Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – David Hume

PART 1 After I joined the company, whom I found sitting
in CLEANTHES’s library, DEMEA paid CLEANTHES some compliments on the great care which he
took of my education, and on his unwearied perseverance and constancy in all his friendships. The father of PAMPHILUS, said he, was your
intimate friend: The son is your pupil; and may indeed be regarded as your adopted son,
were we to judge by the pains which you bestow in conveying to him every useful branch of
literature and science. You are no more wanting, I am persuaded, in
prudence, than in industry. I shall, therefore, communicate to you a maxim,
which I have observed with regard to my own children, that I may learn how far it agrees
with your practice. The method I follow in their education is
founded on the saying of an ancient, “That students of philosophy ought first to learn
logics, then ethics, next physics, last of all the nature of the gods.” This science of natural theology, according to him, being the most profound and abstruse
of any, required the maturest judgement in its students; and none but a mind enriched
with all the other sciences, can safely be entrusted with it. Are you so late, says PHILO, in teaching your
children the principles of religion? Is there no danger of their neglecting, or
rejecting altogether those opinions of which they have heard so little during the whole
course of their education? It is only as a science, replied DEMEA, subjected
to human reasoning and disputation, that I postpone the study of Natural Theology. To season their minds with early piety, is
my chief care; and by continual precept and instruction, and I hope too by example, I
imprint deeply on their tender minds an habitual reverence for all the principles of religion. While they pass through every other science,
I still remark the uncertainty of each part; the eternal disputations of men; the obscurity
of all philosophy; and the strange, ridiculous conclusions, which some of the greatest geniuses
have derived from the principles of mere human reason. Having thus tamed their mind to a proper submission
and self-diffidence, I have no longer any scruple of opening to them the greatest mysteries
of religion; nor apprehend any danger from that assuming arrogance of philosophy, which
may lead them to reject the most established doctrines and opinions. Your precaution, says PHILO, of seasoning
your children’s minds early with piety, is certainly very reasonable; and no more than
is requisite in this profane and irreligious age. But what I chiefly admire in your plan of
education, is your method of drawing advantage from the very principles of philosophy and
learning, which, by inspiring pride and self-sufficiency, have commonly, in all ages, been found so
destructive to the principles of religion. The vulgar, indeed, we may remark, who are
unacquainted with science and profound inquiry, observing the endless disputes of the learned,
have commonly a thorough contempt for philosophy; and rivet themselves the faster, by that means,
in the great points of theology which have been taught them. Those who enter a little into study and inquiry,
finding many appearances of evidence in doctrines the newest and most extraordinary, think nothing
too difficult for human reason; and, presumptuously breaking through all fences, profane the inmost
sanctuaries of the temple. But CLEANTHES will, I hope, agree with me,
that, after we have abandoned ignorance, the surest remedy, there is still one expedient
left to prevent this profane liberty. Let DEMEA’s principles be improved and cultivated:
Let us become thoroughly sensible of the weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of human reason:
Let us duly consider its uncertainty and endless contrarieties, even in subjects of common
life and practice: Let the errors and deceits of our very senses be set before us; the insuperable
difficulties which attend first principles in all systems; the contradictions which adhere
to the very ideas of matter, cause and effect, extension, space, time, motion; and in a word,
quantity of all kinds, the object of the only science that can fairly pretend to any certainty
or evidence. When these topics are displayed in their full
light, as they are by some philosophers and almost all divines; who can retain such confidence
in this frail faculty of reason as to pay any regard to its determinations in points
so sublime, so abstruse, so remote from common life and experience? When the coherence of the parts of a stone,
or even that composition of parts which renders it extended; when these familiar objects,
I say, are so inexplicable, and contain circumstances so repugnant and contradictory; with what
assurance can we decide concerning the origin of worlds, or trace their history from eternity
to eternity? While PHILO pronounced these words, I could
observe a smile in the countenance both of DEMEA and CLEANTHES. That of DEMEA seemed to imply an unreserved
satisfaction in the doctrines delivered: But, in CLEANTHES’s features, I could distinguish
an air of finesse; as if he perceived some raillery or artificial malice in the reasonings
of PHILO. You propose then, PHILO, said CLEANTHES, to
erect religious faith on philosophical scepticism; and you think, that if certainty or evidence
be expelled from every other subject of inquiry, it will all retire to these theological doctrines,
and there acquire a superior force and authority. Whether your scepticism be as absolute and
sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: We shall
then see, whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt if
your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived
from our fallacious senses, and more fallacious experience. And this consideration, DEMEA, may, I think,
fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this humorous sect of the sceptics. If they be thoroughly in earnest, they will
not long trouble the world with their doubts, cavils, and disputes: If they be only in jest,
they are, perhaps, bad raillers; but can never be very dangerous, either to the state, to
philosophy, or to religion. In reality, PHILO, continued he, it seems
certain, that though a man, in a flush of humour, after intense reflection on the many
contradictions and imperfections of human reason, may entirely renounce all belief and
opinion, it is impossible for him to persevere in this total scepticism, or make it appear
in his conduct for a few hours. External objects press in upon him; passions
solicit him; his philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon
his own temper will not be able, during any time, to preserve the poor appearance of scepticism. And for what reason impose on himself such
a violence? This is a point in which it will be impossible
for him ever to satisfy himself, consistently with his sceptical principles. So that, upon the whole, nothing could be
more ridiculous than the principles of the ancient PYRRHONIANS; if in reality they endeavoured,
as is pretended, to extend, throughout, the same scepticism which they had learned from
the declamations of their schools, and which they ought to have confined to them. In this view, there appears a great resemblance
between the sects of the STOICS and PYRRHONIANS, though perpetual antagonists; and both of
them seem founded on this erroneous maxim, That what a man can perform sometimes, and
in some dispositions, he can perform always, and in every disposition. When the mind, by Stoical reflections, is
elevated into a sublime enthusiasm of virtue, and strongly smit with any species of honour
or public good, the utmost bodily pain and sufferings will not prevail over such a high
sense of duty; and it is possible, perhaps, by its means, even to smile and exult in the
midst of tortures. If this sometimes may be the case in fact
and reality, much more may a philosopher, in his school, or even in his closet, work
himself up to such an enthusiasm, and support in imagination the acutest pain or most calamitous
event which he can possibly conceive. But how shall he support this enthusiasm itself? The bent of his mind relaxes, and cannot be
recalled at pleasure; avocations lead him astray; misfortunes attack him unawares; and
the philosopher sinks by degrees into the plebeian. I allow of your comparison between the STOICS
and SKEPTICS, replied PHILO. But you may observe, at the same time, that
though the mind cannot, in Stoicism, support the highest flights of philosophy, yet, even
when it sinks lower, it still retains somewhat of its former disposition; and the effects
of the Stoic’s reasoning will appear in his conduct in common life, and through the whole
tenor of his actions. The ancient schools, particularly that of
ZENO, produced examples of virtue and constancy which seem astonishing to present times. Vain Wisdom all and false Philosophy. Yet with a pleasing sorcery could charm
Pain, for a while, or anguish; and excite Fallacious Hope, or arm the obdurate breast
With stubborn Patience, as with triple steel. In like manner, if a man has accustomed himself
to sceptical considerations on the uncertainty and narrow limits of reason, he will not entirely
forget them when he turns his reflection on other subjects; but in all his philosophical
principles and reasoning, I dare not say in his common conduct, he will be found different
from those, who either never formed any opinions in the case, or have entertained sentiments
more favourable to human reason. To whatever length any one may push his speculative
principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse, like other men; and
for this conduct he is not obliged to give any other reason, than the absolute necessity
he lies under of so doing. If he ever carries his speculations further
than this necessity constrains him, and philosophises either on natural or moral subjects, he is
allured by a certain pleasure and satisfaction which he finds in employing himself after
that manner. He considers besides, that every one, even
in common life, is constrained to have more or less of this philosophy; that from our
earliest infancy we make continual advances in forming more general principles of conduct
and reasoning; that the larger experience we acquire, and the stronger reason we are
endued with, we always render our principles the more general and comprehensive; and that
what we call philosophy is nothing but a more regular and methodical operation of the same
kind. To philosophise on such subjects, is nothing
essentially different from reasoning on common life; and we may only expect greater stability,
if not greater truth, from our philosophy, on account of its exacter and more scrupulous
method of proceeding. But when we look beyond human affairs and
the properties of the surrounding bodies: when we carry our speculations into the two
eternities, before and after the present state of things; into the creation and formation
of the universe; the existence and properties of spirits; the powers and operations of one
universal Spirit existing without beginning and without end; omnipotent, omniscient, immutable,
infinite, and incomprehensible: We must be far removed from the smallest tendency to
scepticism not to be apprehensive, that we have here got quite beyond the reach of our
faculties. So long as we confine our speculations to
trade, or morals, or politics, or criticism, we make appeals, every moment, to common sense
and experience, which strengthen our philosophical conclusions, and remove, at least in part,
the suspicion which we so justly entertain with regard to every reasoning that is very
subtle and refined. But, in theological reasonings, we have not
this advantage; while, at the same time, we are employed upon objects, which, we must
be sensible, are too large for our grasp, and of all others, require most to be familiarised
to our apprehension. We are like foreigners in a strange country,
to whom every thing must seem suspicious, and who are in danger every moment of transgressing
against the laws and customs of the people with whom they live and converse. We know not how far we ought to trust our
vulgar methods of reasoning in such a subject; since, even in common life, and in that province
which is peculiarly appropriated to them, we cannot account for them, and are entirely
guided by a kind of instinct or necessity in employing them. All sceptics pretend, that, if reason be considered
in an abstract view, it furnishes invincible arguments against itself; and that we could
never retain any conviction or assurance, on any subject, were not the sceptical reasonings
so refined and subtle, that they are not able to counterpoise the more solid and more natural
arguments derived from the senses and experience. But it is evident, whenever our arguments
lose this advantage, and run wide of common life, that the most refined scepticism comes
to be upon a footing with them, and is able to oppose and counterbalance them. The one has no more weight than the other. The mind must remain in suspense between them;
and it is that very suspense or balance, which is the triumph of scepticism. But I observe, says CLEANTHES, with regard
to you, PHILO, and all speculative sceptics, that your doctrine and practice are as much
at variance in the most abstruse points of theory as in the conduct of common life. Wherever evidence discovers itself, you adhere
to it, notwithstanding your pretended scepticism; and I can observe, too, some of your sect
to be as decisive as those who make greater professions of certainty and assurance. In reality, would not a man be ridiculous,
who pretended to reject NEWTON’s explication of the wonderful phenomenon of the rainbow,
because that explication gives a minute anatomy of the rays of light; a subject, forsooth,
too refined for human comprehension? And what would you say to one, who, having
nothing particular to object to the arguments of COPERNICUS and GALILEO for the motion of
the earth, should withhold his assent, on that general principle, that these subjects
were too magnificent and remote to be explained by the narrow and fallacious reason of mankind? There is indeed a kind of brutish and ignorant
scepticism, as you well observed, which gives the vulgar a general prejudice against what
they do not easily understand, and makes them reject every principle which requires elaborate
reasoning to prove and establish it. This species of scepticism is fatal to knowledge,
not to religion; since we find, that those who make greatest profession of it, give often
their assent, not only to the great truths of Theism and natural theology, but even to
the most absurd tenets which a traditional superstition has recommended to them. They firmly believe in witches, though they
will not believe nor attend to the most simple proposition of Euclid. But the refined and philosophical sceptics
fall into an inconsistence of an opposite nature. They push their researches into the most abstruse
corners of science; and their assent attends them in every step, proportioned to the evidence
which they meet with. They are even obliged to acknowledge, that
the most abstruse and remote objects are those which are best explained by philosophy. Light is in reality anatomised. The true system of the heavenly bodies is
discovered and ascertained. But the nourishment of bodies by food is still
an inexplicable mystery. The cohesion of the parts of matter is still
incomprehensible. These sceptics, therefore, are obliged, in
every question, to consider each particular evidence apart, and proportion their assent
to the precise degree of evidence which occurs. This is their practice in all natural, mathematical,
moral, and political science. And why not the same, I ask, in the theological
and religious? Why must conclusions of this nature be alone
rejected on the general presumption of the insufficiency of human reason, without any
particular discussion of the evidence? Is not such an unequal conduct a plain proof
of prejudice and passion? Our senses, you say, are fallacious; our understanding
erroneous; our ideas, even of the most familiar objects, extension, duration, motion, full
of absurdities and contradictions. You defy me to solve the difficulties, or
reconcile the repugnancies which you discover in them. I have not capacity for so great an undertaking:
I have not leisure for it: I perceive it to be superfluous. Your own conduct, in every circumstance, refutes
your principles, and shows the firmest reliance on all the received maxims of science, morals,
prudence, and behaviour. I shall never assent to so harsh an opinion
as that of a celebrated writer, who says, that the Sceptics are not a
sect of philosophers: They are only a sect of liars. I may, however, affirm (I hope without offence),
that they are a sect of jesters or raillers. But for my part, whenever I find myself disposed
to mirth and amusement, I shall certainly choose my entertainment of a less perplexing
and abstruse nature. A comedy, a novel, or at most a history, seems
a more natural recreation than such metaphysical subtleties and abstractions. In vain would the sceptic make a distinction
between science and common life, or between one science and another. The arguments employed in all, if just, are
of a similar nature, and contain the same force and evidence. Or if there be any difference among them,
the advantage lies entirely on the side of theology and natural religion. Many principles of mechanics are founded on
very abstruse reasoning; yet no man who has any pretensions to science, even no speculative
sceptic, pretends to entertain the least doubt with regard to them. The COPERNICAN system contains the most surprising
paradox, and the most contrary to our natural conceptions, to appearances, and to our very
senses: yet even monks and inquisitors are now constrained to withdraw their opposition
to it. And shall PHILO, a man of so liberal a genius
and extensive knowledge, entertain any general undistinguished scruples with regard to the
religious hypothesis, which is founded on the simplest and most obvious arguments, and,
unless it meets with artificial obstacles, has such easy access and admission into the
mind of man? And here we may observe, continued he, turning
himself towards DEMEA, a pretty curious circumstance in the history of the sciences. After the union of philosophy with the popular
religion, upon the first establishment of Christianity, nothing was more usual, among
all religious teachers, than declamations against reason, against the senses, against
every principle derived merely from human research and inquiry. All the topics of the ancient academics were
adopted by the fathers; and thence propagated for several ages in every school and pulpit
throughout Christendom. The Reformers embraced the same principles
of reasoning, or rather declamation; and all panegyrics on the excellency of faith, were
sure to be interlarded with some severe strokes of satire against natural reason. A celebrated prelate too, of the Romish communion, a man of
the most extensive learning, who wrote a demonstration of Christianity, has also
composed a treatise, which contains all the cavils of the boldest and most determined
PYRRHONISM. LOCKE seems to have been the first Christian
who ventured openly to assert, that faith was nothing but a species of reason; that
religion was only a branch of philosophy; and that a chain of arguments, similar to
that which established any truth in morals, politics, or physics, was always employed
in discovering all the principles of theology, natural and revealed. The ill use which BAYLE and other libertines
made of the philosophical scepticism of the fathers and first reformers, still further
propagated the judicious sentiment of Mr. LOCKE: And it is now in a manner avowed, by
all pretenders to reasoning and philosophy, that Atheist and Sceptic are almost synonymous. And as it is certain that no man is in earnest
when he professes the latter principle, I would fain hope that there are as few who
seriously maintain the former. Don’t you remember, said PHILO, the excellent
saying of LORD BACON on this head? That a little philosophy, replied CLEANTHES,
makes a man an Atheist: A great deal converts him to religion. That is a very judicious remark too, said
PHILO. But what I have in my eye is another passage,
where, having mentioned DAVID’s fool, who said in his heart there is no God, this great
philosopher observes, that the Atheists nowadays have a double share of folly; for they are
not contented to say in their hearts there is no God, but they also utter that impiety
with their lips, and are thereby guilty of multiplied indiscretion and imprudence. Such people, though they were ever so much
in earnest, cannot, methinks, be very formidable. But though you should rank me in this class
of fools, I cannot forbear communicating a remark that occurs to me, from the history
of the religious and irreligious scepticism with which you have entertained us. It appears to me, that there are strong symptoms
of priestcraft in the whole progress of this affair. During ignorant ages, such as those which
followed the dissolution of the ancient schools, the priests perceived, that Atheism, Deism,
or heresy of any kind, could only proceed from the presumptuous questioning of received
opinions, and from a belief that human reason was equal to every thing. Education had then a mighty influence over
the minds of men, and was almost equal in force to those suggestions of the senses and
common understanding, by which the most determined sceptic must allow himself to be governed. But at present, when the influence of education
is much diminished, and men, from a more open commerce of the world, have learned to compare
the popular principles of different nations and ages, our sagacious divines have changed
their whole system of philosophy, and talk the language of STOICS, PLATONISTS, and PERIPATETICS,
not that of PYRRHONIANS and ACADEMICS. If we distrust human reason, we have now no
other principle to lead us into religion. Thus, sceptics in one age, dogmatists in another;
whichever system best suits the purpose of these reverend gentlemen, in giving them an
ascendant over mankind, they are sure to make it their favourite principle, and established
tenet. It is very natural, said CLEANTHES, for men
to embrace those principles, by which they find they can best defend their doctrines;
nor need we have any recourse to priestcraft to account for so reasonable an expedient. And, surely nothing can afford a stronger
presumption, that any set of principles are true, and ought to be embraced, than to observe
that they tend to the confirmation of true religion, and serve to confound the cavils
of Atheists, Libertines, and Freethinkers of
all denominations. PART 2 I must own, CLEANTHES, said DEMEA, that nothing
can more surprise me, than the light in which you have all along put this argument. By the whole tenor of your discourse, one
would imagine that you were maintaining the Being of a God, against the cavils of Atheists
and Infidels; and were necessitated to become a champion for that fundamental principle
of all religion. But this, I hope, is not by any means a question
among us. No man, no man at least of common sense, I
am persuaded, ever entertained a serious doubt with regard to a truth so certain and self-evident. The question is not concerning the being,
but the nature of God. This, I affirm, from the infirmities of human
understanding, to be altogether incomprehensible and unknown to us. The essence of that supreme Mind, his attributes,
the manner of his existence, the very nature of his duration; these, and every particular
which regards so divine a Being, are mysterious to men. Finite, weak, and blind creatures, we ought
to humble ourselves in his august presence; and, conscious of our frailties, adore in
silence his infinite perfections, which eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither
hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. They are covered in a deep cloud from human
curiosity. It is profaneness to attempt penetrating through
these sacred obscurities. And, next to the impiety of denying his existence,
is the temerity of prying into his nature and essence, decrees and attributes. But lest you should think that my piety has
here got the better of my philosophy, I shall support my opinion, if it needs any support,
by a very great authority. I might cite all the divines, almost, from
the foundation of Christianity, who have ever treated of this or any other theological subject:
But I shall confine myself, at present, to one equally celebrated for piety and philosophy. It is Father MALEBRANCHE, who,
I remember, thus expresses himself: “One ought not so much,” says he, “to call
God a spirit, in order to express positively what he is, as in order to signify that he
is not matter. He is a Being infinitely perfect: Of this
we cannot doubt. But in the same manner as we ought not to
imagine, even supposing him corporeal, that he is clothed with a human body, as the ANTHROPOMORPHITES
asserted, under colour that that figure was the most perfect of any; so, neither ought
we to imagine that the spirit of God has human ideas, or bears any resemblance to our spirit,
under colour that we know nothing more perfect than a human mind. We ought rather to believe, that as he comprehends
the perfections of matter without being material…. he comprehends also the perfections of created
spirits without being spirit, in the manner we conceive spirit: That his true name is,
He that is; or, in other words, Being without restriction, All Being, the Being infinite
and universal.” After so great an authority, DEMEA, replied
PHILO, as that which you have produced, and a thousand more which you might produce, it
would appear ridiculous in me to add my sentiment, or express my approbation of your doctrine. But surely, where reasonable men treat these
subjects, the question can never be concerning the Being, but only the Nature, of the Deity. The former truth, as you well observe, is
unquestionable and self-evident. Nothing exists without a cause; and the original
cause of this universe (whatever it be) we call God; and piously ascribe to him every
species of perfection. Whoever scruples this fundamental truth, deserves
every punishment which can be inflicted among philosophers, to wit, the greatest ridicule,
contempt, and disapprobation. But as all perfection is entirely relative,
we ought never to imagine that we comprehend the attributes of this divine Being, or to
suppose that his perfections have any analogy or likeness to the perfections of a human
creature. Wisdom, Thought, Design, Knowledge; these
we justly ascribe to him; because these words are honourable among men, and we have no other
language or other conceptions by which we can express our adoration of him. But let us beware, lest we think that our
ideas anywise correspond to his perfections, or that his attributes have any resemblance
to these qualities among men. He is infinitely superior to our limited view
and comprehension; and is more the object of worship in the temple, than of disputation
in the schools. In reality, CLEANTHES, continued he, there
is no need of having recourse to that affected scepticism so displeasing to you, in order
to come at this determination. Our ideas reach no further than our experience. We have no experience of divine attributes
and operations. I need not conclude my syllogism. You can draw the inference yourself. And it is a pleasure to me (and I hope to
you too) that just reasoning and sound piety here concur in the same conclusion, and both
of them establish the adorably mysterious and incomprehensible nature of the Supreme
Being. Not to lose any time in circumlocutions, said
CLEANTHES, addressing himself to DEMEA, much less in replying to the pious declamations
of PHILO; I shall briefly explain how I conceive this matter. Look round the world: contemplate the whole
and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided
into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree
beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their
most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration
all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout
all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance;
of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each
other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble;
and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed
of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed. By this argument a posteriori, and by this
argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind
and intelligence. I shall be so free, CLEANTHES, said DEMEA,
as to tell you, that from the beginning, I could not approve of your conclusion concerning
the similarity of the Deity to men; still less can I approve of the mediums by which
you endeavour to establish it. What! No demonstration of the Being of God! No abstract arguments! No proofs a priori! Are these, which have hitherto been so much
insisted on by philosophers, all fallacy, all sophism? Can we reach no further in this subject than
experience and probability? I will not say that this is betraying the
cause of a Deity: But surely, by this affected candour, you give advantages to Atheists,
which they never could obtain by the mere dint of argument and reasoning. What I chiefly scruple in this subject, said
PHILO, is not so much that all religious arguments are by CLEANTHES reduced to experience, as
that they appear not to be even the most certain and irrefragable of that inferior kind. That a stone will fall, that fire will burn,
that the earth has solidity, we have observed a thousand and a thousand times; and when
any new instance of this nature is presented, we draw without hesitation the accustomed
inference. The exact similarity of the cases gives us
a perfect assurance of a similar event; and a stronger evidence is never desired nor sought
after. But wherever you depart, in the least, from
the similarity of the cases, you diminish proportionably the evidence; and may at last
bring it to a very weak analogy, which is confessedly liable to error and uncertainty. After having experienced the circulation of
the blood in human creatures, we make no doubt that it takes place in TITIUS and MAEVIUS. But from its circulation in frogs and fishes,
it is only a presumption, though a strong one, from analogy, that it takes place in
men and other animals. The analogical reasoning is much weaker, when
we infer the circulation of the sap in vegetables from our experience that the blood circulates
in animals; and those, who hastily followed that imperfect analogy, are found, by more
accurate experiments, to have been mistaken. If we see a house, CLEANTHES, we conclude,
with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely
that species of effect which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe
bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar
cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the
utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar
cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider. It would surely be very ill received, replied
CLEANTHES; and I should be deservedly blamed and detested, did I allow, that the proofs
of a Deity amounted to no more than a guess or conjecture. But is the whole adjustment of means to ends
in a house and in the universe so slight a resemblance? The economy of final causes? The order, proportion, and arrangement of
every part? Steps of a stair are plainly contrived, that
human legs may use them in mounting; and this inference is certain and infallible. Human legs are also contrived for walking
and mounting; and this inference, I allow, is not altogether so certain, because of the
dissimilarity which you remark; but does it, therefore, deserve the name only of presumption
or conjecture? Good God! cried DEMEA, interrupting him, where are we? Zealous defenders of religion allow, that
the proofs of a Deity fall short of perfect evidence! And you, PHILO, on whose assistance I depended
in proving the adorable mysteriousness of the Divine Nature, do you assent to all these
extravagant opinions of CLEANTHES? For what other name can I give them? or, why
spare my censure, when such principles are advanced, supported by such an authority,
before so young a man as PAMPHILUS? You seem not to apprehend, replied PHILO,
that I argue with CLEANTHES in his own way; and, by showing him the dangerous consequences
of his tenets, hope at last to reduce him to our opinion. But what sticks most with you, I observe,
is the representation which CLEANTHES has made of the argument a posteriori; and finding
that that argument is likely to escape your hold and vanish into air, you think it so
disguised, that you can scarcely believe it to be set in its true light. Now, however much I may dissent, in other
respects, from the dangerous principles of CLEANTHES, I must allow that he has fairly
represented that argument; and I shall endeavour so to state the matter to you, that you will
entertain no further scruples with regard to it. Were a man to abstract from every thing which
he knows or has seen, he would be altogether incapable, merely from his own ideas, to determine
what kind of scene the universe must be, or to give the preference to one state or situation
of things above another. For as nothing which he clearly conceives
could be esteemed impossible or implying a contradiction, every chimera of his fancy
would be upon an equal footing; nor could he assign any just reason why he adheres to
one idea or system, and rejects the others which are equally possible. Again; after he opens his eyes, and contemplates
the world as it really is, it would be impossible for him at first to assign the cause of any
one event, much less of the whole of things, or of the universe. He might set his fancy a rambling; and she
might bring him in an infinite variety of reports and representations. These would all be possible; but being all
equally possible, he would never of himself give a satisfactory account for his preferring
one of them to the rest. Experience alone can point out to him the
true cause of any phenomenon. Now, according to this method of reasoning,
DEMEA, it follows, (and is, indeed, tacitly allowed by CLEANTHES himself,) that order,
arrangement, or the adjustment of final causes, is not of itself any proof of design; but
only so far as it has been experienced to proceed from that principle. For aught we can know a priori, matter may
contain the source or spring of order originally within itself, as well as mind does; and there
is no more difficulty in conceiving, that the several elements, from an internal unknown
cause, may fall into the most exquisite arrangement, than to conceive that their ideas, in the
great universal mind, from a like internal unknown cause, fall into that arrangement. The equal possibility of both these suppositions
is allowed. But, by experience, we find, (according to
CLEANTHES), that there is a difference between them. Throw several pieces of steel together, without
shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect,
never erect a house. But the ideas in a human mind, we see, by
an unknown, inexplicable economy, arrange themselves so as to form the plan of a watch
or house. Experience, therefore, proves, that there
is an original principle of order in mind, not in matter. From similar effects we infer similar causes. The adjustment of means to ends is alike in
the universe, as in a machine of human contrivance. The causes, therefore, must be resembling. I was from the beginning scandalised, I must
own, with this resemblance, which is asserted, between the Deity and human creatures; and
must conceive it to imply such a degradation of the Supreme Being as no sound Theist could
endure. With your assistance, therefore, DEMEA, I
shall endeavour to defend what you justly call the adorable mysteriousness of the Divine
Nature, and shall refute this reasoning of CLEANTHES, provided he allows that I have
made a fair representation of it. When CLEANTHES had assented, PHILO, after
a short pause, proceeded in the following manner. That all inferences, CLEANTHES, concerning
fact, are founded on experience; and that all experimental reasonings are founded on
the supposition that similar causes prove similar effects, and similar effects similar
causes; I shall not at present much dispute with you. But observe, I entreat you, with what extreme
caution all just reasoners proceed in the transferring of experiments to similar cases. Unless the cases be exactly similar, they
repose no perfect confidence in applying their past observation to any particular phenomenon. Every alteration of circumstances occasions
a doubt concerning the event; and it requires new experiments to prove certainly, that the
new circumstances are of no moment or importance. A change in bulk, situation, arrangement,
age, disposition of the air, or surrounding bodies; any of these particulars may be attended
with the most unexpected consequences: And unless the objects be quite familiar to us,
it is the highest temerity to expect with assurance, after any of these changes, an
event similar to that which before fell under our observation. The slow and deliberate steps of philosophers
here, if any where, are distinguished from the precipitate march of the vulgar, who,
hurried on by the smallest similitude, are incapable of all discernment or consideration. But can you think, CLEANTHES, that your usual
phlegm and philosophy have been preserved in so wide a step as you have taken, when
you compared to the universe houses, ships, furniture, machines, and, from their similarity
in some circumstances, inferred a similarity in their causes? Thought, design, intelligence, such as we
discover in men and other animals, is no more than one of the springs and principles of
the universe, as well as heat or cold, attraction or repulsion, and a hundred others, which
fall under daily observation. It is an active cause, by which some particular
parts of nature, we find, produce alterations on other parts. But can a conclusion, with any propriety,
be transferred from parts to the whole? Does not the great disproportion bar all comparison
and inference? From observing the growth of a hair, can we
learn any thing concerning the generation of a man? Would the manner of a leaf’s blowing, even
though perfectly known, afford us any instruction concerning the vegetation of a tree? But, allowing that we were to take the operations
of one part of nature upon another, for the foundation of our judgement concerning the
origin of the whole, (which never can be admitted,) yet why select so minute, so weak, so bounded
a principle, as the reason and design of animals is found to be upon this planet? What peculiar privilege has this little agitation
of the brain which we call thought, that we must thus make it the model of the whole universe? Our partiality in our own favour does indeed
present it on all occasions; but sound philosophy ought carefully to guard against so natural
an illusion. So far from admitting, continued PHILO, that
the operations of a part can afford us any just conclusion concerning the origin of the
whole, I will not allow any one part to form a rule for another part, if the latter be
very remote from the former. Is there any reasonable ground to conclude,
that the inhabitants of other planets possess thought, intelligence, reason, or any thing
similar to these faculties in men? When nature has so extremely diversified her
manner of operation in this small globe, can we imagine that she incessantly copies herself
throughout so immense a universe? And if thought, as we may well suppose, be
confined merely to this narrow corner, and has even there so limited a sphere of action,
with what propriety can we assign it for the original cause of all things? The narrow views of a peasant, who makes his
domestic economy the rule for the government of kingdoms, is in comparison a pardonable
sophism. But were we ever so much assured, that a thought
and reason, resembling the human, were to be found throughout the whole universe, and
were its activity elsewhere vastly greater and more commanding than it appears in this
globe; yet I cannot see, why the operations of a world constituted, arranged, adjusted,
can with any propriety be extended to a world which is in its embryo state, and is advancing
towards that constitution and arrangement. By observation, we know somewhat of the economy,
action, and nourishment of a finished animal; but we must transfer with great caution that
observation to the growth of a foetus in the womb, and still more to the formation of an
animalcule in the loins of its male parent. Nature, we find, even from our limited experience,
possesses an infinite number of springs and principles, which incessantly discover themselves
on every change of her position and situation. And what new and unknown principles would
actuate her in so new and unknown a situation as that of the formation of a universe, we
cannot, without the utmost temerity, pretend to determine. A very small part of this great system, during
a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; and do we thence pronounce decisively
concerning the origin of the whole? Admirable conclusion! Stone, wood, brick, iron, brass, have not,
at this time, in this minute globe of earth, an order or arrangement without human art
and contrivance; therefore the universe could not originally attain its order and arrangement,
without something similar to human art. But is a part of nature a rule for another
part very wide of the former? Is it a rule for the whole? Is a very small part a rule for the universe? Is nature in one situation, a certain rule
for nature in another situation vastly different from the former? And can you blame me, CLEANTHES, if I here
imitate the prudent reserve of SIMONIDES, who, according to the noted story, being asked
by HIERO, What God was? desired a day to think of it, and then two
days more; and after that manner continually prolonged the term, without ever bringing
in his definition or description? Could you even blame me, if I had answered
at first, that I did not know, and was sensible that this subject lay vastly beyond the reach
of my faculties? You might cry out sceptic and railler, as
much as you pleased: but having found, in so many other subjects much more familiar,
the imperfections and even contradictions of human reason, I never should expect any
success from its feeble conjectures, in a subject so sublime, and so remote from the
sphere of our observation. When two species of objects have always been
observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, by custom, the existence of one wherever I
see the existence of the other; and this I call an argument from experience. But how this argument can have place, where
the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without parallel, or specific
resemblance, may be difficult to explain. And will any man tell me with a serious countenance,
that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and art like the human, because we
have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite
that we had experience of the origin of worlds; and it is not sufficient, surely, that we
have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance… PHILO was proceeding in this vehement manner,
somewhat between jest and earnest, as it appeared to me, when he observed some signs of impatience
in CLEANTHES, and then immediately stopped short. What I had to suggest, said CLEANTHES, is
only that you would not abuse terms, or make use of popular expressions to subvert philosophical
reasonings. You know, that the vulgar often distinguish
reason from experience, even where the question relates only to matter of fact and existence;
though it is found, where that reason is properly analysed, that it is nothing but a species
of experience. To prove by experience the origin of the universe
from mind, is not more contrary to common speech, than to prove the motion of the earth
from the same principle. And a caviller might raise all the same objections
to the Copernican system, which you have urged against my reasonings. Have you other earths, might he say, which
you have seen to move? Have… Yes! cried PHILO, interrupting him, we have other
earths. Is not the moon another earth, which we see
to turn round its centre? Is not Venus another earth, where we observe
the same phenomenon? Are not the revolutions of the sun also a
confirmation, from analogy, of the same theory? All the planets, are they not earths, which
revolve about the sun? Are not the satellites moons, which move round
Jupiter and Saturn, and along with these primary planets round the sun? These analogies and resemblances, with others
which I have not mentioned, are the sole proofs of the COPERNICAN system; and to you it belongs
to consider, whether you have any analogies of the same kind to support your theory. In reality, CLEANTHES, continued he, the modern
system of astronomy is now so much received by all inquirers, and has become so essential
a part even of our earliest education, that we are not commonly very scrupulous in examining
the reasons upon which it is founded. It is now become a matter of mere curiosity
to study the first writers on that subject, who had the full force of prejudice to encounter,
and were obliged to turn their arguments on every side in order to render them popular
and convincing. But if we peruse GALILEO’s famous Dialogues
concerning the system of the world, we shall find, that that great genius, one of the sublimest
that ever existed, first bent all his endeavours to prove, that there was no foundation for
the distinction commonly made between elementary and celestial substances. The schools, proceeding from the illusions
of sense, had carried this distinction very far; and had established the latter substances
to be ingenerable, incorruptible, unalterable, impassable; and had assigned all the opposite
qualities to the former. But GALILEO, beginning with the moon, proved
its similarity in every particular to the earth; its convex figure, its natural darkness
when not illuminated, its density, its distinction into solid and liquid, the variations of its
phases, the mutual illuminations of the earth and moon, their mutual eclipses, the inequalities
of the lunar surface, &c. After many instances of this kind, with regard
to all the planets, men plainly saw that these bodies became proper objects of experience;
and that the similarity of their nature enabled us to extend the same arguments and phenomena
from one to the other. In this cautious proceeding of the astronomers,
you may read your own condemnation, CLEANTHES; or rather may see, that the subject in which
you are engaged exceeds all human reason and inquiry. Can you pretend to show any such similarity
between the fabric of a house, and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in any such situation
as resembles the first arrangement of the elements? Have worlds ever been formed under your eye;
and have you had leisure to observe the whole progress of the phenomenon, from the first
appearance of order to its final consummation? If you have, then cite your experience, and
deliver your theory. PART 3 How the most absurd argument, replied CLEANTHES,
in the hands of a man of ingenuity and invention, may acquire an air of probability! Are you not aware, PHILO, that it became necessary
for Copernicus and his first disciples to prove the similarity of the terrestrial and
celestial matter; because several philosophers, blinded by old systems, and supported by some
sensible appearances, had denied this similarity? but that it is by no means necessary, that
Theists should prove the similarity of the works of Nature to those of Art; because this
similarity is self-evident and undeniable? The same matter, a like form; what more is
requisite to show an analogy between their causes, and to ascertain the origin of all
things from a divine purpose and intention? Your objections, I must freely tell you, are
no better than the abstruse cavils of those philosophers who denied motion; and ought
to be refuted in the same manner, by illustrations, examples, and instances, rather than by serious
argument and philosophy. Suppose, therefore, that an articulate voice
were heard in the clouds, much louder and more melodious than any which human art could
ever reach: Suppose, that this voice were extended in the same instant over all nations,
and spoke to each nation in its own language and dialect: Suppose, that the words delivered
not only contain a just sense and meaning, but convey some instruction altogether worthy
of a benevolent Being, superior to mankind: Could you possibly hesitate a moment concerning
the cause of this voice? and must you not instantly ascribe it to some design or purpose? Yet I cannot see but all the same objections
(if they merit that appellation) which lie against the system of Theism, may also be
produced against this inference. Might you not say, that all conclusions concerning
fact were founded on experience: that when we hear an articulate voice in the dark, and
thence infer a man, it is only the resemblance of the effects which leads us to conclude
that there is a like resemblance in the cause: but that this extraordinary voice, by its
loudness, extent, and flexibility to all languages, bears so little analogy to any human voice,
that we have no reason to suppose any analogy in their causes: and consequently, that a
rational, wise, coherent speech proceeded, you know not whence, from some accidental
whistling of the winds, not from any divine reason or intelligence? You see clearly your own objections in these
cavils, and I hope too you see clearly, that they cannot possibly have more force in the
one case than in the other. But to bring the case still nearer the present
one of the universe, I shall make two suppositions, which imply not any absurdity or impossibility. Suppose that there is a natural, universal,
invariable language, common to every individual of human race; and that books are natural
productions, which perpetuate themselves in the same manner with animals and vegetables,
by descent and propagation. Several expressions of our passions contain
a universal language: all brute animals have a natural speech, which, however limited,
is very intelligible to their own species. And as there are infinitely fewer parts and
less contrivance in the finest composition of eloquence, than in the coarsest organised
body, the propagation of an Iliad or Aeneid is an easier supposition than that of any
plant or animal. Suppose, therefore, that you enter into your
library, thus peopled by natural volumes, containing the most refined reason and most
exquisite beauty; could you possibly open one of them, and doubt, that its original
cause bore the strongest analogy to mind and intelligence? When it reasons and discourses; when it expostulates,
argues, and enforces its views and topics; when it applies sometimes to the pure intellect,
sometimes to the affections; when it collects, disposes, and adorns every consideration suited
to the subject; could you persist in asserting, that all this, at the bottom, had really no
meaning; and that the first formation of this volume in the loins of its original parent
proceeded not from thought and design? Your obstinacy, I know, reaches not that degree
of firmness: even your sceptical play and wantonness would be abashed at so glaring
an absurdity. But if there be any difference, PHILO, between
this supposed case and the real one of the universe, it is all to the advantage of the
latter. The anatomy of an animal affords many stronger
instances of design than the perusal of LIVY or TACITUS; and any objection which you start
in the former case, by carrying me back to so unusual and extraordinary a scene as the
first formation of worlds, the same objection has place on the supposition of our vegetating
library. Choose, then, your party, PHILO, without ambiguity
or evasion; assert either that a rational volume is no proof of a rational cause, or
admit of a similar cause to all the works of nature. Let me here observe too, continued CLEANTHES,
that this religious argument, instead of being weakened by that scepticism so much affected
by you, rather acquires force from it, and becomes more firm and undisputed. To exclude all argument or reasoning of every
kind, is either affectation or madness. The declared profession of every reasonable
sceptic is only to reject abstruse, remote, and refined arguments; to adhere to common
sense and the plain instincts of nature; and to assent, wherever any reasons strike him
with so full a force that he cannot, without the greatest violence, prevent it. Now the arguments for Natural Religion are
plainly of this kind; and nothing but the most perverse, obstinate metaphysics can reject
them. Consider, anatomise the eye; survey its structure
and contrivance; and tell me, from your own feeling, if the idea of a contriver does not
immediately flow in upon you with a force like that of sensation. The most obvious conclusion, surely, is in
favour of design; and it requires time, reflection, and study, to summon up those frivolous, though
abstruse objections, which can support Infidelity. Who can behold the male and female of each
species, the correspondence of their parts and instincts, their passions, and whole course
of life before and after generation, but must be sensible, that the propagation of the species
is intended by Nature? Millions and millions of such instances present
themselves through every part of the universe; and no language can convey a more intelligible
irresistible meaning, than the curious adjustment of final causes. To what degree, therefore, of blind dogmatism
must one have attained, to reject such natural and such convincing arguments? Some beauties in writing we may meet with,
which seem contrary to rules, and which gain the affections, and animate the imagination,
in opposition to all the precepts of criticism, and to the authority of the established masters
of art. And if the argument for Theism be, as you
pretend, contradictory to the principles of logic; its universal, its irresistible influence
proves clearly, that there may be arguments of a like irregular nature. Whatever cavils may be urged, an orderly world,
as well as a coherent, articulate speech, will still be received as an incontestable
proof of design and intention. It sometimes happens, I own, that the religious
arguments have not their due influence on an ignorant savage and barbarian; not because
they are obscure and difficult, but because he never asks himself any question with regard
to them. Whence arises the curious structure of an
animal? From the copulation of its parents. And these whence? From their parents? A few removes set the objects at such a distance,
that to him they are lost in darkness and confusion; nor is he actuated by any curiosity
to trace them further. But this is neither dogmatism nor scepticism,
but stupidity: a state of mind very different from your sifting, inquisitive disposition,
my ingenious friend. You can trace causes from effects: You can
compare the most distant and remote objects: and your greatest errors proceed not from
barrenness of thought and invention, but from too luxuriant a fertility, which suppresses
your natural good sense, by a profusion of unnecessary scruples and objections. Here I could observe, HERMIPPUS, that PHILO
was a little embarrassed and confounded: But while he hesitated in delivering an answer,
luckily for him, DEMEA broke in upon the discourse, and saved his countenance. Your instance, CLEANTHES, said he, drawn from
books and language, being familiar, has, I confess, so much more force on that account:
but is there not some danger too in this very circumstance; and may it not render us presumptuous,
by making us imagine we comprehend the Deity, and have some adequate idea of his nature
and attributes? When I read a volume, I enter into the mind
and intention of the author: I become him, in a manner, for the instant; and have an
immediate feeling and conception of those ideas which revolved in his imagination while
employed in that composition. But so near an approach we never surely can
make to the Deity. His ways are not our ways. His attributes are perfect, but incomprehensible. And this volume of nature contains a great
and inexplicable riddle, more than any intelligible discourse or reasoning. The ancient PLATONISTS, you know, were the
most religious and devout of all the Pagan philosophers; yet many of them, particularly
PLOTINUS, expressly declare, that intellect or understanding is not to be ascribed to
the Deity; and that our most perfect worship of him consists, not in acts of veneration,
reverence, gratitude, or love; but in a certain mysterious self-annihilation, or total extinction
of all our faculties. These ideas are, perhaps, too far stretched;
but still it must be acknowledged, that, by representing the Deity as so intelligible
and comprehensible, and so similar to a human mind, we are guilty of the grossest and most
narrow partiality, and make ourselves the model of the whole universe. All the sentiments of the human mind, gratitude,
resentment, love, friendship, approbation, blame, pity, emulation, envy, have a plain
reference to the state and situation of man, and are calculated for preserving the existence
and promoting the activity of such a being in such circumstances. It seems, therefore, unreasonable to transfer
such sentiments to a supreme existence, or to suppose him actuated by them; and the phenomena
besides of the universe will not support us in such a theory. All our ideas, derived from the senses, are
confessedly false and illusive; and cannot therefore be supposed to have place in a supreme
intelligence: And as the ideas of internal sentiment, added to those of the external
senses, compose the whole furniture of human understanding, we may conclude, that none
of the materials of thought are in any respect similar in the human and in the divine intelligence. Now, as to the manner of thinking; how can
we make any comparison between them, or suppose them any wise resembling? Our thought is fluctuating, uncertain, fleeting,
successive, and compounded; and were we to remove these circumstances, we absolutely
annihilate its essence, and it would in such a case be an abuse of terms to apply to it
the name of thought or reason. At least if it appear more pious and respectful
(as it really is) still to retain these terms, when we mention the Supreme Being, we ought
to acknowledge, that their meaning, in that case, is totally incomprehensible; and that
the infirmities of our nature do not permit us to reach any ideas which in the least correspond
to the ineffable sublimity of the Divine attributes. PART 4 It seems strange to me, said CLEANTHES, that
you, DEMEA, who are so sincere in the cause of religion, should still maintain the mysterious,
incomprehensible nature of the Deity, and should insist so strenuously that he has no
manner of likeness or resemblance to human creatures. The Deity, I can readily allow, possesses
many powers and attributes of which we can have no comprehension: But if our ideas, so
far as they go, be not just, and adequate, and correspondent to his real nature, I know
not what there is in this subject worth insisting on. Is the name, without any meaning, of such
mighty importance? Or how do you mystics, who maintain the absolute
incomprehensibility of the Deity, differ from Sceptics or Atheists, who assert, that the
first cause of all is unknown and unintelligible? Their temerity must be very great, if, after
rejecting the production by a mind, I mean a mind resembling the human, (for I know of
no other,) they pretend to assign, with certainty, any other specific intelligible cause: And
their conscience must be very scrupulous indeed, if they refuse to call the universal unknown
cause a God or Deity; and to bestow on him as many sublime eulogies and unmeaning epithets
as you shall please to require of them. Who could imagine, replied DEMEA, that CLEANTHES,
the calm philosophical CLEANTHES, would attempt to refute his antagonists by affixing a nickname
to them; and, like the common bigots and inquisitors of the age, have recourse to invective and
declamation, instead of reasoning? Or does he not perceive, that these topics
are easily retorted, and that Anthropomorphite is an appellation as invidious, and implies
as dangerous consequences, as the epithet of Mystic, with which he has honoured us? In reality, CLEANTHES, consider what it is
you assert when you represent the Deity as similar to a human mind and understanding. What is the soul of man? A composition of various faculties, passions,
sentiments, ideas; united, indeed, into one self or person, but still distinct from each
other. When it reasons, the ideas, which are the
parts of its discourse, arrange themselves in a certain form or order; which is not preserved
entire for a moment, but immediately gives place to another arrangement. New opinions, new passions, new affections,
new feelings arise, which continually diversify the mental scene, and produce in it the greatest
variety and most rapid succession imaginable. How is this compatible with that perfect immutability
and simplicity which all true Theists ascribe to the Deity? By the same act, say they, he sees past, present,
and future: His love and hatred, his mercy and justice, are one individual operation:
He is entire in every point of space; and complete in every instant of duration. No succession, no change, no acquisition,
no diminution. What he is implies not in it any shadow of
distinction or diversity. And what he is this moment he ever has been,
and ever will be, without any new judgement, sentiment, or operation. He stands fixed in one simple, perfect state:
nor can you ever say, with any propriety, that this act of his is different from that
other; or that this judgement or idea has been lately formed, and will give place, by
succession, to any different judgement or idea. I can readily allow, said CLEANTHES, that
those who maintain the perfect simplicity of the Supreme Being, to the extent in which
you have explained it, are complete Mystics, and chargeable with all the consequences which
I have drawn from their opinion. They are, in a word, Atheists, without knowing
it. For though it be allowed, that the Deity possesses
attributes of which we have no comprehension, yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes
which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas
are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable, is
a mind which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or,
in a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of terms to give it that appellation;
and we may as well speak of limited extension without figure, or of number without composition. Pray consider, said PHILO, whom you are at
present inveighing against. You are honouring with the appellation of
Atheist all the sound, orthodox divines, almost, who have treated of this subject; and you
will at last be, yourself, found, according to your reckoning, the only sound Theist in
the world. But if idolaters be Atheists, as, I think,
may justly be asserted, and Christian Theologians the same, what becomes of the argument, so
much celebrated, derived from the universal consent of mankind? But because I know you are not much swayed
by names and authorities, I shall endeavour to show you, a little more distinctly, the
inconveniences of that Anthropomorphism, which you have embraced; and shall prove, that there
is no ground to suppose a plan of the world to be formed in the Divine mind, consisting
of distinct ideas, differently arranged, in the same manner as an architect forms in his
head the plan of a house which he intends to execute. It is not easy, I own, to see what is gained
by this supposition, whether we judge of the matter by Reason or by Experience. We are still obliged to mount higher, in order
to find the cause of this cause, which you had assigned as satisfactory and conclusive. If Reason (I mean abstract reason, derived
from inquiries a priori) be not alike mute with regard to all questions concerning cause
and effect, this sentence at least it will venture to pronounce, That a mental world,
or universe of ideas, requires a cause as much, as does a material world, or universe
of objects; and, if similar in its arrangement, must require a similar cause. For what is there in this subject, which should
occasion a different conclusion or inference? In an abstract view, they are entirely alike;
and no difficulty attends the one supposition, which is not common to both of them. Again, when we will needs force Experience
to pronounce some sentence, even on these subjects which lie beyond her sphere, neither
can she perceive any material difference in this particular, between these two kinds of
worlds; but finds them to be governed by similar principles, and to depend upon an equal variety
of causes in their operations. We have specimens in miniature of both of
them. Our own mind resembles the one; a vegetable
or animal body the other. Let experience, therefore, judge from these
samples. Nothing seems more delicate, with regard to
its causes, than thought; and as these causes never operate in two persons after the same
manner, so we never find two persons who think exactly alike. Nor indeed does the same person think exactly
alike at any two different periods of time. A difference of age, of the disposition of
his body, of weather, of food, of company, of books, of passions; any of these particulars,
or others more minute, are sufficient to alter the curious machinery of thought, and communicate
to it very different movements and operations. As far as we can judge, vegetables and animal
bodies are not more delicate in their motions, nor depend upon a greater variety or more
curious adjustment of springs and principles. How, therefore, shall we satisfy ourselves
concerning the cause of that Being whom you suppose the Author of Nature, or, according
to your system of Anthropomorphism, the ideal world, into which you trace the material? Have we not the same reason to trace that
ideal world into another ideal world, or new intelligent principle? But if we stop, and go no further; why go
so far? why not stop at the material world? How can we satisfy ourselves without going
on in infinitum? And, after all, what satisfaction is there
in that infinite progression? Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher
and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present
subject. If the material world rests upon a similar
ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond
the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of
its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at
that Divine Being, so much the better. When you go one step beyond the mundane system,
you only excite an inquisitive humour which it is impossible ever to satisfy. To say, that the different ideas which compose
the reason of the Supreme Being, fall into order of themselves, and by their own nature,
is really to talk without any precise meaning. If it has a meaning, I would fain know, why
it is not as good sense to say, that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves
and by their own nature. Can the one opinion be intelligible, while
the other is not so? We have, indeed, experience of ideas which
fall into order of themselves, and without any known cause. But, I am sure, we have a much larger experience
of matter which does the same; as, in all instances of generation and vegetation, where
the accurate analysis of the cause exceeds all human comprehension. We have also experience of particular systems
of thought and of matter which have no order; of the first in madness, of the second in
corruption. Why, then, should we think, that order is
more essential to one than the other? And if it requires a cause in both, what do
we gain by your system, in tracing the universe of objects into a similar universe of ideas? The first step which we make leads us on for
ever. It were, therefore, wise in us to limit all
our inquiries to the present world, without looking further. No satisfaction can ever be attained by these
speculations, which so far exceed the narrow bounds of human understanding. It was usual with the PERIPATETICS, you know,
CLEANTHES, when the cause of any phenomenon was demanded, to have recourse to their faculties
or occult qualities; and to say, for instance, that bread nourished by its nutritive faculty,
and senna purged by its purgative. But it has been discovered, that this subterfuge
was nothing but the disguise of ignorance; and that these philosophers, though less ingenuous,
really said the same thing with the sceptics or the vulgar, who fairly confessed that they
knew not the cause of these phenomena. In like manner, when it is asked, what cause
produces order in the ideas of the Supreme Being; can any other reason be assigned by
you, Anthropomorphites, than that it is a rational faculty, and that such is the nature
of the Deity? But why a similar answer will not be equally
satisfactory in accounting for the order of the world, without having recourse to any
such intelligent creator as you insist on, may be difficult to determine. It is only to say, that such is the nature
of material objects, and that they are all originally possessed of a faculty of order
and proportion. These are only more learned and elaborate
ways of confessing our ignorance; nor has the one hypothesis any real advantage above
the other, except in its greater conformity to vulgar prejudices. You have displayed this argument with great
emphasis, replied CLEANTHES: You seem not sensible how easy it is to answer it. Even in common life, if I assign a cause for
any event, is it any objection, PHILO, that I cannot assign the cause of that cause, and
answer every new question which may incessantly be started? And what philosophers could possibly submit
to so rigid a rule? philosophers, who confess ultimate causes
to be totally unknown; and are sensible, that the most refined principles into which they
trace the phenomena, are still to them as inexplicable as these phenomena themselves
are to the vulgar. The order and arrangement of nature, the curious
adjustment of final causes, the plain use and intention of every part and organ; all
these bespeak in the clearest language an intelligent cause or author. The heavens and the earth join in the same
testimony: The whole chorus of Nature raises one hymn to the praises of its Creator. You alone, or almost alone, disturb this general
harmony. You start abstruse doubts, cavils, and objections:
You ask me, what is the cause of this cause? I know not; I care not; that concerns not
me. I have found a Deity; and here I stop my inquiry. Let those go further, who are wiser or more
enterprising. I pretend to be neither, replied PHILO: And
for that very reason, I should never perhaps have attempted to go so far; especially when
I am sensible, that I must at last be contented to sit down with the same answer, which, without
further trouble, might have satisfied me from the beginning. If I am still to remain in utter ignorance
of causes, and can absolutely give an explication of nothing, I shall never esteem it any advantage
to shove off for a moment a difficulty, which, you acknowledge, must immediately, in its
full force, recur upon me. Naturalists indeed very justly explain particular
effects by more general causes, though these general causes themselves should remain in
the end totally inexplicable; but they never surely thought it satisfactory to explain
a particular effect by a particular cause, which was no more to be accounted for than
the effect itself. An ideal system, arranged of itself, without
a precedent design, is not a whit more explicable than a material one, which attains its order
in a like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the latter supposition than in
the former. PART 5 But to show you still more inconveniences,
continued PHILO, in your Anthropomorphism, please to take a new survey of your principles. Like effects prove like causes. This is the experimental argument; and this,
you say too, is the sole theological argument. Now, it is certain, that the liker the effects
are which are seen, and the liker the causes which are inferred, the stronger is the argument. Every departure on either side diminishes
the probability, and renders the experiment less conclusive. You cannot doubt of the principle; neither
ought you to reject its consequences. All the new discoveries in astronomy, which
prove the immense grandeur and magnificence of the works of Nature, are so many additional
arguments for a Deity, according to the true system of Theism; but, according to your hypothesis
of experimental Theism, they become so many objections, by removing the effect still further
from all resemblance to the effects of human art and contrivance. For, if LUCRETIUS, even following the old system
of the world, could exclaim, Quis regere immensi summam, quis habere profundi
Indu manu validas potis est moderanter habenas? Quis pariter coelos omnes convertere? et omnes Ignibus aetheriis terras suffire feraces? Omnibus inque locis esse omni tempore praesto? If TULLY esteemed this reasoning so natural,
as to put it into the mouth of his EPICUREAN: “Quibus enim oculis animi intueri potuit vester
Plato fabricam illam tanti operis, qua construi a Deo atque aedificari mundum facit? quae molitio? quae ferramenta? qui vectes? quae machinae? qui ministri tanti muneris fuerunt? quemadmodum autem obedire et parere voluntati
architecti aer, ignis, aqua, terra potuerunt?” If this argument, I say, had any force in
former ages, how much greater must it have at present, when the bounds of Nature are
so infinitely enlarged, and such a magnificent scene is opened to us? It is still more unreasonable to form our
idea of so unlimited a cause from our experience of the narrow productions of human design
and invention. The discoveries by microscopes, as they open
a new universe in miniature, are still objections, according to you, arguments, according to
me. The further we push our researches of this
kind, we are still led to infer the universal cause of all to be vastly different from mankind,
or from any object of human experience and observation. And what say you to the discoveries in anatomy,
chemistry, botany?… These surely are no objections, replied CLEANTHES;
they only discover new instances of art and contrivance. It is still the image of mind reflected on
us from innumerable objects. Add, a mind like the human, said PHILO. I know of no other, replied CLEANTHES. And the liker the better, insisted PHILO. To be sure, said CLEANTHES. Now, CLEANTHES, said PHILO, with an air of
alacrity and triumph, mark the consequences. First, By this method of reasoning, you renounce
all claim to infinity in any of the attributes of the Deity. For, as the cause ought only to be proportioned
to the effect, and the effect, so far as it falls under our cognisance, is not infinite;
what pretensions have we, upon your suppositions, to ascribe that attribute to the Divine Being? You will still insist, that, by removing him
so much from all similarity to human creatures, we give in to the most arbitrary hypothesis,
and at the same time weaken all proofs of his existence. Secondly, You have no reason, on your theory,
for ascribing perfection to the Deity, even in his finite capacity, or for supposing him
free from every error, mistake, or incoherence, in his undertakings. There are many inexplicable difficulties in
the works of Nature, which, if we allow a perfect author to be proved a priori, are
easily solved, and become only seeming difficulties, from the narrow capacity of man, who cannot
trace infinite relations. But according to your method of reasoning,
these difficulties become all real; and perhaps will be insisted on, as new instances of likeness
to human art and contrivance. At least, you must acknowledge, that it is
impossible for us to tell, from our limited views, whether this system contains any great
faults, or deserves any considerable praise, if compared to other possible, and even real
systems. Could a peasant, if the Aeneid were read to
him, pronounce that poem to be absolutely faultless, or even assign to it its proper
rank among the productions of human wit, he, who had never seen any other production? But were this world ever so perfect a production,
it must still remain uncertain, whether all the excellences of the work can justly be
ascribed to the workman. If we survey a ship, what an exalted idea
must we form of the ingenuity of the carpenter who framed so complicated, useful, and beautiful
a machine? And what surprise must we feel, when we find
him a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, and copied an art, which, through a long succession
of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies,
had been gradually improving? Many worlds might have been botched and bungled,
throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out; much labour lost, many fruitless
trials made; and a slow, but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art
of world-making. In such subjects, who can determine, where
the truth; nay, who can conjecture where the probability lies, amidst a great number of
hypotheses which may be proposed, and a still greater which may be imagined? And what shadow of an argument, continued
PHILO, can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove the unity of the Deity? A great number of men join in building a house
or ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth; why may not several deities combine in contriving
and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to
human affairs. By sharing the work among several, we may
so much further limit the attributes of each, and get rid of that extensive power and knowledge,
which must be supposed in one deity, and which, according to you, can only serve to weaken
the proof of his existence. And if such foolish, such vicious creatures
as man, can yet often unite in framing and executing one plan, how much more those deities
or demons, whom we may suppose several degrees more perfect! To multiply causes without necessity, is indeed
contrary to true philosophy: but this principle applies not to the present case. Were one deity antecedently proved by your
theory, who were possessed of every attribute requisite to the production of the universe;
it would be needless, I own, (though not absurd,) to suppose any other deity existent. But while it is still a question, Whether
all these attributes are united in one subject, or dispersed among several independent beings,
by what phenomena in nature can we pretend to decide the controversy? Where we see a body raised in a scale, we
are sure that there is in the opposite scale, however concealed from sight, some counterpoising
weight equal to it; but it is still allowed to doubt, whether that weight be an aggregate
of several distinct bodies, or one uniform united mass. And if the weight requisite very much exceeds
any thing which we have ever seen conjoined in any single body, the former supposition
becomes still more probable and natural. An intelligent being of such vast power and
capacity as is necessary to produce the universe, or, to speak in the language of ancient philosophy,
so prodigious an animal exceeds all analogy, and even comprehension. But further, CLEANTHES: men are mortal, and
renew their species by generation; and this is common to all living creatures. The two great sexes of male and female, says
MILTON, animate the world. Why must this circumstance, so universal,
so essential, be excluded from those numerous and limited deities? Behold, then, the theogony of ancient times
brought back upon us. And why not become a perfect Anthropomorphite? Why not assert the deity or deities to be
corporeal, and to have eyes, a nose, mouth, ears, &c.? EPICURUS maintained, that no man
had ever seen reason but in a human figure; therefore the gods must have a human figure. And this argument, which is deservedly so
much ridiculed by CICERO, becomes, according to you, solid and philosophical. In a word, CLEANTHES, a man who follows your
hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something
like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is
left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and
hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty
and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some
infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the
work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors:
it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since
his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it
received from him. You justly give signs of horror, DEMEA, at
these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are CLEANTHES’s
suppositions, not mine. From the moment the attributes of the Deity
are supposed finite, all these have place. And I cannot, for my part, think that so wild
and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect, preferable to none at all. These suppositions I absolutely disown, cried
CLEANTHES: they strike me, however, with no horror, especially when proposed in that rambling
way in which they drop from you. On the contrary, they give me pleasure, when
I see, that, by the utmost indulgence of your imagination, you never get rid of the hypothesis
of design in the universe, but are obliged at every turn to have recourse to it. To this concession I adhere steadily; and
this I regard as a sufficient foundation for religion. PART 6 It must be a slight fabric, indeed, said DEMEA,
which can be erected on so tottering a foundation. While we are uncertain whether there is one
deity or many; whether the deity or deities, to whom we owe our existence, be perfect or
imperfect, subordinate or supreme, dead or alive, what trust or confidence can we repose
in them? What devotion or worship address to them? What veneration or obedience pay them? To all the purposes of life the theory of
religion becomes altogether useless: and even with regard to speculative consequences, its
uncertainty, according to you, must render it totally precarious and unsatisfactory. To render it still more unsatisfactory, said
PHILO, there occurs to me another hypothesis, which must acquire an air of probability from
the method of reasoning so much insisted on by CLEANTHES. That like effects arise from like causes:
this principle he supposes the foundation of all religion. But there is another principle of the same
kind, no less certain, and derived from the same source of experience; that where several
known circumstances are observed to be similar, the unknown will also be found similar. Thus, if we see the limbs of a human body,
we conclude that it is also attended with a human head, though hid from us. Thus, if we see, through a chink in a wall,
a small part of the sun, we conclude, that, were the wall removed, we should see the whole
body. In short, this method of reasoning is so obvious
and familiar, that no scruple can ever be made with regard to its solidity. Now, if we survey the universe, so far as
it falls under our knowledge, it bears a great resemblance to an animal or organised body,
and seems actuated with a like principle of life and motion. A continual circulation of matter in it produces
no disorder: a continual waste in every part is incessantly repaired: the closest sympathy
is perceived throughout the entire system: and each part or member, in performing its
proper offices, operates both to its own preservation and to that of the whole. The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal;
and the Deity is the SOUL of the world, actuating it, and actuated by it. You have too much learning, CLEANTHES, to
be at all surprised at this opinion, which, you know, was maintained by almost all the
Theists of antiquity, and chiefly prevails in their discourses and reasonings. For though, sometimes, the ancient philosophers
reason from final causes, as if they thought the world the workmanship of God; yet it appears
rather their favourite notion to consider it as his body, whose organisation renders
it subservient to him. And it must be confessed, that, as the universe
resembles more a human body than it does the works of human art and contrivance, if our
limited analogy could ever, with any propriety, be extended to the whole of nature, the inference
seems juster in favour of the ancient than the modern theory. There are many other advantages, too, in the
former theory, which recommended it to the ancient theologians. Nothing more repugnant to all their notions,
because nothing more repugnant to common experience, than mind without body; a mere spiritual substance,
which fell not under their senses nor comprehension, and of which they had not observed one single
instance throughout all nature. Mind and body they knew, because they felt
both: an order, arrangement, organisation, or internal machinery, in both, they likewise
knew, after the same manner: and it could not but seem reasonable to transfer this experience
to the universe; and to suppose the divine mind and body to be also coeval, and to have,
both of them, order and arrangement naturally inherent in them, and inseparable from them. Here, therefore, is a new species of Anthropomorphism,
CLEANTHES, on which you may deliberate; and a theory which seems not liable to any considerable
difficulties. You are too much superior, surely, to systematical
prejudices, to find any more difficulty in supposing an animal body to be, originally,
of itself, or from unknown causes, possessed of order and organisation, than in supposing
a similar order to belong to mind. But the vulgar prejudice, that body and mind
ought always to accompany each other, ought not, one should think, to be entirely neglected;
since it is founded on vulgar experience, the only guide which you profess to follow
in all these theological inquiries. And if you assert, that our limited experience
is an unequal standard, by which to judge of the unlimited extent of nature; you entirely
abandon your own hypothesis, and must thenceforward adopt our Mysticism, as you call it, and admit
of the absolute incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature. This theory, I own, replied CLEANTHES, has
never before occurred to me, though a pretty natural one; and I cannot readily, upon so
short an examination and reflection, deliver any opinion with regard to it. You are very scrupulous, indeed, said PHILO:
were I to examine any system of yours, I should not have acted with half that caution and
reserve, in starting objections and difficulties to it. However, if any thing occur to you, you will
oblige us by proposing it. Why then, replied CLEANTHES, it seems to me,
that, though the world does, in many circumstances, resemble an animal body; yet is the analogy
also defective in many circumstances the most material: no organs of sense; no seat of thought
or reason; no one precise origin of motion and action. In short, it seems to bear a stronger resemblance
to a vegetable than to an animal, and your inference would be so far inconclusive in
favour of the soul of the world. But, in the next place, your theory seems
to imply the eternity of the world; and that is a principle, which, I think, can be refuted
by the strongest reasons and probabilities. I shall suggest an argument to this purpose,
which, I believe, has not been insisted on by any writer. Those, who reason from the late origin of
arts and sciences, though their inference wants not force, may perhaps be refuted by
considerations derived from the nature of human society, which is in continual revolution,
between ignorance and knowledge, liberty and slavery, riches and poverty; so that it is
impossible for us, from our limited experience, to foretell with assurance what events may
or may not be expected. Ancient learning and history seem to have
been in great danger of entirely perishing after the inundation of the barbarous nations;
and had these convulsions continued a little longer, or been a little more violent, we
should not probably have now known what passed in the world a few centuries before us. Nay, were it not for the superstition of the
Popes, who preserved a little jargon of Latin, in order to support the appearance of an ancient
and universal church, that tongue must have been utterly lost; in which case, the Western
world, being totally barbarous, would not have been in a fit disposition for receiving
the GREEK language and learning, which was conveyed to them after the sacking of CONSTANTINOPLE. When learning and books had been extinguished,
even the mechanical arts would have fallen considerably to decay; and it is easily imagined,
that fable or tradition might ascribe to them a much later origin than the true one. This vulgar argument, therefore, against the
eternity of the world, seems a little precarious. But here appears to be the foundation of a
better argument. LUCULLUS was the first that brought cherry-trees
from ASIA to EUROPE; though that tree thrives so well in many EUROPEAN climates, that it
grows in the woods without any culture. Is it possible, that throughout a whole eternity,
no EUROPEAN had ever passed into ASIA, and thought of transplanting so delicious a fruit
into his own country? Or if the tree was once transplanted and propagated,
how could it ever afterwards perish? Empires may rise and fall, liberty and slavery
succeed alternately, ignorance and knowledge give place to each other; but the cherry-tree
will still remain in the woods of GREECE, SPAIN, and ITALY, and will never be affected
by the revolutions of human society. It is not two thousand years since vines were
transplanted into FRANCE, though there is no climate in the world more favourable to
them. It is not three centuries since horses, cows,
sheep, swine, dogs, corn, were known in AMERICA. Is it possible, that during the revolutions
of a whole eternity, there never arose a COLUMBUS, who might open the communication between EUROPE
and that continent? We may as well imagine, that all men would
wear stockings for ten thousand years, and never have the sense to think of garters to
tie them. All these seem convincing proofs of the youth,
or rather infancy, of the world; as being founded on the operation of principles more
constant and steady than those by which human society is governed and directed. Nothing less than a total convulsion of the
elements will ever destroy all the EUROPEAN animals and vegetables which are now to be
found in the Western world. And what argument have you against such convulsions? replied PHILO. Strong and almost incontestable proofs may
be traced over the whole earth, that every part of this globe has continued for many
ages entirely covered with water. And though order were supposed inseparable
from matter, and inherent in it; yet may matter be susceptible of many and great revolutions,
through the endless periods of eternal duration. The incessant changes, to which every part
of it is subject, seem to intimate some such general transformations; though, at the same
time, it is observable, that all the changes and corruptions of which we have ever had
experience, are but passages from one state of order to another; nor can matter ever rest
in total deformity and confusion. What we see in the parts, we may infer in
the whole; at least, that is the method of reasoning on which you rest your whole theory. And were I obliged to defend any particular
system of this nature, which I never willingly should do, I esteem none more plausible than
that which ascribes an eternal inherent principle of order to the world, though attended with
great and continual revolutions and alterations. This at once solves all difficulties; and
if the solution, by being so general, is not entirely complete and satisfactory, it is
at least a theory that we must sooner or later have recourse to, whatever system we embrace. How could things have been as they are, were
there not an original inherent principle of order somewhere, in thought or in matter? And it is very indifferent to which of these
we give the preference. Chance has no place, on any hypothesis, sceptical
or religious. Every thing is surely governed by steady,
inviolable laws. And were the inmost essence of things laid
open to us, we should then discover a scene, of which, at present, we can have no idea. Instead of admiring the order of natural beings,
we should clearly see that it was absolutely impossible for them, in the smallest article,
ever to admit of any other disposition. Were any one inclined to revive the ancient
Pagan Theology, which maintained, as we learn from HESIOD, that this globe was governed
by 30,000 deities, who arose from the unknown powers of nature: you would naturally object,
CLEANTHES, that nothing is gained by this hypothesis; and that it is as easy to suppose
all men animals, beings more numerous, but less perfect, to have sprung immediately from
a like origin. Push the same inference a step further, and
you will find a numerous society of deities as explicable as one universal deity, who
possesses within himself the powers and perfections of the whole society. All these systems, then, of Scepticism, Polytheism,
and Theism, you must allow, on your principles, to be on a like footing, and that no one of
them has any advantage over the others. You may thence learn the fallacy of your principles. PART 7 But here, continued PHILO, in examining the
ancient system of the soul of the world, there strikes me, all on a sudden, a new idea, which,
if just, must go near to subvert all your reasoning, and destroy even your first inferences,
on which you repose such confidence. If the universe bears a greater likeness to
animal bodies and to vegetables, than to the works of human art, it is more probable that
its cause resembles the cause of the former than that of the latter, and its origin ought
rather to be ascribed to generation or vegetation, than to reason or design. Your conclusion, even according to your own
principles, is therefore lame and defective. Pray open up this argument a little further,
said DEMEA, for I do not rightly apprehend it in that concise manner in which you have
expressed it. Our friend CLEANTHES, replied PHILO, as you
have heard, asserts, that since no question of fact can be proved otherwise than by experience,
the existence of a Deity admits not of proof from any other medium. The world, says he, resembles the works of
human contrivance; therefore its cause must also resemble that of the other. Here we may remark, that the operation of
one very small part of nature, to wit man, upon another very small part, to wit that
inanimate matter lying within his reach, is the rule by which CLEANTHES judges of the
origin of the whole; and he measures objects, so widely disproportioned, by the same individual
standard. But to waive all objections drawn from this
topic, I affirm, that there are other parts of the universe (besides the machines of human
invention) which bear still a greater resemblance to the fabric of the world, and which, therefore,
afford a better conjecture concerning the universal origin of this system. These parts are animals and vegetables. The world plainly resembles more an animal
or a vegetable, than it does a watch or a knitting-loom. Its cause, therefore, it is more probable,
resembles the cause of the former. The cause of the former is generation or vegetation. The cause, therefore, of the world, we may
infer to be something similar or analogous to generation or vegetation. But how is it conceivable, said DEMEA, that
the world can arise from any thing similar to vegetation or generation? Very easily, replied PHILO. In like manner as a tree sheds its seed into
the neighbouring fields, and produces other trees; so the great vegetable, the world,
or this planetary system, produces within itself certain seeds, which, being scattered
into the surrounding chaos, vegetate into new worlds. A comet, for instance, is the seed of a world;
and after it has been fully ripened, by passing from sun to sun, and star to star, it is at
last tossed into the unformed elements which every where surround this universe, and immediately
sprouts up into a new system. Or if, for the sake of variety (for I see
no other advantage), we should suppose this world to be an animal; a comet is the egg
of this animal: and in like manner as an ostrich lays its egg in the sand, which, without any
further care, hatches the egg, and produces a new animal; so… I understand you, says DEMEA: But what wild,
arbitrary suppositions are these! What data have you for such extraordinary
conclusions? And is the slight, imaginary resemblance of
the world to a vegetable or an animal sufficient to establish the same inference with regard
to both? Objects, which are in general so widely different,
ought they to be a standard for each other? Right, cries PHILO: This is the topic on which
I have all along insisted. I have still asserted, that we have no data
to establish any system of cosmogony. Our experience, so imperfect in itself, and
so limited both in extent and duration, can afford us no probable conjecture concerning
the whole of things. But if we must needs fix on some hypothesis;
by what rule, pray, ought we to determine our choice? Is there any other rule than the greater similarity
of the objects compared? And does not a plant or an animal, which springs
from vegetation or generation, bear a stronger resemblance to the world, than does any artificial
machine, which arises from reason and design? But what is this vegetation and generation
of which you talk? said DEMEA. Can you explain their operations, and anatomise
that fine internal structure on which they depend? As much, at least, replied PHILO, as CLEANTHES
can explain the operations of reason, or anatomise that internal structure on which it depends. But without any such elaborate disquisitions,
when I see an animal, I infer, that it sprang from generation; and that with as great certainty
as you conclude a house to have been reared by design. These words, generation, reason, mark only
certain powers and energies in nature, whose effects are known, but whose essence is incomprehensible;
and one of these principles, more than the other, has no privilege for being made a standard
to the whole of nature. In reality, DEMEA, it may reasonably be expected,
that the larger the views are which we take of things, the better will they conduct us
in our conclusions concerning such extraordinary and such magnificent subjects. In this little corner of the world alone,
there are four principles, reason, instinct, generation, vegetation, which are similar
to each other, and are the causes of similar effects. What a number of other principles may we naturally
suppose in the immense extent and variety of the universe, could we travel from planet
to planet, and from system to system, in order to examine each part of this mighty fabric? Any one of these four principles above mentioned,
(and a hundred others which lie open to our conjecture,) may afford us a theory by which
to judge of the origin of the world; and it is a palpable and egregious partiality to
confine our view entirely to that principle by which our own minds operate. Were this principle more intelligible on that
account, such a partiality might be somewhat excusable: But reason, in its internal fabric
and structure, is really as little known to us as instinct or vegetation; and, perhaps,
even that vague, indeterminate word, Nature, to which the vulgar refer every thing, is
not at the bottom more inexplicable. The effects of these principles are all known
to us from experience; but the principles themselves, and their manner of operation,
are totally unknown; nor is it less intelligible, or less conformable to experience, to say,
that the world arose by vegetation, from a seed shed by another world, than to say that
it arose from a divine reason or contrivance, according to the sense in which CLEANTHES
understands it. But methinks, said DEMEA, if the world had
a vegetative quality, and could sow the seeds of new worlds into the infinite chaos, this
power would be still an additional argument for design in its author. For whence could arise so wonderful a faculty
but from design? Or how can order spring from any thing which
perceives not that order which it bestows? You need only look around you, replied PHILO,
to satisfy yourself with regard to this question. A tree bestows order and organisation on that
tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on
its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the
world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and
vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great
point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature,
inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown
principles, belong to matter. But further, DEMEA; this objection which you
urge can never be made use of by CLEANTHES, without renouncing a defence which he has
already made against one of my objections. When I inquired concerning the cause of that
supreme reason and intelligence into which he resolves every thing; he told me, that
the impossibility of satisfying such inquiries could never be admitted as an objection in
any species of philosophy. “We must stop somewhere”, says he; “nor is
it ever within the reach of human capacity to explain ultimate causes, or show the last
connections of any objects. It is sufficient, if any steps, so far as
we go, are supported by experience and observation.” Now, that vegetation and generation, as well
as reason, are experienced to be principles of order in nature, is undeniable. If I rest my system of cosmogony on the former,
preferably to the latter, it is at my choice. The matter seems entirely arbitrary. And when CLEANTHES asks me what is the cause
of my great vegetative or generative faculty, I am equally entitled to ask him the cause
of his great reasoning principle. These questions we have agreed to forbear
on both sides; and it is chiefly his interest on the present occasion to stick to this agreement. Judging by our limited and imperfect experience,
generation has some privileges above reason: for we see every day the latter arise from
the former, never the former from the latter. Compare, I beseech you, the consequences on
both sides. The world, say I, resembles an animal; therefore
it is an animal, therefore it arose from generation. The steps, I confess, are wide; yet there
is some small appearance of analogy in each step. The world, says CLEANTHES, resembles a machine;
therefore it is a machine, therefore it arose from design. The steps are here equally wide, and the analogy
less striking. And if he pretends to carry on my hypothesis
a step further, and to infer design or reason from the great principle of generation, on
which I insist; I may, with better authority, use the same freedom to push further his hypothesis,
and infer a divine generation or theogony from his principle of reason. I have at least some faint shadow of experience,
which is the utmost that can ever be attained in the present subject. Reason, in innumerable instances, is observed
to arise from the principle of generation, and never to arise from any other principle. HESIOD, and all the ancient mythologists,
were so struck with this analogy, that they universally explained the origin of nature
from an animal birth, and copulation. PLATO too, so far as he is intelligible, seems
to have adopted some such notion in his TIMAEUS. The BRAHMINS assert, that the world arose
from an infinite spider, who spun this whole complicated mass from his bowels, and annihilates
afterwards the whole or any part of it, by absorbing it again, and resolving it into
his own essence. Here is a species of cosmogony, which appears
to us ridiculous; because a spider is a little contemptible animal, whose operations we are
never likely to take for a model of the whole universe. But still here is a new species of analogy,
even in our globe. And were there a planet wholly inhabited by
spiders, (which is very possible,) this inference would there appear as natural and irrefragable
as that which in our planet ascribes the origin of all things to design and intelligence,
as explained by CLEANTHES. Why an orderly system may not be spun from
the belly as well as from the brain, it will be difficult for him to give a satisfactory
reason. I must confess, PHILO, replied CLEANTHES,
that of all men living, the task which you have undertaken, of raising doubts and objections,
suits you best, and seems, in a manner, natural and unavoidable to you. So great is your fertility of invention, that
I am not ashamed to acknowledge myself unable, on a sudden, to solve regularly such out-of-the-way
difficulties as you incessantly start upon me: though I clearly see, in general, their
fallacy and error. And I question not, but you are yourself,
at present, in the same case, and have not the solution so ready as the objection: while
you must be sensible, that common sense and reason are entirely against you; and that
such whimsies as you have delivered, may puzzle, but never can convince us. PART 8 What you ascribe to the fertility of my invention,
replied PHILO, is entirely owing to the nature of the subject. In subjects adapted to the narrow compass
of human reason, there is commonly but one determination, which carries probability or
conviction with it; and to a man of sound judgement, all other suppositions, but that
one, appear entirely absurd and chimerical. But in such questions as the present, a hundred
contradictory views may preserve a kind of imperfect analogy; and invention has here
full scope to exert itself. Without any great effort of thought, I believe
that I could, in an instant, propose other systems of cosmogony, which would have some
faint appearance of truth, though it is a thousand, a million to one, if either yours
or any one of mine be the true system. For instance, what if I should revive the
old EPICUREAN hypothesis? This is commonly, and I believe justly, esteemed
the most absurd system that has yet been proposed; yet I know not whether, with a few alterations,
it might not be brought to bear a faint appearance of probability. Instead of supposing matter infinite, as EPICURUS
did, let us suppose it finite. A finite number of particles is only susceptible
of finite transpositions: and it must happen, in an eternal duration, that every possible
order or position must be tried an infinite number of times. This world, therefore, with all its events,
even the most minute, has before been produced and destroyed, and will again be produced
and destroyed, without any bounds and limitations. No one, who has a conception of the powers
of infinite, in comparison of finite, will ever scruple this determination. But this supposes, said DEMEA, that matter
can acquire motion, without any voluntary agent or first mover. And where is the difficulty, replied PHILO,
of that supposition? Every event, before experience, is equally
difficult and incomprehensible; and every event, after experience, is equally easy and
intelligible. Motion, in many instances, from gravity, from
elasticity, from electricity, begins in matter, without any known voluntary agent: and to
suppose always, in these cases, an unknown voluntary agent, is mere hypothesis; and hypothesis
attended with no advantages. The beginning of motion in matter itself is
as conceivable a priori as its communication from mind and intelligence. Besides, why may not motion have been propagated
by impulse through all eternity, and the same stock of it, or nearly the same, be still
upheld in the universe? As much is lost by the composition of motion,
as much is gained by its resolution. And whatever the causes are, the fact is certain,
that matter is, and always has been, in continual agitation, as far as human experience or tradition
reaches. There is not probably, at present, in the
whole universe, one particle of matter at absolute rest. And this very consideration too, continued
PHILO, which we have stumbled on in the course of the argument, suggests a new hypothesis
of cosmogony, that is not absolutely absurd and improbable. Is there a system, an order, an economy of
things, by which matter can preserve that perpetual agitation which seems essential
to it, and yet maintain a constancy in the forms which it produces? There certainly is such an economy; for this
is actually the case with the present world. The continual motion of matter, therefore,
in less than infinite transpositions, must produce this economy or order; and by its
very nature, that order, when once established, supports itself, for many ages, if not to
eternity. But wherever matter is so poised, arranged,
and adjusted, as to continue in perpetual motion, and yet preserve a constancy in the
forms, its situation must, of necessity, have all the same appearance of art and contrivance
which we observe at present. All the parts of each form must have a relation
to each other, and to the whole; and the whole itself must have a relation to the other parts
of the universe; to the element in which the form subsists; to the materials with which
it repairs its waste and decay; and to every other form which is hostile or friendly. A defect in any of these particulars destroys
the form; and the matter of which it is composed is again set loose, and is thrown into irregular
motions and fermentations, till it unite itself to some other regular form. If no such form be prepared to receive it,
and if there be a great quantity of this corrupted matter in the universe, the universe itself
is entirely disordered; whether it be the feeble embryo of a world in its first beginnings
that is thus destroyed, or the rotten carcass of one languishing in old age and infirmity. In either case, a chaos ensues; till finite,
though innumerable revolutions produce at last some forms, whose parts and organs are
so adjusted as to support the forms amidst a continued succession of matter. Suppose (for we shall endeavour to vary the
expression), that matter were thrown into any position, by a blind, unguided force;
it is evident that this first position must, in all probability, be the most confused and
most disorderly imaginable, without any resemblance to those works of human contrivance, which,
along with a symmetry of parts, discover an adjustment of means to ends, and a tendency
to self-preservation. If the actuating force cease after this operation,
matter must remain for ever in disorder, and continue an immense chaos, without any proportion
or activity. But suppose that the actuating force, whatever
it be, still continues in matter, this first position will immediately give place to a
second, which will likewise in all probability be as disorderly as the first, and so on through
many successions of changes and revolutions. No particular order or position ever continues
a moment unaltered. The original force, still remaining in activity,
gives a perpetual restlessness to matter. Every possible situation is produced, and
instantly destroyed. If a glimpse or dawn of order appears for
a moment, it is instantly hurried away, and confounded, by that never-ceasing force which
actuates every part of matter. Thus the universe goes on for many ages in
a continued succession of chaos and disorder. But is it not possible that it may settle
at last, so as not to lose its motion and active force (for that we have supposed inherent
in it), yet so as to preserve an uniformity of appearance, amidst the continual motion
and fluctuation of its parts? This we find to be the case with the universe
at present. Every individual is perpetually changing,
and every part of every individual; and yet the whole remains, in appearance, the same. May we not hope for such a position, or rather
be assured of it, from the eternal revolutions of unguided matter; and may not this account
for all the appearing wisdom and contrivance which is in the universe? Let us contemplate the subject a little, and
we shall find, that this adjustment, if attained by matter of a seeming stability in the forms,
with a real and perpetual revolution or motion of parts, affords a plausible, if not a true
solution of the difficulty. It is in vain, therefore, to insist upon the
uses of the parts in animals or vegetables, and their curious adjustment to each other. I would fain know, how an animal could subsist,
unless its parts were so adjusted? Do we not find, that it immediately perishes
whenever this adjustment ceases, and that its matter corrupting tries some new form? It happens indeed, that the parts of the world
are so well adjusted, that some regular form immediately lays claim to this corrupted matter:
and if it were not so, could the world subsist? Must it not dissolve as well as the animal,
and pass through new positions and situations, till in great, but finite succession, it falls
at last into the present or some such order? It is well, replied CLEANTHES, you told us,
that this hypothesis was suggested on a sudden, in the course of the argument. Had you had leisure to examine it, you would
soon have perceived the insuperable objections to which it is exposed. No form, you say, can subsist, unless it possess
those powers and organs requisite for its subsistence: some new order or economy must
be tried, and so on, without intermission; till at last some order, which can support
and maintain itself, is fallen upon. But according to this hypothesis, whence arise
the many conveniences and advantages which men and all animals possess? Two eyes, two ears, are not absolutely necessary
for the subsistence of the species. Human race might have been propagated and
preserved, without horses, dogs, cows, sheep, and those innumerable fruits and products
which serve to our satisfaction and enjoyment. If no camels had been created for the use
of man in the sandy deserts of AFRICA and ARABIA, would the world have been dissolved? If no lodestone had been framed to give that
wonderful and useful direction to the needle, would human society and the human kind have
been immediately extinguished? Though the maxims of Nature be in general
very frugal, yet instances of this kind are far from being rare; and any one of them is
a sufficient proof of design, and of a benevolent design, which gave rise to the order and arrangement
of the universe. At least, you may safely infer, said PHILO,
that the foregoing hypothesis is so far incomplete and imperfect, which I shall not scruple to
allow. But can we ever reasonably expect greater
success in any attempts of this nature? Or can we ever hope to erect a system of cosmogony,
that will be liable to no exceptions, and will contain no circumstance repugnant to
our limited and imperfect experience of the analogy of Nature? Your theory itself cannot surely pretend to
any such advantage, even though you have run into Anthropomorphism, the better to preserve
a conformity to common experience. Let us once more put it to trial. In all instances which we have ever seen,
ideas are copied from real objects, and are ectypal, not archetypal, to express myself
in learned terms: You reverse this order, and give thought the precedence. In all instances which we have ever seen,
thought has no influence upon matter, except where that matter is so conjoined with it
as to have an equal reciprocal influence upon it. No animal can move immediately any thing but
the members of its own body; and indeed, the equality of action and reaction seems to be
an universal law of nature: But your theory implies a contradiction to this experience. These instances, with many more, which it
were easy to collect, (particularly the supposition of a mind or system of thought that is eternal,
or, in other words, an animal ingenerable and immortal); these instances, I say, may
teach all of us sobriety in condemning each other, and let us see, that as no system of
this kind ought ever to be received from a slight analogy, so neither ought any to be
rejected on account of a small incongruity. For that is an inconvenience from which we
can justly pronounce no one to be exempted. All religious systems, it is confessed, are
subject to great and insuperable difficulties. Each disputant triumphs in his turn; while
he carries on an offensive war, and exposes the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious
tenets of his antagonist. But all of them, on the whole, prepare a complete
triumph for the Sceptic; who tells them, that no system ought ever to be embraced with regard
to such subjects: For this plain reason, that no absurdity ought ever to be assented to
with regard to any subject. A total suspense of judgement is here our
only reasonable resource. And if every attack, as is commonly observed,
and no defence, among Theologians, is successful; how complete must be his victory, who remains
always, with all mankind, on the offensive, and has himself no fixed station or abiding
city, which he is ever, on any occasion, obliged to defend? PART 9 But if so many difficulties attend the argument
a posteriori, said DEMEA, had we not better adhere to that simple and sublime argument
a priori, which, by offering to us infallible demonstration, cuts off at once all doubt
and difficulty? By this argument, too, we may prove the infinity
of the Divine attributes, which, I am afraid, can never be ascertained with certainty from
any other topic. For how can an effect, which either is finite,
or, for aught we know, may be so; how can such an effect, I say, prove an infinite cause? The unity too of the Divine Nature, it is
very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to deduce merely from contemplating the works
of nature; nor will the uniformity alone of the plan, even were it allowed, give us any
assurance of that attribute. Whereas the argument a priori … You seem to reason, DEMEA, interposed CLEANTHES,
as if those advantages and conveniences in the abstract argument were full proofs of
its solidity. But it is first proper, in my opinion, to
determine what argument of this nature you choose to insist on; and we shall afterwards,
from itself, better than from its useful consequences, endeavour to determine what value we ought
to put upon it. The argument, replied DEMEA, which I would
insist on, is the common one. Whatever exists must have a cause or reason
of its existence; it being absolutely impossible for any thing to produce itself, or be the
cause of its own existence. In mounting up, therefore, from effects to
causes, we must either go on in tracing an infinite succession, without any ultimate
cause at all; or must at last have recourse to some ultimate cause, that is necessarily
existent: Now, that the first supposition is absurd, may be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession of causes
and effects, each single effect is determined to exist by the power and efficacy of that
cause which immediately preceded; but the whole eternal chain or succession, taken together,
is not determined or caused by any thing; and yet it is evident that it requires a cause
or reason, as much as any particular object which begins to exist in time. The question is still reasonable, why this
particular succession of causes existed from eternity, and not any other succession, or
no succession at all. If there be no necessarily existent being,
any supposition which can be formed is equally possible; nor is there any more absurdity
in Nothing’s having existed from eternity, than there is in that succession of causes
which constitutes the universe. What was it, then, which determined Something
to exist rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular possibility, exclusive
of the rest? External causes, there are supposed to be
none. Chance is a word without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that can never produce any thing. We must, therefore, have recourse to a necessarily
existent Being, who carries the REASON of his existence in himself, and who cannot be
supposed not to exist, without an express contradiction. There is, consequently, such a Being; that
is, there is a Deity. I shall not leave it to PHILO, said CLEANTHES,
though I know that the starting objections is his chief delight, to point out the weakness
of this metaphysical reasoning. It seems to me so obviously ill-grounded,
and at the same time of so little consequence to the cause of true piety and religion, that
I shall myself venture to show the fallacy of it. I shall begin with observing, that there is
an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments
a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary
implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies
a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also
conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence
implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence
is demonstrable. I propose this argument as entirely decisive,
and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it. It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily
existent being; and this necessity of his existence is attempted to be explained by
asserting, that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should perceive it to be as
impossible for him not to exist, as for twice two not to be four. But it is evident that this can never happen,
while our faculties remain the same as at present. It will still be possible for us, at any time,
to conceive the non-existence of what we formerly conceived to exist; nor can the mind ever
lie under a necessity of supposing any object to remain always in being; in the same manner
as we lie under a necessity of always conceiving twice two to be four. The words, therefore, necessary existence,
have no meaning; or, which is the same thing, none that is consistent. But further, why may not the material universe
be the necessarily existent Being, according to this pretended explication of necessity? We dare not affirm that we know all the qualities
of matter; and for aught we can determine, it may contain some qualities, which, were
they known, would make its non-existence appear as great a contradiction as that twice two
is five. I find only one argument employed to prove,
that the material world is not the necessarily existent Being: and this argument is derived
from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the world. “Any particle of matter,” it is said “may be
conceived to be annihilated; and any form may be conceived to be altered. Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore,
is not impossible.” But it seems a great partiality not to perceive,
that the same argument extends equally to the Deity, so far as we have any conception
of him; and that the mind can at least imagine him to be non-existent, or his attributes
to be altered. It must be some unknown, inconceivable qualities,
which can make his non-existence appear impossible, or his attributes unalterable: And no reason
can be assigned, why these qualities may not belong to matter. As they are altogether unknown and inconceivable,
they can never be proved incompatible with it. Add to this, that in tracing an eternal succession
of objects, it seems absurd to inquire for a general cause or first author. How can any thing, that exists from eternity,
have a cause, since that relation implies a priority in time, and a beginning of existence? In such a chain, too, or succession of objects,
each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts
into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct countries into one kingdom, or several
distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and
has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each
individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable,
should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining
the cause of the parts. Though the reasonings which you have urged,
CLEANTHES, may well excuse me, said PHILO, from starting any further difficulties, yet
I cannot forbear insisting still upon another topic. It is observed by arithmeticians, that the
products of 9, compose always either 9, or some lesser product of 9, if you add together
all the characters of which any of the former products is composed. Thus, of 18, 27, 36, which are products of
9, you make 9 by adding 1 to 8, 2 to 7, 3 to 6. Thus, 369 is a product also of 9; and if you
add 3, 6, and 9, you make 18, a lesser product of 9. To a superficial observer, so wonderful a
regularity may be admired as the effect either of chance or design: but a skilful algebraist
immediately concludes it to be the work of necessity, and demonstrates, that it must
for ever result from the nature of these numbers. Is it not probable, I ask, that the whole
economy of the universe is conducted by a like necessity, though no human algebra can
furnish a key which solves the difficulty? And instead of admiring the order of natural
beings, may it not happen, that, could we penetrate into the intimate nature of bodies,
we should clearly see why it was absolutely impossible they could ever admit of any other
disposition? So dangerous is it to introduce this idea
of necessity into the present question! and so naturally does it afford an inference directly
opposite to the religious hypothesis! But dropping all these abstractions, continued
PHILO, and confining ourselves to more familiar topics, I shall venture to add an observation,
that the argument a priori has seldom been found very convincing, except to people of
a metaphysical head, who have accustomed themselves to abstract reasoning, and who, finding from
mathematics, that the understanding frequently leads to truth through obscurity, and, contrary
to first appearances, have transferred the same habit of thinking to subjects where it
ought not to have place. Other people, even of good sense and the best
inclined to religion, feel always some deficiency in such arguments, though they are not perhaps
able to explain distinctly where it lies; a certain proof that men ever did, and ever
will derive their religion from other sources than from this species of reasoning. PART 10 It is my opinion, I own, replied DEMEA, that
each man feels, in a manner, the truth of religion within his own breast, and, from
a consciousness of his imbecility and misery, rather than from any reasoning, is led to
seek protection from that Being, on whom he and all nature is dependent. So anxious or so tedious are even the best
scenes of life, that futurity is still the object of all our hopes and fears. We incessantly look forward, and endeavour,
by prayers, adoration, and sacrifice, to appease those unknown powers, whom we find, by experience,
so able to afflict and oppress us. Wretched creatures that we are! what resource
for us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not religion suggest some methods of atonement,
and appease those terrors with which we are incessantly agitated and tormented? I am indeed persuaded, said PHILO, that the
best, and indeed the only method of bringing every one to a due sense of religion, is by
just representations of the misery and wickedness of men. And for that purpose a talent of eloquence
and strong imagery is more requisite than that of reasoning and argument. For is it necessary to prove what every one
feels within himself? It is only necessary to make us feel it, if
possible, more intimately and sensibly. The people, indeed, replied DEMEA, are sufficiently
convinced of this great and melancholy truth. The miseries of life; the unhappiness of man;
the general corruptions of our nature; the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasures, riches,
honours; these phrases have become almost proverbial in all languages. And who can doubt of what all men declare
from their own immediate feeling and experience? In this point, said PHILO, the learned are
perfectly agreed with the vulgar; and in all letters, sacred and profane, the topic of
human misery has been insisted on with the most pathetic eloquence that sorrow and melancholy
could inspire. The poets, who speak from sentiment, without
a system, and whose testimony has therefore the more authority, abound in images of this
nature. From Homer down to Dr. Young, the whole inspired
tribe have ever been sensible, that no other representation of things would suit the feeling
and observation of each individual. As to authorities, replied DEMEA, you need
not seek them. Look round this library of CLEANTHES. I shall venture to affirm, that, except authors
of particular sciences, such as chemistry or botany, who have no occasion to treat of
human life, there is scarce one of those innumerable writers, from whom the sense of human misery
has not, in some passage or other, extorted a complaint and confession of it. At least, the chance is entirely on that side;
and no one author has ever, so far as I can recollect, been so extravagant as to deny
it. There you must excuse me, said PHILO:
LEIBNIZ has denied it; and is perhaps the first who ventured upon so bold and paradoxical an opinion; at least, the first
who made it essential to his philosophical system. And by being the first, replied DEMEA, might
he not have been sensible of his error? For is this a subject in which philosophers
can propose to make discoveries especially in so late an age? And can any man hope by a simple denial (for
the subject scarcely admits of reasoning), to bear down the united testimony of mankind,
founded on sense and consciousness? And why should man, added he, pretend to an
exemption from the lot of all other animals? The whole earth, believe me, PHILO, is cursed
and polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living
creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong
and courageous: Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish
to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: Weakness, impotence, distress, attend
each stage of that life: and it is at last finished in agony and horror. Observe too, says PHILO, the curious artifices
of Nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep
them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey
upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects,
which either are bred on the body of each animal, or, flying about, infix their stings
in him. These insects have others still less than
themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind,
above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery
and destruction. Man alone, said DEMEA, seems to be, in part,
an exception to this rule. For by combination in society, he can easily
master lions, tigers, and bears, whose greater strength and agility naturally enable them
to prey upon him. On the contrary, it is here chiefly, cried
PHILO, that the uniform and equal maxims of Nature are most apparent. Man, it is true, can, by combination, surmount
all his real enemies, and become master of the whole animal creation: but does he not
immediately raise up to himself imaginary enemies, the demons of his fancy, who haunt
him with superstitious terrors, and blast every enjoyment of life? His pleasure, as he imagines, becomes, in
their eyes, a crime: his food and repose give them umbrage and offence: his very sleep and
dreams furnish new materials to anxious fear: and even death, his refuge from every other
ill, presents only the dread of endless and innumerable woes. Nor does the wolf molest more the timid flock,
than superstition does the anxious breast of wretched mortals. Besides, consider, DEMEA: This very society,
by which we surmount those wild beasts, our natural enemies; what new enemies does it
not raise to us? What woe and misery does it not occasion? Man is the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely,
violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud; by these they mutually torment each
other; and they would soon dissolve that society which they had formed, were it not for the
dread of still greater ills, which must attend their separation. But though these external insults, said DEMEA,
from animals, from men, from all the elements, which assault us, form a frightful catalogue
of woes, they are nothing in comparison of those which arise within ourselves, from the
distempered condition of our mind and body. How many lie under the lingering torment of
diseases? Hear the pathetic enumeration of the great
poet. Intestine stone and ulcer, colic-pangs,
Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy, And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence. Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: despair
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch. And over them triumphant death his dart
Shook: but delay’d to strike, though oft invok’d With vows, as their chief good and final hope. The disorders of the mind, continued DEMEA,
though more secret, are not perhaps less dismal and vexatious. Remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment,
anxiety, fear, dejection, despair; who has ever passed through life without cruel inroads
from these tormentors? How many have scarcely ever felt any better
sensations? Labour and poverty, so abhorred by every one,
are the certain lot of the far greater number; and those few privileged persons, who enjoy
ease and opulence, never reach contentment or true felicity. All the goods of life united would not make
a very happy man; but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed; and any one of
them almost (and who can be free from every one?) nay often the absence of one good (and
who can possess all?) is sufficient to render life ineligible. Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this
world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison
crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet
foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give
him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to
court? He might justly think, that I was only showing
him a diversity of distress and sorrow. There is no evading such striking instances,
said PHILO, but by apologies, which still further aggravate the charge. Why have all men, I ask, in all ages, complained
incessantly of the miseries of life?… They have no just reason, says one: these
complaints proceed only from their discontented, repining, anxious disposition…And can there
possibly, I reply, be a more certain foundation of misery, than such a wretched temper? But if they were really as unhappy as they
pretend, says my antagonist, why do they remain in life?… Not satisfied with life, afraid of death. This is the secret chain, say I, that holds
us. We are terrified, not bribed to the continuance
of our existence. It is only a false delicacy, he may insist,
which a few refined spirits indulge, and which has spread these complaints among the whole
race of mankind. . . . And what is this delicacy, I ask, which
you blame? Is it any thing but a greater sensibility
to all the pleasures and pains of life? and if the man of a delicate, refined temper,
by being so much more alive than the rest of the world, is only so much more unhappy,
what judgement must we form in general of human life? Let men remain at rest, says our adversary,
and they will be easy. They are willing artificers of their own misery. . . . No! reply I: an anxious languor follows
their repose; disappointment, vexation, trouble, their activity and ambition. I can observe something like what you mention
in some others, replied CLEANTHES: but I confess I feel little or nothing of it in myself,
and hope that it is not so common as you represent it. If you feel not human misery yourself, cried
DEMEA, I congratulate you on so happy a singularity. Others, seemingly the most prosperous, have
not been ashamed to vent their complaints in the most melancholy strains. Let us attend to the great, the fortunate
emperor, CHARLES V, when, tired with human grandeur, he resigned all his extensive dominions
into the hands of his son. In the last harangue which he made on that
memorable occasion, he publicly avowed, that the greatest prosperities which he had ever
enjoyed, had been mixed with so many adversities, that he might truly say he had never enjoyed
any satisfaction or contentment. But did the retired life, in which he sought
for shelter, afford him any greater happiness? If we may credit his son’s account, his repentance
commenced the very day of his resignation. CICERO’s fortune, from small beginnings, rose
to the greatest lustre and renown; yet what pathetic complaints of the ills of life do
his familiar letters, as well as philosophical discourses, contain? And suitably to his own experience, he introduces
CATO, the great, the fortunate CATO, protesting in his old age, that had he a new life in
his offer, he would reject the present. Ask yourself, ask any of your acquaintance,
whether they would live over again the last ten or twenty years of their life. No! but the next twenty, they say, will be
better: And from the dregs of life, hope to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give. Thus at last they find (such is the greatness
of human misery, it reconciles even contradictions), that they complain at once of the shortness
of life, and of its vanity and sorrow. And is it possible, CLEANTHES, said PHILO,
that after all these reflections, and infinitely more, which might be suggested, you can still
persevere in your Anthropomorphism, and assert the moral attributes of the Deity, his justice,
benevolence, mercy, and rectitude, to be of the same nature with these virtues in human
creatures? His power we allow is infinite: whatever he
wills is executed: but neither man nor any other animal is happy: therefore he does not
will their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken
in choosing the means to any end: But the course of Nature tends not to human or animal
felicity: therefore it is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge,
there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence
and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men? EPICURUS’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able?
then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil? You ascribe, CLEANTHES (and I believe justly),
a purpose and intention to Nature. But what, I beseech you, is the object of
that curious artifice and machinery, which she has displayed in all animals? The preservation alone of individuals, and
propagation of the species. It seems enough for her purpose, if such a
rank be barely upheld in the universe, without any care or concern for the happiness of the
members that compose it. No resource for this purpose: no machinery,
in order merely to give pleasure or ease: no fund of pure joy and contentment: no indulgence,
without some want or necessity accompanying it. At least, the few phenomena of this nature
are overbalanced by opposite phenomena of still greater importance. Our sense of music, harmony, and indeed beauty
of all kinds, gives satisfaction, without being absolutely necessary to the preservation
and propagation of the species. But what racking pains, on the other hand,
arise from gouts, gravels, megrims, toothaches, rheumatisms, where the injury to the animal
machinery is either small or incurable? Mirth, laughter, play, frolic, seem gratuitous
satisfactions, which have no further tendency: spleen, melancholy, discontent, superstition,
are pains of the same nature. How then does the Divine benevolence display
itself, in the sense of you Anthropomorphites? None but we Mystics, as you were pleased to
call us, can account for this strange mixture of phenomena, by deriving it from attributes,
infinitely perfect, but incomprehensible. And have you at last, said CLEANTHES smiling,
betrayed your intentions, PHILO? Your long agreement with DEMEA did indeed
a little surprise me; but I find you were all the while erecting a concealed battery
against me. And I must confess, that you have now fallen
upon a subject worthy of your noble spirit of opposition and controversy. If you can make out the present point, and
prove mankind to be unhappy or corrupted, there is an end at once of all religion. For to what purpose establish the natural
attributes of the Deity, while the moral are still doubtful and uncertain? You take umbrage very easily, replied DEMEA,
at opinions the most innocent, and the most generally received, even amongst the religious
and devout themselves: and nothing can be more surprising than to find a topic like
this, concerning the wickedness and misery of man, charged with no less than Atheism
and profaneness. Have not all pious divines and preachers,
who have indulged their rhetoric on so fertile a subject; have they not easily, I say, given
a solution of any difficulties which may attend it? This world is but a point in comparison of
the universe; this life but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are
rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to
larger views of things, see the whole connection of general laws; and trace with adoration,
the benevolence and rectitude of the Deity, through all the mazes and intricacies of his
providence. No! replied CLEANTHES, No! These arbitrary suppositions can never be
admitted, contrary to matter of fact, visible and uncontroverted. Whence can any cause be known but from its
known effects? Whence can any hypothesis be proved but from
the apparent phenomena? To establish one hypothesis upon another,
is building entirely in the air; and the utmost we ever attain, by these conjectures and fictions,
is to ascertain the bare possibility of our opinion; but never can we, upon such terms,
establish its reality. The only method of supporting Divine benevolence,
and it is what I willingly embrace, is to deny absolutely the misery and wickedness
of man. Your representations are exaggerated; your
melancholy views mostly fictitious; your inferences contrary to fact and experience. Health is more common than sickness; pleasure
than pain; happiness than misery. And for one vexation which we meet with, we
attain, upon computation, a hundred enjoyments. Admitting your position, replied PHILO, which
yet is extremely doubtful, you must at the same time allow, that if pain be less frequent
than pleasure, it is infinitely more violent and durable. One hour of it is often able to outweigh a
day, a week, a month of our common insipid enjoyments; and how many days, weeks, and
months, are passed by several in the most acute torments? Pleasure, scarcely in one instance, is ever
able to reach ecstasy and rapture; and in no one instance can it continue for any time
at its highest pitch and altitude. The spirits evaporate, the nerves relax, the
fabric is disordered, and the enjoyment quickly degenerates into fatigue and uneasiness. But pain often, good God, how often! rises
to torture and agony; and the longer it continues, it becomes still more genuine agony and torture. Patience is exhausted, courage languishes,
melancholy seizes us, and nothing terminates our misery but the removal of its cause, or
another event, which is the sole cure of all evil, but which, from our natural folly, we
regard with still greater horror and consternation. But not to insist upon these topics, continued
PHILO, though most obvious, certain, and important; I must use the freedom to admonish you, CLEANTHES,
that you have put the controversy upon a most dangerous issue, and are unawares introducing
a total scepticism into the most essential articles of natural and revealed theology. What! no method of fixing a just foundation
for religion, unless we allow the happiness of human life, and maintain a continued existence
even in this world, with all our present pains, infirmities, vexations, and follies, to be
eligible and desirable! But this is contrary to every one’s feeling
and experience: It is contrary to an authority so established as nothing can subvert. No decisive proofs can ever be produced against
this authority; nor is it possible for you to compute, estimate, and compare, all the
pains and all the pleasures in the lives of all men and of all animals: And thus, by your
resting the whole system of religion on a point, which, from its very nature, must for
ever be uncertain, you tacitly confess, that that system is equally uncertain. But allowing you what never will be believed,
at least what you never possibly can prove, that animal, or at least human happiness,
in this life, exceeds its misery, you have yet done nothing: For this is not, by any
means, what we expect from infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning,
so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human
capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to
them; a topic which I have all along insisted on, but which you have, from the beginning,
rejected with scorn and indignation. But I will be contented to retire still from
this entrenchment, for I deny that you can ever force me in it. I will allow, that pain or misery in man is
compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity, even in your sense of these
attributes: What are you advanced by all these concessions? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must prove these pure, unmixed, and uncontrollable
attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. A hopeful undertaking! Were the phenomena ever so pure and unmixed,
yet being finite, they would be insufficient for that purpose. How much more, where they are also so jarring
and discordant! Here, CLEANTHES, I find myself at ease in
my argument. Here I triumph. Formerly, when we argued concerning the natural
attributes of intelligence and design, I needed all my sceptical and metaphysical subtlety
to elude your grasp. In many views of the universe, and of its
parts, particularly the latter, the beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with
such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what I believe they really are) mere
cavils and sophisms; nor can we then imagine how it was ever possible for us to repose
any weight on them. But there is no view of human life, or of
the condition of mankind, from which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral
attributes, or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and infinite
wisdom, which we must discover by the eyes of faith alone. It is your turn now to tug the labouring oar,
and to support your philosophical subtleties against the dictates of plain reason
and experience. PART 11 I scruple not to allow, said CLEANTHES, that
I have been apt to suspect the frequent repetition of the word infinite, which we meet with in
all theological writers, to savour more of panegyric than of philosophy; and that any
purposes of reasoning, and even of religion, would be better served, were we to rest contented
with more accurate and more moderate expressions. The terms, admirable, excellent, superlatively
great, wise, and holy; these sufficiently fill the imaginations of men; and any thing
beyond, besides that it leads into absurdities, has no influence on the affections or sentiments. Thus, in the present subject, if we abandon
all human analogy, as seems your intention, DEMEA, I am afraid we abandon all religion,
and retain no conception of the great object of our adoration. If we preserve human analogy, we must for
ever find it impossible to reconcile any mixture of evil in the universe with infinite attributes;
much less can we ever prove the latter from the former. But supposing the Author of Nature to be finitely
perfect, though far exceeding mankind, a satisfactory account may then be given of natural and moral
evil, and every untoward phenomenon be explained and adjusted. A less evil may then be chosen, in order to
avoid a greater; inconveniences be submitted to, in order to reach a desirable end; and
in a word, benevolence, regulated by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may produce just
such a world as the present. You, PHILO, who are so prompt at starting
views, and reflections, and analogies, I would gladly hear, at length, without interruption,
your opinion of this new theory; and if it deserve our attention, we may afterwards,
at more leisure, reduce it into form. My sentiments, replied PHILO, are not worth
being made a mystery of; and therefore, without any ceremony, I shall deliver what occurs
to me with regard to the present subject. It must, I think, be allowed, that if a very
limited intelligence, whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted with the universe, were
assured, that it were the production of a very good, wise, and powerful Being, however
finite, he would, from his conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from what
we find it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from these attributes
of the cause, of which he is informed, that the effect could be so full of vice and misery
and disorder, as it appears in this life. Supposing now, that this person were brought
into the world, still assured that it was the workmanship of such a sublime and benevolent
Being; he might, perhaps, be surprised at the disappointment; but would never retract
his former belief, if founded on any very solid argument; since such a limited intelligence
must be sensible of his own blindness and ignorance, and must allow, that there may
be many solutions of those phenomena, which will for ever escape his comprehension. But supposing, which is the real case with
regard to man, that this creature is not antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent,
and powerful, but is left to gather such a belief from the appearances of things; this
entirely alters the case, nor will he ever find any reason for such a conclusion. He may be fully convinced of the narrow limits
of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference concerning the
goodness of superior powers, since he must form that inference from what he knows, not
from what he is ignorant of. The more you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance,
the more diffident you render him, and give him the greater suspicion that such subjects
are beyond the reach of his faculties. You are obliged, therefore, to reason with
him merely from the known phenomena, and to drop every arbitrary supposition or conjecture. Did I show you a house or palace, where there
was not one apartment convenient or agreeable; where the windows, doors, fires, passages,
stairs, and the whole economy of the building, were the source of noise, confusion, fatigue,
darkness, and the extremes of heat and cold; you would certainly blame the contrivance,
without any further examination. The architect would in vain display his subtlety,
and prove to you, that if this door or that window were altered, greater ills would ensue. What he says may be strictly true: The alteration
of one particular, while the other parts of the building remain, may only augment the
inconveniences. But still you would assert in general, that,
if the architect had had skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole,
and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner, as would have remedied all or most
of these inconveniences. His ignorance, or even your own ignorance
of such a plan, will never convince you of the impossibility of it. If you find any inconveniences and deformities
in the building, you will always, without entering into any detail, condemn the architect. In short, I repeat the question: Is the world,
considered in general, and as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man,
or such a limited being, would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent
Deity? It must be strange prejudice to assert the
contrary. And from thence I conclude, that however consistent
the world may be, allowing certain suppositions and conjectures, with the idea of such a Deity,
it can never afford us an inference concerning his existence. The consistence is not absolutely denied,
only the inference. Conjectures, especially where infinity is
excluded from the Divine attributes, may perhaps be sufficient to prove a consistence, but
can never be foundations for any inference. There seem to be four circumstances, on which
depend all, or the greatest part of the ills, that molest sensible creatures; and it is
not impossible but all these circumstances may be necessary and unavoidable. We know so little beyond common life, or even
of common life, that, with regard to the economy of a universe, there is no conjecture, however
wild, which may not be just; nor any one, however plausible, which may not be erroneous. All that belongs to human understanding, in
this deep ignorance and obscurity, is to be sceptical, or at least cautious, and not to
admit of any hypothesis whatever, much less of any which is supported by no appearance
of probability. Now, this I assert to be the case with regard
to all the causes of evil, and the circumstances on which it depends. None of them appear to human reason in the
least degree necessary or unavoidable; nor can we suppose them such, without the utmost
license of imagination. The first circumstance which introduces evil,
is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures,
are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of
self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees,
seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state
of enjoyment: but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger,
weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might
be prompted to seek that object which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid
pain; at least they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry
on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible
of such a sensation? If animals can be free from it an hour, they
might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it; and it required as particular a contrivance
of their organs to produce that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any
of the senses. Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance
was necessary, without any appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on
the most certain truth? But a capacity of pain would not alone produce
pain, were it not for the second circumstance, viz. the conducting of the world by general
laws; and this seems nowise necessary to a very perfect Being. It is true, if everything were conducted by
particular volitions, the course of nature would be perpetually broken, and no man could
employ his reason in the conduct of life. But might not other particular volitions remedy
this inconvenience? In short, might not the Deity exterminate
all ill, wherever it were to be found; and produce all good, without any preparation,
or long progress of causes and effects? Besides, we must consider, that, according
to the present economy of the world, the course of nature, though supposed exactly regular,
yet to us appears not so, and many events are uncertain, and many disappoint our expectations. Health and sickness, calm and tempest, with
an infinite number of other accidents, whose causes are unknown and variable, have a great
influence both on the fortunes of particular persons and on the prosperity of public societies;
and indeed all human life, in a manner, depends on such accidents. A being, therefore, who knows the secret springs
of the universe, might easily, by particular volitions, turn all these accidents to the
good of mankind, and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in any
operation. A fleet, whose purposes were salutary to society,
might always meet with a fair wind. Good princes enjoy sound health and long life. Persons born to power and authority, be framed
with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few such events as these, regularly and
wisely conducted, would change the face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb
the course of nature, or confound human conduct, than the present economy of things, where
the causes are secret, and variable, and compounded. Some small touches given to CALIGULA’s brain
in his infancy, might have converted him into a TRAJAN. One wave, a little higher than the rest, by
burying CAESAR and his fortune in the bottom of the ocean, might have restored liberty
to a considerable part of mankind. There may, for aught we know, be good reasons
why Providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us; and though the
mere supposition, that such reasons exist, may be sufficient to save the conclusion concerning
the Divine attributes, yet surely it can never be sufficient to establish that conclusion. If every thing in the universe be conducted
by general laws, and if animals be rendered susceptible of pain, it scarcely seems possible
but some ill must arise in the various shocks of matter, and the various concurrence and
opposition of general laws; but this ill would be very rare, were it not for the third circumstance,
which I proposed to mention, viz. the great frugality with which all powers and faculties
are distributed to every particular being. So well adjusted are the organs and capacities
of all animals, and so well fitted to their preservation, that, as far as history or tradition
reaches, there appears not to be any single species which has yet been extinguished in
the universe. Every animal has the requisite endowments;
but these endowments are bestowed with so scrupulous an economy, that any considerable
diminution must entirely destroy the creature. Wherever one power is increased, there is
a proportional abatement in the others. Animals which excel in swiftness are commonly
defective in force. Those which possess both are either imperfect
in some of their senses, or are oppressed with the most craving wants. The human species, whose chief excellency
is reason and sagacity, is of all others the most necessitous, and the most deficient in
bodily advantages; without clothes, without arms, without food, without lodging, without
any convenience of life, except what they owe to their own skill and industry. In short, nature seems to have formed an exact
calculation of the necessities of her creatures; and, like a rigid master, has afforded them
little more powers or endowments than what are strictly sufficient to supply those necessities. An indulgent parent would have bestowed a
large stock, in order to guard against accidents, and secure the happiness and welfare of the
creature in the most unfortunate concurrence of circumstances. Every course of life would not have been so
surrounded with precipices, that the least departure from the true path, by mistake or
necessity, must involve us in misery and ruin. Some reserve, some fund, would have been provided
to ensure happiness; nor would the powers and the necessities have been adjusted with
so rigid an economy. The Author of Nature is inconceivably powerful:
his force is supposed great, if not altogether inexhaustible: nor is there any reason, as
far as we can judge, to make him observe this strict frugality in his dealings with his
creatures. It would have been better, were his power
extremely limited, to have created fewer animals, and to have endowed these with more faculties
for their happiness and preservation. A builder is never esteemed prudent, who undertakes
a plan beyond what his stock will enable him to finish. In order to cure most of the ills of human
life, I require not that man should have the wings of the eagle, the swiftness of the stag,
the force of the ox, the arms of the lion, the scales of the crocodile or rhinoceros;
much less do I demand the sagacity of an angel or cherubim. I am contented to take an increase in one
single power or faculty of his soul. Let him be endowed with a greater propensity
to industry and labour; a more vigorous spring and activity of mind; a more constant bent
to business and application. Let the whole species possess naturally an
equal diligence with that which many individuals are able to attain by habit and reflection;
and the most beneficial consequences, without any allay of ill, is the immediate and necessary
result of this endowment. Almost all the moral, as well as natural evils
of human life, arise from idleness; and were our species, by the original constitution
of their frame, exempt from this vice or infirmity, the perfect cultivation of land, the improvement
of arts and manufactures, the exact execution of every office and duty, immediately follow;
and men at once may fully reach that state of society, which is so imperfectly attained
by the best regulated government. But as industry is a power, and the most valuable
of any, Nature seems determined, suitably to her usual maxims, to bestow it on men with
a very sparing hand; and rather to punish him severely for his deficiency in it, than
to reward him for his attainments. She has so contrived his frame, that nothing
but the most violent necessity can oblige him to labour; and she employs all his other
wants to overcome, at least in part, the want of diligence, and to endow him with some share
of a faculty of which she has thought fit naturally to bereave him. Here our demands may be allowed very humble,
and therefore the more reasonable. If we required the endowments of superior
penetration and judgement, of a more delicate taste of beauty, of a nicer sensibility to
benevolence and friendship; we might be told, that we impiously pretend to break the order
of Nature; that we want to exalt ourselves into a higher rank of being; that the presents
which we require, not being suitable to our state and condition, would only be pernicious
to us. But it is hard; I dare to repeat it, it is
hard, that being placed in a world so full of wants and necessities, where almost every
being and element is either our foe or refuses its assistance … we should also have our
own temper to struggle with, and should be deprived of that faculty which can alone fence
against these multiplied evils. The fourth circumstance, whence arises the
misery and ill of the universe, is the inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles
of the great machine of nature. It must be acknowledged, that there are few
parts of the universe, which seem not to serve some purpose, and whose removal would not
produce a visible defect and disorder in the whole. The parts hang all together; nor can one be
touched without affecting the rest, in a greater or less degree. But at the same time, it must be observed,
that none of these parts or principles, however useful, are so accurately adjusted, as to
keep precisely within those bounds in which their utility consists; but they are, all
of them, apt, on every occasion, to run into the one extreme or the other. One would imagine, that this grand production
had not received the last hand of the maker; so little finished is every part, and so coarse
are the strokes with which it is executed. Thus, the winds are requisite to convey the
vapours along the surface of the globe, and to assist men in navigation: but how oft,
rising up to tempests and hurricanes, do they become pernicious? Rains are necessary to nourish all the plants
and animals of the earth: but how often are they defective? how often excessive? Heat is requisite to all life and vegetation;
but is not always found in the due proportion. On the mixture and secretion of the humours
and juices of the body depend the health and prosperity of the animal: but the parts perform
not regularly their proper function. What more useful than all the passions of
the mind, ambition, vanity, love, anger? But how oft do they break their bounds, and
cause the greatest convulsions in society? There is nothing so advantageous in the universe,
but what frequently becomes pernicious, by its excess or defect; nor has Nature guarded,
with the requisite accuracy, against all disorder or confusion. The irregularity is never perhaps so great
as to destroy any species; but is often sufficient to involve the individuals in ruin and misery. On the concurrence, then, of these four circumstances,
does all or the greatest part of natural evil depend. Were all living creatures incapable of pain,
or were the world administered by particular volitions, evil never could have found access
into the universe: and were animals endowed with a large stock of powers and faculties,
beyond what strict necessity requires; or were the several springs and principles of
the universe so accurately framed as to preserve always the just temperament and medium; there
must have been very little ill in comparison of what we feel at present. What then shall we pronounce on this occasion? Shall we say that these circumstances are
not necessary, and that they might easily have been altered in the contrivance of the
universe? This decision seems too presumptuous for creatures
so blind and ignorant. Let us be more modest in our conclusions. Let us allow, that, if the goodness of the
Deity (I mean a goodness like the human) could be established on any tolerable reasons a
priori, these phenomena, however untoward, would not be sufficient to subvert that principle;
but might easily, in some unknown manner, be reconcilable to it. But let us still assert, that as this goodness
is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can
be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and
while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can
be allowed to judge on such a subject. I am Sceptic enough to allow, that the bad
appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as
you suppose; but surely they can never prove these attributes. Such a conclusion cannot result from Scepticism,
but must arise from the phenomena, and from our confidence in the reasonings which we
deduce from these phenomena. Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated
and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living
existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own
happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of
a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap,
without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children! Here the MANICHAEAN system occurs as a proper
hypothesis to solve the difficulty: and no doubt, in some respects, it is very specious,
and has more probability than the common hypothesis, by giving a plausible account of the strange
mixture of good and ill which appears in life. But if we consider, on the other hand, the
perfect uniformity and agreement of the parts of the universe, we shall not discover in
it any marks of the combat of a malevolent with a benevolent being. There is indeed an opposition of pains and
pleasures in the feelings of sensible creatures: but are not all the operations of Nature carried
on by an opposition of principles, of hot and cold, moist and dry, light and heavy? The true conclusion is, that the original
Source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles; and has no more regard
to good above ill, than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light
above heavy. There may four hypotheses be framed concerning
the first causes of the universe: that they are endowed with perfect goodness; that they
have perfect malice; that they are opposite, and have both goodness and malice; that they
have neither goodness nor malice. Mixed phenomena can never prove the two former
unmixed principles; and the uniformity and steadiness of general laws seem to oppose
the third. The fourth, therefore, seems by far the most
probable. What I have said concerning natural evil will
apply to moral, with little or no variation; and we have no more reason to infer, that
the rectitude of the Supreme Being resembles human rectitude, than that his benevolence
resembles the human. Nay, it will be thought, that we have still
greater cause to exclude from him moral sentiments, such as we feel them; since moral evil, in
the opinion of many, is much more predominant above moral good than natural evil above natural
good. But even though this should not be allowed,
and though the virtue which is in mankind should be acknowledged much superior to the
vice, yet so long as there is any vice at all in the universe, it will very much puzzle
you Anthropomorphites, how to account for it. You must assign a cause for it, without having
recourse to the first cause. But as every effect must have a cause, and
that cause another, you must either carry on the progression in infinitum, or rest on
that original principle, who is the ultimate cause of all things… Hold! hold! cried DEMEA: Whither does your
imagination hurry you? I joined in alliance with you, in order to
prove the incomprehensible nature of the Divine Being, and refute the principles of CLEANTHES,
who would measure every thing by human rule and standard. But I now find you running into all the topics
of the greatest libertines and infidels, and betraying that holy cause which you seemingly
espoused. Are you secretly, then, a more dangerous enemy
than CLEANTHES himself? And are you so late in perceiving it? replied
CLEANTHES. Believe me, DEMEA, your friend PHILO, from
the beginning, has been amusing himself at both our expense; and it must be confessed,
that the injudicious reasoning of our vulgar theology has given him but too just a handle
of ridicule. The total infirmity of human reason, the absolute
incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature, the great and universal misery, and still
greater wickedness of men; these are strange topics, surely, to be so fondly cherished
by orthodox divines and doctors. In ages of stupidity and ignorance, indeed,
these principles may safely be espoused; and perhaps no views of things are more proper
to promote superstition, than such as encourage the blind amazement, the diffidence, and melancholy
of mankind. But at present… Blame not so much, interposed PHILO, the ignorance
of these reverend gentlemen. They know how to change their style with the
times. Formerly it was a most popular theological
topic to maintain, that human life was vanity and misery, and to exaggerate all the ills
and pains which are incident to men. But of late years, divines, we find, begin
to retract this position; and maintain, though still with some hesitation, that there are
more goods than evils, more pleasures than pains, even in this life. When religion stood entirely upon temper and
education, it was thought proper to encourage melancholy; as indeed mankind never have recourse
to superior powers so readily as in that disposition. But as men have now learned to form principles,
and to draw consequences, it is necessary to change the batteries, and to make use of
such arguments as will endure at least some scrutiny and examination. This variation is the same (and from the same
causes) with that which I formerly remarked with regard to Scepticism. Thus PHILO continued to the last his spirit
of opposition, and his censure of established opinions. But I could observe that DEMEA did not at
all relish the latter part of the discourse; and he took occasion soon after, on some pretence
or other, to leave the company. PART 12 After DEMEA’s departure, CLEANTHES and PHILO
continued the conversation in the following manner. Our friend, I am afraid, said CLEANTHES, will
have little inclination to revive this topic of discourse, while you are in company; and
to tell truth, PHILO, I should rather wish to reason with either of you apart on a subject
so sublime and interesting. Your spirit of controversy, joined to your
abhorrence of vulgar superstition, carries you strange lengths, when engaged in an argument;
and there is nothing so sacred and venerable, even in your own eyes, which you spare on
that occasion. I must confess, replied PHILO, that I am less
cautious on the subject of Natural Religion than on any other; both because I know that
I can never, on that head, corrupt the principles of any man of common sense; and because no
one, I am confident, in whose eyes I appear a man of common sense, will ever mistake my
intentions. You, in particular, CLEANTHES, with whom I
live in unreserved intimacy; you are sensible, that notwithstanding the freedom of my conversation,
and my love of singular arguments, no one has a deeper sense of religion impressed on
his mind, or pays more profound adoration to the Divine Being, as he discovers himself
to reason, in the inexplicable contrivance and artifice of nature. A purpose, an intention, a design, strikes
every where the most careless, the most stupid thinker; and no man can be so hardened in
absurd systems, as at all times to reject it. That Nature does nothing in vain, is a maxim
established in all the schools, merely from the contemplation of the works of Nature,
without any religious purpose; and, from a firm conviction of its truth, an anatomist,
who had observed a new organ or canal, would never be satisfied till he had also discovered
its use and intention. One great foundation of the Copernican system
is the maxim, That Nature acts by the simplest methods, and chooses the most proper means
to any end; and astronomers often, without thinking of it, lay this strong foundation
of piety and religion. The same thing is observable in other parts
of philosophy: And thus all the sciences almost lead us insensibly to acknowledge a first
intelligent Author; and their authority is often so much the greater, as they do not
directly profess that intention. It is with pleasure I hear GALEN reason concerning
the structure of the human body. The anatomy of a man, says he, discovers
above 600 different muscles; and whoever duly considers these, will find,
that, in each of them, Nature must have adjusted at least ten different circumstances, in order
to attain the end which she proposed; proper figure, just magnitude, right disposition
of the several ends, upper and lower position of the whole, the due insertion of the several
nerves, veins, and arteries: So that, in the muscles alone, above 6000 several views and
intentions must have been formed and executed. The bones he calculates to be 284: The distinct
purposes aimed at in the structure of each, above forty. What a prodigious display of artifice, even
in these simple and homogeneous parts! But if we consider the skin, ligaments, vessels,
glandules, humours, the several limbs and members of the body; how must our astonishment
rise upon us, in proportion to the number and intricacy of the parts so artificially
adjusted! The further we advance in these researches,
we discover new scenes of art and wisdom: But descry still, at a distance, further scenes
beyond our reach; in the fine internal structure of the parts, in the economy of the brain,
in the fabric of the seminal vessels. All these artifices are repeated in every
different species of animal, with wonderful variety, and with exact propriety, suited
to the different intentions of Nature in framing each species. And if the infidelity of GALEN, even when
these natural sciences were still imperfect, could not withstand such striking appearances,
to what pitch of pertinacious obstinacy must a philosopher in this age have attained, who
can now doubt of a Supreme Intelligence! Could I meet with one of this species (who,
I thank God, are very rare), I would ask him: Supposing there were a God, who did not discover
himself immediately to our senses, were it possible for him to give stronger proofs of
his existence, than what appear on the whole face of Nature? What indeed could such a Divine Being do,
but copy the present economy of things; render many of his artifices so plain, that no stupidity
could mistake them; afford glimpses of still greater artifices, which demonstrate his prodigious
superiority above our narrow apprehensions; and conceal altogether a great many from such
imperfect creatures? Now, according to all rules of just reasoning,
every fact must pass for undisputed, when it is supported by all the arguments which
its nature admits of; even though these arguments be not, in themselves, very numerous or forcible:
How much more, in the present case, where no human imagination can compute their number,
and no understanding estimate their cogency! I shall further add, said CLEANTHES, to what
you have so well urged, that one great advantage of the principle of Theism, is, that it is
the only system of cosmogony which can be rendered intelligible and complete, and yet
can throughout preserve a strong analogy to what we every day see and experience in the
world. The comparison of the universe to a machine
of human contrivance, is so obvious and natural, and is justified by so many instances of order
and design in Nature, that it must immediately strike all unprejudiced apprehensions, and
procure universal approbation. Whoever attempts to weaken this theory, cannot
pretend to succeed by establishing in its place any other that is precise and determinate:
It is sufficient for him if he start doubts and difficulties; and by remote and abstract
views of things, reach that suspense of judgement, which is here the utmost boundary of his wishes. But, besides that this state of mind is in
itself unsatisfactory, it can never be steadily maintained against such striking appearances
as continually engage us into the religious hypothesis. A false, absurd system, human nature, from
the force of prejudice, is capable of adhering to with obstinacy and perseverance: But no
system at all, in opposition to a theory supported by strong and obvious reason, by natural propensity,
and by early education, I think it absolutely impossible to maintain or defend. So little, replied PHILO, do I esteem this
suspense of judgement in the present case to be possible, that I am apt to suspect there
enters somewhat of a dispute of words into this controversy, more than is usually imagined. That the works of Nature bear a great analogy
to the productions of art, is evident; and according to all the rules of good reasoning,
we ought to infer, if we argue at all concerning them, that their causes have a proportional
analogy. But as there are also considerable differences,
we have reason to suppose a proportional difference in the causes; and in particular, ought to
attribute a much higher degree of power and energy to the supreme cause, than any we have
ever observed in mankind. Here then the existence of a DEITY is plainly
ascertained by reason: and if we make it a question, whether, on account of these analogies,
we can properly call him a mind or intelligence, notwithstanding the vast difference which
may reasonably be supposed between him and human minds; what is this but a mere verbal
controversy? No man can deny the analogies between the
effects: To restrain ourselves from inquiring concerning the causes is scarcely possible. From this inquiry, the legitimate conclusion
is, that the causes have also an analogy: And if we are not contented with calling the
first and supreme cause a GOD or DEITY, but desire to vary the expression; what can we
call him but MIND or THOUGHT, to which he is justly supposed to bear a considerable
resemblance? All men of sound reason are disgusted with
verbal disputes, which abound so much in philosophical and theological inquiries; and it is found,
that the only remedy for this abuse must arise from clear definitions, from the precision
of those ideas which enter into any argument, and from the strict and uniform use of those
terms which are employed. But there is a species of controversy, which,
from the very nature of language and of human ideas, is involved in perpetual ambiguity,
and can never, by any precaution or any definitions, be able to reach a reasonable certainty or
precision. These are the controversies concerning the
degrees of any quality or circumstance. Men may argue to all eternity, whether HANNIBAL
be a great, or a very great, or a superlatively great man, what degree of beauty CLEOPATRA
possessed, what epithet of praise LIVY or THUCYDIDES is entitled to, without bringing
the controversy to any determination. The disputants may here agree in their sense,
and differ in the terms, or vice versa; yet never be able to define their terms, so as
to enter into each other’s meaning: Because the degrees of these qualities are not, like
quantity or number, susceptible of any exact mensuration, which may be the standard in
the controversy. That the dispute concerning Theism is of this
nature, and consequently is merely verbal, or perhaps, if possible, still more incurably
ambiguous, will appear upon the slightest inquiry. I ask the Theist, if he does not allow, that
there is a great and immeasurable, because incomprehensible difference between the human
and the divine mind: The more pious he is, the more readily will he assent to the affirmative,
and the more will he be disposed to magnify the difference: He will even assert, that
the difference is of a nature which cannot be too much magnified. I next turn to the Atheist, who, I assert,
is only nominally so, and can never possibly be in earnest; and I ask him, whether, from
the coherence and apparent sympathy in all the parts of this world, there be not a certain
degree of analogy among all the operations of Nature, in every situation and in every
age; whether the rotting of a turnip, the generation of an animal, and the structure
of human thought, be not energies that probably bear some remote analogy to each other: It
is impossible he can deny it: He will readily acknowledge it. Having obtained this concession, I push him
still further in his retreat; and I ask him, if it be not probable, that the principle
which first arranged, and still maintains order in this universe, bears not also some
remote inconceivable analogy to the other operations of nature, and, among the rest,
to the economy of human mind and thought. However reluctant, he must give his assent. Where then, cry I to both these antagonists,
is the subject of your dispute? The Theist allows, that the original intelligence
is very different from human reason: The Atheist allows, that the original principle of order
bears some remote analogy to it. Will you quarrel, Gentlemen, about the degrees,
and enter into a controversy, which admits not of any precise meaning, nor consequently
of any determination? If you should be so obstinate, I should not
be surprised to find you insensibly change sides; while the Theist, on the one hand,
exaggerates the dissimilarity between the Supreme Being, and frail, imperfect, variable,
fleeting, and mortal creatures; and the Atheist, on the other, magnifies the analogy among
all the operations of Nature, in every period, every situation, and every position. Consider then, where the real point of controversy
lies; and if you cannot lay aside your disputes, endeavour, at least, to cure yourselves of
your animosity. And here I must also acknowledge, CLEANTHES,
that as the works of Nature have a much greater analogy to the effects of our art and contrivance,
than to those of our benevolence and justice, we have reason to infer, that the natural
attributes of the Deity have a greater resemblance to those of men, than his moral have to human
virtues. But what is the consequence? Nothing but this, that the moral qualities
of man are more defective in their kind than his natural abilities. For, as the Supreme Being is allowed to be
absolutely and entirely perfect, whatever differs most from him, departs the furthest
from the supreme standard of rectitude and perfection. It seems evident that the dispute between
the Skeptics and Dogmatists is entirely verbal, or at least regards only the degrees of doubt
and assurance which we ought to indulge with regard to all reasoning; and such disputes
are commonly, at the bottom, verbal, and admit not of any precise determination. No philosophical Dogmatist denies that there
are difficulties both with regard to the senses and to all science, and that these difficulties
are in a regular, logical method, absolutely insolvable. No Skeptic denies that we lie under an absolute
necessity, notwithstanding these difficulties, of thinking, and believing, and reasoning,
with regard to all kinds of subjects, and even of frequently assenting with confidence
and security. The only difference, then, between these sects,
if they merit that name, is, that the Sceptic, from habit, caprice, or inclination, insists
most on the difficulties; the Dogmatist, for like reasons, on the necessity. These, CLEANTHES, are my unfeigned sentiments
on this subject; and these sentiments, you know, I have ever cherished and maintained. But in proportion to my veneration for true
religion, is my abhorrence of vulgar superstitions; and I indulge a peculiar pleasure, I confess,
in pushing such principles, sometimes into absurdity, sometimes into impiety. And you are sensible, that all bigots, notwithstanding
their great aversion to the latter above the former, are commonly equally guilty of both. My inclination, replied CLEANTHES, lies, I
own, a contrary way. Religion, however corrupted, is still better
than no religion at all. The doctrine of a future state is so strong
and necessary a security to morals, that we never ought to abandon or neglect it. For if finite and temporary rewards and punishments
have so great an effect, as we daily find; how much greater must be expected from such
as are infinite and eternal? How happens it then, said PHILO, if vulgar
superstition be so salutary to society, that all history abounds so much with accounts
of its pernicious consequences on public affairs? Factions, civil wars, persecutions, subversions
of government, oppression, slavery; these are the dismal consequences which always attend
its prevalency over the minds of men. If the religious spirit be ever mentioned
in any historical narration, we are sure to meet afterwards with a detail of the miseries
which attend it. And no period of time can be happier or more
prosperous, than those in which it is never regarded or heard of. The reason of this observation, replied CLEANTHES,
is obvious. The proper office of religion is to regulate
the heart of men, humanise their conduct, infuse the spirit of temperance, order, and
obedience; and as its operation is silent, and only enforces the motives of morality
and justice, it is in danger of being overlooked, and confounded with these other motives. When it distinguishes itself, and acts as
a separate principle over men, it has departed from its proper sphere, and has become only
a cover to faction and ambition. And so will all religion, said PHILO, except
the philosophical and rational kind. Your reasonings are more easily eluded than
my facts. The inference is not just, because finite
and temporary rewards and punishments have so great influence, that therefore such as
are infinite and eternal must have so much greater. Consider, I beseech you, the attachment which
we have to present things, and the little concern which we discover for objects so remote
and uncertain. When divines are declaiming against the common
behaviour and conduct of the world, they always represent this principle as the strongest
imaginable (which indeed it is); and describe almost all human kind as lying under the influence
of it, and sunk into the deepest lethargy and unconcern about their religious interests. Yet these same divines, when they refute their
speculative antagonists, suppose the motives of religion to be so powerful, that, without
them, it were impossible for civil society to subsist; nor are they ashamed of so palpable
a contradiction. It is certain, from experience, that the smallest
grain of natural honesty and benevolence has more effect on men’s conduct, than the most
pompous views suggested by theological theories and systems. A man’s natural inclination works incessantly
upon him; it is for ever present to the mind, and mingles itself with every view and consideration:
whereas religious motives, where they act at all, operate only by starts and bounds;
and it is scarcely possible for them to become altogether habitual to the mind. The force of the greatest gravity, say the
philosophers, is infinitely small, in comparison of that of the least impulse: yet it is certain,
that the smallest gravity will, in the end, prevail above a great impulse; because no
strokes or blows can be repeated with such constancy as attraction and gravitation. Another advantage of inclination: It engages
on its side all the wit and ingenuity of the mind; and when set in opposition to religious
principles, seeks every method and art of eluding them: In which it is almost always
successful. Who can explain the heart of man, or account
for those strange salvos and excuses, with which people satisfy themselves, when they
follow their inclinations in opposition to their religious duty? This is well understood in the world; and
none but fools ever repose less trust in a man, because they hear, that from study and
philosophy, he has entertained some speculative doubts with regard to theological subjects. And when we have to do with a man, who makes
a great profession of religion and devotion, has this any other effect upon several, who
pass for prudent, than to put them on their guard, lest they be cheated and deceived by
him? We must further consider, that philosophers,
who cultivate reason and reflection, stand less in need of such motives to keep them
under the restraint of morals; and that the vulgar, who alone may need them, are utterly
incapable of so pure a religion as represents the Deity to be pleased with nothing but virtue
in human behaviour. The recommendations to the Divinity are generally
supposed to be either frivolous observances, or rapturous ecstasies, or a bigoted credulity. We need not run back into antiquity, or wander
into remote regions, to find instances of this degeneracy. Amongst ourselves, some have been guilty of
that atrociousness, unknown to the Egyptian and Grecian superstitions, of declaiming in
express terms, against morality; and representing it as a sure forfeiture of the Divine favour,
if the least trust or reliance be laid upon it. But even though superstition or enthusiasm
should not put itself in direct opposition to morality; the very diverting of the attention,
the raising up a new and frivolous species of merit, the preposterous distribution which
it makes of praise and blame, must have the most pernicious consequences, and weaken extremely
men’s attachment to the natural motives of justice and humanity. Such a principle of action likewise, not being
any of the familiar motives of human conduct, acts only by intervals on the temper; and
must be roused by continual efforts, in order to render the pious zealot satisfied with
his own conduct, and make him fulfil his devotional task. Many religious exercises are entered into
with seeming fervour, where the heart, at the time, feels cold and languid: A habit
of dissimulation is by degrees contracted; and fraud and falsehood become the predominant
principle. Hence the reason of that vulgar observation,
that the highest zeal in religion and the deepest hypocrisy, so far from being inconsistent,
are often or commonly united in the same individual character. The bad effects of such habits, even in common
life, are easily imagined; but where the interests of religion are concerned, no morality can
be forcible enough to bind the enthusiastic zealot. The sacredness of the cause sanctifies every
measure which can be made use of to promote it. The steady attention alone to so important
an interest as that of eternal salvation, is apt to extinguish the benevolent affections,
and beget a narrow, contracted selfishness. And when such a temper is encouraged, it easily
eludes all the general precepts of charity and benevolence. Thus, the motives of vulgar superstition have
no great influence on general conduct; nor is their operation favourable to morality,
in the instances where they predominate. Is there any maxim in politics more certain
and infallible, than that both the number and authority of priests should be confined
within very narrow limits; and that the civil magistrate ought, for ever, to keep his fasces
and axes from such dangerous hands? But if the spirit of popular religion were
so salutary to society, a contrary maxim ought to prevail. The greater number of priests, and their greater
authority and riches, will always augment the religious spirit. And though the priests have the guidance of
this spirit, why may we not expect a superior sanctity of life, and greater benevolence
and moderation, from persons who are set apart for religion, who are continually inculcating
it upon others, and who must themselves imbibe a greater share of it? Whence comes it then, that, in fact, the utmost
a wise magistrate can propose with regard to popular religions, is, as far as possible,
to make a saving game of it, and to prevent their pernicious consequences with regard
to society? Every expedient which he tries for so humble
a purpose is surrounded with inconveniences. If he admits only one religion among his subjects,
he must sacrifice, to an uncertain prospect of tranquillity, every consideration of public
liberty, science, reason, industry, and even his own independency. If he gives indulgence to several sects, which
is the wiser maxim, he must preserve a very philosophical indifference to all of them,
and carefully restrain the pretensions of the prevailing sect; otherwise he can expect
nothing but endless disputes, quarrels, factions, persecutions, and civil commotions. True religion, I allow, has no such pernicious
consequences: but we must treat of religion, as it has commonly been found in the world;
nor have I any thing to do with that speculative tenet of Theism, which, as it is a species
of philosophy, must partake of the beneficial influence of that principle, and at the same
time must lie under a like inconvenience, of being always confined to very few persons. Oaths are requisite in all courts of judicature;
but it is a question whether their authority arises from any popular religion. It is the solemnity and importance of the
occasion, the regard to reputation, and the reflecting on the general interests of society,
which are the chief restraints upon mankind. Custom-house oaths and political oaths are
but little regarded even by some who pretend to principles of honesty and religion; and
a Quaker’s asseveration is with us justly put upon the same footing with
the oath of any other person. I know, that POLYBIUS ascribes the infamy of GREEK faith to the prevalency
of the EPICUREAN philosophy: but I know also, that Punic faith had as bad a
reputation in ancient times as Irish evidence has in modern; though we cannot account for
these vulgar observations by the same reason. Not to mention that Greek faith was infamous
before the rise of the Epicurean philosophy; and EURIPIDES, in a passage
which I shall point out to you, has glanced a remarkable stroke of satire against
his nation, with regard to this circumstance. Take care, PHILO, replied CLEANTHES, take
care: push not matters too far: allow not your zeal against false religion to undermine
your veneration for the true. Forfeit not this principle, the chief, the
only great comfort in life; and our principal support amidst all the attacks of adverse
fortune. The most agreeable reflection, which it is
possible for human imagination to suggest, is that of genuine Theism, which represents
us as the workmanship of a Being perfectly good, wise, and powerful; who created us for
happiness; and who, having implanted in us immeasurable desires of good, will prolong
our existence to all eternity, and will transfer us into an infinite variety of scenes, in
order to satisfy those desires, and render our felicity complete and durable. Next to such a Being himself (if the comparison
be allowed), the happiest lot which we can imagine, is that of being under his guardianship
and protection. These appearances, said PHILO, are most engaging
and alluring; and with regard to the true philosopher, they are more than appearances. But it happens here, as in the former case,
that, with regard to the greater part of mankind, the appearances are deceitful, and that the
terrors of religion commonly prevail above its comforts. It is allowed, that men never have recourse
to devotion so readily as when dejected with grief or depressed with sickness. Is not this a proof, that the religious spirit
is not so nearly allied to joy as to sorrow? But men, when afflicted, find consolation
in religion, replied CLEANTHES. Sometimes, said PHILO: but it is natural to
imagine, that they will form a notion of those unknown beings, suitably to the present gloom
and melancholy of their temper, when they betake themselves to the contemplation of
them. Accordingly, we find the tremendous images
to predominate in all religions; and we ourselves, after having employed the most exalted expression
in our descriptions of the Deity, fall into the flattest contradiction in affirming that
the damned are infinitely superior in number to the elect. I shall venture to affirm, that there never
was a popular religion, which represented the state of departed souls in such a light,
as would render it eligible for human kind that there should be such a state. These fine models of religion are the mere
product of philosophy. For as death lies between the eye and the
prospect of futurity, that event is so shocking to Nature, that it must throw a gloom on all
the regions which lie beyond it; and suggest to the generality of mankind the idea of CERBERUS
and FURIES; devils, and torrents of fire and brimstone. It is true, both fear and hope enter into
religion; because both these passions, at different times, agitate the human mind, and
each of them forms a species of divinity suitable to itself. But when a man is in a cheerful disposition,
he is fit for business, or company, or entertainment of any kind; and he naturally applies himself
to these, and thinks not of religion. When melancholy and dejected, he has nothing
to do but brood upon the terrors of the invisible world, and to plunge himself still deeper
in affliction. It may indeed happen, that after he has, in
this manner, engraved the religious opinions deep into his thought and imagination, there
may arrive a change of health or circumstances, which may restore his good humour, and raising
cheerful prospects of futurity, make him run into the other extreme of joy and triumph. But still it must be acknowledged, that, as
terror is the primary principle of religion, it is the passion which always predominates
in it, and admits but of short intervals of pleasure. Not to mention, that these fits of excessive,
enthusiastic joy, by exhausting the spirits, always prepare the way for equal fits of superstitious
terror and dejection; nor is there any state of mind so happy as the calm and equable. But this state it is impossible to support,
where a man thinks that he lies in such profound darkness and uncertainty, between an eternity
of happiness and an eternity of misery. No wonder that such an opinion disjoints the
ordinary frame of the mind, and throws it into the utmost confusion. And though that opinion is seldom so steady
in its operation as to influence all the actions; yet it is apt to make a considerable breach
in the temper, and to produce that gloom and melancholy so remarkable in all devout people. It is contrary to common sense to entertain
apprehensions or terrors upon account of any opinion whatsoever, or to imagine that we
run any risk hereafter, by the freest use of our reason. Such a sentiment implies both an absurdity
and an inconsistency. It is an absurdity to believe that the Deity
has human passions, and one of the lowest of human passions, a restless appetite for
applause. It is an inconsistency to believe, that, since
the Deity has this human passion, he has not others also; and, in particular, a disregard
to the opinions of creatures so much inferior. To know God, says SENECA, is to worship him. All other worship is indeed absurd, superstitious,
and even impious. It degrades him to the low condition of mankind,
who are delighted with entreaty, solicitation, presents, and flattery. Yet is this impiety the smallest of which
superstition is guilty. Commonly, it depresses the Deity far below
the condition of mankind; and represents him as a capricious DEMON, who exercises his power
without reason and without humanity! And were that Divine Being disposed to be
offended at the vices and follies of silly mortals, who are his own workmanship, ill
would it surely fare with the votaries of most popular superstitions. Nor would any of human race merit his favour,
but a very few, the philosophical Theists, who entertain, or rather indeed endeavour
to entertain, suitable notions of his Divine perfections: As the only persons entitled
to his compassion and indulgence would be the philosophical Sceptics, a sect almost
equally rare, who, from a natural diffidence of their own capacity, suspend, or endeavour
to suspend, all judgement with regard to such sublime and such extraordinary subjects. If the whole of Natural Theology, as some
people seem to maintain, resolves itself into one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at
least undefined proposition, That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably
bear some remote analogy to human intelligence: If this proposition be not capable of extension,
variation, or more particular explication: If it affords no inference that affects human
life, or can be the source of any action or forbearance: And if the analogy, imperfect
as it is, can be carried no further than to the human intelligence, and cannot be transferred,
with any appearance of probability, to the other qualities of the mind; if this really
be the case, what can the most inquisitive, contemplative, and religious man do more than
give a plain, philosophical assent to the proposition, as often as it occurs, and believe
that the arguments on which it is established exceed the objections which lie against it? Some astonishment, indeed, will naturally
arise from the greatness of the object; some melancholy from its obscurity; some contempt
of human reason, that it can give no solution more satisfactory with regard to so extraordinary
and magnificent a question. But believe me, CLEANTHES, the most natural
sentiment which a well-disposed mind will feel on this occasion, is a longing desire
and expectation that Heaven would be pleased to dissipate, at least alleviate, this profound
ignorance, by affording some more particular revelation to mankind, and making discoveries
of the nature, attributes, and operations of the Divine object of our faith. A person, seasoned with a just sense of the
imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity:
While the haughty Dogmatist, persuaded that he can erect a complete system of Theology
by the mere help of philosophy, disdains any further aid, and rejects this adventitious
instructor. To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man
of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian;
a proposition which I would willingly recommend to the attention of PAMPHILUS: And I hope
CLEANTHES will forgive me for interposing so far in the education and instruction of
his pupil. CLEANTHES and PHILO pursued not this conversation
much further: and as nothing ever made greater impression on me, than all the reasonings
of that day, so I confess, that, upon a serious review of the whole, I cannot but think, that
PHILO’s principles are more probable than DEMEA’s; but that those of CLEANTHES approach
still nearer to the truth.

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Reader Comments

  1. Daniel Jackson

    What were Hume's own beliefs regarding God? For those interested, here's a fascinating and thorough paper from the Hume Society on the question:

  2. Philosophy Overdose

    Part 1 – 00:21
    Part 2 – 24:09
    Part 3 – 52:05
    Part 4 – 1:05:25
    Part 5 – 1:20:46
    Part 6 – 1:34:47
    Part 7 – 1:48:25
    Part 8 – 2:02:20
    Part 9 – 2:16:41
    Part 10 – 2:28:13
    Part 11 – 2:52:59
    Part 12 – 3:20:32

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