Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion HTML version

It seems strange to me, said CLEANTHES, that you, DEMEA, who are so
sincere in the cause of religion, should still maintain the mysterious,
incomprehensible nature of the Deity, and should insist so strenuously that he
has no manner of likeness or resemblance to human creatures. The Deity, I can
readily allow, possesses many powers and attributes of which we can have no
comprehension: But if our ideas, so far as they go, be not just, and adequate,
and correspondent to his real nature, I know not what there is in this subject
worth insisting on. Is the name, without any meaning, of such mighty
importance? Or how do you mystics, who maintain the absolute
incomprehensibility of the Deity, differ from Sceptics or Atheists, who assert, that
the first cause of all is unknown and unintelligible? Their temerity must be very
great, if, after rejecting the production by a mind, I mean a mind resembling the
human, (for I know of no other,) they pretend to assign, with certainty, any other
specific intelligible cause: And their conscience must be very scrupulous indeed,
if they refuse to call the universal unknown cause a God or Deity; and to bestow
on him as many sublime eulogies and unmeaning epithets as you shall please to
require of them.
Who could imagine, replied DEMEA, that CLEANTHES, the calm philosophical
CLEANTHES, would attempt to refute his antagonists by affixing a nickname to
them; and, like the common bigots and inquisitors of the age, have recourse to
invective and declamation, instead of reasoning? Or does he not perceive, that
these topics are easily retorted, and that Anthropomorphite is an appellation as
invidious, and implies as dangerous consequences, as the epithet of Mystic, with
which he has honoured us? In reality, CLEANTHES, consider what it is you
assert when you represent the Deity as similar to a human mind and
understanding. What is the soul of man? A composition of various faculties,
passions, sentiments, ideas; united, indeed, into one self or person, but still
distinct from each other. When it reasons, the ideas, which are the parts of its
discourse, arrange themselves in a certain form or order; which is not preserved
entire for a moment, but immediately gives place to another arrangement. New
opinions, new passions, new affections, new feelings arise, which continually
diversify the mental scene, and produce in it the greatest variety and most rapid
succession imaginable. How is this compatible with that perfect immutability and
simplicity which all true Theists ascribe to the Deity? By the same act, say they,
he sees past, present, and future: His love and hatred, his mercy and justice, are
one individual operation: He is entire in every point of space; and complete in
every instant of duration. No succession, no change, no acquisition, no
diminution. What he is implies not in it any shadow of distinction or diversity. And
what he is this moment he ever has been, and ever will be, without any new
judgement, sentiment, or operation. He stands fixed in one simple, perfect state:
nor can you ever say, with any propriety, that this act of his is different from that