Page images


have not been wanting to press those honorable names into the service of this worst of causes, and to vamp up afresh their unmeaning conjectures upon a subject which has always baffled unassisted reason. By a most unjust construction those great men have been classed with the deniers of an intelligent first

The distinguishing characteristic of the system of Aristotle seems to have consisted in asserting the eternity of matter. But the very assertion that the Deity created this eternal matter, contains a contradiction so palpable, that the only resource left us, is to ascribe the same imbecility to the acute Stagirite which befell all the other philosophers upon the same subject. Reluctant as we may be to think disparagingly of the immortal Aristotle, yet truth itself, dearer than Aristotle, compels us to place him in the same category. An eternal Being we can admit, but an eternal creation is an absurdity never to be admitted. The very fact, however, of alleging a coexistent Deity, apart from the doctrine of an eternal creation, in which the absurdity consists, sufficiently exempts the system of that eminent man from the opprobrium of denying an intelligent first cause. Aristotle may be allowed to have failed in constructing his hypothesis: his system as a whole may be esteemed incoherent, and he may be said to stumble on the very threshold of the system of nature, where all others before and since, attempting to find out the first cause, have stumbled; but he is at least free from the charge of alleging effects without a cause; and his theory, properly described, is rather that of an incomprehensible theism than of pure atheism.

The attempt to retrograde upon the mysteries of nature, and to develop the arcana of cause and effect—which was stantly made by the philosophers of all the Grecian schools, by merely substituting one term for another, or some terms for nothing that was either known, or knowable, or imaginable, was but a removal of the idea of the first cause into deeper darkness, or an augmentation of their own and their disciples' difficulties, by hypothetically assuming more causes than the facts of creation required, and thereby involving the whole question in a cloud of mysticism that no understanding could penetrate. That speculations so grossly illogical should ever have engaged the attention of men professing to be philosophers, that any of them should have found shelter under the venerated name of the father and founder of the very science of logic, and especially that any modern philosophers should have overlooked their looseness and inconsistency, and labored to revive them under new forms for the enlightenment of the moderns, is one of the strongest proofs of the imbecility which befalls the human understanding whenever it attempts to exclude the Deity from his own universe, or to account for the


facts of creation without the intervention of an intelligent Creator.

We should not complete what we intended to say upon the general subject, if we passed over in silence some additional notions to which modern vanity and absurdity have given birth. The love of atheism, unrebuked by the obvious ignorance, inconsistency, and irrationality of the ancient speculations, in which it could find neither satisfaction nor repose, has latterly evinced its accustomed fatuity in novelties which to many of our readers would be as amusing as they are startling, were it not for the tremendous awfulness of the subject to which they relate. Let it be observed, however, that men who have resigned the control of their understandings to their love of fame, or their idolatry of science, do not readily foresee the consequences of their vanity, nor usually ascribe their motives to the right source. The philosopher who indulges a prurient spirit of curiosity, or determines that himself will be omniscient, that he will discover the invisible and comprehend the infinite, is just as much the dupe of his own deceitful heart, as the low wretch that places his chief good in wealth, or hopes to extract the elixir of life from the indulgence of his animal propensities. The success which attends scientific investigation often produces a self-complacency and a pride, which lead to the infatuation of attempting to outstep finite capabilities, to rush into the counsels and invade the secresy of the eternal Mind. The contradictions, untruths, and irrationality which immediately and invariably ensue, bespeak the offence that has been committed, and admonish the inquirer to restrain himself to his peculiar and proper province. The sin of science becomes its punishment. The very vanity which stimulates the self-sufficient speculator to pass beyond the limits prescribed by facts and evidences, into the regions of the invisible and undiscoverable, necessitates him, in the absence of all light, to substitute hypothesis for proof, the inventions of his genius or the visions of his imagination for reality and truth. Of theories sometimes excogitated by philosophic dreamers under these circumstances, it is sufficient to say they are merely ingenious and beautiful. But of others, which manifest no such redeeming qualities, a sterner judgment ought to be pronounced; especially when, in addition to their clumsiness and absurdity, they tend to debase the understandings and undermine the moral feelings of mankind. Surely what is conservative of the best interests of the species is not to be renounced for the sake of embracing an unproved and unprovable theory-much less out of fancy for direct contradictions and the most illogical of conclusions. Nothing but substantial demonstration, unquestionable truth, and the most palpable evidence of facts ought to constrain lis to

the abandonment of a doctrine so reasonable in itself, so consistent with our moral instincts, so essential to the very

existence of social order, as that of a superintending Deity. And yet modern atheism, in the most erudite and elaborate dress it can assume, has required us to surrender our belief in a Deity to the claims of a new system which consists of the most unproved and baseless assumptions imaginable, and which to name among persons claiming to reason upon all things, ought to prove their condemnation. We refer particularly to the System of Appetencies,' as maintained by La Marck. Many of our readers will probably not find this description intelligible, and we must therefore crave attention to a few additional observations.

The following is the outline of this last edition of atheism, which we shall presently see is as false in fact as it is incoherent in theory; as deficient in the essential premises, as short of the end it is designed to serve. “The least known animal of creation ‘is termed monas: and it was once supposed a simple form, without organs, either external or internal, or a merely living

atom, and therefore the lowest form of life. This is said to "] have constituted the first and sole animal creation; and, that desiring to improve its condition, this desire, or appetency,

became sufficient for the acquisition of what was desired, while 'the several marine tribes were the gradual result. Some of 'those fishes forming desires to fly and others to walk, the * terrestrial creation was produced : while all the improved pro* ductions became also perpetuated. And the imaginary transi‘tions such as the manati and the penguin, are adduced as

proofs of the process. The same is asserted of certain varia'tions, of parts, in animals of a general similarity; though in 'this case, effort and resistance are added to desire. The bird 'which desired to swim became web-footed, the effort to pene'trate the ground caused the woodcock's bill to elongate, and 'the action of the water on the thighs of the wading birds de

prived them of their feathers.' Macculloch. Whether any of the philosophic admirers of this theory ever gave themselves the trouble of reflecting upon the question—whence did the monas first of all obtain that life which, upon the assumption of the theorists, seems to be endued with such a wonderful appetency for improvement ?-does not appear. Certainly no such appetency for improvement appears in any animal below man. The progression of life, even in the lowest forms, is the unsolved mystery which it was probably hoped might be overlooked, but which proves fatal to the theory, supposing, in all its subsequent assumptions, it was sustained by the facts of true science. Those who hold it are as far as ever from having excluded creative power ; indeed we might even say they have


involved in this single exercise of it far more mysterious facts than attach to the Christian's theory of creation : for they have condensed all the wonders of creation into the single monas, and assumed that it is possessed of such appetencies and of such power of gratifying those appetencies, as to become, by ever varying metamorphoses, transformed into all the living creatures of the creation—that is to say, all the various forms and instincts were conceived of and severally desired by the monas, before it set about the work of effecting the requisite changes upon itself. This is in fact to attribute all the wisdom, design, and beauty of the animal creation to the lowest animated existence of which we have any knowledge. For, of course, the monas must, in its appetency, have had a conception both of the form and all its appurtenances into which it was about to transform itself; and further, the appetency itself must have been different, vastly different from all other appetencies, and superior to them, in having the consciousness of the power necessary to its gratification. The appetency itself would have been like many other appetencies, abortive, if it had not been accompanied with this power. But appetency itself is distinct from power, and yet in the present hypothesis both are included. Hencé the system literally makes a creator of the monas, endowing itself with the power of producing the whole animal creation, not even excepting man, out of the lowest form of life. This is simplifying the mysteries of creation with a vengeance, by condensing them all into the monas; and when this infinitely miraculous theory is admitted, and all these wonders of nature, which were thought too wonderful for an intelligent Deity to have anything to do with, are found abbreviated into the monas, we are nothing advantaged, nor in any way repaid for our credulity; for still the mystery of the monas life, the life that is like no other life, capable of originating all sorts of beings and of forms, remains to be explained—the cause that could wrap up all forms in one, and that the lowest and simplest, must surely be a creator of transcendent skill and wisdom, since the wonders thus attributed to him leave far behind all that revelation has called upon us to believe.

Whatever, therefore, this theory of appetencies may be, it is not truly atheism. It commences with an assumption of a living being endowed with properties of the most extraordinary nature, and capable, according to the hypothesis, of performing all the works usually attributed to a Deity-which amounts to the same thing as making that lowest of animals the very Deity -and yet this is done by those who affect to think there is no Deity. This romance of science baffles all parallel, and seems to revel in the quintessence of folly and extravagance. It deserves no other refutation than a direct denial of all its

assumptions. It is a sufficient answer to say it is not true. It offers no proofs. The supposed philosophical principle on which it proceeds, as if it were an admitted axiom—that all the forms of nature pass through a graduated scale—is proved false by science herself

. The species never pass into higher ones. Each has its own defined boundaries. The monas has never been known to pass through the transitions attributed to it. The lowest organizations remain the lowest, and neither originate nor perpetuate the slightest improvements. Wherever transitions occur, they pertain to the completion of the single animal, are limited to its own proper states, and return back again to the primitive embryo, which renewing the same changes interminably within their prescribed circle, demonstrate that they were ail parts of the Creator's original plan—and equally demonstrate the futility and falsehood of that theory, which assumes gradual development, from the lowest to the highest, as the mighty discovery which is to explode the doctrine of a deity, and make all the mystery of cause and effect from the first to the last as clear and bright as a sunbeam.

It is irksome, and in reference to human nature, humiliating, to notice such inane and childish speculations. The facts of those very sciences which these philosophers themselves profess to teach, ought to have corrected their mistakes, and rebuked their presumption. True science utterly repudiates their first principles, and rejects their theories as baseless and contradictory.

All the systems of atheism are as inconsistent with each other as with themselves—and yet no sect is more attached to its members than those of the atheistic schools to each other. Every one affects to admire the deep research, profound genius, and subtle reasoning of his predecessor, and yet he cannot refrain from hunting out some new system which shall explode all the old errors, alas, only by bringing in new ones. Buffon told the world that animal nature is mere machinery without intellectual power of any kind; La Marck and De Maillet attribute all forms of life to appetency, powers of conception, and volition. Boscovich adopted the Berkleyan theory of the non-existence of matter to the attempted disproof of a Creator ; while a host of physiologists, both of our own country and the continent, explain everything by their doctine of organization, to the utter exclusion of mind, as a distinct and primary principle. Under these endless contradictions, it is consolatory to observe that the absurdities and extravagancies of the philosophers are wisely ordered in the economy of mind to neutralize each other. The common sense of the world has little to fear from the

aggressions of theoretic atheism, while its advocates agree neither in the existence of mind nor matter, and while their greatest me

« PreviousContinue »