About This Site

The Enlightenment deists are very misunderstood.  They are often characterized as believing in a remote watchmaker deity who made the world and then withdrew from it.  Their God is supposed to be uninvolved with the world and too abstract and cold to be suitable for anyone but elite intellectuals.  While these things are continually said about the Enlightenment deists, a careful reading of their actual pamphlets and books shows that all of these points are false.  The Enlightenment deists were generally pious thinkers who had a warm and close personal relationship with a deity that was often very involved in human affairs.  They emphasized reason, but they saw reason as a gift from God to use in knowing God and showing us our duty.  This site is dedicated to correcting the mischaracterizations about the Enlightenment deists and demonstrating their deep piety.


The site is divided into six sections.


The first section is an introduction to the deists and their ideas.  It starts by discussing why many scholars have a reason to mischaracterize the deists.  It then divides the deists into two main groups: those who advocate natural religion and those who see themselves as reforming Christianity.   Thinkers in both groups were united in using reason and moral arguments to question their contemporaries’ religious beliefs.


The second section describes the deists’ relationship to God.  It shows it is a mischaracterization of the deists to see their God as distant and uninvolved, or to think they lacked a close personal relationship with God.  This section does this by showing that many of them prayed fervently and had long discussions about the importance of prayer.   It shows that many of them believed God directly and immediately guided people in their practical daily lives.  It shows also that many of the deists said they believed in miracles and revelation.   All of these points are made by numerous direct quotations from the writings of the deists.  This allows us to read what the deists actually wrote and thus get a better understanding of them.


The third section discusses the main beliefs and positions the deists had in common.  {This section is not written yet.}


The fourth section highlights the different critiques Christian deists had about how Christianity needed to be fully reformed. {This section is not yet written.}

The fifth section discusses the inaccurate and accurate reasons for the decline of deism in the last couple years of the eighteenth century and first couple years of the nineteenth century.

The fifth section lists the most prominent deists and has a short biography of them.  It also has a link to a good introduction to each individual deist’s ideas.


This site was written by Joseph Waligore, Ph. D.  He is a professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point.  His article “The Piety of the English Deists” will be published in March 2012 in the Intellectual History Review.  His article on the English deists and religious enthusiasm is currently submitted to another academic journal.  He is now writing a book entitled The Piety of the Enlightenment Deists.  This website is a fruit of these endeavors.  He has a Facebook page and you can email him directly at waligore@yahoo.com.