David Hume Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Essay

David Hume was born in Edinburgh to a minor Scottish noble family, raised at the estate of Ninewells, and attended the University of Edinburgh for two years until he was 15. Although his family wished him to study law, he found himself unsuited to this. He studied at home, tried business briefly, and after receiving a small inheritance traveled to France, settling at La Fleche, where Descartes had gone to school. There he completed his first and major philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739--40), published in three volumes. Hume claimed on the title page that he was introducing the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects, and further that he was offering a new way of seeing the limits of human knowledge. Although his work was largely ignored, Hume gained from it a reputation as a philosophical skeptic and an opponent of traditional religion. (In later years he was called "the great infidel.") This reputation led to his being rejected for professorships at both Edinburgh and Glasgow. To earn his living he served variously as the secretary to General St. Clair, as the attendant to the mad Marquis of Annandale, and as the keeper of the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. While holding these positions, he wrote and published a new version of his philosophy, the two Enquiries, and many essays on social, political, moral, and literary subjects. He also began his six-volume History of England from the Roman Invasion to the Glorious Revolution (1754--62), the work that made him most famous in his lifetime. Hume retired from public life and settled in Edinburgh, where he was the leading figure in Scottish letters and a good friend to many of the leading intellectuals of the time, including Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin. During this period, he completed the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which he had been working on for more than 25 years. Hume first worked on the Dialogues in the middle of his career, but put them aside as too provocative. In his last years he finished them and they were published posthumously in 1779. They are probably his best literary effort and have been the basis for continuous discussion and debate among philosophers of religion. Toward the end of Hume's life, his philosophical work began to be taken seriously, and the skeptical problems he had raised were tackled by philosophers in Scotland, France, and finally Germany, where Kant claimed that Hume had awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers. Hume was one of the most influential philosophers of modern times, both as a positive force on skeptical and empirical thinkers and as a philosopher to be refuted by others. Interpreters are still arguing about whether he should be seen as a complete skeptic, a partial skeptic, a precursor of logical positivism, or even a secret believer.

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IT has been remarked, my HERMIPPUS, that, though the ancient philosophers conveyed most of their instruction in the form of dialogue, this method of composition has been little practi|sed in later ages, and has seldom succeeded in the hands of those, who have attempted it. Accurate and regular argument, indeed, such as is now ex|pected of philosophical enquirers, naturally throws a man into the methodical and didactic manner; where he can immediately, without preparation, explain the point, at which he aims; and thence Page  [unnumbered]〈1 page duplicate〉Page  2 proceed, without interruption, to deduce the proofs, on which it is established. To deliver a SYSTEM in conversation scarcely appears natu|ral; and while the dialogue-writer desires, by de|parting from the direct style of composition, to give a freer air to his performance, and avoid the appearance of Author and Reader, he is apt to run into a worse inconvenience, and convey the image of Pedagogue and Pupil. Or if he carries on the dispute in the natural spirit of good com|pany, by throwing in a variety of topics, and pre|serving a proper balance among the speakers; he often loses so much time in preparations and transi|tions, that the reader will scarcely think himself compensated, by all the graces of dialogue, for the order, brevity, and precision, which are sa|crificed to them.

There are some subjects, however, to which dialogue-writing is peculiarly adapted, and where it is still preferable to the direct and simple me|thod of composition.

Any point of doctrine, which is so obvious, that it scarcely admits of dispute, but at the same time so important, that it cannot be too often in|culcated, seems to require some such method of handling it; where the novelty of the manner may compensate the triteness of the subject, where the vivacity of conversation may enforce the precept, and where the variety of lights, presented by va|rious personages and characters, may appear nei|ther tedious nor redundant.

Page  3 Any question of philosophy, on the other hand, which is so obscure and uncertain, that human reason can reach no fixed determination with re|gard to it; if it should be treated at all; seems to lead us naturally into the style of dialogue and conversation. Reasonable men may be allowed to differ, where no one can reasonably be positive: Opposite sentiments, even without any decision, afford an agreeable amusement: and if the sub|ject be curious and interesting, the book carries us, in a manner, into company, and unites the two greatest and purest pleasures of human life, study and society.

Happily, these circumstances are all to be found in the subject of NATURAL RELIGION. What truth so obvious, so certain, as the BEING of a God, which the most ignorant ages have ac|knowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of so|ciety, and the only principle, which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and me|ditations? But in treating of this obvious and important truth; what obscure questions occur, concerning the NATURE of that divine being; his attributes, his decrees, his plan of providence? These have been always subjected to the disputa|tions of men: Concerning these, human reason has not reached any certain determination: But Page  4 these are topics so interesting, that we cannot re|strain our restless enquiry with regard to them; though nothing but doubt, uncertainty and con|tradiction have, as yet, been the result of our most accurate researches.

This I had lately occasion to observe, while I passed, as usual, part of the summer-season with CLEANTHES, and was present at those con|versations of his with PHILO and DEMEA, of which I gave you lately some imperfect ac|count. Your curiosity, you then told me, was so excited, that I must of necessity enter into a more exact detail of their reasonings, and display those various systems, which they advanced with regard to so delicate a subject as that of Natural Religion. The remarkable contrast in their cha|racters still farther raised your expectations; while you opposed the accurate philosophical turn of CLEANTHES to the careless scepticism of PHILO, or compared either of their dispositions with the rigid inflexible orthodoxy of DEMEA. My youth rendered me a mere auditor of their disputes; and that curiosity natural to the early season of life, has so deeply imprinted in my memory the whole chain and connection of their arguments, that, I hope, I shall not omit or confound any consider|able part of them in the recital.

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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 educa|tion, and on his unwearied perseverance and con|stancy in all his friendships. The father of PAM|PHILUS, 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 use|ful 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 fol|low 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 judge|ment in its students; and none but a mind, en|riched with all the other sciences, can safely be entrusted with it.

Page  6 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 educa|tion? 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 prin|ciples of mere human reason. Having thus tamed their mind to a proper submission and self-diffi|dence, I have no longer any scruple of opening to them the greatest mysteries of religion, nor apprehend any danger from that assuming arro|gance of philosophy, which may lead them to re|ject the most established doctrines and opinions.

Your precaution, says PHILO, of seasoning your childrens minds with early piety, is certain|ly very reasonable; and no more than is requi|site, in this profane and irreligious age. But what I chiefly admire in your plan of education, is your method of drawing advantage from the Page  7 very principles of philosophy and learning, which, by inspiring pride and self-sufficiency, have com|monly, 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 enquiry, observing the end|less disputes of the learned, have commonly a tho|rough contempt for Philosophy; and rivet them|selves the faster, by that means, in the great points of Theology, which have been taught them. Those, who enter a little into study and enquiry, finding many appearances of evidence in doctrines the newest and most extraordinary, think nothing too difficult for human reason; and presumptu|ously breaking through all sences, profane the inmost fanctuaries of the temple. But CLEAN|THES 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 im|proved and cultivated: Let us become thorough|ly sensible of the weakness, blindness, and nar|row 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 ef|fect, extension, space, time, motion; and in a word, quantity of all kinds, the object of the Page  8 only science, that can fairly pretend to any cer|tainty or evidence. When these topics are dis|played in their full light, as they are by some philosophers and almost all divines; who can re|tain 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 e|ternity to eternity?

While PHILO pronounced these words, I could observe a smile in the countenance both of DE|MEA and CLEANTHES. That of DEMEA seem|ed to imply an unreserved satisfaction in the doc|trines delivered: But in CLEANTHES's features, I could distinguish an air of finesse; as if he per|ceived some raillery or artificial malice in the rea|sonings 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 enquiry, it will all retire to these theological doctrines, and there acquire a superior force and authority. Whether your scepticism be as absolute and sin|cere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, Page  9 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 ralliers, but can ne|ver be very dangerous, either to the state, to philosophy, or to religion.

In reality, PHILO, continued he, it seems cer|tain, 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 so|licit him: His philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon his own tem|per 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 an|cient Page  10 PYRRHONIANS; if in reality they endea|voured, 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 PYRRHO|NIANS, 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 sufferance will not prevail over such a high sense of duty; and 'tis 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 imagi|nation 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 plea|sure: 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 SCEPTICS, replied PHILO. But you may Page  11 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 him|self 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 prin|ciples and reasoning, I dare not say, in his com|mon conduct, he will be found different from those, who either never formed any opinions in the case, or have entertained sentiments more fa|vourable to human reason.

To whatever length any one may push his spe|culative 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 Page  12 any other reason, than the absolute necessity he lies under of so doing. If he ever carries his speculations farther than this necessity constrains him, and philosophises, either on natural or mo|ral subjects, he is allured by a certain pleasure and satisfaction, which he finds in employing him|self after that manner. He considers besides, that every one, even in common life, is constrain|ed to have more or less of this philosophy; that from our earliest infancy we make continual ad|vances in forming more general principles of con|duct and reasoning; that the larger experience we acquire, and the stronger reason we are en|dued 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 great|er truth, from our philosophy, on account of its exacter and more scrupulous method of proceed|ing.

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, Page  13 omniscient, immutable, infinite, and incompre|hensible: We must be far removed from the smallest tendency to scepticism not to be apprehen|sive, 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 subtile and refined. But in theological rea|sonings, 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 cu|stoms 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 em|ploying them.

All sceptics pretend, that, if reason be consi|dered in an abstract view, it furnishes invincible arguments against itself, and that we could ne|ver Page  14 retain any conviction or assurance, on any subject, were not the sceptical reasonings so re|fined and subtile, that they are not able to coun|terpoise the more solid and more natural argu|ments, 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 con|duct of common life. Where-ever evidence dis|covers 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 assu|rance. In reality, would not a man be ridicu|lous, who pretended to reject NEWTON's expli|cation of the wonderful phenomenon of the rain|bow, because that explication gives a minute ana|tomy of the rays of light; a subject, forsooth, too refined for human comprehension? And what would you say to one, who having nothing parti|cular to object to the arguments of COPERNICUS Page  15 and GALILAEO for the motion of the earth, should with-hold his assent, on that general prin|ciple, That these subjects were too magnificent and remote to be explained by the narrow and fal|lacious 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 e|very principle, which requires elaborate reasoning to prove and establish it. This species of scepti|cism 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 su|perstition has recommended to them. They firm|ly believe in witches; though they will not be|lieve nor attend to the most simple proposition of EUCLID. But the refined and philosophical scep|tics fall into an inconsistence of an opposite na|ture. They push their researches into the most abstruse corners of science; and their assent at|tends them in every step, proportioned to the evidence, which they meet with. They are e|ven obliged to acknowledge, that the most ab|struse and remote objects are those, which are best explained by philosophy. Light is in reality anatomized: The true system of the heavenly bodies is discovered and ascertained. But the nourishment of bodies by food is still an inexpli|cable Page  16 mystery: The cohesion of the parts of mat|ter is still incomprehensible. These sceptics, there|fore, 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 natu|ral, 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 presump|tion 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 under|standing 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 repug|nancies, 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 scep|tics are not a sect of philosophers: They are only Page  17 a sect of liars. I may, however, affirm, (I hope, without offence) that they are a sect of jesters or ralliers. But for my part, whenever I find myself disposed to mirth and amusement, I shall certainly chuse 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 subtilties and abstractions.

In vain would the sceptic make a distinction be|tween 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 entire|ly 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 inquisi|tors are now constrained to withdraw their oppo|sition to it. And shall PHILO, a man of so libe|ral 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?

Page  18 And here we may observe, continued he, turn|ing himself towards DEMEA, a pretty curious cir|cumstance in the history of the sciences. After the union of philosophy with the popular religion, upon the first establishment of Christianity, no|thing was more usual, among all religious teach|ers, than declamations against reason, against the senses, against every principle, derived merely from human research and enquiry. All the topics of the ancient Academics were adopted by the Fa|thers; 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 pane|gyrics on the excellency of faith were sure to be interlarded with some severe strokes of satire a|gainst 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 de|termined 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 philo|sophy, and that a chain of arguments, similar to that which established any truth in morals, poli|tics, or physics, was always employed in discover|ing all the principles of theology, natural and re|vealed. Page  19 The ill use, which BAYLE and other li|bertines made of the philosophical scepticism of the fathers and first reformers, still farther propa|gated 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 is cer|tain, 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 excel|lent saying of Lord BACON on this head? That a little philosophy, replied CLEANTHES, makes a man an Atheist: a great deal converts him to re|ligion. 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 now-a-days have a double share of folly: for they are not con|tented 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 im|prudence. 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 reli|gious and irreligious scepticism, with which you have entertained us. It appears to me, that there Page  20 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 Athe|ism, 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 prin|ciples of different nations and ages, our sagacious divines have changed their whole system of philo|sophy, and talk the language of STOICS, PLA|TONISTS, 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 favorite principle, and e|stablished 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 Page  21 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 confirma|tion of true religion, and serve to confound the cavils of Atheists, Libertines, and Freethinkers of all denominations.


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 understand|ing, to be altogether incomprehensible and un|known to us. The essence of that supreme mind, his attributes, the manner of his existence, the very nature of his duration; these and every par|ticular, Page  22 which regards so divine a Being,* are my|sterious to men. Finite, weak, and blind crea|tures, 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 teme|rity 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 al|most, 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 i|magine, even supposing him corporeal, that he Page  23 is clothed with a human body, as the AN|THROPOMORPHITES 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 resem|blance to our spirit; under colour that we know nothing more perfect than a human mind. We ought rather to believe, that as he com|prehends the perfections of matter without be|ing material........he comprehends also the perfections of created spirits, without be|ing 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 senti|ment, or express my approbation of your doc|trine. But furely, where reasonable men treat these subjects, the question can never be concern|ing the Being, but only the Nature of the Deity. The sormer truth, as you well observe, is unquestionable and self-evident. Nothing ex|ists without a cause; and the original cause of this universe (whatever it be) we call GOD; and piously ascribe to him every species of perfec|tion. Whoever scruples this fundamental truth, deserves every punishment, which can be inflicted among philosophers, to wit, the greatest ridicule, Page  24 contempt and disapprobation. But as all perfec|tion is entirely relative, we ought never to ima|gine, 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, De|sign, Knowledge; these we justly ascribe to him; because these words are honourable among men, and we have no other language or other concep|tions, by which we can express our adoration of him. But let us beware, left we think, that our ideas any wise correspond to his perfections, or that his attributes have any resemblance to these qualities among men. He is infinitely su|perior 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 far|ther than our experience: We have no experi|ence 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 myste|rious and incomprehensible nature of the Supreme Being.

Not to lose any time in circumlocutions, said Page  25 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: contem|plate 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 ma|chines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various ma|chines, 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 produc|tions of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since there|fore 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 Na|ture is somewhat similar to the mind of man; though possessed of much larger faculties, pro|portioned 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 Page  26 similarity of the Deity to men; still less can I ap|prove of the mediums, by which you endeavour to establish it. What! No demonstration of the Being of a 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 farther 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 candor, you give advan|tages 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 argu|ments are by CLEANTHES reduced to experience, as that they appear not to be even the most cer|tain 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 in|stance of this nature is presented, we draw with|out hesitation the accustomed inference. The exact similarity of the cases gives us a perfect as|surance of a similar event; and a stronger evi|dence is never desired nor sought after. But where-ever you depart, in the least, from the similarity of the cases, you diminish proportion|ably 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, Page  27 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 reason|ing is much weaker, when we infer the circula|tion 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 archi|tect 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 dissi|militude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a pre|sumption 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 bla|med 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 Page  28 so slight a resemblance? The oeconomy of final causes? The order, proportion, and arrange|ment of every part? Steps of a stair are plainly contrived, that human legs may use them in mounting; and this inference is certain and in|fallible. Human legs are also contrived for walk|ing and mounting; and this inference, I allow, is not altogether so certain, because of the dissimi|larity which you remark; but does it, therefore, deserve the name only of presumption or con|jecture?

Good God! cried DEMEA, interrupting him, where are we? Zealous defenders of religion al|low, 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 ad|vanced, 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 ob|serve, 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, Page  29 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 fair|ly represented that argument; and I shall endea|vour so to state the matter to you, that you will entertain no farther scruples with regard to it.

Were a man to abstract from every thing which he knows or has seen, he would be altoge|ther 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 si|tuation of things above another. For as nothing which he clearly conceives, could be esteemed impossible or implying a contradiction, every chi|mera of his fancy would be upon an equal foot|ing; 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 contem|plates the world, as it really is, it would be im|possible 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 pos|sible, he would never, of himself, give a satisfac|tory account for his preferring one of them to the rest. Experience alone can point out to him the true cause of any phenomenon.

Page  30 Now according to this method of reasoning, DEMEA, it follows (and is, indeed, tacitly al|lowed by CLEANTHES himself) that order, ar|rangement, 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 un|known cause, may fall into the most exquisite ar|rangement, 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 al|lowed. But by experience we find, (according to CLEANTHES) that there is a difference be|tween them. Throw several pieces of steel to|gether, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch: Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an ar|chitect, never erect a house. But the ideas in a human mind, we see, by an unknown, inex|plicable oeconomy, arrange themselves so as to form the plan of a watch or house. Experience, therefore, proves, that there is an original prin|ciple of order in mind, not in matter. From similar effects we infer similar causes. The ad|justment of means to ends is alike in the universe, Page  31 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 found Theist could en|dure. 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 re|presentation of it.

When CLEANTHES had assented, PHILO, af|ter a short pause, proceeded in the following man|ner.

That all inferences, CLEANTHES, concerning fact, are founded on experience, and that all ex|perimental reasonings are founded on the suppo|sition, that similar causes prove similar effects, and similar effects similar causes; I shall not, at present, much dispute with you. But observe, I intreat you, with what extreme caution all just reasoners proceed in the transferring of experiments to similar cases. Unless the cases be exactly si|milar, they repose no perfect confidence in ap|plying their past observation to any particular phe|nomenon. Every alteration of circumstances oc|casions a doubt concerning the event; and it re|quires new experiments to prove certainly, that the new circumstances are of no moment or im|portance. Page  32 A change in bulk, situation, arrange|ment, age, disposition of the air, or surround|ing bodies; any of these particulars may be at|tended 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 precipi|tate march of the vulgar, who, hurried on by the smallest similitude, are incapable of all discern|ment 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 disco|ver 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 ob|servation. It is an active cause, by which some particular parts of nature, we find, produce al|terations 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 obser|ving the growth of a hair, can we learn any thing Page  33 concerning the generation of a man? Would the manner of a leaf's blowing, even though per|fectly known, afford us any instruction concern|ing the vegetation of a tree?

But allowing that we were to take the opera|tions of one part of nature upon another for the foundation of our judgement concerning the ori|gin 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 oc|casions; 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 an|other part, if the latter be very remote from the former. Is there any reasonable ground to con|clude, that the inhabitants of other planets pos|sess thought, intelligence, reason, or any thing similar to these faculties in men? When Nature has so extremely diversified her manner of opera|tion in this small globe; can we imagine, that she incessantly copies herself throughout so im|mense a universe? And if thought, as we may well suppose, be confined merely to this narrow Page  34 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 oe|conomy 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, con|stituted, arranged, adjusted, can with any pro|priety be extended to a world, which is in its embryo-state, and is advancing towards that con|stitution and arrangement. By observation, we know somewhat of the oeconomy, 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 num|ber of springs and principles, which incessantly discover themselves on every change of her posi|tion and situation. And what new and unknown principles would actuate her in so new and un|known 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 Page  35 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 arrange|ment, 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 uni|verse? 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, with|out 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 fa|culties? You might cry out sceptic and rallier 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 Page  36 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, where-ever I see the existence of the other: and this I call an argument from experience. But how this argu|ment can have place, where the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without pa|rallel, 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; be|cause we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite, that we had ex|perience 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 man|ner, somewhat between jest and earnest, as it ap|peared to me; when he observed some signs of impatience in CLEANTHES, and then immediate|ly stopped short. What I had to suggest, said CLEANTHES, is only that you would not abuse terms, or make use of popular expressions to sub|vert 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 analyzed, that it is nothing but a species of experience. To prove by ex|perience the origin of the universe from mind is Page  37 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 resem|blances, with others, which I have not mention|ed, are the sole proofs of the COPERNICAN sy|stem: and to you it belongs to consider, whether you have any analogies of the same kind to sup|port your theory.

In reality, CLEANTHES, continued he, the mo|dern system of astronomy is now so much recei|ved by all enquirers, 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 be|come a matter of mere curiosity to study the first writers on that subject, who had the full force of Page  38 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 GALILAEO's famous Dialogues concerning the sy|stem 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 ingene|rable, incorruptible, unalterable, impassable; and had assigned all the opposite qualities to the for|mer. But GALILAEO, 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 expe|rience; and that the similarity of their nature en|abled us to extend the same arguments and phe|nomena from one to the other.

In this cautious proceeding of the astronomers, you may read your own condemnation, CLEAN|THES; or rather may see, that the subject in which you are engaged exceeds all human reason and Page  39 enquiry. Can you pretend to show any such si|milarity 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 pheno|menon, from the first appearance of order to its final consummation? If you have, then cite your experience, and deliver your theory.


HOW the most absurd argument, replied CLEANTHES, in the hands of a man of ingenui|ty and invention, may acquire an air of probabi|lity! Are you not aware, PHILO, that it became necessary for COPERNICUS and his first disciples to prove the similarity of the terrestrial and ce|lestial matter; because several philosophers, blind|ed 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 Page  40 than the abstruse cavils of those philosophers,* who denied motion; and ought to be refuted in the same manner, by illustrations, examples, and in|stances, rather than by serious argument and phi|losophy.

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: Sup|pose, that the words delivered not only contain a just sense and meaning, but convey some instruc|tion altogether worthy of a benevolent being, su|perior 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 ob|jections (if they merit that appellation) which lie against the system of Theism, may also be produ|ced against this inference.

Might you not say, that all conclusions concern|ing 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 conse|quently, Page  41 that a rational, wise, coherent speech proceeded, you knew 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, inva|riable language, common to every individual of human race, and that books are natural produc|tions, which perpetuate themselves in the same manner with animals and vegetables, by descent and propagation. Several expressions of our pas|sions contain a universal language: all brute ani|mals have a natural speech, which, however li|mited, 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 organized body, the propaga|tion of an Iliad or Aeneid is an easier supposi|tion than that of any plant or animal.

Suppose, therefore, that you enter into your li|brary, thus peopled by natural volumes, contain|ing the most refined reason and most exquisite beauty: could you possibly open one of them, and doubt, that its original cause bore the strong|est analogy to mind and intelligence? When it reasons and discourses; when it expostulates, ar|gues, Page  42 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 origi|nal parent proceeded not from thought and de|sign? Your obstinacy, I know, reaches not that degree of firmness: even your sceptical play and wantonness would be abashed at so glaring an ab|surdity.

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 ana|tomy of an animal affords many stronger instances of design than the perusal of LIVY or TACI|TUS: 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. Chuse, 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 CLEAN|THES, that this religious argument, instead of being weakened by that scepticism, so much af|fected by you, rather acquires force from it, and becomes more firm and undisputed. To Page  43 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, where-ever 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, anatomize the eye: Survey its structure and con|trivance; 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 sensa|tion. 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 Infide|lity. 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 sen|sible, that the propagation of the species is in|tended 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 de|gree, therefore, of blind dogmatism must one Page  44 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 pre|tend, contradictory to the principles of logic; its universal, its irresistible influence proves clear|ly, that there may be arguments of a like irre|gular nature. Whatever cavils may be urged; an orderly world, as well as a coherent, articu|late speech, will still be received as an incontest|able proof of design and intention.

It sometimes happens, I own, that the religious arguments have not their due influence on an ig|norant 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 ani|mal? From the copulation of its parents. And these whence? From their parents? A few re|moves 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 farther. But this is neither dogmatism nor scep|ticism, but stupidity; a state of mind very differ|ent from your sifting, inquisitive disposition, my ingenious friend. You can trace causes from ef|fects: You can compare the most distant and Page  45 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 un|necessary 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 presump|tuous, 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 au|thor: I become him, in a manner, for the in|stant; and have an immediate feeling and con|ception of those ideas, which revolved in his i|magination, 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 Page  46 philosophers: yet many of them, particularly PLOTINUS us, 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-anni|hilation or total extinction of all our faculties. These ideas are, perhaps, too far stretched; but still it must be acknowledged, that, by represent|ing the Deity as so intelligible, and comprehen|sible, 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 uni|verse.

All the sentiments of the human mind, grati|tude, resentment, love, friendship, approbation, blame, pity, emulation, envy, have a plain re|ference 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 sup|port 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 exter|nal senses, compose the whole furniture of hu|man understanding, we may conclude, that none Page  47 of the materials of thought are in any re|spect similar in the human and in the divine intelligence. Now as to the manner of think|ing; 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 re|move these circumstances, we absolutely annihi|late 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 Be|ing, we ought to acknowledge, that their mean|ing, in that case, is totally incomprehensible; and that the infirmities of our nature do not per|mit us to reach any ideas, which in the least cor|respond to the ineffable sublimity of the divine attributes.


IT seems strange to me, said CLEANTHES, that you, DEMEA, who are so sincere in the cause of religion, should still maintain the myste|rious, incomprehensible nature of the Deity, and should insist so strenuously, that he has no man|ner of likeness or resemblance to human crea|tures. The Deity, I can readily allow, possesses many powers and attributes, of which we can Page  48 have no comprehension:* But if our ideas, so far as they go, be not just, and adequate, and cor|respondent 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 as|sert, 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 scru|pulous 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 CLEAN|THES, would attempt to refute his antagonists, by affixing a nick-name 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 ANTHRO|POMORPHITE 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 Page  49 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 va|rious faculties, passions, sentiments, ideas; uni|ted, indeed, into one self or person, but still dis|tinct from each other. When it reasons, the ideas, which are the parts of its discourse, ar|range themselves in a certain form or order; which is not preserved entire for a moment, but imme|diately gives place to another arrangement. New opinions, new passions, new affections, new feel|ings 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 his hatred, his mercy and his justice, are one individual opera|tion: He is entire in every point of space; and complete in every instant of duration. No succes|sion, no change, no acquisition, no diminution. What he is implies not in it any shadow of dis|tinction or diversity. And what he is, this mo|ment, he ever has been, and ever will be, with|out 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 judge|ment or idea has been lately formed, and will give place, by succession, to any different judgement or idea.

Page  50 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 charge|able with all the consequences which I have drawn from their opinion. They are, in a word, A|THEISTS, 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 na|ture, essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and succes|sive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally im|mutable; is a mind, which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no ha|tred; 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 with|out 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, or|thodox 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 ar|gument, so much celebrated, derived from the universal consent of mankind?

Page  51 But because I know you are not much swayed by names and authorities, I shall endeavour to show you, a little more distinctly, the inconve|niencies 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 enquiries 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 u|niverse of objects; and if similar in its arrange|ment 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 com|mon to both of them.

Again, when we will needs force Experience to pronounce some sentence, even on these subjects, Page  52 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 Ex|perience, 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 ex|actly 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 curi|ous adjustment of springs and principles.

How therefore shall we satisfy ourselves con|cerning the cause of that Being, whom you sup|pose the Author of Nature, or, according to your system of Anthropomorphism, the ideal world, into which you trace the material? Have Page  53 we not the same reason to trace that ideal world into another ideal world, or new intelligent prin|ciple? But if we stop, and go no farther; 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 remem|ber the story of the INDIAN philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests up|on 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 con|tain 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 sy|stem, you only excite an inquisitive humour, which it is impossible ever to satisfy.

To say, that the different ideas, which com|pose 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 Page  54known cause: But, I am sure, we have a much larger experience of matter, which does the same; as in all instances of generation and ve|getation, 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 essen|tial 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 enquiries to the present world, without looking farther. No satisfaction can ever be attained by these speculations, which so far exceed the narrow bounds of human un|derstanding.

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 nu|tritive faculty, and senna purged by its purga|tive: But it has been discovered, that this sub|terfuge was nothing but the disguise of ignorance; and that these philosophers, though less ingenu|ous, 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 Page  55 manner, when it is asked, what cause produces order in the ideas of the Supreme Being, can any other reason be assigned by you, Anthro|pomorphites, 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 satisfac|tory in accounting for the order of the world, without having recourse to any such intelligent creator, as you insist on, may be difficult to de|termine. It is only to say, that such is the na|ture of material objects, and that they are all o|riginally possessed of a faculty of order and pro|portion. These are only more learned and ela|borate 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 ri|gid 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 inex|plicable as these phenomena themselves are to the vulgar. The order and arrangement of nature, Page  56 the curious adjustment of final causes, the plain use and intention of every part and organ; all these bespeak in the clearest language an intel|ligent 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, dis|turb 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 enquiry. Let those go farther, 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 sen|sible, that I must at last be contented to sit down with the same answer, which, without farther trouble, might have satisfied me from the begin|ning. 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 re|main 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. Page  57 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.


BUT to show you still more inconveniencies, continued PHILO, in your Anthropomorphism; please to take a new survey of your principles. Like effects prove like causes This is the ex|perimental 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 ei|ther side diminishes the probability, and renders the experiment less conclusive. You cannot doubt of the principle: neither ought you to re|ject its consequences.

All the new discoveries in astronomy, which prove the immense grandeur and magnificence of the works of Nature, are so many additional ar|guments for a Deity, according to the true sy|stem of Theism: but according to your hypothe|sis of experimental Theism, they become so many objections, by removing the effect still far|ther from all resemblance to the effects of human Page  58 art and contrivance.* For if LUCRETIUS*, even following the old system of the world, could ex|claim,

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 euim oculis animi intueri potuit vester Plato fabricam illam tanti operis, qua construi a Deo atque aedificari mundum facit? quae mo|litio? quae ferramenta? qui vectes? quae ma|chinae? qui ministri tanti muneris fuerunt? quemadmodum autem obedire et parere volun|tati architecti aer, ignis, aqua, terra potue|runt? 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 in|finitely 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, Page  59 according to you; arguments, according to me. The farther 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, chymistry, botany? — These surely are no ob|jections, replied CLEANTHES: they only disco|ver new instances of art and contrivance. It is still the image of mind reflected on us from innu|merable objects. Add, a mind like the hu|man, said PHILO. I know of no other, re|plied CLEANTHES. And the liker the bet|ter, insisted PHILO. To be sure, said CLE|ANTHES.

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 propor|tioned 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 into 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 Page  60 every error, mistake, or incoherence in his un|dertakings. There are many inexplicable diffi|culties in the works of Nature, which, if we al|low a perfect author to be proved a priori, are easily solved, and become only seeming difficul|ties, from the narrow capacity of man, who can|not trace infinite relations. But according to your method of reasoning, these difficulties become all real; and perhaps will be insisted on, as new in|stances of likeness to human art and contrivance. At least, you must acknowledge, that it is impos|sible for us to tell, from our limited views, whe|ther this system contains any great faults, or de|serves any considerable praise, if compared to other possible, and even real systems. Could a peasant, if the AENEID were read to him, pro|nounce that poem to be absolutely faultless, or even assign to it its proper rank among the pro|ductions of human wit; he, who had never seen any other production?

But were this world ever so perfect a produc|tion, it must still remain uncertain, whether all the excellencies of the work can justly be ascri|bed 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 Page  61 controversies, had been gradually improving? Many worlds might have been botched and bun|gled, throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out: much labour lost: many fruit|less trials made: and a slow, but continued im|provement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making. In such subjects, who can determine, where the truth; nay, who can con|jecture where the probability, lies; amidst a great number of hypotheses which may be proposed, and a still greater number, which may be ima|gined?

And what shadow of an argument, continued PHILO, can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove the unity of the Deity? A great num|ber 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 farther 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 on|ly 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 daemons, whom we may suppose several degrees more per|fect?

To multiply causes, without necessity, is in|deed Page  62

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