[Fwd: Deism and atheism]

William B. Provine (wbp2@cornell.edu)
Sun, 29 Mar 1998 16:46:35 +0100

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To: Ted Davis <TDavis@mcis.messiah.edu>,
wbp2@cornell.edu (William Ball Provine)
Subject: Re: Deism and atheism
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Dear Ted,

How kind of you to write and take note of anything I might write, given that my
field has moved to the history of evolution after 1968.

My understanding of Westfall is that Newton feared the charge of deism, and
concocted his statements about God's handiwork being found in nature
specifically to avoid the charge. I should not have said he was charged with
deism (at least not until much later) and I stand corrected. A good example is
Newton's replies to Bentley in 1692, where amidst disagreements on gravity, they
both agreed that deism could be avoided, giving examples.

I just read through Peter Gay's anthology and an excellent article in the 1911
(11th edition) of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I still think that Howard's view
of nature and God tends toward the deism of Newton's day. His view of the
continuity of nature, with no argument from design possible (though he did
waffle on that), his method making the traditional miracles impossible, tends
toward deism.

The important thing is not to use the word "deism" at all. It has a very
specific historical development and demise. I should use my own language. I
really take to heart what you have said. Newton is not even relevant. He just
appeared a lot on the ASA listserv lately.

What are you working on these days? I am still writing but it is difficult with
the medications.

Best wishes, Will