« AnteriorContinuar »
Besides, motion is a mere effect 38 When we see a body moving, we see nothing more than a body leaving one place for another. But still we are compelled to ask, “what is the cause of this effect?" Do you say motion? Why that will be only saying that a body's leaving one place for another, is the cause of a body's leaving one place for another, which would be a very sagacious solution indeed. When then you ascribe all the phenomena of nature to motion, you describe them all to an effect, and you are still as much in the dark as ever about the cause of this effect 39. You have not a single idea concerning it, and your boasted principle that, according to you, explains all the phenomena of nature has not even the cloathing of imagination ".
I have already extended this letter to too great a length, and must therefore stop short. If any thing could induce me to discontinue correspondence with you, it would be where you say, " It was not to be supposed that any thing said in a correspondence of this kind, could ever have the smallest effect in convincing me of the truth of your religion." On the the ground of this assertion, I might most honourably discontinue the correspondence. Yet, notwithstanding this, I shall, if I think it worth while, still trouble you with a reply to your arguments. In the mean time, I conclude, with sincere wishes for your
welfare, “ in body soul and estate," and subscribe myself“,
38 What the cause?
39 This we grant, can you instruct us ?
R. C. 40 We trust nothing to the imagination.
R. C. 41 Good bye Mr. L - you have very wisely retired from the office of a Priest to become a student in medicine. This argues something on the side of the Doctor. You have been converted there at any rate.
DOCTOR IN LONDON, TO THE PRIEST IN GLASGOW.
London, Sunday, October 3; 1824. RHAPSODY, after rhapsody, in quick succession comes-the horrors of faith, superstition, and priestcraft, are harrowed up-judgment is threatened, and I have no doubt, that ere long, the glories of damnation will be with due sanctity regularly denounced against me. 'I can however smile at all these, and maintain that complacency of mind which others have possessed under the same appalling circumstances.
It is a matter of very little consideration to me, I can assure you, whatever is your opinion regarding the subject of my last epistle, when bare assertion is brought forward mixed with invective, and substituted in room of the sound deductions of reason, I feel little anxiety what ideas you may form of it. Throughout the whole of this correspondence, you have not logically established one fact that you wished to support. In truth, you have overlooked entirely every proposition of my last letter, and wilfully misrepresented principles which could not be mistaken. Such, however, is to he looked for from one who possesses, in an eminent degree, the character of a religionist. It is not to the land of Hindostan, or to the cloisters of a monastery, that we have to look for a delineation of that picture which the celebrated Dupuis drew:-around me, I see thousands labouring under the baneful influence of religion; and though, perhaps, you owe no tribute to the class of individuals, who come under the denomination of Priests, yet the incxplicable dogmas which you embrace, will certainly warrant me to rank you as a Theologian of the first order. Your enthusiasm in this department, has led you to neglect the first principles of science, or you never would have confounded the beautiful speculations of natural philosophy, with all the cant and unmeaning jargon, that have been invented for no other purpose, but to perplex and darken the human mind. .
With regard to the modesty which I possess, it will be high time to be displeased with myself, when my most intimate friends tell me, that I have violated its charms; and though you prate
about the sagacious Boyle, the acute and judicious Locke, with the sublime Newton, it will never deter me, or any one, who is guided with candour in his enquiries, to animadvert upon opinions that are both objectionable and dangerous. The veneration that has been given to particular names, has often been a lamentable source of error. The supremacy of Hippocrates, was acknowledged for centuries; and by a blind devotion to his tenets, the majority of mankind were destined by the the admiration of his genius, to follow implicitly his doctrines:-his very errors were embodied into the form and authority of laws, and had it not been for the boldness of a few, who in modern times, with the spirit of truth, bade defiance to the prohibition of the schools, the names of Vesalius and Hervey, would in all probability never have been known. I will, therefore, notwithstanding your boasted congeniality of sentiment with names which you have mentioned, still cherish the opinion of an elegant writer, who thinks, that “ If there is any author whose genius can embellish impropriety, and whose authority can make error venerable, his works are the proper objects of critical inquisition.”
The works of those men to whom you have alluded, with the humble acquirements which I possess, have undergone my scrutiny, and I have found in their theological principles, nothing but mere hypothesis, vaunting assertions flowing from their heated imaginations, combined with dogmas that are equally tenable with the ferocious Turk, the placid Hindu, or the barbarous Arab. On the other hand, by studying the laws of nature, free from the opinions which theology is constantly advancing upon us, I find a series of effects, produced by causes that are incontrovertibly connected with matter, and as it has heen a principle known both to ancient and modern philosophers, that matter is indestructible, so has it been held as a truism, that it could not be created out of nothing. When we survey, therefore, the affinities of matter, and find that the principle of motion is co-existent with every thing that surrounds us, I only adopt the maxims of those who recognize in the phenomena that pervades the universe, a system that has for its own beautiful arrangements, an internal machinerya power inherent in itself, sufficient to account for all the operations that have often confounded and astonished the human mind when sunk in the trammels of barbarism and ignorance. To talk
of causes that are immaterial, is to bring forward words without a meaning. The properties of matter, I acknowledge, are still hid in great obscurity; but to assume a principle, independent and distinct from matter, as the cause of these properties, is a theory founded upon contradiction and absurdity, and until we have explored every phenomenon and every material cause that exists in nature, reason and philosophy will never bring forward a phantom to explain the cause from which every effect proceeds. The Christian Deity, as well as most others, have been characterized as spiritual beings, and yet possessing all the power of intelligence, though these powers indisputably belong to the combinations of animal matter alone.
Till you have explained these propositions that I have put to you, and given me a definition of your term relative to the existence of a Deity, it is the height of absurdity your attempting to load Materialism with those calumnies that you forbear to mention. The doctrines that I have espoused support nothing but what is congenial with the principles of universal nature. I have asked from you a proof and demonstration of your Deity, and in the absence of all proof, you only, by fervently writing upon a subject which has not been, on your part, sufficiently and coolly considered, have allowed yourself to depart from the rules of good breeding. The observation, that charity forbids you to mention my motives, for cherishing ideas different from your own, will ever be treated by me, with all the contempt which it deserves. If I have stated opinions contrary to the general mass of mankind, I console myself with the hope that they are in unison with the most intelligent. By declaiming against the pursuits of philosophy, I know it has ever been the favorite plan of priests to cry out, that its followers are the pervertors of reason, and the destroyers of human happiness. Materialism, however, wishes only to destroy falsehood, and to rend in pieces that theological fabric, which has too long preyed upon every thing connected with the prosperity of man.
To a philosophic mind, the word miracle cannot be understood, it wishes to imply a departure from the laws of nature, an event morally impossible. Were it admitted into the enquiries of true science, it would lead to the perversion of every principle, which the discoveries of modern times have established. We now know that it is ghostly superstition, and religious fraud that have invent
ed the word. The idea of your intelligent power, and which you sometimes call a Being, having recourse to uncommon means to bring about uncommon ends, only exposes the trick. Natūre is always beautiful and consistent; for, in performing her operations, she resorts only to common means. Your reasoning may do for a theologian; but every ardent lover of science will pity the man who, to support his favorite dogmas, gives to his Deity, a power which exists beyond nature herself.
In the former part of this correspondence, enough has transpired to tell me the extent of your knowledge in natural philosophy; but nothing has contributed more towards this information than the blundering mistakes you have committed, when speaking about motion. If I had told you, that I recognized this principle as a Deity, you might have imagined you had scope to laugh at me, as much as I had when I thought of your idolatry. This however, is the most palpable absurdity that you have yet fallen into. Motion, in the sense in which philosophy receives it, when the properties of matter are in discussion, is that affinity which exists in its particles, and which most probably is the cause of the phenomena pervading nature. To view it as an effect, as you do, is to consider it similar to the same motion that moves an artificial apparatus, when acted upon by the force of fire or water. Nothing, however, can be more absurd; and I really must say, that it is a good deal of assurance on your part, to come forward and discuss matters, with so much daring confidence, when you seemingly are unacquainted with those principles, at which a Tyro would blush were he ignorant of.
As you, however, speak about the pursuit of studies, in which you are ardently engaged, let me inform you, that the result of those studies, will perhaps throw a little light upon such affairs. In a year or two (for knowledge is not acquired in a day) you will likely inform the scientific world, the real nature of your
first cause. You will then have learnt to talk of cause and effect, so as to be understood; and, if modesty will allow you, you may immortalize your name, by unfolding to mankind a principle which, to discover, has excited the close investigation of men who have been distinguished beyond all others, for their sublimity of intellect.
Anatomy, likewise, is a science not to be known in a few days, or even a few weeks:-a duration of four or five years study will