc.
    • By now, Deism has largely died out as a common theological position now that there are solid naturalistic explanations for the creation of the world, since there is no longer a logical requirement for a creator to explain it. This has led to endless debates of what the positions of famous historical deists would have been if they lived today.
      • No doubt some of them would suggest that rather than creating the universe outright God simply created the rules by which the universe governs itself.
  • Take a Third Option : Some people say deism splits the line between atheism and theism (though initially it was the second option to theism). Others like this wiki say it's a form of theism.
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