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the solution of every difficulty." While Holbach was writing these words history was falsifying them by showing that atheism was a creed which the vulgarest of the vulgar could easily learn. The masses whom the philosophers despised were overhearing them, and finding no difficulty in understanding the propositions, There is no God, There is no soul, There is nothing in the universe which may not be resolved into matter and motion. These propositions have never been proved by any one; but the stupidest of men may understand them without difficulty, and believe them and act on them to his own ruin and his neighbours' injury. Our atheistical men of science need not suppose that atheistical materialism is a kind of wisdom which they can keep to themselves, so that it will not get into the possession of the dangerous classes, who may make a frightful use of it. The dangerous classes, explain it how you may, are just those who have always shown a special aptitude for believing it. Holbach, to do him justice, although he thought the masses unqualified to understand and appreciate atheism, did not wish or endeavour to conceal it from them ; on the contrary, he wished and zealously strove to propagate it among them. The result amply proved that the task was not a difficult one.
What Holbach substitutes for God is matter
and motion. These two, he holds, are inseparable, Matter is not dead but essentially active. Observation and reflection, he says, ought to convince us that everything in nature is in continual motion; that there is not one of its parts, however minute, that enjoys true repose; that nature acts in all; that she would cease to be nature if she did not act. To the obvious question, Whence did nature receive her motion ? he answers, “We do not know, neither do you; we never shall, you never will.” It is a most unreasonable answer to a most reasonable question. Those who put the question are men who offer reasons for believing that the materials and the motions of the universe are so fashioned, combined, and arranged as to point back to a true and intelligent cause; and no one can have a right to set aside their reasons by merely asserting that it can never be known whence motion comes. The contention of the theist is, that it may be perfectly well known that both matter and motion come from a Supreme and Intelligent Will. Further, to affirm that matter moves of its own peculiar energies—that it is essentially active and alive-is contrary to a truth which all experience confirms, and on which all physical and mechanical calculations are based, -namely, that matter moves only as it is moved —that if not acted on it will never move—and that if once set in motion it will only cease mov
ing through being resisted. He who believes in the activity of matter must abandon belief in its inertia. Like all materialists, Holbach had to ascribe to matter more than he had right to do, in order to be able to deduce the more from it.
This is also to be observed, that Holbach's heart had at least as much to do as his head with ascribing activity and life to nature. It craved for more than a merely material universe. It had affections and aspirations which could only have been satisfied by a very different answer to the problem of existence than that which materialism had to offer, and although they never were satisfied they exerted some influence. Speculative atheist although he was, Holbach unconsciously felt the need of having a being to worship. He denied nature's God, but the soul within him worked through his imagination, and transformed nature until he could adore it as his god. All through his book he is ever and again vindicating, glorifying, and invoking nature as a kind of deity. What is this, for example, but prayer to nature as to a god, but worship of an unenlightened and inconsistent kind? “O nature, sovereign of all beings! and ye, her adorable daughters, virtue, reason, and truth! remain for ever our revered protectors : it is to you that belong the praises of the human race; to you appertains the homage of the earth. Show us then, O nature, that which man ought to do in order to obtain the happiness which thou makest him desire. Banish error from our mind, wickedness from our hearts, confusion from our footsteps; cause knowledge to extend its benignant reign, goodness to occupy our souls, serenity to dwell in our bosoms."
There are numerous passages of this character in the 'System of Nature. Sometimes even a better genius than his own familiar spirit takes possession of its author, and causes him utterly to forget that he is the avowed enemy of theism, and a believer only in matter and motion. Witness a passage like the following, which is in direct contradiction to the atheism he usually and explicitly inculcates : “The great Cause of causes must have produced everything; but is it not lessening the true dignity of the Divinity to introduce Him as interfering in every operation of nature-nay, in every action of so insignificant a creature as man,—as a mere agent, executing His own eternal, immutable laws; when experience, when reflection, when the evidence of all we contemplate, warrants the idea that this ineffable Being has rendered nature competent to every effect, by giving her those irrevocable laws, that eternal, unchange. able system, according to which all the beings she sustains must eternally act? Is it not more worthy of the exalted mind of the Great Parent of parents, ens entium, more consistent with truth, to suppose that His wisdom, in giving these immutable, these eternal laws to the macrocosm, foresaw everything that could possibly be requisite for the happiness of the beings contained in it; that, therefore, He left it to the invariable operation of a system, which never can produce any effect that is not the best possible that circumstances, however viewed, will admit?”
In the work under consideration, order and confusion are maintained to have no existence in nature itself. All is necessarily in order, we are told, since everything acts and moves according to constant and invariable laws; confusion is consequently impossible. But as it is at the same time admitted that a series of motions or actions, although necessitated, may or may not conspire to one common end, and as coexistent individuals of any kind may either promote or oppose the development of one another, the reality both of order and confusion is actually granted while professedly denied. That a child should be born without eyes or legs is as much an effect of natural causes as that it should be born with them; but seeing that eyes and legs are really useful to human beings, and not merely supposed by them to be useful, the possession or want of eyes and legs may be characterised with the strictest propriety as an example of order or confusion. In like manner, theft and