The term ‘Deism’ refers to the religion of those believing in a God who rules the world by established laws but who do not believe in the divinity of Christ or the inspiration of the Bible. Basically, it may be termed “revealed” religion based on reason and the study of nature, as opposed to “revealed” religion which lays its emphasis on divine inspiration.
The reputed father of the Deists was Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), but perhaps the most influential of the deistical thinkers was Lord Shaftesbury (1671-1713), who had a great influence on Voltaire and other French philosophers, who in turn powerfully influenced English and American thought.
We may state that the following principles fairly represent the viewpoint of the English deists:
1. The Bible is not the inspired word of God, and it is valuable only insofar as it reflects “natural” religion.
2. Certain Christian doctrines are the product of either superstition or priests and must, therefore, be rejected: e.g. the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the theory of atonement for sins.
3. God is perfect; He is the creator and governor of the universe, and He works not capriciously but through certain eternal, unchangeable
laws – hence, miracles are impossible.
4. Since man is a rational creature he is capable of discovering and understanding these laws. Man may learn the nature of God through
a study of nature, which shows design and order and therefore must be an expression of God.
5. Human beings are free agents; God cannot control man’s thoughts.
6. Practical religion for the individual consists in achieving virtue through the rational guidance of conduct.