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The System of Nature, Vol. 2 by Baron D'Holbach

Part 3 out of 7

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perfectly unnecessary to the true point of the argument to reason upon
what can or cannot be done: I therefore reply, that the fact is, we have
but five senses: by the aid of these man is not competent to form any
idea whatever of immateriality; but he is also in as absolute a state of
ignorance, upon what might be his capabilities of conception, if he had
more senses. It is rather acknowledging a weakness in his evidence, on
the part of the Doctor, to be thus obliged to rest it upon the
supposition of what might be the case, if man was a being different to
what he is; in other words, that they would be convincing to mankind if
the human race were not human beings. Therefore to demand what the
Divinity could have done in such a case, is to suppose the thing in
question, seeing we cannot form an idea how far the power of the
Divinity extends: but we may be reasonably allowed to use the
theological argument in elucidation; these men very gravely insist, upon
what authority must be best known to themselves, "that God cannot
communicate to his works that perfection which he himself possesses;" at
the same moment they do not fail to announce his omnipotence. Will it
require any capacity, more than is the common lot of a child, to
comprehend the absurd contradiction of the two assertions? As beings
possessing but five senses, we must then, of necessity, regulate our
judgment by the information they are capable of affording us: we cannot,
by any possibility, have a knowledge of those, which confer the capacity
to comprehend beings, of an order entirely distinguished from that in
which we occupy a place. We are ignorant of the mode in which even
plants vegetate, how then be acquainted with that which has no affinity
with ourselves? A man born blind, has only the use of four senses; he
has not the right, however, of assuming it as a fact, there does not
exist an extra sense for others; but he may very reasonably, and with
great truth aver, that he has no idea of the effects which would be
produced in him, by the sense which he lacks: notwithstanding, if this
blind man was surrounded by other men, whose birth had also left them
devoid or sight, might he not without any very unwarrantable
presumption, be authorized to inquire of them by what right, upon what
authority, they spoke to him of a sense they did not themselves possess;
how they were enabled to reason, to detail the minutiae of that
sensation upon which their own peculiar experience taught them nothing?

In short, we can again reply to Dr. Clarke, and to the theologians, that
following up their own systems, the supposition is impossible, and ought
not to be made, seeing that the Divinity, who according to their own
shewing, made man, was not willing that he should have more than five
senses; in other words, that he should be nothing but what he actually
is; they all found the existence of these immaterial substances upon the
necessity of a power that has the faculty to give a commencement to
motion. But if matter has always existed, of which there does not seem
to exist a doubt, it has always had motion, which is as essential to it
as its extent, and flows from its primitive properties. Indeed the human
mind, with its five senses, is not more competent to comprehend matter
devoid of motion, than it is to understand the peculiar quality of
immateriality: motion therefore exists only in and by matter; mobility
is a consequence of its existence; not that the great whole can occupy
other parts of space than it actually does; the impossibility of that
needs no argument, but all its parts can change their respective
situations--do continually change them; it is from thence results the
preservation, the life of nature, which is always as a whole immutable:
but in supposing, as is done every day, that matter is inert, that is to
say, incapable of producing any thing by itself, without the assistance
of a moving power, which sets it in motion, are we by any means enabled
to conceive that material nature receives this activity from an agent,
who partakes in nothing of material substance? Can man really figure to
himself, even in idea, that that which has no one property of matter,
can create matter, draw it from its own peculiar source, arrange it,
penetrate it, give it play, guide its course? Is it not, on the
contrary, more rational to the mind, more consistent with truth, more
congenial to experience, to suppose that the being who made matter is
himself material: is there the smallest necessity to suppose otherwise?
Can it make man either better or worse, that he should consider the
whole that exists as material? Will it in any manner make him a worse
subject to his sovereign; a worse father to his children; a more unkind
husband; a more faithless friend?

Motion, then, is co-eternal with matter: from all eternity the particles
of the universe have acted and reacted upon each other, by virtue of
their respective energies; of their peculiar essences; of their
primitive elements; of their various combinations. These particles must
have combined in consequence of their affinity; they must have been
either attracted or repelled by their respective relations with each
other; in virtue of these various essences, they must have gravitated
one upon the other; united when they were analagous; separated when that
analogy was dissolved, by the approach of heterogeneous matter; they
must have received their forms, undergone a change of figure, by the
continual collision of bodies. In a material world the acting powers
must be material: in a whole every part of which is essentially in
motion, there is no occasion for a power distinguished from itself; the
whole must be in perpetual motion by its own peculiar energy. The
general motion, as we have elsewhere proved, has its birth from the
individual motion, which beings ever active must uninterruptedly
communicate to each other. Thus every cause produces its effect; this
effect in its turn becomes a cause, which in like manner produces an
effect; this constitutes the eternal chain of things, which although
perpetually changing in its detail, suffers no change in its whole.

Theology, after all, has seldom done more than personify this eternal
series of motion; the principle of mobility inherent to matter: it has
clothed this principle with human qualities, by which it has rendered it
unintelligible: in applying these properties, they have taken no means
of understanding how far they were suitable or not: in their eagerness
to make them assimilate, they have extended them beyond their own
conception; they have heaped them together without any judgment; and
they have been surprised when these qualities, contradictory in
themselves, did not enable them satisfactorily to account for all the
phenomena they beheld; from thence they have wrangled; accused each
other of imbecility; yet infuriated themselves against whoever had the
temerity to question that which they did not themselves understand; in
short, they have acted like a man who should insist that all other men
should have precisely the same vision that he himself had dreamed.

Be this as it may, the greater portion of what either Dr. Clarke or the
theologians tell us, becomes, in some respects, sufficiently
intelligible as soon as applied to nature--to matter: it is eternal,
that is to say, it cannot have had a commencement, it never will have an
end; it is infinite, that is to say, we have no conception of its
limits. Nevertheless, human qualities, which must be always borrowed
from ourselves, and with others we have a very slender acquaintance,
cannot be well suitable to the entire of nature; seeing that these
qualities are in themselves modes of being, or modes which appertain
only to particular beings: not to the great whole which contains them.

Thus, to resume the answers which have been given to Dr. Clarke, we
shall say: _First_, we can conceive that matter has existed from all
eternity, seeing that we cannot conceive it to have been capable of
beginning. _Secondly_, that matter is independent, seeing there is
nothing exterior to itself; that it is immutable, seeing it cannot
change its nature, although it is unceasingly changing its form and its
combinations. _Thirdly_, that matter is self-existent, since not being
able to conceive it can be annihilated, we cannot possibly conceive it
can have commenced to exist. _Fourthly_, that we do not know the
essence, or the true nature of matter, although we have a knowledge of
some of its properties; of some of its qualities: according to the mode
in which they act upon us. _Fifthly_, that matter not having had a
beginning, will never have an end, although its numerous combinations,
its various forms, have necessarily a commencement and a period.
_Sixthly_, that if all that exists, or every thing our mind can conceive
is matter, this matter is infinite; that is to say, cannot be limited by
any thing; that it is omnipresent, seeing there is no place exterior to
itself, indeed, if there was a place exterior to it, that would be a
vacuum. _Seventhly_, that nature is unique, although its elements or its
parts may be varied to infinity, indued with properties extremely
opposite; with qualities essentially different. _Eighthly_, that matter,
arranged, modified, and combined in a certain mode, produces in some
beings what we call intelligence, which is one of its modes of being,
not one of its essential properties, _Ninthly_, that matter is not a
free agent, since it cannot act otherwise than it does, in virtue of the
laws of its nature, or of its existence; that consequently, heavy bodies
must necessarily fall; light bodies by the same necessity rise; fire
must burn; man must experience good and evil, according to the quality
of the beings whose action he experiences. _Tenthly_, that the power or
the energy of matter, has no other bounds than those which are
prescribed by its own existence. _Eleventhly_, that wisdom, justice,
goodness, &c. are qualities peculiar to matter combined and modified, as
it is found in some beings of the human species; that the idea of
perfection is an abstract, negative, metaphysical idea, or mode of
considering objects, which supposes nothing real to be exterior to
itself. _Twelfthly_, that matter is the principle of motion, which it
contains within itself: since matter alone is capable of either giving
or receiving motion: this is what cannot be conceived of immateriality
or simple beings destitute of parts, devoid of extent, without mass,
having no ponderosity, which consequently cannot either move itself or
other bodies.


_Examination of the Proofs offered by DESCARTES, MALEBRANCHE, NEWTON,

If the evidence of Clarke did not prove satisfactory--if the theologians
of his day disputed the manner in which he handled his subject--if they
were disposed to think he had not established his argument upon proper
foundations, it did not seem probable that either the system of
Descartes, the sublime reveries of Malebranche, or the more methodical
mode adopted by Newton, were at all likely to meet with a better
reception; the same objections will lie against them all, that they have
not demonstrated the existence of their immaterial substances; although
they have incessantly spoken of them, as if they were things of which
they had the most intimate knowledge. Unfortunately this is a rock which
the most sublime geniuses have not been competent to avoid: the most
enlightened men have done little more than stammer upon a subject which
they have all concurred in considering of the highest importance; which
they unceasingly hold forth as the most necessary for man to know;
without at the same time considering he is not in a condition to occupy
himself with objects inaccessible to his senses--which his mind,
consequently, can never grasp--which his utmost research cannot bring
into that tangible shape by which alone he can be enabled to form a

To the end that we may be convinced of that want of solidity which the
greatest men have not known how to give to the proofs they have offered,
but which they have successively imagined has established their
positions, let us briefly examine what the most celebrated philosophers,
what the most subtile metaphysicians have said. For this purpose we will
begin with Descartes, the restorer of philosophy among the moderns, to
whose sublime errors we are indebted for the effulgent truths of the
Newtonian system. This great man himself tells us, "All the strength of
argument which I have hitherto used to prove the existence of immaterial
substances, consists in this, that I acknowledge it would not be
possible, my nature was such as it is, that is to say, that I should
have in me the idea of immateriality, if this incorporeity did not truly
exist; this same immateriality, of which the idea is in me, possesses
all those high perfections of which our mind can have some slight idea,
without however being able to comprehend them." In another place he
says, "We must necessarily conclude from this alone, that because I
exist, and have the idea of immateriality, that is to say, of a most
perfect being, the existence is therefore most evidently demonstrated."
There are not, perhaps, many except Descartes himself, to whom this
would appear quite so conclusive; who would be impressed with the
conviction which he seems to imagine is so very substantive.

_First_, We shall reply to Descartes, it is not a warrantable deduction,
that because we have an idea of a thing, we must therefore conclude it
exists; to give validity to such a mode of reasoning would be productive
of the greatest mischief; would, in fact, tend to subvert all human
institutions. Our imagination presents us with the idea of a sphinx, or
of an hippogriff, besides a thousand other fantastical beings; are we,
on that authority, to insist that these things really exist? Is the mere
circumstance of our having an idea of various parts of nature,
discrepantly jumbled together, without any other evidence as to the
assemblage, a sufficient warrantry for calling upon mankind to accredit
the existence of such heterogeneous masses? If a philosopher of the most
consummate experience, of the greatest celebrity, one who enjoyed the
confidence of mankind above every other, was to detail the faculties and
perfections of these visionary beings, although he should hold them
forth as the perfection of all natural combinations, would, I say, any
reasonable being lend himself to the asseveration?

_Secondly_, It is obvious that the mere circumstance of existence, does
not prove the absolute existence of any thing anterior to itself;
although in man, as well as the other beings of nature, it is evidence
that something has existed before him. If this argument was to be
admitted, are they aware how far it, would carry them? To maintain that
the existence of one being demonstrably proves the existence of an
anterior being, would be, in fact, denying that any thing was self-
existent. The fallacy of such a position is too glaring to need

_Thirdly_, It is not possible he should have a distinct, positive idea
of immateriality, of which be, as well as the theologian, labours to
prove the existence. It is impossible for man, for a material being, to
form to himself a correct idea, or indeed any idea, of incorporeity; of
a substance without extent, acting upon nature, which is corporeal; a
truth which it may not be presuming too much to say we have already
sufficiently proved.

_Fourthly_, It is equally impossible for man to have any clear, decided
idea of perfection, of infinity, of immensity, and other theological
attributes. To Descartes we must therefore reply as we have done to Dr.
Clarke on his twelfth proposition.

Thus nothing can well be less conclusive than the proofs upon which
Descartes rests the existence of immateriality. He gives it thought and
intelligence, but how conceive these qualities without a subject to
which they may adhere? He pretends that we cannot conceive it but "as a
power which applies itself successively to the parts of the universe."
Again, he says, "that an immaterial substance cannot be said to have
extent, but as we say of fire contain in a piece of iron, which has not,
properly speaking, any other extension than that of the iron itself"
According to these notions we shall be justified in taxing him with
having announced in a very clear, in a most unequivocal manner, that
this is nature herself: this indeed is a pure Spinosism; it was
decidedly on the principles of Descartes that Spinosa drew up his
system; in fact it flows out of it consecutively.

We might, therefore, with great reason, accuse Descartes of atheism,
seeing that he very effectually destroys the feeble proofs he adduces in
support of his own hypothesis; we have solid foundation for insisting
that his system overturns the idea of the creation, because if from the
modification we subtract the subject, the modification itself
disappears: and if, according to the Cartesians, this immateriality is
nothing without nature, they are complete Spinosians, with another name.
If incorporeity is the motive-power of this nature, it no longer exists
independently; it, in fact, exists no longer than the subject to which
it is inherent subsists. Thus no longer existing independently, it will
exist only while the nature which it moves shall endure; without matter,
without a subject to move, to preserve, what is to become of it,
according to this doctrine, or rather according to this elucidation of a
system which is in itself untenable?

It will be obvious from this, that Descartes, far from establishing on a
rocky foundation the existence of this immateriality, totally destroys
his own system. The same thing will necessarily happen to all those who
reason upon his principles; they will always finish by confuting him,
and by contradicting themselves. The same want of just inference, the
same discrepancy, will obtrude themselves in the principles of the
celebrated Father Malebranche; which, if considered with the slightest
attention, appear to conduct directly to Spinosism; in fact, can any
thing be more in unison with the language of Spinosa himself, than to
say, as does Malebranche, "that the universe is only an emanation from
God; that we see every thing in God, that every thing we see is only
God; that God alone does every thing that is done; that all the action,
with every operation that takes place in nature, is God himself; in a
word, that God is every being and the only being." Is not this formally
asserting that nature herself is God? Moreover, at the same time
Malebranche assures us we see every thing in God, he pretends that it is
not yet clearly demonstrated that matter and bodies have existence; that
faith alone teaches us these mysteries, of which, without it, we should
not have any knowledge whatever. In reply, it might be a very fair
question, how the existence of the being who created matter can be
demonstrated, if the existence of this matter itself be yet a problem?
He himself acknowledges "that we can have no distinct demonstration of
the existence of any other being than of that which is necessary;" he
further adds, "that if it be closely examined, it will be seen, that it
is not even possible to know with certitude, if God be or be not truly
the creator of a material, of a sensible world." According to these
notions, it is evident, that, following up the system of Malebranche,
man has only his faith to guarantee the existence of the world; yet
faith itself supposes its existence; if it be not, however, certain that
it does exist, and the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr. Berkeley, has also held
this in doubt, how shall we be persuaded that we must believe the
oracles which have been delivered to a visionary world?

On the other hand, these notions of Malebranche completely overturns all
the theological doctrines of free agency. How can the liberty of man's
action be reconciled with the idea that it is the Divinity who is the
immediate mover of nature; who actually gives impulse to matter and
bodies, without whose immediate interference nothing takes place; who
pre-determines his creatures to every thing they do? How can it be
pretended, if this doctrine is to be accredited, that human souls have
the faculty of forming thoughts--have the power of volition--are in a
condition to move themselves--have the capacity to modify their
existence? If it he supposed with the theologians, that the conservation
of the creatures in the universe is a continued creation, must it not
appear, that being thus perpetually recreated, they are enabled to
commit evil? It will then be a self-evident fact, that, admitting the
system of Malebranche, God does every thing, and that his creatures are
no more than passive instruments in his hands. Under this idea they
could not be answerable for their sins, because they would have no means
of avoiding them. Under this notion they could neither have merit or
demerit; they would be like a sharp instrument in their own hands, which
whether it was applied to a good or to an evil purpose, it would attach
to themselves, not to the instrument: this would annihilate all
religion: it is thus that theology is continually occupied with
committing suicide.

Let us now see, if the immortal Newton, the great luminary of science,
the champion of astronomical truth, will afford us clearer notions, more
distinct ideas, more certain evidence of the existence of immaterial
substances. This great man, whose comprehensive genius unravelled
nature, whose capacious mind developed her laws, seems to have
bewildered himself, the instant he lost sight of them. A slave to the
prejudices of his infancy, he had not the courage to hold the lamp of
his own enlightened understanding to the agent theology has so
gratuitously associated with nature; he has not been able to allow that
her own peculiar powers were adequate to the production of that
beautiful phenomena, he has with such masterly talents so luminously
explained. In short, the sublime Newton himself becomes an infant when
he quits physics, when he lays aside demonstration, to lose himself in
the devious sinuosities, in the inextricable labyrinths, in the delusive
regions of theology. This is the manner in which he speaks of the

"This God," says he, "governs all, not as the soul of the world, but as
the lord and sovereign of all things. It is in consequence of his
sovereignty that he is called the Lord God, [Greek letters],
_pantokrator_, the universal emperor. Indeed the word God is relative
and relates itself with slaves; the Deity is the dominion or the
sovereignty of God, not over his own body, as those think who look upon
God as the soul of the world, but over slaves."

From this it will be seen that Newton, as well as the theologians, makes
the Divinity a pure spirit, who presides over the universe as a monarch,
as a lord paramount; that is to say, what man defines in earthly
governors, despot, absolute princes, powerful monarchs, whose
governments have no model but their own will, who exercise an unlimited
power over their subjects, transformed into slaves; whom they usually
compel to feel in a very grievous manner the weight of their authority.
But according to the ideas of Newton, the world has not existed from
eternity, the staves of God have been formed in the course of time; from
this it would be a just inference, that before the creation of the world
the god of Newton was a sovereign without subjects. Let us see if this
truly great philosopher is more in unison with himself in the subsequent
ideas which he delivers on this subject.

"The supreme God," he says, "is an eternal, infinite, and absolutely
perfect being; but however perfect a being may be, if he has no
sovereignty he is not the supreme God. The word God signifies Lord, but
every lord is not god; it is the sovereignty of the spiritual Being
which constitutes God; it is the true sovereignty which constitutes the
true God; it is the supreme sovereignty which constitutes the supreme
God; it is a false sovereignty which constitutes a false god. From true
sovereignty, it follows, that the true God is living, intelligent, and
powerful; and from his other perfections, it follows, that he is
supremely or sovereignly perfect. He is eternal, infinite, omniscient;
that is to say, he exists from eternity, and will never have an end; he
governs all, and he knows every thing that is done, or that can be done.
He is neither eternity nor infinity, but he is eternal and infinite; he
is not space or duration, but he exists and is present." The term here
used is _adest_, which appears to have been placed there to avoid saying
that God is contained in space.

In all this unintelligible series, nothing is to be found but incredible
efforts to reconcile the theological attributes, the abstract with the
human qualities, which have been ascribed to the Divinity; we see in it
negative qualities, which can no longer be suitable to man, given,
however, to the Sovereign of nature, whom he has supposed a king.
However it may be, this picture always supposes the Supreme God to have
occasion for subjects to establish his sovereignty. It makes God stand
in need of man for the exercise of his empire; without these, according
to the text, he would not be a king; he could have had no empire when
there was nothing: but if this description of Newton was just, if it
really represented the Divinity, we might be very fairly permitted to
ask, Does not this Spiritual King exercise his spiritual empire in vain,
upon refractory beings, who do not at all times do that which he is
willing they should; who are continually struggling against his power;
who spread disorder in his states? This Spiritual Monarch, who is master
of the minds, of the souls, of the wills, of the passions of his slaves,
does he leave them the freedom of revolting against him? This infinite
Monarch, who fills every thing with his immensity, who governs all, does
he also govern the man who sins; does he direct his actions; is he in
him when he offends his God? The devil, the false god, the evil
principle, hath he not, according to this, a more extensive empire than
the true God, whose projects, if we are to believe the theologians, he
is unceasingly overturning? In earthly governments the true sovereign is
generally considered to be him whose power in a state influences the
greater number of his subjects. If, then, we could suppose him to be
omnipresent, that is, present in all places, should we not say he was
the sad witness to all the outrages committed against his authority, and
we should not entertain a very exalted opinion of his power if he
permitted them to continue. This, it is true, would be arguing upon a
monarch of this world, still it would be the language held by observers.

Is the spirituality of the Divinity well supported by those who say he
fills all space, who from that instant give him extent, ascribe to him
volume, make him correspond with the various points of space? This is
the very reverse of an immaterial substance.

"God is one," continues Newton, "and he is the same for ever, and every
where, not only by his virtue alone, or by his energy, but also by his
substance." But how are we to conceive that a being who is in continual
activity, who produces all the changes which beings undergo, can always
be himself the same? What is to be understood by either this virtue or
this energy? These are relative terms, which do not present any clear,
distinct idea to our mind, except as they apply to man: what are we,
however, to understand by the divine substance? If this substance be
spiritual, that is, devoid of extent, how can there exist in it any
parts? How can it give impulse to matter, how set it in motion? How can
it even be conceived by mortals?

Nevertheless Newton informs us, "that all things are contained in him,
and are moved in him, but without reciprocity of action: God experiences
nothing by the motion of bodies; these experience no resistance whatever
by his omnipresence." It would here appear that he clothes the Divinity
with that which bears the, character of vacuum--of nothing; without
that, it would be almost impossible not to have a reciprocal action or
relation between these substances, which are either penetrated or
encompassed on all sides. It must be obvious, that in this instance our
scientific author does not distinctly understand himself.

He proceeds, "It is an incontestible truth, that God exists necessarily,
and the same necessity obliges to exist always and every where: from
whence it follows, that he is in every thing similar to itself; he is
all eyes, all ears, all brains, all arms, all feeling, all intelligence,
all action; but in a mode by no means human, by no means corporeal, and
which is totally unknown to us. In the same manner as a blind man has no
idea of colours, it is that we have no idea of the mode in which God
feels and understands." The necessary existence of the Divinity is
precisely the thing in question; it is this existence that it was
needful to have verified by proofs as clear, by evidence as distinct, by
demonstration as strong, as gravitation and attraction. One would have
hardly thought it possible the expansive capabilities of Newton would
not have compassed it. But oh, unrivalled genius! so mighty, so
powerful, so colossal, while yet you was a geometrician; so
insignificant, so weak, so inconsistent; when you became a theologian;
that is to say, when you reasoned upon that which can neither be
calculated, nor submitted to experience; how could you think of speaking
to us on a subject which, by your own confession is to you just what a
picture is to a man born blind? Wherefore quit nature, which had already
explained to you so much? Why seek in imaginary spaces those causes,
those powers, that energy, which she would have distinctly pointed out
to you, had you been willing to have consulted her with your usual
sagacity? The gigantic, the intelligent Newton, suffers himself to be
hoodwinked--to be blinded by prejudice; he has not courage to look a
question fairly in the face, when that question involves notions which
habit has rendered sacred to him; he turns his eyes from truth, he casts
behind him his experience, he lulls to sleep his reason, when it becomes
necessary to probe opinions full of contradictions, yet fraught with the
best interests of humanity.

Let us, however, continue to examine how far the most transcendent
genius is capable of leading himself astray, when once he abandons
experience, when once he chains up his reason, when once he suffers
himself to be guided by his imagination.

"God," continues the father of modern philosophy, "is totally destitute
of body and of corporeal figure; here is the reason why he cannot be
either seen, touched, or understood; and ought not to be adored under
any corporeal form." What idea, however, can be formed of a being who is
resembled by nothing of which we have any knowledge? What are the
relations that can be supposed to exist between such very dissimilar
beings? When man renders this being his adoration, does he not, in fact,
in despite of himself, make him a being similar to his own species; does
he not suppose that, like himself, he is sensible to homage--to be won
by presents--gained by flattery; in short, he is treated like a king of
the earth, who exacts the respect, demands the fealty, requires the
obedience of all who are submitted to him. Newton adds, "we have ideas
of his attributes, but we do not know that it is any one substance; we
only see the figures and the colours of bodies; we only hear sounds; we
only touch the exterior surfaces; we only scent odours; we only taste
flavours: no one of our senses, no one of our reflections, can shew us
the intimate nature of substances: we have still less ideas of God."

If we have an idea of the attributes of God, it is only because we
clothe him with those which belong to ourselves; which we never do more
than aggrandize, which we only augment or exaggerate; we then mistake
them for those qualities with which we were at first acquainted. If in
all those substances which are pervious to our senses, we only know them
by the effects they produce on us, after which we assign them qualities,
at least these qualities are something tangible, they give birth to
clear and distinct ideas. This superficial knowledge, however slender it
may be, with which our senses furnish us, is the only one we can
possibly have; constituted as we are, we find ourselves under the
necessity of resting contented with it, and we discover that it is
sufficient for our wants; but we have not even the most superficial idea
of immateriality, or a substance distinguished from all those with which
we have the slightest acquaintance. Nevertheless, we hear men hourly
reasoning upon it, disputing about its properties, advancing its
faculties, as if they had the most demonstrable evidence of the fact;
tearing each other in pieces, because the one does not readily admit
what the other asserts, upon a subject which no man is competent to

Our author goes on "We only have a knowledge of God by his attributes,
by his properties, by the excellent and wise arrangement which he has
given to all things, and by their FINAL CAUSES: we admire him in
consequence of his perfections." I repeat, that we have no real
knowledge of the Divinity; that we borrow his attributes from ourselves;
but it is evident these cannot be suitable to the Universal Being, who
neither can have the same nature nor the same properties as particular
beings; it is nevertheless after ourselves that we assign him
intelligence, wisdom, perfection, in subtracting from them what we call
defects. As to the order, or the arrangement of the universe, man finds
it excellent, esteems it the perfection of wisdom, as long as it is
favorable to his species; or when the causes which are co-existent with
himself do not disturb his own peculiar existence; otherwise he is apt
to complain of confusion, and final causes vanish: he then attributes to
an immutable God, motives equally borrowed from his own peculiar mode of
action, for deranging the beautiful order he so much admires in the
universe. Thus it is always in himself, that is, in his own individual
mode of feeling, that he draws up the ideas of the order, the wisdom,
the excellence, the perfection which he ascribes to the Deity; whilst
the good as well as the evil which take place in the world, are the
necessary consequence of the essence of things; of the general,
immutable laws of nature; in short, of the gravitation, of the repulsion
of matter; of those unchangeable laws of motion, which Newton himself
has so ably thrown into light; but which he has by a strange fatuity
forborne to apply when the question was concerning the cause of these
phenomena, which prejudice has refused to the capabilities of nature. He
goes on, "We revere, and we adore God, on account of his sovereignty: we
worship him like his slaves; a God destitute of sovereignty, of
providence, and of final causes, would be no more than nature and
destiny." It is true that superstition enjoins man to adore its gods
like ignorant slaves, who tremble under a master whom they know not; he
certainly prays to them on all occasions, sometimes requesting nothing
less than an entire change in the essence of things, to gratify his
capricious desires, and it is perhaps well for him they are not
competent to grant his request: in the origin, as we have shewn, these
gods were nothing more than nature acting by necessary laws, clothed
under a variety of fables; or necessity personified under a multitude of
names. However this may be, we do not believe that true religion, that
sterling worship which renders man grateful, whilst it exalts the
majesty of the Divinity, requires any such meanness from man that he
should act like a slave; he is rather expected to sit down to the
banquet prepared for him, with all the dignity of an invited guest;
under the cheering consciousness of a welcome that is never accorded to
slaves; nothing is required at his hands, but that he should conduct
himself temperately in the banquetting-house; that he should be grateful
for the good cheer he receives; that he should have virtue; (which we
have already sufficiently explained is to render himself useful, by
making others happy); that he should not by pertinaciously setting up
whimsical opinions, and insisting on their adoption by his neighbour,
disturb the harmony of the feast; that he should be sufficiently
intelligent to know when he is really felicitous, and not seek to put
down the gaiety of his fellow guests; but that he should rise from the
board satisfied with himself, contented with others; in short, to
comprise the whole in a trite axiom of one of the Greek philosophers, he
should learn the invaluable secret, "to _bear_ and _forbear_."

But to proceed. Newton tells us, "that from a physical and blind
necessity, which should preside every where, and be always the same,
there could not emanate any variety in the beings; the diversity which
we behold, could only have its origin in the ideas and in the will of a
being which exists necessarily;" but wherefore should not this diversity
spring out of natural causes, from matter acting upon matter; the action
of which either attracts and combines various yet analogous elements, or
else separates beings by the intervention of those substances which have
not a disposition to unite? Is not bread the result of the combination
of flour, yeast and water? As for the blind necessity, as it is
elsewhere said, we must acknowledge it is that of which we are ignorant,
either of its properties or its energies; of which being blind ourselves
we have no knowledge of its mode of action. Philosophers explain all the
phenomena that occur by the properties of matter; and though they feel
the want of a more intimate acquaintance with natural causes, they do
not therefore the less believe them deducible from these properties or
these causes. Are, therefore, the philosophers atheists, because they do
not reply, it is God who is the author of these effects? Is the
industrious workman, who makes gunpowder, to be challenged as an
atheist, because he says the terrible effects of this destructive
material, which inspired the native Americans with such awe, which
raised in their winds such wonder, are to be ascribed to the junction of
the apparently harmless substances of nitre, charcoal and sulpher, set
in activity by the accession of trivial scintillations, produced from
the collision of steel with flint, merely because some bigoted _Priest
of the Sun_, who is ignorant of the composition, chooses to think it is
not possible such a striking phenomenon could be the work of any thing
short of the secret agents, whom he has himself appointed to govern the

"It is allegorically said that God sees, hears, speaks, smiles, loves,
hates, desires, gives, receives, rejoices, grows angry, fights, makes,
or fashions, &c. because all that is said of God, is borrowed from the
conduct of man, by an imperfect analogy." Man has not been able to act
otherwise, for want of being acquainted with nature and her eternal
course: whenever he has imagined a peculiar energy which he has not been
able to fathom, he has given it the name of God; and he has then made
him act upon the self-same principles, as he himself would adopt,
according to which he would act if he was the master. It is from this
proneness to _Theanthropy_, that has flowed all those absurd, and
frequently dangerous ideas, upon which are founded the superstitions of
the world; who all adore in their gods either natural causes of which
they are ignorant, or else powerful mortals of whose malice they stand
in awe. The sequel will shew the fatal effects that have resulted to
mankind from the absurd ideas they have very frequently formed to
themselves of the Divinity; that nothing could he more degrading to him,
more injurious to themselves, than the idea of comparing him to an
absolute sovereign, to a despot, to a tyrant. For the present let us
continue to examine the proofs offered in support of their various

It is unceasingly repeated that the regular action, the invariable
order, which reigns in the universe, the benefits heaped upon mortals,
announce a wisdom, an intelligence, a goodness, which we cannot refuse
to acknowledge, in the cause which produces these marvellous effects. To
this we must reply, that it is unquestionably true that not only these
things, but all the phenomena he beholds, indicate the existence of
something gifted very superiorly to erring man; the great question,
however, is one that perhaps will never be solved, what is this being?
Is this question answered by heaping together the estimable qualities of
man? Speaking with relation to ourselves, which is all that the
theologian really does, although in such numerous regions he pretends to
do a great deal more, we can apply the terms goodness, wisdom,
intelligence, the best with which we are acquainted, to this being for
the want of having those that may be appropriate; but I maintain, this
does not, in point of fact, afford us one single idea of the _Great
Cause of causes_; we admire his works; and knowing that what we approve
highly in our own species, we attribute to their being wise, we say the
Divinity displays wisdom. So far it is well; but this, after all, is a
human quality. If we consult experience, we shall presently be convinced
that our wisdom does not bear the least affinity to the actions
attributed to the Divinity. To get at this a little closer, we must
endeavour to find out what we do not call wisdom in man; this will help
us to form an estimate, how very incompetent we are to describe the
qualities of a being that differs so very materially from ourselves. We
most certainly should not call him a wise man, who having built a
beautiful residence, should himself set it on fire; and thus destroy
what he had laboured so much to bring to perfection: yet this happens
every day in nature, without its being in any manner a warrantry for us
to charge her with folly. If therefore we were to form our judgments
after our own puny ideas of wisdom, what should we say? Why, in point of
fact, just what the man does, who, thinking he has had too much rain,
implores fine weather? Which, properly translated, is neither more nor
less than giving the Divinity to understand he best knows what is proper
for himself. The just, the only fair inference to be drawn from this,
is, that we positively know nothing about the matter; that those who
pretend they do, would, if it was upon any other subject, he suspected
of having an unsound mind. We do not mean to insist that we are in the
right, but we mean to aver that the object of this work is not so much
either to build up new systems, or to put down old ones, as by shewing
man the inconclusiveness of his reasonings upon matters not accessible
to his comprehension--to induce him to be more tolerant to his
neighbour--to invite him to be less rancorous against those who do not
see with his eyes--to hold forth to him motives for forbearance, against
those whose system of faith may not exactly harmonize with his own--to
render him less ferocious in support of opinions, which, if he will but
discard his prejudices, he may find not so solidly bottomed as he
imagines. All we know is scarcely more than that the motion we witness
in the universe is the necessary consequence of the laws of matter; that
the uniformity of this motion is evidence of their immutability; that it
is not too much to say it cannot cease to act in the manner it does, as
long as the same causes operate, governed by the same circumstances. We
evidently see that motion, however regular in our mind, that order,
however beautiful to our admiring optics, yields to what we term
disorder, to that which we designate frightful confusion, as soon as new
causes, not analogous to the preceding, either disturb or suspend their
action. We further know that a better knowledge of nature, the
consequence of time, the result of patient, laborious, physical
researches, with the comparison of facts and the application of
experience, has enabled man in many instances to divert from himself the
evil effects of inevitable causes, which anterior to these discoveries
overwhelmed his unhappy progenitors with ruin. How far these salutary
developements are to be carried by industry, what may be achieved by
honesty, what light is to be gathered from the recession of prejudice,
the wisest among men is not competent to decide. Certain it is, that
phenomena which for ages were supposed to denounce the anger of the
Deity against mankind, are now well understood to be common effects of
natural causes.

Order, as we have elsewhere shewn, is only the effects which result to
ourselves from a series of motion; there cannot be any disorder
relatively to the great whole; in which all that takes place is
necessary; in which every thing is determined by laws which nothing can
change. The order of nature may he damaged or destroyed relatively to
ourselves, but it is never contradicted relatively to herself, since she
cannot act otherwise than she does: if we attribute to her the evils we
sustain, we are equally obliged to acknowledge we owe to her the good we

It in said, that animals furnish a convincing proof of the powerful
cause of their existence; that the admirable harmony of their parts, the
mutual assistance they lend each other, the regularity with which they
fulfill their functions, the preservation of these parts, the
conservation of such complicated wholes, announce a workman who unites
wisdom with power; in short, whole tracts of anatomy and botany have
been copied to prove nothing more than that these things exist, for of
the power that produced them there cannot remain a doubt. We shall never
learn more from these erudite tracts, save that there exists in nature
certain elements with an aptitude to attraction; a disposition to unite,
suitable to form wholes, to induce combinations capable of producing
very striking effects. To be surprised that the brain, the heart, the
arteries, the veins, the eyes, the ears of an animal, act as we see
them--that the roots of plants attract juices, or that trees produce
fruit, is to be surprised that a tree, a plant, or an animal exists at
all. These beings would not exist, or would no longer be that which we
know they are, if they ceased to act as they do: this is what happens
when they die. If the formation, the combination, the modes of action,
variously possessed by these beings, if their conservation for a season,
followed by their destruction or dissolution, prove any thing, it is the
immutability of those laws which operate in nature: we cannot doubt the
power of nature; she produces all the animals we behold, by the
combination, of matter, continually in motion; the harmony that subsists
between the component parts of these beings, is a consequence of the
necessary laws of their nature, and of that which results from their
combination. As soon as this accord ceases, the animal is necessarily
destroyed: from this we must conclude that every mutation in nature is
necessary; is only a consequence of its laws; that it could not be
otherwise than it is, under the circumstances in which it is placed.

Man, who looks upon himself as the _chef d'oeuvre_, furnishes more than
any other production a proof of the immutability of the laws of nature:
in this sensible, intelligent, thinking being, whose vanity leads him to
believe himself the sole object of the divine predilection, who forms
his God after his own peculiar model, we see only a more inconstant, a
more brittle machine; one more subject to be deranged by its extreme
complication, than the grosser beings: beasts destitute of our
knowledge, plants that vegetate, stones devoid of feeling, are in many
respects beings more highly favored than man: they are at least exempted
from the sorrows of the mind--from the torments of reflection--from that
devouring, chagrin to which he is so frequently a prey. Who is he who
would not be a plant or a stone, every time reminiscence forces upon his
imagination the irreparable loss of a beloved object? Would it not be
better to be an inanimate mass, than a restless, turbulent,
superstitious being, who does nothing but tremble under the imaginary
displeasure of beings of his own creation; who to support his own gloomy
opinions, immolates his fellow creatures at the shrine of his idol; who
ravages the country, and deluges the earth with the blood of those who
happen to differ from him on a speculative point of an unintelligible
creed? Beings destitute of life, bereft of feeling, without memory, not
having the faculties of thought, at least are not afflicted by the idea
of either the past, the present, or the future; they do not at any rate
believe themselves in danger of becoming eternally unhappy, because they
way have reasoned badly; or because they happened to be born in a land
where truth has never yet shed its refulgent beams on the darkened mind
of perplexed mortals.

Let it not then be said that we cannot have an idea of a work, without
also having an idea of the workman, as distinguished from his work: the
savage, when he first beheld the terrible operation of gunpowder, did
not form the most distant idea that it was the work of a man like
himself. Nature is not to be contemplated as a work of this kind; she is
self-existent. In her bosom every thing is produced: she is an immense
elaboratory, provided with materials, who makes the instruments of which
she avails herself in her operations. All her works are the effects of
her own energies; of those agents which she herself produces; of those
immutable laws by which she sets every thing in activity. Eternal,
indestructible elements, ever in motion, combine themselves variously,
and thus give birth to all beings, to all the phenomena which fill the
weak eyes of erring mortals with wonder and dismay; to all the effects,
whether good or bad, of which man experiences the influence; to all the
vicissitudes he undergoes, from the moment of his birth until that of
his death; to order and to confusion, which he never discriminates but
by the various modes in which he is affected: in short, to all those
miraculous spectacles with which he occupies his meditation--upon which
he exercises his reason--which frequently spread consternation over the
surface of the earth. These elements need nothing when circumstances
favour their junction, save their own peculiar properties, whether
individual or united, with the motion that is essential to them, to
produce all those phenomena which powerfully striking the senses of
mankind, either fill him with admiration, or stagger him with alarm.

But supposing for a moment that it was impossible to conceive the work,
without also conceiving the workman, who watches over his work, where
must we place this workman? Shall it be interior or exterior to his
production? Is he matter and motion, or is he only space or the vacuum?
In all these cases either he would be nothing, or he would be contained
in nature: as nature contains only matter and motion, it must be
concluded that the agent who moves it is material; that he is corporeal;
if this agent be exterior to nature, then we can no longer form any idea
of the place which he occupieth: neither can we better conceive an
immaterial being; nor the mode in which a spirit without extent can act
upon matter from which it is separated. These unknown spaces, which
imagination has placed beyond the visible world, can have no existence
for a being, who with difficulty sees down to his feet; he cannot paint
to his mind any image of the power which inhabit them; but if he is
compelled to form some kind of a picture, he must combine at random the
fantastical colours which he is ever obliged to draw from the world he
inhabits: in this case he will really do no more than reproduce in idea,
part or parcels of that which he has actually seen; he will form a whole
which perhaps has no existence in nature, but which it will be in vain
he strives to distinguish from her; to place out of her bosom. When he
shall be ingenuous with himself, When he shall be no longer willing to
delude others, he will be obliged to acknowledge, that the portrait he
has painted, although in its combination it resembles nothing in the
universe, is nevertheless in all its constituent members an exact
delineation of that which nature presents to our view. Hobbes in his
_Leviathan_ says, "The universe, the whole mass of things, is corporeal,
that is to say, body; and hath the dimensions of magnitude, namely,
length, breadth, and depth: also every part of body is likewise body,
and hath the like dimensions; and consequently every part of the
universe is body; and that which is not body, is no part of the
universe; and because the universe is all, that which is no part of it
is nothing; and consequently no where: nor does it follow from hence,
that spirits are nothing, for they have dimensions, and are therefore
really bodies; though that name in common speech be given to such bodies
only as are visible, or palpable, that is, that have some degree of
opacity: but for spirits they call them incorporeal; which is a name of
more honour, and may therefore with more piety be attributed to God
himself, in whom we consider not what attribute expresseth best his
nature, which is incomprehensible; but what best expresseth our desire
to honour him."

It will be insisted that if a statue or a watch were shewn to a savage,
who had never before seen either, he would not be able to prevent
himself from acknowledging that these things were the works of some
intelligent agent of greater ability, possessing more industry than
himself: it will be concluded from thence, that we are in like manner
obliged to acknowledge that the universe, that man, that the various
phenomena, are the works of an agent, whose intelligence is more
comprehensive, whose power far surpasses our own. Granted: who has ever
doubted it? the proposition is self-evident; it cannot admit of even a
cavil. Nevertheless we reply, in the _first place_, that it is not to be
doubted that nature is extremely powerful; diligently industrious: we
admire her activity every time we are surprised by the extent, every
time we contemplate the variety, every time we behold those complicated
effects which are displayed in her works; or whenever we take the pains
to meditate upon them: nevertheless, she is not really more industrious
in one of her works than she is in another; she is not fathomed with
more ease in those we call her most contemptible productions, than she
is in her most sublime efforts: we no more understand how she has been
capable of producing a stone or a metal, than the means by which she
organized a head like that of the illustrious Newton. We call that man
industrious who can accomplish things which we cannot; nature is
competent to every thing: as soon therefore as a thing exists, it is a
proof she has been capable of producing it: but it is never more than
relatively to ourselves that we judge beings to be industrious: we then
compare them to ourselves; and as we enjoy a quality which we call
intelligence, by the assistance of which we accomplish things, by which
we display our diligence, we naturally conclude from it, that those
works which most astonish us, do not belong to her, but are to be
ascribed to an intelligent being like ourselves, but in whom we make the
intelligence commensurate with the astonishment these phenomena excite
in us; that is to say, in other words, to our own peculiar ignorance,
and the weakness incident to our nature.

In the _second place_, we must observe, that the savage, to whom either
the statue or the watch is brought, will or will not have ideas of human
industry: if he has ideas of it, he will feel that this watch or this
statue, way be the work of a being of his own species, enjoying
faculties of which he is himself deficient: if he has no idea of it, if
he has no comprehension of the resources of human art, when he beholds
the spontaneous motion of the watch, he will he impressed with the
belief that it is an animal, which cannot be the work of man. Multiplied
experience confirms this mode of thinking which is ascribed to the
savage. The Peruvians mistook the Spaniards for gods, because they made
use of gunpowder, rode on horseback, and came in vessels which sailed
quite alone. The inhabitants of the island of Tenian being ignorant of
fire before the arrival of Europeans, the first time they saw it,
conceived it to be an animal who devoured the wood. Thus it is, that the
savage, in the same manner as many great and learned men, who believe
themselves much more acute, will attribute the strange effects that
strike his organs, to a genius or to a spirit; that is to say, to an
unknown power; to whom he will ascribe capabilities of which he believes
the beings of his own species are entirely destitute: by this he will
prove nothing, except that he is himself ignorant of what man is capable
of producing. It is thus that a raw unpolished people raise their eyes
to heaven, every time they witness some unusual phenomenon. It is thus
that the people denominate all those strange effects, with the natural
causes of which they are ignorant, miraculous, supernatural, divine; but
these are not by reasonable persons therefore considered proofs of what
they assert: as the multitude are generally unacquainted with the cause
of any thing, every object becomes a miracle in their eyes; at least
they imagine God is the immediate cause of the good they enjoy--of the
evil they suffer. In short, it is thus that the theologians themselves
solve every difficulty that starts in their road; they ascribe to God
all those phenomena, of the causes of which either they are themselves
ignorant, or else unwilling that man should be acquainted with the

In the _third place_, the savage, in opening the watch, and examining
its parts, will perhaps feel, that this machinery announces a work which
can only be the result of human labour. He will perhaps perceive, that
they very obviously differ from the immediate productions of nature,
whom he has not observed to produce wheels made of polished metal. He
will further notice, perhaps, that these parts when separated, no longer
act as they did when they were combined; that the motion he so much
admired, ceases when their union is broken. After these observations, he
will attribute the watch to the ingenuity of man; that is to say, to a
being like himself, of whom he has some ideas, but whom he judges
capable to construct machines to which he is himself utterly
incompetent. In short, he will ascribe the honour of his watch to a
being known to him in some respects, provided with faculties very far
superior to his own; but he will be at an immense distance from the
belief, that this material work, whose ingenuity pleases him so much,
can be the effect of an immaterial cause; or of an agent destitute of
organs, without extent; whose action upon material beings cannot be
within, the sphere of his comprehension. Nevertheless, man, when he
cannot embrace the causes of things, does not scruple to insist that
they are impossible to be the production of nature, although he is
entirely ignorant how far the powers of this nature extend; to what her
capabilities are equal. In viewing the world, we must acknowledge
material causes for many of those phenomena which take place in it;
those who study nature are continually adding fresh discoveries to this
list of physical causes; science, as she enriches the intellectual
stores of human enjoyment, every day throws a broader light on the
energies of nature, which _prejudice_, aided by its almost inseparable
companion, _ignorance_, would for ever bind down in the fetters of

Let us not, however, he told, that pursuing this hypothesis, we
attribute every thing to a blind cause--to the fortuitous concurrence of
atoms--to chance. Those only are called blind causes of which we know
not either the combination, the laws, or the power. Those effects are
called fortuitous, with whose causes man is unacquainted; to which his
experience affords him no clue; which his ignorance prevents him from
foreseeing. All those effects, of which he does not see the necessary
connection with their causes, he attributes to chance. Nature is not a
blind cause; she never acts by chance; nothing that she does would ever
be considered fortuitous, by him who should understand her mode of
action--who had a knowledge of her resources--who was intelligent in her
ways. Every thing that she produces is strictly necessary--is never more
than a consequence of her eternal, immutable laws; all is connected in
her by invisible bonds; every effect we witness flows necessarily from
its cause, whether we are in a condition to fathom it, or whether we are
obliged to let it remain hidden from our view. It is very possible there
should be ignorance on our part; but the words spirit, intelligence,
will not remedy this ignorance; they will rather redouble it, by
arresting our research; by preventing us from conquering those
impediments which obstruct us in probing the natural causes of the
effects, with which our visual faculties bring us acquainted.

This may serve for an answer to the clamour of those who raise perpetual
objections to the partizans of nature, by unceasingly accusing them with
attributing every thing to chance. Chance is a word devoid of sense,
which furnishes no substantive idea; at least it indicates only the
ignorance of its employers. Nevertheless, we are triumphantly told, it
is reiterated continually, that a regular work cannot be ascribed to the
concurrence of chance. Never, we are informed, will it be possible to
arrive at the formation of a poem such as the Iliad, by means of letters
thrown together promiscuously or combined at random. We agree to it
without hesitation; but, ingenuously, are the letters which compose a
poem thrown with the hand in the manner of dice? It would avail as much
to say, we could not pronounce a discourse with the feet. It is nature,
who combines according to necessary laws, under given circumstances, a
head organized in a mode suitable to bring forth a poem: it is nature
who assembles the elements, which furnish man with a brain competent to
give birth to such a work: it is nature, who, through the medium of the
imagination, by means of the passions, in consequence of the temperament
which she bestows upon man, capacitates him to produce such a
masterpiece of fancy; such a never-fading effort of the mind: it is his
brain modified in a certain manner, crowded with ideas, decorated with
images, made fruitful by circumstances, that alone can become the matrix
in which a poem can be conceived--in which the matter of it can be
digested: this is the only womb whose activity could usher to an
admiring world, the sublime stanzas which develope the story of the
unfortunate Priam, and immortalize their author. A head organized like
that of Homer, furnished with the same vigour, glowing with the same
vivid imagination, enriched with the same erudition, placed under the
same circumstances, would necessarily, and not by chance, produce the
poem of the Iliad; at least, unless it be denied that causes similar in
every thing must produce effects perfectly identical. We should without
doubt be surprised, if there were in a dice-box a hundred thousand dice,
to see a hundred thousand sixes follow in succession; but if these dice
were all cogged or loaded, our surprise would cease: the particles of
matter may be compared to cogged dice, that is to say, always producing
certain determinate effects under certain given circumstances; these
particles being essentially varied in themselves, countless in their
combinations, they are cogged in myriads of different modes. The head of
Homer, or of Virgil, was no more than an assemblage of particles,
possessing peculiar properties; or if they will, of dice cogged by
nature; that is to say, of beings so combined, of matter so wrought, as
to produce the beautiful poems of the Iliad or the Aeneid. As much way
be said of all other productions: indeed, what are men themselves but
cogged dice--machines into which nature has infused the bias requisite
to produce effects of a certain description? A man of genius produces a
good work, in the same manner as a tree of a good species, placed in a
prolific soil, cultivated with care, grafted with judgment, produces
excellent fruit.

Then is it not either knavery or puerility, to talk of composing a work
by scattering letters with the hand; by promiscuously mingling
characters; or gathering together by chance, that which can only result
from a human brain, with a peculiar organization, modified after a
certain manner? The principle of human generation does not develope
itself by chance; it cannot be nourished with effect, expanded into
life, but in the womb of a woman: a confused heap of characters, a
jumble of symbols, is nothing more than an assemblage of signs, whose
proper arrangement is adequate to paint human ideas; but in order that
these ideas may be correctly delineated, it is previously requisite that
they should have been conceived, combined, nourished, connected, and
developed in the brain of a poet; where circumstances make them
fructify, mature them, and bring them forth in perfection, by reason of
the fecundity, generated by the genial warmth and the peculiar energy of
the matrix, in which these intellectual seeds shall have been placed.
Ideas in combining, expanding, connecting, and associating themselves,
form a whole, like all the other bodies of nature: this whole affords us
pleasure, becomes a source of enjoyment, when it gives birth to
agreeable sensations in the mind; when it offers to our examination
pictures calculated to move us in a lively manner. It is thus that the
history of the Trojan war, as digested in the head of Homer, ushered
into the world with all the fascinating harmony of numbers peculiar to
himself, has the power of giving a pleasurable impulse to heads, who by
their analogy with that of this incomparable Grecian, are in a capacity
to feel its beauties.

From this it will be obvious, that nothing can be produced by chance;
that no effect can exist without an adequate cause for its existence;
that the one must ever be commensurate with the other. All the works of
nature grow out of the uniform action of invariable laws, whether our
mind can with facility follow the concatenation of the successive causes
which operate; or whether, as in her more complicated productions, we
find ourselves in the impossibility of distinguishing the various
springs which she sets in motion to give birth to her phenomena. To
nature, the difficulty is not more to produce a great poet, capable of
writing an admirable poem, than to form a glittering stone or a shining
metal which gravitates towards a centre. The mode she adopts to give
birth to these various beings, is equally unknown to us, when we have
not meditated upon it; frequently the most sedulous attention, the most
patient investigation affords us no information; sometimes, however, the
unwearied industry of the philosopher is rewarded, by throwing into
light the most mysterious operations. Thus the keen penetration of a
Newton, aided by uncommon diligence, developed the starry system, which,
for so many thousand years, had eluded the research of all the
astronomers by whom he was preceded. Thus the sagacity of a Harvey
giving vigour to his application, brought out of the obscurity in which
for almost countless centuries it had been buried, the true course
pursued by the sanguinary fluid, when circulating through the veins and
arteries of man, giving activity to his machine, diffusing life through
his system, and enabling him to perform those actions which so
frequently strike an astonished world with wonder and regret. Thus
Gallileo, by a quickness of perception, a depth of reasoning peculiar to
himself, held up to an admiring world, the actual form and situation of
the planet we inhabit; which until then had escaped the observation of
the most profound geniuses--the most subtle metaphysicians--the whole
host of priests; which when first promulgated was considered so
extraordinary, so contradictory to all the then received opinions,
either sacred or profane, that he was ranked as an atheist, as an
impious blasphemer, to hold communion with whom, would secure to the
communers a place in the regions of everlasting torment; in short, it
was held an heresy of such an indelible dye, that notwithstanding the
infallibility of his sacred function, Pope Gregory, who then filled the
papal chair, excommunicated all those who had the temerity to accredit
so abominable a doctrine.

Man is born by the necessary concurrence of those elements suitable to
his construction; he increases in bulk, corroborates his system, expands
his powers, in the same manner as a plant or a stone; which as well as
himself, are augmented in their volume, invigorated in their
capabilities, by the addition of homogeneous matter, that exists within
the sphere of their attraction. Man feels, thinks, receives ideas, acts
after a certain manner, that is to say, according to his organic
structure, which is peculiar to himself; that renders him susceptible of
modifications, of which the stone and the plant are utterly incapable.
On the other hand, the organization of these beings is of a nature to
enable them to receive other modifications, which man is not more
capacitated to experience, than the stone or the plant are those which
constitute him what he is. In consequence of this peculiar arrangement,
the man of genius produces works of merit; the plant when it is healthy
yields delicious fruits the stone when it is placed in a suitable matrix
possesses a glittering brilliance which dazzles the eyes of mortals;
each in their sphere of action both surprise and delight us; because we
feel that they excite in us sensations, that harmonize with what we call
order; in consequence of the pleasure they infuse, by the rarity, by the
magnitude, and by the variety of the effects which they occasion us to
experience. Nevertheless, that which is found most admirable in the
productions of nature, that which is most esteemed in the actions of
man, most highly valued in animals, most sought after in vegetation,
most in request among fossils, is never more than the natural effects of
the different particles of matter, diversely arranged, variously
combined, submitted to numerous modifications; from matter thus united
result organs, brains, temperament, taste, talents, all the multifarious
properties, all the multitudinous qualities, which discriminate the
beings whose multiplied activity make up the sum of what is designated
animated nature.

Nature then produces nothing but what is necessary; it is not by
fortuitous combinations, by chance throws, that she exhibits to our view
the beings we behold; all her throws are sure, all the causes she
employs have infallibly their effects. Whenever she gives birth to
extraordinary, marvellous, rare beings, it is, that the requisite order
of things the concurrence of the necessary productive causes, happens
but seldom. As soon as those beings exist, they are to be ascribed to
nature, equally with the most familiar of her productions; to nature
every thing is equally possible, equally facile, when she assembles
together the instruments or the causes necessary to act. Thus it seems
presumption in man to set limits to the powers of nature, which he so
very imperfectly understands. The combinations, or if they will, the
throws that she makes in an eternity of existence, can easily produce
all the beings that have existed: her eternal march must necessarily
bring forth, again and again, the most astonishing circumstances; the
most rare occurrences; those most calculated to rouse the wonder, to
elicit the admiration of beings, who are only in a condition to give
them a momentary consideration; who can get nothing more than a glimpse,
without ever having either the leisure or the means to search into
causes, which lie hid from their weak eyes, in the depths of Cimmerian
obscurity. Countless throws during eternity, with elements and
combinations varied almost to infinity, quite with relation to man,
suffice to produce every thing of which he has a knowledge, with
multitudes of other effects, of which he will never have the least

Thus, we cannot too often repeat to the metaphysicians, to the
supporters of immateriality, to the inconsistent theologians, who
commonly ascribe to their adversaries the most ridiculous opinions, in
order to obtain an easy, short-lived triumph in the prejudiced eyes of
the multitude; or in the stagnant minds of those who never examine
deeply; that chance is nothing but a word, as well as many other words,
imagined solely to cover the ignorance of those to whom the course of
nature is inexplicable--to shield the idleness of others who are too
slothful to seek into the properties of acting causes. It is not chance
that has produced the universe, it is self-existent; nature exists
necessarily from all eternity: she is omnipotent because every thing is
produced by her energies; she is omnipresent, because she fills all
space; she is omniscient, because every thing can only be what it
actually is; she is immovable, because as a whole she cannot be
displaced; she is immutable, because her essence cannot change, although
her forms may vary; she is infinite, because she cannot have any bounds;
she is all perfect, because she contains every thing: in short, she has
all the abstract qualities of the metaphysician, all the moral faculties
of the theologian, without involving any contradiction, since that which
is the assemblage of all, must of necessity contain the properties of

However concealed may be her ways, the existence of nature is
indubitable; her mode of action is in some respects known to us.
Experience amply demonstrates we might, if we were more industrious,
become better acquainted with her secrets; but with an immaterial
substance, with a pure spirit, the mind of man can never become
familiar: he has no means by which he can picture to himself this
incomprehensible, this inconceivable quality: in despite therefore of
the roundness of assertion adopted by the theologian, notwithstanding
all the subtilties of the metaphysician, it will always be for man,
while he remains such as he now is, in the language of Doctor Samuel
Clarke, that, _of which nothing can with truth be affirmed_.


_Of Pantheism; or of the Natural Ideas of the Divinity._

The false principle that matter is not self-existent; that by its nature
it is in an impossibility to move itself; consequently incompetent to
the production of those striking phenomena which arrest our wondering
eyes in the wide expanse of the universe; it will be obvious, to all who
seriously attend to what has preceded, is the origin of the proofs upon
which theology rests the existence of immateriality. After these
suppositions, as gratuitous as they are erroneous, the fallacy of which
we have exposed elsewhere, it has been believed that matter did not
always exist, but that its existence, as well as its motion, is a
production of time; due to a cause distinguished from itself; to an
unknown agent to whom it is subordinate. As man finds in his own species
a quality which he calls intelligence, which presides over all his
actions, by the aid of which he arrives at the end he proposes to
himself; he has clothed this invisible agent with this quality, which he
has extended beyond the limits of his own conception: be magnified it
thus, because, having made him the author of effects of which he found
himself incapable, he did not conceive it possible that the intelligence
he himself possessed, unless it was prodigiously amplified, would be
sufficient to account for those productions, to which his erring
judgment led him to conclude the natural energy of physical causes were
not adequate.

As this agent was invisible, as his mode of action was inconceivable, he
made him a spirit, a word that really means nothing more than that he is
ignorant of his essence, or that he acts like the breath of which he
cannot trace the motion. Thus, in speaking of spirituality, he
designated an occult quality, which he deemed suitable to a concealed
being, whose mode of action was always imperceptible to the senses. It
would appear, however, that originally the word spirit was not meant to
designate immateriality; but a matter of a more subtile nature than that
which acted coarsely on the organs: still of a nature capable of
penetrating the grosser matter--of communicating to it motion--of
instilling into it active life--of giving birth to those combinations--
of imparting to them those modifications, which his organic structure
rendered him competent to discover. Such was, as has been shewn, that
all-powerful Jupiter, who in the theology of the ancients, was
originally destined to represent the etherial, subtile matter that
penetrates, vivifies, and gives activity to all the bodies of which
nature is the common assemblage.

It would be grossly deceiving ourselves to believe that the idea of
spirituality, such as the subtilty of dreaming metaphysicians present it
in these days, was that which offered itself to our forefathers in the
early stages of the human mind. This immateriality, which excludes all
analogy with any thing but itself--which bears no resemblance to any
thing of which man is capacitated to have a knowledge, was, as we have
already observed, the slow, the tardy fruit of his imagination, after he
had quitted experience, and renounced his reason. Men reared in
luxurious leisure, unceasingly meditating, without the assistance of
those natural helps with which attentive observation would have
furnished them, by degrees arrived at the formation of this
incomprehensible quality, which is so fugitive, that although man has
been compelled to reverence it, to accredit it against all the evidence
of his senses, they have never yet been enabled to give any other
explanation of its nature, than by using a term to which it is
impossible to attach any intelligible idea. Seraphis said, with tears in
his eyes, "that in making him adopt the opinion of spirituality, they
had deprived him of his God." Many fathers of the church have given a
human form to the Divinity, and treated all those as heretics who made
him spiritual. Thus by dint of reasoning, by force of subtilizing, the
word spirit no longer presents any one image upon which the mind can fix
itself; when they are desirous to speak of it, it becomes impossible to
understand them, seeing that each visionary paints it after his own
manner; and in the portrait he forms, consults only his own temperament,
follows nothing but his own imagination, adopts nothing but his own
peculiar reveries; the only point in which they are at all in unison, is
in assigning to it inconceivable qualities, which they naturally enough
believe are best suited to the incomprehensible beings they have
delineated: from the incompatible heap of these qualities, generally
resulted a whole, whose existence they thus rendered impossible. In
short, this word, which has occupied the research of so many learned and
intelligent men; which is considered of such importance to mankind, has
been, in consequence of theological reveries, always fluctuating: these
never bearing the least resemblance to each other, it has become
destitute of any fixed sense, a mere sound, to which each who echoes it
affixes his own peculiar ideas, which are never in harmony with those of
his neighbour; which indeed are not even steady in himself, but like the
camelion, assume the colour of every differing circumstance. This
unintelligible word has been substituted for the more intelligible one
of matter; man, when clothed with power, has entertained the most
rancorous antipathies, pursued the most barbarous persecutions, against
those who have not been enabled to contemplate this changeable idea
under the same point of view with himself.

There have, however, been men who had sufficient courage to resist this
torrent of opinion--to oppose themselves to this delirium; who have
believed, that the object which was announced as the most important for
mortals, as the sole object worthy of their thoughts, demanded an
attentive examination; who apprehended that if experience could be of
any utility, if judgment could afford any advantage, if reason was of
any use whatever, it must, most unquestionably be, to consider this
quality so opposed to every thing in nature, which was said to regulate
all the beings which she contains. These quickly saw they could not
subscribe to the general opinion of the uninformed, who never examine
any thing, who take every thing upon the credit of others; much less was
it consistent with sound sense to agree with their guides, who, either
deceivers or deceived, forbade others to submit it to the scrutiny of
reason; who were themselves frequently in an utter incapacity to pass it
under such an ordeal. Thus some thinkers, disgusted with the obscure and
contradictory notions which others had through habit mechanically
attached to this incomprehensible property, had the temerity to shake
off the yoke which had been imposed upon them from their infancy:
calling reason to their aid against those terrors with which they
alarmed the ignorant, revolting at the hideous descriptions under which
they attempted to defend their hypothesis, they had the intrepidity to
tear the veil of delusion; to rend asunder the barriers of imposture;
they considered with calm resolution, this formidable prejudice,
contemplated with a serene eye this unsupported opinion, examined with
cool deliberation this fluctuating notion, which had become the object
of all the hopes, the source of all the fears, the spring of all the
quarrels which distracted the mind, and disturbed the harmony of blind,
confiding mortals.

The result of these inquiries has uniformly been, a conviction that no
rational proof has ever been adduced in support of this hypothesis; that
from the nature of the thing itself, none can be offered; that an
incorporeity is inconceivable to corporeal beings; that these only
behold nature acting after invariable laws, in which every thing is
material; that all the phenomena of which the world is the theatre,
spring out of natural causes; that man as well as all the other beings
is the work or this nature, is only an instrument in her hand, obliged
to accomplish the eternal decrees of an imperious necessity.

Whatever efforts the philosopher makes to penetrate the secrets of
nature, he never finds more, as we have many times repeated, than
matter; various in itself, diversely modified in consequence of the
motion it undergoes. Its whole, as well as its parts, displays only
necessary causes producing necessary effects, which flow necessarily one
out of the other: of which the mind, aided by experience, is more or
less competent to discover the concatenation. In virtue of their
specific properties, all the beings that come under our review,
gravitate towards a centre--attract analogous matter--repel that which
is unsuitable to combination--mutually receive and give impulse--acquire
qualities--undergo modifications which maintain them in existence for a
season--are born and dissolved by the operation of an inexorable decree,
that obliges every thing, we behold to pass into a new mode of
existence. It is to these continued vicissitudes that are to be ascribed
all the phenomena, whether trivial or of magnitude; ordinary or
extraordinary; known or unknown; simple or complicated; which are
operated in the universe. It is by these mutations alone that we have
any knowledge of nature: she is only mysterious to those who contemplate
her through the veil of prejudice: her course is always simple to those
who look at her without prepossession.

To attribute the effects to which we are witnesses, to nature, to
matter, variously combined with the motion that is inherent to it, is to
give them an intelligible and known cause; to attempt to penetrate
deeper, is to plunge ourselves into imaginary regions, where we find
only a chaos of obscurities--where we are lost in an unfathomable abyss
of incertitude. Let us then be content with contemplating nature, who,
being self-existent, must in her essence possess motion; which cannot be
conceived without properties, from which result perpetual action and re-
action; or those continual efforts which give birth to such a numerous
train of circumstances; in which a single molecule cannot be found, that
does not necessarily occupy the place assigned to it, by immutable and
necessary laws--that is for an instant in an absolute state of repose.
What necessity can there exist to seek out of matter for a power to give
it play, since its motion flows as necessarily out of its existence as
its bulk, its form, its gravity, &c. since nature in inaction would no
longer be nature?

If it be demanded, How can we figure to ourselves, that matter by its
own peculiar energy can produce all the effects we witness? I shall
reply, that if by matter it is obstinately determined to understand
nothing but a dead, inert mass, destitute of every property, incapable
of moving itself, we shall no longer have a single idea of matter; we
shall no longer be able to account for any thing. As soon, however, as
it exists, it must have properties; as soon as it has properties,
without which it could not exist, it must act by virtue of those
properties; since it is only by its action we can have a knowledge of
its existence, be conscious of its properties. It is evident that if by
matter be understood that which it is not, or if its existence be
denied, those phenomena which strike our visual organs cannot be
attributed to it. But if by nature be understood (that which she really
is), an heap of existing matter, possessing various properties, we shall
be obliged to acknowledge that nature must be competent to move herself;
by the diversity of her motion, must have the capability, independent of
foreign aid, to produce the effects we behold; we shall find that
nothing can be made from nothing; that nothing is made by chance; that
the mode of action of every particle of matter, however minute, is
necessarily determined by its own peculiar, or by its individual

We have elsewhere said, that that which cannot be annihilated--that
which in its nature is indestructible--cannot have been inchoate, cannot
have had a beginning to its existence, but exists necessarily from all
eternity; contains within itself a sufficient cause for its own peculiar
existence. It becomes then perfectly useless to seek out of nature a
cause for her action which is in some respects known to us; with which
indefatigable research may, judging of the future by the past, render us
more familiar. As we know some of the general properties of matter; as
we can discover some of its qualities, wherefore should we seek its
motion in an unintelligible cause, of which we are not in a condition to
become acquainted with any one of its properties? Can we conceive that
immateriality could ever draw matter from its own source? Impossible; it
is not within the grasp of human intellect. If creation is an eduction
from nothing, there must have been a time when matter had not existence;
there must consequently be a time when it will cease to be: this latter
is acknowledged by many theologians themselves to be impossible. Do
those who are continually talking of this mysterious act of omnipotence,
by which a mass of matter has been, all at once, substituted to nothing,
perfectly understand what they tell us? Is there a man on earth who
conceives that a being devoid of extent can exist, become the cause of
the existence of beings who have extent--act upon matter--draw it from
his own peculiar essence--set it in motion? In truth, the more we
consider theology, the more we must be convinced that it has invented
words destitute of sense; substituted sounds to intelligible realities.

For want of consulting experience, for want or studying nature, for want
of examining the material world, we have plunged ourselves into an
intellectual vacuum, which we have peopled with chimeras, We have not
stooped to consider matter, to study its different periods, to follow it
through its numerous, changes. We have either ridiculously or knavishly
confounded dissolution, decomposition, the separation of the elementary
particles of bodies, with their radical destruction; we have been
unwilling to see that the elements are indestructible; although the
forms are fleeting, and depend upon transitory combination. We have not
distinguished the change of figure, the alteration of position, the
mutation of texture, to which matter is liable, from its annihilation,
which is impossible; we have falsely concluded, that matter Was not a
necessary being--that it commenced to exist--that this existence was
derived from that which possessed nothing in common with itself--that
that which was not substance, could give birth to that which is. Thus an
unintelligible name has been substituted for matter, which furnishes us
with true ideas of nature; of which at each instant we experience the
influence, of which we undergo the action, of which we feel the power,
and of which we should have a much better knowledge, if our abstract
opinions did not continually fasten a bandage over our eyes.

Indeed the most simple notions of philosophy shew us, that, although
bodies change and disappear, nothing is however lost in nature; the
various produce of the decomposition of a body serves for elements,
supplies materials, forms the basis, lays the foundation for accretions,
contributes to the maintenance of other bodies. The whole of nature
subsists, and is conserved only by the circulation, the transmigration,
the exchange, the perpetual displacement of insensible atoms--the
continual mutation of the sensible combinations of matter. It is by this
palingenesia, this regeneration, that the great whole, the mighty
macrocosm subsists; who, like the Saturn of the ancients, is perpetually
occupied with devouring her own children.

It will not then be inconsistent with observation, repugnant to reason,
contrary to good sense, to acknowledge that matter is self-existent;
that it acts by an energy peculiar to itself; that it will never be
annihilated. Let us then say, that matter is eternal; that nature has
been, is, and ever will be occupied with producing and destroying; with
doing and undoing; with combining and separating; in short, with
following a system of laws resulting from its necessary existence. For
every thing that she doth, she needs only to combine the elements of
matter; these, essentially diverse, necessarily either attract or repel
each other; come into collision, from whence results either their union
or dissolution; by the same laws that one approximates, the other
recedes from their respective spheres of action. It is thus that she
brings forth plants, fossils, animals, men; thus she gives existence to
organized, sensible, thinking beings, as well as to those who are
destitute of either feeling or thought. All these act for the season of
their respective duration, according to immutable laws, determined by
their various properties; arising out of their configuration; depending
on their masses; resulting from their ponderosity, &c. Here is the true
origin of every thing which is presented to our view; this indicates the
mode by which nature, according to her own peculiar powers, is in a
state to produce all those astonishing effects which assail our
wondering eyes; all that phenomena to which mankind is the witness; as
well as all the bodies who act diversely upon the organs with which he
is furnished, of which he can only judge according to the manner in
which these organs are affected. He says they are good, when they are
analogous to his own mode of existence--when they contribute to the
maintenance of the harmony of his machine: he says they are bad, when
they disturb this harmony. It is thus he ascribes views, ideas, designs,
to the being he supposes to be the power by which nature is moved;
although all the experience we are able to collect, unequivocally
proves, that she acts after an invariable, eternal code of laws.

Nature is destitute of those views which actuate man; she acts
necessarily, because she exists: her system is immutable, and founded
upon the essence of things. It is the essence of the seed of the male,
composed of primitive elements, which serve for the basis of an
organized being, to unite itself with that of the female; to fructify
it; to produce, by this combination, a new organized being; who, feeble
in his origin, not having yet acquired a sufficient quantity of material
particles to give him consistence, corroborates himself by degrees;
strengthens himself by the daily accretion of analogous matter; is
nourished by the modifications appropriate to his existence: matured by
the continuation of circumstances calculated to give vigour to his
frame; thus he lives, thinks, acts, engenders in his turn other
organized beings similar to himself. By a consequence of his temperament
and of physical laws, this generation does not take place, except when
the circumstances necessary to its production find themselves united.
Thus this procreation is not operated by chance; the animal does not
fructify, but with an animal of his own species, because this is the
only one analogous to himself, who unites the qualities, who combines
the circumstances, suitable to produce a being resembling himself;
without this he would not produce any thing, or he would only give birth
to a being who would be denominated a monster, because it would be
dissimilar to himself. It is of the essence of the grain of plants, to
be impregnated by the pollen or seed of the stygma of the flower; in
this state of copulation they in consequence develope themselves in the
bowels of the earth; expand by the aid of water; shoot forth by the
accession of heat; attract analogous particles to corroborate their
system: thus by degrees they form a plant, a shrub, a tree, susceptible
of that life, filled with that motion, capable of that action which is
suitable to vegetable existence. It is of the essence of particular
particles of earth, homogeneous in their nature, when separated by
circumstances, attenuated by water, elaborated by heat, to unite
themselves in the bosom of mountains, with other atoms which are
analogous; to form by their aggregation, according to their various
affinities, those bodies possessing more or less solidity; having more
or less purity, which are called diamonds, chrystals, stones, metals,
minerals. It is of the essence of exhalations raised by the heat of the
atmosphere, to combine, to collect themselves, to dash against each
other, and either by their union or their collision to produce meteors,
to generate thunder. It is of the essence of some inflammable matter to
gather itself together, to ferment in the caverns of the earth, to
increase its active force by augmenting its heat, and then explode, by
the accession of other matter suitable to the operation, with that
tremendous force which we call earthquakes; by which mountains are
destroyed; cities overturned; the inhabitants of the plains thrown into
a state of consternation; these full of alarm, unused to meditate on
natural effects, unconscious of the extent of physical powers, stretch
forth their hands in dismay, heave the most desponding sighs, utter
aloud their complaints, and earnestly implore a cessation of those
evils, which nature, acting by necessary laws, obliges them to
experience as necessarily as she does those benefits by which she fills
them with the most extravagant joy. In short, it is of the essence of
certain climates to produce men so organized, whose temperament is so
modified, that they become either extremely useful or very prejudicial
to their species, in the same manner as it is the property of certain
portions of the land, to bring forth either delicious fruits or
dangerous poisons.

In all this nature acts necessarily; she pursues an undeviating course,
which we are bound to consider the perfection of wisdom; because she
exists necessarily, has her modes of action determined by certain,
invariable laws, which themselves flow out of the constituent properties
of the various beings she contains, and those circumstances, which the
eternal motion she is in must necessarily bring about. It is ourselves
who have a necessary aim, which is our own conservation; it is by this
that we regulate all the ideas we form to ourselves of the causes acting
in nature; it is according to this standard we judge of every thing we
see or feel. Animated ourselves, existing after a certain manner,
possessing a soul endowed with rare and peculiar qualities, we, like the
savage, ascribe a soul and animated life to every thing that acts upon
us. Thinking and intelligent ourselves, we give these, faculties to
those beings whom we suppose to be more powerful than mortals; but as we
see the generality of matter incapable of modifying itself, we suppose
it must receive its impulse from some concealed agent, some external
cause, which our imagination pictures as similar to ourselves.
Necessarily attracted by that which is advantageous to us, repelling by
an equal necessity that which is prejudicial to our manner of existence;
we cease to reflect that our modes of feeling are due to our peculiar
organization, modified by physical causes: in this state, either of
inattention or ignorance, we mistake the natural results of our own
peculiar structure, for instruments employed by a being whom we clothe
with our own passions--whom we suppose actuated by our own views--who,
possessing our ideas, embraces a mode of thinking and acting similar to

If after this it be asked, What is the end of nature? We shall reply
that on this head we are ignorant; that it is more than probable no man
will ever fathom the secret; but we shall also say, it is evidently to
exist, to act, to conserve her whole. If then it be demanded, Wherefore
she exists? We shall again reply, of this we know nothing at present,
possibly never shall; but we shall also say, she exists necessarily,
that her operations, her motion, her phenomena, are the necessary
consequences of her necessary existence. There necessarily exists
something; this is nature or the universe, this nature necessarily acts
as she does. If it be wished to substitute any other word for nature,
the question will still remain as it did, as to the cause of her
existence; the end she has in view. It is not by changing of terms that
a geometrician can solve problems; one word will throw no more light on
a subject than another, unless that word carries a certain degree of
conviction in the ideas which it generates. As long as we speak of
matter, if we cannot develope all its properties, we shall at least have
fixed, determinate ideas; something tangible, of which we have a slight
knowledge, that we can submit to the examination of our senses: but from
the moment we begin to talk of immateriality, of incorporeity, from
thence our ideas become confused; we are lost in a labyrinth of
conjecture--we have no one means of seizing the subject on any side--we
are, after the most elaborate arguments, after the most subtle
reasoning, obliged to acknowledge we cannot form the most slender
opinion respecting it, that has any thing substantive for its support.
In short, that it is precisely that thing "of which every thing may be
denied, but of which nothing can with truth be affirmed." Let us clothe
this incomprehensible being with whatever qualities we may, it will be
always in ourselves we seek the model; they will be our own faculties
that we delineate, our own passions that we describe. In like manner
man, as long as he is ignorant, will always conjecture that it is for
himself alone the universe was formed; not withstanding, he has nothing
more to do, than to open his eyes in order to be undeceived. He will
then see, that he undergoes a common destiny, equally partakes with all
other beings of the benefits, shares with them without exception the
evils of life; like them he is submitted to an imperious necessity,
inexorable in its decrees; which is itself nothing more than the sum
total of those laws which nature herself is obliged to follow.

Thus every thing proves that nature, or matter, exists necessarily; that
it cannot in any moment swerve from those laws imposed upon it by its
existence. If it cannot be annihilated, it cannot have been inchoate.
The theologian himself agrees that it requires a miracle to annihilate
an atom. But is it possible to derogate from the necessary laws of
existence? Can that which exists necessarily, act but according to the
laws peculiar to itself? Miracle is another word invented to shield our
own sloth, to cover our own ignorance; it is that by which we wish to
designate those rare occurrences, those solitary effects of natural
causes, whose infrequency do not afford us means of diving into their
springs. It is only saying by another expression, that an unknown cause
hath by modes which we cannot trace, produced an uncommon effect which
we did not expect, which therefore appears strange to us. This granted,
the intervention of words, far from removing the ignorance in which we
found ourselves with respect to the power and capabilities of nature,
only serves to augment it, to give it more durability. The creation of
matter becomes to our mind as incomprehensible, and appears as
impossible as its annihilation.

Let us then conclude that all those words which do not present to the
mind any determinate idea, ought to be banished the language of those
who are desirous of speaking so as to be understood; that abstract
terms, invented by ignorance, are only calculated to satisfy men
destitute of experience; who are too slothful to study nature, too timid
to search into her ways; that they are suitable only to content those
enthusiasts, whose curious imagination pleases itself with making
fruitless endeavours to spring beyond the visible world; who occupy
themselves with chimeras of their own creation: in short, that these
words are useful only to those whose sole profession it is to feed the
ears of the uninformed with pompous sounds, that are not comprehended by
themselves--upon the sense of which they are in a state of perpetual
hostility with each other--upon the true meaning of which they have
never yet been able to come to a common agreement; which each sees after
his own peculiar manner of contemplating objects, in which there never
was, nor probably never will be, the least harmony of feeling.

Man is a material being; he cannot consequently have any ideas, but of
that which like himself is material; that is to say, of that which is in
a capacity to act upon his organs, which has some qualities analogous
with his own. In despite of himself, he always assigns material
properties to his gods; the impossibility he finds in compassing them,
has made him suppose them to be spiritual; distinguished from the
material world. Indeed he, must be content, either not to understand
himself, or he must have material ideas of the Divinity; the human mind
may torture itself as long as it pleases, it will never, after all its
efforts, be enabled to comprehend, that material effects can emanate
from immaterial causes; or that such causes can have any relation with
material beings. Here is the reason why man, as we have seen, believes
himself obliged to give to his gods, these morals which he so much so
highly esteems, in those beings of his race, who are fortunate enough to
possess them: he forgets that a being who is spiritual, adopting the
theological hypothesis, cannot from thence either have his organization,
or his ideas; that it cannot think in his mode, nor act after his
manner; that consequently it cannot possess what he calls intelligence,
wisdom, goodness, anger, justice, &c. as he himself understands those
terms. Thus, in truth, the moral qualities with which he has clothed the
Divinity, supposes him material, and the most abstract theological
notions, are, after all, founded upon a direct, undeniable

In despite of all their subtilties, the theologians cannot do otherwise;
like all the beings of the human species, they have a knowledge of
matter alone: they have no real idea of a pure spirit. When they speak
of the intelligence, of the wisdom, of the designs of their gods, they
are always those of men which they describe, that they obstinately
persist in giving to beings, of which, according to their own shewing,
to the evidence they themselves adduce, their essence does not render
them susceptible; who if they had those qualities with which they clothe
them, would from that very moment cease to be incorporeal; would be in
the truest sense of the word, substantive matter. How shall we reconcile
the assertion, that beings who have not occasion for any thing--who are
sufficient to them selves--whose projects must be executed as soon as
they are formed; can have volition, passions, desires? How shall we
attribute anger to beings without either blood or bile? How can we
conceive an omnipotent being (whose wisdom we admire in the striking
order he has himself established in the universe,) can permit that this
beautiful arrangement should be continually disturbed, either by the
elements in discord, or by the crimes of human beings? In short, this
being cannot have any one of the human qualities, which always depend
upon the peculiar organization of man--upon his wants--upon his
institutions, which are themselves always relative to the society in
which he lives. The theologian vainly strives to aggrandize, to
exaggerate in idea, to carry to perfection by dint of abstraction, the
moral qualities of man; they are unsuitable to the Divinity; in vain it
is asserted they are in him of a different nature from what they are in
his creatures; that they are perfect; infinite; supreme; eminent; in
holding this language, they no longer understand themselves; they can
have no one idea of the qualities they are describing, seeing that man
can never have a conception of them, but inasmuch as they bear an
analogy to the same qualities in himself.

It is thus that by force of metaphysical subtilty, mortals have no
longer any fixed, any determinate idea of the beings to which they have
given birth. But little contented with understanding physical causes,
with contemplating active nature; weary of examining matter, which
experience proves is competent to the production of every thing, man has
been desirous to despoil it of the energy which it is its essence to
possess, in order to invest it in a pure spirit; in an immaterial
substance; which he is under the necessity of re-making a material
being, whenever he has an inclination either to form an idea of it to
himself, or make it understood by others. In assembling the parts of
man, which he does no more than enlarge, which he swells out to
infinity, he believes he forms an immaterial being, who, for that
reason, acquires the capability of performing all those phenomena, with
the true causes of which he is ignorant; nevertheless those operations
of which he does comprehend the spring, he as sedulously denies to be
due to the powers of this being; time, therefore, according to these
ideas, as he advances the progress of science, as he further developes
the secrets of nature, is continually diminishing the number of actions
ascribed to this being--is constantly circumscribing his sphere of
action. It is upon the model of the human soul that he forms the soul of
nature, or that secret agent from which she receives impulse. After
having made himself double, he makes nature in like manner twofold, and
then he supposes she is vivified by an intelligence, which he borrows
from himself, Placed in an impossibility of becoming acquainted with
this agent, as well as with that which he has gratuitously distinguished
from his own body; he has invented the word spiritual to cover up his
ignorance; which is only in other words avowing it is a substance
entirely unknown to him. From that moment, however, he has no ideas
whatever of what he himself has done; because he first clothes it with
all the qualities he esteems in his fellows, and then destroys them by
an assurance, that they in no wise resemble the qualities he has been so
anxious to bestow. To remedy this inconvenience, he concludes this
spiritual substance much more noble than matter; that its prodigious
subtilty, which he calls simplicity, but which is only the effect of
metaphysical abstraction, secures it from decomposition, from
dissolution, from all those revolutions, to which material bodies, as
produced by nature, are evidently exposed.

It is thus, that man always prefers the marvellous to the simple; the
unintelligible to the intelligible; that which he cannot comprehend, to
that which is within the range of his understanding; he despises those
objects which are familiar to him; he estimates those alone with which
he is incapable of having any intercourse: that of which he has only
confused vague ideas, he concludes must contain something important for
him to know--must have something supernatural in its construction. In
short, he needs mystery to move his imagination--to exercise his mind--
to feed his curiosity; which never labours harder, than when it is
occupied with enigmas impossible to be guessed at; which from that very
circumstance, he judges to be extremely worthy of his research. This,
without doubt, is the reason he looks upon matter, which he has
continually under his eyes, which he sees perpetually in action,
eternally changing its form, as a contemptible thing--as a contingent
being, that does not exist necessarily; consequently, that cannot exist
independently: this is the reason why he has imagined a spirit, which he
will never be able to conceive; which on that account he declares to be
superior to matter; which he roundly asserts to be anterior to nature,
and the only self-existent being. The human wind found food in these
mystical ideas, they unceasingly occupied it; the imagination had play,
it embellished them after its own manner: ignorance fed itself with the
fables to which these mysteries gave rise; habit identified them with
the existence of man himself: when each could ask the other concerning
these ideas, without any one being in a capacity to return a direct
answer, he felt himself gratified, he immediately concluded that the
general impossibility of reply stamped them with the wondrous faculty of
immediately interesting his welfare; of involving his most prominent
interests, more than all the things put together, with which he had any
possible means of becoming intimately acquainted. Thus they became
necessary to his happiness; he believed he fell into a vacuum without
them; he became the decided enemy to all those who endeavoured to lead
him back to nature, which he had learned to despise; to consider only as
an impotent mass, an heap of inert matter, not possessing any energy but
what it received from causes exterior to itself; as a contemptible
assemblage of fragile combinations, whose forms were continually subject
to perish.

In distinguishing nature from her mover, man has fallen into the same
absurdity as when he separated his soul from his body; life from the
living being; the faculty of thought from the thinking being: deceived
on his own peculiar nature, having taken up an erroneous opinion upon
the energy of his own organs, he has in like manner been deceived upon
the organization of the universe; he has distinguished nature from
herself; the life of nature from living nature; the action of nature
from active nature. It was this soul of the world--this energy of
nature--this principle of activity, which man first personified, then
separated by abstraction; sometimes decorated with imaginary attributes;
sometimes with qualities borrowed from his own peculiar essence. Such
were the aerial materials of which man availed himself to construct the
incomprehensible, immaterial substances, which have filled the world
with disputes--which have divided man from his fellow--which to this day
he has never been able to define, even to his own satisfaction. His own
soul was the model. Deceived upon the nature of this, he never had any
just ideas of the Divinity, who was, in his mind, nothing more than a
copy exaggerated or disfigured to that degree, as to make him mistake
the prototype upon which it had been originally formed.

If, because man has distinguished himself from his own existence, it has
been impossible for him ever to form to himself any true idea of his own
nature; it is also because he has distinguished nature from herself,
that both herself and her ways have been mistaken. Man has ceased to
study nature, that he might, recur by thought to a substance which
possesses nothing in common with her; this substance he has made the
mover of nature, without which she would not be capable of any thing; to
whom every thing that takes place in her system, must be attributed; the
conduct of this being has appeared mysterious, has been held up as
marvellous, because he seemed to be a continual contradiction: when if
man had but recurred to the immutability of the laws of nature, to the
invariable system she pursues, all would have appeared intelligible;
every thing would have been reconciled; the apparent contrariety would
have vanished. By thus taking a wrong view of things, wisdom and
intelligence appeared to be opposed by confusion and disorder; goodness
to be rendered nugatory by evil; while all is only just what it must
inevitably be, under the given circumstances. In consequence of these
erroneous opinions, in the place of applying himself to the study of
nature, to discover the method of obtaining her favors, or to seek the
means of throwing aside his misfortunes; in the room of consulting his
experience; in lieu of labouring usefully to his own happiness; he has
been only occupied with expecting these things by channels through which
they do not flow; he has been disputing upon objects be never can
understand, while he has totally neglected that which was within the
compass of his own powers; which he might have rendered propitious to
his views, by a more industrious application of his own talent; by a
patient investigation, for the purpose of drawing at the fountain of
truth, the limpid balsam that alone can heal the sorrows or his heart.

Nothing could be well more prejudicial to his race, than this
extravagant theory; which, as we shall prove, has become the source of
innumerable evils. Man has been for thousands of years trembling before
idols of his own creation--bowing down before them with the most servile
homage--occupied with disarming their wrath--sedulously employed in
propitiating their kindness, without ever advancing a single step on the
road he so much desires to travel. He will perhaps continue the same
course for centuries to come, unless by some unlooked for exertion on
his part, he shall happen to discard the prejudices which blind him; to
lay aside his enthusiasm for the marvellous; to quit his fondness for
the enigmatical; rally round the standard of his reason: unless, taking
experience for his guide, he march undauntedly forward under the banner
of truth, and put to the rout that host of unintelligible jargon, under
the cumbrous load of which he has lost sight of his own happiness; which
has but too frequently prevented him from seeking the only means
adequate either to satisfy his wants, or to ameliorate the evils which
he is necessarily obliged to experience.

Let us then re-conduct bewildered mortals to the altar of nature; let us
endeavour to destroy that delusion which the ignorance of man, aided by
a disordered imagination, has induced him to elevate to her throne; let
us strive to dissipate that heavy mist which obscures to him the paths
of truth; let us seek to banish from his mind those visionary ideas
which prevent him from giving activity to his experience; let us teach
him if possible not to seek out of nature herself, the causes of the
phenomena he admires--to rest satisfied that she contains remedies for
all his evils--that she has manifold benefits in store for those, who,
rallying their industry, are willingly patiently to investigate her
laws--that she rarely withholds her secrets from the researches of those
who diligently labour to unravel them. Let us assure him that reason
alone can render him happy; that reason is nothing more than the science
of nature, applied to the conduct of man in society; that this reason
teaches that every thing is necessary; that his pleasures as well as his
sorrows are the effects of nature, who in all her works follows only
laws which nothing can make her revoke; that his interest demands he
should learn to support with equanimity of mind, all those evils which
natural means do not enable him to put aside. In short, let us
unceasingly repeat to him, it is in rendering his fellow creature happy,
that he will himself arrive at a felicity he will in vain expect from
others, when his own conduct refuses it to him.

Nature is self-existent; she will always exist; she produces every
thing; contains within herself the cause of every thing; her motion is a
necessary consequence of her existence; without motion we could form no
conception of nature; under this collective name we designate the
assemblage of matter acting by virtue of its peculiar energies. Every
thing proves to us, that it is not out of nature man ought to seek the
Divinity. If we have only an incomplete knowledge of nature and her
ways--if we have only superficial, imperfect ideas of matter, how shall
we be able to flatter ourselves with understanding or having any certain
notions of immateriality, of beings so much more fugitive, so much more
difficult to compass, even by thought, than the material elements; so
much more shy of access than either the constituent principles of
bodies, their primitive properties, their various modes of acting, or
their different manner of existing? If we cannot recur to first causes,
let its content ourselves with second causes, with those effects which
we can submit to experience, let us collect the facts with which we have
an acquaintance; they will enable us to judge of what we do not know:
let us at least confine ourselves to the feeble glimmerings of truth
with which our senses furnish us, since we do not possess means whereby
to acquire broader masses of light.

Do not let us mistake for real sciences, those which have no other basis
than our imagination; we shall find that such can at most be but
visionary: let us cling close to nature which we see, which we feel, of
which we experience the action; of which at least we understand the
general laws. If we are ignorant of her detail, if we cannot fathom the
secret principles she employs in her most complicated productions, we
are at least certain she acts in a permanent, uniform, analogous,
necessary manner. Let us then observe this nature; let us watch her
movements; but never let us endeavour to quit the routine she prescribes
for the beings of our species: if we do, we shall not only be obliged to
return, but we shall also infallibly be punished with numberless errors,
which will darken our mind, estrange us from reason; the necessary
consequence will be countless sorrows, which we may otherwise avoid. Let
us consider we are sensible parts of a whole, in which the forms are
only produced to be destroyed; in which combinations are ushered into
life, that they may again quit it, after having subsisted for a longer
or a shorter season. Let us look upon nature as an immense elaboratory
which contains every thing necessary for her action; who lacks nothing
requisite for the production of all the phenomena she displays to our
sight. Let us acknowledge her power to be inherent in her essence; amply
commensurate to her eternal march; fully adequate to the happiness of
all the beings she contains. Let us consider her as a whole, who can
only maintain herself by what we call the discord of the elements; that
she exists by the continual dissolution and re-union of her parts; that
from this springs the universal harmony; that from this the general
stability has its birth. Let us then re-establish omnipotent nature, so
long mistaken by man, in her legitimate rights. Let us place her on that
adamantine throne, which it is for the felicity of the human race she
should occupy. Let us surround her with those ministers who can never
deceive, who can never forfeit our confidence--_Justice and Practical
Knowledge_. Let us listen to her eternal voice; she neither speaks
ambiguously, nor in an unintelligible language; she may be easily
comprehended by the people of all nations; because _Reason_ is her
faithful interpreter. She offers nothing to our contemplation but
immutable truths. Let us then for ever impose silence on that enthusiasm
which leads us astray; let us put to the blush that imposture which
would riot on our credulity; let us discard that gloomy superstition,
which has drawn us aside from the only worship suitable to intelligent
beings. Above all, never let us forget that the temple of happiness can
only be reached through the groves of virtue, which surround it on every
side; that the paths which lead to these beautiful walks can only be
entered by the road of experience, the portals of which are alone opened
to those who apply to them the key of truth: this key is of very simple
structure, has no complicated intricacy of wards, and is easily formed
on the anvil of social intercourse, merely by _not doing unto others
that which you would not wish they should do unto you._


_Of Theism.--Of the System of Optimism.--Of final Causes_.

Very few men have either the courage or the industry to examine
opinions, which every one is in agreement to acknowledge; there is
scarcely any one who ventures to doubt their truth, even when no solid
arguments have been adduced in their support. The natural supineness of
man readily receives them without examination upon the authority of
others--communicates them to his successors in the season of their
infancy; thus is transmitted from race to race, notions which once
having obtained the sanction of time, are contemplated as clothed with a
sacred character, although perhaps to an unprejudiced mind, who should
be bent on searching into their foundation, no proofs will appear, that
they ever were verified. It is thus with immateriality: it has passed
current from father to son for many ages, without these having done any
thing more than habitually consign to their brain those obscure ideas
which were at first attached to it, which it is evident, from the
admission even of its advocates, can never be removed, to admit others
of a more enlightened nature. Indeed how can it possibly be, that light
can be thrown upon an incomprehensible subject: each therefore modifies
it after his own manner; each gives it that colouring that most
harmonizes with his own peculiar existence; each contemplates it under
that perspective which is the issue of his own particular vision: this
from the nature of things cannot be the same in every individual: there
must then of necessity be a great contrariety in the opinions resulting.
It is thus also that each man forms to himself a God in particular,
after his own peculiar temperament--according to his own natural
dispositions: the individual circumstances under which he is found, the
warmth of his imagination, the prejudices he has received, the mode in
which he is at different times affected, have all their influence in the
picture he forms. The contented, healthy man, does not see him with the
same eyes as the man who is chagrined and sick; the man with a heated
blood, who has an ardent imagination, or is subject to bile, does not
pourtray him under the same traits as he who enjoys a more peaceable
soul, who has a cooler fancy, who is of a more phlegmatic habit. This is
not all; even the same individual does not view him in the same manner
at different periods of his life: he undergoes all the variations of his
machine--all the revolutions of his temperament--all those continual
vicissitudes which his existence experiences. The idea of the Divinity
is said to be innate; on the contrary, it is perpetually fluctuating in
the mind of each individual; varies every moment in all the beings of
the human species; so much so, that there are not two who admit
precisely the same Deity; there is not a single one, who, under
different circumstances, does not see him variously.

Do not then let us be surprised at the variety of systems adopted by
mankind on this subject; it ought not to astonish us that there is so
little harmony existing among men upon a point of such consequence; it
ought not to appear strange that so much contradiction should prevail in
the various doctrines held forth; that they should have such little
consistency, such slender connection with each other; that the
professors should dispute continually upon the rectitude of the opinions
adopted by each: they must necessarily wrangle upon that which each
contemplates so variously--upon which there is hardly a single mortal
who is constantly in accord with himself.

All men are pretty well agreed upon those objects which they are enabled
to submit to the test of experience; we do not hear any disputes upon
the principles of geometry; those truths that are evident, that are
easily demonstrable, never vary in our mind; we never doubt that the
part is less than the whole; that two and two make four; that
benevolence is an amiable quality; that equity is necessary to man in
society. But we find nothing but perpetual controversy upon all those
systems which have the Divinity for their object; they are full of
incertitude; subject to continual variations: we do not see any harmony
either in the principles of theology, or in the principles of its
graduates. Even the proofs offered of his existence have been the
subject of cavil; they have either been thought too feeble, have been
brought forward against rule, or else have not been taken up with
sufficient zeal to please the various reasoners who advocate the cause;
the corollaries drawn from the premises laid down, are not the same in
any two nations, scarcely in two individuals; the thinkers of all ages,
in all countries, are perpetually in rivalry with each other;
unceasingly quarrel upon all the points of religion; can never agree
either upon their theological hypotheses, or upon the fundamental truths
which should serve for their basis; even the attributes, the very
qualities ascribed, are as warmly contested by some, as they are
zealously defended by others.

These never-ending disputes, these perpetual variations, ought, at
least, to convince the unprejudiced, that the ideas of the Divinity have
neither the generally-admitted evidence, nor the certitude which are
attributed to them; on the contrary, these contrarieties in the opinions
of the theologians, if submitted to the logic of the schools, might be
fatal to the whole of them: according to that mode of reasoning, which
at least has the sanction of our universities, all the probabilities in
the world cannot acquire the force of a demonstration; a truth is not
made evident but when constant experience, reiterated reflection,
exhibits it always under the same point of view; the evidence of a
proposition cannot be admitted unless it carries with it a substantive
demonstration; from the constant relation which is made by well
constituted senses, results that evidence, that certitude, which alone
can produce full conviction: if the major proposition of a syllogism
should be overturned by the minor, the whole falls to the ground.
Cicero, who is no mean authority on such a subject, says expressly, "No
reasoning can render that false, which experience has demonstrated as
evident." Wolff, in his Ontology, says; "That which is repugnant in
itself, cannot possibly be understood; that those things which are in
themselves contradictions, must always be deficient of evidence." St.
Thomas says, "Being, is all that which is not repugnant to existence."

However it may he with these qualities, which the theologians assign to
their immaterial beings, whether they may be irreconcileable, or whether
they are totally incomprehensible, what can result to the human species
in supposing them to have intelligence and views? Can an universal
intelligence, whose care must be equally extended to every thing that
exists, have more direct, more intimate relations with man, who only
forms an insensible portion of the great whole? Can we seriously believe
that it is to make joyful the insects, to gratify the ants of his
garden, that the Monarch of the universe has constructed and embellished
his habitation? Would our feeble eyes, therefore, become stronger--would

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