Chapter 28.

The Author of our being considered in Relation to Moral Science.

Preceding truths lead to argument for a Supreme Being.

IT has already been intimated, that the very existence of conscience seems to indicate, that man has a Superior to whom he is amenable for his conduct. The feeling of moral obligation which accompanies every perception of right and wrong, seems to imply, that man is under law; for what is moral obligation but a moral law? And if we are under a law there must be a lawgiver, a moral governor, who has incorporated the elements of his law into our very constitution. This argument for the existence of God, is solid, and independent of all other arguments; and it goes further than arguments derived from the evidences of design; which abound in the world around us; for these prove no more than that the Author of our being is intelligent, but this argument proves that he is a moral Being, and exercises a moral government over us. The Atheist, when he feels, as he must, remorse for some great crime, can scarcely help believing, that there is a God who is displeased with his wicked conduct, and who will punish him hereafter; for the keen anguish of remorse seems to point to a punishment which is future. Hence it is that when Atheists come into those circumstances which have a tendency to awaken the conscience, they for the time become believers in the existence of God.

Atheism practically recanted.

Thus in a storm at sea, even the most confirmed Atheist has been found calling upon God, for deliverance; and when death is suddenly presented to them, they often find, that their atheistical theories cannot withstand the power of an awakened conscience. Certainly the existence of an accusing conscience cannot in any way be so well accounted for, as by the supposition that man is the creature of a Being who intended to form him in such a manner, that he should have a control over his actions, and who has left an indelible proof of his authority in the mind of every man.

Argument against Atheism.

But omitting to press this argument further at present, let us attend to some of the other evidences of the existence of a God. No one can contend that there is anything absurd in the idea of an eternal, all-powerful, intelligent, First Cause, from whom all things have received their being. No one can doubt that the supposition of the existence of such a Being seems to account for the phenomena of nature; and it is equally certain, that they cannot be rationally accounted for on any other hypothesis.

Teleiologic argument.

To deny that in animals and vegetables there are evident marks of design, would be as unreasonable as to deny that anything exists. Thus the eye was formed to see, the ear to hear, the mouth to masticate our food, the stomach to digest it, the various internal organs to separate the particles suited for nutrition from the mass, and by a wonderful and inexplicable process to convert, or assimilate these particles into the various forms and organs which constitute the human body. For any man to affirm that in all these contrivances and operations, there is no evidence of design, is certainly to contradict the intimate conviction of his own reason. It may on many accounts be expedient and highly profitable, to accumulate arguments from design, as manifested in the rational, animal, vegetable, and mineral world;

A few instances of design sufficient.

but for mere argument and demonstration, these details are unnecessary. A man cast away on a desolate shore, would be as certain that some rational beings had been there, if he found one watch, or one quadrant, as if he should see a thousand of such like or other works of art, strewed along the shore. His mind is soon satisfied with the force of this evidence, as observed in a few particulars, and the conviction of the truth, that these things are the effect of a designing cause, is as perfect as it can be, by the contemplation of ever so many instances. It may, I think be taken for granted, and even Atheists will admit, that we cannot conceive of any works, or contrivances, which would more clearly evince design, than those which are found in the human, and other animal bodies. Chance. Though it is said that some ancient Atheists attributed everything to chance, yet it seems unnecessary to take up much time in combating such a theory. Atheists no longer resort to this very absurd notion. As then design manifest in any effect, leads necessarily to the conclusion, that intelligence exists in the cause; there is no escape from the conclusion, that the cause of the existence of animals and vegetables is a wise and powerful Being, but by one of the following suppositions. 

1. That everything in which design is manifest, has existed from eternity; or, 

2. That there are in the material universe, causes possessing power and intelligence to produce these effects, but no one great intelligent person; or, 

3. That there has existed from eternity a succession of these organized beings, producing one another in a continued series; so that while the individuals in the series perish, the succession is eternal.

The first supposition is too extravagant, we should think, to have any advocates. Indeed, as it relates to the bodies of animals and vegetables, we have a certain demonstration, that their organization has a beginning. 

1. Eternity of the universe. 

And if everything was from eternity, everything would be immutable and imperishable; but we see every kind of organized bodies tending quickly to destruction. Our souls also had a beginning, for their gradual increase and development is a matter of daily observation. We have no remembrance of an eternal existence, nor any consciousness of independence, which must be an attendant of an eternal being. We are conscious that we cannot cease to be, nor control our own destiny. Nothing is more certain in the mind of all thinking men, than that we who now live are creatures of yesterday. But it is unnecessary to refute an error which perhaps no one is so unreasonable as to hold.

2. The hypothethesis of evolution.

Let us then consider that atheistical, or rather pantheistical scheme, which attributes all the appearances of design in the world to the world itself; that is, to certain causes existing in the world which produce beings of various species, not by creation out of nothing, which they hold to be impossible, but by an evolution or development of principles contained in the world itself. According to this theory the world is God, and all things are parts of this one being.

Denies a personal God.

This theory would avoid the name of Atheism, which has ever been odious; but it retains the virus of the poison of Atheism under another name. It admits a cause, or rather multitude of causes, capable of producing these marks of design; but denies that this cause, considered as one or many, is a person.


The question necessary to be determined is, what is necessary to constitute a person? Here we have intelligence in the cause, in the highest conceivable degree. But the structure of the body of man is not mere intelligence; there is an adaptation of means to an end. This supposes the exercise of choice or selection, which is obviously an exercise of will. Every instance of contrivance therefore evinces the exercise of an intellect and will; and that being in which these two properties are found, we are accustomed to denominate a person.

A single cause demanded.

It would be difficult to find a better definition of a person. But we need not dispute about the name; when there is manifest evidence of wise contrivance in the effect, there must be an intelligent cause to produce such an effect. Where, we ask, is that cause? Is it in the individual which exhibits these signs of design? That would be to make the same thing cause and effect. Is there then for each individual in which wise contrivance appears a particular cause; or is nature or the world to be considered one general cause, operating in a multitude of ways? To suppose a particular cause for every one of these effects, would be to multiply deities beyond the wildest mythology of the heathen; for these causes being intelligent beings, possessing a wisdom beyond our conception, each is properly considered a separate deity. But even this supposition comes utterly short of furnishing a satisfactory account of the phenomena of the universe; for the admirable contrivances in the natural world consist very often in the adaptation of things which are entirely distinct, to each other, as of the light to the eye, the air to the ear and to the lungs, the food to the stomachs of the various species of animals, & c. The same adaptation is equally obvious in the vegetable world. That cause, therefore, which produced the eye must have produced the light; and the cause of the curiously-contrived apparatus of hearing must have formed the air; and the author of the stomach must have adapted it to various kinds of food, &c. The hypothesis of an infinite number of separate, intelligent causes, will not be maintained. All these effects must be attributed to one cause, and that cause must be infinitely wise and powerful, to give existence to so many wonderful works.

Attributes required in this sole Cause.

If, then, there is one cause of all these different species of beings, which could not exist without wise contrivance, that cause must be powerful, intelligent and benevolent; but power, wisdom, and intelligence can exist only in some being, and that being which possesses them must be a person. The Pantheist will allege that these attributes belong to the universe itself, and therefore there is no need to suppose any being to exist separate from, and independent of the world. All these phenomena arising, are only the developments of this one substance, in which the attributes before mentioned have their seat.

The Pantheistic reply examined.

Before we receive such an opinion, let us inquire what constitutes the universe, as far as our knowledge can extend. We become acquainted with the world without us by our senses. Trusting to the information of these inlets of knowledge, we find that the universe consists, as far as known to the senses, of peculiar objects, combined together in various ways. These material things, though subject to peculiar laws, appear entirely destitute of intelligence. In this, all men agree. The light, the air, the water, the rocks, the earth, the metals, &c., are not capable of thought. Indeed, every material thing with which we are acquainted consists of an infinite number of parts, even when of the same kind, and no otherwise related to each other than that they are situated near to each other; whether they are at all in contact, we do not know. If thought belonged to matter, each of these infinitesimal particles of matter would be a conscious being, and his consciousness be independent of every other particle. By what medium of communication could these particles of matter agree on forming an organized body? But the Pantheist does not believe that matter is endued with thought. His theory is, that in the world there exists not only external substance, but thought or intelligence in the same substance. But as this intelligence must have a subject in which it resides, and of which it is a quality, and as it cannot be an attribute of brute matter, there must exist a substance distinct from matter, of which it is a property. Matter being divisible, inert, and extended, cannot have intelligence as an attribute, which is active, indivisible, and unextended. Extension, and thought, therefore, cannot be properties of the same substance. If then the cause of the phenomena of nature which indicate design is in the world itself, the world must, besides the gross matter which we see and feel, be possessed of a soul, or spiritual substance, in which this intelligence resides. This would bring us to the old Pagan theory of the Soul of the World. Under the material part, but under this only, there is a spiritual substance, a soul; just as in a man, we can see and feel the body, but we know that within this case, there exists a spiritual substance or soul. This theory, then, admits the existence of a great spirit, possessing the attributes necessary to account for all the appearances of wisdom ill the world. It differs from the common theistical doctrine only in this, that it would confine this being to the world; but for this, there could be assigned no valid reason. A being-possessing such power over matter as to mould it into every organized form found in animals, vegetables, and minerals, must have a complete control over matter, and be perfectly acquainted with all its most hidden properties and capabilities, and must be independent of matter, and must exist everywhere, to carry on the processes of nature. And as we do not know the extent of the material universe, we can set no limits to the presence of this spiritual, intelligent and omnipotent being. The object of Pantheism is to get clear of the idea of a personal God, who gives laws to creatures, and superintends and governs them according to their natures. But the hypothesis, if it could be established, does not answer the purpose for which it was devised. Still, even according to the hypothesis, we must have a personal God, who knows all things and rules over all.

3. Eternal succession.

The only other atheistical method of accounting for the phenomena of the world, as indicating the most consummate wisdom, as well as the most omnipotent power, is the hypothesis, that the universe in its present form has existed from eternity, and that all the various species of animals and vegetables now observed have always existed, and have communicated existence to one another in an endless series. And as an eternal series has no beginning, it can have no cause. There is therefore no need of supposing any first cause, from whom everything has proceeded. As we must suppose some being to exist from eternity, we may as well suppose that the world which we see is that eternal being.

Fortress of Atheism.

This has always been the stronghold of atheism, and therefore deserves a more special attention. The only reason, however, which gives an advantage to this theory is, that it carries us back into the unfathomable depths of eternity, where our minds are confounded by the incomprehensibility of the subject. It is also to be regretted that some truly great men, in attempting to refute this theory, have adopted a mode of reasoning which is not satisfactory. This, we think, is true with respect to Bentley, who possessed a gigantic intellect; and, as might have been expected, many are his followers. Dr.; Samuel Clarke has also pursued a course in his reasoning on this point, which, to say the least, is not entirely free from objection. The same may be said of many others, and especially of some who have attempted a mathematical demonstration of the falsehood of an infinite series of living organized beings, including the celebrated Stapfer.

Argument against eternal series.

It will be an object, therefore, to free the subject as much as possible from intricacy and obscurity, and to present arguments which shall be level to any common capacity accustomed to attend to a train of reasoning. We may certainly assume it as an admitted principle, that every effect must have not only a cause, but an adequate cause. If wise contrivance and evident adaptation of means to an end be found in the effect, to ascribe it to an unintelligent cause, is as unsatisfactory as to assign no cause.

An adequate cause still indispensable.

This then being assumed, we would take this position as incontrovertible, that if design manifest in one effect requires an intelligent cause, the same necessity requires the same kind of a cause for any number of similar effects; and the conclusion must be the same, whether the number is finite or infinite. This evident truth has been often and happily illustrated, by supposing a chain suspended before our eyes, but reaching beyond the sphere of our vision. The lowest link requires a support, and so does the second, and there is no less need of support for every successive link as you ascend the chain; and if you suppose as many links beyond your sight, as there are atoms in the universe, still the same necessity of a support is presumed to we immediately begin to experience some confusion of ideas. We attempt to grasp infinity, and finding ourselves baffled in the attempt, we are apt to lose sight of the proper logical conclusion in this case. The necessity of a supporting power has no dependence on the number to be sustained. If one, if one hundred, if one thousand require support, so does any number of links. The conclusion is not in the smallest degree affected by the number, except that the more links, the stronger must be the supporting power; but this has nothing to do with our present argument. The conclusion will be of the same kind, and will as necessarily follow, in the case of effects which have in them the marks of design. The number cannot affect the conclusion. If one such effect cannot exist without an intelligent contriver, an infinite number of great effects cannot. If multiplying one cipher, or zero, by any number in arithmetic, produces nothing, and the same is the result of multiplying a thousand ciphers, the conclusion is inevitable, that an infinite number of ciphers multiplied by any number cannot result in any positive quantity. Indeed, if all the individuals in the supposed infinite series are of the same kind, all are effects, and it is absurd to conceive of an effect without a cause.

Cause and effect are correlative and imply each other; and if an effect cannot exist without a cause, much less can an infinite number of effects exist without an adequate cause.

Cause must be existing and operative.

My next argument will leave out of view altogether the idea of infinity, which is so apt to confound the mind. It is this. Every effect must not only have a cause, but that cause must be in existence and operation; for it would be absurd to think of a cause operating, when it no longer had an active existence. Let us then take that individual of a series of organized beings which came last into existence. Let it be an animal—a dog or horse. This individual we know came recently into being; when produced there must have been an adequate cause in existence and in operation. What was that cause? The hypothesis confines us to the preceding series of animals of the same species, supposed to have come down in uninterrupted succession from eternity. But whether the series be long or short, finite or infinite, is of no consequence as it relates to our present argument. What we are inquiring after is a cause in existence at the time this curiously organized and animated being came into existence. Now at that time, the individuals of the series had all ceased to exist, except the immediate progenitors. Whatever cause existed, cannot therefore be looked for in them; and if the effect is such as manifestly to be beyond any power and skill which they possessed, the contriving and efficient cause cannot be found in the series. There must be a higher cause.

The whole power of the cause must be carried through the series. But lest some persons should have a vague notion that some hidden power might be communicated through the series, although not found in the progenitors of the animal under consideration, I will lay down a principle which is admitted in mechanical powers, and is equally applicable to all causes. It is this. In all cases where any power is communicated through a series of individuals, the whole power necessary to produce the effect, must not only be communicated to the first, but to every single thing in the series, until it reach the last, which is intended to be affected by the original power. Thus, suppose it to be required to communicate motion to a ball in a plane, by sending an impulse through a hundred balls, the principle known to all mechanicians is, that the force necessary to give the desired motion must be communicated to the first, and from the first to the second, and so on, until it reaches the ball intended to be moved. And this principle is equally applicable to all causes which operate through a succession of particulars. If at the commencement of a series, an intelligent cause operated, and then ceased, or stopped short of the last effect, no sign of intelligence could exist in this, which brings us back to the same obvious principle with which we commenced, viz., that when any effect is produced, an adequate cause must exist, and be in operation at the time of its production. The simple inquiry then, is, had the progenitors of this dog, or horse, when the animal came into existence and became animated, the skill necessary to continue the animal frame, with all its curiously contrived parts, and power and skill to give to this individual that constitution of instincts, appetites, and passions suited to its condition in the world, which it possesses. I leave the atheist to answer this question? The same course of reasoning will be equally forcible as applied to fruits and vegetables. Every one of these organized beings furnishes an irrefragable argument for the being of a God; for in any one of these is evidence of the existence of a wisdom and power which certainly do not exist in the several particulars of which the series consists.

The Atheistic objection of Hume.

The only modern attempt to invalidate the argument for the being of God founded on the appearance of design in the universe, is that of Mr. Hume, which is substantially this, that this argument supposes that we have seen similar works performed, from which, by analogy, we conclude that an intelligent cause is necessary to account for them; as if we find a watch we believe it to have been made by an artist, because we have before observed such works made by skilful men; but in relation to the world, it is a singular work, entirely unique. We have never seen any world produced, and, therefore, the reasoning which would hold in regard to the conclusion that the watch was made by an artist does not apply.


More importance has been given to this objection, especially by Dr. Chalmers, than it deserves. The objection of Hume is a mere sophism, and can unsettle no mind which understands the nature of the argument in question. According to Mr. Hume’s argument we could not infer from any work of art that it had an intelligent author, unless we had seen a work of the very same kind by an artist. Suppose a boy who has never been away from his father’s farm, where he has seen nothing superior to ploughs, carts, and harrows, to be conducted to a seaport, and to see a steam-frigate. As he has never seen on the farm anything formed like this, according to Mr. Hume, he could not infer that this stupendous work was produced by an intelligent cause. To the boy it would be a singular effect, the like of which he had never witnessed, and, therefore, he could infer nothing respecting it. Now every child knows better than this. Any boy of common sense will conclude in a moment that this steam engine must have been the work of a skilful artificer.

The world not a singular effect.

In order to apply the argument from design, it is not at all necessary that we should have seen an artist engaged in producing its like. All that is necessary is, that there should immediately appear an adaptation of means to produce a certain end; and it matters not as to the argument whether we ever conceived of a similar work, or knew anything of the artist, the certain appearance of design, or a skilful adaptation of means to an end is always sufficient to produce the certain conclusion that there has been a designing cause at work. The works of nature are not a singular effect, as far as the argument a posteriori is concerned. The adaptation of means to an end in these is similar to the works of design among men. The difference between a telescope and the eye of an animal is not so great as between a plough and a steam engine. If there was any difference between the inference from seeing a steam-frigate or a complicated spinning engine, which have never been seen before, and another plough or cart, it would be in favour of the contrivance not before witnessed. The argument seems to be a fortiori in this case. And as the whole argument in regard to the works of man is founded simply on observing an adaptation of means to accomplish an end, and not the adaptation to produce some particular end which we had before seen effected by similar means; and as the adaptation of means to an end is as evident in the works of nature as in the works of man, the argument is as conclusive in one case as in the other.