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Deism, or "Natural Religion," the belief in a Supreme Being as the source of finite existence, and the rejection of revelation and the supernatural doctrines of Christianity, derived, in the most general sense, from the scientific movement which grew out of the discoveries and theories of Columbus, Copernicus, Galileo, Francis Bacon, and his disciples in the Royal Society. Their explanations of man's relationship with God and his place in the physical universe came to depend more and more on reason rather than "revelation." Deists believed that reason indicated that God created the world, and ruled it by established law: they were adherents, that is, of a "natural" religion based on reason and the study of nature, and opponents of "revealed" religion. Deists were opposed, too, to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. Many eighteenth-century Deists, but by no means all, believed that God, having created the universe and set it in operation, took no further interest either in it or in humanity.

The general tenets of Deisim may be summarized as follows: they believed that the Bible, though it contained important truths, was not divinely inspired; that many important Christian theological tenets -- the divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the theory of atonement for sins -- were the results of superstition or invention and had to be rejected. They believed that God, the creator of the universe, was perfect, but worked by choice through unchangeable laws, and that miracles, therefore, were impossible. They believed in free will, that man, made in God's image, could himself eventually become perfect by studying Nature, which reflected the divine perfection, and that practical religion, for the individual, consisted in achieving virtue through rational conduct. The influence of Deistic beliefs and premises can be traced in numerous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works: how do Pope's Essay on Man, for example, much of Shelley's poetry, and Wordsworthian Nature-worship echo Deistic beliefs?

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Last modified 1988