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Is God actively involved in the world, or did He wind up the universe like a clock and walk away? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul examines how the Enlightenment produced the religion of deism, which remains influential today.
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Now, for a time being (for a short period of time), the new religion that sought to replace classical Christianity on the continent of Europe was the religion of deism. I’ve mentioned this in passing before because of its historical significance. The deists were those who still affirmed the existence of God. They still believed that reason demanded God as Creator. Voltaire, for example, was convinced that reason demonstrated compellingly the need for a necessary Being and followed Descartes at that point. But they wanted to strip religion of all of the accretions that have been heaped upon it through the history of the church and get back to the basics of natural religion, the religion by which God reveals Himself in nature. So, natural religion supplants biblical religion. Here is where we find the initial stages of radical criticism being offered against the integrity of the Scriptures, because there’s an all-out effort by the Enlightenment thinkers to get rid of the authority of the Scriptures. Now, that also, according to experts on this period, was motivated in large measure by the resistance against Augustinian theology and against the doctrine of original sin. There was a tacit agreement among Luther, Calvin, Augustine, and so on that the Reformers were right about the condition of man’s fallenness and that they had the Bible on their side, over against Erasmus’ higher view of man and against all Pelagian forms of theology. So, rather than try to ground their anti-Augustinianism on a different interpretation of the Bible, they decided to do what? To get rid of the Bible and look at our understanding of mankind through the eyes of nature. So, you see all kinds of philosophies emerging in the eighteenth century extolling the virtue and the innocence of man in nature, which reaches its supreme expression in the work of Rousseau. But in any case, what the Enlightenment thinkers are seeking first of all is a natural religion that is marked by toleration, and it gets the name of deism. Deism is a particular form of theism that still says that God creates the world, but He basically steps back out of the world, and lets the world operate according to the fixed natural laws that he has endued into the creation, and God doesn’t intervene in the structure of human events. Now of course, as an organized religion, deism had a very short life span. It was simply a blip on the radar screen of Western history. But I’ve also said many times that even though it passed away quickly, the ongoing consequences of it reach down even to today.