The Deists and Miracles
Most people mistakenly think the deist conception of natural religion means that God only works through natural means; they think the deists believe God had created the world and then left it alone to run by natural laws. This conception holds that the deist God never performs any miracles and never reveals himself to people except through the regularity of nature. The deists were major advocates of natural religion, but this paper will show it is a mistaken view of the most important deists – the British ones– to think God only worked through natural means and eschewed miracles.
Believing that the deist God never did any miracles leads people to miss the fact that the deists were very pious and had an intimate relationship with God.
Scholarly writings on individual deists have acknowledged that some British deists did believe in miracles, but there is no work that focuses on all the significant British deists and their view of miracles. Considering how widespread in our culture is the belief that the deist God never performed miracles and how it is not supported by the actual writings of the foundational British deists themselves, it is surprising that there is no work showing what all the important British deists believed about miracles. This paper fills that gap.
It is important to understand at the outset that most deists defined a miracle in a different way than did the philosopher David Hume. Hume said that “a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature,” and effectively denied they ever happened because nature’s laws were inviolable. On the other hand, most deists did not think nature’s laws were inviolable; many of them maintained that the same God who made nature’s laws could suspend them whenever he chose. For example, in his “Essay on Miracles,” John Trenchard made no mention at all of a miracle being a violation of the laws of nature. Instead he said a miracle was when God altered the usual order of the universe: “A Miracle or actio mirabilis, is an action to be wondered at; as when God Almighty interposes, and by his omnipotent power alters the order he at first placed the universe in, or enables or empowers other beings to do so.” Most other deists said that miracles were actions that exceeded human power and which did not happen in the ordinary operations of nature. A miracle therefore was not a violation of natural law, but as the early Irish deist John Toland put it “some Action exceeding all humane Power, and which the Laws of Nature cannot perform by their ordinary Operations.” Thomas Chubb defined them in a similar way, saying a miracle is “a sensible effect, which is above the natural ability or inherent power of man to cause or produce; which is likewise above or besides the ordinary course of nature, or of those laws by which the natural world is governed, in the course of God’s general providence; and which also is produced by the agency, or cooperation of an invisible Being.” Many times the deists used the words “particular providence” interchangeably with the word miracle. A particular providence was when God or an angel cared for someone outside the general course of nature (which was seen as God’s general providence).
The only British deist who consistently and unambiguously advocated the supposedly common anti-miracle position was Peter Annet. Annet was a schoolmaster who was jailed for blasphemy as a result of some of his deist writings. He made a clear statement of the anti-miracle position: “God has settled the Laws of Nature by his Wisdom and Power, and therefore cannot alter them consistent with his Perfections: This is a demonstrative Proof of the Impossibility of the Miracles a priori.” It is important to remember that the vast majority of Protestants distinguished themselves from Catholics by saying that miracles stopped in the Apostolic time or shortly thereafter. Annet distinguished his view from this traditional Protestant one by making it totally clear that no miracles have ever happened, not even the supposed ones in biblical times. So of the most important Christian miracle—Jesus’ resurrection– he said, “To believe it possible, contradicts this Maxim, That Nature is steady and uniform in her Operations: For one Miracle or Action done contrary to her Laws, contradicts all her steady uniform Springs and Movements and all that Mankind call Truth and Reason.” This a priori argument against the possibility of miracles exemplifies the position which many modern commentators say that most or all of the deists held. James A. Herrick in his book The Radical Rhetoric of English Deists said that Annet “expresses well the Deist attitude towards miracles,” but the following survey of all the significant British deists will show that Annet’s view on miracles is the exception, not the rule.
The most interesting deist to start with is Thomas Morgan because he believed in immutable laws but still had particular providences or miracles. Thomas Morgan was an ordained minister who lost his job because he did not ascribe to the orthodox view of the Trinity and became a doctor instead. In one of his later works, Thomas Morgan said that God does not break the general laws he has made by doing miracles. Morgan said that
God governs the World, and directs all Affairs, not by particular and occasional, but by general, uniform and established Laws; and the Reason why he does not miraculously interpose, as they would have him, by suspending or setting aside the general, established Laws of Nature and Providence, is, because this would subvert the whole Order of the Universe, and destroy all the Wisdom and Contrivance of the first Plan.
One would think this insistence on immutable laws leaves no room for miracles. Yet in the same book he asserted there was particular providences or divine caring for people through miracles– it is just these miracles are done in accordance with the general, established laws of nature by angels. Morgan sought to explain angelic miracles by a comparison to animal husbandry. He said that humans care for animals and control their lives without breaking general laws, and from the animals’ point of view our work must seem miraculous or “all particular Interposition, and supernatural Agency.” But when humans care for animals, they do not break any laws of nature and do “not, hereby, alter the Order of Nature, suspend it Laws, or change his [God’s] Measures at every Turn.” In the same way, Morgan asserted, the angels can do what seem like miracles to us without breaking the uniform laws of nature. He said that if we could but see the “other intelligent free Agents above us, who have the same natural establish’d Authority and Command over us, as we have with regard to the inferior Ranks and Classes of Creatures, the Business of Providence, moral Government, and particular Interpositions by general Laws of Nature would be plain enough.” So Morgan believed in immutable laws, but still allowed for particular providences or miracles through angelic interventions in the normal course of affairs. From our vantage point, these particular providences seemed like they were breaking the laws of nature, but that is only because we cannot perceive how the angels do the extraordinary things they do. In the same way animals perceive our care and ministry of them to be miraculous even though we break no natural laws in caring for them.
Morgan finished off this section by arguing that we should pray to these angels as well as to God for miraculous assistance. He said that “I cannot conceive what has given some Philosophers, if I may call them so, such an Antipathy to divine Assistance, as if God, or other superior Beings above us by the Constitution and Laws of their Natures, might might not assist us as well, or better, than we can one another. If we should suppose some little contemptible Worms or Insects below us to reason after this Manner, we might, perhaps, despise them, and thank God for giving us better Understandings”
Morgan’s affirmation of God’s “continued Presence, Agency and Concurrence in all human Affairs” belies the conception of the deist God as a detached watchmaker God. While not many deists agreed with Morgan that we should pray to the angels for divine assistance, many agreed with him on the importance of prayer and our total dependence on God.
Morgan was not the only British deist who believed in immutable natural laws while having angelic miracles. William Wollaston, an ordained Anglican minister as well as a rationalist philosopher, also thought there were particular providences or miracles wrought by angels in accord with immutable laws beyond our limited understanding. In regards to angels, Wollaston said that there “most probably are beings invisible, and superior in nature to us, who may by other means be in many respects ministers of God’s providence, and authors under Him of many events to particular men, without altering the laws of nature.” Through the agency of such angels, God can minister to us without breaking the laws of nature, just as we can be instruments of God’s care for animals or other humans. Wollaston said these these angels were better ministers to humans than we were to the animals or to each other because the angels had much more extensive knowledge and purer intellect than we had. He was sure that there were such providences, saying that “I conclude then, that it is as certain that there is a particular providence, as that God is a being of perfect reason.”
Thomas Chubb, a candlemaker known as “the Sage of Salisbury,” believed that good and bad creatures were able to do miracles. From this, he drew a common conclusion among the deists that “miracles prove nothing with respect to the divinity of a revelation,” or that we cannot prove Jesus was divine just because he did miracles. Like Gildon, Chubb had rules for discerning whether it was a good or evil angel doing a miracle, but he thought the best way to guard against delusion was to not trust in any miracles and to instead only believe in a revelation if it was in accord with the highest standards of moral goodness. While he said we should not trust miracles to prove someone was divine, he believed that Jesus and the apostles had performed miracles and that God continues to do miracles on extraordinary occasions for good purposes. Like current commentators, Walter Merrill, S. G. Hefelbower, and Horace Bushell, I think the evidence shows that Chubb believed in miracles.
Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who was the English ambassador to France for a time, made it clear that he thought that God performed miracles. He said that “I acknowledge indeed and believe most firmly that God can do miracles, and which is more, that he hath done them.” He was so sure that God did miracles he thought that this doctrine and the related notion that God answered our prayers was an idea God put into every human. He said that “every religion believes that the Deity can hear and answer prayers; and we are bound to assume a special Providence—to omit other sources of proof—from the universal testimony of the sense of divine assistance in times of distress.” For Herbert, this universal testimony of divine assistance to our prayers meant that it was a common notion, or something engraved in our breast by God.
Thomas Woolston had been a fellow at Cambridge University, but he so mocked and ridiculed the scriptural miracles that he was sent to jail for blasphemy, where he died. He wrote hundreds of pages trying to show that Jesus never did the miracles the scriptures said he did and said that Jesus’s miracles were “full of Absurditys, Improbabilities and Incredibilities.” It is important in understanding Woolston to realize that he did not assert that there were immutable laws which showed a priori that miracles were impossible. Instead he repeatedly asserted that he was against the literal interpretation of Jesus’ miracles because he believed they were meant to be interpreted mystically and allegorically. For Woolston, Jesus’ healing miracles were not a literal healing of a person’s bodily ailments, but a deeper healing of spiritual infirmities. In making this argument, Woolston was motivated not by disdain for the authority of revelation, but rather by a reverent regard for the authority of the Church Fathers who also favored mystical and allegorical interpretations of the miracle stories in the Bible. As Woolston wrote:
I shall not confine my self only to Reason, but also to the express Authority of the Fathers, those holy, venerable and learned Preachers of the Gospel in the first Ages of the Church, who took our Religion from the Hands of the Apostles and of Apostolic men… who professedly and confessedly were endew’d with Divine and Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit; who consequently can’t be supposed to be corrupters of Christianity, or teachers of false Notions about the Miracles of our Saviour, or so much as mistaken about the Apostolic and Evangelical sense and Nature of them. I know not how it comes to pass, but I am a profound Admirer and almost implicit Believer of the Authority of the Fathers, whom I look upon as vast Philosophers, very great Scholars, and most Orthodox Divines. Whatever they concurrently assert, I firmly believe.
It is therefore a mistake to construe Woolston as a secularist arguing against miracles in the manner of David Hume or Peter Annet. While he was opposed to a literal interpretation of the miraculous stories in the Bible, he gave authority not to reason alone, but to the inspiration of the Spirit reflected in the teachings of the Church Fathers.
As part of his strategy of attacking the literal meaning of miracles, Woolston tried to show that the circumstances surrounding the literal interpretation of Jesus’ miracles did not make sense. So he said that if we were meant to interpret the miracles literally, the diseases Jesus cured should have been better described and so too his methods of curing them. Nevertheless Woolston was not a secularist, he believed in Christianity and some of its most important miracles: he said that “I do believe…that Jesus was born of a pure Virgin, and that he arose from the Dead,” and he said that “I am apt to believe with the Fathers, that Jesus actually did raise the dead.” He did therefore affirm some scriptural miracles, but thought that only a few scriptural miracles could withstand critical examination.
The question is whether Woolston should be believed in his assertion that he is only attacking the literal interpretation of miracles or whether he is hiding his real views and did not believe in miracles at all. If one starts with the idea that the deists in general are part of the grand march to a secularist worldview—they have a God, but an abstract, uninvolved one– it is easy to conclude Woolston was lying, as many have. But this conclusion is predicated upon the assumption that the deists thought like modern people or were heading in that direction. In general, it seems intellectual historians should be cautious of too easily accepting interpretations that collapse the difference between older thinkers and ourselves. It seems a more legitimate interpretative strategy to situate these thinkers in relation to the intellectual climate of their time, in which many deists had no difficulty affirming the existence of angels, divine inspiration, and providential interventions in human affairs. In this light, the view that the deists of Woolston’s time were basically secularists with a detached, uninvolved God gets much harder to maintain.
Rather than seeing Woolston as a secularist, it is better to see him as searching for the pure primitive meaning of the scriptures like his contemporaries, the British scientists William Whiston and Isaac Newton. Woolston had first written about the importance of the Church Fathers and their mystical interpretation of scripture twenty years before he published his book arguing against miracles. So he had a long track record of being concerned with the Church Fathers and their beliefs. This makes it much less likely that he was just using a rhetorical strategy to advance a secular anti-miracle position. Secondly, in an earlier work he said that he felt God had called him to attack the literal interpretation of miracles and he had prayed to God to pass over him and call someone else instead. He said that he knew society would condemn him for his attacks on Jesus’ miracles but he was guided by God to do it anyways:
I am comforted in this, that I am no less fit Instrument in the Hand of God, for the Promulgation again of that Gospel, which for many Ages and Generations has been hid…. As often as I thought on this Work, which at Times I believed God would call me to, very melancholy Thoughts arose in my Mind; and I have prayed that God would pass me by, and take another to it: Nay, to the utmost of my Power, I have study’d how to avoid the doing of it: But God’s Will is irresistible, and therefore I humbly submit to him, and by his Grace and Assistance will perform all that he shall enable me to in the Work that is before me.
Because he was what some would call a religious fanatic, he would use phrases like “these latter Times of the Apostacy,” or the “miserably bewilder’d and Babylonish Church.” 
Thus, rather than being a secularist, Woolston was a religiously motivated individual who saw himself as God’s instrument to restore the Church Fathers’ mystical interpretation of the Bible. He could have been released from prison if he had retracted his views or promised not to write anymore, but he refused. While many people hated his views, it was commonly thought at the time, even by his enemies, that he was “a man of great temperance, patience and humanity, even while he was in prison.” Like Socrates, he felt he was called by God to attack the literal interpretation of scriptural miracles and so he could calmly accept his death in prison.
Anthony Collins, a major freethinker and wealthy country squire, is often lumped with Woolston in current secondary literature because they both attacked the then accepted rational proofs of Christianity: while Woolston attacked miracles, Collins attacked prophecy. But they were not allies in the grand march towards secularism and Collins published a pamphlet in 1729 forcefully criticizing Woolston’s attack on miracles. Collins said that Woolston’s attack was “stupidity and madness” and his work was “a heap of absurd and contradictory Reasonings” which was “absurd and inconsistent with right Reason and tend to no less than downright Infidelity.” In this same work, Collins praised Jesus’ miracles, saying how extraordinary they were: “The multitude of Miracles CHRIST had already done (some of the most stupendous, that can be well imagined, contrary to all those Laws of Nature Providence has established)… Those Miracles, I say, were such evident Testimonials, such emphatical Proofs of a divine Mission, that it was unnecessary to offer any more.” In another work, Collins stated that Jesus did “numerous and wonderful Miracles”  and even Judas did some miracles “by Christ’s commission.” Collins also believed that Moses’ brother Aaron and the Egyptian magicians could do miracles. Collins not only believed in miracles, he also wrote a long pamphlet defending the use of spiritual or non-verbal prayer from the accusation that the devil encouraged people to pray that way. This form of praying was under attack because the Jesuits taught it, but Collins said the devil “abhorreth Prayer and will leave the Room, where he is molesting Men, when they go into Prayer.”
Among modern scholars there is a debate about whether Collins is sincere in stating he believed in miracles and was a good Christian. James O’Higgins believes that Collins was sincere in his belief in miracles. In his book on Collins, O’Higgins states that Collins saw himself as a Christian and that he hated being called hypocritical for criticizing the church in his books while still being a member of good standing in his local parish. David Berman, on the other hand, said asserted that Collins lied when he said that he openly subscribed to such Christian beliefs as the Athanasian doctrine of the trinity and the authority of scriptures. Because he was lying about these beliefs, Berman believes that Collins was also lying about his acceptance of miracles. Berman said that “a deist, it is agreed, must minimally, reject Christian mysteries and the authority of the Scripture. Hence those scholars who see Collins as a deist must also accept that he was a liar—that is he did not mean what he said.” Berman’s key assumption is that no deists accepted the mysteries or scriptural authority and so Collins must be lying when he said he accepted those positions or miracles. Similar to many commentators who assume that all deists were against miracles, Berman seems to just take it for granted that all deists were against mysteries and the authority of the scripture. While I have not done a survey of the deists’ attitude on these points, in a very quick check I found that Mandeville, Chubb, Trenchard, and Gordon accepted some of the points that Berman said no deist accepted. Berman does not prove his point that Collins was lying, and I agree with the view that the scholar James O’Higgins presents in his book on Collins: he is a sincere Christian who believed in miracles.
John Toland was intimately involved in the same small circle of radical freethinkers as Anthony Collins. Like Collins, Toland was an associate of John Locke and was influenced by Locke’s empiricism. Toland asserted in his first major book Christianity Not Mysterious that miracles happened. He thought that miracles were not contrary to nature’s laws, just above them. He said that “Miracles are produc’d according to the Laws of Nature, tho above its ordinary Operations, which are therefore supernaturally assisted.” He said that miracles were not contrary to reason, they must have an important end and they are wrought to help the unbelievers. He further said that God did not perform miracles often, but only for a good end. “God is not so prodigal of Miracles, as to work any at random. The Order of Nature is not alter’d, stopp’d or forwarded, unless for some weighty Design becoming the divine wisdom and majesty. And, indeed, we learn from Scripture and Reason that no miracle is ever wrought without some special and important End.” For this reason, he asserted that miracles were performed by the Apostles to gain attention to their doctrines.
The question among commentators is similar to the one asked of Collins: was Toland sincere in endorsing miracles or was he hiding his disbelief to save himself from social opprobrium? The case that he is hiding his disbelief is strengthened if one attributes an earlier anonymous work called “Two Essays Sent in A Letter from Oxford to a Nobleman in London” to Toland. This short pamphlet argued against miracles and in his book on Toland, the scholar Robert Sullivan uses it as evidence that Toland disbelieved in miracles. Rhoda Rappaport makes a very convincing case though that modern commentators are incorrectly assigning this work to Toland based on flimsy evidence. She says there is no good evidence he wrote it and it does not match his style or concerns. Stephen H. Daniel in his book on Toland gives another reason to think Toland stated his true beliefs when he wrote Christianity not Mysterious. Daniel argued that a major part of Toland’s philosophical and political agenda at the time was spreading enlightenment through free and open discussion that would allow others to contribute to the discussion. So Toland would not want to hide his message from the public at this time and it is not until much later that Toland adopted a more circumspect attitude and decided to hide his views from the public. For these reasons, along with many other modern scholars such as Burns, G. R. Cragg, Hefelbower, Hanning Graf Reventlow, and G. Gawlick, I think Toland was sincere in stating that he believed in miracles.
Four other British deists who clearly believed in miracles can be quickly mentioned before discussing the last four more difficult cases. In his writings in the Independent Whig, Thomas Gordon stated that the apostles did miracles and Jesus proved his mission was divine by doing them. Henry Dodwell believed that it was a miracle that caused St. Paul to become a Christian and the Apostles did miracles to appeal to people’s senses. Matthew Tindal said that Judas, like the other apostles, had the power of performing miracles, even to the extent of raising the dead. Tindal also thought that because evil beings as well as good ones could do miracles, this meant that internal marks of a revelation like goodness of its doctrines were more important than miracles. John Trenchard defended the traditional Protestant position that miracles had happened in biblical times but “none have been performed since the first ages of Christianity, and that they can be proof of nothing which is against virtue and the good of mankind.” While these four deists have little of interest in their writings on miracles and are clear and consistent in their endorsement of them.
So far I have shown that most of the British deists believed in miracles. Four British deists—Blount, Mandeville, Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke– are left to consider, but it is more difficult to pin down their views as they are ambiguous and sometimes inconsistent. Of these four I think Blount came to believe in miracles, Mandeville believed in them, Shaftesbury might have believed in them, and Bolingbroke did not.
Charles Blount, who killed himself over his tragic love for his sister-in-law, had an inconsistent position on miracles. In an early pamphlet entitled “Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature,” Blount said quite categorically that there were no such things as miracles because nature was governed by immutable laws. In one passage he said that a miracle was “contrary to the Laws of Nature, or which cannot possibly follow from her fixt and immutable Order: then I dare not believe that any such Miracle hath ever happen’d in Nature, lest I oppose God to God, that is, admit that God changes his own Decrees, which from the Perfection of the divine Nature I know to be impossible.” Blount defended his position by saying that immutable natural laws revealed God more clearly than miracles; miracles only revealed a power that was greater than ours, while immutable laws led us to see God’s infinity and eternity.
If this was Blount’s only view of miracles, then he would have had a clear and consistent position against them. But ten years later in a work published posthumously, Blount talked about biblical miracles in a different way. He said most readers made a great error in reading scripture “in relation to Divine Miracles.” He said that we misunderstand the scriptural description of miracles because we interpret miraculous acts in a general sense while they were meant in a more particular sense. So when scripture talked of the darkness over the face of the whole earth when “our Savior” died, it meant darkness only over all of Palestine. Likewise the star which led the wise men to Jesus was not a heavenly star but one more localized that marched before the wise men like a torch. He then mentioned several more miracles which should be interpreted in a more restricted sense than they are commonly interpreted. Blount ended this section with an endorsement of miracles and a critique of those who are so arrogantly confident in their reason that they questioned God’s power to do miracles: “God seldom alters or perverts the Course of Nature, however Miracles may be necessary sometimes to acquaint the World with his Prerogative, least the Arrogance of our Reason should question his Power; a Crime no wise Man can ever be guilty of: Who climbing up from Cause to Cause, shall ever find the highest Link of Nature’s Chain to be tyed at the Foot of Jupiter’s Chair.” In this work, Blount is less concerned with immutable laws and more interested in the power of God to control all things.
While the common view of the Enlightenment is that people gradually became more secular as the Enlightenment went on, that is not the case with Blount. His early work was heavily influenced by Spinoza’s writings against miracles and he moved to a more positive attitude towards them as he got older. This is consistent with the British Enlightenment in general which was more conservative and religious than the French version and did not share the later French Enlightenment’s virulent anti-Christianism. Some may think that Blount was covering up his real beliefs in his later work, but two points argue against that interpretation. First, his publisher, good friend, and co-writer Charles Gildon was a firm believer in miracles, so it is quite possible that Blount could have been influenced by him. Second, social acceptance was not a primary concern for Blount at this time. Blount had incurred tremendous social opprobrium by falling in love with his dead wife’s sister, unsuccessfully arguing for a change in the marriage laws so he could marry her, and then committing suicide over the situation. Thus it is far from clear that he had anything at all to gain socially by changing his position on miracles. In the final analysis, I agree with the modern scholars Hefelbower and Merrill that Blount did accept miracles, although he did not accept them in the uncritical way orthodox Christians do.
Bernard Mandeville, a Dutch physician who moved to England, wrote some passages in The Fable of the Bees that make him seem to be against miracles. These passages assert that it would be an inferior God that needed to patch up his own handiwork: “you entertain Notions of the Deity that are unworthy of him….to make a Scheme first, and afterwards to mend it, when it proves defective, [this] is the Business of finite wisdom.” He also said that this is “the Work of Providence, by which I mean the unalterable wisdom of the Supreme Being.” Nevertheless, in the same book, Mandeville said that religion came into the world “from God, by miracle.” He said that “all true Religion must be reveal’d and could not come into the World without Miracle.” The question is which of Mandeville’s statements we should believe. This is made more difficult because this book is in dialogue form and there is a scholarly debate over which, if any, interlocutor represents Mandeville’s true beliefs. Mandeville himself claimed that the more religious interlocutor represented his real views. If one accepts, as does the scholar E. D. James,  that Mandeville was sincere in this claim, then one must be open to the possibility that Mandeville believed in providence and miracles.
Mandeville wrote a later book entitled Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church and National Happiness and along with the scholar Stephen H. Good I think that Mandeville straightforwardly revealed his true beliefs in this book. In Free Thoughts, Mandeville wrote that Moses did miracles as did Jesus and the apostles. He said that “in the time of our Saviour and his Disciples the Wonders that were daily wrought to the Astonishment of all who beheld them, were sufficient to awaken the Attention of Carelessness and Stupidity itself.” In the same book, he generalized his view on miracles by saying that miracles are above reason but not against it. When someone said 2+2 may sometimes make seven, that is against reason, he said. But what if we hear of a man who could see through a solid, 2 inch thick, plank of wood? If there were ten thousand credible witnesses, Mandeville said that he still would not believe it. “But had GOD revealed to me, that he had made such a one, I would immediately submit, and as soon as I was satisfy’d that the Revelation was really Divine, believe it as surely, and if it be possible, with less scruple than now I believe that there is such a Place as Japan…I would…despise all Reasoners, who should pretend to demonstrate the impossibility of it. Here a Man would have nothing to do, but to Conquer the good Opinion he has of Human Understanding, the shallowness of which, the most knowing are so well convinc’d of on Thousand Occasions. In this case I would not only call it Presumption, but the highest Insolence, to oppose” the miracle. In this book Mandeville clearly asserted that miracles did happen in biblical times and it was possible that God could still do them.
Shaftesbury, who was tutored by John Locke and who heavily influenced Kant and the Romantics with his theory of aestheticism, said that while he was incredulous of modern miracles, he believed in scriptural ones: “I have a right faith in those of former times by paying the deference due to sacred writ.” He also said that he was “satisfied of the truth of our religion by past miracles.” The scholar Owen Aldridge has argued that Shaftesbury is only making these short statements and others like them to protect his social position and he probably does not really believe in scriptural miracles. Shaftesbury, as an earl, did have a high social position to protect and if these were his only statements on miracles I would agree with Aldridge that he does probably not really believe in them.
Shaftesbury discussed miracles most clearly in a section of his book Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. He said that miracles do not tell us much about the miracle-doer. He asserted that all a miracle can show is that there is some power greater than man, not that this power is an all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God who is worthy of worship. He said that a miracle showed power, “but ‘what powers, whether one or more, whether superior or subaltern, mortal or immortal, wise or foolish, just or unjust, good or bad’; this would still remain a mystery …’Power can never serve as a proof for goodness, and goodness is the only pledge of truth’.” Shaftesbury thought we can only know the theist God by contemplating the laws governing the universe. In particular, he thought we had to realize these laws were just and unchanging: “The contemplation of the universe, its laws and government, was I averred, the only means which could establish the sound belief of a Deity …To whom therefore the laws of this universe and its government appear just and uniform, to him they speak the government of one Just One; to him they reveal and witness a God.” For Shaftesbury, only these just and uniform laws led to knowledge of a theist God, while miracles only showed that some being had greater power than humans.
If this were all that Shaftesbury had to say about miracles, I would agree with Aldridge that he did not really believe in them and his occasional very short statements about the scriptural miracles were just socially adept lies. But immediately after his statement about uniform laws leading to knowledge of God, he said that once people knew the just, eternal God they can receive a revelation or a miracle. He said that while contemplating uniform laws gave a person “the foundation of this first faith, they fit him for a subsequent one. He can then hearken to historical revelation, and is then fitted (and not till then) for the reception of any message or miraculous notice from above, where he knows beforehand all is just and true. But this no power of miracles, nor any power besides his reason can make him know or apprehend.” This allowance for miracles is at the climax of his only important writing on miracles. So his position is that miracles are secondary, but he still allows for them once we have a prior knowledge of the goodness and justness of God. This interpretation is reinforced by another passage in his book Ten Letters where he again said that miracles were secondary to a better knowledge of God. He said
that, which to the Vulgar is only knowable by Miracles, and teachable by positive Precepts and Commands, to the wise and virtuous, is demonstrable by the Nature of the Thing. So that how can we forbear to give our Assent to those doctrines, and that Revelation, which is deliver’d to us, and enforced by Miracles and Wonders? But to us, the very Test and Proof of the Divineness and Truth of that Revelation, is from the Excellence of the Things reveal’d: Otherwise the Wonders themselves would have little Effect or Power.
While Shaftesbury thought the ultimate test of a revelation was the moral goodness of the doctrine revealed, he still allowed for miracles.
Shaftesbury had no animus against miracles. His central belief was that we had to get knowledge of a just and good God in another way besides miracles. But once we had that knowledge, he seemed to allow a place for subsequent miracles. I am inclined to think he probably did believe in miracles although I admit this is not a very strong case.
Bolingbroke, who was the English secretary of state when he was young, made comments asserting his orthodox belief in miracles but he probably did not mean them. Of Jesus and the early Christians he said: “we find that when CHRIST came…the miracles wrought to propagate christianity had greater effect out of Judea than in it.” Another time he said “when we consider the great and glorious purposes of this revelation [Christianity]…and all the stupendous miracles in the heavens, and on earth that were wrought to confirm it.” While Bolingbroke asserted his belief in scriptural miracles, he probably was just saving himself from social opprobrium.
In the last volume of his Philosophical Works, Bolingbroke has a discussion of almost a hundred pages about particular providences which he identified with miracles. This discussion starts with the statement that “I NEITHER deny nor affirm particular providences.” While Bolingbroke asserted this, he had many philosophical problems with miracles, particularly because he thought they could not be intelligibly reconciled to God’s general providence of working through immutable laws. He insisted on “the constant, visible and undeniable course of general providence” and he thought “in what manner, God may act by particular and occasional interpositions, consistently with the preservation of that general order of causes and effects which he has constituted, seem to me quite unintelligible.”  He also said that nothing could be more unlike a wise God than for him to undo by a miracle what he had originally made.
Bolingbroke had other arguments why a wise God would not work miracles. First, he thought that they would increase the power of the clergy as people would believe in the intercession of saints, the church, and the need for external, devotional rites. Secondly, he stated that miracles, which after all rewarded good people and punished evil ones, would make us into children or galley slaves who were virtuous for the sake of rewards or for fear of being whipped. He also thought that miracles would subvert or take away human free will as people’s actions would be continually determined by secret inspiration or subtle divine whispers. Finally he questioned the very efficacy of miracles as they were done daily for the Jews but they only had a temporary effect as the Jews rebelled and wanted a king instead of God ruling them. For all these reasons, he thought it would be unwise for God to do miracles.
The scholar S. G. Hefelbower said that Bolingbroke was as orthodox in his belief in miracles as any 18th century divine, but the evidence does not support this conclusion. Walter Merrill in his book on Bolingbroke’s deism stated that Bolingbroke was ambiguous about his belief in miracles and that is true in his written work. But I do not think Bolingbroke believed in miracles. He cared about God’s general providence of working through uniform laws and argued forcefully that miracles could not be intelligibly reconciled to these general laws. He also did not see any wisdom in God working through them. Thus his statements that he believed in scriptural miracles were most likely polite lies, and he probably did not really believe in them. But as this survey shows, his views were the exception among the British deists, not the rule.
Of the major British Deists, almost all of them believed in miracles.
 R. M. Burns’ book, The Great Debate on Miracles: From Joseph Glanvil to David Hume (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1981), is more concerned with Hume’s philosophical arguments and does not adequately cover the British deists’ view on miracles. Walter McIntosh Merrill in his book on Bolingbroke’s deism (From Statesman to Philosopher: A Study in Bolingbroke’s Deism, New York: Philosopher’s Library, 1949) and S. G. Hefelbower in his book on Locke and the deists (The Relation of John Locke to English Deism, University of Chicago Press, 1918), survey some of the deists’ views on miracles, but they are both incomplete as they only look at some of the deists.
 David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Eric Steinberg, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1977, p. 76.
 John Trenchard, “Essay on Miracles,” in Essays on Important Subjects, London, 1755, p. 5.
 John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, London, 1696, p. 150.
 Thomas Chubb, A Discourse on Miracles, London, 1741, p. 2.
 Thomas Chubb made a representative statement of this equivalence in The True Gospel of Jesus Christ Asserted, London, 1738, p. 207.
 Peter Annet, “Supernaturals Examined,” in A Collection of Tracts of a Certain Free Thinker, 1750(?), London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1995, p. 128.
 Peter Annet, The Resurrection of Jesus Considered in Answer to the Tryal of the Witnesses, 2nd ed., London 1743?, p. 63. Italics in the original.
 James A. Herrick, The Radical Rhetoric of English Deists: The Discourse of Skepticism, 1680-1750, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1997, p. 37.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, London, 1741, p. 96.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, London, 1741, p. 317.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, London, 1741, p. 317.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, London, 1741, pp. 314-5. See also pp. 303 and 320 and the pages in between.
 Morgan’s belief in miracles and divine assistance was not confined to this one book. His earlier works are filled with references to miracles. He thought Jesus, the apostles and Moses and did miracles, as did the magicians against Moses. (Thomas Morgan, The Moral Philosopher, Vol. 2, London, 1739, p. 26-7 for Moses, and in a work called “A Letter to Eusebius,” appended to the Moral Philosopher, p. 11 for Jesus and the Apostles. While he considered himself a Christian deist, Morgan was not an orthodox Christian as he speculated that Moses might have been helped to do his miracles by an evil power as his miracles were wrought for the good of one nation which was “who pretended to be the peculiar chosen People of God, while they were always the very worst and wickedest Part of the World,” not for the good of all people. (Moral Philosopher, Vol. 2., p. 27.) I do not know how to reconcile his belief in immutable natural laws with his belief in scriptural miracles not done by angels, but the important thing from my point of view is that he always believed in miracles.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, p. 322. In the following several pages he discussed the best way to pray.
 Thomas Morgan, Physico-Theology, pp. 324-5.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, pp. 107-8.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, Ny: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, p. 110.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, pp. 105 and 106.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, pp. 106. “So frequently” is p. 107.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, p. 107
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974. Prayers are discussed on pp. 120-126. The quote is from p. 125.
 William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, London, 1724, reprinted 1974, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1974, pp. 103-104.
 Charles Gildon, The Deist’s Manual, 1705, New York: Garland, 1976, pp. 240-250.
 Charles Gildon, The Deist’s Manual, 1705, New York: Garland, 1976, p. 245.
 Charles Gildon, The Deist’s Manual, 1705, New York: Garland, 1976, p. 246. Gildon said that since truth is one and consistent with itself, only an evil angel would do a miracle that made us disbelieve in doctrine we know to be true by revelation (by which he meant the Bible) or reason. He said that “if therefore any Miracle shoul’d be done to promote or confirm a Doctrine, which we know to be false by undoubted Revelation, or Right Reason, we immediately attribute it to a deceitful Author, and truly judge it to be some Bait laid by the Devil, to undermine the Weak, and Ignorant.” Secondly, Gildon said that an evil angel would never lead humans to virtue and piety because an evil angel is “an Enemy to Virtue, and Piety, woul’d never work Miracles to bring us to virtue, and Godliness, and so destroy his own Harvest, and contradict his own Desires.”
 Charles Gildon, The Deist’s Manual, 1705, New York: Garland, 1976, p. 246.
 Thomas Chubb, A Discourse on Miracles, London, 1741, p. 27.
 Thomas Chubb, The Posthumous Works of Mr. Thomas Chubb, Vol. 2, London, 1748, in section VI, “Of Divine Revelation in General,” pp. 36-7.
 Thomas Chubb, A Discourse on Miracles, London, 1741, p. 27.
 For the Apostles’ miracles see Thomas Chubb, Four Tracts, London, 1734, pp. 34-5. For Jesus’ miracles see Thomas Chubb, The True Gospel of Jesus Christ Asserted, London, 1738, p. 44. For his statement on continuing miracles and God’s ability to do miracles in general see the True Gospel, p. 209-214.
 Thomas Chubb, “An Enquiry Concerning Prayer,” in A Collection of Tracts on Various Subjects, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, London: 1754, p. 277.
 Thomas Chubb, “An Enquiry Concerning Prayer,” in A Collection of Tracts on Various Subjects, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, London: 1754, p.. 288-9.
 Thomas Chubb, “An Enquiry Concerning Prayer,” in A Collection of Tracts on Various Subjects, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, London: 1754, pp. 294-5. ****
 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, A Dialogue Between a Tutor and His Pupil, London 1768, Garland, 1979, p. 64.
 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, De Veritate, translated by Meyrick H. Carre, Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1937, pp. 292-294. The quote is from p. 292.
 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, The Life of Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Dublin, 1771, pp. 244-245.
 Dr. Alice Keefe, December 12, 2004, in a private conversation with the author.
 John Brown, A General History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, Edinburgh, 1771, p. 278.
 John Leland, A View of the Principal Deistical Writers, 3rd edition, 1757, garland 1978, p. 25.
 Peter Gay, Deism: An Anthology, Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1968, pp. 30 & 53.
 Charles Lyttle, “Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Apostle of Ethical Theism,” Church History, Dec. 1935, Vol. IV, no. 4, pp. 247-267, p. 252.
 Thomas Woolston, A Discourse on the Miracles of Our Saviour, London, 1727, p. 56. This is his first discourse.
 Thomas Woolston, Discourse on Miracles, London, 1727, pp. 17-19.
 Thomas Woolston, Discourse on Miracles, London, 1727, pp. 4-5.
 Thomas Woolston, A Second Discourse on the Miracles of Our Saviour,” London, 1727, pp. 4-5.
 Thomas Woolston, Discourse on Miracles, London, 1727, p. 55. This is the first discourse.
 Thomas Woolston, A Fifth Discourse on the Miracles of Our Saviour, 2nd Edition, London, 1728, p. 5.
 Thomas Woolston, Discourse on Miracles, pp. 5 & 6. This is the first discourse.
 Thomas Woolston, The Old Apology for the Truth of the Christian Religion against the Jews and Gentiles Revived, Cambridge, 1705.
Thomas Woolston, A Free Gift to the Clergy: Or, the Hireling Priests … London, 1722, pp. 4-5.
 Thomas Woolston, A Free Gift to the Clergy: Or, the Hireling Priests … London, 1722, p. 4.
 Norman L. Torrey, Voltaire and the English Deists, n.p.: Archon Books, 1967, p. 61.
 Anthony Collins, A Dialogue between Mr. Grounds and Scheme &c. and Tom Woolston, London, 1729, p. 38.
 Anthony Collins, A Dialogue between Mr. Grounds and Scheme&c. and Tom Woolston, London, 1729, p. 4.
 Anthony Collins, A dialogue between Mr. Grounds and Scheme, London, 1729, p. 35.
 Anthony Collins, A Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, London, 1741, p. 31.
 Anthony Collins, A Letter to the Author of the Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons …. p. 20. This work is appended to A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, London, 1741.
 Anthony Collins, A Letter to the Author of the Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons …. .p. 28. This work is appended to A Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, London, 1741.
 Anthony Collins, An Answer to Dr. Scot’s Cases Against Dissenters concerning forms of Prayer, London, 1700, p. 19. The best discussion of whether the devil is inspiring a prayer is on pp. 18-22 and p. 30.
 Anthony Collins, An Answer to Dr. Scot’s Cases Against Dissenters concerning forms of Prayer, London, 1700, p. 19. The best discussion of whether the devil is inspiring a prayer is on pp. 18-22 and p. 30.
 James O’Higgins Anthony Collins: The Man and his Works, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970, pp. 164, 171-4.
 David Berman, “Deism, Immortality, and the Art of Theological Lying,” pp. 61-78 in J. A. Leo Lemay, ed., Deism, Masonry and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Own Aldridge, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987, p. 61.
 So Mandeville said “I have said in the beginning of the first Chapter, that it was necessary that Men should believe the mysterious as well as historical Truths of the Gospel,” in Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness, London, 1720, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Fascimilies and Reprints, 1981, p. 62. This is the start of a whole chapter on mysteries. The next chapter on predestination also treats of mysteries and the mystery of predestination. Thomas Chubb, “An Enquiry Concerning Faith and Mysteries,” in A Collection of Tracts on Various Subjects, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, London: 1754, p. 256-260.
John Trenchard, The Independent Whig, 5th edition, Vol. 1 London, 1732, pp. 88-91. This is number XII, written April 6, 1720. Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, 5th edition, Vol. 1 London, 1732, p. 262. This is number XXXII, written August 24th, 1720.
 James O’Higgins, Anthony Collins: The Man and his Works, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970, pp. 164, 171-4.
John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, London, 1696, pp. 156-7.
 John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, London, 1696, pp. 152-155.
 John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, London, 1696, p. 152.
 John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, London, 1696, pp. 152-3.
 Robert Sullivan, John Toland and the Deist Controversy: A Study in Adaptions, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 128.
 Rhoda Rappaport “Questions of evidence: An Anonymous Tract Attributed to John Toland,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 58:2 (1997) 339-348
 Stephen H. Daniel, John Toland: His Methods, Manners, and Mind, Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queens University Press, 1984 pp. 178-181
 Burns, Great Debate, p. 14; G. R. Cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966, p. 151; Hefelbower, Locke and Deism, p. 97; Hanning Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World, trans. John Bowden, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985, pp. 295-99. Gawlick’s position that Toland believed in miracles is discussed approvingly in Reventlow’s book.
 Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, Vol. 1, 8th Edition, London, 1752, p. 52.
 Henry Dodwell, Christianity not Founded on Argument…., London, 1741, p. 46.
 Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation, London, 1730, p. 220.
 Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation, London, 1730, pp. 192-3.
 John Trenchard, “Essay on Miracles,” in Essays on Important Subjects, London, 1755, p. 4.
 Charles Blount, “Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature,” London, 1683. The quote is from an unnumbered page. It is the last page of the preface, the following page is page one of the main work.
 Charles Blount, “Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature,” London, 1683, pp. 9-11.
 Charles Blount, The Oracles of Reason, London, 1693, pp. 8-12. The last quote is from page 12.
 S. G. Hefelbower, The Relation of John Locke to English Deism, University of Chicago Press, 1918, p. 96 and Walter McIntosh Merrill From Statesmen to Philosopher: A Study in Bolingbroke’s Deism, New York: Philosophical Library, 1949, p. 63.
 Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, Vol. 2, F.B. Kaye, ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957, p. 256.
 Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, Vol. 2, F.B. Kaye, ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press,1957, p. 239.
 Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, Vol. 2, F.B. Kaye, ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press,1957, pp. 206 & 221.
 E. D. James, “Faith, Sincerity and Morality: Mandeville and Bayle,” pp. 43-65 in Irwin Primer, ed. Mandeville Studies: New Explorations in the Art and Thought of Dr. Bernard Mandeville, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975, p. 51.
 Stephen H. Good, in Bernard Mandeville, Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness, 1720, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Fascimilies and Reprints, 1981, p. vi of the scholarly introduction.
 Bernard Mandeville, Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness, London, 1720, Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Fascimilies and Reprints, 1981, pp. 37-38.
 Bernard Mandeville, Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness, London, 1720, Delmar,NY: Scholars’ Fascimilies and Reprints, 1981, pp. 85-87.
 Shaftesbury Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Roberston, Gloucester, Mass: P. Smith, 1963, p. 87.
 Shaftesbury Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times etc., ed. John M. Roberston, 1964, p. 88.
 Alfred Owen Aldridge, Shaftesbury and the Deist Manifesto, Philadelphia: TheAmerican Philosophical Society, 1951, p. 353.
 Shaftesbury Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Roberston, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1964, p. 91-92.
 Shaftesbury Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Roberston, 1964, p. 91-92.
 Shaftesbury Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Roberston, 1964, p. 92.
 Shaftesbury, Ten Letters Written by…to a student at the University, 3rd Edition, London, 1746, p. 35. This is Letter VI, written February 8, 1709.
 Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. II, London, 1754, pp. 233-4.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. II, 1754, p. 259.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 14.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, pp. 28 & 29.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 35.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 34.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 46.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 85.
 Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Philosophical Works, Vol. V, 1754, Garland 1977, p. 48.
 Hefelbower, Locke and Deism, p. 99.
Walter McIntosh Merrill, From Statesman to Philosopher: A Study in Bolingbroke’s Deism, New York: Philosopher’s Library, 1949, pp. 74-81.