Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
What you ascribe to the fertility of my invention, replied PHILO, is entirely owing
to the nature of the subject. In subjects adapted to the narrow compass of human
reason, there is commonly but one determination, which carries probability or
conviction with it; and to a man of sound judgement, all other suppositions, but
that one, appear entirely absurd and chimerical. But in such questions as the
present, a hundred contradictory views may preserve a kind of imperfect
analogy; and invention has here full scope to exert itself. Without any great effort
of thought, I believe that I could, in an instant, propose other systems of
cosmogony, which would have some faint appearance of truth, though it is a
thousand, a million to one, if either yours or any one of mine be the true system.
For instance, what if I should revive the old EPICUREAN hypothesis? This is
commonly, and I believe justly, esteemed the most absurd system that has yet
been proposed; yet I know not whether, with a few alterations, it might not be
brought to bear a faint appearance of probability. Instead of supposing matter
infinite, as EPICURUS did, let us suppose it finite. A finite number of particles is
only susceptible of finite transpositions: and it must happen, in an eternal
duration, that every possible order or position must be tried an infinite number of
times. This world, therefore, with all its events, even the most minute, has before
been produced and destroyed, and will again be produced and destroyed,
without any bounds and limitations. No one, who has a conception of the powers
of infinite, in comparison of finite, will ever scruple this determination.
But this supposes, said DEMEA, that matter can acquire motion, without any
voluntary agent or first mover.
And where is the difficulty, replied PHILO, of that supposition? Every event,
before experience, is equally difficult and incomprehensible; and every event,
after experience, is equally easy and intelligible. Motion, in many instances, from
gravity, from elasticity, from electricity, begins in matter, without any known
voluntary agent: and to suppose always, in these cases, an unknown voluntary
agent, is mere hypothesis; and hypothesis attended with no advantages. The
beginning of motion in matter itself is as conceivable a priori as its
communication from mind and intelligence.
Besides, why may not motion have been propagated by impulse through all
eternity, and the same stock of it, or nearly the same, be still upheld in the
universe? As much is lost by the composition of motion, as much is gained by its
resolution. And whatever the causes are, the fact is certain, that matter is, and
always has been, in continual agitation, as far as human experience or tradition
reaches. There is not probably, at present, in the whole universe, one particle of
matter at absolute rest.