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CH AP. VI.
OF THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE.
I. The necessity of the belief of the creation of the world, in order
to the truth of religion. Of the several hypotheses of the philosophers who contradict Moses : with a particular examination of them. II. The ancient tradition of the world consonant to Moses; proved from the Ionic philosophy of Thales, and the Italic of Pythagoras. III. The Pythagoric cabala rather Egyptian than Mosaic. Of the fluid matter, which was the material principle of the universe. IV. Of the hypothesis of the eternity of the world, asserted by Ocellus Lucanus and Aristotle. V. The weakness of the foundations on which that opinion is built. Of the manner of forming principles of philosophy. VI. The possibility of creation proved. (No arguing from the present state of the world against its beginning, shewed from Maimonides.] VII. The Platonists' arguments, from the goodness of God for the eternity of the world, answered. VIII. Of the stoical hypothesis of the eternity of matter ; whether reconcilable with the text of Moses. IX. Of the opinions of Plato and Pythagoras concerning the preexistence of matter to the formation of the world. X. The contradiction of the eternity of matter to the nature and attributes of God. XI, XII, XIII. Of the atomical hypothesis of the origin of the universe. XIV, XV, XVI, XVII. The world could not be produced by a casual concourse of atoms, proved from the nature and motion of Epicurus's atoms, and the phænomena of the universe ; especially the pro
STILLINGFLEET, VOL. II.
duction and nature of animals. XVIII. Of the Cartesian hypothesis, that it cannot salve the origin of the universe without a
Deity giving motion to matter. BOOK THE foundations of religion being thus established
in the being of God, and the immortality of the soul, we now come to erect our superstructure upon them, by asserting the undoubted truth and certainty of that account of the world which is given us in the writings of Moses ; which, beginning with the world itself, leads us to a particular consideration of the origin of the universe; the right understanding of which hath great influence upon our belief of all that follows in the word of God. For although we should assert with Epicurus the being of a Deity, if yet with him we add that the world was made by a casual concourse of atoms, all that part of religion which lies in obedience to the will of God is unavoidably destroyed. All that is left is only a kind of veneration of a Being more excellent than our own, which reacheth not to the government of men's lives, and so will have no force at all upon the generality of the world, who are only allured by hopes, or awed by fears, to that which of their choice they would be glad to be freed from. Besides, what expressions of gratitude can be left to God for his goodness, if he interpose not in the affairs of the world ? What dependance can there be on Divine goodness, if it be not at all manifested in the world? What apprehensions can we have of God's infinite wisdom and power, if neither of them are discernible in the being of the world ? And as the opinion of Epicurus destroys religion, so doth that of Aristotle, which attributes eternity to the universe, and a necessary emanation of it from the first cause, as light comes from the sun; for if so, as Maimonides well observes,
the whole religion of Moses is overthrown, all his CHAP. miracles are but impostures, all the hopes which are grounded on the promises of God are vain and fruit- More Ne
voch. p. ii. less. For if the world did of necessity exist, then God is no free agent; and if so, then all instituted religion is to no purpose : nor can there be any expectation of reward, or fear of punishment, from him who hath nothing else to do in the world but to set the great wheel of the heavens going. So much is it our concernment to inquire into the true original of the world, and on what evidence of reason those opinions are built, which are so contrary to that account given of it in the very entrance of the books of Moses; wherein we read the true origin of the world to have been by a production of it, by the omnipotent will and word of God. This being then the plain assertion of Moses, we come to compare it, in point of reason, with all those several hypotheses which are repugnant to it, which have been embraced in several ages by the philosophers of greatest esteem in the world ; which may be reduced to these four: 1. Such as suppose the world to have existed as it is from all eternity. 2. Such as attribute the formation of the world as it is to God; but withal assert the preexistence and eternity of matter. 3. Such as deny any eternity to the world, but assert the origin of it to have been by a casual concourse of atoms. 4. Such as endeavour to explain the origin of the universe, and all appearances of nature, merely by the mechanical laws of the motion of matter.
I begin with those who assert the eternity of the world as it is, among whom Aristotle hath borne the greatest name, who seems to have arrogated this opinion to himself; for when he inquires into the judgment of the philosophers who had wrote before him, he says of
BOOK them, γενόμενον μεν ούν άπαντες είναι φασιν, all the philo
sophers asserted that the world was made, though some one way, some another. And were this true which Aristotle saith, it would be the strongest prejudice against his opinion; for if the world had been eternal, how should it come to pass that the oldest philosophers should so readily and unanimously embrace that opinion which asserted the production of the world? Was it not a strong presumption of the novity of the universe, that all nations to whom the philosophers resorted had memorials left among them of the first origin of things ? And from hence it is observable, that, when the humour of philosophizing began to take the Greeks, (about the 40th Olympiad, when we may suppose Thales to flourish,) the beginning of the world was no matter of dispute; but, taking that for granted, the inquiry was, out of what material
principle the universe was formed. Of which Thales Cicero de thus delivers his opinion in Tully; Aquam dixit esse Nat. Deor. initium rerum, Deum autem eam mentem, quæ ex aqua
cuncta fingeret; wherein he plainly distinguisheth the efficient from the material cause of the world. The prime efficient was God; the material principle, water. It is a matter of some inquiry, whether the first principles of philosophy among the Greeks were not rather some traditional things conveyed to them from others, than any certain theories which they had formed from their own experiments and observations. The former is to me far the more probable on many accounts, but chiefly on this; that the first principles of the two founders of the chief sects of philosophers, viz. the Ionic and Italic, (for all the other were but the various issues of these two,) did come so near to that which we have the greatest reason to believe to have been the most certain account of the origin of the world.
1. i. c. 25.