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idle chimera, which can have little power over any man that does not believe a Divine Legislator, whose authority must enforce it.
It is the same with friendship and gratitude, which are principles that the atheist will often commend. But how is any man bound to be grateful, or to be a friend ? Should he act a contrary part, and be treacherous and ungrateful, what guilt has he contracted ? Has he offended against any law ? or can he become guilty, without the breach of any? If you say he has broken any law, tell us the law, and by whom it was made. If the laws of the Supreme Being are set aside, we can lie under no regulation, but have an unbounded liberty over all our actions; we may, without the least fault or disbonour, break our oaths, subvert the government, betray our friends, assassinate our parents; in short, commit all kinds of the most detestable crimes without remorse; for, not being controlled by any obligation, we may do whatever our passions or our interests prompt us to, without being accountable to any tribunal for the least transgression.
If it be said, we are obliged by the laws of our country; 1 answer, that, as to the actions we are speaking of, such as a man of honour, a great and generous mind, a friend, a grateful person, is supposed to think himself obliged to, these are such as are not regulated by municipal laws, and therefore men are at liberty whether they will act by what they call a principle of honour or not, and can justly incur no ceusure or reproach, should they have no regard to that pompous and sound, ing word; for if their actions are not morally determined either by human or divine laws, they may very justly, and honourably too, act with unlimited freedom in these matters. Besides, whoever believes himself free from the obligations of divine precepts, cannot look on himself as bound by any human laws. He may, indeed, from the apprehension of punishment, forbear an action thus forbidden, and it is his interest so to do: but, if he thinks no divine authority makes it his duty to submit to the magistrate, and obey the laws of his country, he is at liberty, as to any guilt, whether he will obey or no. If he ventures the punishment, he escapes the sin. If an atheist swears fidelity to his prince, what controlling power is he under, which affects the mind, not to betray him, if he thinks It fit and safe to do it? If he lets his parents, or his patron, or his friend perish, what iniquity is he accountable for?
The existence of a God has been already cleared, and abundantly demonstrated, by many pious and learned authors ; whence this attempt may be censured as impertinent and unnecessary. But all those excellent performances being writ in prose, and the greatest part in the learned languages, or at least in a scholastic manner, are ill-accommodated to great numbers not of a learned education; and many, who have more knowledge, and greater genius, will not undergo the trouble of reading and considering the arguments expressed in a manner to them obscure, dry, and disagreeable. I have therefore formed a poem on this great and important subject, that I might give it the advantages peculiar to poetry, and adapt it more to the general apprehension and capacity of mankind. The harmony of numbers engages many to read and retain what they would neglect if written in prose; and I persuade myself the Epicurean philosophy had not lived so long, nor been so much esteemed, had it not been kept alive and propagated by the famous poem of Lucretius.
I have chosen to demonstrate the existence of a God from the marks of wisdom, design, contrivance, and the choice of ends and means, which appear in the universe. Out of the various arguments that evince the truth of this proposition, THERE 18 A God, I have selected this as the most evident and intelligible.
I may with reason presume, that I shall not incur any censure for not employing new arguments to prove the being of a God ; none but what have been produced before by many writers, even from the eldest days of philosophy. It was never objected to Lucretius, that, in his applauded poem, he has not invented a new system of philosophy, but only recited, in poetical numbers, the ancient doctrines of Democritus and Epicurus. Nor can it with reason be supposed, that the arguments by which he supports their opinions were not long before in the schools of Greece. Nor have modem writers on this subject invented, but pursued, the demonstration of a God, from the evident appearance of contrivance and wisdom in the visible world, which they have done with more clearness and strength, than those who went before them. And wbile these have attempted to evince the existence of a God only from the contemplation of corporeal nature, I have carried the argument on to the actions of living, sensitive, and intelligent beings, so far as we are acquainted with them; believing that brighter and more noble strokes of wisdoin and design appear in the principles of life, sensation, and reason, than in all the compass of the material world,
to hear of any great genius, that can invent fresh arguments to strengthen their opinions; and does not this betray a secret diffidence, that demands further light and confirmation?
But further : since these gentlemen show so much industry in propagating their opinions, and are so fond of making proselytes to atheism; since they effect a zeal in countenancing, applauding, and preferring, those whom they have delivered from religious prejudices, and rcformed and refined with their free, large, and generous principles, how comes it pass, that they neglect to inform and im. prove their nearest relations ? Are they careful to instruct their wives and danghters, that they need not revere the imaginary phantom of a God; that religion is the creature of a timorous and superstitious mind, or of crafty priests, and cunning politicians; that therefore they are free from all restraints of virtue and conscience, and may prostitute their persons in the most licentious manner, without any remorse, or uneasy reflcction; that it is idle to fear any Divine punishment hereafter; and as to the shame and dishonour that may attend the liberties they take, in case they become public, that scandal proceeds from the gross mistakes of people perverted with religion, and misguided by a belief of a Divine Being, and of rewards and punishments in an imaginary life after this?
Do they take pains to inform their eldest sons, that they owe them no gratitude or obedience; that they may use an uncontrolled freedom in indulging all their appetites, passions, and inclinations; that, if they are willing to possess their father's honour and estate, they may, by poison or the ponjard, take away his life ; and, if they are careful to avoid the punishment of the magistrate, by their secret conduct, they may be fully satisfied of the innocence of the action; and as they have done themselves much good, so they have done their father no injury, and therefore may enjoy in perfect tranquillity the fruits of their parricide? Whatever they may affirm among their loose friends, I cannot conceive they can be guilty of so much folly, as to propagate these opinions in their own families, and instruct their wives and children in the boundless liberties, which, by the principles of atheism, are their undoubted right; for in all actions, where religion does not interpose and restrain us, we are perfectly, as has been said, free to act as we think best for our profit and pleasure.
Besides, to what a deplorable condition would mankind be reduced, should these opinions be uni- , versally embraced! If so many kings and potentates, who yet profess their belief of a God, and of rewards and punishments in a life to come, do, notwithstanding, from boundless ambition and a cruel temper, oppress their subjects at home, and ravage and destroy their neighbours abroad, should think themselves free from all Divine obligations, and therefore, too, from the restraints of oaths and solemn contracts: these fences and securities removed, what a deluge of calamities would break in upon the world! what oppression, what violence, what rapine, what devastation, would finish the ruin of human nature! For, if mighty princes are satisfied that it is impossible for them to do any wrong, what bounds are left to insatiable ararice and exorbitant thirst of power! If monarchs may, without the least guilt, violate their treaties, break their vows, betray their friends, and sacrifice their truth and honour, at pleasure, to their passions, or their interest, what trust, what confidence, could be supported between neighbour potentates ! and, without this, what confusion and distraction must of necessity ensue!
On the other hand, if subjects were universally atheists, and looked on themselves as under no Divine obligation to pay any duty or obedience to the supreme magistrate ; if they believed, that, when they took their oaths of allegiance, they swore by nothing, and invocated a power not in being; that, therefore, those oaths oblige them no longer than they think it sate, and for their interest, to break them; should such principles obtain, would not the thrones of princes be most precarious ? Would not ambition, revenge, resentment, or interest, continually excite some or other to betray or assault the lives of their sovereigns ? And why should they be blamed by the atheists for doing it? Why are traitors, assassins, haters of their princes, and enemies to their country, branded with the odious names of ruffians and villains, if they lie under no obligations to act otherwise than they do?
Should conspirators, who assassinate their lawful sovereign, have the good fortune to make their escane, I ask the atheist, if he has, in the least, an ill opinion of them for being engaged in such an execrable undertaking ? If he says he has not, then the point is gained, and an atheist is what I have represented. If he says he has, I next ask him, Why? Let him tell me in what their guilt consists? Is it in the breach of any Divine law. That cannot be, for he owns none. Is it the transgression of any human law? Tell me what obligation he is under to obey any human law, if no Divine law enforces such obedience. Does their guilt consist in the breach of their duty to their prince and their oaths of allegiance? Still the same question recurs, What duty can a subject owe to a prince whicha
Divine laws do not constitute and determine? And how can an oath of allegiance bind but by virtue of some Divine command, that obliges us not to violate our vows !
By this it appears, that an atheist must be the worst of subjects; that his principles subvert the thrones of princes, and undermine the foundations of government and society, on which the happiness of mankind so much depends; and therefore it is not possible to conceive how there can be a greater disturber of the public peace, or a greater enemy to his prince and country, than a professed atheist, who propagates with zeal his destructive opinions.
I have proved, in the following poem, that no hypoihesis hitherto invented in favour of impiety has the least strength or solidity, no, not the least appearance of truth, to recommend it. A man * must be deserted of Heaven, and inflexibly hardened, that cannot, or rather will not, see the unreasonableness of irreligious principles. I demand only a candid temper in the reader, and a mind pleased with truth, and delivered from the prejudices of atheistical conversation.
The design of this work is to demonstrate the existence of a Divine Eternal Mind.
The arguments used for this end are taken from the various marks of wisdom and artful contrivance, which are evident to observation in the several parts of the material world, and the faculties of the human soul.
The first book contains the proof of a Deity, from the instances of design and choice, which occur in the structure and qualities of the earth and sea.
The second pursues the proof of the same proposition, THERE 18 A God, from the celestial motions, and more fully from the appearances in the solar system, and the air.
In the third, the objections which are brought by atheistical philosophers against the hypothesis established in the two preceding books are answered.
In the fourth, is laid down the hypothesis of the Atomists or Epicureans, and other irreligious philosophers, and confuted.
In the fifth, the doctrine of the Fatalists, or Aristotelians, who make the world to be eternal, is considered and subverted.
In the sixth, the argument of the two first books is resumed, and the existence of God demonstrated from the prudence and art discovered in the several parts of the body of man.
In the seventh, the same demonstration is carried on from the contemplation of the instincts in brute animals, and the faculties and operations of the soul of man. The book concludes with a recapitulation of what has been treated of, and a hymn to the Creator of the World.