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´╗┐Title: Answer to Dr. Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever
Author: Turner, Matthew, -1788
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Answer to Dr. Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Attributed to Matthew Turner (d. 1788?) and William Hammon.

Transcribed by the Freethought Archives

NOTE: Irregularities in orthography and punctuation have been
reproduced without emendation from the first edition of 1782.





The Editor of this publication has more in object to answer Dr. Priestley
than to deliver his own sentiments upon Natural Religion, which however
he has no inclination to disguise: but he does not mean to be answerable
for them farther, than as by reason and nature he is at present
instructed. The question here handled is not so much, whether a
Deity and his attributed excellences exist, as whether there is any
Natural or Moral proof of his existence and of those attributes.
Revealed knowledge is not descanted upon; therefore Christians at least
need take no offence. Doubts upon Natural Religion have not hitherto
been looked upon as attacks upon Revelation, but rather as corroborations
of it. What the Editor believes as a Christian (if he is one is
therefore another affair, nor does he reckon himself so infallible or
incapable of alteration in his sentiments, as not at another time to
adopt different ones upon more reflexion and better information;
therefore, though he has at present little or no doubt of what he
asserts (taken upon the principles laid down) he shall hold himself
totally freed from any necessity of defending the contents of this
publication if brought into controversy; and as he has no desire of
making converts, hopes he shall not himself be marked out as an object
of persecution.

Speculative points have always been esteemed fair matters for a free
discussion. The religion established in this country is not the
religion of Nature, but the religion of Moses and Jesus, with whom the
writer has nothing to do. He trusts therefore he shall not be received
as a malevolent disturber of such common opinions as are esteemed to
keep in order a set of low wretches so inclinable to be lawless. At
least, if he attempts to substitute better foundations for morality,
malevolence can be no just charge. Truth is his aim; and no professors
of religion will allow their system to be false. Or if he should be
thought too bold a speculator, such of the ecclesiastics as will be his
opponents may rather laugh at him than fear him. They have a thousand
ways of making their sentiments go down with the bulk of mankind, to
one this poor writer has. They are an army ready marshalled for the
support of their own thesis; they are in the habit of controversy;
pulpits are open to them as well as the press; and while the present
author will be looked upon as a miracle of hardiness for daring to put
his name to what he publishes, they can without fear or imputation lift
up their heads; and should they even be known to transgress the bounds
of good sense or politeness, they will only be esteemed as more zealous
labourers in their own vocation.


Dr. Priestley,

Your Letters addressed to a Philosophical Unbeliever I perused, not
because I was a Philosopher or an Unbeliever; it were presumption to
give myself the former title, and at that time I certainly did not
deserve the latter; but as I was acquainted with another, who in
reality, as far as I and others who know him can judge, deserves the
title of a Philosopher and is neither ashamed nor afraid of that of an
Unbeliever, I conceived them apt to be sent to my friend, and when I
presented them to him, he said he was the person whom he should suppose
you meant to address, if you had a particular person in view; but he
had too much understanding of the world, though much abstracted from
the dregs of it, not to conceive it more probable that you meant your
Letters to be perused by thinking men in general, Believers and
Unbelievers, to confirm the former in their creed, and to convert the
latter from their error. You shall speedily know the effect they have
had in both ways. For myself I must inform you that I was brought up a
Believer from my infancy; a Theist, if a Christian is such; for I
suppose the word will be allowed, though the equivalent term of Deist
is so generally reprobated by Christians; I had before my eyes the
example of a most amiable parent; a moral man, a Christian undoubtedly;
who, when I have been attending upon him, as much from affection as
from duty upon a sick and nearly dying bed, has prayed I might be
stedfast in the faith he held, in accents still sounding in my
intellectual ear; a parent, whom for his virtues and love of his
offspring, like a Chinese, I am tempted to worship, and I could exclaim
with the first of poets,

          _"Erit ille mihi semper Deus."_

With such habits of education then, such fervent advice and such
reverence for my instructor, what can have turned me from my belief;
for I confess I am turned? Immorallity it is not; that I assert has not
preceded my unbelief, and I trust never will follow it; there has not
indeed yet been time for it to follow; whether it is a probable
consequence will presently be discussed; but it is _thought_, free
thought upon the subject; when I began freely to think I proceeded
boldly to doubt; your Letters gave me the cause for thinking, and my
scepticism was exchanged for conviction; not entirely by the perusal of
your Letters; for I do not think they would quite have made me an
Atheist! but by attention to that answer from my friend, which I have
his permission to subjoin.

In mentioning that doubts arose by reading your very Letters, which
were written to eradicate all doubts, let me not accuse you of being
unequal to the task assumed. I mean no such charge. You have in my
opinion been fully equal to the discussion, and have bandied the
argument ably, pleasingly and politely. I am certain from the extracts
you have made from Dr. Clarke, the first of other Divines, I should
have been converted from my superstition by his reasoning, even without
perusal of an answer: I pay you however the compliment of having only
brought me to doubt, and I find I am not the only person who have been
led to disbelieve by reading books expressly written to confirm the
Believer. Stackhouse's Comment upon the Bible, and Leland's View of
Deistical Writers have perhaps made as many renegado's in this country
as all the allurements of Mahometanism has in others. What can be said
to this? They were both undoubtedly men of abilities, and meant well to
the cause they had to support. All that I shall observe upon the matter
is, that what cannot bear discussion cannot be true. Reasoning in other
sciences is the way to arrive at truth: the learned for a while may
differ, but argument at last finds its force, and the controversy
usually ends in general conviction. Reasoning upon the science of
divinity will equally have its weight, and all men of letters would
long ago have got rid of all superstitious notions of a Deity, but that
men of letters are frequently men of weak nerves; such as Dr. Johnson
is well known to be, that great triumph to religionists; it requires
courage as well as sense to break the shackles of a pious education;
but if merely a resolve to reason upon their force can break them, what
can we observe in conclusion but

          _"Magnus est veritas et prevalebit."_

That religion or belief of a Deity cannot bear the force of argument is
well known by Divines in general, is manifest by their annexing an idea
of reproach to the very term of arguing upon the subject. These arguers
they call Free-thinkers, and this appellation has obtained, in the
understanding of pious believers, the most odious disgrace. Yet we
cannot argue without thinking; nor can we either think or argue to any
purpose without freedom. Therefore free-thinking, so far from being a
disgrace, is a virtue, a most commendable quality. How absurd, and how
cruel it is in the professors of divinity, to address the understanding
of men on the subject of their belief, and to upbraid those very men
who shall exercise their understanding in attending to their arguments!
No tyranny is greater than that of ecclesiastics. These chain down our
very ideas, other tyrants only confine our limbs. They invite us to the
argument, yet damn us to eternal punishment for the use of reason on
the subject. They give to man an essence distinct from his corporeal
appearance and this they call his soul, a very ray and particle of the
Divine Being; the principal faculty of this soul they allow to be that
of reasoning, and yet they call reason a dark lanthorn, an erroneous
vapour, a false medium, and at last the very instrument of another
fancied Being of their own to lead men into their own destruction.
_"In the image of himself made he man."_ A favourite text with
theologians; but surely they do not mean that this God Almighty of
theirs has got a face and person like a man. No; that they exclaim
against, and, when we push them for the resemblance, they confess
it is in the use of reason; it is in the soul.

I am aware that I am not here to mix questions of Christianity with the
general question of a Divinity; subjects of a very distinct enquiry,
and which in the Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever are very
carefully separated. The subject of revelation is indeed promised
afterwards to be taken up, provided the argument in favour of Natural
Religion meets with a good reception. How, Dr. Priestley, you can judge
of that reception I am at a loss to know, otherwise than by the number
of editions you publish. It is then in the sum total just as much as if
you had said, "provided this book sells well I will write another." Yet
it may be sold to many such readers as I have been, though you will
hardly call such reception good. You that have wrote so much, to whom
it is so easy to write more, who profess a belief of revelation, such a
laborious enquirer, and so great a master of the art of reasoning,
should rather have engaged at once to prove in a subsequent publication
the truth of revealed religion in arguments, as candid and as fairly
drawn as those you have used in proof of a Deity independent of
revelation. Different as I am in qualifications from you, not very
learned, far from industrious, unused to publish, I do now promise
that when you shall have brought into light your intended letters in
behalf of revelation I will answer them. I hope you will take it as an
encouragement to write that you are sure you shall have an answer. I
mean you should, and I am sure I shall think myself greatly honoured if
you will descend so far as to reply to my present answer. I know you
have been used in controversies to have the last word, and in this I
shall not baulk your ambition; for notwithstanding any defect of my
plea in favour of atheism I mean to join issue upon your replication,
and by no means, according to the practice and language of the lawyers,
to put in a rejoinder. Should your arguments be defectively answered by
me, should your learning and your reasoning be more conspicuous than
mine, I shall bear your triumph without repining.

I declare I am rather pleased there are so few atheists than at all
anxious to make more. I triumph in my superior light. I am like the Jew
or the Bramin who equally think themselves privileged in their superior
knowledge of the Deity. With me and with my friend the comparison holds
by way of contrast, for we are so proud in our singularity of being
atheists that we will hardly open our lips in company, when the
question is started for fear of making converts, and so lessening our
own enjoyment by a numerous division of our privilege with others. It
has indeed often been disputed, whether there is or ever was such a
character in the world as an atheist. That it should be disputed is to
me no wonder. Every thing may be, and almost every thing has been
disputed. There are few or none who will venture openly to acknowledge
themselves to be atheists. I know none among my acquaintance, except
that one friend, to whom as a Philosophical Unbeliever I presented your
Letters, and to whose answer I only mean this address as an
introduction. I shall therefore not enter here into the main argument
of Deity or no Deity. My address is only preliminary to the subject;
but I do not therefore think myself precluded from entering into some
considerations that may be thought incidental to it. I mean such
considerations as whether immorality, unhappiness or timidity
necessarily do or naturally ought to ensue from a system of atheism.
But as to the question whether there is such an existent Being as an
atheist, to put that out of all manner of doubt, I do declare upon my
honour that I am one. Be it therefore for the future remembered, that
in London in the kingdom of England, in the year of our Lord one
thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, a man has publickly declared
himself an atheist. When my friend returned me your Letters, addressing
me with a grave face he said, "I hope, if you have any doubts, these
Letters will have as good effect upon you as they have had upon me."
My countenance brightened up and I replied, "You are then, my friend,
convinced ?" "Yes, he said, I am convinced; that is, I am most
thoroughly convinced there is no such thing as a God." Behold then,
if we are to be believed, two atheists instead of one.

Another question has been raised "whether a society of atheists can
exist?" In other words "whether honesty sufficient for the purposes
of civil society can be insured by other motives than the belief of
a Deity?" Bayle has handled that question well. [Footnote: _Pensees
sur la Comete_.] Few who know how to reason (and it is in vain to speak
or think of those who lay reason out of the case) can fail to be convinced
by the arguments of Bayle. I shall discuss the question no farther
than as it is necessarily included in the discussion of some of those
supposed results of atheism, such as I have before mentioned in the
instances of immorality, unhappiness and timidity. In my argument
upon this subject I shall carefully avoid all abuse and ridicule.
Controversies are apt to be acrimonious. You, Sir, have certainly shewn
instances to the contrary. You have charity beyond your fellows in the
ecclesiastical line, and your answerers seem not to me to have a right
in fair argument to step out of the limits you have prescribed
yourself. To dispute with you is a pleasure equal almost to that of
agreeing with another person. You have candour enough to allow it
possible that an atheist may be a moral man. Where is that other
ecclesiastic who will allow the same? Your answerers ought also to
hold themselves precluded from using ridicule in handling this subject.
I am no great supporter of Lord Shaftesbury's doctrine that ridicule
is the test of truth. I own truth can never be ridiculous, that is,
it can never be worthy of laughter, but still it may be laughed at.
To use the other term, I may say, truth can never be worthy of ridicule,
but still it may be ridiculed. Just ridicule is a sufficient test
of truth; but after all we should be driven to an inquiry, upon
the principles of reasoning, whether the ridicule were just or not.
Boldness, which is not incompatible with decency and candour, I do
hold to be an absolute requisite in all speech and argument, where
truth is the object of inquiry. Therefore when I am asked, whether
there is a God or no God, I do not mince the matter, but I boldly
answer there is none, and give my reason for my disbelief; for I
adopt my friend's answer by the publication of it.

That mischief may ensue to society by such freedom of discussion is
also another argument for me to consider; I do not say to combat, for
though I were convinced or could not resist the argument that mischief
would ensue to society by such a discussion, yet I should think myself
intitled to enter into it. I have a right to truth, and to publish
truth, let society suffer or not suffer by it. That society which
suffers by truth should be otherwise constituted; and as I cannot well
think that truth will hurt any society rightly constituted, so I should
rather be inclined to doubt the force of the argument in case atheism
being found to be truth should apparently be proved prejudicial to such
a society.

I come unprejudiced to the question, and when I have promised you an
answer to your future Letters in support of revelation, I have neither
anticipated your argument nor prejudged the cause. I hold myself open
to be convinced, and if I am convinced I shall say so, which is equally
answering as if I denied the force of your observations. In that sense
only I promise an answer. If I believe I shall say, I do; but I shall
not believe and tremble, confident as I am, that if I act an honest
part in life, whether there be a Deity and a future existence or not,
whatever reason I may have to rejoice in case such ideas he realised, I
can upon such an issue have none to tremble. I look upon myself to have
more reason to be temporally afraid than eternally so. Dr. Priestley or
any other Doctor can put his name boldly to a book in favour of Theism,
loudly call the supporters of a contrary doctrine to the argument, and
if no answer is produced, assert their own reasoning to be unanswerable.
In that sense their sort of reasoning has been frequently unanswerable.
Here however is an instance of a poor unknown individual, making
experience of the candour of the ecclesiastics and the equity of
the laws of England, for he ventures to subscribe his publication with
his name as well as Dr. Priestley does his Letters, to which this
publication is an answer. Perhaps he may have cause to repent of his
hardiness, but if he has, he is equally resolved to glory in his
martyrdom, as to suffer it. Whatever advantage religion has had in the
enumeration of it's martyrs, the cause of atheism may boast the same.
As to the instances of the professors of any particular form of
religion, or modification of that form, such as Christians or sects of
Christians, suffering martyrdom for their belief, I shall no more allow
them to be martyrs for theism than Pagans similarly suffering for their
belief, shall I call martyrs for atheism. Theism very likely has had
it's martyrs. I can instance one I think in Socrates, and I shall
mention Vanini as a martyr for atheism. The conduct of those two great
men in their last moments may be worth attending to. The variety of
other poor heretical wretches, who have been immolated at the shrine of
absurdity for all the possible errors of human credence, let them have
their legendary fame. I put them out of the scale in this important

Not that I really think the argument to be much advanced by naming the
great supporters of one opinion or of another. In mathematics,
mechanics, natural philosophy, in literature, taste, and politics the
sentiments of great men of great genius are certainly of weight. There
are some subjects capable of demonstration, many indeed which the
ingenuity of one man can go farther to illustrate than that of another.
The force of high authority is greater in the three former sciences
than in the latter. Theism and Atheism I hold to be neither of them
strictly demonstrable. You, Dr. Priestley, agree with me in that. Still
I hold the question capable of being illustrated by argument, and I
should hold the authority of great men's names to be of more weight in
this subject, were I not necessarily forced to consider that all
education is strongly calculated to support the idea of a Deity; by
this education prejudice is introduced, and prejudice is nothing else
than a corruption of the understanding. Certain principles, call them,
if you please, data, must be agreed upon before any reasoning can take
place. Disputants must at least agree in the ideas which they annex to
the language they use. But when prejudice has made a stand,
argumentation is set at so wide a distance, through a want of fixt data
to proceed upon, that attention is in vain applied to the dispute.
Besides, the nature of the subject upon which this prejudice takes
place, is such, that the finest genius is nearly equally liable to an
undue bias with the most vulgar. To question with boldness and
indifference, whether an individual, all-forming, all-seeing and
all-governing Being exists, to whom, if he exists, we may possibly be
responsible for our actions, whose intelligence and power must be
infinitely superior to our own, requires a great conquest of former
habitude, a firmness of nerves, as well as of understanding; it will
therefore be no great wonder, if such men as Locke and Newton can be
named among the believers in a Deity. They were christians as well as
theists, so that their authority goes as far in one respect as in the
other. But if the opinions of men of great genius are to have weight,
what is to be said of modern men of genius? You, Sir, are of opinion
that the world is getting wiser as well as better. There is all the
reason in the world it should get wiser at least, since wisdom is only
a collection of experience, and there must be more experience as the
world is older. Modern Philosophers are nearly all atheists. I take the
term atheist here in the popular sense. Hume, Helvetius, Diderot,
D'Alembert. Can they not weigh against Locke and Newton, and even more
than Locke and Newton, since their store of knowledge and learning was
at hand to be added to their own, and among them are those who singly
possessed equal science in mathematics as in metaphysics? It is not
impossible, perhaps not improbable, from his course of learning and
inquiries, that if Dr. Priestley had not from his first initiation into
science been dedicated for what is called the immediate service of God,
he himself might have been one of the greatest disprovers of his
pretended divinity.

In England you think, Sir, that atheism is not prevalent among men of
free reasoning, though you acknowledge it to be much so in other
countries. It is not the first time it has been observed that the
greater the superstition of the common people the less is that of men
of letters. In the heart of the Papal territories perhaps is the
greatest number of atheists, and in the reformed countries the greatest
number of deists. Yet it is a common observation, especially by
divines, that deism leads to atheism, and I believe the observation is
well founded. I hardly need explain here, that by deism in this sense
is meant a belief in the existence of a Deity from natural and
philosophical principles, and a disbelief in all immediate revelation
by the Deity of his own existence. Such is the force of habit, that it
is by degrees only, that even men of sense and firmness shake off one
prejudice after another. They begin by getting rid of the absurdities
of all popular religions. This leaves them simple deists, but the force
of reasoning next carries them a step farther, and whoever trusts to
this reasoning, devoid of all fear and prejudice, is very likely to end
at last in being an atheist. Nor do I admit it to be an argument either
for Revelation or Natural Religion, that the same turn for speculation
that would convert a christian into a theist, will carry him on to be
an atheist, though I know the argument has been often used. If upon
sick beds or in dying moments men revert to their old weakness and
superstitions, their falling off may afford triumph to religionists;
for my part I care not so much for the opinions of sick and dying men,
as of those who at the time are strong and healthy. But in the opinion
of the one or the other I put no great stress. My faith is in
reasoning, for though ridicule is not a complete test of truth,
reasoning I hold certainly to be so. I own belief may be imprest on the
mind otherwise than by the force of reason. The mind may be diseased.
All I shall say is that though I have formerly believed many things
without reason, and even many against it, as is very common, I hope I
shall never more. My mind (I was going to say, thank God) is sane at
present, and I intend to keep it so. I am aware that at the expression
just used some will exclaim in triumph, that the poor wretch could not
help thinking of his God at the same time he was denying him. The
observation would hold good, if it were not that we often speak and
write unpremeditately and though what is in this manner unpremeditately
expressed upon a revision should be certainly expunged, yet I chuse to
leave the expression to shew the force of habit.

In fear lies the origin of all fancied deities, whether sole or

          _Primus in orbe Deos fecit Timor._

But the great debasement of the human mind is evidenced in the instance
of attributing a merit to belief, which has come at last to be stiled a
virtue, and is dignified by the name of faith, that most pitiful of all
human qualities. When the apostle spoke of faith, hope and charity, he
might as well have exclaimed the least of the three is faith, as the
greatest is charity.

One enthusiast cries out _un Roi_ and another _un Dieu_. The reality of
the king I admit, because I feel his power. Against my feeling and my
experience I cannot argue, for upon these sensations is built all
argument. But not all the wondrous works of the creation, as I hear the
visible operations of nature called, convince me in the least of the
existence of a Deity. By nature I mean to express the whole of what I
see and feel, that whole, I call self-existent from all eternity; I
admit a principle of intelligence and design, but I deny that principle
to be extraneous from itself. My creed in fine is the same with that of
the Roman poet;

          _"Deus est ubicunque movemur."_

If then I am admitted to explain my deity in this sense, I am not an
atheist, nor can any one else in the world be such. The _vis naturae_,
the perpetual industry, intelligence and provision of nature must be
apparent to all who see, feel or think. I mean to distinguish this
active, intelligent and designing principle, inherent as much in matter
as the properties of gravity or any elastic, attractive or repulsive
power, from any extraneous foreign force and design in an invisible
agent, supreme though hidden lord and maker over all effects and
appearances that present themselves to us in the course of nature. The
last supposition makes the universe and all other organised matter a
machine made or contrived by the arbitrary will of another Being, which
other Being is called God; and my theory makes a God of this universe,
or admits no other God or designing principle than matter itself and
its various organisations.

The inquiry is said to be important. But why is it so! All truth is
important. It is a question of little importance, merely whether a man
had a maker or no, although it is of great importance to disprove the
existence of such a Deity as theologians wish to establish, because
appearances in the world go against it. Supposing however that it was
granted, that the question, whether there is a Deity or not, was as
little important as other truths, yet the question becomes important
with this reflexion, that other events may follow as deductions; such
as a particular providence, or a future state of rewards and
punishments; but whether such deductions or either of them necessarily
follow may well be queried. As to a particular providence you give up
the reality of it, and I give it up too. But I cannot give up the
argument, that if there were a God with all his allowed attributes of
wisdom, power and justice, there ought to be a particular providence to
counteract the general laws of nature, in favour of those who defend
the interposition. Though the Deity should not interfere unless there
be a worthy cause, agreeable to the Horation rule,

          _"Nec Deus interfuit nisi vindice nodus;"_

Yet surely from the same principles it should follow that the Deity
ought to interfere where there is a worthy cause. Here however arises
another dilemma, for if the Deity has really those attributes of power
and justice, there would never have been occasion for such temperaneous
interpositions. A particular providence must indeed prove one of these
two principles, either that God was imperfect in his design, or that
inert matter is inimical to the properties of God. If that wished for
interposition of the Deity is put off to a future existence, I cannot
help observing, that future day has been already a long while waited
for in vain, and any delay destroys some one attribute or other of the
Deity. He wants justice, or he wants the power, or the will to do good
and be just. That a future state of rewards and punishments may however
exist without a Deity, you, Dr. Priestley, allow to be no impossibility.
It may indeed be argued with apparent justness, that a principle of
reviviscence may as well be admitted as a principle of production in
the first instance: and as to rewards and punishments, judgement may be
rendered, as well as now, by Beings less than Deities. For my part I
firmly wish for such a future state, and though I cannot firmly believe
it, I am resolved to live as if such a state were to ensue. This seems,
I own, like doubting, and doubting may be said to be a miserable state
of anxiety. "Better be confident than unhinged; better confide in
ignorance than have no fixed system." So it may be argued; but I think
the result will be as people feel. Those who do not feel bold enough,
to be satisfied with their own thoughts, may abandon them and adopt the
thoughts of others. For my part I am content with my own; and not the
less so because they do not end in certainty upon matters, from the
nature of them, beyond the complete reach of human intelligence.

There is nothing in fact important to human nature but happiness, which
is or ought to be the end or aim of our being. I mean self-happiness;
but fortunately for mankind, such is by nature our construction, that
we cannot individually be happy unless we join also in promoting the
happiness of others. Should immorality, timidity or other base
principles arise from atheism it tends immediately, I will own, to the
unhappiness of mankind. If it is asked me, "why am I honest and
honourable?" I answer, because of the satisfaction I have in being so.
"Do all people receive that satisfaction?" No, many who are ill
educated, ill-exampled and perverted, do not. I do, that is enough for
me. In short, I am well constructed, and I feel I can therefore act an
honest and honourable part without any religious motive. Did I
perceive, that belief in a Deity produced morality or inspired courage,
I might be prompted to confess, that the contrary would ensue from
atheism. But the bulk of the world has long believed, or long pretended
to believe in a Deity, yet morality and every commendable quality seem
at a stand. The believer and the unbeliever we often see equally base,
equally immoral. Superstition is certainly only the excess of religion.
That evidently is attended often with immorality and cowardice. I am
tempted to say, from observation, that the belief of a Deity is apt to
drive mankind into vice and baseness; but I check myself in the
assertion, upon considering that very few indeed are those who really
believe in a Deity out of such as pretend to do so. It is impossible
for an intellectual being to believe firmly in that of which he can
give no account, or of which he can form no conception. I hold the
Deity, the fancied Deity, at least, of whom with all his attributes
such pompous descriptions are set forth to the great terror of old
women and the amusement of young children, to be an object of which we
form (as appears when we scrutinise into our ideas) no conception and
therefore can give no account. It is said, after all this, that men do
still believe in such a Deity, I then do say in return, they do not
make use of their intellects. The moment we go into a belief beyond
what we feel, see and understand, we might as well believe in
will-with-a-whisp as in God. But I would fix morality upon a better
basis than belief in a Deity. If it has indeed at present no other
basis, it is not morality, it is selfishness, it is timidity; it is the
hope of reward, it is the dread of punishment. For a great and good
man, shew me one who loves virtue because he finds a pleasure in it,
who has acquired a taste for that pleasure by considering what and
where happiness is, who is not such a fool as to seek misery in
preference to happiness, whose honour is his Deity, whose conscience
is his judge. Put such a man in combat against the superstitious son
of Spain or Portugal, it were easy to say who would shew the truest
courage. The question might be more voluminously discussed, but I feel
already proof of conviction; if you, Dr. Priestley, do not, perhaps
some other readers may. I have nothing to do with men of low minds.
They will always have their religion or pretence of it, but I am
mistaken if it is not the gallows or the pillory that more govern
their morals than the gospel or the pulpit.

After all, atheism may be a system only for the learned. The ignorant of
all ages have believed in God. The answer of a Philosophical Unbeliever
though written in the vulgar tongue may probably not reach the vulgar.
If argument had prevailed they were long converted from their
superstitious belief. The sentiments of atheistical philosophers have
long been published. If mischief therefore could ensue to society from
such free discussions, that mischief society must long have felt. I
think truth should never be hid, but few are those who mind it. I will
therefore take upon myself but little importance though I have presumed
to preface an answer from a Philosophical Unbeliever to Letters which
you, Dr. Priestley have written. If you deem that answer detrimental to
the interests of society, you will recollect that you invite the
proposal of objections and promise to answer all as well as you can. If
you should happen to be exasperated by the freedom of the language or
the contrariety of the sentiment, this answer will gain weight in
proportion as you lose in the credit of a tolerant Divine. Therefore if
you reply at all, reply with candour and with coolness; heed the matter
and not the man, though I subscribe my name, and am

     Reverend Sir,
     Your friend, admirer, and humble servant,

_Oxford-Street, No._ 418.
_Jan._ 1, 1782.


It is the general fashion to believe in a God, the maker of all things,
or at least to pretend to such a belief, to define the nature of this
existing Deity by the attributes which are given to him, to place the
foundation of morality on this belief, and in idea at least, to connect
the welfare of civil society with the acknowledgement of such a Being.
Few however are those, who being questioned can give any tolerable
grounds for their assertions upon this subject, and hardly any two
among the learned agree in their manner of proving what each will
separately hold to be indisputably clear. The attributes of a Deity are
more generally agreed upon, though less the subject of proof, than his
existence. As to morality, those very people who are moral will not
deny, they would be so though there were not a God, and there never yet
has been a civil lawgiver, who left crimes to be punished by the author
of the universe; not even the profanation of oaths upon the sacredness
of which so much is built in society, and which yet is said to be a
more immediate offence against the Deity than any other that can be

The method which Dr. Priestley has taken to prove the existence of
a God, is by arguing from _effect_ to _cause_. He explodes that other
pretended proof _a priori_ which has so much raised the fame of
Dr. Clarke among other theologians. As to the attributes of the Deity,
Dr. Priestley is not quite so confident in his proofs there; and the
most amiable one, the most by mortals to be wished for, the _benevolence_
of God he almost gives up, or owns at least there is not so much proof
of it as of his other attributes. His observations are divided into
several Letters, this is one answer given to the whole; for it would be
to no purpose to reply to topics upon which the writers are agreed.
What therefore is not contradicted here, Dr. Priestley may in general
take to be allowed; but to obviate doubts and to allow his argument
every force, it may be fairer perhaps to recite at full length what in
this answer is allowed to be true, what is denied as false, what meant
to be exposed as absurd, and what rejected as assertions without proof,
inadmissible or inconclusive. The conclusion will contain some
observations upon the whole.


    1. "Effects have their adequate causes."

    2. "Nothing begins to exist without a cause foreign to itself."

    3. "No being could make himself, for that would imply that he
    existed and did not exist at the same time."

    4. If one horse, or one tree, had a cause, all had."

    5. Something must have existed from all eternity.

    6. "Atoms cannot be arranged, in a manner expressive of the most
    exquisite design, without competent intelligence having existed

    7. "The idea of a supreme author is more pleasing to a virtuous
    mind, than that of a blind fate and fatherless deserted world."

    8. "The condition of mankind is in a state of melioration, as far as
    misery arises from ignorance, for as the world grows older it must
    grow wiser, if wisdom arises from experience."

    9. "All moral virtue is only a modification of benevolence."

    10. "Virtue gives a better chance for happiness than vice."

    11. "No instance of any revival."

    12. "Atheists are not to think themselves quite secure with respect
    to a future life."

    13. "Thought might as well depend upon the construction of the
    brain, as upon any invisible substance extraneous to the brain."

    14. "If the works of God had a beginning, there must have been a
    time when he was inactive."

    15. "Where happiness is wanting in the creation I would rather
    conclude the author had mist of his design than that he wanted


    1. "A cause needs not be prior to an effect."

    2. "If the species of man had no beginning, it would not follow that
    it had no cause."

    3. "A cause may be cotemporary with the effect."

    4. "An atheist must believe he was introduced into the world without


    1. "A general mass of sensation consisting of various elements
    borrowed from the past and the future."

    2. "Since sensation is made up of past, present, and future, the
    infant feeling for the moment only, the man recollecting what is
    past and anticipating the future, and as the present sensation must
    therefore in time bear a less proportion to the general mass of
    sensation than it did, so at last all temporary affections, whether
    of pain or pleasure become wholly inconsiderable."

    3. "The great book of nature and the book of revelation both lie
    open before us."

    4. "A conclusion above our comprehension."

    5. "A whole eternity already past."

    6. "Since a finite Being cannot be infinitely happy, because he must
    then be infinite in knowledge and power; and as all limitation of
    happiness must consist in degree of happiness or mixture of misery,
    the Deity can alone determine which mode of limitation is best."

    7. "We have reason to be thankful for our pains and distress."

    8. "If the divine Being had made man at first as happy as he can be
    after all the feelings and ideas of a painful and laborious life, it
    must have been in violation of all general laws and by a constant
    and momentary interference of the Deity."

    9. "It is better the divine agency should not be very conspicuous."

    10. "If good prevails on the whole, creation being infinite,
    happiness must be infinite, and God comprehending the whole, will
    only perceive the balance of good, and that will be happiness
    unmixed with misery."

    11. "If a man is happy in the whole he is infinitely happy in the
    whole of his existence."

    12. "Although all things fall alike to all men and no distinction is
    made between the righteous and the wicked, and even though the
    wicked derive an advantage from their vices, yet this is consistent
    with a state of moral government by a Being of infinite wisdom and

    13. "As ploughing is the means of having a harvest, though God has
    predetermined whether there should be a harvest or not, so prayer is
    the means of obtaining good from God, although that good is
    predetermined upon; it is therefore no more absurd to pray than to

    14. "Notwithstanding happiness is the necessary consequence of
    health, yet man's happiness is more from intellectual than corporeal

    15. "Evil is necessarily connected with and subservient to good,
    although in the next world there will be all good and no evil."

    16. "By reason we can discover the necessary existence of a Deity,
    yet to be a sceptic on that subject is the first step to be a
    Christian, because reason not sufficiently proving it we fly to
    revealed truth."

    17. "The power, which a man has by the comprehensiveness of his mind
    to enjoy the future, has no apparent limits."

    18. "It is of no avail in the argument concerning the existence of a
    Deity, that we have no conception of him, since it does not imply
    impossibility of his existence that we have no idea at all upon the


    1. "The question of the existence of a Deity is important."

    2. "A Theist has a higher sense of personal dignity than an

    3. "The conduct of an atheist must give concern to those who are not

    4. "An atheist believes himself to be, at his death, for ever
    excluded from returning life."

    5. "There are more atheists than unbelievers in revelation."

    6. "Men of letters may have the same bias to incredulity as others
    to credulity, because they are subject to a wrong association of
    ideas, as well as other persons though in a less degree."

    7. "Whoever first made a thing, for example a chair or a table, must
    have had an adequate idea of it's nature and use."

    8. "If a table had a designing cause, the tree from whence the wood
    came, and the man who made the table must have had a designing
    cause, which comprehended all the powers and properties of trees and

    9. "All the visible universe, as far as we can judge, bears the
    marks of being one work, and therefore must have had a cause of
    infinite power and intelligence."

    10. "We might as well say a table had no cause, as that the world
    had none."

    11. "A Being originally and necessarily capable of comprehending
    itself, it is not improper to call infinite, for we can have no idea
    of any bounds to it's knowledge or power."

    12. "A series of finite causes cannot possibly be carried back
    _ad infinitum_."

    13. "Our imagination revolts at the idea of an intellectual soul of
    the universe, that is, of an intelligence resulting from

    14. "The actual existence of the universe compels us to come at last
    to an _originally existent and intellectual Being_, because if the
    immediate maker of the universe has not existed from all eternity,
    he must have derived his being and senses from one who has, and that
    being we call God."

    15. "God must be present to all his works, if we admit no power can
    act but where it is, he must therefore exist every where, because
    his works are every where."

    16. "As no being can unmake or materially change himself (at least
    none can annihilate himself) so God is unchangeable, for no Being
    God made can change him and no other Being can exist but what God

    17. "Two infinite intelligent beings of the same kind would
    coincide, therefore there can only be one God."

    18. "Nothing can be more evident, than that plants and animals could
    not have proceeded from each other from all eternity."

    19. "That happiness is the design of the creation because health is
    designed and sickness is only an exception, not a general rule is as
    evident as that the design of the Mill-wright must have been, that
    his machine should not be obstructed."

    20. "As a state of sickness is comparatively rare with a state of
    health, happiness the result of health, and the end of the creation
    happiness, so the end of the creation is already in a great measure

    21. "Pleasure tends to continue and propagate itself, pain to check
    and exterminate itself."

    22. "As our knowledge and power in respect to shunning pains and
    procuring pleasures advance with our experience, nothing is wanting
    to enable us to exterminate all pains, but a continuance of being.

    23. "Our enjoyments continually increase in real value from infancy
    to old age."

    24. "A future moral distribution is probable, because God is
    infinitely powerful and wise."

    25. "Since reverence, gratitude, obedience, confidence are duties to
    men, so they are to God; and as we pray to men, so we should pray to

    26. "Prescience, predetermination and infinite benevolence are no
    argument against prayer to the Deity."

    27. "A wish produced by nature is evidence of the thing wished for,
    but a future state is wished for, therefore there is evidence of a
    future state."

    28. "As we have no idea how we came originally to be produced, for
    what we know to the contrary our reproduction may be as much the
    course of nature as our original production.."

    29. "A gloom and melancholy belong more to atheists than to devout


Dr. Priestley will hardly doubt, after this collection from his work
that it has at least been read before it is attempted to be answered.
It is in the writer's power to quote the page and line for each
assertion, but it would be stuffing this publication with unnecessary
references. Dr. Priestley will be able to know what are his own
sentiments and what not without recurring to his printed Letters.
There has been also another difficulty in classing the several exceptions
under the different heads; what is false, what is absurd, and what is
inadmissible bordering so nearly on each other. Nice distinctions
cannot in such respect be made, but the whole together form the main
argument which is to be answered.

The first and principal assertion is, that effects have their adequate
cause; it is then added, that the universe is an effect, that it
therefore must have a cause, and to this cause in the English language
is given the name of God. This proposition is true, provided the
universe is an effect, but that is a _postulatum_ without concession
and without a proof. This _original Being_ he advances in another place
to be that only something which existed uncaused from all eternity, and
which could not have been a Being, like a man or a table, incapable of
comprehending, itself, for such existences would require another
superior Being. But if the universe is not adopted as an effect, if
it is taken as existing from all eternity, the universe becomes an
intelligent Being, and there or no where is the Deity sought after.
Such a Being we may properly speak of and reason upon. The whole is
subjected to our sensations and our experience. But of his own
_uncaused Being_ Dr. P. says we cannot properly speak. Is not that
alone an argument of there being no such thing? His friend Dr. Clarke
says, we cannot have an idea of an impossible thing. Now this
discovered Deity is allowed to be that of which we can have no idea.
So far at least it is allied to the impossible.

As to the argument of cause and effect, the latter certainly implies
the former; but when we give the name of effect to any thing, we must
be certain it is an effect, for we may be so far mistaken perhaps as to
call that an effect which is a cause, at least what is an effect to-day
may be a cause to-morrow, as in the instance of generation; for though
a son does not beget his father, he too has his offspring in which he
may be said to live over again, and if we are to argue only from
experience, most probably that alone is the resurrection and the life
to come. But if it is contended that our experience relates only to
finite causes, or causes incapable of comprehending themselves, it must
at the same time be allowed, that all our reasoning is founded only on
experience. This Dr. P. at least allows even while he keeps reasoning
about a Deity, which he calls an infinite cause capable of comprehending
itself, though nobody is capable of comprehending it, and of which we
therefore can have no experience. Yet he will assert, that _thinking_
persons seldom are convinced by _thinking_. This is odd language for a
reasoner. When another philosopher or divine attempts to prove a God in
their own way, Dr. Priestley can readily see his fallacies and
absurdities. Dr. Clarke, the former great champion of God Almighty, is
made very light of. He thought, foolish man, to prove the existence of
a Deity merely by our having an idea of that existence, which would go
to prove the truth of every unnatural conceit that ever entered into
the heart of man; and contended farther that it would be equally absurd
to suppose no Deity as two and two did not make four. It would indeed
be absurd, says Dr. Priestley provided we agreed that the universe is a
_caused_ existence, for God is the name we give for the cause of the
universe, which in such case must exist. It is only denying that the
universe is a caused existence, and then the absurdity is taken away.
Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making Dr. Clarke absurd, will readily
allow the denial capable of being made; and for the same purpose he
seems gravely to have taken upon himself to prove that school-boy's
difficulty, that two and two do make four, for he says, that four is
the term agreed upon in language to be given to the sum total of two
and two, and that to deny the Deity is at least not so absurd as to say
that two and two do not make four.

Dr. Priestley says he finds no difficulty in excluding every thing from
the mind except space and duration. He allows then at least, that there
is no manifest absurdity in supposing there is no Deity, for nothing
can be proved by reasoning if the conclusion can be denied without
absurdity, nor can there be a manifest absurdity in denying the
existence of what there is no difficulty in excluding from the mind.
Yet after all he adds (somewhat inconsistently) that we cannot exclude
the idea of a Deity, if we do not exclude an existent universe. This
Deity he defines to be a most simple Being; simple and infinite; terms
which but ill agree together.

The infinite or boundless existence of this pretended Deity is a
property more insisted upon than any other, and whatever other
properties are given to him they are all in the infinite degree. The
properties alledged to be proved are, eternity, infinite knowledge and
power, unchangeableness, unity, omnipotence, action from all eternity,
and independence. Benevolence and moral government are also ascribed to
him but confessedly with a less degree of certainty, though the most
desireable of all his given properties. Upon the subject of benevolence,
Dr. Priestley only advances, that where it is not proved by the
happiness of his creatures to exist, he would rather chuse to conclude
he mist of his design, that is, he wanted power or knowledge, than that
he wanted benevolence. If he means to argue that it is more rational to
conclude this Deity wanted power and knowledge than that he wanted
benevolence, and because Dr. Priestley fancies himself to have proved
the Deity cannot want the two former, he concludes the Deity cannot
want the latter, as the less probable for him to be deficient in, his
argument is no more a truism. As a wish, that the Deity may not want
benevolence, in that sense let him take it as agreed upon. He allows
that misery in the human species proves malevolence in the Deity, and
happiness the contrary. All the proof adduced in favour of benevolence
is in asserting that throughout the universe, good is more predominant
than evil. The infinite extent of benevolence he will allow incapable
of proof; but then it is said that the evils which mankind endure are
not so great as might be inflicted upon them; that virtue to vice,
happiness to misery, health to sickness bear at least equal proportions.
That lesser evils exist instead of greater is indeed but a poor proof
in the favour of the benevolence of an all-powerful Being. Or grant,
that good is more predominant than evil, this surely is no proof
neither of the benevolence of a kind and all-powerful Being. Yet
Dr. Priestley adds that the general benevolence of the Deity is
unquestionable. How unquestionable? It is questioned by the author
himself, and he declares he cannot prove it. After this he asks, who
will pretend to dictate to such a Being? He might in the same stile
conclude that no objection deserved a reply. The whole of this is
absurd; but when the Doctor begins to feel enthusiasm he is like the
rest of the ecclesiastical arguers. They reason themselves into
imaginary Beings with more imaginary properties and then fall down and
worship them. God is said to have made man in the image of himself. If
he has done so, man is up with him, for he in return makes God in his
own image. Much as the imagination of one man differs from another, so
differs the God of each devotee. They are all idolaters or
anthropomorphites to a man; there is none but an atheist that is not
the one or the other.

The admission of evil into the world is an argument so exceedingly
conclusive against at least a good Deity, that it is curious to see how
Dr. Priestley studies to get rid of that difficulty. He partly denies
the fact, at least he says there is more good than evil in the world.
At last he even turns evil into good, or what ought to be the effects
of one, into what ought to be the effects of the other, as he says pain
is necessary for happiness. But if pain is, as he says, in this world
necessary for happiness, why will it not still be necessary hereafter?
He answers, because by that time we shall have experienced pain enough
for a future supply of happiness. If it is objected, why have we not
had pain enough by the time each of us are twenty or thirty years of
age, instead of waiting 'till our deaths at so many different ages? He
can only finish his argument by allowing that the ways of God are
inscrutable to man, that every thing is for the best and refer us to
_Candide_ for the rest of his philosophy; nor will he ever resolve the
question, "if evil and pain are good and necessary now, why will they
not always be so? Take a view of human existence, and who can even
allow, that there is more happiness than misery in the world? Dr.
Priestley thinks to give the turn of the scale to happiness, by making
it depend intirely upon health, notwithstanding he says in another
place that human sensations are a mass collected from the past, present
and future, and as a man grows up the present goes on to bear a less
proportion to the other two. It would indeed be a short but lame way of
proving that "happiness is the design of the creation" because health
is designed, and sickness is only an exception, not a general rule."
Many a healthy man has certainly been unhappy, or else had a man better
study health than virtue. If the mill-wright make a poor machine he is
a poor workman; God in like manner designing health and introducing
sickness is but a poor physician. In another place Dr. Priestley having
considered, that he had asserted that human sensations arise from ideas
of the past and future as well as the present, finds himself obliged to
alter his notions of happiness, so far as to say that happiness is more
intellectual than corporeal. But it is rather extraordinary to assert
at the same time, that happiness is the necessary consequence of
health, and that happiness is more from intellectual than corporeal
feelings. Surely health, if any thing, is corporeal. Another curious
fancy about pain and happiness is, that our finite nature not admitting
infinite or unlimited happiness we must leave it to the wisdom of the
Deity to determine which is best for us (since happiness must be
diminished) a little pain to be added to it or somewhat of happiness to
be taken away. It hardly requires the skill of a benevolent Deity to
determine which is best for the creatures he has made (and whom he
wishes to be as happy as their finite nature will admit) to lessen
their degree of happiness or mix therein a proportion of misery. To
conclude he asks, "how it is possible to teach children caution, but by
feeling pain?" It is easy to allow in answer, that it might not perhaps
be possible in us. But he is arguing about the benevolence of a Deity.
It was possible, he will allow, in him to have given these children
knowledge without pain, at least if he continues to him the attribute
he allows of omnipotence.

Next he observes that parents suspend at times their benefits to their
offspring, when persuaded they are not for their good; so does the
Deity. But before this argument holds he must therefore say, it is not
for the good of man to be made happy now, and that the Deity can be
infinitely benevolent without willing either infinite or universal
happiness. Take the argument any way, it must go against his
benevolence or his power; and the same observations hold as to his love
of justice, whilst he is so tardy in punishing offenders.

After observing that things are in an improving state, Dr. Priestley
allows, that the moral government of the universe is not perfect. From
thence he proceeds to assert, that atheists may believe it within the
course of nature, that men as moral agents may after death be
re-produced, and therefore that there may be a future state though
there be no God, because he reasons it may be in the course of nature.
This allows that the course of nature may be as it is without a God,
and that there is therefore no _natural_ proof of a Deity. His farther
argument on this head is, that "things usually happen in a state of
nature that are proper. A future state is proper. (To carry on the
supposed state of melioration and complete the moral government of the
universe.) It is therefore probable." This is an argument perhaps more
of wish than probability, but let it have such force as belongs to it.
It is not the wish of the answerer by supporting atheism to give
encouragement to immorality, but should he unwarily or with weak minds
do so, the argument of the Deity's existence is independent of such
considerations. It were better to seek another support for morality
than a belief in God; for the moral purpose in believing a Deity (an
invisible Being, maker of all, our moral governor, who will hereafter
take cognizance of our conduct,) is not a little checked by
considering, that he leaves the proof of his very existence so
ambiguous, that even men with a habit of piety upon them cannot but
have their doubts, whilst on this existence so much of the moral
purpose depends. If this is not an argument against the morality of a
Deity, it is at all events one against his _infinite_ morality though
moral is an attribute to be given to him in the infinite degree as much
as any other.

It is said, infinite intelligence must have procured a necessary
fitness of things, and that this forms morality. "His will could not be
biassed by other influence; therefore he must have willed morality,
because necessarily fit. Then comes infinite power, and yet no morality
in the world or a very small portion of it. We cannot to any purpose,
do what we will, argue against experience. That it must be, yet that it
is not. What must be, will be. If it is not, there is no _must_ in the

It is next said, that virtue gives a better chance for happiness than
vice. This also is but a weak argument for the moral government of the
universe, unless it be for a moral government by chance. Virtue ought
to be the certain and immediate parent of happiness, if a moral
governor existed with an uncontrouled dominion. If virtue tends to
happiness, or has only a better chance of doing so, it is allowed, that
a sensible atheist should hold it right to be virtuous. The latter end
of a righteous man is certainly more likely to be happy than that of an
unrighteous one. But let an atheist be righteous, and he can be as
certain of happiness in his latter end as any other. Let another life
be desirable, as it certainly is, his doubts upon it will not prevent
it. Who could wish an end better or more happy than that of Mr. Hume,
who most indubitably was an atheist. But if an atheist be not so good
as a Theist, Dr. Priestley perhaps, will allow him to be better than
a sceptic, as any principles for systematising nature are better than
none at all. A Theist is not without his doubts as well as the sceptic;
an atheist, once firmly becoming so, will never doubt more; for we may
venture to say no miracles or new appearances will present themselves
to him to draw his belief aside.

Still every thing is as God intended it--so asserts Dr. Priestley; and
therefore it cannot by him be denied that crimes and vices, are of his
intention. The Theist exclaims in triumph, "He that made the eye, must
he not see?" But who made the eye? Or grant that God made the eye,
which can only see in the light, must he necessarily see in the dark?
It is again asserted, "the power which formed an eye had something in
view as certainly as he that constructed a telescope. If any Being
formed any eye, grant it. But if the eye exists necessarily as a part
of nature; as much as any other matter, or combination of matter,
necessarily existed, the result of the argument is intirely different.

It is far from being a necessary part of the atheist's creed to exclude
design from the universe. He places that design in the energy of
nature, which Dr. Priestley gives to some other extraneous Being. It is
rather inconsistent also in him to say, that an atheist rightly judging
of his own situation upon his own principles, ought not to hold himself
quite secure from a future state of responsibility and existences, and
yet to say he must in his own ideas hold himself soon to be excluded
for ever from life.

As to the immutability of the Deity, it is difficult to guess how that
is proved, except by the argument of _Lucus a non lucendo_, because
every thing is changing here; therefore the Deity never changes; which
is neither an argument _a priori_ nor _posteriore_, but _sui generis_,
merely applicable to the Deity.

From the imperial infinite intelligence of the Deity an argument is
formed of his unity. Dr. Priestley says, "that two _infinite_
intelligent Beings would coincide, and therefore that there can only be
one such Being." Two parallels will never coincide. That is one of the
first axioms of Euclid, in whom Dr. Priestley believes as much as in
his bible. If the Beings are infinite in extent and magnitude they must
certainly coincide, but if they are only infinite in intelligence, it
does not seem to be necessary that they should.

The ubiquity of God is proved in this short way: "God made every thing,
God controuls every thing. No power can act but where it is. Therefore
God is present every where. The workman must certainly be present at
his work, but when the work is done he may go about other business. If
all the properties of matter, such as gravity, elasticity and other
such existed only by the perpetual leave and agency of the Deity, it
may be argued he is in all places where matter is. Space, empty space
will still exist without him. In this mode of proof Dr. Priestley must,
contrary to the Newtonian system argue for a _Plenum_, before he proves
the ubiquity. He cannot exclude space from his mind, nor can he exclude
gravity from matter. Yet can he admit matter as well as space to be
eternal, because he will not allow the inactivity of God." "If God's
works had a beginning he must have been _for a whole eternity_
inactive." He seems to have an odd notion of eternity, for he there
allows it could have an end. The argument would be fairer in concluding
"he must have been inactive _or doing something else_."

The Deity set up, if not the creator of matter, is at least the matter
of it, nor will his advocates by any means allow him to be material
himself. They see some incongruity in admitting one piece of matter to
be so complete a master of another. However Dr. Priestley and other
arguers for a Deity would do well to consider, that whatever is not
matter, is a space that matter may occupy. Therefore if God is not
matter, and also is not space, he is nothing. Dr. Priestley allows
matter eternal, and its properties of gravity, elasticity, electricity
and others equally eternal. He says directly, that matter cannot exist
without it's perpetually corresponding powers. The adjustment of those
powers he places in the Deity. But as we never see matter without the
adjustment of those properties as well as the existence of them, this
drives him at last to say, the Deity must also have created matter,
according to his system eternally created it, cotemporarily with
himself. Ideas absurd and irreconcileable!

Discoursing upon the hypothesis of "a fortuitous concourse of atoms"
Dr. Priestley asks, "what reason we have to think that small masses of
matter can have power without communication _ab extra_?" Let this
question be returned, "have we not reason to think so from attraction
the most common property in matter." To get rid of this difficulty he
will not allow an atom of matter to be possessed originally of the most
simple powers, though he is ready to allow matter to have been eternal.
A magnet according to this system must sometime have existed without
its magnetic power. He concludes there must be some original existent
Being. He shall be allowed many original existent Beings if it pleases
him. A man may be an originally existent being, as well as any other.
He is superior to other animals in this world. In like manner there may
be allowed superior Beings to man (as most probably there are) and yet
those superior Beings not have made man.

Dr. Priestley will have it, that all bodies are moved by external
force. That does not seem quite necessary. Motion may as well be
asserted to be originally a property of matter, or its true natural
state and rest a deprivation of that property, as that rest should be
its natural state. Hume thought so and Hume was no great fool,
notwithstanding Dr. Priestley makes so light of him. In fact matter
never is, and therefore most probably never was found to be in a state
of rest. Nor has Dr. Priestley any reason to suppose gravity, elasticity
and electricity to have been imprest on bodies by a superior Being, and
not originally inherent in matter, unless to favour his own hypothesis
of a Deity. He absolutely says matter could not have had those powers
without a communication from a superior and intelligent Being. If
matter is perceived in regulated motion, it is added bluntly, that it
must be by a mover possessed of a competent intelligence, and that a
Being therefore of such power and intelligence _must_ exist. Whoever
finds no difficulty in believing the contrary will find as little
difficulty in Mr. Hume's hypothesis, that motion might as well as other
powers and properties have been originally inherent in matter, or at
least have been a necessary result of some matter acting upon another.

It has always been a doubt with Theists, whether they can better prove
their God's existence by moral or physical considerations. Dr.
Priestley seems to think the _forte_ of the argument lies in the latter
proof, and lays particular stress upon his observation respecting cause
and effect, which therefore cannot here be so readily dismissed. He
makes great reference to the works of art. Theists are always for
turning their God into an overgrown man. Anthropomorphites has long
been a term applied to them. They give him hands and eyes nor can they
conceive him otherwise than as a corporeal Being. In which, as before
has been said, they are very right, for there can only be in the world
body and the space which bodies occupy. But granting this great workman
to have done so much, is it not quite an incontrovertible proposition,
that whoever first made a thing, as, for example, a chair or a table,
must have had an adequate idea of it's nature and use. Dr. Priestley
speaks more correctly in another part, by saying, he must have been
_capable_ of comprehending it. The nature and use of things are often
found out after they are made and by different persons than the makers
of them. Neither is there any analogy between the works of art, as a
table or house, and of nature, as a man or tree. Therefore there can be
no arguing from one to another by analogy. Hume observes that the
former works are done by reason and design, and the latter by
generation and vegetation, and therefore arguing from effect to causes,
it is probable, that the universe is generated or vegetated. At least
after all the observations about a table, it may be modestly asked,
whether there is not some difference between a table and the world? The
Doctor will also find some difficulty in explaining the propriety of
any argument of analogy between men and metals, which he does not at
other times scruple to make?

A _gratis_ assertion is first made, that all things we see are effects;
then because we see one thing caused, every thing must have been
caused. His conclusion of the argument is still more curious, "because
every thing was caused there must have been something that was not
caused." The cause ought to be proportioned to the effect. The effect
is not infinite. Why then attribute infinity to the cause? This is
Hume's argument. Priestley calls it shortly unworthy of a philosopher.
Let others judge! But surely, with all this infinity it may be asked,
why may not there have been an infinity of causes?

Another argument is, that being unable to account, for what is, by any
thing visible, we must have recourse to something invisible, and that
invisible power is what he calls God. Apply this argument to gravity,
and the external force that is said to cause every stone to fall is
God. But if nothing visible can to us account for the operations of
nature, why must we have recourse to what is invisible? Why necessary
to account at all for them? Or why may not visible things account for
them, although this person or another cannot tell which?

If nothing can begin to exist of itself or by the energy of material
nature, it is more consistent to allow a plurality of Deities, than one
immediate Deity. An equality in a plurality of Deities might be
objectionable. But that is not at all necessary, rather the contrary;
and so was the Pagan theory, which is not so absurd as the modern one.
This universe or mundane system may be the work of one hand, another of
another, and so on. Where is the absurdity of that? If the universe is
applied to the solar system, there is an appearance of its being formed
by one design, and in that stile it might be said to be the work of one
hand. But this Deity is asserted to be infinite, and to have made all
other worlds and universes, though it does not appear by any unity of
design that all other worlds and universes are one work with this.

Dr. Priestley himself allows that reason would drive us to require a
cause of the Deity. He is himself obliged to conclude, after all his
reasoning, that we must acquiesce in our inability of having any idea
on the subject; that is, how God could exist without a prior cause. At
the same time he says the Deity cannot have a cause, and therefore we
cannot reason about him. Why then all his own reasoning? We make a
Deity ourselves, fall down and worship him. It is the molten calf over
again. Idolatry is still practised. The only difference is that now we
worship idols of our imagination; before of our hands. "Still we must
necessarily rest at a Being that is infinite;" that is, when our reason
drives us to the admission of an infinite cause we must necessarily
stop finitely in our career. Not content with this conclusion he adds,
that we cannot help perceiving the existence of this cause, though he
owns that it is not an object of our conceptions. But even the Theist's
argument does not necessarily drive us to the admission of an infinite
cause. The argument is, "because there is a man, and man has
intelligence, we must necessarily admit of a Being of infinitely
superior intelligence." Would it not be nearly as well to argue,
"because there is a goose, therefore there must be a man."

What is there more which hinders a series of finite causes to be
carried back _ad infinitum_, than that the reasoner or contemplator of
the course of nature is tired. If this eternal series could not exist,
a Deity might with some propriety be said to follow. Put the argument
into a syslogistic form.

"The universe shews design;"

"It is absurd to suppose an infinite succession of finite causes;"

"Therefore there is an uncaused intelligent cause of this universe."

Deny the second assertion and the problem is destroyed. So far from its
being difficult to suppose an eternity, it is the most difficult thing
in the world to suppose any thing but an eternity. A mind, not afraid
to think, will find it the most easy contemplation in the world to
dwell upon. It is at least a bold assertion, that _nothing can be more
evident_ than that plants and animals could not have proceeded from each
other by succession from all eternity. Surely to this may be answered,
that it is more evident that two and two make four. But Dr. Priestley
goes on to say, "that the primary cause of a man cannot be a man, any
more than the cause of a sound can be a sound." Experience shews us all
sound is an effect of a cause. Does experience shew us more of a man
than that he came from a man and a woman? To allow therefore that all
men must have come from a man and a woman is as far as we can argue
upon the subject, whilst in reasoning we trust to experience. An
argument is well built upon similarity, therefore it is probable if one
horse had a cause all horses had. But will not the argument be more
consonant to itself, in supposing all horses had the same cause, and as
one is seen to be generated from a horse and a mare so all were from
all eternity. It were a better argument in favour of a Deity or some
invisible agent to shew that a new animal came every now and then into
life, without any body's knowing how or where.

It is allowed by Priestley and all other reasoners, that the most
capital argument that can be formed in support of any thesis is to be
built upon experience, or analogy to experience. Yet will many of these
reasoners, Dr. Priestley at least for one, contend at the same time for
the probability of a future life, when no instance can be given of any
revival whatsoever. The same will contend, that their Deity can at
pleasure form new species of animals, though in fact we never do see
new beings come into existence. We ought only to argue from experience;
and experience would teach us, that the species of all animals has
eternally existed. Grant that we do not know, whether man has been
eternal, or from a time, is it therefore because we do not know, that
we must say he came from God? That unknown Being, as he is sometimes
pompously and ridiculously called! The Devil is equally an unknown
Being. The admission of evil under a good Deity opens a ready door to
the manichean system, which seems much more rational than simple Deism.

The following chain of reasoning, as used by Dr. Priestley, is well
linked together to prove the weight and force of experience in
reasoning, but it proves nothing more. "Chairs and tables are made by
men or beings of similar powers, because we see them made by men; and
we cannot suppose them made by a tree or come into being of themselves,
because that is against experience. No one will say one table might
make another, or that one man might make another. We see nothing come
into being without an adequate cause." Yet for this adequate cause we
are at the same time referred to a belief in a causeless secret
invisible agent, and to our own experience, for a proof of his nature.

Dr. Priestley allows, that what is _visible_ in man may be the feat of
all his powers, for it is (as he says,) a rule in philosophy not to
multiply causes without necessity. But he affirms that what is _visible_
in the universe cannot be the feat of intelligence. This is breaking
the very rule of reasoning which he himself has chosen to adopt; and he
gives no other reason for it, than because we do not see the universe
think as we do man. Sensible of this dilemma, soon afterwards he
inclines to allow principle of thought to the universe, for he adds,
that if we allow it, yet the universe has so much the appearance of
other works of design that we must look out for its author as much as
that of a man; and it is allowed that most probably it had the same

Every difficulty vanishes with the energy of nature, or at least is
as well accounted for as from an independent Deity. It is an usual
question to those philosophers, who maintain that the present existence
of things is the result of the force and energy of nature acting upon
herself, "why this force does not perpetually operate and produce new
appearances?" Besides that this question may be retorted upon the
supporters of a Deity, I am thoroughly persuaded, that this force is
constantly in action, and that every change which animals and
vegetables undergo, whether of dissolution or renovation, is a manifest
and undeniable proof of it. Man, and the other Beings which occupy this
terrestrial globe, are evidently suited to its present state, and an
alteration in their habitation, such as that of extreme or excessive
heat, would inevitably destroy them. This is so certain, that bones of
animals have been dug up which appertain to no species now existing,
and which must have perished from an alteration in the system of things
taking place too considerable for it to endure. Whenever the globe
shall come to that temperament fit for the life of that lost species,
whatever energy in nature produced it originally, if even it had a
beginning, will most probably be sufficient to produce it again. Is not
the reparation of vegitable life the spring equally wonderful now as
its first production? Yet this is a plain effect of the influence of
the sun, whose absence would occasion death by a perpetual winter. So
far this question from containing, in my opinion, a formidable
difficulty to the Epicurean system, I cannot help judging the continual
mutability of things as an irrefragable proof of this eternal energy of
nature. Those who ask, why the great changes in the state of things are
not more frequent, would absurdly require them to ensue within the
short space of their existence, forgetting that millions of ages are of
no importance to the whole mass of matter, though Beings of some
particular forms may find a wish and an advantage to prolong the term
of their duration under that form.

If it is said, Nature or the energy of nature is another name for the
Deity, then may Dr. Priestley and his answerer shake hands; the one is
no more an atheist than the other. And if it is observed that the
Energy of Nature having produced men may be capable of re-producing
them, so that an atheist is not sure to escape punishment for his
crimes, it is easy to say in return, neither is a Deist sure. A good
atheist has no more reason to be afraid to be re-produced than a good
Deist or a Christian. It may be useful for both of them to be good. If
necessary let it again be repeated, that it is not at all meant in this
answer to make atheism a plea or protection for immorality. That is a
charge long and most unjustly put upon the poor undefended atheist. The
knowledge of a God and even the belief of a providence are found but
too slight a barrier against human passions, which are apt to fly out
as licentiously as they would otherwise have done. All, which this
creed can in reality produce, scarce goes beyond some exterior
exercises, which are vainly thought to reconcile man to God. It may
make men build temples, sacrifice victims, offer up prayers, or perform
something of the like nature; but never break a criminal intrigue,
restore an ill gotten wealth, or mortify the lust of man. Lust being
the source of every crime, it is evident (since it reigns as much among
idolaters and anthropomorphites, as among atheists) idolaters and
anthropomorphites must be as susceptible of all of crimes as atheists,
and neither the one set nor the other could form societies, did not a
curb, stronger then that of religion, namely human laws, repress their
perverseness. If no other remedy were applied to vice than the
remonstrances of divines, a great city such as London, would in a
fortnight's time, fall into the most horrid disorders. Whatever may be
the difference of faith, vice predominates alike with the Christian and
the Jew, with the Deist and the atheist. So like are they in their
actions, that one would think they copied one another. Religion may
make men follow ceremonies; little is the inconvenience found in them.
A great triumph truly for religion to make men baptise or fast? When
did it make men do virtuous actions for virtue's sake, or practise
fewer inventions to get rich, where riches could not be acquired
without poverty to others? The true principle most commonly seen in
human actions, and which philosophy will cure sooner than religion, is
the natural inclination of man for pleasure, or a taste contracted for
certain objects by prejudice and habit. These prevail in whatsoever
faith a man is educated, or with whatever knowledge he may store his

But it will be said, those who commit crimes are atheists at the time
at least they do so. But an atheist cannot be superstitious, and
criminals are often so at the very moment of their crimes. Religious
persuasion men are not doubted to have when they vent their rage upon
others of a different way of thinking, when they express a dread of
danger or a zeal for ceremonies. These at least are not virtues; and
few indeed must be those, who at any time are really Theists, if their
faith is lost or forgotten every time they have a mind to indulge a
vitious passion. To support still the efficacy of religion in making
men virtuous is to oppose metaphysical reasoning to the truth of fact;
it is like the philosopher denying motion, and being refuted by one of
his scholars walking across the room. If then it is true, as history
and the whole course of human life shew it is, that men can still
plunge themselves into all sorts of crimes, though they are persuaded
of the truth of religion, which is made to inform them that God
punishes sin and rewards good actions, it cannot but be suspected that
religion even encourages crimes, by the hopes it gives of pardon
through the efficacy of prayer; at all events it must be granted, that
those who hold up a belief in God as a sufficient proof and character
of a good life are most egregiously mistaken.

Some Theists may have lighter sense of personal dignity than some
atheists. If the Theist thinks himself allied to and connected with
the Deity he may plume himself upon his station; but how apt are
those worshipers of a God, instead of having a high sense of personal
dignity, to debase themselves into the most abject beings, dreading
even the shadow of their own phantom. An atheist feeling himself to be
a link in the grand chain of Nature, feels his relative importance and
dreads no imaginary Being. An atheist, who is so from inattention and
without intelligence, may indeed feel himself as much debased as the
meanest and most humble Theist.

Another argument against atheists is, that where men are atheists it is
generally found that their usual turn of thinking and habits of life
have inclined to make them so. Is not this to be turned upon Theists?
But granting that the idea of a supreme author is more pleasing, and
that the argument with respect to the existence or non-existence of a
God was in _equilibrio_, it is not therefore right to conclude that the
mind ought to be determined by this or any other bias. Nor is it quite
clear if there is no God (by which term let it again be noticed, is
meant a Being of supreme intelligence, the contriver of the material
universe and yet no part of the material system) that the world in
which man inhabits is either fatherless or deserted. The wisdom of
nature supplies in reality what is only hoped for from the protection
of the Deity. If the world has so good a mother, a father may well be
spared especially such a haughty jealous, and vindictive one as God is
most generally represented to be. Dr. Priestley being clear in his
opinion; that the being of a God is capable of being proved by reason,
is not so weak as some of his fellow-labourers, who hold the powers of
reason in so low estimation as to be incapable of themselves to arrive
at almost any truth. He must however allow, if reason proves a Deity
and his attributes there was less use of revelation to prove them. But
the learned advocates of a Deity differ greatly among themselves,
whether his existence is capable of being ascertained by fixt
principles of reason. After such a difference and the instance of so
many great men in all ages, from Democritus downward, who have
confidently denied the being of a God, whose arguments the learned Dr.
Cudworth, in the last century, only by fully and fairly stating, with
all the answers in his power to give (though his zeal in religion was
never doubted) was thought by other divines to have given a weight to
atheism not well to be overturned, it is surprising that it should be
the common belief of this day, that an argument in support of atheism
cannot stand a moment, and that even no man in his senses can ever hold
such a doctrine. All that Epicurus and Lucretius have so greatly and
convincingly said is swept away in a moment by these better reasoners,
who yet scruple not to declare, with Dr. Priestley, that what they
reason about is not the subject of human understanding. But let it be
asked, is it not absurd to reason with a man about that of which that
same man asserts we have no idea at all? Yet will Dr. Priestley argue,
and say it is of no importance, whether the person with whom he argues
has a conception or not of the subject. "Having no ideas includes no
impossibility," therefore he goes on with his career of words to argue
about an unseen being with another whom he will allow to have no idea
of the subject and yet it shall be of no avail in the dispute, whether
he has or no, or whether he is capable or incapable of having any.
Reason failing, the passions are called upon, and the imagined God is
represented at one time, with all the terrors of a revengeful tyrant,
at another with all the tenderness of an affectionate parent. Shall
then such a tremendous Being with such a care for the creatures he has
made, suffer his own existence to be a perpetual doubt? If the course
of nature does not give sufficient proof, why does not the hand divine
shew itself by an extraordinary interposition of power? It is allowed
miracles ought not to be cheap or plenty. One or two at least every
thousand years might be admitted. But this is a perpetual standing
miracle, that such a Being as the depicted God, the author of nature
and all its works, should exist and yet his existence be perpetually in
doubt, or require a Jesus, a Mahomet or a Priestley to reveal it. Is
not the writing of this very answer to the last of those three great
luminaries of religion a proof, that no God, or no _such_ God at least,
exists. Hear the admirable words of the author of "The System of
Nature;" _Comment permet il qu'un mortel comme moi ose attaquer ses
droits, ses titres, son existence meme?_

Dr. Clarke, Mr. Hume and Helvetius, are writers whose arguments for and
against a Godhead Dr. Priestley has much noted. The former says, "the
Deity must have been infinite, if self-existent, because all things in
the universe are made by him." Are all things in the universe infinite?
Why an infinite maker of a finite work? It is juster to argue, that
whatever is self-existent must have been eternal. Nor is there any
great objection to the converse of the proposition properly taken, that
whatever is not self-existent must have been created and therefore
cannot have been eternal. If this is fair arguing, matter cannot
according to Dr. Priestley's system have been created and be eternal
also. But Dr. Priestley has no inclination to reconcile his opinions
with those of Dr. Clarke. He has chosen a fairer method, and that is,
to refute the arguments of former asserters of a Deity as well as to
establish his own. Dr. Clarke he most effectually exposes where he
enters upon the subject of space. It seems as if Dr. Clarke, having
asserted that the Deity necessarily existed, had a mind that nothing
else should necessarily exist but the Deity; and conscious that space
at least also necessarily existed, he makes universal space an
attribute of the Deity. With this reverie in his head he raises a
syllogism of complete nonsense (_vide Priestley's Letters_, P. 170.)
where he supposes space to be nothing though he also supposes it to be
an attribute of the Deity. Making it therefore an attribute of the
Deity and knowing that space is eternal and unmeasurable he takes upon
himself thereby also clearly to have proved that the Deity is so.
Exclude the Deity, space will still exist and still be eternal and
immense. Dr. Priestley knew well that Dr. Clarke's argument in this
respect was all a fallacy, and therefore he shews his sense in not
adopting it. It is in fact an abuse of terms unworthy of a scientific

The only argument attempted by Dr. Clarke, why the Deity must have
had no cause, is, because it is necessary he should have none.
Dr. Clarke says roundly that necessity is the cause of the existence
of the Deity. This is very near the language of the ancients, who
held that Fate controuled the Gods. Necessity is therefore the first
God. Why then any other God than Necessity? What more has Helvetius
said than that?

It is an old and unanswerable argument that, granting a God and his
power infinite, whatever he wills is executed; but man and other
animals are unhappy, therefore he does not will they should be happy.
Or take the argument the other way and it will equally conclude against
his power. With regard to Mr. Hume's famous observations upon the
evidence of miracles, Dr. Priestley thinks to make a short havock of
them by observing that new, and therefore miraculous appearances, are
continually presenting themselves; but although such new appearances
may be instanced, they are not contrary to former experience, only in
addition to it. With this allusion to Natural Philosophy, Dr. Priestley
thinks himself in one short sentence to have discussed all Mr. Hume's
observations upon miracles. _"Which is more likely, that the relater of
a miracle should have lied or been deceived, or that the thing related
should have existed contrary to experience prior and subsequent?"_
Let the force of this observation be considered and believe in the
history of miracles who can! To give a finishing stroke to poor
Mr. Hume, Dr. Priestley observes that literary fame was Hume's only
motive and consolation, as he said himself, in all his laborious
enquiries and enlightened writings. At this he exclaims, "What gloomy
prospect and poor comfort he must have had at his death!" If so,
how much was he the greater man so well to have gone through that
last scene!

The honour which Dr. Priestley gives to Helvetius, the author of that
ingenious and satisfactory work intitled "The System of Nature," does
credit to his own candour. He applauds him for speaking out, he ought
therefore to applaud this answer for the same reason. It is true he
seems to have discovered one incongruity in the reasoning of Helvetius.
The words he imputes to him are, "that nature has no object, because
nature acts necessarily; man has an object; yet man also acts
necessarily." In the same way nature might have an object though it
acted necessarily. But Helvetius adds, that the object which man has is
a necessary object. The best defence of Helvetius (not in behalf of
that passage, but of his general system) is to let him speak at large
for himself; and the following quotation Dr. Priestley and the reader
may accept as a specimen of the strength and justice of his argument,
and as the conclusion of this answer.

"Theologians tell us, that the disorder and evil, which is seen in the
world, is not absolute and real, but relatively and apparently such,
and does not disprove the divine wisdom and goodness. But may not one
reply, that the goodness and wonderful order which they so much extol,
and on which they found their notions of those qualities in God, are in
a similar way only relative and apparent. If it be only our co-existence
with the causes which surround us, and our manner of perceiving them,
that constitute the order of nature for us, and authorise us to attribute
wisdom and goodness to the maker of what surround us, should not also
our mode of existence and perception authorise us to call what is
hurtful to us disorder, and to attribute impotence, ignorance, or
malice, to that Being which we would suppose to actuate nature.

Some pretend that the supremely wise God can derive goodness and
happiness to us from the midst of those ills which he permits us to
undergo in this world. Are these men privy counsellors of the Divinity,
or on what do they found their romantic hopes? They will doubtless say,
that they judge of God's conduct by analogy, and that from the present
appearance of his wisdom and goodness, they have a right to infer his
future wisdom and goodness. But do not the present appearances of his
want of wisdom or goodness justify us in concluding, that he will
always want them? If they are so often manifestly deficient in this
world, what can assure us that they will abound more in the next? This
kind of language therefore rests upon no other basis than a prejudiced
imagination, and signifies, that some men, having without examination,
adopted an opinion that God is good, cannot admit that he will consent
to let his creatures remain constantly unhappy. Yet this grand
hypothesis, of the unalterable felicity of mankind hereafter, is
insufficient to justify the Divinity in permitting the present sleeting
and transitory marks of injustice and disorder. If God can have been
unjust for a moment, he has derogated, during that moment at least,
from his divine perfection, and is not unchangeably good; his justice
then is liable to temporary alteration, and, if this be the case, who
can give security for his justice and goodness continuing unalterable
in a future life, the notion of which is set up only to exculpate his
deviation from those qualities in this?

In spite of the experience, which every instant gives the lie to that
beneficence which men suppose in God, they continue to call him good.
When we bewail the miserable victims of those disorders and calamities
that so often overwhelm our species, we are confidently told that these
ills are but apparent, and that if our short-sighted mind could fathom
the depths of divine wisdom, we should always behold the greatest
blessings result from what we denominate evil. How despicable is so
frivolous an answer! If we can find no good but in such things as
affect us in a manner which is agreeable and pleasing to our actual
existence, we shall be obliged to confess that those things which
affect us, even but for a time, in, a painful manner, are as certainly
evil to us. To vindicate God's visiting mankind with these evils some
tell us, that he is just, and that they, are chastisements inflicted on
mankind to punish the wrongs he has received from men. Thus a feeble
mortal has the power to irritate and injure the almighty and eternal
Being who created this world. To offend any one is, to afflict him,
to diminish in some degree his happiness, to make him feel a painful
sensation. How can man possibly disturb the felicity of the
all-powerful sovereign of nature! How can a frail creature, who
has received from God his being and his temper, act against the
inclinations of an irresistable force which never consents to sin and
disorder? Besides justice, according to the only ideas which we can
have of it, supposes a fixt desire to render every one his due. But
theologians constantly preach that God owes us nothing, that the good
things he affords are the voluntary effects of his beneficence, and
that without any violence of his equity he can dispose of his creatures
as his choice or caprice may impel him. In this doctrine I see not the
smallest shadow of justice, but the most hideous tyranny and shocking
abuse of power. In fact do we not see virtue and innocence plunged into
an abyss of misery, while wickedness rears its triumphant head under
the empire of this God whose justice is so much extalled? "This misery,
say you, is but for a time." Very well, Sirs, but your God is unjust
for a time. "He chastises whom he loves (you will say) for their own
benefit." But if he is perfectly good, why will he let them suffer at
all? "He does it, perhaps to try them" But, if he knows all things,
what occasion is there for him to try any? If he is omnipotent, why
need he vex himself about the vain design any one may form against him?
Omnipotence ought to be exempt from any such passions, as having
neither equals nor rivals. But if this God is jealous of his glory, his
titles and prerogative, why does he permit such numbers of men to
offend him? Why are any found daring enough to refuse the incense which
his pride expects? _Why am I a feeble mortal permitted to attack his
titles, his attributes, and even his existence?_ Is this permission of
punishment on me for the abuse of his grace and favour? He should never
have permitted me to abuse them. Or the grace he bestowed should have
been efficacious and have directed my steps according to his liking.
"But, say you, he makes man free." Alas? why did he present him with a
gift of which he must have foreseen the abuse? Is this faculty of free
agency, which enables me to resist his power, to corrupt and rob him of
his worshippers, and in fine to bring eternal misery on myself, a
present worthy of his infinite goodness? In consequence of the
pretended abuse of this fatal present, which an omniscient and good God
ought not to have bestowed on Beings capable of abusing it,
everlasting, inexpressible torments are reserved for the transitory
crimes of a Being made liable to commit them. Would that father be
called good, reasonable, just and kind, who put a sharp-edged and
dangerous knife into the hand of a playful, and imprudent child, whom
he before knew to be imprudent, and punished him during the remainder
of his life for cutting himself with it? Would that prince be called
just and merciful, who, not regarding any proportion between the
offence and the punishment, should perpetually exercise his power of
vengeance, over one of his subjects who, being drunk, had rashly
offended against his vanity, without causing any real harm to him,
especially, when the prince had taken pains to make him drunk? Should
we consider as almighty a monarch, whose dominions were in such
confusion and disorder, that, except a small number obedient servants,
all his subjects were every instant despising his laws, defeating his
will and insulting his person? Let ecclesiastics then acknowledge, that
their God is an assemblage of incompatible qualities, as
incomprehensible to their understanding as to mine. No: they say, in
reply to these difficulties, that wisdom and justice in God, are
qualities so much above or so unlike those qualities in us, that they
bear no relation or affinity towards human wisdom and justice. But,
pray how am I to form to myself an idea of the divine perfection,
unless it has some resemblance to those virtues which I observe in my
fellow creatures and feel in myself? If the justice of God is not the
same with human justice, why lastly do any men pretend to announce it,
comprehend and explain it to others?"


Previous to this publication the editor sent the following Letter
to Dr. Priestley.

"Reverend Sir,

Had you thought it impossible for man to hold different sentiments
respecting Natural religion and the proof of the existence of a God
than you do, the Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever would not have
appeared, much less would you have invited an answer by promising a
reply to every objection. Differing from you in sentiment I am the man
who enter with you in the lists; but I find myself upon consultation
with my friends under more difficulties than you were, and more to
stand in need of courage in taking up the glove, than you needed to
have in throwing it down. For this dispute is not like others in
philosophy, where the vanquished can only dread ridicule, contempt and
disappointment; here, whether victor or vanquished, your opponent has
to dread, beside ecclesiastical censure, the scourges, chains and
pillories of the courts of Law.

I accuse you not of laying a trap for an unguarded author, but I ask
your friendly opinion, whether I can, with temporal safety at least,
maintain the contrary of your arguments in proof of a Deity and his
attributes. If I cannot, no wonder the Theist cries _Victoria!_ but
then it is a little ungenerous to ask for objections. Of you, I may
certainly expect, that you will promise to use your influence, as well
with lawyers as ecclesiastics, not to stir up a persecution against a
poor atheist in case there should be one found in the kingdom, which
people in general will not admit to be possible; or, if a persecution
could ensue, that you and your friends, favourers of free enquiry,
will at least bear the expences of it.

     I am,
     Reverend Sir,
     Your most humble obedient servant,

Oct. 23. 1781.

_To the Reverend Dr. Priestley._

To this letter Dr. Priestley sent no answer; or no answer ever came
to hand.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Answer to Dr. Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever" ***

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