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an auxiliary as calculated to give a mystical and arbitrary character to the Philosophy of Religion; and hold it a far better offering to the cause, when it is palpably made to rest on no other principles than those which are recognised and read of all
On the Hypothesis that the World is Eternal.
1. But after all it may be asked, Is the world an effect ? May it not have lasted for ever-and might not the whole train of its present sequences have gone on in perpetual and unvaried order from all eternity ?
In our reasoning upon antecedents and consequents, we have presumed that the world is a consequent. Could we be sure of this, it may be thought
then on the principle of our last chapter, let the adaptation of its parts to so many thousand desirable objects be referred, and on the basis of a multiplied experience too, to a designing cause as its strict and proper antecedent. But how do we know the world to be a consequent at all ? Is there any greater absurdity in supposing it to have existed as it now is, at any specified point of time throughout the millions of ages that are past, than that it should so exist at this moment ? Does what we suppose might have been then, imply any greater absurdity, than what we actually see to be at present ? Now might not the same question he carried back to any point or period of duration however remote—or, in other words, might not we dispense with a beginning for the world altogether ? Such a consequent as our world, if consequent it really be, would require, it might be admitted, a designing cause or its antecedent. But why recur to the imagination of its being a consequent at all? Why not take for granted the eternity of its being, instead of supposing it the product of another, and then taking for granted the eternity of his being ? And, after all, it may be thought, that the eternity of our world is but one gratuitous imagination instead of two—and, as to the difficulty of conceiving, this is a difficulty which we are not freed from by the theory of a God. Can we any more comprehend His past eternity, than we can the past eternity of matter—the everlasting processes of thought any more than the everlasting processes of a material economy—a circulation of feeling and sentiment and purpose and effect that never had commencement in an aboriginal mind; than a circulation of planets, or that orb of revolution which is described by water through the elements of air and earth and ocean, or finally the series of animal and vegetable generations, never having had commencement in an aboriginal mundane system. At this rate, the supposition of an intelligent Creator may only be a shifting of the difficulty, from an eternal Nature to an eternal Author of Nature. If Nature is clearly made out to be a consequent, then it might be admitted, that the adaptations which abound in it point to an intelligent and
designing cause. But this remains to be proved; and till this is done, it is contended, that it is just as well to repose in the imagination of Eternal Harmonies in a Universe, as of Eternal Harmonies in the mind of One who framed it.
2. On this subject we have nothing to quote from Mirabaud, whose work on the System of Nature—though characterized more by its magniloquence than its magnificence, its plausibility than its power-is fitted by its gorgeous generalizations on nature and truth and the universe, to make tremendous impression on the unpractised reader. There is a certain phraseology which has on some minds the effect of a sublime and seducing eloquence, while it excites in others a sensation of utter distaste as if absolutely oversatiated with vapidity and verbiage. This work is one of the products of Germany; and for upwards of fifty years has been well known in the Continent of Europe. Its circulation has been much extended of late by the infidel press of our own countrywhere it is, we understand, working mischief among the half-enlightened classes of British society. We know nothing of the history of its author. In real strength and staple of thought he is a mere sentimental weakling when compared with Hume, from whose Dialogues on Natural Religion we shall give one or two extracts on the argument now in question.
3. “ For aught we can know a priori, matter may contain the source or spring of order originally within itself as well as mind does; and there is no more difficulty in conceiving that the several elements from an internal unknown cause may fall into the most exquisite arrangement, than to conceive that their ideas in the great universal mind from a like internal unknown cause fall into that arrangement. The equal possibility of both these suppositions is allowed.” Again—" If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on without end. It were better therefore never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that divine Being so much the better. When you go one step beyond the mundane system, you only excite an inquisitive humour, which it is impossible ever to satisfy. To say that the different ideas which compose the reason of the Supreme fall into order of themselves and by their own nature, is really to talk without any precise meaning. If it has a meaning, I would fain know, why it is not as good sense to say, that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves and by their own nature. Can the one opinion be intelligible while the other is not
Lastly—“ An ideal system arranged of itself without a precedent design is not a whit more explicable than a material which attains its order in like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the latter supposition than in the former.” “A mental world or universe of ideas requires a cause as much as does a material world or universe of objects; and if similar in its arrangement must require a similar cause.”
4. This is very distinctly put; and we think admits of as distinct and decisive a reply. The Atheist does not perceive why a material economy as exemplified in the world might not fall into order of itself, as well as a mental economy as exemplified in God. The precise difference between the two is, that we have had proof, as we shall attempt to show, of a commencement to our present material economy—we have had no such proof of a commencement to the mental economy which may have preceded it. There is room for the question, how came the material system of things into its present order ?_because we have reason to believe that it has not subsisted in that order from eternity. There is no such room for the question, why might not the material have fallen into its present order of itself, as well as the mental that is conceived to have gone before it? We have no reason to believe that this mental economy ever was otherwise than it now is. The latter question presumes that the mental did fall into order of itself, or which is the same thing, that the Divinity had a commencement. In the material economy we have the vestiges before our eyes of its having had an origin, or in other words of its being a consequent—and we have furthermore the experience that in every instance which comes under full observation of a similar consequent, that is of a consequent which involved as the mundane order of things does so amply, the adaptation of parts to an end, the antecedent was a purposing mind which desired the end, and devised the means for its accomplishment. We