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The Necessity of Atheism. By Percy Shelley

by

A CLOSE examination of
the validity of the proofs adduced to support any proposition, has ever been
allowed to be the only sure way of attaining truth, upon the advantages of
which it is unnecessary to descant; our knowledge of the existence of a Deity
is a subject of such importance, that it cannot be too minutely investigated;
in consequence of this conviction, we proceed briefly and impartially to
examine the proofs which have been adduced. It is necessary first to consider
the nature of Belief.
<o:p></o:p>



When a proposition is
offered to the mind, it perceives the agreement or disagreement of the ideas of
which it is composed. A perception of their agreement is termed belief, many
obstacles frequently prevent this perception from being immediate, these the
mind attempts to remove in order that the perception may be distinct. The mind
is active in the investigation, in order to perfect the state of perception
which is passive; the investigation being confused with the perception has
induced many falsely to imagine that the mind is active in belief, that belief
is an act of volition, in consequence of which it may be regulated by the mind;
pursuing, continuing this mistake they have attached a degree of criminality to
disbelief of which in its nature it is incapable; it is equally so of merit.<o:p></o:p>



The strength of belief
like that of every other passion is in proportion to the degrees of excitement.



The degrees of excitement are three. 



The senses are the sources of all knowledge to the mind, consequently their
evidence claims the strongest assent. 



The decision of the mind founded upon our own experience derived from these
sources, claims the next degree. 



The experience of others which addresses itself to the former one, occupies the
lowest degree,-- 



Consequently no testimony can be admitted which is contrary to reason, reason is
founded on the evidence of our senses. 



Every proof may be referred to one of these three divisions; we are naturally
led to consider what arguments we receive from each of them to convince us of
the existence of a Deity. <o:p></o:p>



1st. The evidence of the
senses.--If the Deity should appear to us, if he should convince our senses of
his existence; this revelation would necessarily command belief;--Those to whom
the Deity has thus appeared, have the strongest possible conviction of his
existence.<o:p></o:p>



Reason claims the 2nd.
place, it is urged that man knows that whatever is, must either have had a
beginning or existed from all eternity, he also knows that whatever is not
eternal must have had a cause.--Where this is applied to the existence of the
universe, it is necessary to prove that it was created, until that is clearly
demonstrated, we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all
eternity.--In a case where two propositions are diametrically opposite, the
mind believes that which is less incomprehensible, it is easier to suppose that
the Universe has existed from all eternity, than to conceive a being capable of
creating it; if the mind sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an alleviation
to increase the intolerability of the burden?--The other argument which is
founded upon a man's knowledge of his own existence stands thus.---A man knows
not only he now is, but that there was a time when he did not exist,
consequently there must have been a cause.--But what does this prove? we can
only infer from effects causes exactly adequate to those effects;---But there
certainly is a generative power which is effected by particular instruments; we
cannot prove that it is inherent in these instruments, nor is the contrary
hypothesis capable of demonstration; we admit that the generative power is
incomprehensible, but to suppose that the same effect is produced by an
eternal, omniscient Almighty Being, leaves the cause in the same obscurity, but
renders it more incomprehensible.<o:p></o:p>



The 3rd. and last degree
of assent is claimed by Testimony---it is required that it should not be
contrary to reason.---The testimony that the Deity convinces the senses of men
of his existence can only be admitted by us, if our mind considers it less
probable that these men should have been deceived, then that the Deity should
have appeared to them---our reason can never admit the testimony of men, who
not only declare that they were eye- witnesses of miracles but that the Deity
was irrational, for he commanded that he should be believed, he proposed the
highest rewards for faith, eternal punishments for disbelief---we can only
command voluntary actions, belief is not an act of volition, the mind is even
passive, from this it is evident that we have not sufficient testimony, or
rather that testimony is insufficient to prove the being of a God, we have
before shewn that it cannot be deduced from reason,---they who have been
convinced by the evidence of the senses, they only can believe it.<o:p></o:p>



From this it is evident
that having no proofs from any of the three sources of conviction: the
mind cannot believe the existence of a God, it is also evident
that as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality can be
attached to disbelief, they only are reprehensible who willingly neglect to
remove the false medium thro' which their mind views the subject.<o:p></o:p>



It is almost unnecessary
to observe, that the general knowledge of the deficiency of such proof, cannot
be prejudicial to society: Truth has always been found to promote the best
interests of mankind.---Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof
of the existence of a Deity. Q.E.D.<o:p></o:p>



<o:p> </o:p>

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