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For how a man can be faid to have knowledge before he knows, how ideas can exift in the mind without and before perception, I must own is too difficult for me to comprehend. That a man is horn with a faculty or capacity to know, though as yet without any actual knowledge; and that, as the eye has a native difpofition and aptitude to perceive the light, when fitly offered, though as yet it never exercised any a&c of vision, and had no innate images in the womb; so the mind is endued with a power and faculty to know and perceive the truth of this propofition, THERE IS A GOD, as foon as it fhall be reprefented to it; all this is clear and intelligible; but any thing more is, as I have faid, above my reach. In this opinion, which I had many years ago entertained, I was afterwards' confirmed by the famous author of the Effay of Human Underftanding. Nor can I fee, that by this doctrine the argument for the existence of a Deity, drawn from the general affent of all nations (excepting perhaps fome few, who are fo barbarous that they approach very near the condition of brute animals), is at all invalidated. For fuppofing there is no inbred knowledge of a God; yet if mankind generally affent to it, whether their belief proceeds from their reflection on themfélves, or on the vifible creation about them, it will be certainly true, that the existence of a Deity carries with it the cleareft and most uncontrolable evidence ; fince mankind fo readily and fo univerfally perceive and embrace it. It deferves confideration, that St. Paul upon this argument does not appeal to
the light within, or to any characters of the Divine Being originally engraven on the heart, but deduces the caufe from the effect, and from the creation infers the Creator.
It is very probable that those who believe an innate idea of a Divine Being, unproduced by any operation of the mind, were led by this to another opinion, namely, that there never was in the world a real Atheist in belief and fpeculation, how many foever there may have been in life and practice. But, upon due examination, this opinion, I imagine, will not abide the teft; which I fhall endeavour to make evident.
But, before I enter upon this fubject, it seems proper to take notice of the apology, which feveral perfons of great learning and candour have made for many famous men, and great philofophers, unjustly accufed of impiety.
Whoever fhall fet about to mend the world, and reform men's notions, as well as their manners, will certainly be the mark of much scandal and reproach; and will effectually be convinced, that it is too poffibile the greatest lovers and benefactors of mankind may be reprefented by the multitude, whofe opinions they contradict, as the worst of men. The hardy undertakers, who express their zeal to rectify the fentiments of a prejudiced people in matters of religion, who labour to ftem the tide of popular error, and ftrike at the foundations of any ancient, established fuperftition, muft themselves expect to be treated as pragmátical and infolent innovators, difturbers of the public peace, B 3
and the great enemies of religion. The obfervation of all ages confirms this truth; and, if any man who is doubtful of it would try the experiment, I make no queftion he will very foon be thoroughly convinced.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Anaxagoras, though he was the firft philofopher who plainly afferted an Eternal Mind by whofe power the world was made, for oppofing the public worship at Athens, whofe refined wits were plunged in the most senseless idolatry, and particularly for denying the divinity of the Sun, thould be condemned for irreligion, and treafon against the Gods; and be heavily fined and banished the city. It is no wonder, after fo tharp a perfecution of this zealous reformer, that Socrates, the next fucceffor but one to Anaxagoras, and the laft of the Ionic fchool, for oppofing their fcandalous rabble of deities, and afferting one Divine Being, fhould be condemned for Atheism, and put to death, by blind fuperftition and implacable bigotry.
Some have been condemned by their antagonists for impiety, who maintain pofitions, which thofe from whom they dillent imagine have a tendency to the disbelief of a Deity. But this is a manifeft violation of juftice, as well as candour, to impute to any man the remote confequences of his opinion, which he himfe difclaims and detefts, and who, if he faw the connexion of his principles with fuch conclufions, would readily renounce them. No man can be reafonably charged with more opinions than he owns; and it this julüce were observed in polemical difcourtès,
as well of theology as philofophy, many perfons had efcaped these hard names, and terrible cenfures, which their angry antagonists have thought fit to fix upon them. No one therefore is to be reputed an Atheist, or an enemy to religion, upon the account of any er roneous opinion, from which another may by a long chain of fequels draw that conclufion; much lefs for holding any doctrines in philosophy, which the common people are not able to examine or comprehend,' who, when they meddle with fpeculations, of which they are unqualified to judge, will be as apt to cenfure a philofopher for an Atheift, as an astronomer for a magician.
I would fain too in this place make fome apology for the great numbers of loose and vicious men, who laugh at religion, and feem in their converfation to disclaim the belief of a Deity. I do not mean an apology for their practice, but their opinion. I hope thefe unhappy perfons, at least the greatest part, who have given up the reins to their paffions and exorbitant appetites, are, rather than Atheists, a carelefs and stupid fort of creatures, who, either out of a fupine temper, or for fear of being disturbed with remorfe in their unwarrantable enjoyments, never foberly confider with themselves, or exercise their reafon on things of the highest importance: Thefe perfons never examine the arguments that enforce the belief of a Deity, and the obligations of religion: but take the word of their ingenious friends, or fome atheiftical pretender to philofophy, who affures them there is no God, and thereB4 fore
fore no religion. And notwithstanding all Atheists have leave given them by their principles to become libertines, yet it is not true that all libertines are Atheifts. Some plainly affert their belief of a God; and others, who deny his existence, yet do not deny it upon any principles, any scheme of philosophy which they have framed, and by which they account for the exiftence and duration of the world, in the beautiful order in which we fee it, without the aid of a Divine Eternal Mind.
But there are two forts of men, who without injuftice have been called Atheifts; thofe who frankly and in plain terms have denied the being of a God; and thofe who, though they afferted his being, denied thofe attributes and perfections, which the idea of a God includes; and fo, while they acknowledged the name, fubverted the thing. These are as real. Atheists as the former, but lefs fincere. If any man fhould declare he believes a Deity, but affirms that this Deity is of human shape, and not eternal; that he derives his being from the fortuitous concourfe and complication of atoms; or, though he allowed him to be eternal, fhould maintain, that he fhewed no wisdom, defign, or prudence, in the formation, and no care or providence in the government, of the world; that he never reflects on any thing exterior to his own being, nor interests himfelf in human affairs; does not know, or does not attend to, any of our actions: fuch a person is, indeed, and in effect, as much an Atheift as the former. For though he owns the appellation, yet his description is deftructive