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The modern atheistical Hypotheses examined, and the Unrea
sonableness of them shewed.
W come to consider the atheistical hypotheses of CHAP. this age; which I shall rank under these two heads :
1. Such as have a tendency towards atheism.
Such as weaken the known and generally received 1. proofs of God and Providence.
Such as attribute too much to the mechanical powers 2. of matter and motion.
I begin with those who have gone about to weaken the known and generally received arguments for God and Providence; which I have at large shewed were those taken from the manifest effects of wisdom and design in the parts of animals, and in the frame of the world. I am far from intending to lay the charge of atheism on any who have weakened some arguments to prove a God, when they have industriously set themselves to do it from any other, although not so firm, nor so generally received. For I consider the fondness men have for their own inventions, and how apt therefore they are to slight other arguments in comparison with them. And this I take to have been the case of a modern philosopher of great and deserved reputation : Des Cartes
Medit. iv. for he, designing to do something beyond other men, Princip. thought he did nothing, unless he produced arguments .-.
Phil. par. i. which he thought had not been pursued by others. To this end he set aside the argument from final causes, for two reasons. 1. Because in physical inquiries we Resp. ad ought to make use of none but the strongest reasons." 2. Because all God's ends are unsearchable by us,
BOOK being kept close in the abyss of his infinite wisdom.
- But when he was smartly urged by his learned adver
sary, that although upon another occasion he might set aside final causes, yet he ought not when the honour of God, as the maker of the soul, is concerned; for by these means the argument from the light of nature, as to the wisdom, providence, power, and existence of God, would be cast off; which he looks on as the chief argument, (which is taken from the parts of the visible world, the heavens, earth, plants, animals, and especially mankind ;) he had no other answer to make, but that what was brought for a final cause, ought to be referred to the efficient, i.e. that from those things we ought to know and honour God as the maker, but not to guess for what end he made them. Which is a strange answer to be made by one of so much sagacity. For, as Gassendus well urges, how can we honour God for the excellent use of these things, and not know for what end they were made? Wherein lies the difference between the use and the end in this case ? For he that adores God for the use, must do it for the end he designed those things for.
But, saith Des Cartes, in moral considerations, wherein it is a pious thing to make use of conjectures, we may consider God's end; but not in physical speculations, wherein we must only make use of the strongest reasons.
To which Gassendus very well answers, That if he takes away the final cause, he weakens the argument for the efficient : for that leads us to him. And it is not the bare sight of the visible world, which makes us own God to be the maker of it; because it is possible for men to think that these things were so from eternity, or came by chance : but when we observe the wisdom of God in the design and contrivance, then we
come upon good grounds to own the efficient cause, and CHAP. to adore him for the workmanship of his hands. As, – saith he, if a man sees a passage for water between stones on each side with an arch over, that doth not presently convince him that it is a bridge; because pieces of rocks might happen so as to afford such a passage: but when he comes to consider the order in which they are framed and hold together, and the conveniency of mankind for passing over, he cannot then but acknowledge there was a skilful artificer who managed it, and that it could not be done by chance.
To the other argument, that God's ends are un searchable, he answers, That it is not to be denied that God may have ends above our reach ; but, on the other side, there are ends which lie open to our view; as, saith he, particularly in the body of man, as the frame of the mouth for respiration and nourishment, and all other passages so exactly fitted for those ends; and so the bones, muscles, nerves, and other parts of the body: but there are three especially which strike him with admiration. 1. The umbilical vessels, the fitness of them for distribution of nourishment to the embryo, and the alteration after the child is born. 2. The valves of the heart, and the several vessels for receiving and distributing the blood. 3. The perforation of the tendons, which serve to draw the fingers into the hollow of the hand. These were close and pressing instances; of which Gassendus professeth, that neither himself nor any of his acquaintance, who had made it their business to search into the causes of things, were able to give any other account of them, but from the wisdom and power of God. And he challenges Des Cartes to shew him what mechanical cause could produce such valves about the heart; out of what matter, and in what manner they were made ;
, BOOK how they came to have such a temper, consistence,
flexibility, bigness, figure, situation, &c. But I do not find that he ever undertook to give any answer to it;
but, by a letter to Mersennus, it seems he was of opinEpist. par. ion, that he could give an account of the formation of ii. ep. 98.
the several parts of animals in a mechanical way, supposing God to have established those laws of mechanism, which he supposes in the same manner as he had explained the grains of salt, and figures of snow in his meteors. But however he might please himself in his opinion, he hath given the world no manner of satisfaction about it; insomuch that his posthumous piece to that purpose is charged with great and funda
inental mistakes. However his disciples run on upon Regis Me. the same ground, that final causes are to be considered taphys. 1. ii. part. i. only in morals; and they must overthrow the arguNittich. in Meditat.“ ment to prove a Deity from the wisdom and contriv
·ance in the works of creation; which, according to p. 97.
them, are only occasion of our meditation and praise. But how can men of sense satisfy themselves with this answer? For can we give thanks to God for the use of our senses, without knowing that God gave us eyes to see with, with such admirable contrivance for that purpose; and so for all the variety of organs for our hearing, unless we are satisfied that God did really give them for those ends ? Otherwise all that we have to do, is to thank God for putting matter into motion, and for establishing those laws of mechanism from whence these organs resulted. With what devotion can we praise God for the benefits we have from the influences of heaven and the fruits of the earth, if these things . were not intended for our good; but it fell out by the laws of mechanism, that we have these advantages by them? So that all natural religion, according to this hypothesis, comes to no more than an acknowledgment
of God to be the efficient Cause of the world, although CHAP. we have no reason from his works to conclude him to – be so. Yes, say they, from them as the effects of a first Cause, which put matter into motion, we may ; but not from the ends which God intended by them, which are above our capacity. But this falls short of Aristotle's divinity; for he asserted, that not only the first motion was from God, but the order of the universe; and that God did design the mutual benefits which one part of it hath from others : but, according to these laws of mechanism, God only put the matter into motion with such laws, and then every thing came into the order it is in, without any design of Providence. Which takes away all life and spirit in religion, which depends upon God's managing the affairs of the world; and without that men may own a first Mover, and yet live as without God in the world. What reason can we imagine why we ought to give God thanks for fruitful seasons, or to pray to him in time of drought and scarcity, if he hath left all these things to the natural course, which he hath established in the world ? But it is not denied by Des Cartes, that God may reveal to us his own ends, and then we are to believe them, and to serve him accordingly; but that without such revelation we cannot find them out. Now this, I say, is contrary to the general sense of mankind, where there hath been the most confused notion of a God. For I have already observed, that even the Caffres of Soldania (or at the Cape of Good Hope) do pray solemnly to God in their distresses for want of rain; and the savages of the northern parts of America do the same at some seasons of the year above others : so that if the consent of mankind signify any thing as to the being of God, it will do as much as to his providential care of the world, and if such a confused idea did carry along with it the notion of his providence, much more