Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

by Cleanthes. That like effects arise from like causes : this priaciple he supposes the foundation of all religion. But there is another principle of the same kind, no less certain, and derived from the fame 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 know. ledge, it bears a great resemblance to an' animal or organized body, and seems actuated with a like principle of life and morion. A con. tinual 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 fyftem ; and each part or member, in performing its proper offices, operates both to its own preservation and to that of the whole. The world then, I infer, is an ani. mal, and the Deity is the Soul of the world, a&uating it, and actuated by it. Lo Were I obliged to defend any particular system (which I never willingly should do), I esteem none more plautible, than that which afcribes 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 co, whatever system we embrace.

• Our friend CLEANTHES asserts, that Gince 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 mult 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 wave all objections drawn from this topic ; I affirm that there are other parts of the universe (besides the machines of human invention) which bear ftill 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 resem. bles more an animal or a vegetable, than it does a wa:ch or a knitcing loom. Its cause, therefore, it is more probable, resembles the cause of the former. The cause of the former is generation or ve. getation. 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, re

plied plied Philo. In like manner as a tree sheds its feed into the neighbouring fields, and produces other trees; so the great vegetable, the world, or this planetary fyllem, produces within itself certain feeds, which, being scattered into the surrounding chaos, vegerate into new worlds. A comet, for instance, is the seed of a world ; and after it has been fully ripened, by palling from sun to sun, and ftar to far, it is at last toit into the unformed elements, which every where surround this universe, and immediately sprouts up iato a new

System. .'. I have all along asserted, and fill affert, that we have no data to establish any syitem of cosmogony. Our experience, ro imperfect in itself, and so limited both in extent and duration, can afford 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 Itronger resemblance to the world, than does any artificial machine, which arises from reason and design icmc

• In this little corner of the worid alone, there are four princi. ples, Reason, Infiinci, 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 syilem co syitem, in order to examine each part of this migh:y 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 order 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 somewbat excufable ; but reason, in its internal fabric and structure, is really as little known to us. as instinct or vegetation; and perhaps even that vague, undeterminate 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 manoer of operation are totally unknown: nor is it less intelligible, or less conformable to experience to say, that the world arote by vegetation from a seed Ahed by another world, than to say that it arose from a divine reason or con. trivance, according to the sense in which CLEANTHES understands it.

· That vegetation and generation, as well as reason, are experienced to be principles of order in nature, is undeniable. If I reft my fydem of cosmogony on the former, preferably to the latter, 'tis at my choice. The matter seems entirely arbitrary. And when CLEANTHES alks me what is the cause of my great vegetative or generative faculty, I am equally intitled to ask him the cause of his great reasoning principle. These questions we have agreed to forbear on both fidcs; and it is chiefly his interelt on the present occa. fion to fick to this agreement. Judging by our limited and imper

fect

fe&t experience, generation has some privileges above reason : for we fee every day the latter arise from the former, never the former froin the latter.'

Philo proceeds to inform us that he could, in an instant, propofe various other systems of cosmogony, which would have some faint appearance of truth; though it is a thousand, a million to one, he says, if any,one of them were the true system.-Motion, we are told, 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 voJuntary agent, iś mere hypothesis; and hypothesis attended with no advantage; the beginning of motion in matter itself being · as conceivable a priori as its communication from mind and intelligence.

• All religious systems, it is confessed, says he, are subje&t to great and insuperable difficolies. 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 fyftem 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 coial suspense of judgment 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 Itation or abiding city, which he is ever, on any occasion, obliged co defend ?'

Philo, in a word, is of opinion, that as no system of cof. mogony ought ever to be received from a slight analogy, so neither ought any to be rejected on account of a small incongruity; since that is an inconvenience, from which we can justly pronounce no one to be exempted.

The object of that curious artifice and machinery, which nature has displayed in all animals, Philo tells us, is the preservation alone of individuals and propagation of the species. It seems enough for her purpose, he says, 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 indul. gence without some want or necessity, accompanying it. At least, the few phenomena of this nature, we are told, are overbalanced by oppofite phenomena of still greater importance. : .• Allowing, lays he, what never will be believed, at least, what can never poilibly be proved, that animal, or at least, human haps piness in this life exceeds its misery; we have yet done nothing; for ibis is not, by any means, what we expect from infinite power, in. fioite wildom, and infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at

all

all in the world ? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolenti Is it contrary to his intencion ? But he is almighty. Nothing caq shake the folidity of this reasoning, ro 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 chem; a topic, which I have all along infifted on, but which you have, from the beginning, rejected with scorn and indignation.

• But I will be contented to retire till from this in trenchment : for I deny, CLEANTHES, that you can ever force me in it: I will allow, that pain or misery in man is compatible with infioite power and goodness in the Deity, even in your sense of these attributes : what are you advanced by all these conceflions ? A mere poffible compatibility is not sufficient. You mult prove these pure, unmixt, uncontrollable attributes from the present mixt and confused phenomena, and from these alone. A hopeful undertaking! Were the phenomena ever so pure and unmixt, yet being finite, they would be insufficient for that purpose. How much more, where they are also ro jarring and discordant?". • There seem to be four circumstances, Philo says, on which depend all, or the greatest part of the ills, chat moleft sensible creatures, none of which appear to human reason, in the least degree, neceflary or unavoidable ; nor can we suppose them such, without the utmost licence of imagination. · The first circumstance which introduces evil, we are told, is that contrivance of economy or 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 to this purpose. — The second circumstance is, the conducting of the world by general laws; and this seems no way necessary to a very perfect being, The third circumstance is, the great frugality, with which all powers and faculties are distributed to every particular being. Nature, 'tis said, seems to have formed an exact calculation of the necessities of her creatures; and like a rigid master, has afforded them liţtle more powers or endowments, than what are strictly sufficient to supply thofe nece!lities. 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 or circumstances. Every course of life would not have been so surrounded with precipices, that the least departure from the true path, by mistake or ne. cesity, muít involve us in misery and ruin. Some reserve, fome fund would have been provided to ensure happiness; nor would the powers and the necessities have been adjusted with so rigid an economy.

The fourth circumstance, whence arises the evil and misery of the universe, is the inaccurate workmanship of all the Springs

and and principles of the great machine of nature. One would imagine, Philo says, 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.

On the concurrence, then, continues he, 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 lo 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. Wha: 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 fos 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 allert, that as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for fuch an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easly have been remedied, as far as human . understanding caó 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 there attributes. Such a conclufion cannot result from scepticism ; but muft arise from the phenomena, and from our confidence in the reafonings, which we deduce from these phenomena.'

In regard to the influence of religious principles on the conduct of mankind, Philo says, 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. And when we bave to do with a man who makes a great profeffion of religion and devotion ; this, we are told, has no other effect upon several, who pass for prudent, than to put them on their guard, left they be cheated and deceived by him. He further says, that 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 that when such a temper is encour«ged, it easily eludes all the general precepts of charity and benevolence. In regard to the worship of the Deity, hear what he says:

"To know God, says SENECA, is to worship him. All other worfhip is indeed abfurd, superstitious, and even impious. It degrades Rev. Nov. 1779.

Аа

him

« VorigeDoorgaan »