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THE ANSWER TO A SIXTH LETTER,

BEING PART OF A LETTER WRITTEN TO ANOTHER GENTLEMAN, WHO HAD PROPOSED SEVERAL OF THE SAME OBJECTIONS WITH THE FOREGOING.

Sir,

You will give me leave, without any preface or apology, to propose directly the best answer I can to the objections you have offered.

There are but two ways by which the being, and all or any of the attributes of God can possibly be proved. The one, a priori, the other a posteriori.

The proof a posteriori409409   Rom. i. 20. The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead. is level to all men’s capacities; because there is an endless gradation of wise and useful phenomena of nature, from the most obvious to the most abstruse; which afford (at least a moral and reasonable) proof of the being of God, to the several capacities of all unprejudiced men, who have any probity of mind: And this is what (I suppose) God expects (as a moral governor,) that moral agents should be determined by.

The proof a priori is (I fully believe) strictly demonstrative, but (like numberless mathematical demonstrations,) capable of being understood by only a few attentive minds, because it is of use only against learned and metaphysical difficulties. And, therefore, it must never be expected that this should be made obvious to the generality of men, any more than astronomy or mathematics can be.

This being premised in general, I proceed to particulars.

Concerning the notion of self-existence I explain myself thus: Of every thing that is, there is a reason which now does, or once or always did, determine the existence rather than the non-existence of that thing. Of that which derives not its being from any other thing, this reason, or ground of existence (whether we can attain to any idea of it or no,) must be in the thing itself: For though the bare proof, by ratiocination, that there cannot but exist such a being, does not indeed give us any distinct notion of self-existence, but only shows the certainty of the thing; yet when once a thing is known, by reasoning a posteriori, to be certain, it unavoidably follows that there is in nature a reason a priori, (whether we can discover 434it or no,) of the existence of that which we know cannot but exist. Since, therefore, in that which derives not its being from any other thing, the ground or reason why it exists rather than not exists, must be in the thing itself, and it is a plain contradiction to suppose its own will, by way of efficient cause, to be the reason of its existence, it remains that absolute necessity (the same necessity that is the cause of the unalterable proportion between 2 and 4,) be, by way of formal cause, the ground of that existence. And this necessity is indeed antecedent, though not in time, yet in the order of nature, to the existence of the being itself: Whereas, on the contrary, its own will is, in the order of nature, subsequent to the supposition of the existence of the being; and therefore cannot be the formal cause of that existence.

Nothing can be more absurd than to suppose that any thing (or any circumstance of any thing) is, and yet that there be absolutely no reason why it is, rather than not. It is easy to conceive that we may indeed be utterlyignorant of the reasons, or grounds, or causes of many things. But, that any thing is; and that there is a real reason in nature why it is, rather than is not; these two are as necessarily and essentially connected as any two correlates whatever, as height and depth, &c.

The scholastic way of proving the existence of the self-existent being, from the absolute perfection of his nature, is ὕστερον τρότερον; for all or any perfections presuppose existence, which is petitio principii. But bare necessity of existence does not presuppose, but infer existence. That which exists by absolute necessity of nature will always (whether you will or no) be supposed or included in any possible idea of things, even where you never so expressly endeavour to exclude it; just as the proportion between 2 and 4 remains included in the very terms wherein any man would endeavour expressly to deny it.

To exist at all, and to exist everywhere, are one and the very same thing, where the cause or ground of the existence is not either confined to, or operates only in, some particular place. For 2 and 4 to have at all a certain proportion to each other, and to have that same proportion everywhere, is the very same thing; and the like is true of every thing that is necessary in itself. To suppose (as you suggest) that the self-existent being may be limited by its own nature, is presupposing a nature, or limiting quality: Whereas, in this case, here must nothing be presupposed; no nature, no quality whatsoever, but what arises (and consequently everywhere alike) from a necessity absolute in itself, and antecedent (in the order 435of our ideas) to any nature, place, quality, time, or thing whatsoever.

When I say that necessity, absolutely such in itself, has no relation to time or place; my meaning is, that it has no relation to, or dependence upon, any particular time or place, or any thing in any particular time or place; but that it is the same in all time, and in all place. What you mean by time and place being finite, I understand not: The schoolmen’s notion of time’s depending on the motions or existence of the material world, is as senseless as the supposing it to depend on the turning or not turning of an hour-glass. The same also is true of place.

Infinite space is infinite extension; and eternity is infinite duration. They are the two first, and most obvious, and simple ideas that every man has in his mind. Time and place are the sine qua non of all other things, and of all other ideas. To suppose either of them finite, is an express contradiction in the idea itself. No man does or can possibly imagine either of them to be finite; but only, either by non-attention, or by choice, he attends perhaps to part of his idea, and forbears attending to the remainder. All the difficulty that has ever arisen about this matter, is nothing but dust thrown by men’s using words (or rather sounds only) in their philosophy, instead of ideas. And the arguments drawn from the jargon of the schoolmen, will equally prove every axiom in Euclid to be uncertain and unintelligible.

They who remove the idea of infinity, (or of a being whose attribute infinity is,) by supposing space to be nothing but a relation between two bodies, are guilty of the absurdity of supposing that which is nothing to have real qualities. For the space which is between two bodies is always unalterably just what it was; and has the very same dimensions, quantity, and figure, whether these, or any other bodies be there, or anywhere else, or not at all; just as time or duration is the same,410410   Eadem est duratio seu perseverantia existentiæ rerum; sive motus sint celeres, sive tardi, sive nulli.Newton. Princip. Mathem. schol. ad Definit. 8. whether you turn your hour-glass, or no; or whether the sun moves, or stands still; or whether there was or was not any sun, or any material world at all.

The schoolmen’s distinctions about spirits existing in ubi, and not in loco, are mere empty sounds, without any manner of signification.

To set bounds to space, is to suppose it bounded by something 436which itself takes up space, and that is a contradiction: Or else that it is bounded by nothing, and then the idea of that nothing will still be space, which is another contradiction. Beings which exist in time, and in space, (as every finite thing must needs do,) presuppose time and space: But that being, whose existence makes duration and space, must be infinite and eternal, because duration and space can have no bounds. Not that duration and space are the formal cause of that existence, but, that necessary attributes do necessarily and inseparably infer or show to us a necessary substance; of which substance itself we have no image, because it is the object of none of our senses: But we perceive its existence by its effects, and the necessity of that existence by the necessity of certain attributes, and by other arguments of reason and inference. To suppose space removed, destroyed, or taken away, amounts to the absurd supposition of removing a thing away from itself: That is, if in your imagination you annihilate the whole of infinite space, the whole infinite space will still remain: and if you annihilate any part of it, that part will still necessarily remain, as appears by the unmoved situation of the rest: And to suppose it divided or divisible, amounts to the same contradiction.

The objection of immensity being inconsistent with spirituality and simplicity, arises merely from the jargon of the schoolmen, who (in order to help out transubstantiation,) have used themselves to speak of this and of many other things in phrases which had no meaning or ideas belonging to them: By denying the real immensity and the real eternal duration of God, they, in true consequence, (though it is reasonable to suppose they saw not that consequence,) denied his being. The immensity of space, (it being throughout absolutely uniform and essentially indivisible,) is no more inconsistent with simplicity than the uniform successive flowing of the parts of duration (as you most rightly observe,) are inconsistent with simplicity. There is no difficulty at all in this point, but a mere prejudice, and false notion of simplicity.

As to spirituality; the individual consciousness of the one immense being is as truly one as the present moment of time is individually one, in all places at once: And the one can no more properly be said to be an ell or a mile of consciousness, (which is the sum of your objection,) than the other can be said to be an ell or a mile of time. This suggestion seems to deserve particular consideration.

To the objection, that the supposing God to be really and substantially omnipresent, is supposing him to be the soul of the world, I answer: This is a great mistake. For the word 437soul signifies a part of a whole, whereof body is the other part; and they, being united, mutually affect each other as parts of the same whole. But God is present to every part of the universe, not as a soul, but as a governor; so as to act upon every thing in what manner he pleases, himself being acted upon by nothing.

What you suggest about space having no parts, because it is infinite, is a mere quibble indeed, and has nothing in it. The meaning of parts, (in questions of this nature,) is separable, compounded, un-united parts, such as are the parts of matter; which, for that reason, is always a compound, not a simple substance. No matter is one substance, but a heap of substances: And that I take to be the reason why matter is a subject incapable of thought; not because it is extended, but because its parts are distinct substances, un-united, and independent on each other; which (I believe) is not the case of other substances. The kinds of substance may perhaps be more and more different from each other, than we, (at present,) for want of more senses, are aware of. Matter and spirit is no other division than matter and not matter; just as if one should divide the species of animals into horses and not horses.

As to the question, why absolute necessity will not admit of the existence of two distinct independent beings, as well as of different attributes and properties in one independent being, I answer; absolute necessity, in which there is nowhere any variation, cannot be the ground of existence of a number of finite beings, however agreeing and harmonious, because that (viz. number, or finiteness,) is itself a manifest difformity or inequality. But it may be the ground or existence of one uniform infinite being: The different attributes of which one uniform being are not a variety of parts, or an un-uniformness, (if I may so speak) of the necessity by which it exists, but they are all and each of them attributes of the whole, attributes of the one simple infinite being; just as the powers of hearing and seeing are not inequalities or difformities in the soul of man; but each of them powers of the whole soul.

As to the last argument you refer to, my meaning therein is this; that it is a contradiction to suppose two (or more) necessarily-existing beings, because each of them, by the supposition, being independent, and sufficient to itself, though the other were supposed not to exist, they thereby each of them mutually destroy the supposed necessity of the other’s existence, and, consequently, neither of them indeed will be necessary or independent. For instance; if matter, or spirit, or any other 438substance, could as possibly be conceived to exist without that in which they all exist, as that in which they all exist can be conceived to exist without them, then there would be necessary-existence on neither part.

As to the question concerning the possible plurality of infinites; it is certainly true that the infinity of space neither excludes finite bodies nor finite spirits, nor infinite body, nor infinite spirit. But it excludes every thing of the same kind, whether finite or infinite; which is all that my argument requires. There can be but one infinite space, and but one infinite time, and but one infinite spirit, (taking spirit to mean a particular positive distinct substance, and not the mere negative non-matter, of which there may be innumerable kinds;) and if matter could be infinite, there could likewise be but one infinite body, and so on. For one infinite, in all dimensions, exhausts always the whole possibility of that kind, though it excludes not others.

The ubi of spirits being their perception only; and the omnipresence of God being his infinite knowledge only, are mere words, without any sense at all: And, by the like confusion, any thing may be said to be any thing, and we have in us no principles of knowledge at all, nor any use either of words or ideas.

“I am, Sir,

“Your assured Friend and Servant,” &c.


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