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Famous Deists

Any list of "famous deists" (or "famous Deists") should be consulted with caution. Such lists are not directly analogous to other "famous adherent" lists (i.e., "famous Methodists", "famous Catholics", "famous Buddhists", etc.). This is because "Deism" is usually a rather broad classification of theological belief rather than a discrete, sociologically distinct religious affiliation.

Most famous people that one sees listed as "Deists" on various lists never actually identified themselves by name as "Deists," nor were they ever members of an organized Deist group.

This is not to suggest that such people were not in fact deists. They probably were. But identifying a person as a "deist" is not necessarily very informative because the term can be used so broadly, and it does not really provide any information about a person's upbringing, activities, rituals, congregational life, etc. The list consulted below, for example, lists both Plato (an ancient Greek philosopher) and Thomas Jefferson (an Episcopalian) as "Deists." To whatever limited extent Plato and Jefferson had similar beliefs about deity (a debatable proposition), it may be true that these two individuals are both "deists." But in no way does this really mean that they were both in the same religion. Jefferson had far more in common with fellow Episcopalians of his day than he did with Plato, even if a number of his theological beliefs did not conform to Episcopalian orthodoxy of his day. From a sociological and historical point of view, it is more interesting to compare and contrast Jefferson with fellow Episcopalians and with non-Episcopalians (such as Quakers, Catholics, Congregationalists in the early American Colonies), than to group him with ancient Greek philosophers.

From a philosophical and theological perspective, however, it may indeed be best to consider the writings of Jefferson alongside the writings of people such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. But doing that lies outside the scope of this website, which presents data primarily from a sociological perspective.

In some cases, the "Deist" label, when applied to a famous historical figure, is informative and truly does capture their philosophy and the way they lived their life and went about the activities that made them memorable. Other times, the label is misapplied to people who are genuinely active in or profoundly influenced by other religious backgrounds, and the "deist" label is little more than proof-texting based on quotes taken out of context. Deist-sounding quotes could probably be extracted from the writing of nearly anybody who has written extensively about religion, ethics or philosophy. Once again, this is not to suggest that people listed as "deists" weren't actually deists. Rather, it seems that deist sentiment is not particularly rare or remarkable. Nor are "deist" beliefs or leanings the only or the most significant religious influence in most cases. Note that for all or nearly all of the "Deists" on the list below, an affiliation can be identified with an organized religion or denomination.

The names listed below are from the "List of deists" webpage on Wikipedia.org website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Deists; viewed 6 July 2005)

This page had the following heading describing its contents: "This is a partial list of believers in Deism... They have been selected for their influence on Deism, or for their fame in other areas."

Later, the following additional administrative note was posted to this Wikipedia page: "This list is poorly-defined, permanently incomplete, or has become unverifiable or an indiscriminate list or repository of loosely associated topics. If you are familiar with it, please redefine the list, complete it, prune it, or discuss its parameters on the talk page."

Additional famous "deists" and people who have in some way expressed beliefs which can be classified as "deistic":
The names below are from a page titled "Famous Deists and Persons with Closely-Related Beliefs", from a Deist website (http://www.deistnet.com/deismfam.htm; 25 November 2005). Obviously, most or all of these individuals have a religious affiliation other than Deism. The page itself observes that a large proportion of the names there are controversial and arguably not really deists. But the list is useful for considering which individuals are particularly admired by and claimed by contemporary deists, even if "deist" is not actually the best description of the religious affiliation of the individual listed. The "famous deists" page on which these individuals are listed notes: "Some of the famous persons listed here are not Deists but do hold some similar Deistic beliefs." Oddly enough, some of the people that this page labels as having "made significant Deistic or similar writings" are people who mainstream historians consider devoutly religious and theistic (e.g., Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, John Adams, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc.)

Akhenaton; Heraclitus; Aristotle; Epicurus; Marcus Tullius Cicero; Titus Lucretius Carus; Lucius Annaeus Seneca [the Younger]; Epictetus; Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; Plotinus; Pelagius; John Duns Scotus; Netzahualcoyotl; Nicolaus Copernicus; Michael Servetus; Michel de Montaigne; Faustus Socinus; Giordano Bruno; Richard Hooker; Francis Bacon; Galileo Galilei; Lord [Edward] Herbert of Cherbury; Thomas Hobbes; Rene Descartes; Thomas Browne; Charles de Marguetel St. Evermond; Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury; Alrernon Sidney; Blaise Pascal; Robert Boyle; Baruch Spinoza; John Locke; Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux; Nicholas Malebranche; Henry Dodwell; Isaac Newton; Gottried Wilhelm Leibniz; Pierre Bayle; Charles Blount; Matthew Tindal; William Wollaston; Giovanni Battista Vico; John Toland; Bernard Mandeville; Thomas Woolston; Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury; Peter the Great, Czar of Russia; Samuel Clark; Anthony Collins; Robert Walpole, First Earl of Oxford; Henry St. John Bolingbroke; Thomas Chubb; Queen Caroline of England; Johann Sebastian Bach; George Berkeley; Alexander Pope; Charles de Secondat Montesquieu; Lady Mary Wortly Montagu; Joseph Butler; Peter Annet; George Earl Marischal Keith; Hermann Reimarus; Voltaire [Francois Marie Arouet]; Lord John Hervey; Marc Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy D' Argenson; Henry Home, Lord Kames; Gabrielle Emilie de Chatelet; Benjamin Franklin; William Pitt, Earl of Chatham; Charles de Brosses; David Hume; Francesco Aleieri; Frederick the Great, King of Prussia; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Denis Diderot; Marquis Luc de Clapoers de Vauvenargues; Etienne Bonnet de Mably de Condillac; Horace Walpole, Second Earl of Oxford,; Pedro Pablo Abaraca Y Bolea D' Aranda; Mark Akenside; Samuel Adams; Adam Smith; Immanuel Kant; James Hutton; Anne Robert Jacques Turgot; Robert Carter, III; Gotthold Ephraim Lessing; Moses Mendelssohn; Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia; Louis Antoine de Bougainville; Charles Lee; Erasmus Darwin; George Washington; Joseph Priestley; Christoph Martin Wieland; Jean Marie Roland de La Platiere; Paul Revere; Hugh Williamson; John Adams; John Horne Tooke; James Watt; John Hancock; Edward Gibbon; Thomas Paine; Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre; Ethan Allen; Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours; James Wilson; William Paley; Thomas Jefferson; Chevalier de Lamarck; Benjamin Rush; Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi; Adam Weishaupt; Gabriel Victor Riquetti Mirabeau; Pierre Simon Laplace; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Stephen Girard; Henry Dearborn; James Madison; Gouverneur Morris; Jean Jacques Regis de Cambaceres; Joel Barlow; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Bernard Germain Etienne de La Ville Lacepede; Alexander Hamilton; Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis; Constantin Francios Chasseboeuf de Volney; Marquis de Lafayette; Robespierre; James Monroe; Mary Wollstonecraft; Albert Gallatin; Theobald Wolfe Tone; Jean Paul Friedrich Richter; Elihu Palmer; Karl Wilhelm; John Quincy Adams; Napoleon Bonaparte; George Ensor; Alexander von Humboldt; William Wordsworth; Saint-Hilaire Etienne Geoffroy; Thomas Young; Robert Emmet; William Ellery Channing; George Gordon Lord Byron; Richard Carlile; John Tyler; Gerrit Smith; Giacono Leopardi; Miliard Fillmore; Victor Hugo; Ralph Waldo Emerson; William Lloyd Garrison; Lysander Spooner; Abraham Lincoln; Alfred Lord Tennyson; Jose De Espronceda; Theodore Parker; Jean Louis Armande Quatrefages de Breau; Horace Greeley; Robert Browning; Soren Kierkegaard; Joseph Arthue Gobineau; Henry David Thoreau; Theodor Mommsen; Walt Whitman; Richard Francis Burton; Alexandre Dumas [the Younger]; Hubert Howe Bancroft; John Lubbock Avebury; Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens]; Thomas Hardy; Thomas Edison; Oscar Wilde; William Howard Taft; Arthur Conan Doyle; Joseph Wheless; Mohandas [Mahatma] Gandhi; Stephen Crane; Albert Einstein; Gibran Khalil Gibran; Joseph Campbell; Robert Heinlein; Alan Watts; Richard P. Feynman; Freeman Dyson; Antony Flew; John Shelby Spong; Carl Sagan; Vaclav Havel; Harrison Ford; Stephen Hawking; Martin Rees; Neil Young; Paul Davies; Christopher Reeve; Carl Safina; Bill Maher; D. L. Hughley; Lance Armstrong; Michael Behe; Michael Corey; Thomas Crum; John Fugelsang; Bill O'Reilly

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Web page created 10 November 2005. Last modified 30 November 2005.
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