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26 June, 2013
History of Philosophy|
The Deistic Controversy
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
|Before the time of Locke, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1581-1648)
had advocated a naturalistic philosophy of religion, thus planting the
seed of the deistic doctrines which appeared after the days of Locke
and found a congenial soil in English empiricism. Deism may be
described as a movement tending to free religious thought from the
control of authority. Its chief thesis is that there is a universal
natural religion, the principal tenet of which is, "Believe in God
and do your duty"; that positive religion is the creation of cunning
rulers and crafty priests; that Christianity, in its original form, was
a simple though perfect expression of natural religion; and that
whatever is positive in Christianity is a useless and harmful
accretion. These principles naturally provoked opposition on the part
of the defenders of Christianity, and there resulted a controversy
between the deists, or freethinkers, as they were called, and the representatives
of orthodoxy. 
 Consult Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the
Eighteenth Century (London, 1876); Hunt, History of Religious
Thought in England (London, 1871-1873).
To the deistic side of the argument John Toland (1670-1722)
contributed Christianity not Mysterious; Anthony Collins
(1676-1729), a Discourse on Freethinking; Matthew Tindal
(1657-1733) Christianity as old as the Creation; and Thomas
Chubb (1679-1747), The True Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thomas Morgan (died 1743), author of The Moral
Philosopher, and, according to some, Henry St. John, Viscount
Bolingbroke (1678-1751), are also to be reckoned among the
deistic opponents of Christianity.
Chief among the defenders of Christianity were Samuel Clarke
(1675-1729), who is best known by his controversy with Leibniz
concerning space and time, William Wollaston (1659-1724),
George Berkeley (1685-1753), Joseph Butler (1692-1752),
author of the Analogy of Religion, and George Campbell
While this controversy was being waged, the principles of empiricism
were being applied to psychology by the founders of the association
school, and to ethical problems by the founders of the British schools
of morals. As we shall have occasion to return to the beginnings of the
association school when we come to deal with the English philosophy of
the nineteenth century, we shall now take up the study of the British
schools of morals.