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DEISM (Lat. dens, god)

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Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 934 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DEISM (Lat. dens, god), strictly the belief in one supreme God. It is however the received name for a current of rationalistic theological thought which, though not confined to one country, or to any well-defined period, was most conspicuous in England in the last years .of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century. The deists, differing widely in important matters of belief, were yet agreed in seeking above all to establish the certainty and sufficiency of natural religion in opposition to the positive religions, and in tacitly or expressly denying the unique significance of the supernatural revelation in the Old and New Testaments. They either ignored the Scriptures, endeavoured to prove them in the main by a helpful republication of the Evangelium aeternum, or directly impugned their divine character, their infallibility, and the validity of their evidences as a complete manifestation of the will of God. The term " deism " not only is used to signify the main body of the deists' teaching, or the tendency they represent, but has come into use as a technical term for one specific metaphysical doctrine as to the relation of God to the universe, assumed to have been characteristic of the deists, and to have distinguished them from atheists, pantheists and theists,—the belief, namely, that the first cause of the universe is a personal God, who is, however, not only distinct from the world but apart from it and its concerns. The words " deism" and " deist " appear first about the middle of the 16th century in France (cf. Bayle's Dictionnaire, s.v. " Viret," note D), though the deistic standpoint had already been foreshadowed to some extent by Averroists, by Italian authors like Boccaccio and Petrarch, in More's Utopia (r 515), and by French writers like Montaigne, Charron and Bodin. The first specific attack on deism in English was Bishop Stillingfleet's Letter to a Deist (1677). By the majority of those historically known as the English deists, from Blount onwards, the name was owned and honoured. They were also occasionally called " rationalists." " Free-thinker " (in Germany, Freidenker) was generally taken to be synonymous with " deist," though obviously capable of a wider signification, and as coincident with esprit fort and with libertin in the original and theological sense of the word.' " Naturalists " was a name frequently used of such as recognized no god but nature, of so-called Spinozists, atheists; but both in England and Germany, in the 18th century, this word was more commonly and aptly in use for those who founded their religion on the lumen nalurae alone. It was evidently in common use in the latter half of the 16th century as it is used by De Mornay in De la verite de la religion chrelienne (1581) and by Montaigne. The same men were not seldom assaulted under the name of "theists"; the later distinction between "theist" and "deist," which stamped the latter word as excluding the belief in providence or in the immanence of God, was apparently formulated in the end of the 18th century by those rationalists who were aggrieved at being identified with the naturalists. (See also
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