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who have been convinced by the evidence of the senses, can believe it.
Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from either of the three sources of conviction, the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God; it is also evident, that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity.
God is an hypothesis, and as such, stands in need of proof; the onus probandi* rests on the theist. Sir Isaac Newton says: Hypothesis non jingo, quicquid enim ex phaznotnenis non deducitur, hypothesis vocanda est, et hypothesis vel metaphysicce, vel physicce, vel qualitatum occultarum, seu mechanics, in philosophia locum non habent.f To all proofs of the existence of a creative God apply this valuable rule. We see a variety of bodies possessing a variety of powers: we merely know their effects; we are in a state of ignorance with respect to their essences and causes. These Newton calls the phenomena of things; but the pride of philosophy is unwilling to admit its ignorance of their causes. From the phenomena which are the objects of our senses, we attempt to infer a cause, which we call God, and gratuitously endow it with all negative and contradictory qualities. From this hypothesis we invent this general name to conceal our ignorance of causes and essences. The being called God by no means answers with the conditions prescribed by Newton; it bears every mark of a veil woven by philosophical conceit, to hide the ignorance of philosophers even from themselves. They borrow the threads of its texture from the anthropomorphism of the vulgar. Words have beed used by sophists for the same purposes, from the occult qualities of the peripatetics to the effluvium of Boyle, and the crinitics or nebula of Herschel. God is represented as infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; he is contained under every prabdicate in non that the logic of ignorance could fabricate. Even his worshippers
* The burthen of proof.
1I do not invent hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from phenomena is to be called an hypothesis; and hypothesis, either metaphysical or physical, or grounded on occult qualities, should not be allowed any room in philosophy.
allow that it is impossible to form any idea of him: they exclaim with the French poet,
Pour dire ce quHl est, ilfaut etre lui-meme.* Lord Bacon says, that " Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation: all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men; therefore Atheism did never perturb states: for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no farther, and we see the times inclined to Atheism (as the time of Augustus Caesar) were civil times ; but Superstition hath been the confusion of many states, andbringeth in a new primum mobile, that ravisheth all the spheres of Government."
Bacon's Moral Essay on Superstition.
The primary theology of man made him first fear and worship even the elements, gross and material objects, he then paid his adorations to the presiding agents of the elements, to inferior genii, to heroes, or to men endowed with great qualities. By continuing to reflect he thought to simplify things, by submitting all nature to a single agent, to a spirit, to a universal soul, which put this nature, and its parts into motion. In ascending from cause to cause, mankind have ended, by seeing nothing, and it is in the midst • of this obscurity, that they have placed their God: it is in this dark abyss, that their restless imagination is always labouring to form chimeras, which will afflict them, until a knowledge of nature shall dissipate the phantoms which they have always so vainly adored.
If we wish to render an account to ourselves, of our ideas respecting the Deity, we shall be obliged to confess that by the word of God, men have never been able to designate any thing else but the most hidden, the most remote, the most unknown cause of the effects which they perceive; they only make use of this word, when the springs of natural and known causes cease to be visible to them: the instant they lose the thread, or their understanding can no longer follow the chain of these causes, they cut the knot of their difficulty and terminate their researches by calling God the last of these causes, that is to say, that which is beyond all causes with which they are acquainted. Thus they merely assign a vague denomination to an unknown cause, at which their
* To tell what he is, you must be himself.
indolence or the limits of their information compels them to stop. Whenever we are told, that God is the author of any phenomenon, that signifies that we are ignorant how such a phenomenon can be produced, with the assistance only of the natural powers or causes with which we are acquainted. It is thus that the generality of mankind, whose lot is ignorance, attribute to the Deity, not only the uncommon effects which strike them, but even the most simple events, whose causes are the most easily discoverable, to all who have had the opportunity of reflecting on them. In a word, man has always respected the unknown causes of those surprising effects,which his ignorance prevented him from unravelling. It was upon the ruins of nature that men first raised the imaginary colossus of a Deity.
If the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, a knowledge of nature is calculated to destroy them.
In proportion as man becomes informed, his powers and resources increase with his knowledge, the sciences, the conservative arts, and industry furnish him with assistance, experience inspires him with confidence, or procures him the means of resisting the efforts of many causes, which cease to alarm him, as soon as he becomes acquainted with them. In a word, his terrors are dissipated in the same proportion as his mind is enlightened. A well informed man ceases to be superstitious.
It is never but on trust, that whole nations worship the God of their fathers and their priests; authority, confidence, submission, and custom, to them supply the place of proofs and con viction; they prostrate themselves and pray, because their fathers have taught them to prostrate themselves and pray, but wherefore did the latter kneel? Because in remote periods, their guides and regulators taught them it was a duty. "Worship and believe," said they, "gods which you cannot comprehend, rely on our profound wisdom, we know more than you concerning the Deity." "But why should I rely on you V "Because it is the will of God, because he will punish you if you dare to resist." "But is not this God the thing in question?" Thus men have always been satisfied with this vicious circle, the indolence of their minds led them to believe the shorter mode was to rely upon the opinions of others. All religious notions are founded upon authority alone, all the religions of the world forbid investigation, and will not permit reasoning: it is authority which requires us to believe in God, this God himself is only founded upon the authority of some men who pretend to know him, and to be sent by him to announce him to the world. A God made by men has doubtless need of men to make him known to men.
Is it then only, for the priests of the inspired, for metaphysicians, that a conviction of the existence of a God is reserved, and which is nevertheless said to be necessary to all mankind. But do we find a harmony of theological opinion among the inspired, or the reflective, in the different parts of the world 1 Are those even who profess to worship the same God agreed respecting him? Are they satisfied with the proofs of his existence which their colleagues bring forward 1 Do they unanimously subscribe to the ideas which they adduce respecting his nature, his conduct, and the mode of understanding his pretended oracles 1 Is there a country throughout the earth, in which the knowledge is really perfected. Has it assumed in any quarter the consistency, and uniformity, which we perceive human knowledge to have assumed, in the most trifling arts, in trades the most despised. The words spirit, immateriality, creation, predestination, grace, this crowd of subtile distinctions with which theology, in some countries, is universally filled, these ingenious inventions, imagined by the successive reasoners of ages, have, alas ! only embroiled the question, and never has the science, the most important to mankind, been able to acquire the least stability. For thousands of years, have these idle dreamers transmitted to each other the task of meditating on the Deity, of discovering his secret paths, of inventing hypotheses calculated to solve this important enigma. The little success they have met with, has not discouraged theological vanity. God has always been talked of, mankind have cut each other's throats for him, and this great being still continues to be the most unknown, and the most sought after.
Fortunate would it have been for mankind if confining themselves to the visible objects in which they are interested, they had employed in perfecting true science, laws, morals, and education, half the exertions they have made in their researches after a Deity. They would have been still wiser and more fortunate, could they have resolved to leave their blind guides to quarrel among themselves, and to sound the depths calculated only to turn their brains without meddling with their senseless disputes. But it is the very essence of ignorance to attach importance to what it does not understand. Human vanity is such that the mind becomes irritated by difficulty. In proportion as an object fades from our sight do we exert ourselves to seize it, because it then stimulates our pride, it excites our curiosity, and becomes interesting. In contending for his God, every one in fact is only contending for the interests of his own vanity, which of all the passions, produced by the mal-organization of society, is the most prompt to take alarm, and the most calculated to give birth to great absurdities.
If laying aside for a moment the gloomy ideas which theology gives us of a capricious God, whose partial and despotic decrees decide the fates of men, we fix our eyes upon the pretended goodness which all men,e ven whilst trembling before this God, agree in giving to him, if we suppose him to be actuated by the project which is attributed to him, of, having only laboured for his own glory, of exacting the adoration of intelligent beings, of seeking only in his works, the welfare of the human race; how can we reconcile his views and dispositions with the truly invincible ignorance in which this God, so good and glorious, leaves the greater part of mankind respecting himself? If God wishes to be known, beloved, and praised, why does he not reveal himself under some favourable features, to all intelligent beings by whom he wishes to be loved and worshipped 1 Why does he not manifest to all the earth in an unequivocal manner, much more calculated to convince us, than by these particular revelations which seem to accuse the Deity of an unjust partiality for some of his creatures 1 Would not the omnipotent possess more convincing means of revealing himself to mankind than these ridiculous metamorphoses, these pretended incarnations, which are attested to us by writers who so little agree among themselves in the recitals they give of them 1 Instead of so many miracles invented to prove the divine mission, of so many legislators revered by the different nations of the world, could not the supreme being convince in an instant the human mind of the things which he chose to make known to it 1 Instead of suspending the sun in the vault of the firmament, instead of dispersing the stars and the constellations, which occupy space without order, would it not have been more conformable to the views of a God so jealous of his glory, and so well disposed to man, to write in a mode not liable to be disputed, his name, his attributes, and his unchangeable will in everlasting characters, equally legible to all the inhabitants of the earth 1 No one could then have doubted the existence of a God, his