Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion HTML version

It must be a slight fabric, indeed, said DEMEA, which can be erected on so
tottering a foundation. While we are uncertain whether there is one deity or
many; whether the deity or deities, to whom we owe our existence, be perfect or
imperfect, subordinate or supreme, dead or alive, what trust or confidence can
we repose in them? What devotion or worship address to them? What veneration
or obedience pay them? To all the purposes of life the theory of religion becomes
altogether useless: and even with regard to speculative consequences, its
uncertainty, according to you, must render it totally precarious and unsatisfactory.
To render it still more unsatisfactory, said PHILO, there occurs to me another
hypothesis, which must acquire an air of probability from the method of reasoning
so much insisted on by CLEANTHES. That like effects arise from like causes:
this principle he supposes the foundation of all religion. But there is another
principle of the same kind, no less certain, and derived from the same source of
experience; that where several known circumstances are observed to be similar,
the unknown will also be found similar. Thus, if we see the limbs of a human
body, we conclude that it is also attended with a human head, though hid from
us. Thus, if we see, through a chink in a wall, a small part of the sun, we
conclude, that, were the wall removed, we should see the whole body. In short,
this method of reasoning is so obvious and familiar, that no scruple can ever be
made with regard to its solidity.
Now, if we survey the universe, so far as it falls under our knowledge, it bears a
great resemblance to an animal or organised body, and seems actuated with a
like principle of life and motion. A continual circulation of matter in it produces no
disorder: a continual waste in every part is incessantly repaired: the closest
sympathy is perceived throughout the entire system: and each part or member, in
performing its proper offices, operates both to its own preservation and to that of
the whole. The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal; and the Deity is the SOUL of
the world, actuating it, and actuated by it.
You have too much learning, CLEANTHES, to be at all surprised at this opinion,
which, you know, was maintained by almost all the Theists of antiquity, and
chiefly prevails in their discourses and reasonings. For though, sometimes, the
ancient philosophers reason from final causes, as if they thought the world the
workmanship of God; yet it appears rather their favourite notion to consider it as
his body, whose organisation renders it subservient to him. And it must be
confessed, that, as the universe resembles more a human body than it does the
works of human art and contrivance, if our limited analogy could ever, with any
propriety, be extended to the whole of nature, the inference seems juster in
favour of the ancient than the modern theory.