Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion HTML version

How the most absurd argument, replied CLEANTHES, in the hands of a man of
ingenuity and invention, may acquire an air of probability! Are you not aware,
PHILO, that it became necessary for Copernicus and his first disciples to prove
the similarity of the terrestrial and celestial matter; because several philosophers,
blinded by old systems, and supported by some sensible appearances, had
denied this similarity? but that it is by no means necessary, that Theists should
prove the similarity of the works of Nature to those of Art; because this similarity
is self-evident and undeniable? The same matter, a like form; what more is
requisite to show an analogy between their causes, and to ascertain the origin of
all things from a divine purpose and intention? Your objections, I must freely tell
you, are no better than the abstruse cavils of those philosophers who denied
motion; and ought to be refuted in the same manner, by illustrations, examples,
and instances, rather than by serious argument and philosophy.
Suppose, therefore, that an articulate voice were heard in the clouds, much
louder and more melodious than any which human art could ever reach:
Suppose, that this voice were extended in the same instant over all nations, and
spoke to each nation in its own language and dialect: Suppose, that the words
delivered not only contain a just sense and meaning, but convey some instruction
altogether worthy of a benevolent Being, superior to mankind: Could you possibly
hesitate a moment concerning the cause of this voice? and must you not
instantly ascribe it to some design or purpose? Yet I cannot see but all the same
objections (if they merit that appellation) which lie against the system of Theism,
may also be produced against this inference.
Might you not say, that all conclusions concerning fact were founded on
experience: that when we hear an articulate voice in the dark, and thence infer a
man, it is only the resemblance of the effects which leads us to conclude that
there is a like resemblance in the cause: but that this extraordinary voice, by its
loudness, extent, and flexibility to all languages, bears so little analogy to any
human voice, that we have no reason to suppose any analogy in their causes:
and consequently, that a rational, wise, coherent speech proceeded, you know
not whence, from some accidental whistling of the winds, not from any divine
reason or intelligence? You see clearly your own objections in these cavils, and I
hope too you see clearly, that they cannot possibly have more force in the one
case than in the other.
But to bring the case still nearer the present one of the universe, I shall make two
suppositions, which imply not any absurdity or impossibility. Suppose that there
is a natural, universal, invariable language, common to every individual of human
race; and that books are natural productions, which perpetuate themselves in the
same manner with animals and vegetables, by descent and propagation. Several
expressions of our passions contain a universal language: all brute animals have