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Islam vs Deism
No. 1 Fall 1991
At the Origins of English Rationalism
by T.E. Wilder
(c) 1991 Contra Mundum
Claims of Enlightenment influence on ideas and institutions generally rest on
basic mistakes about the distinguishing traits of the Enlightenment.
Popular ideas about deism and the origins of modern science and
rationalistic theology are false.
- John Locke
- Newtonian Science
- Whence the Enlightenment
- Diesm and 'Christian America'
Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage.
Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without
direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause
lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it
without direction from another. Sapere aude! "Have courage to use
your own reason!" - that is the motto of enlightenment.
Kant's ideal of the free use of reason - for each individual to
regulate his belief and conduct by untrammeled rational speculation, is opposed
by those who maintain a Christian orthodoxy. They recognize a need for special
divine guidance in thought, word, and deed, not only for personal piety but to
avoid the evil paths into which the Enlightenment has led the world. Because
existing habits and ideas are so conditioned by the Enlightenment
transformation of culture, Christians who seriously pursue a reformation of
Church and society must assess what ideas and customs, inside and outside of
church affairs, are incompatible with Christianity.
Kant -- What Is Enlightenment? 1784
The resulting debate over the scope of Enlightenment influence brings into
question our conceptions of justice, science, even of divine providence. Do
they issue from Enlightenment sources? Are American political institutions
based on biblical principles, as some claim, or only on superficially similar
Enlightenment ones? Popular and influential writers say that the understanding
held by most Evangelicals of the way God works in the world he created is
strongly colored by deism. Others charge that the distinctive political
institutions of the United States are wrongly credited with a Christian
inspiration and instead reflect the modern Enlightenment mentality. Amid these
claims we encounter remarkably ill informed characterizations of Enlightenment
belief, generating doubts about the legitimacy of the criticisms. We must also
ask whether the Enlightenment label, even when accurate, suffices to discredit
a belief or practice; must we renounce the Enlightenment together with all its
The major question is not the origin of the ideas and institutions but whether
they are good ones. If, however, we determine that the Enlightenment was built
on thoroughly anti-Christian principles, than beliefs and institutions that are
the product of the Enlightenment are suspect until it can be shown that they
can also be based on acceptable principles. I will do some basic groundwork by
removing several principal confusions that constantly recur in debates about
Enlightenment influence, and by filling in some of the neglected background. I
will look at major developments in religion and science in England leading up
to the Enlightenment, examining four major areas, all of which are commonly
misinterpreted: rationalism, deism, the political thought of John Locke, and
Rationalism, including rationalistic theology, is not an indicator of
Enlightenment influence. An explicit systematic doctrine of human reason as the
basis of knowledge, ethics, and religion not only is far older than the
Enlightenment, it was the basis of mainstream English theology for a century
before the Enlightenment began. This rationalism also produced contractual
theories of government based on popular consent.
In our search for the origins of English
rationalism we are directed to the closing years of the 16th century by the
quotations from "the judicious Hooker" we find sprinkled through the
writings of freethinkers, deists, and philosophers of the following century,
especially John Locke. Richard Hooker (1554-1600) was not only the
premier Anglican theologian and standard bearer against Reformed theology, he
was a seminal modern thinker.
Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity provided Anglicanism
with a systematic basis in the 1590s. Hooker was the champion of the Anglican
cause against the Puritans who wished to replace episcopacy with presbyterian
government, remove vestments, ceremonies, and rituals from worship, and impose
a stricter discipline over the life of the church. Massive in scope and, for
the time, unusually well written, Hooker's book pioneered a new way of
repelling the Puritan attack on the Church establishment. While Hooker was
careful to moderate his criticisms of Calvin, his rejection of the Genevan
ideal of the Reformation went deep. He dismissed the Puritan idea of
spirituality and church discipline as the result of a systematic misreading of
the Bible based on wrong preconceptions, and sought to demolish the foundations
of the Puritan case for ecclesiastical reform. Not content to fence over
scriptural exegesis and historical arguments, though he did not neglect them,
Hooker thought it best to begin with what he regarded as first principles.
What is most significant is the manner in which Hooker argued his case. The
Divine Nature, its expression in creation in the laws of nature, human nature,
the competence of human reason, the nature of social order and authority, and
the competence of human beings to regulate their affairs receive systematic
exposition. From this foundation he assails the radicalism and biblicism of the
Puritans and upholds the discretion of human government, guided by reason, over
wide areas of church organization and practice.
Reason is central to Hooker's theory of the nature and function of man,
individually and in society. In expounding human nature, the origin of
government, and the character of legitimate authority, Hooker introduced the
categories and language in which British moral philosophy was conducted until
the 19th century. He understood the problem of moral theory as the description
of the interaction of reason, will and desire in producing human action.
Thus Hooker created an enduring tradition of moral philosophy based on the
analysis of human nature as a system of faculties. The key to moral science was
to understand how this system worked.
Besides the sensory ability and intelligence shared with the beasts, man is
"capable of a more divine perfection." For by "reason man
attaineth unto the knowledge of the things that are and are not sensible."
Reason is the guide of the will. Man naturally seeks happiness through the
satisfaction of desire, but subject to regulation by the will.
All particular things which are subject unto action, the Will doth so far
forth incline unto, as Reason judgeth them the better for us, and consequently
the more available to our bliss. If Reason err, we fall into evil, and are so
far forth deprived of the general perfection we seek.
A practical good can be discerned either by "knowledge of the
causes whereby it is made such" or by accompanying signs and tokens,
"which being annexed always unto goodness, argue that where they are
found, there also goodness is [T]he universal consent of men is the
perfectest and strongest in this kind "
Hooker assigns to reason a natural sovereignty over the other
faculties of the human system. He explanation is also a good specimen of
Natural Law thinking.
We know things either as they are in themselves, or as they are in mutual
relation one to another. The knowledge of that which man is in reference unto
himself, and other things in relation unto man, I may justly term the mother of
all those principles, which are as it were edicts, statues, and decrees, in
that Law of Nature, whereby human actions are framed [W]e come to observe in
ourselves, of what excellency our souls are in comparison of our bodies, and
the diviner part in relation unto the baser of our souls; seeing that all these
concur in producing human actions, it cannot be well unless the chiefest do
command and direct the rest. The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the
spirit of our minds the soul. This is therefore the first Law, whereby the
highest power of the mind requireth general obedience at the hands of all the
rest concurring with it unto action Wherefore the natural measure whereby to
judge our doings, is the sentence of Reason, determining and setting down what
is good to be done.
Inherent in the way God created man is a priority of reason over
other sources of knowledge. It is impossible for revelation to be the primary
guide for a rational man.
The truth is, that the mind of man desireth evermore to know the truth
according to the most infallible certainty which the nature of things can
yield. The greatest assurance generally with all men is that which we have by
plain aspect and intuitive beholding. Where we cannot attain unto this, there
what appeareth to be true by strong and invincible demonstration, such as
wherein it is not by any way possible to be deceived, thereunto the mind doth
necessarily assent, neither is it in the choice thereof to do otherwise. And in
case these both do fail, then which way greatest probability leadeth, thither
the mind doth evermore incline.
To follow this Law of Reason is to take one's place in the
great Natural Law order which God established, achieving the greatest good.
Everything in nature must follow its proper course. And is it possible, that
Man being not only the noblest creature in the world, but even a very world in
himself, his transgressing the Law of his Nature should draw no manner of harm
after it? Good doth follow unto all things by observing the course of their
nature, and on the contrary side evil by not observing
We can summarize Hooker's moral philosophy in two principles:
1) understand your own nature, and 2) understand your place in the external
world. From this will become evident the conduct proper to you.
So central a figure in the English rationalist tradition was Hooker that a
century later rationalists of various stripes were combing his writings for
statements to cite in support of their views. The accounts of Hooker written in
this century by high church Episcopalians portray him as the savior of
Christianity. In Hooker's theology is preserved the great heritage of
patristic and medieval Christianity free from papistical corruptions. Hooker,
in their view, is a conservative like Burke, who in fanatical and excessive
times drew upon and defended the great traditions constructed over previous
centuries. But while his theological admirers stress the influence of Thomas
Aquinas (1225-1274) and other scholastics, Hooker more typically quotes pagan
philosophers. If in his view of reason Hooker is the first distinctly modern
voice, he is also an echo of the ancient past.
To those familiar with the literature of British
moralism the parallels in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to the Cambridge
Platonists, and even to Hobbes are striking. Hooker formulated a volunterist,
contractual theory of government in place of a concept of a divinely ordained
authority. This theory included features often attributed to later writers or
to the Enlightenment. (I will not attempt to trace influences from
mediŠval political theories, though they undoubtedly existed.)
There originally was no "government politic" he says. In the evil
days before Noah's flood there was "no manner of public regiment
established". To remove the mutually inflicted harm "there was no way
but only by growing unto composition and agreement amongst themselves,...by
ordaining some kind of government public, and by yielding themselves
thereunto." Left to employ his right to self-defense, the tendency of each
man is to be partial for his own interests, and "strifes and troubles
would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by
some whom they should agree upon: without which consent there were no reason
that one man should take upon him to be lord or judge over another." The
supreme power Nature gives to "fathers within their private
families", as well as the father's priesthood, served as the model
for the first governments by priest kings. Whatever virtues or natural right of
noble character these kings may have exhibited, however, "the assent of
them who are to be governed seemeth necessary."
As for the authority of law, that "which we spake before concerning the
power of government must here be applied unto the power of making laws whereby
to govern". By the natural law to which God has made his creation subject
the "lawful power of making laws to command whole politic societies of men
belongeth so properly unto the same entire societies, that for any prince or
potentate of what kind soever upon earth to exercise the same of himself",
other than by special "commission immediately and personally received from
God, or else by authority derived at the first from their consent upon whose
person they impose laws, it is no better than mere tyranny." The
concession of an immediate appointment from God is to cover the biblical
instances, not contemporary claims to authority.
The "inconveniences" of early forms of government led to the
invention of new ones. "So that in a word all public regiment of what kind
soever seemeth evidently to have risen from deliberate advice, consultation,
and composition between men, judging it convenient and behoveful; there being
no impossibility in nature considered by itself, but that men might have lived
without any public regiment." It is in view of man's corruption that
"the Law of Nature doth now of require of necessity some kind of
There is no trace of the biblical idea of covenant, only the allowance for a
divinely appointed ruler in an exceptional case. We see laid out the basis and
the challenge for Thomas Hobbes's political theory - the war of all
against all in the state of nature, and its solution by a mutual compact giving
authority to a ruler. The problem posed to the defender of absolute monarchy is
the continuing role of natural law, which requires consent as the ground of the
legitimacy of the rule of one person over another. "Laws they are not
therefore which public approbation hath not made so. But approbation not only
they give who personally declare their assent by voice sign or act, but also
when others do it in their names by right originally at the least derived from
them." Hooker instances "parliaments, councils, and like
assemblies" where delegates act as agents of those they represent.
What about "when an absolute monarch commandeth his subjects that which
seemeth good in his own discretion"? Well, often "assent is given,
they that give it not imagining they do so, because the manner of their
assenting is not apparent." The "act of a public society of men done
five hundred years sithence standeth as theirs who presently are of the same
societies, because corporations are immortal; we were then alive in our
predecessors, and they in their successors do live still. Laws therefore human,
of what kind soever, are available by consent." It fell to Hobbes
(1588-1679) to make the theory of continuing royal authority by the original
assent of the society more rigorous and persuasive, but the basic material is
How in Hooker's mind did the
authority of reason harmonize with the authority of Scripture? Scripture cannot
operate independently of the authority of human reason. "By a man's
authority we here understand the force which his word has for the assurance of
another's mind that buildeth upon it" and the "strength of
man's authority is affirmatively such that the weightiest affairs in the
world depend thereon."
This includes our knowledge of revelation.
For whatsoever we believe concerning salvation by Christ, although the
Scripture be therein the ground of our belief; yet the authority of man is, if
we mark it, the key which openeth the door of entrance into the knowledge of
the Scripture. The Scripture could not teach us the things that are of God,
unless we did credit men who have taught us that the words of Scripture do
signify those things."
Usually Scripture does not plainly and obviously resolve doctrinal
questions. How do we know that Scripture means what those who cite it say it
means? "Is not their surest ground most commonly, either some probable
conjecture of their own, or the judgment of others taking those Scriptures as
they do?" It is in any case impossible to live solely by the Bible
as the myriad decisions of everyday life cannot be postponed until a Scriptural
command is adduced for them. Scripture itself presumes a human intellectual
competence founded upon natural law, and serves to confirm and supplement
We have probably surveyed enough material to confound most claims of
Enlightenment penetration of Christian thought on politics and science. Appeals
to reason, to the normative character of the natural order, to the sovereignty
of the people in constructing a political order, and the contractual basis of
government are not evidence of deist or Enlightenment influence, for we found
Hooker had integrated these ideas into the mainstream of Christian theology a
century before the Enlightenment got underway. Of course, this in no way proves
that such ideas are harmless. The debate, however, is converted from one
between Christians and secularists to one between (early) Puritans and
We still need to account for the Enlightenment. What further developments led
to it, and how did it differ from Christianity, even of Hooker's
Natural Law was once conceived of as the principles
which a sovereign creator built into the world. Over time, however, Natural Law
was interpreted in a more secular manner. The early 17th century saw
rationalism grow in scope and materialism appear as a controlling assumption
for influential thinkers. A decline in biblical authority is apparent. Hugo
Grotius (1583-1645), the Dutch Arminian jurist, was actively seeking English
support for his position, and was aware of English developments. The Dutch
transition toward deism was rapid and undoubtedly there were influences that
passed between it and England. English rationalism also grew. The influential
Oxford theologian William Chillingworth (1602-1644) was a rationalist like
Hooker, but increased somewhat the scope given to individual
The first of the English deists, Lord Herbert of Cherbury
(1582-1648), published a work (in Paris where is was the English ambassador) in
1624. He influenced Hobbes, who knew him, and also Locke through his writings.
Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan and other works provided the foil for moral
writers for the next century. A materialist, he was widely thought to be an
atheist. Because his work was so widely known he greatly influenced those of a
freethinking disposition, providing the starting point for criticizing Biblical
history, divinely instituted ethics and the integrity of the Biblical texts
themselves. It was through the materialism and presumed atheism of Hobbes that
many Englishmen formed their evaluation of Descartes's mechanistic
biology, thereafter seen as a threat to Christianity.
The situation of the Puritans is somewhat mixed. Covenant theology could be
adapted to rationalize God's actions in a manner suited to scholastic
theological tradition. The term 'covenant' itself did not enjoy its
present contrast to contract and was prone to abuse in theology, and in danger
of naturalization. Commenting on the growing Puritan
"rationalization" of God's ethical demands in covenantal law, H.
G. Reventlow observes:
There was an obvious further step, that of identifying the law based on the
covenant with the law of nature.... [T]he Puritans came near to taking the last
step but did not in fact take it. Some Puritans came close to it above all
through the beginnings of a natural theology, in that they attributed an
appropriate knowledge of God and the moral virtues to fallen man even before
In the last decades of the 17th
century and the early 18th there was a continuous semi-covert theological
controversy between the orthodox and several shades of freethinkers. It is
characteristic of these opponents of orthodoxy to use as much cover as they can
find, while insinuating criticisms of the established church.
Of this the self-styled freethinker (and friend of John Locke) Anthony Collins
(1676-1729) is a clear case. In various books, beginning in 1707 he exalts the
primacy of reason. The Bible does not teach philosophy, including philosophical
truths about God, because these are plain from the "Light of nature".
However: "Apologys for self-evident Truths can never have any effect on
those who have so little Sense as to deny them. They are the Foundation of
all Reasoning, and the only just Bottom on which Men can proceed in convincing
one another of the Truth: and by consequence whoever is capable of denying
them, is not in a condition to be informed."
 He proceeds to argue
that the Bible forces us to fall back on reason, but his approach is
The Bible contains a Collection of Tracts given us at divers times by God
himself; and consequently every thing therein mentioned is handled with the
utmost degree of Exactness: for it is impossible that God, when he condescends
to teach Mankind by Writing or Books, should write as ill or worse than mortal
Men, and act against the Rules of Art in writing, and express Error and
Falsehood instead of Justness and Proportion.
Collins then lists the various sciences whose matter appears
in some way in Scripture, and argues that to understand these texts properly
one has to be an expert in each science. Next he argues that the scattered
specific commands of biblical ethics cannot be applied without the general
principles drawn from the "Law of Nature". By the end of the book the
pretended piety has been washed away in a flood of propaganda for unconstrained
rationalism. In another work Collins cites Anglican clergy on the priority of
natural religion over the revealed and argues for an admixture of uninspired
material in the Bible, citing Heutius's (Pierre Daniel Huet 1630-1721)
claim in 1679 that Esdras had reedited the Bible. What is contrary to reason
must be considered an emendation to the text.
 The method is parallel to
that of Hooker, but the result at which Collins aims is more radical - the
practical disregard of biblical authority altogether.
Earlier writers are more cautious but follow the same program. They
canvass the works of orthodox authors for every tidbit that can be put to
destructive use. They make a great show of siding with the Reformers against
Roman superstition, which they denounce at length as inventions foisted upon
the people by human authorities. Then they quote representative statements by
every leading churchman exalting reason. There follows a catalog of theological
controversies cited from orthodox writers to show that the Bible is an obscure
guide and that reason must be invoked to attempt solutions. The picture of
Christianity that emerges from these books is one of foolishness, confusion,
and unsupported opinion.
Orthodox churchmen were not deceived. The published refutations usually
accused these freethinkers of Socinianism at best, but sometimes outright
atheism. The atheist tag was so freely used that it became necessary to
disclaim the usual carelessness and state that in the particular case at hand
the writer really had reason to apply it. This largely Socinian literature we
have been surveying contained deist themes, and its Anglican rebuttals allow us
some sense of its distance and difference from mainstream theology. They also
make clear that the orthodox were not fooled by the camouflage that
The year 1690 brought The Naked Gospel by a "True Son of the Church
of England", actually one Arthur Bury. He begins with the stress on reason
to prove "that Faith in God is a duty of Natural Religion, a moral Virtue,
and to be valued for its intrinsick worth, as a participation of the Divine
Nature, in one of God's Attributes, his Justice".
It is easier for a rich man to sacrifice whole Hecatombs, when he hath wealth
enough to purchase them, than to pull out his eyes, yet can any man easier pull
out the eye of his Body than his Reason, which is not only the eye, but the
heart; for it is his very Definition, without which he cannot be a Man: It is
God's Image, and the Apostle exhorteth us to put on the new Man,
which is renewed in knowledge of the image of him that created
Bury then makes the typically deist argument that
Natural Religion preceded "Positive" religion in history. In this
case Bury argues that revelation began with Moses, but that the New Testament
commends to us Abraham's faith in Natural Religion as an example.
Immediately William Nicholls of Merton College published a lengthy point by
point rebuttal. "The Author, in the beginning of the Chapter, gives an
account of the excellence of the Christian Religion, and that it was propagated
by our Savior, to deliver us from the discipline of the Ceremonial Law, and to
exalt natural Religion to its utmost perfection: and so far
For Nicholls, though, "Faith is more than natural
Religion. It is an inspired virtue."
Running through this literature is the pattern found in Hooker. There is an
exposition of the virtues of reason, the necessity for employing it in the
topic at hand, followed by a detailed exposÚ of the errors of those who,
in the opinion of the writer, refused to do so, using whatever evidence and
arguments the writer is able to bring to bear on the topic. The orthodox
responses were not directed against this use of reason, but to the particular
Socinian arguments, skeptical attacks on Scripture, and attacks on the
ecclesiastical establishment. Where the late 17th century theologians stop to
reflect on reason their views resemble those of Hooker.
An explicit, systematic rationalism dominated Anglican theology, beginning
from the end of the 16th century. This rationalism was placed in the service of
orthodox theology as expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles. The freethinkers,
who were the precursors to the Enlightenment philosophes, shared this
rationalism, differing from orthodox writers by their rejection of Christian
doctrine or espousal of materialistic principles. Rationalism, therefore, is
not a marker of Enlightenment ideas or influence.
The best known variety of freethinking in the 17th and 18th centuries is
deism. The deist had greater prominence than his skeptical or atheist
contemporaries due to his claim to be a highly moral, principled theist.
Deism goes beyond the more common free thinking of the late 17th century. Not
limited to Socinian heresies, much more of Christianity is stripped away. But a
historical understanding of deism requires attention to the character of that
period. The middle and late 17th century was a time of transition and great
conflict. For example, from 1640 to 1660 some thirty thousand pamphlets
appeared on the topic of civil and ecclesiastical government. Three times the
government was overthrown by movements with a considerable ideological
component. Thousands of clergy were expelled from their churches for refusing
to conform to the current establishment. This formed the backdrop of the
appearance of deist literature. One cannot leave aside this turmoil with its
continuous attacks on ecclesiastical establishments and merely trace the
activities of individuals. The deists were rejecting what seemed to source of
all this trouble.
The deists are now widely misunderstood, and their views commonly
misrepresented. The caricature of deism is of a belief in a
'clockwork' making God who sets up the world and then retires to
allow it to run unattended. While this interpretation is not found in the
better historians it is common enough in popular writers. What did characterize
the deists was rejection of divine revelation in Scripture, salvation through
blood atonement, and the role of the Church and its rites and offices in true
worship. They taught instead a natural religion of worship and good works which
was made evident by reason.
Some view both Locke and the deists as part
of a wider 'progressive' movement starting from Richard Hooker's
moral theology that tended to place revelation under the authority of
It is the deism of the caricature that is said to have infected Evangelicals,
and it is against the charge of holding such a deism that certain American
Christian conservatives defend their favored founding fathers. Historians have
vainly tried to counter these misinterpretations. Here is one historian's
(S. G. Hefelbower) attempt in 1918.
There is a widespread conviction that the Deists denied divine Providence; that
they so reduced the supernatural that the doctrine of the immanence of God in
the world of our impressions disappears. The God of the Deists is often made to
appear as the apex of an abstract world-system, a creative being that started
the world-process and then withdrew and is now separated and isolated from it;
this is the "absentee God" of literature. It is a tradition that is
not well founded; the Deists who have survived in history did not hold such
views... If there were Deists who held such views, they were not among the
leaders of the movement and leave no mark on it.
The source of the mistake may be a definition of deism given by the
theologian Samuel Clark (1675-1729) which lists four classes of deists, the
first of which is our present popular notion.
We have noticed that the deists believed in Providence. What view
of it did they hold? In his survey of deists Hefelbower found that the deists
did not focus on the topic.
Strange as it may seem, Chubb, the least educated of the Deists, is the only
one who has given a systematic statement of the doctrine of Providence. There
is a general Providence, by which God at the creation put the world under such
laws as result in making proper provision for the needs of the animal part of
creation. Then there is a special Providence, which is a special interposition
of God outside of the normal order, hence miraculous. For instance, a man
passes a loose wall and it falls after he has reached a point of safety; such a
conception of Providence "is controverted among Christians." It is
inconceivable that God should be almost perpetually interfering, that there
should be a sort of "perpetual patchwork." But he asserts without
hesitation his conviction that God, for certain great ends, does interfere in
the ongoing of the world.
The views of the deists on the nature of Providence do indeed
resemble the views of many modern Evangelicals! But we cannot state that it was
deism that is responsible for the similarity, because idea of Providence was
not a deist distinctive. We hope to hear from critics of the modern Evangelical
view an exposition of a better view with a demonstration that it is more
biblical. (I am not suggesting that such a criticism isn't
To summarize: the deists articulated a religion whose basic elements
were widely shared in 17th century England.
Distinguishing the deists from their Christian contemporaries was the Christian
insistence on added supernatural elements:
- A rational human nature in a world of natural law where reason
apprehends the principles of right conduct and guides the other human
- A providentially ruling Deity who receives worship and rewards and
punishes good and evil conduct,
- A moralism presumed to be supportable from Natural Law.
The basic pattern of deism remained remarkably stable throughout the period of
its development and propagation. This deism maintained a powerful hold on the
casually churched or unchurched English speaking population from some time in
the 18th century until now. Perhaps in the 19th century the stereotypical
freethinker changed from deist to village atheist, but from the frontier to the
working class neighborhoods deism held sway where the influence of the
institutional church ended.
- Propositional revelation,
- The need for blood atonement for sin,
- Mediatorial institutions and rites ('Positive Religion'), i.e.
the church, clergy, and sacraments, relating God and man.
Morton White in Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution
finds the influence of Locke (1632-1704) and Hume (1711-1776) throughout the
political writings of the American immediate post-revolutionary era. Those who
follow this interpretation, and also see the two as Enlightenment figures, will
tend to consider the Enlightenment influence on the framers to be supreme. (I
will simply record my doubts about White's thesis. Those who are only
familiar with the canonical philosophical writers of the surveys of the history
of philosophy tend to credit them with all the ideas and expressions found in
their books, even when they are simply writing as men of their times.) While
Hume is generally regarded as an Enlightenment figure, the status of Locke is
disputed. For example, he is sometimes regarded (in my experience by his fellow
theological liberals) as a Christian with an excessive if na´ve enthusiasm
for the possibilities of reason and new departures in philosophy.
Calling Locke a proto-Enlightenment figure, Nicholas
Wolterstorff designates Locke as the one who introduced a characteristic
Enlightenment attitude - that one's religious faith must be based on
good evidence or given up. He thinks that Locke "first articulately issued
the evidentialist challenge to the religious believer, doing so as one who was
himself a Christian who thought that he could meet the challenge."
The impression, then, is of a well-meaning but misguided Christian.
In a strong reaction against such a view of Locke, Peter J. Stanlis claims
that "despite his membership in the Church of England, Locke in his
religious beliefs is practically indistinguishable from Voltaire." After
noting the use deists made of Locke's works (but omitting the fact that
this disgusted Locke) he levels his main charge:
In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke's most radical and
polemical work, he wrote as a "minimalist" and pleaded in good
conscience as a believing Christian, a rational defender of revelation, and a
loyal Anglican that the Church of England should reform itself in order to
attract members from the Dissenters. How? Locke advocated that it should reject
its hierarchical structure and the authority of its bishops, abandon its cannon
law and theology, its creed and sacraments, its liturgy, all belief in
mysteries and miracles, all external discipline, the Thirty-nine Articles and
Book of Common Prayer, all its religious customs and traditions - in
short, its entire historical inheritance - as so many superstitions and
"prejudices," in favor of one requirement for membership and
salvation - to acknowledge that Christ is the Messiah. In the last section
of his Essay, Locke stated the central principle of deism: "Reason must
be our last judge and guide in everything."
Stanlis is defending Burke and distancing him from Locke and
the Enlightenment. Burke is the defender of tradition. In what way is Locke its
Several points must be born in mind. First the Anglican 'tradition'
originally was that God had left much of Church order to the discretion of
reason, and thus to the judgement of the king. It was the Dissenters who
claimed otherwise. If much of the division between them and the Anglicans was
over the arbitrary organization of Church government, why not set aside these
obstacles? Is not union the more important consideration? With his personal and
family connections to Puritanism Locke knew very well that Anglican
ecclesiology rested on pragmatism and that its theoretical justification was in
the Anglican (not Enlightenment) principle that "Reason must be our
last judge and guide in everything." If the deists quoted Locke, both he
and they quoted "the judicious Hooker". Further, there are plenty of
non-Enlightenment grounds for rejecting Anglican distinctives, as the history
of the 17th century makes obvious.
Locke is separated from the deists by his attitude toward revelation. He took
it very seriously, writing commentaries on the Pauline epistles. The case of
his friend Isaac Newton can help us understand this approach to revelation
better. Newton diligently studied the Scripture for information which he
thought as divine revelation it should contain. He examined the description of
the temple for symbolic clues to the universe. He made an extensive study of
biblical chronology and elaborated a chronology of the world that posited the
reliability of the Bible, not the pagan sources which his contemporary
chronologists made primary. Convinced that the Trinitarian proof texts were
Athanasian forgeries he began collecting manuscript sources for a project of
textual criticism by which he hoped to establish the original
Locke had great respect for Newton as an exegete and submitted his
commentaries to Newton for review. In all this Locke showed not the mentality
of the Enlightenment but of something closer to a Jehovah's Witness.
Certain doctrines are rejected on rationalistic grounds, but then there is a
great effort to bring the biblical exegesis into line with the minimalized
doctrine in a way in which today's mainline liberal simply wouldn't
bother to do. Perhaps a closer analogy to Locke is the modern Evangelical
feminist who will not formally break with the authority of the Bible, but will
go to great lengths of special pleading and textual tampering to make it come
out his way.
Stanlis is right that Locke was strongly denounced by several writers and even
called an atheist, notably by John Edwards, but such charges were commonplace
against every departure from Orthodoxy.
Edwards had to argue that Locke
had a hidden agenda. Edwards is important in that he recognizes there is
something more deeply wrong with the intellectual climate of his time. He is
suspicious of the direction of science, noting that Descartes's Mechanical
Philosophy, which saw animals as biological robots, could be extended to human
In any case, the import of citing Lock's influence as a sign of
Enlightenment thinking is far from perspicuous. His rationalism is more
developed and clearly stated than Hooker's, but so far as I can see, not
different in kind from either Hooker's or that of Locke's
ecclesiastical contemporaries. His political philosophy is important and
influential, but is it Enlightenment politics? It is not the unicameral
absolutism of the French revolution, nor the military dictatorship (destined to
wither away as Enlightenment progresses) which Kant endorsed in the article
from which our opening quotation is drawn.
The distinction between a right-wing Enlightenment, influential in English
whiggery and in America, and a left-wing Enlightenment on the continent, is
also weakened when we consider the ubiquity in the 17th century of supposed
Enlightenment characteristics. How much of the right-wing
'Enlightenment' was just a continuation of already settled
characteristics, no longer overshadowed by the Anglican-Puritan conflict?
The great unexplored area in Locke studies, to my mind, is the influence on
him of dissenting political theory. If Locke was not Burke's sort of
traditionalist, neither was Cromwell a traditionalist, yet Burke is certainly
more of an Enlightenment thinker than Cromwell. The great shortcoming of
popular writers on the American Revolution is that most seen never to have
heard of the English Revolution. Thus pre-Enlightenment influences which
American political thought shared with Locke are discounted. We are told that
because the American revolution, or at least the political rebuilding that
followed it, showed the influence of Locke it was an Enlightenment movement,
and therefore anti-Christian. There seems to be little clear thinking in this
Another supposed distinctive of Enlightenment thought was the introduction of
a new science with a mechanistic view of the world which did not require divine
activity to guide or maintain it. The frequent references to Newtonian
mechanism in writings about 18th century science are apt to mislead the reader
into supposing that Newton was the inventor of a mechanism of this type. In
fact some such notion of Newton's role is widespread. Edward Davis, who
has masterfully refuted the claim, reports it this way: "Indeed the
typical textbook for a course in Western civilization - supposing that
there is such a thing - presents Isaac Newton as the grand synthesizer of
terrestrial and celestial motion whose reduction of the physical universe to a
concise set of mathematical laws set the stage for Enlightenment philosophes
to remove God wholly out of the present order of things."
did consider himself a mechanist in the sense that he rejected scholasticism as
an unilluminating account of the natural world and used precise mathematical
descriptions of movements. He rejected, however, the Cartesian mechanical
philosophy as well.
For Descartes (1596-1650) the world consisted of atoms that interacted in a purely
mechanical, billiard ball fashion through direct contact. God had created the
world with a certain amount of motion, and now conserves it together with this
fixed quantity of motion. Objects in the world can exchange motion. Descartes
keeps an element of the Scholastic world-view. Matter, as contingent being,
requires the activity of God to initiate and maintain its existence (which
includes upholding is properties).
On the other hand there is a strong mind/matter dualism, in which the
explanatory role of material properties (extension, a few laws of motion, etc.)
has grown significantly. Animals are material automata, as are human bodies.
The celestial system itself is a vortex of material Šther that carries
the planets in its currents. Into the system, the soul of man, which somehow
controls his body, and the occasional miracle are allowed to intrude.
Late 17th century observers, including John Edwards in England, saw in this
Mechanical Philosophy a dangerous potential for atheism. The role of the
supernatural is easily minimized or excluded, eventuating in something like our
contemporary naturalistic outlook. In the phrase of Francis Schaeffer, nature
eats up grace. Pascal noted "I cannot forgive Descartes. He would have
liked, in the whole of his philosophy, to be able to by-pass God. But he could
not help making Him give a shove to set the world in motion; after that he has
nothing further to do with God."
In the Queries at the end of his Opticks, Newton argued the impossibility
of such a system. Newton thought the solar system would deteriorate without
added energy and a periodic reformation of the movements. The mechanical
interactions are imperfect and lead to loss of momentum and order in the
vortices that are supposed to carry the planets in their orbits. The universe
requires active principles acting on it. As Davis explains it, "Without
active principles...the quantity of motion in the world would decrease. What he
had in mind here - that collisions are rarely elastic and that rotating
vortices quickly slow down - fails to distinguish between what we now call
momentum and energy. But it would not be misleading to suggest that his
insight, despite serious difficulties, captured the essential thrust of the law
of entropy: the universe is running down."
Newton believed in forces operating between
bodies, as in gravitation, but also between elementary particles, the object of
his alchemical investigations. Newton believed that a science based on occult
qualities, such as action at a distance by forces, as opposed to observable
mechanical interactions, was possible without returning to the dead end of
Aristotelian scholasticism. He aimed at recovering the true knowledge of the
world, once known, but corrupted through apostasy and idolatry.
In recent years Newton's unpublished papers have been studied, yielding a
much better understanding of the religious underpinnings of his world view.
In 1683, he began writing a work which he called the Philosophical origins
of gentile philosophy. Here he explicitly associated popery, idolatry, and the
worship of false kings with a corrupt geocentric natural philosophy. These were
corruptions of a pristine truth revealed by God to man through Noah and his
sons. It seems that Newton now regarded Cartesian mechanics, with its theory of
interplanetary vortices, as an integral part of this gentile, popish tradition.
In contrast, his own heliocentric vacuist system could be recognized as a
recovery of the true natural philosophy and theology.
But such a science has an affinity to the tradition of
natural magic, which was partly based on Biblical material such as Genesis
There are three main methods of learning about the occult powers of things in
the magical tradition. First, you could summon a demon, an angel, or even a
dead magus, and ask or command him to tell you how to achieve the desired
outcome. Needless to say, this method was fraught with dangers to your immortal
soul. Alternatively, you could scrutinize the natural world and hope to
discover the signatures of things - the signs which God incorporated
into his creatures to indicate the connections between them: the mandrake root,
which looked like a little man, seemed to indicate a cure for impotence,
whereas the walnut, which looked like the brain, seemed to suggest a power of
curing headaches. The drawback of this method was its inherent subjectivity,
which made it prone to uncertainty and error. The safest and most successful
way to discover the secret powers of nature was empirically, by careful
observation of the effects of one thing on another, where possible by
Newton applied his commitment to meticulous experiments to
alchemy as much as to his more famous work in optics. It was out of his deep
involvement with alchemy that both Newton's chemistry and his theory of
Alchemy was not as strange as it may seem. We must first bear in mind the
influence of Aristotle whose doctrine of the four elements dominated
mediŠval thinking on physics. The four simple elements of earth, air,
fire and water, in various mixtures determine the particular qualities of the
materials in the world. Something like this idea dominated alchemy, in that it
saw a primary substance with a pure quality as the cause of similar qualities
in a variety of secondary substances. If various metals, when melted, behave
like quicksilver, it is because they have the mercurial principle, which
quicksilver has to a higher degree. If pure mercury could be refined, it would
exemplify the metallic qualities to a superlative degree. Moreover, because it
is responsible for the metallic qualities of mixed substances, it can be seen
to have the power to transform matter from one form to another.
The weirdness of alchemy appears especially in its fixation on ancient
esoteric writings. The middle ages venerated the ancient past, and these
writings were known to be highly valued by the ancients. They must hold, the
mediŠvals supposed, encrypted knowledge of the universe, hidden from the
vulgar. Great efforts were made to decode them, not least by Newton. That
secrets that give power to transform matter are dangerous and must be kept
hidden from the unphilosophical is made plausible again in our century by the
What Newton failed to grasp was the large number of basic elements whose
properties repeat regularly when they are arranged by atomic weight in a
periodic table. He attempted directly to isolate the simple principles, which
he apparently thought were mercury and sulphur. Thus he failed to achieve the
unified science at which he aimed. Of course, contemporary physics reduces the
elements to basic particles that operate in combination with each other through
mysterious forces. Modern physics is alchemy, magic that works.
Newton was not alone in his interest in Alchemy. Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was
also an avid experimenter. Newton was skeptical of Boyle's ability in that
area, and cautioned his friend John Locke, with whom he also corresponded about
alchemy, not to waste his time attempting to duplicate Boyle's
experiments. Nevertheless the aspect of Newton's work that impressed his
contemporaries was the same thing that impresses contemporary science. It was
because his laws of planetary motion, based on the supposition of universal
gravitation, could be rigorously described by mathematics, that they rose above
mere hypothesis, and deserved the name of mechanics. It was possible to extend
the theory by applying its implications to new cases and testing them.
Saturn's orbit should be affected in a definite way by the gravitation of
Jupiter, a movement which the Cartesian theory of vortexes does not predict.
Descartes, it must be remembered, was also a mathematician and his science was
of a rigorously mathematical mechanics. What Newton achieved, however, was not
the rigorous codification of already accepted principles of cosmology, but
their overthrow. That he could force a revolution in science made him an
especially impressive figure to his contemporaries.
Newton also worked out of a
unified theological and scientific vision. John Brooke points out that it is
possible to see a growing fusion of science and religion in the seventeenth
century rather than a separation. Thus Newton took into account theology's
implications for science.
A God who had been active in history, and who had communicated with mankind
through the prophets, also might be expected to be active in nature. When
Newton was in a more speculative frame of mind, he often seemed to be exploring
strategies which would heighten that sense of divine dominion and control. It
would seem reasonable to suppose that this was one reason why he was reluctant
to make the gravitational force an innate property of matter... Newton wrote:
"There exits an infinite and omnipresent spirit in which matter is
moved according to mathematical laws."
Newton's universe needed to be tinkered with from time
to time. He thought that the gravitational attraction of the planets would
cause their orbits to accumulate deviations, and the constant radiation of
matter from the solar system would have to be made up. (The degeneration of the
cosmos is not merely the result of friction in the interplanetary
Šther.) As much as possible he introduced natural agencies, such
as the passage of comets through the solar system, as the means by which God
made corrections and restored mass.
This does not mean, however, that he was not trying to heighten a sense of
God's involvement with his creation. With that as his objective, the
parameters of his natural philosophy were affected - especially what he
wished to say about the conservation of motion. It may have been an unfortunate
strategy, since it gave Leibniz that glorious opportunity for caricature which
he seized with the remark that Newton's God resembled a second-rate
watchmaker who had to keep cleaning and rewinding the mechanism. In the
celebrated dispute between Leibniz and Newton's spokesman, Samuel Clarke,
the political overtones were such that each party would accuse the other of
deistic, anti-Christian tendencies... Nevertheless, because Newton's God
ruled and discerned everything, He was the very antithesis of a
The continentals were offended by a science that posited a
system lacking self-sufficiency. But when the Cartesian system was found unable
to compete with the Newtonian in explanation of natural phenomena Newtonianism
was adopted and then naturalized.
We must linger on this point. Amid much other misinformation on Newton, Gary
North has written: "The god of Newton was not the God of the Bible; it was
the god of the Deists. It was the cosmic clockmaker rather then the Sovereign
Judge of all men, in history and in eternity. It was this concept of God which
swept Europe in the eighteenth century." Because of the
contentiousness of this point, I will quote from Davis's summary of the
Clark-Leibniz debate over Newtonian mechanics.
Leibniz opened his attack on Newton's views by questioning Newton's
belief that the world is running down. If God had "to wind up his Watch
from Time to Time", Leibniz claimed, then he lacked "sufficient
Foresight to make it a perpetual Motion." The Newtonians, on the other
hand, obliged God "to clean it now and then by an extraordinary Concourse,
and even to mend it, as a Clockmaker mends his Work..." Against this,
Leibniz held that God worked miracles not "in order to supply the Wants of
Nature, but those of Grace. Whoever thinks otherwise, must have a very mean
Notion of the Wisdom and Power of God." Clarke (and Newton) did not agree.
God was not a watchmaker, for the world was not a watch: it was utterly
incapable of running on its own. God was rather "himself the Author and
continual Preserver" of the forces in the world, so that "nothing is
done without his continual Government and Inspection." What follows then
is a remarkable passage - remarkable, that is, because in it Clarke (on
behalf of Newton) explicitly rejects the clockwork metaphor that is so often
associated with Newtonian science:
One final note on Newton's cosmology: Late in life he
produced a new edition of the Opticks in which he reintroduced the idea of
Šther as a medium of gravitation, apparently in the interest of unifying
science. Very different from Descartes's Šther, this Šther
served to unify the explanation of the forces operating in electrical
phenomena, the optical properties of thin films, and gravity. The Šther
was very thin and elastic with a strong repulsive force between the particles.
Such a force seemed to have been demonstrated in electrical experiments. While
this Šther embodied the very physical principle of action at a distance
it was supposed to explain, it did seem to bring the expanding fields of
experimental science under one common type of physical
"The Notion of the World's being a great Machine, going on without
the Interposition of God, as a Clock continues to go without the Assistance of
a Clockmaker; is the Notion of Materialism and Fate, and tends, (under pretence
of making God a Supra-mundane Intelligence,) to exclude Providence and
God's Government in reality out of the World."
...Implicit to Clark's (and Newton's) view of the constant divine
governance of the world is a blurring - or perhaps even the outright
elimination - of the distinction between natural and supernatural events.
Indeed Clark took precisely this step, arguing that "Natural and
Supernatural are nothing at all different with regard to God, but distinctions
merely in Our Conceptions of things." ...With regard to God, no possible
thing was more miraculous than any other. Miracles were simply unusual acts
of God, but no more or less acts of God than ordinary
The Enlightenment was not brought on by a secularizing progress of science
that displaced Christian faith. If anything, the move was in the opposite
direction, with the decline at the end of the 17th century of the Cartesian
philosophy that was a direct threat to Christian faith in a way Newtonian
science was not. For this reason Newtonianism was welcomed as an ally by
Christian apologists. Newtonianism was resisted by the partisans of Cartesian
mechanics, precisely because Newton made God a constant active presence in the
universe, something from which they thought Descartes had freed them. The task
that faced the Enlightenment scientist was to revise Newton's system in
order to remove God. The Dutch educated deist John Toland (1670-1722) suggested
in his Letters to Serena (1704) that gravity was an innate, essential
attribute of matter, and Denis Diderot integrated this idea into his vitalist,
evolutionary theory of matter.
There was some other much more basic
factor at work in the souls of these men than science and mathematics. Those
apologists who really expected that arguments from science would repel the
rising infidelity were therefore greatly misled.
The Enlightenment is generally associated with the 18th century, and we have
seen that a vigorous rationalism preceded it by at least a century. Robust
scientific theorizing and even startling progress also preceded the
Enlightenment by many decades, and few of the Enlightenment leaders were
associated with major scientific work (though plenty were involved in humbug).
What does seem to emerge is a rationalism that is no longer restrained by
revelation or by respect for ecclesiastical tradition. There is now a supreme
confidence in novel projects which man can carry through with his present
intellectual and social powers.
Let is not despise the testimony of contemporaries on the causes of this rise
in unbelief. That such tendencies were widespread and increasing was apparent
to churchmen in the late 17th century. They repeatedly claim that the popular
atheism that they found around them had its rise in Italy. It is was in Italy
that the superstitions, idolatry, exploitation and abuses of the Roman church
were most blatant and unchecked. The more cultured members of society came to
see the church as a means whereby persons without moral character swindled the
This attitude was communicated to gentlemanly visitors to Italy, who were
readily able to make the analogy to their own ecclesiastical establishments. In
France there was the vicious suppression of the Huguenots, which gave many
thoughtful individuals cause to doubt the moral standing of the established
church. England had not only an opulent religious establishment, but plenty of
dissenters to disseminate their criticisms of it. Germany had the Thirty Years
In short, there is ample reason to point to a failure in the church, producing
a great loss of confidence in the public. This made the authority of the church
and faith it proclaimed easy to cast off. Without these restraints the
remaining elements of the age, the rationalism, the confidence in human
progress, etc., became the salient ones. But these are not the markers of the
Enlightenment faith as distinct from contemporary Christian expressions. To
find the Enlightenment man we must seek the call to exercise reason free of
Christian restraint, free of tutelage, to sapere aude!
Very little of the complex history of rationalism in theistic thought is
appreciated in the current controversies over the 'Christian America' Thesis that
America was founded by colonizers who sought to create a Christian society, and
that the Republic was founded on Christian social principles. The enemies of
this historical thesis point to the evidence of rationalism, appeals to natural
law, contractual theories of government, etc. in American political writings to
show that American origins were dominated by the Enlightenment, tainted by
deism, etc. (The underlying program, of course, is to insinuate that because
the American social and legal order in not based on Christianity, Evangelicals
have no principled basis for their opposition to the dismantling of American traditions by
the liberals.) Viewed in the light of the common rationalism, political
contractualism, and ideas about nature of both the orthodox Christians and
radicals in the 17th and 18th centuries, this type of evidence for a secular
ideology and against the 'Christian America' thesis fades away.
Similarly, the defenders of the thesis (here we can think of John Eidsmoe or
Gary Amos) argue that the legal and political ideas of the founding documents
of the United States government reflect the ideas of Christian thought, not of
'deism', but they have in view the 'clockwork' deism
invented by later historians, not the deism that the people of the day might
have held. In short the 'Christian America' debate needs to be fundamentally rethought.
There is another way to look at the influence of deism in America. Religious
opinion polls suggest most Americans think there is a God, that he intervenes
in the world enough to make petitionary prayer worthwhile, and that he gives
some final reward to the good. It is also clear from the daily reality in this country
that most Americans are not Christians. If the typical American is a deist - as it is
deism that veiws in the polls resemble - this can be attributed to the shadow of the
church. The concepts of a personal God, of answered prayer, and of rewards and punishments
were upheld by their place in the teachings of the churches, which rendered them
norminative and respectable. Deism as such has lost its intellectual defenders in the
20th century, and the status of the church has declined to where it can no longer
maintain the prestege of its doctrines among the general population. Deistic ideas
seem about to be swept away by New Age and occult replacements. (In fact such
teachings are infiltrating the squishier Evangelical denominations.) The strongest remaining element
of deism is moralism, which the popular faith shares with the reigning political ideology
The last decade has seen a serious erosion of the standing of both. Here is one
measure of the change: Your local bookstore probably has a Science Fiction section. This
classification is already an anachronism as most of the titles are now about magic, dragons,
and psychic powers because popular taste in fantasy have undergone a revolution,
reflecting a major cultural shift. The 300 year old deist paradigm is now gone from the
entertainment media, but remains powerful in politics. Once the politicians find it no longer
useful, we could see a radical shifting of policies in favor of an open, raw paganism.
The demise of the common principles shared by Christians and by the 'right-wing Enlightenment'
figures means the end of the social establishment that they both supported. CM
1. S. G. Hefelbower, The Relation of John Locke to English Deism (University
of Chicago Press, 1918), p. 50.
2. Such anti-Puritan thinking is alive today. At the 1991 Synod of the
Christian Reformed Church Rev. Henry Lunshof defended the decision to ordain
women on the grounds that the Apostle Paul said to do everything in an orderly
manner, and all the rest is human wisdom. Thus we can ordain women without a
biblical text, just as we baptize infants without one. Christian Renewal, V.
9, N. 19, p. 3.
3. For those wishing to become familiar with this history good sources are the
anthologies D.D. Raphael, British Moralists 1650-1800 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1969) & L.A. Selby-Bigge, British Moralists (o.o.p).
4. Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie (London: Printed
by John Windet, n.d. [c.1593]), Book I, VIII, 1, 2, & 3. Because of the
variety of editions I will give section numbers rather than pages.
5. Hooker, Lawes, Book I, VIII.
6. Book I, VIII, [section]6, &
7. Book II, VII, [section]5.
8. Book I, IX, [section]1.
9. Quotations from Book I, X, [section]3, [section]4 & [section]8.
10. Book I, X, [section]8.
11. Book II, VII, [section]2.
12. Book II, VII, [section]4.
13. Book II, VII, [section]9.
14. Henning Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the
Modern World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 152.
15. Reventlow, Authority, p. 123.
16. Anthony Collins, A Discourse of Free-thinking Occasioned by the Rise and
Growth of a Sect call'd Free-Thinkers (London: 1713), p.3.
17. Collins, Discourse, p. 10.
18. Anthony Collins, An Essay Concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions
(London: 1707), pp. 20-22. From Archbishop Tillotson's Sermons, Vol. 7, p.
301, he quotes as follows. "There is no necessity that it should any where
have been said in Scripture, God is a Spirit, it being the natural Notion of
God; no more than it is necessary it should be told us that God is Good, or
that he is Infinite, and the like; or that the Scripture should tell us that
there is a God. All these are manifest by the Light of nature, and therefore it
doth not teach us Philosophy, nor solicitously instruct us in those Things
which are born with us, but supposeth the Knowledge of them." He cites
Demonstratio Evangelica Edit. Par. pp. 178-180.
19. I doubt the claim that deism emerged as a covert atheism. Anything that
departed from orthodoxy was assumed to be inspired by a hidden atheism, so,
paradoxically, atheism couldn't be hidden!
20. Arthur Bury, The Naked Gospel Discovering I. What was the Gospel which
our Lord and his Apostles Preached. II. What Additions and Alterations later
Ages have made in it. III. What Advantages and Damages have there-upon ensued
(no loc., 1690).
21. Bury, The Naked Gospel, p. 13.
22. William Nicholls, An Answer to an Heretical Book Called the Naked
Gospel, Which was condemned and ordered to be publically burnt by the
convocation of the University of Oxford. Aug. 19, 1690 (London: printed by
Walter Kittilby, 1691).
23. See the sidebars on deist prayers
and doctrines, for examples of this.
24. That at least some major deists were secrete atheists is the burden of an
essay by David Berman, "Deism, Immortality, and the Art of Theological
Lying", in Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment, ed. J. A. Leo May
(Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987). See also David Berman, A History of Atheism in Britain from Hobbes to Russell, (London and New York: Routledge, 1990)
25. S. G. Hefelbower, The Relation of John Locke to English Deism (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1918), pp. 90-91, 93. He quotes one deist, Morgan,
who mentions the clockmaker God only to denounce the view as the equivalent of
26. His Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God (1704-6). The
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, "Deism" (Oxford University
Press, 1982). Daniel Defoe also accused the deists of believing in a limited
god who left the world to chance. Maximillian E. Novak, "Defoe, the
Occult, and the Deist Offensive during the Reign of George I", Deism,
Masonry, and the Enlightenment, p. 100.
27. Hefelbower, The Relation of John Locke to English Deism, pp.
28. (Oxford University Press, 1987).
29. "The Migration of the Theistic Arguments: From Natural Theology to
Evidentialist Apologetics", in. Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright,
eds., Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment (Ithica: Cornell
University Press, 1986).
30. Peter J. Stanlis, "A True Vindication of Edmund Burke",
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, May 1991, p. 52.
31. Newton, like all protestants, considered the papacy to be the prophesied
Whore of Babylon. In his studies of prophetic numbers Newton calculated the
date of fulfillment to the time of the Arian controversy. Athanasius in his
fight against Arias made common cause with the papacy, and introduced
monasticism into the West. Further, Newton considered that Athanasius was
promoting abstract philosophical doctrines at the expense of biblical
Christianity which "must be exprest in the very form of sound words in
which it was delivered by the Apostles." Edward B. Davis,
"Newton's Rejection of the 'Newtonian World View': The Role of
Divine Will in Newton's Natural Philosophy", Fides et Historia,
XXII:2, Summer 1990), p. 9. Cited from Frank E. Manuel, The Religion of Isaac
Newton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 54f.
32. Both Locke and Newton were influenced by earlier Dutch biblical critics
such as Van Dale. Frank E. Manuel, Isaac Newton: Historian (Cambridge, Mass:
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 149.
33. During his period of insanity (following 1693) Isaac Newton made similar
charges against Locke; at least he wrote Locke a strange letter apologizing for
considering him a Hobbist and having charged him with attacking the root of
morality, (which were equivalent to the charge of atheism). Fauvel, Floor,
Shortland and Wilson, eds. Let Newton Be! (Oxford University Press,
34. Davis, "Newton's Rejection", p. 7.
35. PenseÚs. Cited in Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy:
Volume 4. (Garden City: New York, 1963), p. 142.
36. Davis, "Newton's Rejection of the 'Newtonian World
View'", p. 13.
37. Penelope Gouk, "The harmonic roots of Newtonian science", John
Fauvel, Raymond Flood, Michael Shortland, and Robin Wilson, eds., Let Newton
Be! (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 121.
38. John Henry, "Newton, matter, and magic", in Let Newton Be!,
pp. 138-139. Note that this is directly contrary to Gary North's
interpretation of alchemy.Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler,
Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 338. See also Gale
Christianson's discussion of Newton's alchemy in "The Treasures
of Darkness", In the Presence of the Creator (New York: The Free Press,
1984), especially p. 225. One wishes North would read the books he cites.
North's method is to read inferior masonic historians and project their
view of masonic doctrine on Newton under the assumption Newton was a mason. See
North pp. 342-344.
39. John Brooke, "The God of Isaac Newton", Let Newton Be!, p.
40 For North's misinterpretation of cosmic degeneration in Newtonian
physics see Political Polytheism, p.346.
41. John Brooke, "The God of Isaac Newton", pp. 173-174.
42. Gary North, Political Polytheism, p. 344.
43. Davis, "Newton's Rejection", pp. 13, 14.
44. Richard S. Westfall, Never At Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 792-794. North says:
"This god of gravity became even too much for Newton to bear as time went
on. Like a dog returning to its vomit, in the second edition of Opticks (1717),
he once again returned to his experimentally untenable theory of the
'ether' that fills all intermediary spaces." Political
Polytheism, p. 345.
45. Michael J. Bucklely, S.J. At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1987), p. 279.
I also encourage the reader to explore the following:
Evolution Versus Creationism Archive
A Broad Exploration of Deism.
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