A discourse delivered by Thomas Paine, at the Society of the Theophilanthropists, at Paris, 1798 — Atheism refuted



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RELIGION has two principal enemies, Fanaticiſm and Infidelity, or that which is called Atheiſm. The firſt requires to be combated by reaſon and morality, the other by natural philoſophy.

THE exiſtence of a God is the firſt dogma of the Theophilanthropiſts. It is upon this ſubject that I ſolicit your attention: for though it has been often treated of, and that moſt ſublimely, the ſubject is inexhauſtible; and there will always remain ſomething to be ſaid that has not been before advanced. I go therefore to open the ſubject, and to crave your attention to the end.

[Page 6] THE univerſe is the bible of a true Theophilanthropiſt. It is there that he reads of God. It is there that the proofs of his exiſtence are to be ſought and to be found. As to written or printed books, by whatever name they are called, they are the works of man's hands, and carry no evidence in themſelves that God is the author of any of them. It muſt be in ſomething that man could not make, that we muſt ſeek evidence for our belief, and that ſomething is the univerſe; the true bible; the inimitable word of God.

CONTEMPLATING the univerſe, the whole ſyſtem of creation, in this point of light, we ſhall diſcover, that all that which is called natural philoſophy is properly a divine ſtudy—It is the ſtudy of God through his works—It is the beſt ſtudy, by which we can arrive at a knowledge of his exiſtence, and the only one by which we can gain a glimpſe of his perfection.

DO we want to contemplate his power? we ſee it in the immenſity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wiſdom? We ſee it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehenſible WHOLE is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We ſee [Page 7] it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We ſee it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not written or printed books, but the Scripture called the Creation.

IT has been the error of the ſchools to teach aſtronomy, and all the other ſciences, and ſubjects of natural philoſophy, as accompliſhments only; whereas they ſhould be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them; for all the principles of ſcience are of Divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles. He can only diſcover them; and he ought to look through the diſcovery to the author.

WHEN we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an aſtoniſhing pile of architecture, a well executed ſtatue, or an highly finiſhed painting, where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our miſtaking a ſurface of light and ſhade for cubical ſolidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extenſive genius and talents of the artiſt. When we ſtudy elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we ſpeak of gravitation, we think [Page 8] of Newton. How then is it that when we ſtudy the works of God in the Creation, we ſtop ſhort, and do not think of God? It is from the error of the ſchools in having taught thoſe ſubjects as accompliſhments only, and thereby ſeparated the ſtudy of them from the Being who is the author of them.

THE ſchools have made the ſtudy of theology to conſiſt in the ſtudy of opinions in written or printed books; whereas theology ſhould be ſtudied in the works or books of the creation, The ſtudy of theology in books or opinions has often produced fanaticiſm, rancour, and cruelty of temper; and from hence have proceeded the numerous perſecutions, the fanatical quarrels, the religious burnings and maſſacres, that have deſolated Europe. But the ſtudy of theology in the works of the creation produces a direct contrary effect. The mind becomes at once enlightened and ſerene; a copy of the ſcene it beholds; information and adoration go hand in hand; and all the ſocial faculties become enlarged.

THE evil that has reſulted from the error of the ſchools, in teaching natural philoſophy as an accompliſhment only, has been that of generating in the pupils a ſpecies of Atheiſm. [Page 9] Inſtead of looking through the works of Creation to the Creator himſelf, they ſtop ſhort, and employ [...] knowledge they acquire to create doubts of his exiſtence. They labour, with ſtudied ingenuity, to aſcribe every thing they behold to innate properties of matter, and jump over all the reſt, by ſaying, that matter is eternal.

LET us examine this ſubject; it is worth examining; for if we follow it through all its caſes, the reſult will be, that the exiſtence of a ſuperior cauſe, or that which man calls God, will be diſcoverable by philoſophical principles.

IN the firſt place, admitting matter to have properties, as we ſee it has, the queſtion ſtill remains, how came matter by thoſe properties? To this they will anſwer, that matter poſſeſſed thoſe properties eternally. This is not ſolution, but aſſertion; and to deny it is equally as impoſſble of proof as to aſſert it. It is then neceſſary to go further, and therefore I ſay,—if there exiſt a circumſtance that is not a property of matter, and without which the univerſe, or to ſpeak in a limited degree, the ſolar ſyſtem, compoſed of planets and a ſun, could not exiſt a moment; all the arguments [Page 10] of Atheiſm, drawn from properties of matter, and applied to account for the univerſe, will be overthrown, and the exiſtence of a ſuperior cauſe, or that which man calls God, becomes diſcoverable, as is before ſaid, by natural philoſophy.

I go now to ſhew that ſuch a circumſtance exiſts, and what it is.

THE univerſe is compoſed of matter, and, as a ſyſtem, is ſuſtained by motion. Motion is not a property of matter, and without this motion the ſolar ſyſtem could not exiſt. Were motion a property of matter, that undiſcovered and undiſcoverable thing, called perpetual motion, would eſtabliſh itſelf. It is becauſe motion is not a property of matter, that perpetual motion is an impoſſibility in the hand of every being but that of the Creator of motion. When the pretenders to Atheiſm can produce perpetual motion, and not till then, they may expect to be credited.

THE natural ſtate of matter, as to place, is a ſtate of reſt. Motion, or change of place, is the effect of an external cauſe acting upon matter. As to that faculty of matter, that is called gravitation, it is the influence [Page 11] which two or more bodies have reciprocally on each other to unite and be at reſt. Every thing which has hitherto been diſcovered with reſpect to the motion of the planets in the ſyſtem, relates only to the laws by which motion acts, and not to the cauſe of motion. Gravitation, ſo far from being the cauſe of motion to the planets that compoſe the ſolar ſyſtem, would be the deſtruction of the ſolar ſyſtem, were revolutionary motions to ceaſe; for as the action of ſpinning upholds a top, the revolutionary motion upholds the planets in their orbits, and prevents them from gravitating and forming one maſs with the ſun. In one ſenſe of the word, philoſophy knows, and atheiſm, ſays, that matter is in perpetual motion. But the motion here meant refers to the ſtate of matter, and that only on the ſurface of the earth. It is either decompoſition, which is continually deſtroying the form of bodies of matter, or recompoſition, which renews that matter in the ſame or another form, as the decompoſition of animal or vegetable ſubſtances enter into the compoſition of other bodies. But the motion that upholds the ſolar ſyſtem is of an entire different kind, and is not a property of matter. It operates alſo to an entire different effect. It operates to perpetual preſervation, and to prevent any change in the ſtate of the ſyſtem.

[Page 12] GIVING then to matter all the properties which philoſophy knows it has, or all that atheiſm aſcribes to it, and can prove, and even ſuppoſing matter to be eternal, it will not account for the ſyſtem of the univerſe or of the ſolar ſyſtem, becauſe it will not account for motion, and it is motion that preſerves it. When, therefore, we diſcover a circumſtance of ſuch immenſe importance, that without it the univerſe could not exiſt, and for which neither matter, nor any, nor all, the properties of matter can account, we are by neceſſity forced into the rational and comfortable belief of the exiſtence of a cauſe ſuperior to matter, and that cauſe man calls, GOD.

AS to that which is called nature, it is no other than the laws by which motion and action of every kind, with reſpect to unintelligible matter, is regulated. And when we ſpeak of looking through nature up to nature's God, we ſpeak philoſophically the ſame rational language as when we ſpeak of looking through human law up to the power that ordained them.

GOD is the power or firſt cauſe, nature is the law, and matter is the ſubject acted upon.

[Page 13] BUT infidelity by aſcribing every phaenomena to properties of matter, conceives a ſyſtem for which it cannot account, and yet it pretends to demonſtration. It reaſons from what it ſees on the ſurface of the earth, but it does not carry itſelf on the ſolar ſyſtem exiſting by motion. It ſees upon the ſurface a perpetual decompoſition and recompoſition of matter. It ſees that an oak produces an acorn, an acorn an oak, a bird an egg, an egg a bird, and ſo on. In things of this kind it ſees ſomething which it calls a natural cauſe, but none of the cauſes it ſees is the cauſe of that motion which preſerves the ſolar ſyſtem.

LET us contemplate this wonderful and ſtupendous ſyſtem conſiſting of matter and exiſting by motion. It is not matter in a ſtate of reſt, nor in a ſtate of decompoſition or recompoſition. It is matter ſyſtematized in perpetual orbicular or circular motion. As a ſyſtem that motion is the life of it: as animation is life to an animal body, deprive the ſyſtem of motion, and, as a ſyſtem it muſt expire. Who then breathed into the ſyſtem the life of motion? What power impelled the planets to move ſince motion is not a property of the matter of which they are compoſed? If we contemplate the immenſe velocity of [Page 14] this motion, our wonder becomes increaſed, and our adoration enlarges itſelf in the ſame proportion. To inſtance only one of the planets, that of the earth we inhabit, its diſtance from the ſun, the centre of the orbits of all the planets, is, according to obſervations of the tranſit of the planet Venus, about one hundred million miles, conſequently the diameter of the orbit or circle in which the earth moves round the ſun is double that diſtance; and the meaſure of the circumference of the orbit, taken as three times its diameter, is ſix hundred million miles. The earth performs this voyage in 365 days and ſome hours, and conſequently moves at the rate of more than one million ſix hundred thouſand miles every twenty-four hours.

WHERE will infidelity, where will atheiſm, find cauſe for this aſtoniſhing velocity of motion, never ceaſing, never varying, and which is the preſervation of the earth in its orbit? It is not by reaſoning from an acorn to an oak, from an egg to a bird, or from any change in the ſtate of matter on the ſurface of the earth, that this can be accounted for. Its cauſe is not to be found in matter, nor in any thing we call nature. The atheiſt who affects to reaſon, and the fanatic who rejects reaſon, plunge themſelves [Page 15] alike into inextricable difficulties. The one perverts the ſublime and enlightening ſtudy of natural philoſophy into a deformity of abſurdities by not reaſoning to the end. The other loſes himſelf in the obſcurity of metaphyſical theories, and diſhonours the Creator, by treating the ſtudy of his works with contempt. The one is a half-rational of whom there is ſome hope, the other a viſionary to whom we muſt be charitable.

WHEN at firſt thought we think of a Creator, our ideas appear to us undefined and confuſed; but if we reaſon philoſophically, thoſe ideas can be eaſily arranged and ſimplified. It is a Being, whoſe power is equal to his will. Obſerve the nature of the will of man. It is of an infinite quality. We cannot conceive the poſſibility of limits to the will. Obſerve, on the other hand, how exceedingly limited is his power of acting compared with the nature of his will. Suppoſe the power equal to the will, and man would be a God. He would will himſelf eternal, and be ſo. He could will a creation, and could make it. In this progreſſive reaſoning, we ſee, in the nature of the will of man, half of that which we conceive in thinking of God, add the other half and we have the whole idea of a being who could make [Page 16] the univerſe, and ſuſtain it by perpetual motion; becauſe he could create that motion.

WE know nothing of the capacity of the will of animals; but we know a great deal of the difference of their powers. For example, how numerous are the degrees, and how immenſe is the difference of power, from a mite to a man. Since then every thing we ſee below us ſhews a progreſſion of power, where is the difficulty in ſuppoſing that there is at the ſummit of all things, a Being, in whom an infinity of power unites with the infinity of the will. When this ſimple idea preſents itſelf to our mind, we have the idea of a perfect being that man calls God.

IT is comfortable to live under the belief of the exiſtence of an infinitely protecting power; and it is an addition to that comfort to know, that ſuch a belief is not a mere conceit of the imagination, as many of the theories that are called religious are; nor a belief founded only on tradition or received opinion, but is a belief deducible by the action of reaſon upon the things that compoſe the ſyſtem of the univerſe; a belief ariſing out of viſible facts, and ſo demonſtrable is the truth of this belief, that if no ſuch belief had exiſted the perſons who now controvert [Page 17] it, would have been the perſons who would have produced and propagated it; becauſe by beginning to reaſon, they would have been led to reaſon progreſſively to the end, and thereby have diſcovered that matter and the properties it has, will not account for the ſyſtem of the univerſe, and that there muſt neceſſarily be a ſuperior cauſe.

IT was the exceſs to which imaginary ſyſtems of religion had been carried, and the intolerance, perſecutions, burnings, and maſſacres, they occaſioned, that firſt induced certain perſons to propagate infidelity; thinking, that upon the whole, it was better not to believe at all, than to believe a multitude of things and complicated creeds, that occaſioned ſo much miſchief in the world. But thoſe days are paſt, perſecution has ceaſed, and the antidote then ſet up againſt it has no longer even the ſhadow of apology. We profeſs, and we proclaim in peace, the pure, unmixed, comfortable, and rational belief of a God, as manifeſted, to us in the univerſe. We do this without any apprehenſion of that belief being made a cauſe of perſecution as other beliefs have been, or of ſuffering perſecution ourſelves. To God, and not to man, are all men to account for their belief.

[Page 18] IT has been well obſerved at the firſt inſtitution of this ſociety, that the dogmas it profeſſes to believe, are from the commencement of the world; that they are not novelties, but are confeſſedly the baſis of all ſyſtems of religion, however numerous and contradictory they may be. All men in the outſet of the religion they profeſs, are Theophilanthropiſts. It is impoſſible to form any ſyſtem of religion without building upon thoſe principles, and therefore they are not ſectarian principles unleſs we ſuppoſe a ſect compoſed of all the world.

I have ſaid in the courſe of this diſcourſe, that the ſtudy of natural philoſophy is a divine ſtudy, becauſe it is the ſtudy of the works of God in the creation. If we conſider theology upon this ground what an extenſive field of improvement in things both divine and human opens itſelf before us. All the principles of ſcience are of divine origin. It was not man that invented the principles on which aſtronomy, and every branch of mathematics are founded and ſtudied. It was not man that gave properties to the circle and the triangle. Thoſe principles are eternal and immutable. We ſee in them the unchangeable nature of the divinity. We ſee in them immortality, an immortality exiſting after [Page 19] the material figures that expreſs thoſe properties and diſſolved in duſt.

THE ſociety is at preſent in its infancy, and its means are ſmall; but I wiſh to hold in view the ſubject I allude to, and inſtead of teaching the philoſophical branches of learning as ornamental accompliſhments only, as they have hitherto been taught, to teach them in a manner that ſhall combine theological knowledge with ſcientific inſtruction. To do this to the beſt advantage, ſome inſtruments will be neceſſary for the purpoſe of explanation, of which the ſociety is not yet poſſeſſed; but as the views of this ſociety extend to public good as well as to that of the individual, and as its principles can have no enemies, means may be deviſed to procure them.

IF we unite to the preſent inſtruction, a ſeries of lectures on the ground I have mentioned, we ſhall, in the firſt place, render theology the moſt delightful and entertaining of all ſtudies. In the next place, we ſhall give ſcientific inſtruction to thoſe who could not otherwiſe obtain it. The mechanic of every profeſſion will there be taught the mathematical principles neceſſary to render him a proficient [Page 20] in his art. The cultivator will there ſee developed the principles of vegetation; while, at the ſame time, they will be led to ſee the hand of God in all theſe things.