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Introduction

ALL those who either are or pretend to be atheists; The introduction. who either disbelieve the being of God, or would be thought to do so; or, (which is all one,) who deny the principal attributes of the divine nature, and suppose God to be an unintelligent being, which acts merely by necessity; that is, which, in any tolerable propriety of speech, acts not at all, but is only acted upon: all men that are atheists, I say, in this sense, must be so upon one or other of these three accounts.

Either, first, Because being extremely ignorant Atheism arises from stupid ignorance. and stupid, they have never duly considered any thing at all; nor made any just use of their natural reason, to discover even the plainest and most obvious 2truths; but have spent their time in a manner of life very little superior to that of beasts.

Or from gross corruption of manners: Or, secondly, Because being totally debauched and corrupted in their practice, they have, by a vicious and degenerate life, corrupted the principles of their nature, and defaced the reason of their own minds; and, instead of fairly and impartially inquiring into the rules and obligations of nature, and the reason and fitness of things, have accustomed themselves only to mock and scoff at religion; and, being under the power of evil habits, and the slavery of unreasonable and indulged lusts, are resolved not to hearken to any reasoning which would oblige them to forsake their beloved vices.

Or from false philosophy. Or, thirdly, Because in the way of speculative reasoning, and upon the principles of philosophy, they pretend that the arguments used against the being or attributes of God, seem to them, after the strictest and fullest inquiry, to be more strong and conclusive than those by which we endeavour to prove these great truths.

These seem the only causes that can be imagined, of any man’s disbelieving the being or attributes of God; and no man can be supposed to be an atheist but upon one or other of these three accounts. Now, to the two former of these three sorts of men; namely, to such as are wholly ignorant and stupid, or to such as through habitual debauchery have brought themselves to a custom of mocking and scoffing at all religion, and will not hearken to any fair reasoning; it is not my present business to apply myself. The one of these wants to be instructed in the first principles of reason as well as of religion. The other disbelieves only for a present false interest, and because he is desirous that the thing should not be true. The one has not yet arrived to the use of his natural faculties: the other has renounced them; and declares he will not be argued with, as a rational creature. It is therefore the third sort of atheists only (namely those who in the way of speculative reasoning, 3and upon the principles of philosophy, pretend that the arguments brought against the being or attributes of God, do, upon the strictest and fullest examination, appear to them to be more strong and conclusive, than those by which these great truths are attempted to be proved;) these, I say, are the only atheistical persons to whom my present discourse can be supposed to be directed, or indeed who are capable of being reasoned with at all.

Now, before I enter upon the main argument, I shall premise several concessions, which these men, upon their own principles, are unavoidably obliged to make.

And first, They must of necessity own, that, supposing The being of God very desirable. it cannot be proved to be true, yet at least it is a thing very desirable, and which any wise man would wish to be true, for the great benefit and happiness of men; that there was a God, an intelligent and wise, a just and good Being, to govern the world. Whatever hypothesis these men can possibly frame; whatever argument they can invent, by which they would exclude God and providence out of the world; that very argument or hypothesis will of necessity lead them to this concession. If they argue, that our notion of God arises not from nature and reason, but from the art and contrivance of politicians; that argument itself forces them to confess, that it is manifestly for the interest of human society that it should be believed there is a God. If they suppose that the world was made by chance, and is every moment subject to be destroyed by chance again; no man can be so absurd as to contend that it is as comfortable and desirable to live in such an uncertain state of things, and so continually liable to ruin,11    Maria ac terras cœlumque—
Una dies dabit exitio, multosque per annos
Sustentata ruet moles, et machina mundi.
—Dictis dabit ipsa fidem res
Forsitan, et graviter terrarum motibus orbis
Omnia conquassari in parvo tempore cernes.
   Lucret. lib. 5.
4without any hope of renovation; as in a world that were under the preservation and conduct of a powerful, wise, and good God. If they argue against the being of God, from the faults and defects which they imagine they can find in the frame and constitution of the visible and material world; this supposition obliges them to acknowledge, that it would have been better the world had been made by an intelligent and wise Being, who might have prevented all faults and imperfections. If they argue against providence, from the faultiness and inequality which they think they discover in the management of the moral world, this is a plain confession that it is a thing more fit and desirable in itself, that the world should be governed by a just and good Being, than by mere chance or unintelligent necessity. Lastly, if they suppose the world to be eternally and necessarily self-existent, and consequently that every thing in it is established by a blind and eternal fatality, no rational man can at the same time deny, but that liberty and choice, or a free power of acting, is a more eligible state, than to be determined thus in all our actions, as a stone is to move downward, by an absolute and inevitable fate. In a word, which way soever they turn themselves, and whatever hypothesis they make, concerning the origin and frame of things, nothing is so certain and undeniable, as that man, considered without the protection and conduct of a superior being, is in a far worse case, than upon supposition of the being and government of God, and of men’s being under his peculiar conduct, protection, and favour. Man, of himself, is infinitely insufficient for his own happiness:22   Archbishop Tillotson’s Sermon on Job, xxviii. 28. he is liable to many evils and miseries, which he can neither prevent nor redress: he is full of wants which he cannot supply, and compassed about with infirmities which he cannot remove, and obnoxious to dangers which he can never sufficiently provide 5against: he is secure of nothing that he enjoys in this world, and uncertain of every thing he hopes for: he is apt to grieve for what he cannot help, and eagerly to desire what he is never able to obtain, &c. Under which evil circumstances it is evident there can be no sufficient support, but in the belief of a wise and good God, and in the hopes which true religion affords. Whether therefore the being and attributes of God can be demonstrated or not, it must at least be confessed, by all rational and wise men, to be a thing very desirable, and which they would heartily wish to be true, that there was a God, an intelligent and wise, a just and good Being, to govern the world.

Now, the use I desire to make of this concession is only this: that since the men I am arguing with are unavoidably obliged to confess that it is a thing very desirable at least, that there should be a God, they must of necessity, upon their own principles, be very willing, nay, desirous, above all things, to be convinced that their present opinion is an error, and sincerely hope that the contrary may be demonstrated to them to be true; and consequently they are bound with all seriousness, attention, and impartiality, to consider the weight of the arguments by which the being and attributes of God may be proved to them.

Secondly, All such persons as I am speaking of, Scoffing at religion, inexcusable. who profess themselves to be atheists, not upon any present interest or lust, but purely upon the principles of reason and philosophy, are bound by these principles to acknowledge, that all mocking and scoffing at religion, all jesting and turning arguments of reason into drollery and ridicule, is the most unmanly and unreasonable thing in the world. And consequently, they are obliged to exclude out of their number, as irrational and self-condemned persons, and unworthy to be argued with, all such scoffers at religion, who deride at all adventures without hearing reason; and who will not use the means of being convinced and satisfied. Hearing the reason of the 6case, with patience and unprejudicedness, is an equity which men owe to every truth that can in any manner concern them; and which is necessary to the discovery of every kind of error. How much more in things of the utmost importance!

Virtue and good manners absolutely necessary. Thirdly, Since the persons I am discoursing to cannot but own, that the supposition of the being of God is in itself most desirable, and for the benefit of the world, that it should be true; they must of necessity grant further, that, supposing the being and attributes of God to be things not indeed demonstrable to be true, but only possible, and such as cannot be demonstrated to be false, as most certainly they cannot; and much more, supposing them once made to appear probable, and but more likely to be true than the contrary opinion: nothing is more evident, even upon these suppositions only, than that men ought in all reason to live piously and virtuously in the world; and that vice and immorality are, upon all accounts, and under all hypotheses, the most absurd and inexcusable things in nature.

This much being premised, which no atheist, who pretends to be a rational and fair inquirer into things, can possibly avoid granting; (and other atheists, I have before said, are not to be disputed with at all; as being enemies to reason, no less than to religion, and therefore absolutely self-condemned;) I proceed now to the main thing I at first proposed; namely, to endeavour to show, to such considering persons as I have already described, that the being and attributes of God are not only possible, or barely probable in themselves, but also strictly demonstrable to any unprejudiced mind, from the most incontestable principles of right reason.

And here, because the persons I am at present dealing with, must be supposed not to believe any revelation, nor acknowledge any authority which they will submit to, but only the bare force of reasoning; I shall not, at this time, draw any testimony from Scripture, nor make use of any sort of authority, nor 7lay any stress upon any popular arguments in the matter before us; but confine myself to the rules of strict and demonstrative argumentation.

Now, many arguments there are, by which the being and attributes of God have been undertaken to be demonstrated. And perhaps most of those arguments, if thoroughly understood, rightly stated, fully pursued, and duly separated from the false or uncertain reasonings which have sometimes been intermixed with them; would at length appear to be substantial and conclusive. But because I would endeavour, as far as possible, to avoid all manner of perplexity and confusion; therefore I shall not at this time use any variety of arguments, but endeavour, by one clear and plain series of propositions necessarily connected and following one from another, to demonstrate the certainty of the being of God, and to deduce in order the necessary attributes of his nature, so far as by our finite reason we are enabled to discover and apprehend them. And because it is not to my present purpose to explain or illustrate things to them that believe, but only to convince unbelievers, and settle them that doubt, by strict and undeniable reasoning; therefore I shall not allege any thing, which, however really true and useful, may yet be liable to contradiction or dispute; but shall endeavour to urge such propositions only as cannot be denied, without departing from that reason, which all atheists pretend to be the foundation of their unbelief. Only it is absolutely necessary, before all things, that they consent to lay aside all manner of prejudices; and especially such as have been apt to arise from the too frequent use of terms of art, which have no ideas belonging to them; and from the common receiving certain maxims of philosophy as true, which at the bottom seem to be only propositions without any meaning or signification at all.


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