| We must acknowledge the influence of deism on American history. Yes, some of our nation’s founders were considered deists, but this concept requires some explanation. None of our founding fathers subscribed to the clockmaker theory of an uncaring, impersonal god. American deists spoke favorably of Christianity and even called themselves Christians. They should not be confused with the deists who spoke against Christianity. All of our founders considered themselves Christians.
Deism was a broad-sweeping term in the 1700s referring to a wide variety of views. To put it simply, deists wanted to know God primarily through reason and natural law.
Christians make a distinction between knowing God through general and special revelation. General revelation refers to the knowledge of God given to everyone through the laws of nature and conscience and human events. Special revelation refers to the gospel of grace. Christians believe that man is depraved and incapable of knowing God in a saving way except by a supernatural act of God to open man’s spiritual eyes.
Deists on the other hand believe that man could know God merely through the natural means of reason. Beyond this, deists formed a wide range of views from the clockmaker theorists (practically atheists) to the very religious deists who considered themselves Christians, obeying the moral teachings of Christ and praying and reading the Bible and attending church. James W. Sire explains, “Some deists, like Voltaire, were hostile to Christianity; some, like Locke, were not. Some believed in the immortality of the soul; some did not. Some believed God left his Creation to function on its own; some believed in providence. Some believed in a personal God; others did not.”
Now let’s say that God did wind up the cosmos like a clock and let it go. If he created everything, he knew what he made, and he knew how everything would happen in this inscrutable system of causes and effects. If so, he would still have as much of a hand in the course of history as if he were right there, intimately involved every step of the way.
Perhaps I should add that deism seems to be a transitory kind of view. It’s the view you might take on your way from theism to atheism or from atheism to theism. Deism is not usually a “place” to stay. It’s too unstable.
Deism did have a major role in helping humanism to gain ground in western society. Deism made the western soil more fertile for the planting of humanism. R. J. Rushdoony described it this way; “With the Enlightenment, the churches limited their sphere, and God’s sphere, to the spiritual realm. Before long, God became the absentee landlord of the physical universe. . . The state (and most of life) was thus ‘freed’ from God to follow a humanistic course.”