Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion HTML version

I scruple not to allow, said CLEANTHES, that I have been apt to suspect the
frequent repetition of the word infinite, which we meet with in all theological
writers, to savour more of panegyric than of philosophy; and that any purposes of
reasoning, and even of religion, would be better served, were we to rest
contented with more accurate and more moderate expressions. The terms,
admirable, excellent, superlatively great, wise, and holy; these sufficiently fill the
imaginations of men; and any thing beyond, besides that it leads into absurdities,
has no influence on the affections or sentiments. Thus, in the present subject, if
we abandon all human analogy, as seems your intention, DEMEA, I am afraid we
abandon all religion, and retain no conception of the great object of our
adoration. If we preserve human analogy, we must for ever find it impossible to
reconcile any mixture of evil in the universe with infinite attributes; much less can
we ever prove the latter from the former. But supposing the Author of Nature to
be finitely perfect, though far exceeding mankind, a satisfactory account may
then be given of natural and moral evil, and every untoward phenomenon be
explained and adjusted. A less evil may then be chosen, in order to avoid a
greater; inconveniences be submitted to, in order to reach a desirable end; and in
a word, benevolence, regulated by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may
produce just such a world as the present. You, PHILO, who are so prompt at
starting views, and reflections, and analogies, I would gladly hear, at length,
without interruption, your opinion of this new theory; and if it deserve our
attention, we may afterwards, at more leisure, reduce it into form.
My sentiments, replied PHILO, are not worth being made a mystery of; and
therefore, without any ceremony, I shall deliver what occurs to me with regard to
the present subject. It must, I think, be allowed, that if a very limited intelligence,
whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted with the universe, were assured,
that it were the production of a very good, wise, and powerful Being, however
finite, he would, from his conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from
what we find it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from
these attributes of the cause, of which he is informed, that the effect could be so
full of vice and misery and disorder, as it appears in this life. Supposing now, that
this person were brought into the world, still assured that it was the workmanship
of such a sublime and benevolent Being; he might, perhaps, be surprised at the
disappointment; but would never retract his former belief, if founded on any very
solid argument; since such a limited intelligence must be sensible of his own
blindness and ignorance, and must allow, that there may be many solutions of
those phenomena, which will for ever escape his comprehension. But supposing,
which is the real case with regard to man, that this creature is not antecedently
convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent, and powerful, but is left to
gather such a belief from the appearances of things; this entirely alters the case,
nor will he ever find any reason for such a conclusion. He may be fully convinced
of the narrow limits of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an