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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

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this order, and give thought the precedence. In all instances which we
have ever seen, thought has no influence upon matter, except where that
matter is so conjoined with it as to have an equal reciprocal influence
upon it. No animal can move immediately any thing but the members of its
own body; and indeed, the equality of action and reaction seems to be an
universal law of nature: But your theory implies a contradiction to this
experience. These instances, with many more, which it were easy to
collect, (particularly the supposition of a mind or system of thought
that is eternal, or, in other words, an animal ingenerable and immortal);
these instances, I say, may teach all of us sobriety in condemning each
other, and let us see, that as no system of this kind ought ever to be
received from a slight analogy, so neither ought any to be rejected on
account of a small incongruity. For that is an inconvenience from which
we can justly pronounce no one to be exempted.

All religious systems, it is confessed, are subject to great and
insuperable difficulties. 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
system 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 total suspense of judgement 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 station or abiding city, which he is ever, on any occasion, obliged
to defend?


But if so many difficulties attend the argument a posteriori, said DEMEA,
had we not better adhere to that simple and sublime argument a priori,
which, by offering to us infallible demonstration, cuts off at once all
doubt and difficulty? By this argument, too, we may prove the infinity of
the Divine attributes, which, I am afraid, can never be ascertained with
certainty from any other topic. For how can an effect, which either is
finite, or, for aught we know, may be so; how can such an effect, I say,
prove an infinite cause? The unity too of the Divine Nature, it is very
difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to deduce merely from
contemplating the works of nature; nor will the uniformity alone of the
plan, even were it allowed, give us any assurance of that attribute.
Whereas the argument a priori ...

You seem to reason, DEMEA, interposed CLEANTHES, as if those advantages
and conveniences in the abstract argument were full proofs of its
solidity. But it is first proper, in my opinion, to determine what
argument of this nature you choose to insist on; and we shall afterwards,
from itself, better than from its useful consequences, endeavour to
determine what value we ought to put upon it.

The argument, replied DEMEA, which I would insist on, is the common one.
Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence; it being
absolutely impossible for any thing to produce itself, or be the cause of
its own existence. In mounting up, therefore, from effects to causes, we
must either go on in tracing an infinite succession, without any ultimate
cause at all; or must at last have recourse to some ultimate cause, that
is necessarily existent: Now, that the first supposition is absurd, may
be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession of causes and
effects, each single effect is determined to exist by the power and
efficacy of that cause which immediately preceded; but the whole eternal
chain or succession, taken together, is not determined or caused by any
thing; and yet it is evident that it requires a cause or reason, as much
as any particular object which begins to exist in time. The question is
still reasonable, why this particular succession of causes existed from
eternity, and not any other succession, or no succession at all. If there
be no necessarily existent being, any supposition which can be formed is
equally possible; nor is there any more absurdity in Nothing's having
existed from eternity, than there is in that succession of causes which
constitutes the universe. What was it, then, which determined Something
to exist rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular
possibility, exclusive of the rest? External causes, there are supposed
to be none. Chance is a word without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that
can never produce any thing. We must, therefore, have recourse to a
necessarily existent Being, who carries the REASON of his existence in
himself, and who cannot be supposed not to exist, without an express
contradiction. There is, consequently, such a Being; that is, there is a

I shall not leave it to PHILO, said CLEANTHES, though I know that the
starting objections is his chief delight, to point out the weakness of
this metaphysical reasoning. It seems to me so obviously ill-grounded,
and at the same time of so little consequence to the cause of true piety
and religion, that I shall myself venture to show the fallacy of it.

I shall begin with observing, that there is an evident absurdity in
pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any
arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies
a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a
contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as
non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a
contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is
demonstrable. I propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am
willing to rest the whole controversy upon it.

It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily existent being; and this
necessity of his existence is attempted to be explained by asserting,
that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should perceive it to be
as impossible for him not to exist, as for twice two not to be four. But
it is evident that this can never happen, while our faculties remain the
same as at present. It will still be possible for us, at any time, to
conceive the non-existence of what we formerly conceived to exist; nor
can the mind ever lie under a necessity of supposing any object to remain
always in being; in the same manner as we lie under a necessity of always
conceiving twice two to be four. The words, therefore, necessary
existence, have no meaning; or, which is the same thing, none that is

But further, why may not the material universe be the necessarily
existent Being, according to this pretended explication of necessity? We
dare not affirm that we know all the qualities of matter; and for aught
we can determine, it may contain some qualities, which, were they known,
would make its non-existence appear as great a contradiction as that
twice two is five. I find only one argument employed to prove, that the
material world is not the necessarily existent Being: and this argument
is derived from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the
world. "Any particle of matter," it is said[]Dr. Clarke, "may be conceived
to be annihilated; and any form may be conceived to be altered. Such an
annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not impossible." But it seems
a great partiality not to perceive, that the same argument extends
equally to the Deity, so far as we have any conception of him; and that
the mind can at least imagine him to be non-existent, or his attributes
to be altered. It must be some unknown, inconceivable qualities, which
can make his non-existence appear impossible, or his attributes
unalterable: And no reason can be assigned, why these qualities may not
belong to matter. As they are altogether unknown and inconceivable, they
can never be proved incompatible with it.

Add to this, that in tracing an eternal succession of objects, it seems
absurd to inquire for a general cause or first author. How can any thing,
that exists from eternity, have a cause, since that relation implies a
priority in time, and a beginning of existence?

In such a chain, too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by
that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is
the difficulty? But the whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the
uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct
countries into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is
performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on
the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each
individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think
it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of
the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause
of the parts.

Though the reasonings which you have urged, CLEANTHES, may well excuse
me, said PHILO, from starting any further difficulties, yet I cannot
forbear insisting still upon another topic. It is observed by
arithmeticians, that the products of 9, compose always either 9, or some
lesser product of 9, if you add together all the characters of which any
of the former products is composed. Thus, of 18, 27, 36, which are
products of 9, you make 9 by adding 1 to 8, 2 to 7, 3 to 6. Thus, 369 is
a product also of 9; and if you add 3, 6, and 9, you make 18, a lesser
product of 9. To a superficial observer, so wonderful a regularity may
be admired as the effect either of chance or design: but a skilful
algebraist immediately concludes it to be the work of necessity, and
demonstrates, that it must for ever result from the nature of these
numbers. Is it not probable, I ask, that the whole economy of the
universe is conducted by a like necessity, though no human algebra can
furnish a key which solves the difficulty? And instead of admiring the
order of natural beings, may it not happen, that, could we penetrate into
the intimate nature of bodies, we should clearly see why it was
absolutely impossible they could ever admit of any other disposition? So
dangerous is it to introduce this idea of necessity into the present
question! and so naturally does it afford an inference directly opposite
to the religious hypothesis!

But dropping all these abstractions, continued PHILO, and confining
ourselves to more familiar topics, I shall venture to add an observation,
that the argument a priori has seldom been found very convincing, except
to people of a metaphysical head, who have accustomed themselves to
abstract reasoning, and who, finding from mathematics, that the
understanding frequently leads to truth through obscurity, and, contrary
to first appearances, have transferred the same habit of thinking to
subjects where it ought not to have place. Other people, even of good
sense and the best inclined to religion, feel always some deficiency in
such arguments, though they are not perhaps able to explain distinctly
where it lies; a certain proof that men ever did, and ever will derive
their religion from other sources than from this species of reasoning.


It is my opinion, I own, replied DEMEA, that each man feels, in a manner,
the truth of religion within his own breast, and, from a consciousness of
his imbecility and misery, rather than from any reasoning, is led to seek
protection from that Being, on whom he and all nature is dependent. So
anxious or so tedious are even the best scenes of life, that futurity is
still the object of all our hopes and fears. We incessantly look forward,
and endeavour, by prayers, adoration, and sacrifice, to appease those
unknown powers, whom we find, by experience, so able to afflict and
oppress us. Wretched creatures that we are! what resource for us amidst
the innumerable ills of life, did not religion suggest some methods of
atonement, and appease those terrors with which we are incessantly
agitated and tormented?

I am indeed persuaded, said PHILO, that the best, and indeed the only
method of bringing every one to a due sense of religion, is by just
representations of the misery and wickedness of men. And for that purpose
a talent of eloquence and strong imagery is more requisite than that of
reasoning and argument. For is it necessary to prove what every one feels
within himself? It is only necessary to make us feel it, if possible,
more intimately and sensibly.

The people, indeed, replied DEMEA, are sufficiently convinced of this
great and melancholy truth. The miseries of life; the unhappiness of man;
the general corruptions of our nature; the unsatisfactory enjoyment of
pleasures, riches, honours; these phrases have become almost proverbial
in all languages. And who can doubt of what all men declare from their
own immediate feeling and experience?

In this point, said PHILO, the learned are perfectly agreed with the
vulgar; and in all letters, sacred and profane, the topic of human misery
has been insisted on with the most pathetic eloquence that sorrow and
melancholy could inspire. The poets, who speak from sentiment, without a
system, and whose testimony has therefore the more authority, abound in
images of this nature. From Homer down to Dr. Young, the whole inspired
tribe have ever been sensible, that no other representation of things
would suit the feeling and observation of each individual.

As to authorities, replied DEMEA, you need not seek them. Look round this
library of CLEANTHES. I shall venture to affirm, that, except authors of
particular sciences, such as chemistry or botany, who have no occasion to
treat of human life, there is scarce one of those innumerable writers,
from whom the sense of human misery has not, in some passage or other,
extorted a complaint and confession of it. At least, the chance is
entirely on that side; and no one author has ever, so far as I can
recollect, been so extravagant as to deny it.

There you must excuse me, said PHILO: LEIBNIZ has denied it; and is
perhaps the first [That sentiment had been maintained by Dr. King and some
few others before Leibniz; though by none of so great a fame as that
German philosopher] who ventured upon so bold and paradoxical an opinion;
at least, the first who made it essential to his philosophical system.

And by being the first, replied DEMEA, might he not have been sensible of
his error? For is this a subject in which philosophers can propose to
make discoveries especially in so late an age? And can any man hope by a
simple denial (for the subject scarcely admits of reasoning), to bear
down the united testimony of mankind, founded on sense and consciousness?

And why should man, added he, pretend to an exemption from the lot of all
other animals? The whole earth, believe me, PHILO, is cursed and
polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures.
Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous: Fear,
anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into
life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent:
Weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life: and it is
at last finished in agony and horror.

Observe too, says PHILO, the curious artifices of Nature, in order to
embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the
weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in
their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without
relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are
bred on the body of each animal, or, flying about, infix their stings in
him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment
them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every
animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and

Man alone, said DEMEA, seems to be, in part, an exception to this rule.
For by combination in society, he can easily master lions, tigers, and
bears, whose greater strength and agility naturally enable them to prey
upon him.

On the contrary, it is here chiefly, cried PHILO, that the uniform and
equal maxims of Nature are most apparent. Man, it is true, can, by
combination, surmount all his real enemies, and become master of the
whole animal creation: but does he not immediately raise up to himself
imaginary enemies, the demons of his fancy, who haunt him with
superstitious terrors, and blast every enjoyment of life? His pleasure,
as he imagines, becomes, in their eyes, a crime: his food and repose give
them umbrage and offence: his very sleep and dreams furnish new materials
to anxious fear: and even death, his refuge from every other ill,
presents only the dread of endless and innumerable woes. Nor does the
wolf molest more the timid flock, than superstition does the anxious
breast of wretched mortals.

Besides, consider, DEMEA: This very society, by which we surmount those
wild beasts, our natural enemies; what new enemies does it not raise to
us? What woe and misery does it not occasion? Man is the greatest enemy
of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition,
war, calumny, treachery, fraud; by these they mutually torment each
other; and they would soon dissolve that society which they had formed,
were it not for the dread of still greater ills, which must attend their

But though these external insults, said DEMEA, from animals, from men,
from all the elements, which assault us, form a frightful catalogue of
woes, they are nothing in comparison of those which arise within
ourselves, from the distempered condition of our mind and body. How many
lie under the lingering torment of diseases? Hear the pathetic
enumeration of the great poet.

Intestine stone and ulcer, colic-pangs,
Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy,
And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: despair
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch.
And over them triumphant death his dart
Shook: but delay'd to strike, though oft invok'd
With vows, as their chief good and final hope.

The disorders of the mind, continued DEMEA, though more secret, are not
perhaps less dismal and vexatious. Remorse, shame, anguish, rage,
disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair; who has ever passed
through life without cruel inroads from these tormentors? How many have
scarcely ever felt any better sensations? Labour and poverty, so abhorred
by every one, are the certain lot of the far greater number; and those
few privileged persons, who enjoy ease and opulence, never reach
contentment or true felicity. All the goods of life united would not make
a very happy man; but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed; and
any one of them almost (and who can be free from every one?) nay often
the absence of one good (and who can possess all?) is sufficient to
render life ineligible.

Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as
a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded
with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a
fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny,
famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him
a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an
opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a
diversity of distress and sorrow.

There is no evading such striking instances, said PHILO, but by
apologies, which still further aggravate the charge. Why have all men, I
ask, in all ages, complained incessantly of the miseries of life?...
They have no just reason, says one: these complaints proceed only from
their discontented, repining, anxious disposition...And can there
possibly, I reply, be a more certain foundation of misery, than such a
wretched temper?

But if they were really as unhappy as they pretend, says my antagonist,
why do they remain in life?...

Not satisfied with life, afraid of death.

This is the secret chain, say I, that holds us. We are terrified, not
bribed to the continuance of our existence.

It is only a false delicacy, he may insist, which a few refined spirits
indulge, and which has spread these complaints among the whole race of
mankind. . . . And what is this delicacy, I ask, which you blame? Is it
any thing but a greater sensibility to all the pleasures and pains of
life? and if the man of a delicate, refined temper, by being so much more
alive than the rest of the world, is only so much more unhappy, what
judgement must we form in general of human life?

Let men remain at rest, says our adversary, and they will be easy. They
are willing artificers of their own misery. . . . No! reply I: an anxious
languor follows their repose; disappointment, vexation, trouble, their
activity and ambition.

I can observe something like what you mention in some others, replied
CLEANTHES: but I confess I feel little or nothing of it in myself, and
hope that it is not so common as you represent it.

If you feel not human misery yourself, cried DEMEA, I congratulate you on
so happy a singularity. Others, seemingly the most prosperous, have not
been ashamed to vent their complaints in the most melancholy strains. Let
us attend to the great, the fortunate emperor, CHARLES V, when, tired
with human grandeur, he resigned all his extensive dominions into the
hands of his son. In the last harangue which he made on that memorable
occasion, he publicly avowed, that the greatest prosperities which he had
ever enjoyed, had been mixed with so many adversities, that he might
truly say he had never enjoyed any satisfaction or contentment. But did
the retired life, in which he sought for shelter, afford him any greater
happiness? If we may credit his son's account, his repentance commenced
the very day of his resignation.

CICERO's fortune, from small beginnings, rose to the greatest lustre and
renown; yet what pathetic complaints of the ills of life do his familiar
letters, as well as philosophical discourses, contain? And suitably to
his own experience, he introduces CATO, the great, the fortunate CATO,
protesting in his old age, that had he a new life in his offer, he would
reject the present.

Ask yourself, ask any of your acquaintance, whether they would live over
again the last ten or twenty years of their life. No! but the next
twenty, they say, will be better:

And from the dregs of life, hope to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give.

Thus at last they find (such is the greatness of human misery, it
reconciles even contradictions), that they complain at once of the
shortness of life, and of its vanity and sorrow.

And is it possible, CLEANTHES, said PHILO, that after all these
reflections, and infinitely more, which might be suggested, you can still
persevere in your Anthropomorphism, and assert the moral attributes of
the Deity, his justice, benevolence, mercy, and rectitude, to be of the
same nature with these virtues in human creatures? His power we allow is
infinite: whatever he wills is executed: but neither man nor any other
animal is happy: therefore he does not will their happiness. His wisdom
is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But
the course of Nature tends not to human or animal felicity: therefore it
is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human
knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than
these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the
benevolence and mercy of men?

EPICURUS's old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil,
but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he
malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

You ascribe, CLEANTHES (and I believe justly), a purpose and intention to
Nature. But what, I beseech you, is the object of that curious artifice
and machinery, which she has displayed in all animals? The preservation
alone of individuals, and propagation of the species. It seems enough for
her purpose, 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 indulgence, without some
want or necessity accompanying it. At least, the few phenomena of this
nature are overbalanced by opposite phenomena of still greater importance.

Our sense of music, harmony, and indeed beauty of all kinds, gives
satisfaction, without being absolutely necessary to the preservation and
propagation of the species. But what racking pains, on the other hand,
arise from gouts, gravels, megrims, toothaches, rheumatisms, where the
injury to the animal machinery is either small or incurable? Mirth,
laughter, play, frolic, seem gratuitous satisfactions, which have no
further tendency: spleen, melancholy, discontent, superstition, are pains
of the same nature. How then does the Divine benevolence display itself,
in the sense of you Anthropomorphites? None but we Mystics, as you were
pleased to call us, can account for this strange mixture of phenomena, by
deriving it from attributes, infinitely perfect, but incomprehensible.

And have you at last, said CLEANTHES smiling, betrayed your intentions,
PHILO? Your long agreement with DEMEA did indeed a little surprise me;
but I find you were all the while erecting a concealed battery against
me. And I must confess, that you have now fallen upon a subject worthy of
your noble spirit of opposition and controversy. If you can make out the
present point, and prove mankind to be unhappy or corrupted, there is an
end at once of all religion. For to what purpose establish the natural
attributes of the Deity, while the moral are still doubtful and

You take umbrage very easily, replied DEMEA, at opinions the most
innocent, and the most generally received, even amongst the religious and
devout themselves: and nothing can be more surprising than to find a
topic like this, concerning the wickedness and misery of man, charged
with no less than Atheism and profaneness. Have not all pious divines and
preachers, who have indulged their rhetoric on so fertile a subject; have
they not easily, I say, given a solution of any difficulties which may
attend it? This world is but a point in comparison of the universe; this
life but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena,
therefore, are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of
existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to larger views of
things, see the whole connection of general laws; and trace with
adoration, the benevolence and rectitude of the Deity, through all the
mazes and intricacies of his providence.

No! replied CLEANTHES, No! These arbitrary suppositions can never be
admitted, contrary to matter of fact, visible and uncontroverted. Whence
can any cause be known but from its known effects? Whence can any
hypothesis be proved but from the apparent phenomena? To establish one
hypothesis upon another, is building entirely in the air; and the utmost
we ever attain, by these conjectures and fictions, is to ascertain the
bare possibility of our opinion; but never can we, upon such terms,
establish its reality.

The only method of supporting Divine benevolence, and it is what I
willingly embrace, is to deny absolutely the misery and wickedness of
man. Your representations are exaggerated; your melancholy views mostly
fictitious; your inferences contrary to fact and experience. Health is
more common than sickness; pleasure than pain; happiness than misery. And
for one vexation which we meet with, we attain, upon computation, a
hundred enjoyments.

Admitting your position, replied PHILO, which yet is extremely doubtful,
you must at the same time allow, that if pain be less frequent than
pleasure, it is infinitely more violent and durable. One hour of it is
often able to outweigh a day, a week, a month of our common insipid
enjoyments; and how many days, weeks, and months, are passed by several
in the most acute torments? Pleasure, scarcely in one instance, is ever
able to reach ecstasy and rapture; and in no one instance can it continue
for any time at its highest pitch and altitude. The spirits evaporate,
the nerves relax, the fabric is disordered, and the enjoyment quickly
degenerates into fatigue and uneasiness. But pain often, good God, how
often! rises to torture and agony; and the longer it continues, it
becomes still more genuine agony and torture. Patience is exhausted,
courage languishes, melancholy seizes us, and nothing terminates our
misery but the removal of its cause, or another event, which is the sole
cure of all evil, but which, from our natural folly, we regard with still
greater horror and consternation.

But not to insist upon these topics, continued PHILO, though most
obvious, certain, and important; I must use the freedom to admonish you,
CLEANTHES, that you have put the controversy upon a most dangerous issue,
and are unawares introducing a total scepticism into the most essential
articles of natural and revealed theology. What! no method of fixing a
just foundation for religion, unless we allow the happiness of human
life, and maintain a continued existence even in this world, with all our
present pains, infirmities, vexations, and follies, to be eligible and
desirable! But this is contrary to every one's feeling and experience: It
is contrary to an authority so established as nothing can subvert. No
decisive proofs can ever be produced against this authority; nor is it
possible for you to compute, estimate, and compare, all the pains and all
the pleasures in the lives of all men and of all animals: And thus, by
your resting the whole system of religion on a point, which, from its
very nature, must for ever be uncertain, you tacitly confess, that that
system is equally uncertain.

But allowing you what never will be believed, at least what you never
possibly can prove, that animal, or at least human happiness, in this
life, exceeds its misery, you have yet done nothing: For this is not, by
any means, what we expect from infinite power, infinite wisdom, and
infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by
chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the
Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention?
But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so
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 them; a topic which I have all along
insisted on, but which you have, from the beginning, rejected with scorn
and indignation.

But I will be contented to retire still from this entrenchment, for I
deny that you can ever force me in it. I will allow, that pain or misery
in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity, even
in your sense of these attributes: What are you advanced by all these
concessions? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must
prove these pure, unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present
mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. A hopeful
undertaking! Were the phenomena ever so pure and unmixed, yet being
finite, they would be insufficient for that purpose. How much more, where
they are also so jarring and discordant!

Here, CLEANTHES, I find myself at ease in my argument. Here I triumph.
Formerly, when we argued concerning the natural attributes of
intelligence and design, I needed all my sceptical and metaphysical
subtlety to elude your grasp. In many views of the universe, and of its
parts, particularly the latter, the beauty and fitness of final causes
strike us with such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what
I believe they really are) mere cavils and sophisms; nor can we then
imagine how it was ever possible for us to repose any weight on them. But
there is no view of human life, or of the condition of mankind, from
which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral attributes,
or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and
infinite wisdom, which we must discover by the eyes of faith alone. It is
your turn now to tug the labouring oar, and to support your philosophical
subtleties against the dictates of plain reason and experience.


I scruple not to allow, said CLEANTHES, that I have been apt to suspect
the frequent repetition of the word infinite, which we meet with in all
theological writers, to savour more of panegyric than of philosophy; and
that any purposes of reasoning, and even of religion, would be better
served, were we to rest contented with more accurate and more moderate
expressions. The terms, admirable, excellent, superlatively great, wise,
and holy; these sufficiently fill the imaginations of men; and any thing
beyond, besides that it leads into absurdities, has no influence on the
affections or sentiments. Thus, in the present subject, if we abandon all
human analogy, as seems your intention, DEMEA, I am afraid we abandon all
religion, and retain no conception of the great object of our adoration.
If we preserve human analogy, we must for ever find it impossible to
reconcile any mixture of evil in the universe with infinite attributes;
much less can we ever prove the latter from the former. But supposing the
Author of Nature to be finitely perfect, though far exceeding mankind, a
satisfactory account may then be given of natural and moral evil, and
every untoward phenomenon be explained and adjusted. A less evil may then
be chosen, in order to avoid a greater; inconveniences be submitted to,
in order to reach a desirable end; and in a word, benevolence, regulated
by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may produce just such a world as the
present. You, PHILO, who are so prompt at starting views, and
reflections, and analogies, I would gladly hear, at length, without
interruption, your opinion of this new theory; and if it deserve our
attention, we may afterwards, at more leisure, reduce it into form.

My sentiments, replied PHILO, are not worth being made a mystery of; and
therefore, without any ceremony, I shall deliver what occurs to me with
regard to the present subject. It must, I think, be allowed, that if a
very limited intelligence, whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted
with the universe, were assured, that it were the production of a very
good, wise, and powerful Being, however finite, he would, from his
conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from what we find
it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from these
attributes of the cause, of which he is informed, that the effect could
be so full of vice and misery and disorder, as it appears in this life.
Supposing now, that this person were brought into the world, still
assured that it was the workmanship of such a sublime and benevolent
Being; he might, perhaps, be surprised at the disappointment; but would
never retract his former belief, if founded on any very solid argument;
since such a limited intelligence must be sensible of his own blindness
and ignorance, and must allow, that there may be many solutions of those
phenomena, which will for ever escape his comprehension. But supposing,
which is the real case with regard to man, that this creature is not
antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent, and
powerful, but is left to gather such a belief from the appearances of
things; this entirely alters the case, nor will he ever find any reason
for such a conclusion. He may be fully convinced of the narrow limits of
his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference
concerning the goodness of superior powers, since he must form that
inference from what he knows, not from what he is ignorant of. The more
you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance, the more diffident you render
him, and give him the greater suspicion that such subjects are beyond the
reach of his faculties. You are obliged, therefore, to reason with him
merely from the known phenomena, and to drop every arbitrary supposition
or conjecture.

Did I show you a house or palace, where there was not one apartment
convenient or agreeable; where the windows, doors, fires, passages,
stairs, and the whole economy of the building, were the source of noise,
confusion, fatigue, darkness, and the extremes of heat and cold; you
would certainly blame the contrivance, without any further examination.
The architect would in vain display his subtlety, and prove to you, that
if this door or that window were altered, greater ills would ensue. What
he says may be strictly true: The alteration of one particular, while the
other parts of the building remain, may only augment the inconveniences.
But still you would assert in general, that, if the architect had had
skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole,
and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner, as would have
remedied all or most of these inconveniences. His ignorance, or even your
own ignorance of such a plan, will never convince you of the
impossibility of it. If you find any inconveniences and deformities in
the building, you will always, without entering into any detail, condemn
the architect.

In short, I repeat the question: Is the world, considered in general, and
as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man, or such a
limited being, would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and
benevolent Deity? It must be strange prejudice to assert the contrary.
And from thence I conclude, that however consistent the world may be,
allowing certain suppositions and conjectures, with the idea of such a
Deity, it can never afford us an inference concerning his existence. The
consistence is not absolutely denied, only the inference. Conjectures,
especially where infinity is excluded from the Divine attributes, may
perhaps be sufficient to prove a consistence, but can never be
foundations for any inference.

There seem to be four circumstances, on which depend all, or the greatest
part of the ills, that molest sensible creatures; and it is not
impossible but all these circumstances may be necessary and unavoidable.
We know so little beyond common life, or even of common life, that, with
regard to the economy of a universe, there is no conjecture, however
wild, which may not be just; nor any one, however plausible, which may
not be erroneous. All that belongs to human understanding, in this deep
ignorance and obscurity, is to be sceptical, or at least cautious, and
not to admit of any hypothesis whatever, much less of any which is
supported by no appearance of probability. Now, this I assert to be the
case with regard to all the causes of evil, and the circumstances on
which it depends. None of them appear to human reason in the least degree
necessary or unavoidable; nor can we suppose them such, without the
utmost license of imagination.

The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or
economy of 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 for this purpose. All
animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment: but when urged by
any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, weariness;
instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they
might be prompted to seek that object which is necessary to their
subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least
they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly
possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is
any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation? If animals can
be free from it an hour, they might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it;
and it required as particular a contrivance of their organs to produce
that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any of the senses.
Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance was necessary, without any
appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on the
most certain truth?

But a capacity of pain would not alone produce pain, were it not for the
second circumstance, viz. the conducting of the world by general laws;
and this seems nowise necessary to a very perfect Being. It is true, if
everything were conducted by particular volitions, the course of nature
would be perpetually broken, and no man could employ his reason in the
conduct of life. But might not other particular volitions remedy this
inconvenience? In short, might not the Deity exterminate all ill,
wherever it were to be found; and produce all good, without any
preparation, or long progress of causes and effects?

Besides, we must consider, that, according to the present economy of the
world, the course of nature, though supposed exactly regular, yet to us
appears not so, and many events are uncertain, and many disappoint our
expectations. Health and sickness, calm and tempest, with an infinite
number of other accidents, whose causes are unknown and variable, have a
great influence both on the fortunes of particular persons and on the
prosperity of public societies; and indeed all human life, in a manner,
depends on such accidents. A being, therefore, who knows the secret
springs of the universe, might easily, by particular volitions, turn all
these accidents to the good of mankind, and render the whole world happy,
without discovering himself in any operation. A fleet, whose purposes
were salutary to society, might always meet with a fair wind. Good
princes enjoy sound health and long life. Persons born to power and
authority, be framed with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few
such events as these, regularly and wisely conducted, would change the
face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of
nature, or confound human conduct, than the present economy of things,
where the causes are secret, and variable, and compounded. Some small
touches given to CALIGULA's brain in his infancy, might have converted
him into a TRAJAN. One wave, a little higher than the rest, by burying
CAESAR and his fortune in the bottom of the ocean, might have restored
liberty to a considerable part of mankind. There may, for aught we know,
be good reasons why Providence interposes not in this manner; but they
are unknown to us; and though the mere supposition, that such reasons
exist, may be sufficient to save the conclusion concerning the Divine
attributes, yet surely it can never be sufficient to establish that

If every thing in the universe be conducted by general laws, and if
animals be rendered susceptible of pain, it scarcely seems possible but
some ill must arise in the various shocks of matter, and the various
concurrence and opposition of general laws; but this ill would be very
rare, were it not for the third circumstance, which I proposed to
mention, viz. the great frugality with which all powers and faculties are
distributed to every particular being. So well adjusted are the organs
and capacities of all animals, and so well fitted to their preservation,
that, as far as history or tradition reaches, there appears not to be any
single species which has yet been extinguished in the universe. Every
animal has the requisite endowments; but these endowments are bestowed
with so scrupulous an economy, that any considerable diminution must
entirely destroy the creature. Wherever one power is increased, there is
a proportional abatement in the others. Animals which excel in swiftness
are commonly defective in force. Those which possess both are either
imperfect in some of their senses, or are oppressed with the most craving
wants. The human species, whose chief excellency is reason and sagacity,
is of all others the most necessitous, and the most deficient in bodily
advantages; without clothes, without arms, without food, without lodging,
without any convenience of life, except what they owe to their own skill
and industry. In short, nature seems to have formed an exact calculation
of the necessities of her creatures; and, like a rigid master, has
afforded them little more powers or endowments than what are strictly
sufficient to supply those necessities. 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 of circumstances. Every course of life would not have been so
surrounded with precipices, that the least departure from the true path,
by mistake or necessity, must involve us in misery and ruin. Some
reserve, some fund, would have been provided to ensure happiness; nor
would the powers and the necessities have been adjusted with so rigid an
economy. The Author of Nature is inconceivably powerful: his force is
supposed great, if not altogether inexhaustible: nor is there any reason,
as far as we can judge, to make him observe this strict frugality in his
dealings with his creatures. It would have been better, were his power
extremely limited, to have created fewer animals, and to have endowed
these with more faculties for their happiness and preservation. A builder
is never esteemed prudent, who undertakes a plan beyond what his stock
will enable him to finish.

In order to cure most of the ills of human life, I require not that man
should have the wings of the eagle, the swiftness of the stag, the force
of the ox, the arms of the lion, the scales of the crocodile or
rhinoceros; much less do I demand the sagacity of an angel or cherubim. I
am contented to take an increase in one single power or faculty of his
soul. Let him be endowed with a greater propensity to industry and
labour; a more vigorous spring and activity of mind; a more constant bent
to business and application. Let the whole species possess naturally an
equal diligence with that which many individuals are able to attain by
habit and reflection; and the most beneficial consequences, without any
allay of ill, is the immediate and necessary result of this endowment.
Almost all the moral, as well as natural evils of human life, arise from
idleness; and were our species, by the original constitution of their
frame, exempt from this vice or infirmity, the perfect cultivation of
land, the improvement of arts and manufactures, the exact execution of
every office and duty, immediately follow; and men at once may fully
reach that state of society, which is so imperfectly attained by the best
regulated government. But as industry is a power, and the most valuable
of any, Nature seems determined, suitably to her usual maxims, to bestow
it on men with a very sparing hand; and rather to punish him severely for
his deficiency in it, than to reward him for his attainments. She has so
contrived his frame, that nothing but the most violent necessity can
oblige him to labour; and she employs all his other wants to overcome, at
least in part, the want of diligence, and to endow him with some share of
a faculty of which she has thought fit naturally to bereave him. Here our
demands may be allowed very humble, and therefore the more reasonable. If
we required the endowments of superior penetration and judgement, of a
more delicate taste of beauty, of a nicer sensibility to benevolence and
friendship; we might be told, that we impiously pretend to break the
order of Nature; that we want to exalt ourselves into a higher rank of
being; that the presents which we require, not being suitable to our
state and condition, would only be pernicious to us. But it is hard; I
dare to repeat it, it is hard, that being placed in a world so full of
wants and necessities, where almost every being and element is either our
foe or refuses its assistance ... we should also have our own temper to
struggle with, and should be deprived of that faculty which can alone
fence against these multiplied evils.

The fourth circumstance, whence arises the misery and ill of the
universe, is the inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles
of the great machine of nature. It must be acknowledged, that there are
few parts of the universe, which seem not to serve some purpose, and
whose removal would not produce a visible defect and disorder in the
whole. The parts hang all together; nor can one be touched without
affecting the rest, in a greater or less degree. But at the same time, it
must be observed, that none of these parts or principles, however useful,
are so accurately adjusted, as to keep precisely within those bounds in
which their utility consists; but they are, all of them, apt, on every
occasion, to run into the one extreme or the other. One would imagine,
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. Thus, the winds are requisite to convey the vapours
along the surface of the globe, and to assist men in navigation: but how
oft, rising up to tempests and hurricanes, do they become pernicious?
Rains are necessary to nourish all the plants and animals of the earth:
but how often are they defective? how often excessive? Heat is requisite
to all life and vegetation; but is not always found in the due
proportion. On the mixture and secretion of the humours and juices of the
body depend the health and prosperity of the animal: but the parts
perform not regularly their proper function. What more useful than all
the passions of the mind, ambition, vanity, love, anger? But how oft do
they break their bounds, and cause the greatest convulsions in society?
There is nothing so advantageous in the universe, but what frequently
becomes pernicious, by its excess or defect; nor has Nature guarded, with
the requisite accuracy, against all disorder or confusion. The
irregularity is never perhaps so great as to destroy any species; but is
often sufficient to involve the individuals in ruin and misery.

On the concurrence, then, 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 so
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. What 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 for 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 assert, that as this
goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the
phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are
so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have
been remedied, as far as human understanding can 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 these attributes. Such a
conclusion cannot result from Scepticism, but must arise from the
phenomena, and from our confidence in the reasonings which we deduce from
these phenomena.

Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated
and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety
and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living
existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive
to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How
contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but
the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle,
and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her
maimed and abortive children!

Here the MANICHAEAN system occurs as a proper hypothesis to solve the
difficulty: and no doubt, in some respects, it is very specious, and has
more probability than the common hypothesis, by giving a plausible
account of the strange mixture of good and ill which appears in life. But
if we consider, on the other hand, the perfect uniformity and agreement
of the parts of the universe, we shall not discover in it any marks of
the combat of a malevolent with a benevolent being. There is indeed an
opposition of pains and pleasures in the feelings of sensible creatures:
but are not all the operations of Nature carried on by an opposition of
principles, of hot and cold, moist and dry, light and heavy? The true
conclusion is, that the original Source of all things is entirely
indifferent to all these principles; and has no more regard to good above
ill, than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light
above heavy.

There may four hypotheses be framed concerning the first causes of the
universe: that they are endowed with perfect goodness; that they have
perfect malice; that they are opposite, and have both goodness and
malice; that they have neither goodness nor malice. Mixed phenomena can
never prove the two former unmixed principles; and the uniformity and
steadiness of general laws seem to oppose the third. The fourth,
therefore, seems by far the most probable.

What I have said concerning natural evil will apply to moral, with little
or no variation; and we have no more reason to infer, that the rectitude
of the Supreme Being resembles human rectitude, than that his benevolence
resembles the human. Nay, it will be thought, that we have still greater
cause to exclude from him moral sentiments, such as we feel them; since
moral evil, in the opinion of many, is much more predominant above moral
good than natural evil above natural good.

But even though this should not be allowed, and though the virtue which
is in mankind should be acknowledged much superior to the vice, yet so
long as there is any vice at all in the universe, it will very much
puzzle you Anthropomorphites, how to account for it. You must assign a
cause for it, without having recourse to the first cause. But as every
effect must have a cause, and that cause another, you must either carry
on the progression in infinitum, or rest on that original principle, who
is the ultimate cause of all things...

Hold! hold! cried DEMEA: Whither does your imagination hurry you? I
joined in alliance with you, in order to prove the incomprehensible
nature of the Divine Being, and refute the principles of CLEANTHES, who
would measure every thing by human rule and standard. But I now find you
running into all the topics of the greatest libertines and infidels, and
betraying that holy cause which you seemingly espoused. Are you secretly,
then, a more dangerous enemy than CLEANTHES himself?

And are you so late in perceiving it? replied CLEANTHES. Believe me,
DEMEA, your friend PHILO, from the beginning, has been amusing himself at
both our expense; and it must be confessed, that the injudicious
reasoning of our vulgar theology has given him but too just a handle of
ridicule. The total infirmity of human reason, the absolute
incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature, the great and universal misery,
and still greater wickedness of men; these are strange topics, surely, to
be so fondly cherished by orthodox divines and doctors. In ages of
stupidity and ignorance, indeed, these principles may safely be espoused;
and perhaps no views of things are more proper to promote superstition,
than such as encourage the blind amazement, the diffidence, and
melancholy of mankind. But at present...

Blame not so much, interposed PHILO, the ignorance of these reverend
gentlemen. They know how to change their style with the times. Formerly
it was a most popular theological topic to maintain, that human life was
vanity and misery, and to exaggerate all the ills and pains which are
incident to men. But of late years, divines, we find, begin to retract
this position; and maintain, though still with some hesitation, that
there are more goods than evils, more pleasures than pains, even in this
life. When religion stood entirely upon temper and education, it was
thought proper to encourage melancholy; as indeed mankind never have
recourse to superior powers so readily as in that disposition. But as men
have now learned to form principles, and to draw consequences, it is
necessary to change the batteries, and to make use of such arguments as
will endure at least some scrutiny and examination. This variation is the
same (and from the same causes) with that which I formerly remarked with
regard to Scepticism.

Thus PHILO continued to the last his spirit of opposition, and his censure
of established opinions. But I could observe that DEMEA did not at all
relish the latter part of the discourse; and he took occasion soon after,
on some pretence or other, to leave the company.


After DEMEA's departure, CLEANTHES and PHILO continued the conversation
in the following manner. Our friend, I am afraid, said CLEANTHES, will
have little inclination to revive this topic of discourse, while you are
in company; and to tell truth, PHILO, I should rather wish to reason with
either of you apart on a subject so sublime and interesting. Your spirit
of controversy, joined to your abhorrence of vulgar superstition, carries
you strange lengths, when engaged in an argument; and there is nothing so
sacred and venerable, even in your own eyes, which you spare on that

I must confess, replied PHILO, that I am less cautious on the subject of
Natural Religion than on any other; both because I know that I can never,
on that head, corrupt the principles of any man of common sense; and
because no one, I am confident, in whose eyes I appear a man of common
sense, will ever mistake my intentions. You, in particular, CLEANTHES,
with whom I live in unreserved intimacy; you are sensible, that
notwithstanding the freedom of my conversation, and my love of singular
arguments, no one has a deeper sense of religion impressed on his mind,
or pays more profound adoration to the Divine Being, as he discovers
himself to reason, in the inexplicable contrivance and artifice of
nature. A purpose, an intention, a design, strikes every where the most
careless, the most stupid thinker; and no man can be so hardened in
absurd systems, as at all times to reject it. That Nature does nothing in
vain, is a maxim established in all the schools, merely from the
contemplation of the works of Nature, without any religious purpose; and,
from a firm conviction of its truth, an anatomist, who had observed a new
organ or canal, would never be satisfied till he had also discovered its
use and intention. One great foundation of the Copernican system is the
maxim, That Nature acts by the simplest methods, and chooses the most
proper means to any end; and astronomers often, without thinking of it,
lay this strong foundation of piety and religion. The same thing is
observable in other parts of philosophy: And thus all the sciences almost
lead us insensibly to acknowledge a first intelligent Author; and their
authority is often so much the greater, as they do not directly profess
that intention.

It is with pleasure I hear GALEN reason concerning the structure of the
human body. The anatomy of a man, says he [De formatione foetus], discovers
above 600 different muscles; and whoever duly considers these, will find,
that, in each of them, Nature must have adjusted at least ten different
circumstances, in order to attain the end which she proposed; proper
figure, just magnitude, right disposition of the several ends, upper and
lower position of the whole, the due insertion of the several nerves,
veins, and arteries: So that, in the muscles alone, above 6000 several
views and intentions must have been formed and executed. The bones he
calculates to be 284: The distinct purposes aimed at in the structure of
each, above forty. What a prodigious display of artifice, even in these
simple and homogeneous parts! But if we consider the skin, ligaments,
vessels, glandules, humours, the several limbs and members of the body;
how must our astonishment rise upon us, in proportion to the number and
intricacy of the parts so artificially adjusted! The further we advance
in these researches, we discover new scenes of art and wisdom: But descry
still, at a distance, further scenes beyond our reach; in the fine
internal structure of the parts, in the economy of the brain, in the
fabric of the seminal vessels. All these artifices are repeated in every
different species of animal, with wonderful variety, and with exact
propriety, suited to the different intentions of Nature in framing each
species. And if the infidelity of GALEN, even when these natural sciences
were still imperfect, could not withstand such striking appearances, to
what pitch of pertinacious obstinacy must a philosopher in this age have
attained, who can now doubt of a Supreme Intelligence!

Could I meet with one of this species (who, I thank God, are very rare),
I would ask him: Supposing there were a God, who did not discover himself
immediately to our senses, were it possible for him to give stronger
proofs of his existence, than what appear on the whole face of Nature?
What indeed could such a Divine Being do, but copy the present economy of
things; render many of his artifices so plain, that no stupidity could
mistake them; afford glimpses of still greater artifices, which
demonstrate his prodigious superiority above our narrow apprehensions;
and conceal altogether a great many from such imperfect creatures? Now,
according to all rules of just reasoning, every fact must pass for
undisputed, when it is supported by all the arguments which its nature
admits of; even though these arguments be not, in themselves, very
numerous or forcible: How much more, in the present case, where no human
imagination can compute their number, and no understanding estimate their

I shall further add, said CLEANTHES, to what you have so well urged, that
one great advantage of the principle of Theism, is, that it is the only
system of cosmogony which can be rendered intelligible and complete, and
yet can throughout preserve a strong analogy to what we every day see and
experience in the world. The comparison of the universe to a machine of
human contrivance, is so obvious and natural, and is justified by so many
instances of order and design in Nature, that it must immediately strike
all unprejudiced apprehensions, and procure universal approbation.
Whoever attempts to weaken this theory, cannot pretend to succeed by
establishing in its place any other that is precise and determinate: It
is sufficient for him if he start doubts and difficulties; and by remote
and abstract views of things, reach that suspense of judgement, which is
here the utmost boundary of his wishes. But, besides that this state of
mind is in itself unsatisfactory, it can never be steadily maintained
against such striking appearances as continually engage us into the
religious hypothesis. A false, absurd system, human nature, from the
force of prejudice, is capable of adhering to with obstinacy and
perseverance: But no system at all, in opposition to a theory supported
by strong and obvious reason, by natural propensity, and by early
education, I think it absolutely impossible to maintain or defend.

So little, replied PHILO, do I esteem this suspense of judgement in the
present case to be possible, that I am apt to suspect there enters
somewhat of a dispute of words into this controversy, more than is
usually imagined. That the works of Nature bear a great analogy to the
productions of art, is evident; and according to all the rules of good
reasoning, we ought to infer, if we argue at all concerning them, that
their causes have a proportional analogy. But as there are also
considerable differences, we have reason to suppose a proportional
difference in the causes; and in particular, ought to attribute a much
higher degree of power and energy to the supreme cause, than any we have
ever observed in mankind. Here then the existence of a DEITY is plainly
ascertained by reason: and if we make it a question, whether, on account
of these analogies, we can properly call him a mind or intelligence,
notwithstanding the vast difference which may reasonably be supposed
between him and human minds; what is this but a mere verbal controversy?
No man can deny the analogies between the effects: To restrain ourselves
from inquiring concerning the causes is scarcely possible. From this
inquiry, the legitimate conclusion is, that the causes have also an
analogy: And if we are not contented with calling the first and supreme
cause a GOD or DEITY, but desire to vary the expression; what can we call
him but MIND or THOUGHT, to which he is justly supposed to bear a
considerable resemblance?

All men of sound reason are disgusted with verbal disputes, which abound
so much in philosophical and theological inquiries; and it is found, that
the only remedy for this abuse must arise from clear definitions, from
the precision of those ideas which enter into any argument, and from the
strict and uniform use of those terms which are employed. But there is a
species of controversy, which, from the very nature of language and of
human ideas, is involved in perpetual ambiguity, and can never, by any
precaution or any definitions, be able to reach a reasonable certainty or
precision. These are the controversies concerning the degrees of any
quality or circumstance. Men may argue to all eternity, whether HANNIBAL
be a great, or a very great, or a superlatively great man, what degree of
beauty CLEOPATRA possessed, what epithet of praise LIVY or THUCYDIDES is
entitled to, without bringing the controversy to any determination. The
disputants may here agree in their sense, and differ in the terms, or
vice versa; yet never be able to define their terms, so as to enter into
each other's meaning: Because the degrees of these qualities are not,
like quantity or number, susceptible of any exact mensuration, which
may be the standard in the controversy. That the dispute concerning
Theism is of this nature, and consequently is merely verbal, or perhaps,
if possible, still more incurably ambiguous, will appear upon the
slightest inquiry. I ask the Theist, if he does not allow, that there is
a great and immeasurable, because incomprehensible difference between the
human and the divine mind: The more pious he is, the more readily will he
assent to the affirmative, and the more will he be disposed to magnify
the difference: He will even assert, that the difference is of a nature
which cannot be too much magnified. I next turn to the Atheist, who, I
assert, is only nominally so, and can never possibly be in earnest; and I
ask him, whether, from the coherence and apparent sympathy in all the
parts of this world, there be not a certain degree of analogy among all
the operations of Nature, in every situation and in every age; whether
the rotting of a turnip, the generation of an animal, and the structure
of human thought, be not energies that probably bear some remote analogy
to each other: It is impossible he can deny it: He will readily
acknowledge it. Having obtained this concession, I push him still further
in his retreat; and I ask him, if it be not probable, that the principle
which first arranged, and still maintains order in this universe, bears
not also some remote inconceivable analogy to the other operations of
nature, and, among the rest, to the economy of human mind and thought.
However reluctant, he must give his assent. Where then, cry I to both
these antagonists, is the subject of your dispute? The Theist allows,
that the original intelligence is very different from human reason: The
Atheist allows, that the original principle of order bears some remote
analogy to it. Will you quarrel, Gentlemen, about the degrees, and enter
into a controversy, which admits not of any precise meaning, nor
consequently of any determination? If you should be so obstinate, I
should not be surprised to find you insensibly change sides; while the
Theist, on the one hand, exaggerates the dissimilarity between the
Supreme Being, and frail, imperfect, variable, fleeting, and mortal
creatures; and the Atheist, on the other, magnifies the analogy among all
the operations of Nature, in every period, every situation, and every
position. Consider then, where the real point of controversy lies; and if
you cannot lay aside your disputes, endeavour, at least, to cure
yourselves of your animosity.

And here I must also acknowledge, CLEANTHES, that as the works of Nature
have a much greater analogy to the effects of our art and contrivance,
than to those of our benevolence and justice, we have reason to infer,
that the natural attributes of the Deity have a greater resemblance to
those of men, than his moral have to human virtues. But what is the
consequence? Nothing but this, that the moral qualities of man are more
defective in their kind than his natural abilities. For, as the Supreme
Being is allowed to be absolutely and entirely perfect, whatever differs
most from him, departs the furthest from the supreme standard of
rectitude and perfection.

It seems evident that the dispute between the Skeptics and Dogmatists
is entirely verbal, or at least regards only the degrees of doubt and
assurance which we ought to indulge with regard to all reasoning; and such
disputes are commonly, at the bottom, verbal, and admit not of any precise
determination. No philosophical Dogmatist denies that there are
difficulties both with regard to the senses and to all science, and that
these difficulties are in a regular, logical method, absolutely
insolvable. No Skeptic denies that we lie under an absolute necessity,
notwithstanding these difficulties, of thinking, and believing, and
reasoning, with regard to all kinds of subjects, and even of frequently
assenting with confidence and security. The only difference, then, between
these sects, if they merit that name, is, that the Sceptic, from habit,
caprice, or inclination, insists most on the difficulties; the Dogmatist,
for like reasons, on the necessity.

These, CLEANTHES, are my unfeigned sentiments on this subject; and these
sentiments, you know, I have ever cherished and maintained. But in
proportion to my veneration for true religion, is my abhorrence of vulgar
superstitions; and I indulge a peculiar pleasure, I confess, in pushing
such principles, sometimes into absurdity, sometimes into impiety. And
you are sensible, that all bigots, notwithstanding their great aversion
to the latter above the former, are commonly equally guilty of both.

My inclination, replied CLEANTHES, lies, I own, a contrary way. Religion,
however corrupted, is still better than no religion at all. The doctrine
of a future state is so strong and necessary a security to morals, that
we never ought to abandon or neglect it. For if finite and temporary
rewards and punishments have so great an effect, as we daily find; how
much greater must be expected from such as are infinite and eternal?

How happens it then, said PHILO, if vulgar superstition be so salutary to
society, that all history abounds so much with accounts of its pernicious
consequences on public affairs? Factions, civil wars, persecutions,
subversions of government, oppression, slavery; these are the dismal
consequences which always attend its prevalency over the minds of men. If
the religious spirit be ever mentioned in any historical narration, we
are sure to meet afterwards with a detail of the miseries which attend
it. And no period of time can be happier or more prosperous, than those
in which it is never regarded or heard of.

The reason of this observation, replied CLEANTHES, is obvious. The proper
office of religion is to regulate the heart of men, humanise their
conduct, infuse the spirit of temperance, order, and obedience; and as
its operation is silent, and only enforces the motives of morality and
justice, it is in danger of being overlooked, and confounded with these
other motives. When it distinguishes itself, and acts as a separate
principle over men, it has departed from its proper sphere, and has
become only a cover to faction and ambition.

And so will all religion, said PHILO, except the philosophical and
rational kind. Your reasonings are more easily eluded than my facts. The
inference is not just, because finite and temporary rewards and
punishments have so great influence, that therefore such as are infinite
and eternal must have so much greater. Consider, I beseech you, the
attachment which we have to present things, and the little concern which
we discover for objects so remote and uncertain. When divines are
declaiming against the common behaviour and conduct of the world, they
always represent this principle as the strongest imaginable (which indeed
it is); and describe almost all human kind as lying under the influence
of it, and sunk into the deepest lethargy and unconcern about their
religious interests. Yet these same divines, when they refute their
speculative antagonists, suppose the motives of religion to be so
powerful, that, without them, it were impossible for civil society to
subsist; nor are they ashamed of so palpable a contradiction. 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. A man's natural
inclination works incessantly upon him; it is for ever present to the
mind, and mingles itself with every view and consideration: whereas
religious motives, where they act at all, operate only by starts and
bounds; and it is scarcely possible for them to become altogether
habitual to the mind. The force of the greatest gravity, say the
philosophers, is infinitely small, in comparison of that of the least
impulse: yet it is certain, that the smallest gravity will, in the end,
prevail above a great impulse; because no strokes or blows can be
repeated with such constancy as attraction and gravitation.

Another advantage of inclination: It engages on its side all the wit and
ingenuity of the mind; and when set in opposition to religious
principles, seeks every method and art of eluding them: In which it is
almost always successful. Who can explain the heart of man, or account
for those strange salvos and excuses, with which people satisfy
themselves, when they follow their inclinations in opposition to their
religious duty? This is well understood in the world; and none but fools
ever repose less trust in a man, because they hear, that from study and
philosophy, he has entertained some speculative doubts with regard to
theological subjects. And when we have to do with a man, who makes a
great profession of religion and devotion, has this any other effect upon
several, who pass for prudent, than to put them on their guard, lest they
be cheated and deceived by him?

We must further consider, that philosophers, who cultivate reason and
reflection, stand less in need of such motives to keep them under the
restraint of morals; and that the vulgar, who alone may need them, are
utterly incapable of so pure a religion as represents the Deity to be
pleased with nothing but virtue in human behaviour. The recommendations
to the Divinity are generally supposed to be either frivolous
observances, or rapturous ecstasies, or a bigoted credulity. We need not
run back into antiquity, or wander into remote regions, to find instances
of this degeneracy. Amongst ourselves, some have been guilty of that
atrociousness, unknown to the Egyptian and Grecian superstitions, of
declaiming in express terms, against morality; and representing it as a
sure forfeiture of the Divine favour, if the least trust or reliance be
laid upon it.

But even though superstition or enthusiasm should not put itself in
direct opposition to morality; the very diverting of the attention, the
raising up a new and frivolous species of merit, the preposterous
distribution which it makes of praise and blame, must have the most
pernicious consequences, and weaken extremely men's attachment to the
natural motives of justice and humanity.

Such a principle of action likewise, not being any of the familiar
motives of human conduct, acts only by intervals on the temper; and must
be roused by continual efforts, in order to render the pious zealot
satisfied with his own conduct, and make him fulfil his devotional task.
Many religious exercises are entered into with seeming fervour, where the
heart, at the time, feels cold and languid: A habit of dissimulation is
by degrees contracted; and fraud and falsehood become the predominant
principle. Hence the reason of that vulgar observation, that the highest
zeal in religion and the deepest hypocrisy, so far from being
inconsistent, are often or commonly united in the same individual

The bad effects of such habits, even in common life, are easily imagined;
but where the interests of religion are concerned, no morality can be
forcible enough to bind the enthusiastic zealot. The sacredness of the
cause sanctifies every measure which can be made use of to promote it.

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 when such a temper is encouraged, it
easily eludes all the general precepts of charity and benevolence.

Thus, the motives of vulgar superstition have no great influence on
general conduct; nor is their operation favourable to morality, in the
instances where they predominate.

Is there any maxim in politics more certain and infallible, than that
both the number and authority of priests should be confined within very
narrow limits; and that the civil magistrate ought, for ever, to keep his
fasces and axes from such dangerous hands? But if the spirit of popular
religion were so salutary to society, a contrary maxim ought to prevail.
The greater number of priests, and their greater authority and riches,
will always augment the religious spirit. And though the priests have the
guidance of this spirit, why may we not expect a superior sanctity of
life, and greater benevolence and moderation, from persons who are set
apart for religion, who are continually inculcating it upon others, and
who must themselves imbibe a greater share of it? Whence comes it then,
that, in fact, the utmost a wise magistrate can propose with regard to
popular religions, is, as far as possible, to make a saving game of it,
and to prevent their pernicious consequences with regard to society?
Every expedient which he tries for so humble a purpose is surrounded with
inconveniences. If he admits only one religion among his subjects, he
must sacrifice, to an uncertain prospect of tranquillity, every
consideration of public liberty, science, reason, industry, and even his
own independency. If he gives indulgence to several sects, which is the
wiser maxim, he must preserve a very philosophical indifference to all of
them, and carefully restrain the pretensions of the prevailing sect;
otherwise he can expect nothing but endless disputes, quarrels, factions,
persecutions, and civil commotions.

True religion, I allow, has no such pernicious consequences: but we must
treat of religion, as it has commonly been found in the world; nor have I
any thing to do with that speculative tenet of Theism, which, as it is a
species of philosophy, must partake of the beneficial influence of that
principle, and at the same time must lie under a like inconvenience, of
being always confined to very few persons.

Oaths are requisite in all courts of judicature; but it is a question
whether their authority arises from any popular religion. It is the
solemnity and importance of the occasion, the regard to reputation, and
the reflecting on the general interests of society, which are the chief
restraints upon mankind. Custom-house oaths and political oaths are but
little regarded even by some who pretend to principles of honesty and
religion; and a Quaker's asseveration is with us justly put upon the same
footing with the oath of any other person. I know, that POLYBIUS
[Lib. vi. cap. 54.] ascribes the infamy of GREEK faith to the prevalency of
the EPICUREAN philosophy: but I know also, that Punic faith had as bad a
reputation in ancient times as Irish evidence has in modern; though we
cannot account for these vulgar observations by the same reason. Not to
mention that Greek faith was infamous before the rise of the Epicurean
philosophy; and EURIPIDES [Iphigenia in Tauride], in a passage which I
shall point out to you, has glanced a remarkable stroke of satire against
his nation, with regard to this circumstance.

Take care, PHILO, replied CLEANTHES, take care: push not matters too far:
allow not your zeal against false religion to undermine your veneration
for the true. Forfeit not this principle, the chief, the only great
comfort in life; and our principal support amidst all the attacks of
adverse fortune. The most agreeable reflection, which it is possible for
human imagination to suggest, is that of genuine Theism, which represents
us as the workmanship of a Being perfectly good, wise, and powerful; who
created us for happiness; and who, having implanted in us immeasurable
desires of good, will prolong our existence to all eternity, and will
transfer us into an infinite variety of scenes, in order to satisfy those
desires, and render our felicity complete and durable. Next to such a
Being himself (if the comparison be allowed), the happiest lot which we
can imagine, is that of being under his guardianship and protection.

These appearances, said PHILO, are most engaging and alluring; and with
regard to the true philosopher, they are more than appearances. But it
happens here, as in the former case, that, with regard to the greater
part of mankind, the appearances are deceitful, and that the terrors of
religion commonly prevail above its comforts.

It is allowed, that men never have recourse to devotion so readily as
when dejected with grief or depressed with sickness. Is not this a proof,
that the religious spirit is not so nearly allied to joy as to sorrow?

But men, when afflicted, find consolation in religion, replied CLEANTHES.
Sometimes, said PHILO: but it is natural to imagine, that they will form
a notion of those unknown beings, suitably to the present gloom and
melancholy of their temper, when they betake themselves to the
contemplation of them. Accordingly, we find the tremendous images to
predominate in all religions; and we ourselves, after having employed the
most exalted expression in our descriptions of the Deity, fall into the
flattest contradiction in affirming that the damned are infinitely
superior in number to the elect.

I shall venture to affirm, that there never was a popular religion, which
represented the state of departed souls in such a light, as would render
it eligible for human kind that there should be such a state. These fine
models of religion are the mere product of philosophy. For as death lies
between the eye and the prospect of futurity, that event is so shocking
to Nature, that it must throw a gloom on all the regions which lie beyond
it; and suggest to the generality of mankind the idea of CERBERUS and
FURIES; devils, and torrents of fire and brimstone.

It is true, both fear and hope enter into religion; because both these
passions, at different times, agitate the human mind, and each of them
forms a species of divinity suitable to itself. But when a man is in a
cheerful disposition, he is fit for business, or company, or
entertainment of any kind; and he naturally applies himself to these, and
thinks not of religion. When melancholy and dejected, he has nothing to
do but brood upon the terrors of the invisible world, and to plunge
himself still deeper in affliction. It may indeed happen, that after he
has, in this manner, engraved the religious opinions deep into his
thought and imagination, there may arrive a change of health or
circumstances, which may restore his good humour, and raising cheerful
prospects of futurity, make him run into the other extreme of joy and
triumph. But still it must be acknowledged, that, as terror is the
primary principle of religion, it is the passion which always
predominates in it, and admits but of short intervals of pleasure.

Not to mention, that these fits of excessive, enthusiastic joy, by
exhausting the spirits, always prepare the way for equal fits of
superstitious terror and dejection; nor is there any state of mind so
happy as the calm and equable. But this state it is impossible to
support, where a man thinks that he lies in such profound darkness and
uncertainty, between an eternity of happiness and an eternity of misery.
No wonder that such an opinion disjoints the ordinary frame of the mind,
and throws it into the utmost confusion. And though that opinion is
seldom so steady in its operation as to influence all the actions; yet it
is apt to make a considerable breach in the temper, and to produce that
gloom and melancholy so remarkable in all devout people.

It is contrary to common sense to entertain apprehensions or terrors upon
account of any opinion whatsoever, or to imagine that we run any risk
hereafter, by the freest use of our reason. Such a sentiment implies both
an absurdity and an inconsistency. It is an absurdity to believe that the
Deity has human passions, and one of the lowest of human passions, a
restless appetite for applause. It is an inconsistency to believe, that,
since the Deity has this human passion, he has not others also; and, in
particular, a disregard to the opinions of creatures so much inferior.

To know God, says SENECA, is to worship him. All other worship is indeed
absurd, superstitious, and even impious. It degrades him to the low
condition of mankind, who are delighted with entreaty, solicitation,
presents, and flattery. Yet is this impiety the smallest of which
superstition is guilty. Commonly, it depresses the Deity far below the
condition of mankind; and represents him as a capricious DEMON, who
exercises his power without reason and without humanity! And were that
Divine Being disposed to be offended at the vices and follies of silly
mortals, who are his own workmanship, ill would it surely fare with the
votaries of most popular superstitions. Nor would any of human race merit
his favour, but a very few, the philosophical Theists, who entertain, or
rather indeed endeavour to entertain, suitable notions of his Divine
perfections: As the only persons entitled to his compassion and
indulgence would be the philosophical Sceptics, a sect almost equally
rare, who, from a natural diffidence of their own capacity, suspend, or
endeavour to suspend, all judgement with regard to such sublime and such
extraordinary subjects.

If the whole of Natural Theology, as some people seem to maintain,
resolves itself into one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at least
undefined proposition, That the cause or causes of order in the universe
probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence: If this
proposition be not capable of extension, variation, or more particular
explication: If it affords no inference that affects human life, or can
be the source of any action or forbearance: And if the analogy, imperfect
as it is, can be carried no further than to the human intelligence, and
cannot be transferred, with any appearance of probability, to the other
qualities of the mind; if this really be the case, what can the most
inquisitive, contemplative, and religious man do more than give a plain,
philosophical assent to the proposition, as often as it occurs, and
believe that the arguments on which it is established exceed the
objections which lie against it? Some astonishment, indeed, will
naturally arise from the greatness of the object; some melancholy from
its obscurity; some contempt of human reason, that it can give no
solution more satisfactory with regard to so extraordinary and
magnificent a question. But believe me, CLEANTHES, the most natural
sentiment which a well-disposed mind will feel on this occasion, is a
longing desire and expectation that Heaven would be pleased to dissipate,
at least alleviate, this profound ignorance, by affording some more
particular revelation to mankind, and making discoveries of the nature,
attributes, and operations of the Divine object of our faith. A person,
seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will
fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity: While the haughty
Dogmatist, persuaded that he can erect a complete system of Theology by
the mere help of philosophy, disdains any further aid, and rejects this
adventitious instructor. To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of
letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound,
believing Christian; a proposition which I would willingly recommend to
the attention of PAMPHILUS: And I hope CLEANTHES will forgive me for
interposing so far in the education and instruction of his pupil.

CLEANTHES and PHILO pursued not this conversation much further: and as
nothing ever made greater impression on me, than all the reasonings of
that day, so I confess, that, upon a serious review of the whole, I
cannot but think, that PHILO's principles are more probable than DEMEA's;
but that those of CLEANTHES approach still nearer to the truth.

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