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A Classical Example of Anglican Apologetics, from "Christian Virtuoso"


SIR, I perceive by what you intimate, that your Friends, Dr. W. and Mr. N. think it very strange, that I, whom that I, whom they are pleas'd to look upon as a diligent Cultivator of Experimental Philosophy , should be concern'd / Embracer of the Christian Religion ; tho' divers of its Articles are so far from being Objects of Sense, that they are thought to be above the Sphere of Reason. But, tho ' I presume they may find many Objects of the like wonder, among those with whom I am compris'd by them, under the name of the New Virtuosi; and among These, they may meet with divers persons more able than I, to ease them of their wonder; yet , since they are pleas'd by singling me out, as it were to challenge me to do it, I shall endeavour to make them think it at least less strange, That a great Esteem of Experience, and a high Veneration for Religion, should be compatible in the same person. […]

The first advantage, that our Experimental Philosopher, as such, hath towards being a Christian, is, that his course of Studies conduceth much, to settle in his Mind a firm Belief of the Existence , and divers of the chief Attributes, of God : Which Belief, / is, in the order of things, the first Principle of that Natural Religion, which it self is pre-required to Reveal'd Religion in general, and consequently to That in particular, which is embrac'd by Christians.

That the consideration of the Vastness, Beauty, and Regular Motions, of the heavenly Bodies; the excellent Structure of Animals and Plants; besides a multitude of other Phenomena of Nature, and the Subserviency of most of these to Man; may just induce him, as a Rational Creature, to Conclude, That this vast, beautiful, orderly, and (in a word) many ways admirable System of Things, that we call the World, was fram'd by an Author supremely Powerful, Wise, and Good, can scarce be deny'd by an intelligent and unprejudic'd Considerer. And this is strongly confirm'd by Experience, which witnesseth, that in almost all Ages and Countries, the generality of Philosophers, and contemplative Men, were persuaded of the Existence / of a Deity, by the consideration of the Phenomena of the Universe; whose Fabrick and Conduct they rationally concluded could not be deservedly ascrib'd, either to blind Chance, or to any other Cause than a Divine Being.

But, tho' it be true, that God hath not left himself without witness [ Acts 14,17], even to perfunctory Considerers; by stamping upon divers of the more Obvious Parts of his Workmanship, such conspicuous Impressions of his Attributes, that a moderate degree of Understanding, and Attention, may suffice to make Men acknowledge His Being; Yet , I scruple not to think, That Assent very much inferior to the Belief, that the same Objects are fitted to produce in an Heedful and Intelligent Contemplator of them; For the Works of God are so worthy of their Author, that, besides the Impresses of his Wisdom, and Goodness, that are left as it were upon their Surfaces; there are a great many more curious and excellent tokens, and Effects, of / Divine Artifice, in the hidden and innermost Recesses of them; and these are not to be discovered by the perfunctory looks of Oscitant or Unskilful Beholders; but Require, as well, as Deserve, the most attentive and prying Inspection of inquisitive and well-instructed Considerers. And sometimes in one Creature, there may be I know not how many admirable things, that escape a vulgar Eye, and yet may be clearly discern'd by That of a true Naturalist; who brings with him, besides a more than common Curiosity and Attention, a competent knowledge of Anatomy, Opticks, Cosmography, Mechanicks, and Chymistry. But treating elsewhere purposely of this Subject, it may here suffice to say, that God has couch'd so many things in his Visible Works, that the clearer Light a Man has, the more he may discover of their Unobvious Exquisiteness, and the more clearly and distinctly he may discern those Qualities that lye more Obvious. And the more wonderful things he / discovers in the Works of Nature, the more auxiliary Proofs he meets with to establish and enforce the Argument, drawn from the Universe and its Parts, to evince That there is a God : Which is a Proposition of that vast weight and importance, that it ought to endear every thing to us, that is able to Confirm it, and Afford us new Motives to acknowledge and adore the Divine Author of things. […]

After the Existence of the Deity, the next grand Principle of Natural Religion, is, the Immortality of the Rational Soul ; whose genuine consequence is, the Belief and Expectation of a Future and Everlasting State. For this important Truth, divers Arguments may be alledg'd, that may persuade a sober and well-disposed Man to embrace it; But to convince a learned Adversary , the strongest Argument, that the Light of Nature supplies us with, seems to be that which is afforded by the Real Philosophy. For this teacheth us to form true and distinct Notions of the Body, and the Mind; and thereby manifests so great a difference in their Essential Attributes, that the same thing cannot be both. This it makes out more distinctly, by enumerating several Faculties and Functions of the Rational Soul; such as, To Understand, and that so, as to form Conceptions of Abstracted things, of Universals, of / Immaterial Spirits, and even of that infinitely Perfect One, God himself: And also, to Conceive, and Demonstrate, that there are Incommensurable Lines, and Surd Numbers; to make Ratiocinations, and both cogent and concatenated Inferences, about these things; to express their intellectual Notions, pro re natâ , by words or Instituted Signs, to other Men; to exercise Free-will about many things; and to make Reflections on its own Acts, both of Intellect and Will. For these and the like Prerogatives, that are peculiar to the Human Mind, and superior to any thing that belongs to the Outward Senses, or to the Imagination it self, manifest, that the Rational Soul is a Being of an higher Order, than Corporeal; and consequently, that the Seat of these Spiritual Faculties, and the Source of these Operations, is a Substance, that being in its own nature distinct from the Body, is not naturally subject to Dye or Perish with it. […]

The third main Principle of unreveal'd Religion, and consequently of Reveal'd, (which presupposes Natural Religion, as it's foundation) is a Belief of the Divine Providence. And in this grand Article, as well as in the two foregoing, a Man may be much Confirm'd by Experimental Philosophy; both as it affords him positive Inducements to acknowledge the Article, and as it shews the great Improbability of the two main Grounds, on one or other of which, (for they are not well consistent) is founded the denyal of God's providence.

A Virtuoso, that by manifold and curious Experiments searches deep into the Nature of things, has great and peculiar Advantages, to discover / and observe the excellent Fabrick of the World, as `tis an immense Aggregate of the several Creatures that compose it; and to take notice in its particular Parts, especially those that are Animated, of such exquisite Contrivances, and such admirable Coordinations, and Subordinations, in reference to each other, as lie hid from those Beholders that are not both Attentive and Skilful. When our Virtuoso contemplates the Vastness, scarce conceivable Swiftness, and yet constant Regularity, of the various Motions, of the Sun, Moon, and other Celestial Lights: When he considers how the Magnetism of the Earth makes its Poles constantly look the same way, notwithstanding the Motions of its fluid Vortex ; how by daily turning about its own Center in four and twenty hours, it receives as much Light, and benefit from the Sun, and all the glorious Constellations of the Firmament, as if they , with all the vast heavenly Region they belong to, mov'd about it in the same time; how / by its Situation among them, it enjoys the regular Vicissitudes of Day and Night, Summer and Winter, &c . how the several Parts of the Sublunary World are mutually subservient to one another, and most of them (one way or other) Serviceable to Man; how excellently the Bodies of Animals are Contriv'd; what various and congruous provision is made for differing Animals that they may subsist as long as they should, according to the Institution of Nature, by furnishing them, according to their respective Natures, some with Strength to take their food by force, others with Industry to procure it by Subtilty; some with Arms, as Horns, Hoofs, Scales, Tusks, Poysons, Stings, &c . to Defend themselves, and Offend their Enemies; some with Wings or swiftness to fly from Dangers; some with Foresight to prevent them; some with Craft, and perhaps strange Fetches of it, to Elude them; how being distinguish'd into two Sexes, each of these is furnish'd with apposite Organs, for the / propagation of the Species , and with skill and kindness to nourish and train up their young ones, till they can shift for themselves; how admirable, and indeed astonishing, a process is gone through in the formation of the Foetus, especially of a Human one; how divers Animals are endowed with strange Instincts, whose Effects sometimes seem much to surpass those of Reason it self; tho' they are superadded to the Mechanical Structure of the Animal, and argue a respect to things very remote from it, either in time, place, or both, and perhaps also to the Grand Fabrick or System of the World, and the general Oeconomy of Nature. When, as I was saying, a Philosopher duly reflects on these things, and many others of the like import, he will think it highly rational to infer and many others of the like import, he will think it highly rational to infer from them these three Conclusions.

First, That a Machine so Immense, so Beautiful, so well contriv'd, and, in a word, so Admirable, as the World, cannot have been the effect of mere / Chance, or the Tumultuous Justlings and Fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, but must have been produc't by a Cause, exceedingly Powerful, Wise, and Beneficent.

Secondly, That this most Potent Author, and (if I may so speak) Opificer of the World, hath not Abandon'd a Masterpiece so worthy of him, but foes still Maintain and Preserve it; so regulating the stupendously swift Motions of the great Globes, and other vast Masses of the Mundane Matter, that they do not, by any notable Irregularity, disorder the grand System of the Universe, and reduce it to a king of Chaos, or confus'd State of shuffl'd and deprav'd things.

Thirdly, that as it is not above the Ability of the Divine Author of things, though a single Being, to Preserve and Govern all his Visible Works, how great and numerous soever; so he thinks it not Below his Dignity and Majesty, to extend his Care and Beneficence to particular Bodies, and even to the meanest Creatures; / providing not only for the Nourishment, but for the Propagation, of Spiders and Ants themselves. And indeed, since the Truth of this Assertion, That God governs the World he has made , would appear (if it did not by other Proofs) by the Constancy, and Regularity, and astonishingly rapid Motions of the vast Coelestial Bodies, and by the long Trains of as Admirable, as Necessary, Artifices, that are employ'd to the Propagation of various sorts of Animals, whether Viviparous, or Oviparous;) I see not why it should be deny'd, that God's Providence may reach to his particular Works here below, especially to the noblest of them, Man ; since most of these Learned Men that deny this, as derogatory to God's Majesty and Happiness, acknowledge, that at the first Creation, or (if they dislike that term) Formation of things; the great Author of them must not only have extended his Care, to the grand System of the Universe in general, but allow'd it to descend so low, as to / contrive all the Minute, and various Parts, (and even the most homely ones) not only of Greater and (reputedly) more perfect Animals, as Elephants, Whales, and Men; but such Small and Abject Ones, as Flies, Ants, Fleas, &c . Which being manifestly propagated by Eggs laid by the Female, cannot reasonably be thought the off-spring of Putrefaction. Whence I gather, as from matter of fact, that to be concern'd for the welfare, even of particular Animals, as it is agreeable to God's All-pervading Wisdom, and exuberant Beneficence; so (whatever Man's Vanity may make them surmise) it is not truly derogatory to his adorable Greatness and Majesty.

And on this occasion, I shall add, that since Man is the noblest of God's visible Works; since very many of them seem made for his Use; since , even as an Animal, he is (as the Psalmist truly speaks) wonderfully made , and curiously , or artificially wrought [ Psalm 138,14.15]; and since God has both given him a / Rational Mind, and endow'd it with an Intellect, whereby he can Contemplate the Works of Nature, and by them acquire a Conviction of the Existence, and divers Attributes, of their supremely perfect Author; since God hath planted Notions and Principles in the Mind of Man, fit to make him sensible, that he ought to Adore God, as the most Perfect of Beings, the Supreme Lord and Governor of the World, the Author of his own Nature, and all his Enjoyments: Since all this, I say, is so, Natural Reason dictates to him, that he ought to express the Sentiments he has for this Divine Being, by Veneration of his Excellencies; by Gratitude for his Benefits; by Humiliation, in view of his Greatness, and Majesty; by an Awe of his Justice; by Reliance on his Power, and Goodness, when he duly endeavours to serve and please him; and, in short, by those several Acts of Natural Religion, that Reason shews to be Suitable, and therefore Due to those several Divine Attributes / of his, which it has led us to the knowledge of.

The Works of Robert Boyle edited by Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davies (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2000) vol. 11: “The Christian Virtuoso and Other Publications of 1687- 1691” , pp. 291, 295-297, 298-301.