« ПредишнаНапред »
has been the opinion of many perfons of great fenfe and learning, that the knowledge of a God, as well as fome other felf-evident and uncontefted notions, is born with us, and exifts antecedent to any perception or operation of the mind. They exprefs themfelves on this fubject in metaphorical terms, alto gether unbecoming philofophical and judicious enquiries, while they affert, that the knowledge of a God is interwoven with our conftitution, that it is written, engraven, ftampt, and imprinted in clear and difcernible characters on the heart; in which manner of speecli they affect to follow the great orator of the Romans.
By thefe unartful phrafes they can mean nothing but this, that the propofition, THERE IS A GOD, is actually exiftent in the mind, as foon as the mind has its being; and is not at first acquired, though it may he afterwards confirmed, by any act of reason, by any argument or demonstration. I muft confefs my inability to conceive this inbred knowledge, thefe original independent ideas, that owe not their being to the ope ration of the understanding, but are, I know not how, congenite and co-existent with it.
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 born 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 act of vifion, 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 shall 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 Understanding. 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. Fór fuppofing there is no inbred knowledge of a God; yet if mankind generally affent to it, whether their belief proceeds from their reflection on themfelves, or on the vifible creation about them, it will be certainly true, that the existence of a Deity carries with it the cleareft and moft 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 poffible 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 exprefs their zeal to rectify the fentiments of a prejudiced people in matters of religion, who labour to ftem the tide of popular error, and strike at the foundations of any ancient, established superstition, muft themselves expect to be treated as pragmatical and infolent innovators, difturbers of the public peace,
and the great enemies of religion. The observation of all ages confirms this truth; and, if any man who is doubtful of it would try the experiment, I make no queftion he will very foon be thoroughly convinced.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Anaxagoras, though he was the first 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 moft fenseless idolatry, and particularly for denying the divinity of the Sun, thould be condemned for irreligion, and treason against the Gods; and be heavily fined and banished the city. It is no wonder, after fo fharp a perfecution of this zealous reformer, that Socrates, the next fucceffor but one to Anaxagoras, and the last 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 diffent imagine have a tendency to the difbelief 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 himfelf difclaims and detefts, and who, if he faw the connexion of his principles with fuch conclufions, would readily renounce them. No man can be reatonably charged with more opinions than he owns; and if this juttice were observed in polemical difcourfes,
as well of theology as philofophy, many perfons had escaped those hard names, and terrible cenfures, which their angry antagonists have thought fit to fix upon them. No one therefore is to be reputed an Atheitt, or an enemy to religion, upon the account of any erroneous opinion, from which another may by a long chain of fequels draw that conclufion; much less for holding any doctrines in philofophy, 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 Atheist, as an aftronomer 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 difclaim the bélief of a Deity. I do not mean an apology for their practice, but their opinion. I hope thefe unhappy persons, at least the greatest part, who have given up the reins to their paffions and exorbitant appetites, are, rather than Atheists, a careless and ftupid fort of creatures, who, either out of a supine temper, or for fear of being disturbed with remorfe in their unwarrantable enjoyments, never foberly confider with themfelves, 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 atheistical pretender to philofophy, who affures them there is no God, and there