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Ian Ramsey Centre: The Deist Controversy

The Deist Controversy was an extended debate that took place first in England and then Continental Europe roughly from the late 1600s through the mid 1700s. The deists, most of whom believed that there was a god worthy of worship who had created the world, denied special divine action beyond creation. Hence they claimed that Christianity as a revealed religion was false or even contemptible. A wide array of scholars responded to the deists and the resulting arguments shaped a landscape of ideas that largely persists to the present day.

This podcast series consists of eighteen lectures delivered as a graduate-level online course at Western Michigan University, USA, 11 May - 1 July 2015 by Timothy McGrew, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy. The series was produced in collaboration with the Ian Ramsey Centre, Oxford University Faculty of Theology and Religion, as part of the Special Divine Action project, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

# Episode Title Description People Date
1 Lecture 01: Introduction: What was the Deist Controversy? The first lecture gives a brief overview of the Deist controversy, what Deism is, and when the controversy was. This also includes an introduction to some of the major authors involved on both sides of the discussion. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
2 Lecture 02: Background: Civil History of England This lecture is a brief introduction to the political and religious climate in England which set the backdrop to the Deist controversy. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
3 Lecture 03: Background: History of Science This lecture is a quick summary of the history of science from Aristotle to Newton. Dr McGrew also includes a brief discussion of why the history of science is important to the Deist controversy. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
4 Lecture 04: Background: Philosophical and Religious Thought In this lecture Dr McGrew gives a short history of philosophy and religion, especially the lesser known figures, which affected and influenced the thoughts of the authors involved in the Deist controversy. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
5 Lecture 05: Early Deism: Herbert, Spinoza, Blount This lecture begins a detailed discussion of Deistic thought, starting with the early Deists, Herbert of Cherbury, later plagiarized in Charles Blount’s Reglio Laici, and Baruch Spinoza, with responses from Stillingfleet and Boyle. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
6 Lecture 06: Early Deism: Early Responses; Toland This lecture continues the early response to Deism with Richard Baxter, including his view of the relationship between faith and reason, plus Locke, Halyburton, and Leslie. The thoughts of the Deist John Toland are also discussed. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
7 Lecture 07: Shaftesbury on Free-Thinking and Religion This lecture is primarily about the thoughts of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftsbury, with a connection to modern thoughts along the same lines. Also, Shaftesbury’s thoughts are here scrutinized by Brown. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
8 Lecture 08: Anthony Collins on Free-Thinking and Christianity This lecture focuses on Anthony Collins, one of the major figures in the Deist movement, and includes responses by Bentley, Leland, and Chandler. The modern scholar Richard Hays is discussed as an extension of Chandler’s arguments. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
9 Lecture 09: Collins and Woolston on Prophecy and Miracles This lecture continues the discussion of Collins, but also adds the thoughts of Thomas Woolston and his Discourses on the Miracles of Our Saviour. Included also are responses from Chandler and Zachary Pierce. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
10 Lecture 10: Woolston and Sherlock on the Resurrection The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection by Thomas Sherlock is the focus of this lecture. Sherlock’s work is a thorough refutation of Woolston’s Sixth Discourse. The Tryal is in the form of a mock trial and was very popular. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
11 Lecture 11: Tindal, Conybeare, and Foster This lecture is primarily about the work of the Deist Matthew Tindal, and a possible influence of his in Fleetwood. Also included are his detractors, John Conybeare and James Foster. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
12 Lecture 12: Butler’s Analogy of Religion The Anglican Bishop Joseph Butler’s Analogy of Religion, an important and influential work in the Deist controversy, is the content of this lecture. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
13 Lecture 13: Thomas Chubb and Peter Annet This lecture details the ideas of two popular Deists, Thomas Chubb and Peter Annet, as well as responses by Caleb Fleming, Jonathan Edwards, and John Leland. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
14 Lecture 14: Annet and Dodwell This lecture continues Annet’s response to the Tryal of the Witnesses and a rebuttal of him by Charles Moss. Another subject covered is the work of Henry Dodwell Jr and his arguments against using reason as a basis for Christianity. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
15 Lecture 15: Dodwell and his Critics This lecture wraps up the discussion of Dodwell, containing more of his thoughts, and reactions to them from Philip Doddridge and John Leland, with additional comments on the connection between Dodwell and David Hume. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
16 Lecture 16: David Hume: Introduction to “Of Miracles” Here begins the discussion of David Hume, especially his essay ‘Of Miracles’ from his Philosophical Essays. This lecture includes differing interpretations for the argument Hume is making in part one of his essay. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
17 Lecture 17: Hume’s “Of Miracles,” Part 1 The second in this series on Hume explicates the details of his argument and gives an explanation of the argument in part one, as well as responses from Hume’s contemporary, William Adam, and the Mathematician Charles Babbage. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017
18 Lecture 18: Hume’s “Of Miracles,” Part 2 The final lecture gives an overview of the second part of Hume’s argument in ‘Of Miracles’, with responses from William Adams, George Campbell, Peter Bayne, and John Douglas. Timothy McGrew 22 Jun 2017