Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Alternate Activity 4: The Clockwork Universe of Deism

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Paper and markers
  • Drawing and collage supplies including fancy papers, and old magazines and catalogs
  • Scissors, glue, and tape
  • Images of orrieries from the website of the Adler Planetarium, Chicago
  • Optional: Computer and digital projector

Preparation for Activity

  • Prepare a newsprint with these quotes, and post:

    • Deism - A view contrasting atheism and polytheism. It emerged in 17th- and 18th-century England. It holds that knowledge of God comes through reason rather than revelation, and that after God created the world, God had no further involvement in it. - Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms
  • Arrange for adequate workspace for participants to engage in drawing and collage-making.
  • Optional: Access the images of orrieres. Print them out to show the group or download them and prepare them as digital slides, and test the computer and projector.
  • Optional: Download the quotations. Prepare them as one or two digital slides. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Read the quotations aloud and solicit responses. You might ask:

  • How is Deism reflected in contemporary Unitarian Universalism?
  • Is it a theological point of view that resonates for you? For other Unitarian Universalists you know?

Read aloud the following quote, explaining that it represents the understanding of 17th- and 18th-century Deists, some of whom we claim as our Unitarian forebears:

To the Deists, God was a kind of cosmic clockmaker who created a mechanical universe, wound it up for all eternity, and let it go. The experimental method of science became the liturgy of this pseudo religion, the encyclopedia its bible, nature its church, and all men of reason the congregation. - William Fleming, Arts and Ideas

Display or pass around images of orreries ("clockwork universes"). Invite responses to the idea of a "clockwork universe;" ask participants to imagine the universe using their own terms and metaphors.

Distribute drawing and collage supplies and ask people to create their own view of the universe and the place of humans in it. Is God/the transcendent/the Divine present in their concept of the universe?

Save ten minutes for participantns to re-gather and share, display, or explain their images if they wish to do so.