« הקודםהמשך »
It has been the opinion of many persons of great sense and learning, that the knowledge of a God, as well as some other self-evident and uncontested notions, is born with us, and exists antecedent to any perception or operation of the mind. They express themselves on this subject in metaphorical terms, altogether unbecoming philosophical and judicious inquiries, while they assert, that the knowledge of a God is interwoven with our constitution, that it is written, engraven, stamped, and inprinted, in clear and discernible characters, on the heart; in which manner of speech they aslect to follow the great orator of the Romans. By these unartful phrases they can mean nothing but this, that the proposition, rhete is a Gop, is actually existent in the mind, as soon as the mind has its being; and is not at first acquired, though it may be afterwards confirmed, by any act of reason, by any argument or demonstration. I must confess my inability to conceive this inbred knowledge, these original independent ideas, that owe not their being to the operation of the understanding, but are, I know not how, congenite and co-existent with it. For how a man can be said to have knowledge before he knows, how ideas can exist in the mind without and before perception, I must own is too difficult for me to comprehend. That a man is born with a faculty or capacity to know, though as yet without any actual knowledge; and that, as the eye has a native disposition and aptitude to perceive the light, when fitly offered, though as yet it never exercised any act of vision, and had no innate images in the womb ; so the mind is endued with a power and faculty to know and perceive the truth of this proposition, There is A God, as soon as it shall be represented to it: all this is clear and intelligible; but any thing more is, as I have said,
above my reach. In this opinion, which I had many years ago entertained, I was afterwards con
firmed by the famous author of the Essay on Human Understanding. Nor can I see, that, by this doctrine, the argument for the existence of a Deity, drawn from the general assent of all nations, (excepting, perhaps, some few, who are so barbarous, that they approach very near the condition of brute animals) is at all invalidated. For supposing there is no inbred knowledge of a God; yet, is mankind generally assent to it, whether their belief proceeds from their reflection on themselves, or on the visible creation about them, it will be certainly true, that the existence of a Deity carries with it the clearest and most uncontrollable evidence; since mankind so readily and so universally perceive
and embrace it. It deserves consideration, that St. Paul, upon this argument, does not appeal to
the light within, or to any characters of the Divine Being originally engraven on the heart, but deduces the cause from the effect, and from the creation infers the Creator. It is very probable, that those who believe an innate idea of a Divine Being, unproduced by any operation of the mind, were led by this to another opinion, namely, that there never was in the world a real atheist in belief and speculation, how many soever there may have been in life and practice. But, upon due examination, this opinion, I imagine, will not abide the test; which I shall endeavour to make evident. - But, before I enter upon this subject, it seems proper to take notice of the apology, which several persons of great learning and candour have made for many famous men, and great philosophers, unjustly accused of impiety. - Whoever shall set about to mend the world, and reform men's notions, as well as their manners, will certainly be the mark of much scandal and reproach; and will effectually be convinced, that it
is too possible the greatest lovers and benefactors of mankind may be represented by the multitude, whose opinions they contradict, as the worst of men. The hardy undertakers, who express their zeal to rectify the sentiments of a prejudiced people in matters of religion, who labour to stem the tide of popular errour, and strike at the foundations of any ancient, established superstition, must themselves expect to be treated as pragmatical and insolent innovators, disturbers of the public peace, and the great enemies of religion. The observation of all ages confirms this truth; and if any man, who is doubtful of it, would try the experiment, I make no question he will very soon be thoroughly convinced. It is no wonder, therefore, that Anaxagoras, though he was the first philosopher who plainly asserted an Eternal Mind, by whose power the world was made, for opposing the public worship at Athens, whose refined wits were plunged in the most senseless idolatry, and particularly for denying the divinity of the Sun, should be condemned for irreligion, and treason against the gods; and be heavily fined, and banished the city. It is no wonder, after so sharp a persecution of this zealous reformer, that Socrates, the next successor but one to Anaxagoras, and the last of the Ionic school, for opposing their scandalous rabble of deities, and asserting one Divine Being, should be condemned for atheism, and put to death, by blind superstition and implacable bigotry. Some have been condemned by their antagonists for impiety, who maintain positions, which those from whom they dissent imagine have a tendency to the disbelief of a Deity. But this is a manifest violation of justice, as well as candour, to impute to any man the remote consequences of his opinion, which he himself disclaims and detests, and who, if he saw the connection of his principles with such conclusions, would readily renounce them, No man can be reasonably charged with more opinions than he owns; and if this justice were observed in polemical discourses, as well of theology as philosophy, many persons had cscaped those hard names, and terrible censures, which their angry antagonists have thought fit to fix upon them. No one, therefore, is to be reputed an atheist, or an enemy to religion, upon the account of any erroneous opinion, from which another may, by a long chain of sequels, draw that conclusion; much less for holding any doctrines in philosophy, which the common people are not able to examine or comprehend, who, when they meddle with speculations, of which they are unqualified to judge, will be as apt to censure a philosopher for an atheist, as an astronomer for a magician. I would fain, too, in this place, make some apology for the great numbers of loose and vicious men, who laugh at religion, and scem in their conversation to disclaim the belief of a Deity. I do not mean an apology for their practice, but their opinion. I hope these unhappy persons, at least the greatest part, who have given up the reins to their passions and exorbitant appetites, are, rather than atheists, a careless and stupid sort of creatures, who, either out of a supine temper, or for fear of being disturbed with remorse in their unwarrantable enjoyments, never soberly consider with themselves, or exercise their reason on things of the highest importance. These persons never examine the arguments that enforce the belief of a Deity, and the obligations of religion: but take the word of their ingenious friends, or some atheistical pretender to philosophy, who assures them there is no God, and therefore no religion. And notwithstanding all atheists have leave given them by their principles to become libertines, yet it is not true that all libertines are atheists. Some plainly assert their belief of a God; and others, who deny his existence, yet do not deny it upon any principles, any scheme of philosophy which they have framed, and by which they account for the existence and duration of the world, in the beautiful order in which we see it, without the aid of a Divine Eternal Mind. But there are two sorts of men, who, without injustice, have been called atheists; those whe frankly and in plain terms have denied the being of a God; and those who, though they asserted his being, denied those attributes and perfections, which the idea of a God includes: and so, while they acknowledge the name, subverted the thing. These are as real atheists as the former, but less sincere. If any man should declare he believes a Deity, but affirms that this Deity is of human shape, and not eternal ; that he derives his being from the fortuitous concourse and complication of atoms; or, though he allowed him to be eternal, should maintain, that he showed no wisdom, design, or prudence, in the formation, and no care or providence, in the government of the world; that he never reflects on any thing exterior to his own being, nor interests himself in human affairs; does not know, or does not attend to, any of our actions: such a person is, indeed, and in effect, as much an atheist as the former. For though he owns the appellation, yet his description is destructive of the idea of a God. I do not affirm, that the idea of a God implies the relation of a Creator: but since, in the demonstration of the existence of a God, we argue from the effect to the cause, and proceed from the contemplation of the creature to the knowledge of the Creator, it is evident we cannot know there is a God, but we must know him to be the Maker, and, if the Maker, then the Governor and Benefactor of the world. Could there be a God, who is entirely regardless of things without him, who is perfectly unconcerned with the direction and government of the world, is altogether indifferent whether we worship or affront him, and is neither pleased nor displeased with * any of our actions; he would certainly to us be the same as no God. The log in the fable would be \ altogether as venerable a Deity; for if he has no concern with us, it is plain, we have none with him : if we are not subject to any laws he has made for us, we can never be obedient, or disobedient, nor can we need forgiveness, or expet reward. If we are not the subjects of his care and protection, we can owe him no love or gratitude; if he either does not hear, or disregards our prayers, how impertinent is it to build temples, and to worship at his altars! In my opinion, such notions of a Deity, which lay the axe to the root of all religion, and make all the expressions of it idle and ridiculous; which destroy the distinction of good and bad, all morality of our actions, and remove all the grounds and reasons of fear of punishment, and hope of reward; will justly denominate a man an atheist, though he ever so much disclaims that ignominious title. Thales, the founder of the Ionic school, and the philosophers who succeeded him, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Diogenes Apollionates, Anaxagoras, and Archelaus, are censured by Aristotle as dis. believers of a Deity; the reason he gives is, that these philosophsers, in treating of the principles of the world, never introduce the Deity as the efficient cause. But if it be considered, that natural science was then in its infancy, and that those primitive philosophers only undertook to account for the material principle out of which the world was made, which one asserted to be water, one fire, another air, though this inay prove that they formed but a lame and unfinished scheme of philosophy, yet it does not evince, that they denied the being of a God, or that they did not believe him to be the efficient cause of all things. It is, indeed, a convincing evidence that their philosophy was imperfect, as at first it might well be; but from their silence or omission of him in their systems, when they designed to treat only of the material causes of things, it is unreasonable to affirm that they denied his being: and it is certain Anaxagoras taught, that, besides matter, it was absolutely necessary to assert a Divine Mind, the Contriver and Maker of the world; and for this religious principle, as we said before, he was at Athens an illustrious confessor. After the death of Socrates, the Ionic school was soon divided into various sects and philosophical parties: of the Cyrenaic school, Theodorus and Dion Boristhenites were reputed atheists, contemners of the gods, and deriders of religion. Yet since it does not appear, that they had formed any impious scheme of philosophy, or maintained their irreligion by any pretended principles of reason, it is not improbable that these men were rather abandoned libertines, without consideration and reflection, than speculative and philosophical atheists. The Italic school, to its great dishonour, was more fertile in impiety, and produced a greater number of these irreligious philosophers. The masters, who succeeded their famous founder Pythagoras, soon degenerated from his noble and pious principles, and not only corrupted the purity of his doctrine, but became downright apostates, renouncing the belief of a God, and subverting the foundations of religion. Leucippus, Democritus, Diagoras and Protagoras, were justly reckoned in this rank; who asserted, that the world was made by the casual combination of atoms, without any assistance or direction of a Divine Mind. They taught their followers this doctrine, supported it with arguments, and so were atheists on pretended principles of reason. But among all the ancient obdurate atheists, and inveterate enemies of religion, no one seems more sincere, or mure implacable, than Epicurus. And though this person was, perhaps, of as dull an understanding, of as unrefined thought, and as little sagacity and penetration, as any man who was ever, complimented with the name of a philosopher; yet several great wits, and men of distinguished learning, in this last age, have been pleased to give the world high encomiums of his capacity and superior attainments. After a long night of ignorance had overspread the face of Europe, many wise inen, from a gene. rous love of truth, resolved to exercise their reason, and free themselves from prejudice, and a servile veneration of great names, and prevailing authority; and, growing impatient of tyrannical Impositions, as well in philosophy as religion, to their great honour, separated both fruin the church.
of Rome, and the school of Aristotle. These patriots of the commonwealth of learning combined to reform the corruptions, and redress the grievances, of philosophy; to pull down the Peripatetic monarchy, and set up a free and independent state of science; and, being fully convinced of the weakness and unreasonablen'ss of Aristotle's system, which consisted chiefly of words without any determined meaning, and of idle metaphysical definitions, of which many were false, and many unintelligible; they in this case had recourse to the Corpuscularian hypothesis, and revived the obsolete and exploded system of Epicurus. - w Many of these noble leaders, who had declared against the Peripatetic usurpation, and asserted the rights and liberties of human understanding, called in this philosopher, for want of a better, to depose Aristotle. And though a general revolution did not follow, yet the defection from the prince of science, as he was once esteemed, was very great. When these first reformers of Aristotle's school had espoused the interest of Epicurus, and introduced his doctrines, that his hypothesis might be received with the less opposition, they thought it necessary to remove the ignominious character of impiety, under which their philosopher had long lain. And it is indeed very natural for a man, who has embraced another's notions and principles, to believe well of his master, and to stand up in the defence of his reputation. The learned Gassendus is eminent above all others for the warm zeal he has expressed, and the great pains he has taken, to vindicate the honour of Epicurus, and clear his character from the imputation of irreligion. After the unhappy fate of Anaxagoras and the great Socrates, it is no wonder that the philosophers, who succeeded, should grow more cautious in propagating their opinions, for fear of provoking the magistrate, and making themselves obnoxious to the laws of their country : and, if any had formed irreligious schemes, it is to be supposed, they would take care to guard, as well as they could, against the punishment to be inflicted on all who denied the gods, and derided the established worship. An atheist cannot be supposed to be fond of suffering, when pain and death are what he chiefly abhors: and therefore Epicurus, who, if Cicero and Plutarch knew his opinion, was a downright professed atheist, has not in terms denied, but indeed asserted, the being of the gods, and speaks honourably of them, so far as regards the excellence of their nature, and their happiness. But when he describes his gods, and gives them a human face and limbs, and says they are neither incorporeal nor corporeal, but as it were corporeal; while he excludes them from any hand in making, or care in guiding and goverming the world, and undertakes to show that all things were brought about by mere chance, without any help or direction of the gods, who are altogether unconcerned with human affairs, and regardless of our actions; he must laugh in himself, and be supposed to have formed this ridiculous idea of a Divine Being, merely to escape the character of an impious philosopher. For though he owns the name of a God, by his description he entirely destroys the Divine Nature. Nor do I think that Aristotle can be defended from the charge of atheism; for while he affirms, that the world, as to its formation, as well as its progression and duration, is independent on the gods, and owes nothing to their power, wisdom, or providence, he utterly subverts all pretence to religion and divine worship, and comes at last into the dregs of the Epicurean scheme: this, I believe, I have plainly proved in the following poem. As to the modern atheists, Veninus, Hobbes, and Spinosa; I have spoken of them in their turn, and shall not anticipate what is said hereafter. I have been determined to employ some of my leisure hours in writing on this subject, by the melancholy reflection I have often made on the growth of prophaneness, and the prevailing power of loose and irreligious principles in this nation. It is a mortifying consideration to all who love mankind, and wish well to their country, that this opinion has of late years, above the example of past ages, spread its contagious influence so far and wide, that now, emboldened by the power and number of its assertors, it becomes insolent and formidable. These impious maxims, which a small party in the last age, when inflamed with wine, vented in private, are now the entertainment of the coffee-house, publicly professed, and in many companies spoken of in cool blood, as the ordinary subjects of conversation. All ages have brought forth some monsters, some professors and patrons of irreligion ; monsters in respect of their scarceness, as well as deformity; but the amazing abundance of these odious productions is, I believe, peculiar to this fertile age. I am apt to think, that most who were reckoned atheists in former reigns were rather unbridled libertines, than irreligious in principle: but now we are so far advanced, that the infection has seized the mind; the atheist in practice is become one in speculation, and looseness of manners improved to intellectual impiety. Many (which is without example) express an ardent zeal for prophaneness, are grown bigots in atheism, and with great industry and application propagate their principles, form parties, and concert measures to carry on with vigour the cause of irreligion. They caress, and are very fond of, those who boldly declare for impiety, and mock all religion as cheat and imposture. These are wits, men of sense, of large and free thoughts, and cannot fail of being men in fashion. And as the renegades and deserters of Heaven, who renounce their God for the favour of men, and choose to grow popular at the dearest rate, are by many protected and applauded: so there are places where a man, that has the assurance to own the belief of a Deity and a future state, would be exposed and laughed out of countenance. Hence many are tempted to conceal their motions of religion, for fear of blasting their reputation, and of being neglected and despised by those from whose favour they expect profit or promotion. Immediately after the Restoration, the people, intoxicated with the pleasures of peace, and influenced by the example of a loose court, as well as from their great aversion to the former fanatical strictness and severity of conversation, which they detested as hypocrisy, indulged themselves in sensual liberties, and by degrees sunk deep into luxury and vice. Then it was that some irreligious men, taking advantage of this growing dissolution of manners, began to propagate their detestable notions, and sow the seeds of prophan, mess and impiety, which sprung up apace, and flourished in proportion to the growth of immorality. Thus vice and irreligion, mutually assisting each other, extended their power by daily encroachmeuts; and the solid temper and firmness of mind, which the people once possessed, being slackened and dissolved by the power of riot and forbidden pleasure, their judgment soon became vitiated; which corruption of taste has ever since gradually increased, as the confederate powers of vice and prophaneness have spread their infection, and gained upon religion. While loose principles and impious opinions pervert the judgment, a petulant humour, that inclines men to give an air of levity and ridicule to all their discourses, and turn every thing to mirth and raillery, does in proportion get ground; this being esteemed the most successful method to weaken the power and authority of religion in the minds of men. I would not here be understood as if I condemned the qualifications of wit and pleasantry, but only the misapplication of them. I shall always retain a great value for ingenious men, provided they do not abuse and prostitute their talents to the worst purposes; I mean the deriding all sobriety of manners, and turning into jest the principles which constitute our duty here, and assure our happiness hereafter. But can any man who reveres a God, and loves his country, stand by unconcerned, while loose and prophane wits show so much zeal and diligence in propagating maxiins, which tend so directly to the dishonour of the one, and the ruin of the other? Should atheism and corruption of manners, those inseparable companions, which, as causes and effects, mutually introduce and support each other, prevail much farther; should impious notions in any age hereafter generally infect the highest, as well as the inferior ranks of men; what confusion of affairs must ensue' It would be impossible to find men of principle to fill the places of trust and honour, or patrons to promote them: merit would incapacitate and disqualify for the favour of great men, and a religious character would be an invincible obstruction to advancement; there would be no persons of rank to encourage men of worth, and bring neglected virtue into fashion. On the contrary, the contemmers of Heaven and deriders of piety would be caressed, applauded, and promoted; the disposers of preferment would confer all on those who embrace their opinions: and what a terrible temptation would this be to our youth, to accommodate their notions to those of the men in power, when they shall see that their favour is not otherwise to be procured! Is it not highly probable, that, in such an age, clubs and cabals would be formed of scoffers and buffoons, to laugh religion out of countenance, and make the professors of it the object of public scorn and contempt? Besides, it is natural to believe, that magistrates in a commonwealth, generally composed of atheists, would likewise proceed to violence, and persecute those whom they could not persuade to embrace their notions, as much as any sect of religion has ever done. For it is not religion, but corrupted human nature, that pushes men on to compulsive methods of obliging their adversaries to renounce their own, and assert the opinions of men in power. It is from the factious temper of a party, not