You're here: » Articles Home » Francois Fenelon » The Existence of God » Sections 24-30

The Existence of God: Sections 24-30

By Francois Fenelon

      SECTION XXIV. Of Food.

      What is more noble than a machine which continually repairs and renews itself? The animal, stinted to his own strength, is soon tired and exhausted by labour; but the more he takes pains, the more he finds himself pressed to make himself amends for his labour, by more plentiful feeding. Aliments daily restore the strength he had lost. He puts into his body another substance that becomes his own, by a kind of metamorphosis. At first it is pounded, and being changed into a liquor, it purifies, as if it were strained through a sieve, in order to separate anything that is gross from it; afterwards it arrives at the centre, or focus of the spirits, where it is subtilised, and becomes blood. And running at last, and penetrating through numberless vessels to moisten all the members, it filtrates in the flesh, and becomes itself flesh. So many aliments, and liquors of various colours, are then no more than one and the same flesh; and food which was but an inanimate body preserves the life of the animal, and becomes part of the animal himself; the other parts of which he was composed being exhaled by an insensible and continual transpiration. The matter which, for instance, was four years ago such a horse, is now but air, or dung. What was then either hay, or oats, is become that same horse, so fiery and vigorous--at least, he is accounted the same horse, notwithstanding this insensible change of his substance.

      SECTION XXV. Of Sleep.

      The natural attendant of food is sleep; in which the animal forbears not only all his outward motions, but also all the principal inward operations which might too much stir and dissipate the spirits. He only retains respiration, and digestion; so that all motions that might wear out his strength are suspended, and all such as are proper to recruit and renew it go on freely of themselves. This repose, which is a kind of enchantment, returns every night, while darkness interrupts and hinders labour. Now, who is it that contrived such a suspension? Who is it that so well chose the operations that ought to continue; and, with so just discernment, excluded all such as ought to be interrupted? The next day all past fatigue is gone and vanished. The animal works on, as if he had never worked before; and this reviving gives him a vivacity and vigour that invites him to new labour. Thus the nerves are still full of spirits, the flesh smooth, the skin whole, though one would think it should waste and tear; the living body of the animal soon wears out inanimate bodies, even the most solid that are about it; and yet does not wear out itself. The skin of a horse, for instance, wears out several saddles; and the flesh of a child, though very delicate and tender, wears out many clothes, whilst it daily grows stronger. If this renewing of spirits were perfect, it would be real immortality, and the gift of eternal youth. But the same being imperfect, the animal insensibly loses his strength, decays and grows old, because everything that is created ought to bear a mark of nothingness from which it was drawn; and have an end.

      SECTION XXVI. Of Generation.

      What is more admirable than the multiplication of animals? Look upon the individuals: no animal is immortal. Everything grows old, everything passes away, everything disappears, everything, in short, is annihilated. Look upon the species: everything subsists, everything is permanent and immutable, though in a constant vicissitude. Ever since there have been on earth men that have taken care to preserve the memory of events, no lions, tigers, wild boars, or bears, were ever known to form themselves by chance in caves or forests. Neither do we see any fortuitous productions of dogs or cats. Bulls and sheep are never born of themselves, either in stables, folds, or on pasture grounds. Every one of those animals owes his birth to a certain male and female of his species.

      All those different species are preserved much the same in all ages. We do not find that for three thousand years past any one has perished or ceased; neither do we find that any one multiplies to such an excess as to be a nuisance or inconveniency to the rest. If the species of lions, bears, and tigers multiplied to a certain excessive degree, they would not only destroy the species of stags, bucks, sheep, goats, and bulls, but even get the mastery over mankind, and unpeople the earth. Now who maintains so just a measure as never either to extinguish those different species, or never to suffer them to multiply too fast?

      But this continual propagation of every species is a wonder with which we are grown too familiar. What would a man think of a watchmaker who should have the art to make watches, which, of themselves, should produce others ad infinitum in such a manner that two original watches should be sufficient to multiply and perpetuate their species over the whole earth? What would he say of an architect that should have the skill to build houses, which should build others, to renew the habitations of men, before the first should decay and be ready to fall to the ground? It is, however, what we daily see among animals. They are no more, if you please, than mere machines, as watches are. But, after all, the Author of these machines has endowed them with a faculty to reproduce or perpetuate themselves ad infinitum by the conjunction of both sexes. Affirm, if you please, that this generation of animals is performed either by moulds or by an express configuration of every individual; which of these two opinions you think fit to pitch upon, it comes all to one; nor is the skill of the Artificer less conspicuous. If you suppose that at every generation the individual, without being cast into a mould, receives a configuration made on purpose, I ask, who it is that manages and directs the configuration of so compounded a machine, and which argues so much art and industry? If, on the contrary, to avoid acknowledging any art in the case you suppose that everything is determined by the moulds, I go back to the moulds themselves, and ask, who is it that prepared them? In my opinion they are still greater matter of wonder than the very machines which are pretended to come out of them.

      Therefore let who will suppose that there were moulds in the animals that lived four thousand years ago, and affirm, if he pleases, that those moulds were so inclosed one within another ad infinitum, that there was a sufficient number for all the generations of those four thousand years; and that there is still a sufficient number ready prepared for the formation of all the animals that shall preserve their species in all succeeding ages. Now, these moulds, which, as I have observed, must have all the configuration of the animal, are as difficult to be explained or accounted for as the animals themselves, and are besides attended with far more unexplicable wonders. It is certain that the configuration of every individual animal requires no more art and power than is necessary to frame all the springs that make up that machine; but when a man supposes moulds: first, he must affirm that every mould contains in little, with unconceivable niceness, all the springs of the machine itself. Now, it is beyond dispute that there is more art in making so compound a work in little than in a larger bulk. Secondly, he must suppose that every mould, which is an individual prepared for a first generation, contains distinctly within itself other moulds contained within one another ad infinitum, for all possible generations, in all succeeding ages. Now what can be more artful and more wonderful in matter of mechanism than such a preparation of an infinite number of individuals, all formed beforehand in one from which they are to spring? Therefore the moulds are of no use to explain the generations of animals without supposing any art or skill. For, on the contrary, moulds would argue a more artificial mechanism and more wonderful composition.

      What is manifest and indisputable, independently from all the systems of philosophers, is that the fortuitous concourse of atoms never produces, without generation, in any part of the earth, any lions, tigers, bears, elephants, stags, bulls, sheep, cats, dogs, or horses. These and the like are never produced but by the encounter of two of their kind of different sex. The two animals that produce a third are not the true authors of the art that shines in the composition of the animal engendered by them. They are so far from knowing how to perform that art, that they do not so much as know the composition or frame of the work that results from their generation. Nay, they know not so much as any particular spring of it; having been no more than blind and unvoluntary instruments, made use of for the performance of a marvellous art, to which they are absolute strangers, and of which they are perfectly ignorant. Now I would fain know whence comes that art, which is none of theirs? What power and wisdom knows how to employ, for the performance of works of so ingenious and intricate a design, instruments so uncapable to know what they are doing, or to have any notion of it? Nor does it avail anything to suppose that beasts are endowed with reason. Let a man suppose them to be as rational as he pleases in other things, yet he must own, that in generation they have no share in the art that is conspicuous in the composition of the animals they produce.

      Let us carry the thing further, and take for granted the most wonderful instances that are given of the skill and forecast of animals. Let us admire, as much as you please, the certainty with which a hound takes a spring into a third way, as soon as he finds by his nose that the game he pursues has left no scent in the other two. Let us admire the hind, who, they say, throws a good way off her young fawn, into some hidden place, that the hounds may not find him out by the scent of his strain. Let us even admire the spider who with her cobwebs lays subtle snares to trap flies, and fall unawares upon them before they can disentangle themselves. Let us also admire the hern, who, they say, puts his head under his wing, in order to hide his bill under his feathers, thereby to stick the breast of the bird of prey that stoops at him. Let us allow the truth of all these wonderful instances of rationality; for all nature is full of such prodigies. But what must we infer from them? In good earnest, if we carefully examine the matter, we shall find that they prove too much. Shall we say that animals are more rational than we? Their instinct has undoubtedly more certainty than our conjectures. They have learnt neither logic nor geometry, neither have they any course or method of improvement, or any science. Whatever they do is done of a sudden without study, preparation, or deliberation. We commit blunders and mistakes every hour of the day after we have a long while argued and consulted together; whereas animals, without any reasoning or premeditation, perform every hour what seems to require most discernment, choice, and exactness. Their instinct is in many things infallible; but that word instinct is but a fair name void of sense. For what can an instinct more just, exact, precise, and certain than reason itself mean but a more perfect reason? We must therefore suppose a wonderful reason and understanding either in the work or in the artificer; either in the machine or in him that made it. When, for instance, I find that a watch shows the hours with such exactness as surpasses my knowledge, I presently conclude that if the watch itself does not reason, it must have been made by an artificer who, in that particular, reasoned better and had more skill than myself. In like manner, when I see animals, who every moment perform actions that argue a more certain art and industry than I am master of, I immediately conclude that such marvellous art must necessarily be either in the machine or in the artificer that framed it. Is it in the animal himself? But how is it possible he should be so wise and so infallible in some things? And if this art is not in him, it must of necessity be in the Supreme Artificer that made that piece of work, just as all the art of a watch is in the skill of the watchmaker.

      SECTION XXVII. Though Beasts commit some Mistakes, yet their Instinct is, in many cases, Infallible.

      Do not object to me that the instinct of beasts is in some things defective, and liable to error. It is no wonder beasts are not infallible in everything, but it is rather a wonder they are so in many cases. If they were infallible in everything, they should be endowed with a reason infinitely perfect; in short, they should be deities. In the works of an infinite Power there can be but a finite perfection, otherwise God should make creatures like or equal to Himself, which is impossible. He therefore cannot place perfection, nor consequently reason, in his works, without some bounds and restrictions. But those bounds do not prove that the work is void of order or reason. Because I mistake sometimes, it does not follow that I have no reason at all, and that I do everything by mere chance, but only that my reason is stinted and imperfect. In like manner, because a beast is not by his instinct infallible in everything, though he be so in many, it does not follow that there is no manner of reason in that machine, but only that such a machine has not a boundless reason. But, after all, it is a constant truth that in the operations of that machine there is a regular conduct, a marvellous art, and a skill which in many cases amounts to infallibility. Now, to whom shall we ascribe this infallible skill? To the work, or its Artificer?

      SECTION XXVIII. It is impossible Beasts should have Souls.

      If you affirm that beasts have souls different from their machines, I immediately ask you, "Of what nature are those souls entirely different from and united to bodies? Who is it that knew how to unite them to natures so vastly different? Who is it that has such absolute command over so opposite natures, as to put and keep them in such a regular and constant a society, and wherein mutual agreement and correspondence are so necessary and so quick?

      If, on the contrary, you suppose that the same matter may sometimes think, and sometimes not think, according to the various wrangling and configurations it may receive, I will not tell you in this place that matter cannot think; and that one cannot conceive that the parts of a stone, without adding anything to it, may ever know themselves, whatever degree of motion, whatever figure, you may give them. I will only ask you now wherein that precise ranging and configuration of parts, which you speak of, consists? According to your opinion there must be a degree of motion wherein matter does not yet reason, and then another much like it wherein, on a sudden, it begins to reason and know itself. Now, who is it that knew how to pitch upon that precise degree of motion? Who is it that has discovered the line in which the parts ought to move? Who is it that has measured the dimensions so nicely as to find out and state the bigness and figure every part must have to keep all manner of proportions between themselves in the whole? Who is it that has regulated the outward form by which all those bodies are to be stinted? In a word, who is it that has found all the combinations wherein matter thinks, and without the least of which matter must immediately cease to think? If you say it is chance, I answer that you make chance rational to such a degree as to be the source of reason itself. Strange prejudice and intoxication of some men, not to acknowledge a most intelligent cause, from which we derive all intelligence; and rather choose to affirm that the purest reason is but the effect of the blindest of all causes in such a subject as matter, which of itself is altogether incapable of knowledge! Certainly there is nothing a man of sense would not admit rather than so extravagant and absurd an opinion.

      SECTION XXIX. Sentiments of some of the Ancients concerning the Soul and Knowledge of Beasts.

      The philosophy of the ancients, though very lame and imperfect, had nevertheless a glimpse of this difficulty; and, therefore, in order to remove it, some of them pretended that the Divine Spirit interspersed and scattered throughout the universe is a superior Wisdom that continually operates in all nature, especially in animals, just as souls act in bodies; and that this continual impression or impulse of the Divine Spirit, which the vulgar call instinct, without knowing the true signification of that word, was the life of all living creatures. They added, "That those sparks of the Divine Spirit were the principle of all generations; that animals received them in their conception and at their birth; and that the moment they died those divine particles disengaged themselves from all terrestrial matter in order to fly up to heaven, where they shone and rolled among the stars. It is this philosophy, at once so magnificent and so fabulous, which Virgil so gracefully expresses in the following verses upon bees:--

      "Esse apibus partem divinae mentis, et haustus AEtherios dixere: Deum namque ire per omnes Terrasque, tractusque maris, caelumque profundum. Hinc pecudes, armenta viros, genus omne ferarum, Quemque sibi tenues nascentem arcessere vitas. Scilicet huc reddi deinde, ac resoluta referri Omnia, nec morti esse locum, sed viva volare Sideris in numerum, atque alto succedere caelo."

      That is:--

      "Induced by such examples, some have taught That bees have portions of ethereal thought, Endued with particles of heavenly fires, For God the whole created mass inspires. Through heaven, and earth, and ocean depth He throws His influence round, and kindles as He goes. Hence flocks, and herds, and men, and beasts, and fowls, With breath are quickened, and attract their souls. Hence take the forms His prescience did ordain, And into Him, at length, resolve again. No room is left for death: they mount the sky, And to their own congenial planets fly."

      Dryden's "Virgil."

      That Divine Wisdom that moves all the known parts of the world had made so deep an impression upon the Stoics, and on Plato before them, that they believed the whole world to be an animal, but a rational and wise animal--in short, the Supreme God. This philosophy reduced Polytheism, or the multitude of gods, to Deism, or one God, and that one God to Nature, which according to them was eternal, infallible, intelligent, omnipotent, and divine. Thus philosophers, by striving to keep from and rectify the notions of poets, dwindled again at last into poetical fancies, since they assigned, as the inventors of fables did, a life, an intelligence, an art, and a design to all the parts of the universe that appear most inanimate. Undoubtedly they were sensible of the wonderful art that is conspicuous in nature, and their only mistake lay in ascribing to the work the skill of the Artificer.

      SECTION XXX. Of Man.

      Let us not stop any longer with animals inferior to man. It is high time to consider and study the nature of man himself, in order to discover Him whose image he is said to bear. I know but two sorts of beings in all nature: those that are endowed with knowledge or reason, and those that are not Now man is a compound of these two modes of being. He has a body, as the most inanimate corporeal beings have; and he has a spirit, a mind, or a soul--that is, a thought whereby he knows himself, and perceives what is about him. If it be true that there is a First Being who has drawn or created all the rest from nothing, man is truly His image; for he has, like Him, in his nature all the real perfection that is to be found in those two various kinds or modes of being. But an image is but an image still, and can be but an adumbration or shadow of the true Perfect Being.

      Let us begin to study man by the contemplation of his body. "I know not," said a mother to her children in the Holy Writ, "how you were formed in my womb." Nor is it, indeed, the wisdom of the parents that forms so compounded and so regular a work. They have no share in that wonderful art; let us therefore leave them, and trace it up higher.

Back to Francois Fenelon index.

See Also:
   Sections 1-6
   Sections 7-16
   Sections 17-23
   Sections 24-30
   Sections 31-40
   Sections 41-50
   Sections 51-60
   Sections 62-69
   Sections 70-81
   Sections 82-92


Like This Page?

© 1999-2019, All rights reserved.