§1. THERE is a vast empire, governed by a monarch, whose strange conduct is to confound the minds of his subjects. He wishes to be known, loved, respected, obeyed; but never shows himself to his subjects, and everything conspires to render uncertain the ideas formed of his character.
The people, subjected to his power, have, of the character and laws of their invisible sovereign, such ideas only, as his ministers give them. They, however, confess, that they have no idea of their master; that his ways are impenetrable; his views and nature totally incomprehensible. These ministers, likewise, disagree upon the commands which they pretend have been issued by the sovereign, whose servants they call themselves. They defame one another, and mutually treat each other as impostors and false teachers. The decrees and ordinances, they take upon themselves to promulgate, are obscure; they are enigmas, little calculated to be understood, or even divined, by the subjects, for whose instruction they were intended. The laws of the concealed monarch require interpreters; but the interpreters are always disputing upon the true manner of understanding them. Besides, they are not consistent with themselves; all they relate of their concealed prince is only a string of contradictions. They utter concerning him not a single word that does not immediately confute itself. They call him supremely good; yet many complain of his decrees. They suppose him infinitely wise; and under his administration everything appears to contradict reason. They extol his justice; and the best of his subjects are generally the least favoured. They assert, he sees everything; yet his presence avails nothing. He is, say they, the friend of order; yet throughout his dominions, all is in confusion and disorder. He makes all for himself; and the events seldom answer his designs. He foresees everything; but cannot prevent anything. He impatiently suffers offence, yet gives everyone the power of offending him. Men admire the wisdom and perfection of his works; yet his works, full of imperfection, are of short duration. He is continually doing and undoing; repairing what he has made; but is never pleased with his work. In all his undertakings, he proposes only his own glory; yet is never glorified. His only end is the happiness of his subjects; and his subjects, for the most part want necessaries. Those, whom he seems to favour are generally least satisfied with their fate; almost all appear in perpetual revolt against a master, whose greatness they never cease to admire, whose wisdom to extol, whose goodness to adore, whose justice to fear, and whose laws to reverence, though never obeyed!
This empire is the
monarch GOD; his
ministers are the
§2. There is a science that has for
its object only things incomprehensible. Contrary to all other
sciences, it treats only of what cannot fall under our senses.
Hobbes calls it the kingdom of darkness. It is a country,
where every thing is governed by laws, contrary to those which
mankind are permitted to know in the world they inhabit. In this
marvellous region, light is only darkness; evidence is doubtful or
false; impossibilities are credible: reason is a deceitful guide;
and good sense becomes madness. This science is called
theology, and this theology is a continual insult to the
reason of man.
§3. By the magical power of "ifs,"
"buts," "perhaps's," "what do we know," etc., heaped together, a
shapeless and unconnected system is formed, perplexing mankind, by
obliterating from their minds, the most clear ideas and rendering
uncertain truths most evident. By reason of this systematic
confusion, nature is an enigma; the visible world has disappeared,
to give place to regions invisible; reason is compelled to yield to
imagination, who leads to the country of her self-invented
§4. The principles of every religion
are founded upon the idea of a God. Now, it is impossible to
have true ideas of a being, who acts upon none of our senses. All
our ideas are representations of sensible objects. What then can
represent to us the idea of God, which is evidently an idea without
an object? Is not such an idea as impossible, as an effect without
a cause? Can an idea without an archetype be anything, but a
chimera? There are, however, divines, who assure us that the idea
of God is innate; or that we have this idea in our mother's womb.
Every principle is the result of reason; all reason is the effect
of experience; experience is acquired only by the exercise of our
senses: therefore, religious principles are not founded upon
reason, and are not innate.
§5. Every system of religion can be founded only upon the nature of God and man; and upon the relations, which subsist between them. But to judge of the reality of those relations, we must have some idea of the divine nature. Now, the world exclaims, the divine nature is incomprehensible to man; yet ceases not to assign attributes to this incomprehensible God, and to assure us, that it is our indispensable duty to find out that God, whom it is impossible to comprehend.
The most important concern of man is what he can least
comprehend. If God is incomprehensible to man, it would seem
reasonable never to think of him; but religion maintains, man
cannot with impunity cease a moment to think (or rather dream) of
§6. We are told, that divine
qualities are not of a nature to be comprehended by finite minds.
The natural consequence must be, that divine qualities are not made
to occupy finite minds. But religion tells us, that the poor finite
mind of man ought never to lose sight of an inconceivable being,
whose qualities he can never comprehend. Thus, we see, religion is
the art of turning the attention of mankind upon subjects they can
§7. Religion unites man with God, or
forms a communication between them; yet do they not say, God is
infinite? If God be infinite, no finite being can have
communication or relation with him. Where there is no relation,
there can be no union, communication, or duties. If there be no
duties between man and his God, there is no religion for man. Thus,
in saying God is infinite, you annihilate religion for man, who is
a finite being. The idea of infinity is to us an idea without
model, without archetype, without object.
§8. If God be an infinite being, there cannot be, either
in the present or future world, any relative proportion between man
and his God. Thus, the idea of God can never enter the human mind.
In supposition of a life, in which man would be much more
enlightened, than in this, the idea of the infinity of God would
ever remain the same distance from his finite mind. Thus the idea
of God will be no more clear in the future, than in the present
life. Thus, intelligences, superior to man, can have no more
complete ideas of God, than man, who has not the least conception
of him in his present life.
§9. How has it been possible to
persuade reasonable beings, that the thing, most impossible to
comprehend, was most essential to them? It is because they have
been greatly terrified; because, when they fear, they cease to
reason; because, they have been taught to mistrust their own
understanding; because, when the brain is troubled, they believe
every thing, and examine nothing.
§10. Ignorance and fear are the two hinges of all
religion. The uncertainty in which man finds himself in relation to
his God, is precisely the motive that attaches him to his religion.
Man is fearful in the dark -- in moral, as well as physical
darkness. His fear becomes habitual, and habit makes it natural; he
would think that he wanted something, if he had nothing to
§11. He, who from infancy has habituated himself to tremble when he hears pronounced certain words, requires those words and needs to tremble. He is therefore more disposed to listen to one, who entertains him in his fears, than to one, who dissuades him from them. The superstitious man wishes to fear; his imagination demands it; one might say, that he fears nothing so much, as to have nothing to fear.
Men are imaginary invalids, whose weakness empirics are
interested to encourage, in order to have sale for their drugs.
They listen rather to the physician, who prescribes a variety of
remedies, than to him, who recommends good regimen, and leaves
nature to herself.
§12. If religion were more clear,
it would have less charms for the ignorant, who are pleased only
with obscurity, terrors, fables, prodigies, and things incredible.
Romances, silly stories, and the tales of ghosts and wizards, are
more pleasing to vulgar minds than true histories.
§13. In point of religion, men are
only great children. The more a religion is absurd and filled with
wonders, the greater ascendancy it acquires over them. The devout
man thinks himself obliged to place no bounds to his credulity; the
more things are inconceivable, they appear to him divine; the more
they are incredible, the greater merit, he imagines, there is in
§14. The origin of religious
opinions is generally dated from the time, when savage nations were
yet in infancy. It was to gross, ignorant, and stupid people, that
the founders of religion have in all ages addressed themselves,
when they wished to give them their Gods, their mode of worship,
their mythology, their marvellous and frightful fables. These
chimeras, adopted without examination by parents, are transmitted,
with more or less alteration, to their children, who seldom reason
any more than their parents.
§15. The object of the first
legislators was to govern the people; and the easiest method to
effect it was to terrify their minds, and to prevent the exercise
of reason. They led them through winding bye-paths, lest they might
perceive the designs of their guides; they forced them to fix their
eyes in the air, for fear they should look at their feet; they
amused them on the way with idle stories; in a word, they treated
them as nurses do children, who sing lullabies, to put them to
sleep, and scold, to make them quiet.
§16. The existence of a God is the
basis of all religion. Few appear to doubt his existence; yet this
fundamental article utterly embarrasses every mind that reasons.
The first question of every catechism has been, and ever will be,
the most difficult to resolve. (In the year 1701, the holy fathers
of the oratory of Vendome maintained in a thesis, this proposition
-- that, according to St. Thomas, the existence of God is not, and
cannot be, a subject of faith.)
§17. Can we imagine ourselves
sincerely convinced of the existence of a being, whose nature we
know not; who is inaccessible to all our senses; whose attributes,
we are assured, are incomprehensible to us? To persuade me that a
being exists or can exist, I must be first told what that being is.
To induce me to believe the existence or the possibility of such a
being, it is necessary to tell me things concerning him that are
not contradictory, and do not destroy one another. In short, to
fully convince me of the existence of that being, it is necessary
to tell me things that I can understand.
§18. A thing is impossible, when it
includes two ideas that mutually destroy one another, and which can
neither be conceived nor united in thought. Conviction can be
founded only upon the constant testimony of our senses, which alone
give birth to our ideas, and enable us to judge of their agreement
or disagreement. That, which exists necessarily, is that, whose
non-existence implies a contradiction. These principles,
universally acknowledged, become erroneous, when applied to the
existence of a God. Whatever has been hitherto said upon the
subject, is either unintelligible, or perfect contradiction, and
must therefore appear absurd to every rational man.
§19. All human knowledge is more or
less clear. By what strange fatality have we never been able to
elucidate the science of God? The most civilized nations, and among
them the most profound thinkers, are in this respect no more
enlightened than the most savage tribes and ignorant peasants; and,
examining the subject closely, we shall find, that, by the
speculations and subtle refinements of men, the divine science has
been only more and more obscured. Every religion has hitherto been
founded only upon what is called, in logic, begging the
question; it takes things for granted, and then proves, by
suppositions, instead of principles.
§20. Metaphysics teach us, that God
is a pure spirit. But, is modern theology superior to that
of the savages? The savages acknowledge a great spirit, for
the master of the world. The savages, like all ignorant people,
attribute to spirits all the effects, of which their
experience cannot discover the true causes. Ask a savage, what
works your watch? He will answer, it is a spirit. Ask the
divines, what moves the universe? They answer, it is a
§21. The savage, when he speaks of
a spirit, affixes, at least, some idea to the word; he means
thereby an agent, like the air, the breeze, the breath, that
invisibly produces discernible effects. By subtilizing every thing,
the modern theologian becomes as unintelligible to himself as to
others. Ask him, what he understands by a spirit? He will answer
you, that it is an unknown substance, perfectly simple, that has no
extension, that has nothing common with matter. Indeed, is there
any one, who can form the least idea of such a substance? What then
is a spirit, to speak in the language of modern theology, but the
absence of an idea? The idea of spirituality is an idea
§22. Is it not more natural and
intelligible to draw universal existence from the matter, whose
existence is demonstrated by all the senses, and whose effects we
experience, which we see act, move, communicate motion, and
incessantly generate, than to attribute the formation of things to
an unknown power, to a spiritual being, who cannot derive from his
nature what he has not himself, and who, by his spiritual essence,
can create neither matter nor motion? Nothing is more evident, than
that the idea they endeavour to give us, of the action of mind upon
matter, represents no object. It is an idea without model.
§23. The material Jupiter of
the ancients could move, compose, destroy, and create beings,
similar to himself; but the God of modern theology is sterile. He
can neither occupy any place in space, nor move matter, nor form a
visible world, nor create men or gods. The metaphysical God is fit
only to produce confusion, reveries, follies, and disputes.
§24. Since a God was indispensably
requisite to men, why did they not worship the Sun, that visible
God, adored by so many nations? What being had greater claim to the
homage of men, than the day-star, who enlightens, warms, and
vivifies all beings; whose presence enlivens and regenerates
nature, whose absence seems to cast her into gloom and languor? If
any being announced to mankind, power, activity, beneficence, and
duration, it was certainly the Sun, whom they ought to have
regarded as the parent of nature, as the divinity. At least, they
could not, without folly, dispute his existence, or refuse to
acknowledge his influence.
§25. The theologian exclaims to us, that God wants neither hands nor arms to act; that he acts by his will. But pray, who or what is that God, who has a will, and what can be the subject of his divine will?
Are the stories of witches, ghosts, wizards, hobgoblins, etc.,
more absurd and difficult to believe than the magical or impossible
action of mind upon matter? When we admit such a God, fables and
reveries may claim belief. Theologians treat men as children, whose
simplicity makes them believe all the stories they hear.
§26. To shake the existence of God,
we need only to ask a theologian to speak of him. As soon as he has
said a word upon the subject, the least reflection will convince
us, that his observations are totally incompatible with the essence
he ascribes to his God. What then is God? It is an abstract word,
denoting the hidden power of nature; or it is a mathematical point,
that has neither length, breadth, nor thickness. David Hume,
speaking of theologians, has ingeniously observed, that they
have discovered the solution of the famous problem of Archimedes --
a point in the heavens, whence they move the world.
§27. Religion prostrates men before
a being, who, without extension, is infinite, and fills all with
his immensity; a being, all-powerful, who never executes his will;
a being, sovereignly good, who creates only disquietudes; a being,
the friend of order, and in whose government all is in confusion
and disorder. What then, can we imagine, can be the God of
§28. To avoid all embarrassment, we are told, "that it
is not necessary to know what God is; that we must adore him; that
we are not permitted to extend our views to his attributes." But,
before we know that we must adore a God, must we not know
certainly, that he exists? But, how can we assure ourselves, that
he exists, if we never examine whether the various qualities,
attributed to him, do really exist and agree in him? Indeed, to
adore God, is to adore only the fictions of one's own imagination,
or rather, it is to adore nothing.
§29. In view of confounding things the more, theologians have not declared what their God is; they tell us only what he is not. By means of negations and abstractions, they think they have composed a real and perfect being. Mind is that, which is not body. An infinite being is a being, who is not finite. A perfect being is a being, who is not imperfect. Indeed, is there any one, who can form real ideas of such a mass of absence of ideas? That, which excludes all idea, can it be any thing but nothing?
To pretend, that the divine attributes are beyond the reach of
human conception, is to grant, that God is not made for man. To
assure us, that, in God, all is infinite, is to own that there can
be nothing common to him and his creatures. If there be nothing
common to God and his creatures, God is annihilated for man, or, at
least, rendered useless to him. "God," they say, "has made man
intelligent, but he has not made him omniscient;" hence it is
inferred, that he has not been able to give him faculties
sufficiently enlarged to know his divine essence. In this case, it
is evident, that God has not been able nor willing to be known by
his creatures. By what right then would God be angry with beings,
who were naturally incapable of knowing the divine essence? God
would be evidently the most unjust and capricious of tyrants, if he
should punish an Atheist for not having known, what, by his nature,
it was impossible he should know.
§30. To the generality of men, nothing renders an argument more convincing than fear. It is therefore, that theologians assure us, we must take the safest part; that nothing is so criminal as incredulity; that God will punish without pity every one who has the temerity to doubt his existence; that his severity is just, since madness or perversity only can make us deny the existence of an enraged monarch, who without mercy avenges himself on Atheists. If we coolly examine these threatenings, we shall find, they always suppose the thing in question. They must first prove the existence of a God, before they assure us, it is safest to believe, and horrible to doubt or deny his existence. They must then prove, that it is possible and consistent, that a just God cruelly punishes men for having been in a state of madness, that prevented their believing the existence of a being, whom their perverted reason could not conceive. In a word, they must prove, that an infinitely just God can infinitely punish the invincible and natural ignorance of man with respect to the divine nature. Do not theologians reason very strangely? They invent phantoms, they compose them of contradictions; they then assure us, it is safest not to doubt the existence of these phantoms they themselves have invented. According to this mode of reasoning, there is no absurdity, which it would not be more safe to believe, than not to believe.
All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God. Are
they then criminal on account of their ignorance? At what age must
they begin to believe in God? It is, you say, at the age of reason.
But at what time should this age commence? Besides, if the
profoundest theologians lose themselves in the divine nature, which
they do not presume to comprehend, what ideas must man have of
§31. Men believe in God only upon
the word of those, who have no more idea of him than themselves.
Our nurses are our first theologians. They talk to children of God
as if he were a scarecrow; they teach them from the earliest age to
join their hands mechanically. Have nurses then more true ideas of
God than the children whom they teach to pray?
§32. Religion, like a family
estate, passes, with its incumbrances, from parents to children.
Few men in the world would have a God, had not pains been taken in
infancy to give them one. Each would receive from his parents and
teachers the God whom they received from theirs; but each,
agreeably to his disposition, would arrange, modify, and paint him
in his own manner.
§33. The brain of man, especially
in infancy, is like soft wax, fit to receive every impression that
is made upon it. Education furnishes him with almost all his ideas
at a time, when he is incapable of judging for himself. We believe
we have received from nature, or have brought with us at birth, the
true or false ideas, which, in a tender age, had been instilled
into our minds; and this persuasion is one of the greatest sources
§34. Prejudice contributes to
cement in us the opinions of those who have been charged with our
instruction. We believe them much more experienced than ourselves;
we suppose they are fully convinced of the things which they teach
us; we have the greatest confidence in them; by the care they have
taken of us in infancy, we judge them incapable of wishing to
deceive us. These are the motives that make us adopt a thousand
errors, without other foundation than the hazardous authority of
those by whom we have been brought up. The prohibition likewise of
reasoning upon what they teach us, by no means lessens our
confidence; but often contributes to increase our respect for their
§35. Divines act very wisely in
teaching men their religious principles before they are capable of
distinguishing truth from falsehood, or their left hand from their
right. It would be as difficult to instill into the mind of a man,
forty years old, the extravagant notions that are given us of the
divinity, as to eradicate them from the mind of him who had imbibed
them from infancy.
§36. It is observed, that the
wonders of nature are sufficient to lead us to the existence of a
God, and fully to convince us of this important truth. But how many
are there in the world who have the time, capacity, or disposition,
necessary to contemplate Nature and meditate her progress? Men, for
the most part, pay no regard to it. The peasant is not struck with
the beauty of the sun, which he sees every day. The sailor is not
surprised at the regular motion of the ocean; he will never draw
from it theological conclusions. The phenomena of nature prove the
existence of a God only to some prejudiced men, who have been early
taught to behold the finger of God in every thing whose mechanism
could embarrass them. In the wonders of nature, the unprejudiced
philosopher sees nothing but the power of nature, the permanent and
various laws, the necessary effects of different combinations of
matter infinitely diversified.
§37. Is there any thing more
surprising than the logic of these divines, who, instead of
confessing their ignorance of natural causes, seek beyond nature,
in imaginary regions, a cause much more unknown than that nature,
of which they can form at least some idea? To say, that God is the
author of the phenomena of nature, is it not to attribute them to
an occult cause? What is God? What is a spirit? They are causes of
which we have no idea. O wise divines! Study nature and her laws;
and since you can there discover the action of natural causes, go
not to those that are supernatural, which, far from enlightening,
will only darken your ideas, and make it utterly impossible that
you should understand yourselves.
§38. Nature, you say, is totally
inexplicable without a God. That is to say, to explain what you
understand very little, you have need of a cause which you
understand not at all. You think to elucidate what is obscure, by
doubling the obscurity; to solve difficulties, by multiplying them.
O enthusiastic philosophers! To prove the existence of a God, write
complete treatises of botany; enter into a minute detail of the
parts of the human body; launch forth into the sky, to contemplate
the revolution of the stars; then return to the earth to admire the
course of waters; behold with transport the butterflies, the
insects, the polypi, and the organized atoms, in which you think
you discern the greatness of your God. All these things will not
prove the existence of God; they will prove only, that you have not
just ideas of the immense variety of matter, and of the effects,
producible by its infinitely diversified combinations, that
constitute the universe. They will prove only your ignorance of
nature; that you have no idea of her powers, when you judge her
incapable of producing a multitude of forms and beings, of which
your eyes, even with the assistance of microscopes, never discern
but the smallest part. In a word, they will prove, that, for want
of knowing sensible agents, or those possible to know, you find it
shorter to have recourse to a word, expressing an inconceivable
§39. We are gravely and repeatedly
told, that, there is no effect without a cause; that, the
world did not make itself. But the universe is a cause, it is
not an effect; it is not a work; it has not been made, because it
is impossible that it should have been made. The world has always
been; its existence is necessary; it is its own cause. Nature,
whose essence is visibly to act and produce, requires not, to
discharge her functions, an invisible mover, much more unknown than
herself. Matter moves by its own energy, by a necessary consequence
of its heterogeneity. The diversity of motion, or modes of mutual
action, constitutes alone the diversity of matter. We distinguish
beings from one another only by the different impressions or
motions which they communicate to our organs.
§40. You see, that all is action in
nature, and yet pretend that nature, by itself, is dead and without
power. You imagine, that this all, essentially acting, needs a
mover! What then is this mover? It is a spirit; a being absolutely
incomprehensible and contradictory. Acknowledge then, that matter
acts of itself, and cease to reason of your spiritual mover, who
has nothing that is requisite to put it in action. Return from your
useless excursions; enter again into a real world; keep to
second causes, and leave to divines their first
cause, of which nature has no need, to produce all the effects
you observe in the world.
§41. It can be only by the diversity of impressions and effects, which bodies make upon us, that we feel them; that we have perceptions and ideas of them; that we distinguish one from another; that we assign them properties. Now, to see or feel an object, the object must act upon our organs; this object cannot act upon us, without exciting some motion in us; it cannot excite motion in us, if it be not in motion itself. At the instant I see an object, my eyes are struck by it; I can have no conception of light and vision, without motion, communicated to my eye, from the luminous, extended, coloured body. At the instant I smell something, my sense is irritated, or put in motion, by the parts that exhale from the odoriferous body. At the moment I hear a sound, the tympanum of my ear is struck by the air, put in motion by a sonorous body, which would not act if it were not in motion itself. Whence it evidently follows, that, without motion, I can neither feel, see, distinguish, compare, judge, nor occupy my thoughts upon any subject whatever.
We are taught, that the essence of a thing is that from which all its properties flow. Now, it is evident, that all the properties of bodies, of which we have ideas, are owing to motion, which alone informs us of their existence, and gives us the first conceptions of them. I cannot be informed of my own existence but by the motions I experience in myself. I am therefore forced to conclude, that motion is as essential to matter as extension, and that matter cannot be conceived without it.
Should any person deny, that motion is essential and necessary
to matter; they cannot, at least, help acknowledging that bodies,
which seem dead and inert, produce motion of themselves, when
placed in a fit situation to act upon one another. For instance;
phosphorus, when exposed to the air, immediately takes, fire. Meal
and water, when mixed, ferment. Thus dead matter begets motion of
itself. Matter has then the power of self-motion; and nature, to
act, has no need of a mover, whose pretended essence would hinder
him from acting.
§42. Whence comes man? What is his origin? Did the first man spring, ready formed, from the dust of the earth? Man appears, like all other beings, a production of nature. Whence came the first stones, the first trees, the first lions, the first elephants, the first ants, the first acorns? We are incessantly told to acknowledge and revere the hand of God, of an infinitely wise, intelligent and powerful maker, in so wonderful a work as the human machine. I readily confess, that the human machine appears to me surprising. But as man exists in nature, I am not authorized to say that his formation, is above the power of nature. But I can much less conceive of this formation, when to explain it, I am told, that a pure spirit, who has neither eyes, feet, hands, head, lungs, mouth nor breath, made man by taking a little clay, and breathing upon it.
We laugh at the savage inhabitants of Paraguay, for calling
themselves the descendants of the moon. The divines of Europe call
themselves the descendants, or the creation, of a pure spirit. Is
this pretension any more rational? Man is intelligent; thence it is
inferred, that he can be the work only of an intelligent being, and
not of a nature, which is void of intelligence. Although nothing is
more rare, than to see man make use of this intelligence, of which
he seems so proud, I will grant that he is intelligent, that his
wants develop this faculty, that society especially contributes to
cultivate it. But I see nothing in the human machine, and in the
intelligence with which it is endued, that announces very precisely
the infinite intelligence of the maker to whom it is ascribed. I
see that this admirable machine is liable to be deranged; I see,
that his wonderful intelligence is then disordered, and sometimes
totally disappears; I infer, that human intelligence depends upon a
certain disposition of the material organs of the body, and that we
cannot infer the intelligence of God, any more from the
intelligence of man, than from his materiality. All that we can
infer from it, is, that God is material. The intelligence of man no
more proves the intelligence of God, than the malice of man proves
the malice of that God, who is the pretended maker of man. In spite
of all the arguments of divines, God will always be a cause
contradicted by its effects, or of which it is impossible to judge
by its works. We shall always see evil, imperfection and folly
result from such a cause, that is said to be full of goodness,
perfection and wisdom.
§43. "What?" you will say, "is intelligent man, is the universe, and all it contains, the effect of chance?" No; I repeat it, the universe is not an effect; it is the cause of all effects; every being it contains is the necessary effect of this cause, which sometimes shews us its manner of acting, but generally conceals its operations. Men use the word chance to hide their ignorance of true causes, which, though not understood, act not less according to certain laws. There is no effect without a cause. Nature is a word, used to denote the immense assemblage of beings, various matter, infinite combinations, and diversified motions, that we behold. All bodies, organized or unorganized, are necessary effects of certain causes. Nothing in nature can happen by chance. Every thing is subject to fixed laws. These laws are only the necessary connection of certain effects with their causes. One atom of matter cannot meet another by chance; this meeting is the effect of permanent laws, which cause every being necessarily to act as it does, and hinder it from acting otherwise, in given circumstances. To talk of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, or to attribute some effects to chance, is merely saying that we are ignorant of the laws, by which bodies act, meet, combine, or separate.
Those, who are unacquainted with nature, the properties of
beings, and the effects which must necessarily result from the
concurrence of certain causes, think, that every thing takes place
by chance. It is not chance, that has placed the sun in the centre
of our planetary system; it is by its own essence, that the
substance, of which it is composed, must occupy that place, and
thence be diffused.
§44. The worshippers of a God find, in the order of the universe, an invincible proof of the existence of an intelligent and wise being, who governs it. But this order is nothing but a series of movements necessarily produced by causes or circumstances, which are sometimes favourable, and sometimes hurtful to us: we approve of some, and complain of others.
Nature uniformly follows the same round; that is, the same causes produce the same effects, as long as their action is not disturbed by other causes, which force them to produce different effects. When the operation of causes, whose effects we experience, is interrupted by causes, which, though unknown, are not the less natural and necessary, we are confounded; we cry out, a miracle! and attribute it to a cause much more unknown, than any of those acting before our eyes.
The universe is always in order. It cannot be in disorder. It is our machine, that suffers, when we complain of disorder. The bodies, causes, and beings, which this world contains, necessarily act in the manner in which we see them act, whether we approve or disapprove of their effects. Earthquakes, volcanoes, inundations, pestilences, and famines are effects as necessary, or as much in the order of nature, as the fall of heavy bodies, the courses of rivers, the periodical motions of the seas, the blowing of the winds, the fruitful rains, and the favourable effects, for which men praise God, and thank him for his goodness.
To be astonished that a certain order reigns in the world, is to
be surprised that the same causes constantly produce the same
effects. To be shocked at disorder, is to forget, that when things
change, or are interrupted in their actions, the effects can no
longer be the same. To wonder at the order of nature, is to wonder
that any thing can exist; it is to be surprised at any one's own
existence. What is order to one being, is disorder to another. All
wicked beings find that every thing is in order, when they can with
impunity put every thing in disorder. They find, on the contrary,
that every thing is in disorder, when they are disturbed in the
exercise of their wickedness.
§45. Upon supposition that God is the author and mover of nature, there could be no disorder with respect to him. Would not all the causes, that he should have made, necessarily act according to the properties, essences, and impulses given them? If God should change the ordinary course of nature, he would not be immutable. If the order of the universe, in which man thinks he sees the most convincing proof of the existence, intelligence, power and goodness of God, should happen to contradict itself, one might suspect his existence, or, at least, accuse him of inconstancy, impotence, want of foresight and wisdom in the arrangement of things; one would have a right to accuse him of an oversight in the choice of the agents and instruments, which he makes, prepares, and puts in action. In short, if the order of nature proves the power and intelligence of the Deity, disorder must prove his weakness, instability, and irrationality.
You say, that God is omnipresent, that he fills the universe
with his immensity, that nothing is done without him, that matter
could not act without his agency. But in this case, you admit, that
your God is the author of disorder, that it is he who deranges
nature, that he is the father of confusion, that he is in man, and
moves him at the moment he sins. If God is every where, he is in
me, he acts with me, he is deceived with me, he offends God with
me, and combats with me the existence of God! O theologians! you
never understand yourselves, when you speak of God.
§46. In order to have what we call intelligence, it is necessary to have ideas, thoughts, and wishes; to have ideas, thoughts, and wishes, it is necessary to have organs; to have organs, it is necessary to have a body; to act upon bodies, it is necessary to have a body; to experience disorder, it is necessary to be capable of suffering. Whence it evidently follows, that a pure spirit can neither be intelligent, nor affected by what passes in the universe.
Divine intelligence, ideas, and views, have, you say, nothing
common with those of men. Very well. How then can men judge, right
or wrong, of these views; reason upon these ideas; or admire this
intelligence? This would be to judge, admire, and adore that, of
which we can have no ideas. To adore the profound views of divine
wisdom, is it not to adore that, of which we cannot possibly judge?
To admire these views, is it not to admire without knowing why?
Admiration is always the daughter of ignorance. Men admire and
adore only what they do not comprehend.
§47. All those qualities, ascribed to God, are totally incompatible with a being, who, by his very essence, is void of all analogy with human beings. It is true, the divines imagine they extricate themselves from this difficulty, by exaggerating the human qualities, attributed to the Divinity; they enlarge them to infinity, where they cease to understand themselves. What results from this combination of man with God? A mere chimera, of which, if any thing be affirmed, the phantom, combined with so much pains, instantly vanishes.
Dante, in his poem upon Paradise, relates, that the Deity
appeared to him under the figure of three circles, forming an iris,
whose lively colours generated each other; but that, looking
steadily upon the dazzling light, he saw only his own figure. While
adoring God, it is himself, that man adores.
§48. Ought not the least reflection
suffice to prove, that God can have none of the human qualities,
all ties, virtues, or perfections? Our virtues and perfections are
consequences of the modifications of our passions. But has God
passions as we have? Again: our good qualities consist in our
dispositions towards the beings with whom we live in society. God,
according to you, is an insulated being. God has no equals -- no
fellow-beings. God does not live in society. He wants the
assistance of no one. He enjoys an unchangeable felicity. Admit
then, according to your own principles, that God cannot have what
we call virtues, and that man cannot be virtuous with respect to
§49. Man, wrapped up in his own
merit, imagines the human race to be the sole object of God in
creating the universe. Upon what does he found this flattering
opinion? We are told: that man is the only being endued with
intelligence, which enables him to know the Deity, and to render
him homage. We are assured, that God made the world only for his
own glory, and that it was necessary that the human species should
come into this plan, that there might be some one to admire his
works, and glorify him for them. But, according to these
suppositions, has not God evidently missed his object? 1st. Man,
according to yourselves, will always labour under the completest
impossibility of knowing his God, and the most invincible ignorance
of his divine essence. 2ndly. A being, who has no equal, cannot be
susceptible of glory; for glory can result only from the comparison
of one's own excellence with that of others. 3rdly. If God be
infinitely happy, if he be self-sufficient, what need has he of the
homage of his feeble creatures? 4thly. God, notwithstanding all his
endeavours, is not glorified; but, on the contrary, all the
religions in the world represent him as perpetually offended; their
sole object is to reconcile sinful, ungrateful, rebellious man with
his angry God.
§50. If God be infinite, he has
much less relation with man, than man with ants. Would the ants
reason pertinently concerning the intentions, desires, and projects
of the gardener? Could they justly imagine, that a park was planted
for them alone, by an ostentatious monarch, and that the sole
object of his goodness was to furnish them with a superb residence?
But, according to theology, man is, with respect to God, far below
what the vilest insect is to man. Thus, by theology itself, which
is wholly devoted to the attributes and views of the Divinity,
theology appears a complete folly.