This chapter discusses the reasons the myth of a deist movement has remained so important to Enlightenment studies, even when the evidence adduced for it has been markedly insufficient. It examines the claims for a deist movement, the actual numbers of verifiable deists, the problem of defining deism, and how the desire to identify the roots of and validate modernity has led to long-term distortion of historical evidence and subsequent interpretation. Furthermore, the fear of infidelity, antichristianism and heterodoxy that produced the witchcraft craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also produced the early origins of the deist scare. In the eighteenth century, deists remained scarce and, aside from a few high-profile moments in France, never fulfilled the role assigned to them by admirers or detractors. In the twentieth century, deism was resurrected and imbued with new force by historians, and made to appear as one of the great contributors towards secular modernity.
If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.