The crucial feature here is a change in the understanding of God and His relation to the world. That is, there is a drift away from orthodox Christian conceptions of God as an agent interacting with humans and intervening in human history and towards God as architect of a universe operating by unchanging laws which humans have to conform to or suffer the consequences. In a wider perspective, this can be seen as a move along a continuum from a view of the supreme being with powers analogous to what we know as agency and personality and exercising them continually in relation to us to a view of this being as related to us only through the law-governed structure He has created and ending with a view of our condition as at grips with an indifferent universe, with God either indifferent or non-existent. From this perspective, Deism can be seen as a half-way house on the road to contemporary atheism.
According to a conception widely canvassed in the Enlightenment and since, what powers the movement along this continuum, either to its half-way mark or all the way, is reason itself. We discover that certain of the features of the original view are untenable and we end up adopting what remains after the unacceptable elements have been peeled off, be this some kind of Deism, or world-soul, or cosmic force, or blank atheism. Each variant has its designated end-point. That of Voltaire is not that of today’s scientific materalists. But, whatever end-point a variant enshrines is seen as the truth, the residual kernel of fact underlying the husk of invention or superstition which used to surround it. We’re dealing with the classic subtraction story.
From: A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 270.
Charles Taylor (born in 1931) is a Canadian philosopher, educator, and author.