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The Existence of God: Sections 70-81

By Francois Fenelon

      SECTION LXX. The Seal and Stamp of the Deity in His Works.

      We have seen the prints of the Deity, or to speak more properly, the seal and stamp of God Himself, in all that is called the works of nature. When a man will not enter into philosophical subtleties, he observes with the first cast of the eye a hand, that was the first mover, in all the parts of the universe, and set all the wheels of the great machine a-going. The heavens, the earth, the stars, plants, animals, our bodies, our minds: everything shows and proclaims an order, an exact measure, an art, a wisdom, a mind superior to us, which is, as it were, the soul of the whole world, and which leads and directs everything to his ends, with a gentle and insensible, though omnipotent, force. We have seen, as it were, the architecture and frame of the universe; the just proportion of all its parts; and the bare cast of the eye has sufficed us to find and discover even in an ant, more than in the sun, a wisdom and power that delights to exert itself in the polishing and adorning its vilest works. This is obvious, without any speculative discussion, to the most ignorant of men; but what a world of other wonders should we discover, should we penetrate into the secrets of physics, and dissect the inward parts of animals, which are framed according to the most perfect mechanics.

      SECTION LXXI. Objection of the Epicureans, who Ascribe Everything to Chance, considered.

      I hear certain philosophers who answer me that all this discourse on the art that shines in the universe is but a continued sophism. "All nature," will they say, "is for man's use, it is true; but you have no reason to infer from thence, that it was made with art, and on purpose for the use of man. A man must be ingenious in deceiving himself who looks for and thinks to find what never existed." "It is true," will they add, "that man's industry makes use of an infinite number of things that nature affords, and are convenient for him; but nature did not make those things on purpose for his conveniency. As, for instance, some country fellows climb up daily, by certain craggy and pointed rocks, to the top of a mountain; but yet it does not follow that those points of rocks were cut with art, like a staircase, for the conveniency of men. In like manner, when a man happens to be in the fields, during a stormy rain, and fortunately meets with a cave, he uses it, as he would do a house, for shelter; but, however, it cannot be affirmed that this cave was made on purpose to serve men for a house. It is the same with the whole world: it was formed by chance, and without design; but men finding it as it is, had the art to turn and improve it to their own uses. Thus the art you admire both in the work and its artificer, is only in men, who know how to make use of everything that surrounds them." This is certainly the strongest objection those philosophers can raise; and I hope they will have no reason to complain that I have weakened it; but it will immediately appear how weak it is in itself when closely examined. The bare repetition of what I said before will be sufficient to demonstrate it.

      SECTION LXXII. Answer to the Objection of the Epicureans, who Ascribe all to Chance.

      What would one say of a man who should set up for a subtle philosopher, or, to use the modern expression, a free-thinker, and who entering a house should maintain it was made by chance, and that art had not in the least contributed to render it commodious to men, because there are caves somewhat like that house, which yet were never dug by the art of man? One should show to such a reasoner all the parts of the house, and tell him for instance:--Do you see this great court-gate? It is larger than any door, that coaches may enter it. This court has sufficient space for coaches to turn in it. This staircase is made up of low steps, that one may ascend it with ease; and turns according to the apartments and stories it is to serve. The windows, opened at certain distances, light the whole building. They are glazed, lest the wind should enter with the light; but they may be opened at pleasure, in order to breathe a sweet air when the weather is fair. The roof is contrived to defend the whole house from the injuries of the air. The timber-work is laid slanting and pointed at the top, that the rain and snow may easily slide down on both sides. The tiles bear one upon another, that they may cover the timber-work. The divers floors serve to make different stories, in order to multiply lodgings within a small space. The chimneys are contrived to light fire in winter without setting the house on fire, and to let out the smoke, lest it should offend those that warm themselves. The apartments are distributed in such a manner that they be disengaged from one another; that a numerous family may lodge in the house, and the one not be obliged to pass through another's room; and that the master's apartment be the principal. There are kitchens, offices, stables, and coach- houses. The rooms are furnished with beds to lie in, chairs to sit on, and tables to write and eat on. Sure, should one urge to that philosopher, this work must have been directed by some skilful architect; for everything in it is agreeable, pleasant, proportioned, and commodious; and besides, he must needs have had excellent artists under him. "Not at all," would such a philosopher answer; "you are ingenious in deceiving yourself. It is true this house is pleasant, agreeable, proportioned, and commodious; but yet it made itself with all its proportions. Chance put together all the stones in this excellent order; it raised the walls, jointed and laid the timber-work, cut open the casements, and placed the staircase: do not believe any human hand had anything to do with it. Men only made the best of this piece of work when they found it ready made. They fancy it was made for them, because they observe things in it which they know how to improve to their own conveniency; but all they ascribe to the design and contrivance of an imaginary architect, is but the effect of their preposterous imaginations. This so regular, and so well-contrived house, was made in just the same manner as a cave, and men finding it ready made to their hands made use of it, as they would in a storm, of a cave they should find under a rock in a desert."

      What thoughts could a man entertain of such a fantastic philosopher, if he should persist seriously to assert that such a house displays no art? When we read the fabulous story of Amphion, who by a miraculous effect of harmony caused the stones to rise, and placed themselves, with order and symmetry, one on the top of another, in order to form the walls of Thebes, we laugh and sport with that poetical fiction: but yet this very fiction is not so incredible as that which the free-thinking philosopher we contend with would dare to maintain. We might, at least, imagine that harmony, which consists in a local motion of certain bodies, might (by some of those secret virtues, which we admire in nature, without being acquainted with them) shake and move the stones into a certain order and in a sort of cadence, which might occasion some regularity in the building. I own this explanation both shocks and clashes with reason; but yet it is less extravagant than what I have supposed a philosopher should say. What, indeed, can be more absurd, than to imagine stones that hew themselves, that go out of the quarry, that get one on the top of another, without leaving any empty space; that carry with them mortar to cement one another; that place themselves in different ranks for the contrivance of apartments; and who admit on the top of all the timber-roof, with the tiles, in order to cover the whole work? The very children, that cannot yet speak plain, would laugh, if they were seriously told such a ridiculous story.

      SECTION LXXIII. Comparison of the World with a Regular House. A Continuation of the Answer to the Objection of the Epicureans.

      But why should it appear less ridiculous to hear one say that the world made itself, as well as that fabulous house? The question is not to compare the world with a cave without form, which is supposed to be made by chance: but to compare it with a house in which the most perfect architecture should be conspicuous. For the structure and frame of the least living creature is infinitely more artful and admirable than the finest house that ever was built.

      Suppose a traveller entering Saida, the country where the ancient Thebes, with a hundred gates, stood formerly, and which is now a desert, should find there columns, pyramids, obelisks, and inscriptions in unknown characters. Would he presently say: men never inhabited this place; no human hand had anything to do here; it is chance that formed these columns, that placed them on their pedestals, and crowned them with their capitals, with such just proportions; it is chance that so firmly jointed the pieces that make up these pyramids; it is chance that cut the obelisks in one single stone, and engraved in them these characters? Would he not, on the contrary, say, with all the certainty the mind of man is capable of: these magnificent ruins are the remains of a noble and majestical architecture that flourished in ancient Egypt? This is what plain reason suggests, at the first cast of the eye, or first sight, and without reasoning. It is the same with the bare prospect of the universe. A man may by vain, long-winded, preposterous reasonings confound his own reason and obscure the clearest notions: but the single cast of the eye is decisive. Such a work as the world is never makes itself of its own accord. There is more art and proportion in the bones, tendons, veins, arteries, nerves, and muscles, that compose man's body, than in all the architecture of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. The single eye of the least of living creatures surpasses the mechanics of all the most skilful artificers. If a man should find a watch in the sands of Africa, he would never have the assurance seriously to affirm, that chance formed it in that wild place; and yet some men do not blush to say that the bodies of animals, to the artful framing of which no watch can ever be compared, are the effects of the caprices of chance.

      SECTION LXXIV. Another Objection of the Epicureans drawn from the Eternal Motion of Atoms.

      I am not ignorant of a reasoning which the Epicureans may frame into an objection. "The atoms will, they say, have an eternal motion; their fortuitous concourse must, in that eternity, have already produced infinite combinations. Who says infinite, says what comprehends all without exception. Amongst these infinite combinations of atoms which have already happened successively, all such as are possible must necessarily be found: for if there were but one possible combination, beyond those contained in that infinite, it would cease to be a true infinite, because something might be added to it; and whatever may be increased, being limited on the side it may receive an addition, is not truly infinite. Hence it follows that the combination of atoms, which makes up the present system of the world, is one of the combinations which the atoms have had successively: which being laid as a principle, is it matter of wonder that the world is as it is now? It must have taken this exact form, somewhat sooner, or somewhat later, for in some one of these infinite changes it must, at last, have received that combination that makes it now appear so regular; since it must have had, by turns, all combinations that can be conceived. All systems are comprehended in the total of eternity. There is none but the concourse of atoms, forms, and embraces, sooner or later. In that infinite variety of new spectacles of nature, the present was formed in its turn. We find ourselves actually in this system. The concourse of atoms that made will, in process of time, unmake it, in order to make others, ad infinitum, of all possible sorts. This system could not fail having its place, since all others without exception are to have theirs, each in its turn. It is in vain one looks for a chimerical art in a work which chance must have made as it is.

      "An example will suffice to illustrate this. I suppose an infinite number of combinations of the letters of the alphabet, successively formed by chance. All possible combinations are, undoubtedly, comprehended in that total, which is truely infinite. Now, it is certain that Homer's Iliad is but a combination of letters: therefore Homer's Iliad is comprehended in that infinite collection of combinations of the characters of the alphabet. This being laid down as a principle, a man who will assign art in the Iliad, will argue wrong. He may extol the harmony of the verses, the justness and magnificence of the expressions, the simplicity and liveliness of images, the due proportion of the parts of the poem, its perfect unity, and inimitable conduct; he may object that chance can never make anything so perfect, and that the utmost effort of human wit is hardly capable to finish so excellent a piece of work: yet all in vain, for all this specious reasoning is visibly false. It is certain, on the contrary, that the fortuitous concourse of characters, putting them together by turns with an infinite variety, the precise combination that composes the Iliad must have happened in its turn, somewhat sooner or somewhat later. It has happened at last; and thus the Iliad is perfect, without the help of any human art." This is the objection fairly laid down in its full latitude; I desire the reader's serious and continued attention to the answers I am going to make to it.

      SECTION LXXV. Answers to the Objection of the Epicureans drawn from the Eternal Motion of Atoms.

      Nothing can be more absurd than to speak of successive combinations of atoms infinite in number; for the infinite can never be either successive or divisible. Give me, for instance, any number you may pretend to be infinite, and it will still be in my power to do two things that shall demonstrate it not to be a true infinite. In the first place, I can take an unit from it; and in such a case it will become less than it was, and will certainly be finite; for whatever is less than the infinite has a boundary or limit on the side where one stops, and beyond which one might go. Now the number which is finite as soon as one takes from it one single unit, could not be infinite before that diminution; for an unit is certainly finite, and a finite joined with another finite cannot make an infinite. If a single unit added to a finite number made an infinite, it would follow from thence that the finite would be almost equal to the infinite; than which nothing can be more absurd. In the second place, I may add an unit to that number given, and consequently increase it. Now what may be increased is not infinite, for the infinite can have no bound; and what is capable of augmentation is bounded on the side a man stops, when he might go further and add some units to it. It is plain, therefore, that no divisible compound can be the true infinite.

      This foundation being laid, all the romance of the Epicurean philosophy disappears and vanishes out of sight in an instant. There never can be any divisible body truly infinite in extent, nor any number or any succession that is a true infinite. From hence it follows that there never can be an infinite successive number of combinations of atoms. If this chimerical infinite were real, I own all possible and conceivable combinations of atoms would be found in it; and that consequently all combinations that seem to require the utmost industry would likewise be included in them. In such a case, one might ascribe to mere chance the most marvellous performances of art. If one should see palaces built according to the most perfect rules of architecture, curious furniture, watches, clocks, and all sort of machines the most compounded, in a desert island, he should not be free reasonably to conclude that there have been men in that island who made all those exquisite works. On the contrary, he ought to say, "Perhaps one of the infinite combinations of atoms which chance has successively made, has formed all these compositions in this desert island without the help of any man's art;" for such an assertion is a natural consequence of the principles of the Epicureans. But the very absurdity of the consequence serves to expose the extravagance of the principle they lay down. When men, by the natural rectitude of their common sense, conclude that such sort of works cannot result from chance, they visibly suppose, though in a confused manner, that atoms are not eternal, and that in their fortuitous concourse they had not an infinite succession of combinations. For if that principle were admitted, it would no longer be possible ever to distinguish the works of art from those that should result from those combinations as fortuitous as a throw at dice.

      SECTION LXXVI. The Epicureans confound the Works of Art with those of Nature.

      All men who naturally suppose a sensible difference between the works of art and those of chance do consequently, though but implicitly, suppose that the combinations of atoms were not infinite--which supposition is very just. This infinite succession of combinations of atoms is, as I showed before, a more absurd chimera than all the absurdities some men would explain by that false principle. No number, either successive or continual, can be infinite; from whence it follows that the number of atoms cannot be infinite, that the succession of their various motions and combinations cannot be infinite, that the world cannot be eternal, and that we must find out a precise and fixed beginning of these successive combinations. We must recur to a first individual in the generations of every species. We must likewise find out the original and primitive form of every particle of matter that makes a part of the universe. And as the successive changes of that matter must be limited in number, we must not admit in those different combinations but such as chance commonly produces; unless we acknowledge a Superior Being, who with the perfection of art made the wonderful works which chance could never have made.

      SECTION LXXVII. The Epicureans take whatever they please for granted, without any Proof.

      The Epicurean philosophers are so weak in their system that it is not in their power to form it, or bring it to bear, unless one admits without proofs their most fabulous postulata and positions. In the first place they suppose eternal atoms, which is begging the question; for how can they make out that atoms have ever existed and exist by themselves? To exist by one's self is the supreme perfection. Now, what authority have they to suppose, without proofs, that atoms have in themselves a perfect, eternal, and immutable being? Do they find this perfection in the idea they have of every atom in particular? An atom not being the same with, and being absolutely distinguished from, another atom, each of them must have in itself eternity and independence with respect to any other being. Once more, is it in the idea these philosophers have of each atom that they find this perfection? But let us grant them all they suppose in this question, and even what they ought to be ashamed to suppose--viz., that atoms are eternal, subsisting by themselves, independent from any other being, and consequently entirely perfect.

      SECTION LXXVIII. The Suppositions of the Epicureans are False and Chimerical.

      Must we suppose, besides, that atoms have motion of themselves? Shall we suppose it out of gaiety to give an air of reality to a system more chimerical than the tales of the fairies? Let us consult the idea we have of a body. We conceive it perfectly well without supposing it to be in motion, and represent it to us at rest; nor is its idea in this state less clear; nor does it lose its parts, figure, or dimensions. It is to no purpose to suppose that all bodies are perpetually in some motion, either sensible or insensible; and that though some parts of matter have a lesser motion than others, yet the universal mass of matter has ever the same motion in its totality. To speak at this rate is building castles in the air, and imposing vain imaginations on the belief of others; for who has told these philosophers that the mass of matter has ever the same motion in its totality? Who has made the experiment of it? Have they the assurance to bestow the name of philosophy upon a rash fiction which takes for granted what they never can make out? Is there no more to do than to suppose whatever one pleases in order to elude the most simple and most constant truths? What authority have they to suppose that all bodies incessantly move, either sensibly or insensibly? When I see a stone that appears motionless, how will they prove to me that there is no atom in that stone but what is actually in motion? Will they ever impose upon me bare suppositions, without any semblance of truth, for decisive proofs?

      SECTION LXXIX. It is Falsely supposed that Motion is Essential to Bodies.

      However, let us go a step further, and, out of excessive complaisance, suppose that all the bodies in Nature are actually in motion. Does it follow from thence that motion is essential to every particle of matter? Besides, if all bodies have not an equal degree of motion; if some move sensibly, and more swiftly than others; if the same body may move sometimes quicker and sometimes slower; if a body that moves communicates its motion to the neighbouring body that was at rest, or in such inferior motion that it was insensible--it must be confessed that a mode or modification which sometimes increases, and at other times decreases, in bodies is not essential to them. What is essential to a being is ever the same in it. Neither the motion that varies in bodies, and which, after having increased, slackens and decreases to such a degree as to appear absolutely extinct and annihilated; nor the motion that is lost, that is communicated, that passes from one body to another as a foreign thing--can belong to the essence of bodies. And, therefore, I may conclude that bodies are perfect in their essence without ascribing to them any motion. If they have no motion in their essence, they have it only by accident; and if they have it only by accident, we must trace up that accident to its true cause. Bodies must either bestow motion on themselves, or receive it from some other being. It is evident they do not bestow it on themselves, for no being can give what it has not in itself. And we are sensible that a body at rest ever remains motionless, unless some neighbouring body happens to shake it. It is certain, therefore, that no body moves by itself, and is only moved by some other body that communicates its motion to it. But how comes it to pass that a body can move another? What is the reason that a ball which a man causes to roll on a smooth table (billiards, for the purpose) cannot touch another without moving it? Why was it not possible that motion should not ever communicate itself from one body to another? In such a case a ball in motion would stop near another at their meeting, and yet never shake it.

      SECTION LXXX. The Rules of Motion, which the Epicureans suppose do not render it essential to Bodies.

      I may be answered that, according to the rules of motion among bodies, one ought to shake or move another. But where are those laws of motion written and recorded? Who both made them and rendered them so inviolable? They do not belong to the essence of bodies, for we can conceive bodies at rest; and we even conceive bodies that would not communicate their motion to others unless these rules, with whose original we are unacquainted, subjected them to it. Whence comes this, as it were, arbitrary government of motion over all bodies? Whence proceed laws so ingenious, so just, so well adapted one to the other, that the least alteration of or deviation from which would, on a sudden, overturn and destroy all the excellent order we admire in the universe? A body being entirely distinct from another, is in its nature absolutely independent from it in all respects. Whence it follows that it should not receive anything from it, or be susceptible of any of its impressions. The modifications of a body imply no necessary reason to modify in the same manner another body, whose being is entirely independent from the being of the first. It is to no purpose to allege that the most solid and most heavy bodies carry or force away those that are less big and less solid; and that, according to this rule, a great leaden ball ought to move a great ball of ivory. We do not speak of the fact; we only inquire into the cause of it. The fact is certain, and therefore the cause ought likewise to be certain and precise. Let us look for it without any manner of prepossession or prejudice. What is the reason that a great body carries off a little one? The thing might as naturally happen quite otherwise; for it might as well happen that the most solid body should never move any other body--that is to say, motion might be incommunicable. Nothing but custom obliges us to suppose that Nature ought to act as it does.

      SECTION LXXXI. To give a satisfactory Account of Motion we must recur to the First Mover.

      Moreover, it has been proved that matter cannot be either infinite or eternal; and, therefore, there must be supposed both a first atom (by which motion must have begun at a precise moment), and a first concourse of atoms (that must have formed the first combination). Now, I ask what mover gave motion to that first atom, and first set the great machine of the universe a-going? It is not possible to elude this home question by an endless circle, for this question, lying within a finite circumference, must have an end at last; and so we must find the first atom in motion, and the first moment of that first motion, together with the first mover, whose hand made that first impression.

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


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