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Title: Historical argument in the writings of the English deists
Author: Roberts, Gabriel C. B.
ISNI:       0000 0004 4812 3050
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This study examines the role of history in the writings of the English deists, a group of heterodox religious controversialists who were active from the last quarter of the seventeenth century until the middle of the eighteenth century. Its main sources are the published works of the deists and their opponents, but it also draws, where possible, on manuscript sources. Not all of the deists were English (one was Irish and another was of Welsh extraction), but the term ‘English Deists’ has been used on the grounds that the majority of deists were English and that they published overwhelmingly in England and in English. It shows that the deists not only disagreed with their orthodox opponents about the content of sacred history, but also about the relationship between religious truth and historical evidence. Chapter 1 explains the entwining of theology and history in early Christianity, how the connection between them was understood by early modern Christians, and how developments in orthodox learning set the stage for the appearance of deism in the latter decades of the seventeenth century. Each of the following three chapters is devoted to a different line of argument which the deists employed against orthodox belief. Chapter 2 examines the argument that certain propositions were meaningless, and therefore neither true nor false irrespective of any historical evidence which could be marshalled in their support, as it was used by John Toland and Anthony Collins. Chapter 3 traces the argument that the actions ascribed to God in sacred history might be unworthy of his goodness, beginning with Samuel Clarke’s first set of Boyle Lectures and then progressing through the writings of Thomas Chubb, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Morgan, and William Warburton. Chapter 4 charts the decline of the category of certain knowledge in the latter half of the seventeenth century, the rise of probability theory, and the effect of these developments on the deists’ views about the reliability of historical evidence. Chapter 5 is a case-study, which reads Anthony Collins’s Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion (1724) in light of the findings of the earlier chapters. Finally, a coda provides a conspectus of the state of the debate in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, focusing on the work of four writers: Peter Annet, David Hume, Conyers Middleton, and Edward Gibbon.
Supervisor: Womersley, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; Early Modern Britain and Europe ; Eighteenth-Century Britain and Europe ; History of Britain and Europe ; Intellectual History ; Philosophy ; Theology and Religion ; Church history ; Deists ; Deism ; Enlightenment ; Anthony Collins ; John Toland ; Matthew Tindal ; Thomas Chubb ; Thomas Morgan ; William Whiston ; Samuel Clarke ; William Warburton ; Things Above Reason ; Natural Religion ; Revealed Religion ; Probability ; Heterodoxy ; Divine Attributes