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What is the difference between Theism and Deism?

Updated on June 25, 2012

A lot of "-isms"

Most people have a good idea about what atheism means; it's simply a lack of belief in God or gods. But atheism isn't the only "ism" in the world of religion and philosophy. There are two major forms of belief in God(s), and, while similar in that they do posit the existence of a Creator, they differ greatly in their implications.

These belief systems are theism and deism. In this hub, we'll examine their differences.


Of the two topics of discussion in this hub, theism is the more common and familiar one. Theism is a belief that there is at least one God who (probably) created the universe and who continues to take an active role in its day-to-day operations. Inherent in most forms of theism is the idea that this God or gods cares about the actions of individual human (or alien?) beings and that he has some stake in their lives and/or souls.

Most religions are theistic in nature; if they weren't, there wouldn't be much point in worshiping their central deity or being concerned with what happens after one dies. The three Judeo-Christian religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), for example, believe that God directly created the universe and is very much interested in the activities (especially the sins) of human beings. Hindus generally are devoted to a single god but acknowledge the existence and validity of many others.

There are various forms of theism. These include monotheism (the belief that there is only one god, as in Christianity), polytheism (the belief that there are many gods, as in Hinduism), and pantheism (the belief that the universe itself is God, as in Taoism and Wicca).

Since the vast majority of individuals in the world claim to be a member of organized religions, most people can be said to be theists.


The other major form of belief in a deity is deism. Deists believe that a god created the universe but does not interfere with it, or intervene on behalf of (or against) the universe's inhabitants. Deists believe there are good reasons for believing in a creator, and that these reasons are the result of observation of the natural world and logical thinking, but tend not to believe in the supernatural, like miracles or prophecy.

Deism became popular during the Age of Enlightenment. As people became more and more educated, and as more and more of the universe's mysteries were understood, people saw less need to believe in supernatural influences in everyday life. However, the origins of the universe were still pretty mysterious (as they continue to be to some extent today), so even people who rejected theistic versions of God still felt the need for their to be a "supreme architect" of some sort.

Famous deists from history include: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (who famously cut out all references to the supernatural from the New Testament to create what has come to be known as the Jefferson Bible), Albert Einstein (although he is sometimes described as a pantheist), Voltaire, George Washington, and Napoleon.

Deism isn't a major force in the world today, having been on the decline for quite some time. This is likely due in part to a growing understanding of the universe and its origins. Just as an understanding of day-to-day events on Earth gave people reason to doubt supernatural influence, so too does a growing understanding of origins (both the universe and life on Earth itself), make deism less and less necessary. For example, an understanding of evolution by natural selection eliminates the need for a designer of life, and recent writings by Lawrence Krauss and others suggests that it's very possible for the universe itself to spring from nothing, eliminating the need for a god to flip the switch of the Big Bang.

Choose your "-ism"

What kind of "-ist" are you?

See results

In conclusion

To sum things up, theists and deists both believe in a god or gods, and both generally believe that said god or gods created the universe. The main difference is that theists believe that the Creator still cares about his Creation, while deists believe that he/she/it simply got the ball rolling and then stepped out of the way. Both theists and deists would disagree with atheists about the existence of a Creator.


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    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      8 years ago

      Rhonda D. Johnson:

      As a Catholic I am thrilled that I have found some common ground with the Muslim community. Jesus perfomed miracles. He turned the water into wine. He healed the lepers. He made the blind man see and raised the dead.

      Today we have "miracle" drugs that cure illnesses that were once deadly. We have technology that is bringing the world closer together. We can produced more food per acre of land than ever before. God could had left us in our prehistoric state, but he allowed us to evolve into humans capable of doing things that help people. That is a miracle. I could write a long list of minor miracles I have seen. People look for the big miracles, the paralyzed person that walks, not recognizing the miracle of what that paralyzed man has accomplished despite his handicap.

      God gave us the ability to think, to learn and to explore. Many miracles can be attributed to these gifts.

      Some may brush off my near death experience. That is your right. I have about 36 hours in my life that I have no recollection of, but I had to perfect team of doctors and nurses and my wife watching over me. You can call it just a part of life. I will call it a miracle.

      Best wishes,


    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 

      8 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      A well written Hub that will hopefully enlighten a few people. As Richard Dawkins once wrote, "Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism."


      Exactly! I always shake my head when I hear people giving their testimony about how God is real because they almost died, but didn't, or something equally void in reason. Does a lack of survival or recovery for some people disprove a God? I wouldn't think so.

    • Rhonda D Johnson profile image

      Rhonda D Johnson 

      8 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      @Larry Wall

      If you had grown up in a Muslim country or community you would use that very same testimony as proof that Allah exists. Half my family is Christian and Half Muslim. Both halves say the same thing, just interchange the name of their respective deity. Miracles can be taken as proof of anything depending on the paradigm you've been indoctrinated to interpret them with.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      8 years ago


      I can only add this. Seven weeks after my surgery and one week after being home I went to the surgeon for a checkup. I thanked him and he said "don't thank me. You were gone but someone is not finisfed with you."

      We do not always recognize them, but miracles do happen. Have not figured out why I surrived -- I made never know. You just have to have faith.

    • Davesworld profile image


      8 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Unlike Larry, I am more of a deist than anything else. While there is no doubt in my mind that the universe and everything in it is a created event and most definitely not an accidental happenstance, I find little reason to believe in supernatural intervention in modern life - much less in the past.

      I appreciate Larry's take on things, mine is somewhat different. I rejoice that human beings were made smart enough to overcome serious obstacles and am thankful that that is the case. I do not believe that they are miraculous in and of themselves, rather that the miracle is that human beings are able to cheat death using their creator-given intellect.

    • SportsBetter profile image


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Very interesting, an area I didn't know much about. I don't know how I feel about religion or even atheism. I am agnostic. I don't claim to know there is a god, but I don't claim there isn't. I just simply don't know.

      I am open to multiple possibilities. I do think it is possible we are a creation by an alien race.

      I do support Thomas Jefferson's views on government though.

      Great Hub!

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      8 years ago

      Your comments about deists are good and important. Many people have said that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist. In fact, he was a deist, which as you state means that God started everything and then stepped back. That also means the deist does not believe in the power of prayer, thus believing things just happen. As a Christian/Catholic, I cannot accept that. I think Jefferson, with the right training and instruction would had eventually changed his views, which perhaps he did, but never told anybody. Your Hub is well written. However, reading the briefs about your other religious Hubs, I can tell we would disagree. I almost died of a perforated colon 12 years ago--the hospital just assigned a doctor, who did a 2-hour operation in about an hour so they could get me off the anesthetic so I could wake up. I was going into a coma before the operation. My son survived a near fatal car accident. They said he would be hospitalized for months. He was home in six weeks.

      Finally, when that pilot landed that plane on the Hudson River without losing any passengers, he can really say that God was his co-pilot. Miracles are real.


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