Skeletons of a Course of
By Charles G. Finney
First. Define Atheism.
Second. Some of the different forms or modifications of Atheism. Third. Answer the principal objections of Atheists, to Theism.
Fourth. Point out some of the difficulties of Atheism.
Atheism is the opposite of Theism. Theism is a belief in the existence of God. Atheism is the disbelief of his existence.
I. Sceptical Atheism, or Atheistical Scepticism.
This form of Atheism professes to hold no opinion as to the existence of God, alleging that the evidence in favour of, and that against the divine existence, are too nearly balanced to afford any rational ground of conviction either way.
Hume and some others have taken this ground.
II. Speculative or Dogmatic Atheism.
This modification of Atheism, maintains that the evidence against the existence of God decidedly preponderates.
Atheists of this school either deny the existence of the material universe, or attempt to account for its existence upon principles that are consistent with the denial of the divine existence.
Atheists are however, greatly divided along themselves. Some of them maintain that the universe is all matter, and that what we call mind is only the result of cerebral organization; or, in other words, that matter is, in some forms, intelligent, especially in the form of brain.
Others maintain that the universe is all mind, and that what we call the universe is the fiction or creation of our own minds.
An extended examination of these systems of "philosophy, falsely so called," will not of course, be undertaken in these lectures. The doctrines of these self styled philosophers will be examined no farther than is necessary to establish the truths of Theology.
This is a misnomer. The name denotes a belief in the existence of God, and yet the doctrine or system denies the existence of the true God, and maintains that the universe is itself God.
To confound God with the universe, and hold that He is identical with it, is certainly Atheism, under whatever name it may attempt to conceal itself.
IV. Practical Atheism.
This admits, in words, and profession, the existence of God, but denies him in works. With this kind of Atheism, the present lecture has nothing to do.
These are the principal modifications of Atheism, both ancient and modern.
Obj. I. Atheists object to Theism, that it is founded in the natural credulity of the human mind.
1. It is a notorious fact that
men are not naturally credulous, but obstinately incredulous,
to those doctrines that
rebuke their lusts.
2. The existence of the true God is an idea big with terror to depraved man.
3. Hence the general admission of God's existence, in despite of the strong prejudices of depraved human nature, is a powerful argument for its support.
Obj. II. They maintain that facts demonstrate, that the God of Theists cannot exist.
E.g. Theists maintain that God is omniscient, and also that he created the universe; but say the Atheism, before the universe existed there were no objects of knowledge. Therefore previous to creation no omniscient being could have existed.
Ans. Omniscience is the knowledge of all actual or possible events and things. This knowledge may have resided, and Theists maintain that it actually did eternally reside in the mind of God.
Obj. III. Theists maintain the immutability of God, and also that he governs the world. But, say the Atheists, we are conscious of freedom; but our freedom is inconsistent with the immutability of God as the governor of the world; therefore there can be no immutable God that governs the world.
Ans. This is a mere begging of the question. To say that God's immutability and our free agency are inconsistent with each other is bare assertion.
Again, Atheists allege that creation itself implies a change in God; and is therefore inconsistent with his immutability.
Ans. Theists maintain the immutability of God in respect to his nature and his character. Creation certainly implies no change in either of these, but only the exercise of his natural and moral attributes. If to this it be replied, that character is nothing else than the exercise of the natural attributes, and that before creation he could have had no moral character, and that the work of creation was the formation of moral character and therefore implied a change; it may be answered, that character consists in design or intention, and that God always designed or intended to create the universe; and therefore creation implies no formation or change of character in him.
Obj. IV. Theists maintain that God is a being of infinite nature and moral perfections.
To this Atheists object.
1. That the physical imperfections of the universe are entirely inconsistent with the existence of those natural and moral attributes which Theists ascribe to God.
Ans. That is perfect which is entirely suited to the end for which it was designed. Theists maintain that the universe was made and is governed for the glory of God, in the promotion of virtue and happiness; and that so far as we can see, it is in the best possible manner suited to that end.
2. To this Atheists object, that the actual existence of so much sin or moral evil, together with all the misery occasioned by it, is inconsistent with the existence either of infinite goodness, infinite knowledge, or infinite power; and that Theists may take which horn of the trilemma they please: that one of three things must be true: either God did not foresee that these evils would exist, in which case he is not omniscient, or foreseeing it, he had not power to prevent it, in which case he is not omnipotent, or, foreseeing it and being able to prevent it, he had not the goodness to do so. Whichever of these suppositions be true, it demonstrates that the Theist's God cannot exist.
Ans. This is again begging the question. Infinite goodness, knowledge and power, imply only that if a universe were made, it would be the best that was naturally possible. This objection assumes that a better universe, upon the whole, was a natural possibility. It assumes that a universe of moral beings could, under a moral government, administered in the wisest and best manner, be wholly restrained from sin: but this needs proof, and never can be proved.
Moral agency implies freedom: freedom implies the power to resist every degree of motive that can be brought to bear upon mind. That it would have been possible to prevent sin under a moral government, or had it been possible, that it would have been wise, so to alter the administration as wholly to exclude it, is a gratuitous assumption, and any argument or objection founded upon this assumption is of no weight: as certainly it is no impeachment of the natural or moral attributes of God, that moral and natural evils exist, if their existence was, upon the whole, the less of two evils, and preferable to such an arrangement as would have entirely excluded them.
3. The force of this objection lies in the fact that there are things in the universe, all the reasons for, and uses of which, we do not understand. Suppose we are unable to account for the existence of natural and moral evil in a universe like this, is this fact to set aside the world of evidence that the universe was made and is governed by a God? Certainly nothing is more unreasonable.
Obj. V. Atheists deny that there is sufficient evidence of design in the structure of the universe to warrant a rational belief in a designer.
1. There are two ways in which design may
be most strikingly manifested. One is where a single principle,
property, or law,
is so applied as to produce the greatest number of beneficial
results. The application of the law of gravitation is
an instance of this kind. The other is, when a most complicated
piece of mechanism is constructed for a single but highly
important end. The Human frame is an instance and illustration
Now the universe every where abounds with instances of
these two extremes of art, and affords the highest possible
2. This objection, if allowed, sets aside the possibility of settling any question by evidence, as it is founded in a virtual denial of all evidence.
Obj. VI. Atheists object that we can have no conception of such a being as the Theist's God.
Ans. There is a difference between a real and an adequate conception. A conception may be real so far as it goes, without including a conception of all that belongs to its object. It is plain that we can form a real, though inadequate, conception of God. If we could form no conception of God we could believe nothing about him. But we can and do; therefore this objection is good for nothing.
Obj. VII. Theists maintain that God created the universe out of nothing. This Atheists maintain is naturally impossible.; "Ex nihilo, nihil fit," is a favourite axiom of theirs, when contending against this doctrine of Theism.
1. This is assumption.
2. The eternal existence of the matter of which the universe is formed, may be admitted without invalidating the proof of God's existence.
3. But that matter is not self existent appears from the fact that if it is eternal it must have eternally existed, either in an elementary state or in a state of combination and consequently of change. If in an elementary state, it never could have passed into a state of combination. If in a state of combination and change its existence from eternity involves the doctrine of an infinite series, which is absurd; as will be shown in its place.
Obj. VIII. We can as well conceive of the existence of the universe in its present state without a cause, as to conceive of the existence of God without a cause.
Ans. We cannot conceive of the existence of any event without a cause; but the universe in its present state we know to be a stupendous series of events. God's existence is no event at all, as he never began to be. The difference then of the two suppositions in question, is as the supposition that myriads of events occur without any cause, and that God's existence which is no event is without a cause.
Obj. IX. But here they object more definitely, and say that if the universe is an exquisitely constructed machine, the mind that could create it must be still more wonderful and exquisite in its structure, and that we may as well suppose the eternal self existence of the universe as to suppose the eternal self existence of a being who could create it.
Ans. The universe we know to be continually changing and that therefore it cannot by any possibility have been eternally self existent, for in that case either those changes have been eternally going on or they have not. If they have, then they must have occurred in an eternal series of dependent events, which is absurd and impossible. If these changes have not been eternally occurring the universe must have existed from eternity in a changeless state. In this case no change could by any possibility have taken place but by the action of some power not inherent the universe itself; and this power must have been God. We certainly know, therefore, that the universe is not eternally self existent. But we conceive of God, as possessing an eternal necessary self existence, and as, therefore, unchangeable. The difficulty in the two conceptions in question, does not lie in supposing an eternal necessary self existence to be impossible or unreasonable; because this supposition is not inconsistent with any first truth. It is not supposing that any event occurs without a cause; for eternal self existence is no event; as it never begins to be. But the difficulty lies in supposing that events and things that begin to be really occur without any cause. This we cannot by any possibility conceive. Here we are brought back then to the same conclusion, that the difference in the two suppositions in question is as the supposition that myriads of events occur without a cause, and that what is no event exists without a cause.
Obj. X. To the affirmation of Theists that with the facts of the universe before us, we necessarily have the idea of a first cause, or of a God; they object, and say that as a matter of fact they have no such idea.
Ans. They also affirm that they have no idea of causality, and do not believe in the reality of it. But who does not know that this is an affirmation in the face of stubborn facts, and that they really have the idea of causality, and cannot doubt it nor act in consistency with the denial of it in any case whatever. These are the principal objections of Atheists to Theism, with brief and what are supposed to be their appropriate answers.
I. Difficulty. One of the fundamental and fatal difficulties of Atheism is that it is founded upon the denial of a first truth.
1. Causality, or that every event must have
a cause, is certainly a first truth. It cannot be, and never
was, seriously doubted;
and professed doubters uniformly recognize it in all their
2. It cannot be denied without admitting it. The denial implies a denier; the denial is the effect of which the denier is the cause.
3. It cannot be doubted without assuming its truth, as the doubt is an effect of which the doubter is the cause.
4. The denier knows that he states a falsehood in the denial: for if he did not believe in causality he would not and could not attempt the denial.
5. If he did not believe in causality, he would not attempt to save, do, or think any thing whatever, any more than he would attempt to try, or make a universe, or create a God.
6. That causality is a matter of universal belief, and everywhere and necessarily regarded as a first truth, is evident from the fact that nearly every sentence in every language is constructed upon the admission of this truth. What are the nominative case, the verb, and the objective case, but the cause and the effect?
7. No mind can conceive of causality as being untrue, and if it could, the very conception itself would be both an instance and a proof of the truth of it; as the conception would be of itself an effect of which the conceiver would be the cause.
8. Theism is based upon this first truth, and is as certain as the foundations upon which it rests. The whole argument for the existence of God is either a single irresistible inference from the existence of the universe, or a series of irresistible inferences standing one upon another, and having for their foundation the certain and immutable truth of causality, or that every event must have a cause. The conclusion is as certain as the premise. The premise every body knows to be true; and if any one denies the truth of the inference, viz. that there is a God, it must be the denial of his heart and not of his intellect. But as Atheism is founded in a denial of this first truth it must be a tissue of absurdity.
II. Difficulty. Another difficulty of Atheism is, that it is fundamentally inconsistent with itself. To the doctrine that God created the universe out of nothing, Atheists object, "ex nihilo nihil fit." But in accounting for the existence of the universe as it is, they ascribe all events to chance. Now chance is either nothing or something. If nothing, to ascribe the existence of the universe to it, is to contradict their favourite maxim just quoted. If something adequate to the production of such effects, then they admit causality, and chance is only another name for God.
III. Difficulty. One of the main pillars of Atheism is the doctrine of an infinite series; and that the present universe is one of an eternal series of changes through which matter has been eternally passing by its own inherent properties, laws, or affinities.
But to this it may be answered:
1. That it both admits and denies causality.
It admits it in maintaining that the changes, and even the
structure of the universe,
are caused by the inherent properties of matter. It denies
it by assigning no sufficient or adequate cause. For an inadequate
cause is the same as no cause.
2. The properties and laws of matter cannot account for the existence of matter.
3. If the self existence of matter be admitted, the properties and laws of matter cannot account for the locations of matter, and consequently for the movements and events of the universe.
4. Were not the locations of matter such as they are, the events of the universe would not be what they are. (See locations of the planetary system.)
5. The structure and location of the organs and parts of the human body, evince incomparably more design and skill, than do the inherent laws and properties of matter.
6. Supposing the universe to have been created out of nothing, the evidence of the divine existence exhibited in the locations of matter, are to those exhibited in its properties and laws, as myriads to one. For the known properties and laws of matter are but few, while the dispositions or localities of matter are innumerable.
7. The unorganized is the natural state of matter. This is proved by the fact, that in all cases as soon as life is extinct the matter composing organized bodies returns to an unorganized state, by the action of its inherent properties and laws. This fact demonstrates that bodies are not organized, by the action of affinities inherent in matter, but by a principle of vitality or life which modifies and overrules, for the time being, the action of the laws and affinities inherent in matter.
8. If matter were brought into an organized state by the force of its inherent properties and affinities, then all matter would be found in an organized state, and being once in that state, it would for ever remain in it, unless disorganized by some power out of itself.
9. It is plain, then, that the properties and laws inherent in matter, and that power, whatever it is, that organizes matter into living bodies and sustains that organization, are antagonist forces.
10. There are three states in which matter is found--the unorganized, as in the clods of earth--that of vegetable organization--and that of animal organization.
11. We have seen that the first of these states must be natural, because all matter, in whatever state of organization, tends, and if left to itself, returns to the unorganized state.
12. The other two states, those of vegetable and animal organization, are the antagonists of the first and differ so widely from each other that by no apparent possibility can these three states be ascribed to the inherent properties of matter.
13. Should it be admitted then, that matter with all its inherent properties and laws, is self existent, this would not at all account for the dispositions and locations of matter, nor for the existence of living bodies either vegetable or animal.
14. If men, or any race of animals were extinct, no law of matter could restore them.
15. If Geology proves any thing, it proves that the present races of organized beings have not existed always.
16. The universal law that like begets like, proves that the present races of animals did not spring from former races whose remains have been disinterred by the labors of the geologists. This also is proved by geology itself.
17. Therefore the existence of the present organized world demands the interference of a God, to say the least, at the commencement of its being.
But again: This doctrine of an infinite series, the truth of which the Atheist assumes, admits that every event or change is conditioned or dependent upon its immediate cause, that the existence of matter in one peculiar form or state of combination is the cause of its passing into another form or state of combination, but a conditional event implies and demands an unconditional cause, either immediate or remote. Conditional events are like the links of a suspended chain--but a suspended chain, with an infinite number of dependent links without some absolute and independent support, is absurd and naturally impossible. An infinite series of dependent events, cannot be, the doctrine then of an infinite series is false and absurd.
But as Atheism assumes its truth as its fundamental support, Atheism is itself false and absurd.
IV. Difficulty. Atheism attempts to keep itself in countenance by demanding in support of theism, the most unreasonable and impossible kinds and degrees of evidence. For the existence of God, Atheists demand the testimony of sense, and inquire, "Who has seen God?" To this it may be answered:
1. That the objection is founded in a ridiculous
ignorance or disregard of the first principles and laws of
evidence, one of
which is, that a proposition is to be supported by that
kind or degree of evidence which the nature of the case admits.
as God is a Spirit it is unreasonable and absurd to demand
for his existence the direct testimony of sense
2. But we have the indirect testimony of sense for the existence of God, just as we have for the existence of men. Who has at any time seen a man? Our senses inform us of the existence of a body, but this which we see is certainly not the man, the thinking agent, but from the phenomena exhibited to our senses by this body, we naturally and necessarily infer the existence of the man or living agent within, for we cannot conceive that these bodily actions and motions should have no cause, and as they are similar to those of which we ourselves are conscious, our reason affirms that the tenant within is a man like ourselves. As we infer the existence of man from the phenomena which he exhibits to our senses, so we infer the existence of God from the phenomena which he exhibits to our senses.
V. Difficulty. Atheism as a system, if system it may be called, is founded on, or supported by no self evident truth, but is merely a system of evasions, which evasions are founded in the denial of first and self evident truths.
VI. Difficulty. Atheism has not a particle of evidence for its support.
VII. Difficulty. Atheism is contradicted by a universe of witnesses.
VIII. Difficulty. Atheism is a ridiculous system of both credulity and incredulity. It is ridiculous credulity to believe that all things, or any thing comes by chance.
Should a man believe that a watch chanced to grow upon a tree, would not this be an evidence and an instance of ridiculous credulity?
But Atheists pretend to believe that all things are by chance.
It is ridiculous incredulity to doubt what all men know to be true, that every event must have an adequate cause.
IX. Difficulty. That modification of Atheism that denies the existence of the material universe is ridiculous incredulity, because it professes to doubt that for which all men have the evidence of all their senses.
X. Difficulty. Atheism requires impossible credulity, for its fundamental doctrines never were, nor can be believed by a sane mind. For no human being ever did or can believe that the universe of events exists without a cause.
XI. Difficulty. Its tendencies condemn it. These are,
1. To unsettle all belief, for if the evidence
in favour of the existence of God, be rejected as inconclusive
to demand belief, it follows that nothing can be proved
by evidence, and that universal scepticism on every subject,
own existence, is the only reasonable state of mind.
2. A second tendency of Atheism is to destroy all science and all knowledge. If no credit is to be given to testimony, if all evidence is to be set aside, then the foundations of knowledge and science are destroyed and no one can reasonably say, that he is certain of any thing, not even of his own existence, or that he has any sufficient ground for believing any thing whatever.
3. Another tendency of Atheism is, to beget universal distrust, and to annihilate that confidence upon which all society is founded. Hence:
4. Another tendency of Atheism is to annihilate all government. Without confidence, certainly no government can exist. If no degree of evidence is to be credited, there is in no case any foundation for confidence, and if no foundation for confidence, government is an impossibility. If then the principles of Atheism were carried out, they must inevitably overthrow all science and all government.
5. Fifth tendency of Atheism is to unbalance mind and to produce universal insanity. What is insanity, but a state of mind that is not influenced by evidence? And Atheism, if real, must to say the least, be a species of moral monomania; as it is, in respect to the existence of God, the setting aside of all evidence and therefore the perfection of irrationality.
6. A sixth tendency of Atheism is to annihilate all restraint upon sin. Remove from the human mind those powerful motives that are connected with a belief in the existence of God, and you unchain the tiger, and burst open the flood gates of lust and every species of iniquity.
7. Another tendency of Atheism is to confirm selfishness.That selfishness is the character of unregenerate man is a matter of fact. That selfishness is detestable, is what all men feel. Nothing can annihilate it but faith in the existence, attributes, and character of God. To deny these, is to perfect and perpetuate selfishness forever.
8. Another tendency of Atheism is to annihilate all those motives to virtue which are alone influential in a world like this.
9. Another tendency of Atheism, is to annihilate the domestic virtues and affections. If the existence of God, and that the domestic relations are a divine institution be denied, there can be, in a world like this, no sufficient support and protection of those relations, and consequently universal licentiousness must prevail. Hence,
10. Atheism delivers men over to the gratification of lust as their highest wisdom. Denying as it does the existence of God, of a future state, and all distinction between virtue and vice--all moral accountability and responsibility, the inference of Paul is just, "Let us eat and drink for to morrow we die."
11. Another tendency of Atheism is to lessen infinitely the value of life. Deny the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and adopt the system of Atheism, and of what comparative value is human life? Let the horrors of the French revolution answer.
12. Atheism leaves the mind in universal doubt and distress in regard to all existences and events. Truth is the natural element of the mind. It can by no possibility be at peace without it. To overthrow all evidence--all knowledge--all confidence, is to render the happiness of mind impossible, and to deliver it over to mourning, lamentation, and woe.
13. Atheism renders virtue impossible. It denies the foundation of all virtue. In denying the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, the relation of cause and effect, it completely annihilates the distinction between right and wrong, and renders it impossible that there should be any such thing as holiness, or virtue in the universe.
14. It produces present and insures eternal misery. That Atheists are eminently wretched men, is evident from their history, and from the very nature of mind it must be so. Truth is the element and natural food of mind, and in just as far as it is fed with and conformed to the truth it is happy. But in proportion as it departs from truth it is miserable.
Atheism is the extreme of error, and for this reason it is necessarily the extreme of agony.
XII. Difficulty. The spirit of Atheism condemns it. Atheism manifestly has not its seat in the understanding but in the heart. It is not properly a sentiment, but a temper. This is evident,
1. From the fact that it does not proceed
from any want of evidence of the existence of God.
2. Nor is it based on any contrary or opposing evidence. For Atheism has not a particle of evidence for its support.
3. Nor is Atheism an affirmation of reason, but as directly opposed to reason as possible.
4. Nor is Atheism a deduction or a doctrine of science, but, as we have seen, it involves a denial of all science.
5. Nor is it founded in an incapacity to see the bearings of the evidence of Theism. Nothing is more patent, than the everywhere abounding evidence of the Divine existence.
6. Nor does it proceed from a want of time or opportunity to weigh and consider the evidence in favour of Atheism.
7. Nor does it proceed from the manifest useful tendency of Atheism, for it were madness to affirm the usefulness of its tendency.
8. Nor has Atheism grown out of any hurtful tendency of Theism.
9. But Atheism is manifestly a spirit of selfishness. It manifests itself, and its own nature in many ways.
It is a spirit of ingratitude. Should a man on a desolate
island, find that every night while he is asleep, his
supplied with all the necessaries of life, and should
thus continue from month to month and from year to year,
him the earnest desire to know and thank his benefactor,
universal reason would affirm that that was the spirit
And what is Atheism, but ingratitude the most detestable?
(2.) Atheism is an uncandid spirit. It is the spirit of caviling against stubborn and undeniable facts.
(3.) Atheism is hatred to truth.
(4.) Atheism is a reckless spirit. It strikes with ruthless hand and endeavors to blot out the existence of God and virtue from the universe.
(5.) It is a spirit of prejudice, as is evident from its ex parte examination of the great question of Theism.
(6.) It carps and cavils at the few apparent, though unreal discrepancies of the word of God.
(7.) It lays great stress upon the absurdities of vulgar prejudice as it profanely styles the sincere though unlearned opinions of believers in a God.
(8.) It triumphs much over the weak and inconclusive arguments of some Theists.
(9.) Atheists are in the habit of ascribing the events of the universe to nature, instead of nature's God.
(10.) Atheists cavil, and stumble, and triumph, in view of the physical and moral evils of the world, which could not be, did they possess a considerate and benevolent state of mind.
(11.) Atheists triumph greatly, when in the infancy of any new form of science, any thing is discovered that appears to be inconsistent with the doctrine of Theism, but when fuller investigation has corrected their error, and science gives its unqualified testimony in favour of Theism, they are neither convinced nor silenced, but shift their ground and continue their cavils.
(12.) Atheism is the spirit of pedantry. It affects great learning. It professes to be philosophy itself.
(13.) Atheists affect to be independent thinkers, above vulgar prejudice; able to lay aside the shackles of early education and to think for themselves.
(14) Atheists are impatient of the restraint of religion. They evidently want to be rid of the fear and the knowledge of God, and proudly say to Jehovah, "depart from us for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
(15.) Atheists seem determined to rid themselves of the idea of accountability. Theism lays restraint which they abhor upon their lusts. They rave, and madly break away from all reason and truth that they may serve their lusts.
(16.) Atheists reject as unreasonable whatever is above reason.
(17.) Atheists demand proof of first, and self evident truths.
(18.) Atheists deify reason, while at the same time they set at naught its most solemn affirmations.
(19.) Atheists reject as unworthy of credit, whatever they cannot comprehend.This they do when opposing Theism, but when supporting Atheism, they can swallow a universe of incomprehensibilities and absurdities.
(20.) Atheism is a disputatious spirit,
(21.) It is a spirit of opposition to the providence of God.
(22.) It Is uniformly connected with a wicked life.
(23.) It is the spirit of political fanaticism, and always tends, and aims to overthrow all government.
(24.) It is a bloody cruel, misanthropic spirit. Its history is written in the blood of the French Revolution.