One thing that always tickles me about modern atheists is their attempt to 'count' deists in the atheist column. I think part of the appeal comes from there having been a number of deists who were highly critical of Christianity - Voltaire, Paine, etc. And since - let's face it - modern atheists tend to be concerned with Christianity first and foremost, I think two things go on: A "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" attitude, and a kind of wishful thinking of "he was probably just an atheist but pretended to be a deist so people would listen to him" move.
Of course, the most well-known deist in modern times is Anthony Flew, who admittedly shook things up in a major way - primarily because Flew didn't transition from Christianity or any other religion to deism, but from atheism to deism. Worse, he claimed (and given his deism, he could not help but claim) that this was not only a result of the arguments he was exposed to, but that the types of arguments that persuaded him were 'natural', even scientific: Natural law in the universe, DNA and the origin of life, etc being prominent.
What interests me most about Flew's conversion is that it establishes something that I always lament more apologists and believers in general fail to appreciate or take advantage of: The realization that deism can and does function as a kind of two-way bridge between atheism and Christianity. Instead the perspective is that deism is a kind of one-way slide - namely, a deist is a Christian or muslim or, etc, whose faith has fallen. It's easy to make that mistake, since the sort of deism freshest in people's minds is the deism of the enlightenment, where pretty much everyone started out as a Christian and thus any change in belief would have to go 'away' from Christianity. But I maintain that it is a mistake, and that apologists in general should view deism as something worth arguing for, one more tool in the apologetics array.
The funny thing is, as near as I can tell, most atheists would rather choke than fight deism. No less a rabid atheist than Jerry Coyne flat out concedes that deism is compatible with science, Dawkins himself once made a concession in a debate with an ID proponent that sounded an awful lot like him finding deism reasonable (he backed off, but not before the damage was done and a number of internet atheists suddenly came out of the closet as either being deists or deism-sympathetic.) In other words, strangely enough, there seems to be one type of God most atheists aren't willing to talk about.
One anecdote I have is about a time an internet atheist approached me wanting to engage in a public forum debate over the existence of God. I agreed (this was back before I realized how useless internet arguments really are), and when he started to rattle off on criticisms of the Old Testament, etc, I informed him that while I was Catholic, that wasn't the discussion I agreed to: I was there to defend the existence of God, period, and therefore all I had to defend was deism. The result? He flipped out and immediately refused to engage me at all unless I defended Christianity specifically - he flat-out refused to argue against deism. Now, let's point out the obvious here: The sort of people who love to debate on the internet, who out and out challenge people to a debate, don't shut up very easily. Forum/blog warriors who walk around challenging people to debate tend not to drop opportunities to run at the mouth. So to see someone cut and run - not even mid-stream, to do so before the argument even began - was enlightening to me.
The dirty little secret is that once that minimal deistic God is seen as reasonable to believe in - and I maintain that this is ridiculously easy for an unbiased observer to be persuaded to - 99% of the atheist's position is dead in the water, and 90% of Christianity's case is made. But sadly, this just doesn't get discussed by apologists, who seem to want to talk about mere deism as minimally as possible. Even Bill Craig, a fantastic philosopher and debater and whose arguments are compatible with deism, never really develops this line fully. Instead he seems to want to run past that mere God, or mere deism/theism, as fast as possible and get back to the topic of Christianity.
Either way, some philosophers and writers do dwell on this point to a degree. Aquinas himself via the Five Ways, Edward Feser's The Last Superstition (It's fun to watch critics react to TLS as a Christian book, when Ed stresses in it that if it establishes anything, it establishes mere classical theism), arguably the Intelligent Design movement is merely deistic or only broadly theist formally, etc. But I'd like to see more along these lines, precisely because A) Deism is more reasonable than atheism is or could ever hope to be, B) I am convinced that deism creates a bridge that would take on more irreligious towards Catholicism, and C) I think the reaction of many atheists alone would be worth the price of admission.