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Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen
Evidences of Christianity: A Debate (1829)



      Mr. Chairman: It is surely a novel species of logic to argue, that, because we shall have better houses, and better schools, and must have new bridges, etc., therefore the Christian religion must be false. To resume the subject of materialism, which is the system of my friend, Mr. Owen, it will be necessary to observe, that all the artificial mysteries of atheism have not emanated from the same brain, but from different intellects. In order to make out a system contrary to all experience and history, some materialists have been constrained to suppose (finding themselves perplexed to account, for man's origin, either on the hypothesis of his coming into existence as an adult or an infant), that man was originally a being very different from what he now is. But whether he has degenerated, or improved, they do not testify. They also suppose another absurdity--viz: that there must have been an oak before an acorn; or, in other words, that vegetables must have existed before their seeds. This would be no absurdity, if we admit a Creator who produced by one almighty fiat, every vegetable in full vigor. But on any other hypothesis, it is an absurdity. This necessarily follows from their own premises. They also suppose that matter and motion originally possessed powers which they do not now. That because matter and motion cannot now produce new genera and species, therefore they have not all the powers they once had. This is first to assume a fact, and then to invent, or bribe, or suborn the testimony to prove it. That once they had the power of detaching themselves from other parts of the universe, and forming themselves into organized bodies, but that now they have grown old and feeble, and lost their power.

      When they asserted that the material universe had no relation to an intelligent First Cause, but was the production of blind chance, or nature operating according to the laws of matter and motion, they were impelled to the above conclusion. Inasmuch as they do not find nature competent to the production of a new species or genus of vegetable or [122] animal matter, they endeavor to excuse their system by asserting that she once possessed powers which she does not now possess. But this monstrous assumption must be taken for fact to account for anything on their premises. Yet these persons tell us they cannot believe a miracle because it is contrary to all experience!! But they can believe their own mysteries contrary to all the experience and information of mankind!--

"Deny God--all is mystery beside;
Millions of mysteries! each darker far
Than that thy wisdom would unwisely shun.
If weak thy faith, why choose the harder side?
We know nothing but what is marvelous;
Yet what is marvelous we can't believe!"

      But the system is liable to another exception. It can give no account of the manner in which the idea of a God became so universally prevalent, while they admit that the idea did obtain universality. I recollect I once pressed this difficulty upon the infidel editors of the New Harmony Gazette.

      [Here Mr. Campbell reads from the "Christian Baptist" a problem addressed to the editors of the "New Harmony Gazette."]

"To the Editors of the New Harmony Gazette.

      "You think that reason cannot originate the idea of an Eternal First Cause, or that no man could acquire such an idea by the employment of his senses and reason--and you think correctly. You think also that the Bible is not a supernatural revelation--not a revelation from a Deity in any sense. These things premised, gentlemen, I present my problem in the form of a query again."

      "The Christian idea of an Eternal First Cause uncaused, or of a God, is now in the world, and has been for ages immemorial. You say it could not enter into the world by reason, and it did not enter by revelation. Now, as you are philosophers and historians, and have all the means of knowing, How did it come into the world?"

      [Mr. Owen asserts, after hearing this problem read, "By imagination."]

      I am just now told by Mr. Owen, that the idea of a God obtained this universality through imagination. Now, let us try the merits of this solution. Imagination, all writers agree, has not the power of creating any new idea. It has the power of analyzing, combining, compounding, and new-modifying all the different ideas presented to it; but imagination has no creative power.

      No system of philosophy that is now taught in any school, will warrant us to attribute to imagination any such power. Neither Locke [123] nor Hume will allow it: and these are the most respectable in the Christian and infidel schools. We shall hear what each of them has to say upon the power of imagination:--

      "Although nothing is so unbounded in its operations as the power of the mind, and the imagination of man--to form monsters, and join incongruous shapes, and appearances, costs the imagination no more trouble, than to conceive of the most natural and familiar objects; and while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty, the imagination and thought can transport us in an instant into the most distant regions of the universe. But although our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to nothing more than the faculty of combining, transposing, augmenting, and diminishing the materials afforded us by sense and experience."--HUME.

      "The simple ideas are the materials of all our knowledge, which are suggested and furnished to the mind only by sensation and reflection. When the understanding is once stored with these simple ideas, it has the power to repeat, compare, and unite them, even to an almost infinite variety, and so can make, at pleasure, new complex ideas. But it is not in the power of the most exalted wit, or enlarged understanding, by any quickness or variety of thoughts, to invent or frame one new simple idea in the mind, not taken in by the ways before mentioned; nor can any force of the understanding destroy those that are there."--"The dominion of man in this little world of his understanding, being much the same as it is in the great world of visible things; wherein his power, however managed by art and skill, reaches no further than to compound and divide, or decompose the materials that are made to his hand, but can do nothing toward making the least particle of new matter, or destroying an atom of what is already in being. The same inability will every one find in himself who should go about to fashion in his understanding any simple idea not received by his senses from external objects, or by reflection from the operation of his own mind about them. I would have any one try to fancy any taste, which had never affected his palate; or frame the idea of a scent he had never felt; and when he can do this, I will also conclude that a deaf man has distinct notions of sounds."--"It is impossible for any one to imagine any other qualities in bodies, however constituted, whereby they can be taken notice of beside sounds, tastes, smells, visible, and tangible qualities. Had mankind been made with but four senses, the qualities, then, which are the objects of the fifth sense, had been as far from our notice, [124] imagination, and conception) as now any belonging to the sixth, a seventh, or an eighth sense, can possibly be; which, whether yet some other creatures in some other parts of this 'vast and stupendous universe, may not have, will be a great presumption to deny.'"--Locke. Such is Mr. Hume's doctrine, and it agrees with Mr. Locke's and other philosophers'. Now, if this be true, and founded on a strict analysis of the human mind, and predicated of universal experience--how could man have imagined a God? Let us try the faculty of imagination, and prove, by our own experience, its creative power. We have but five senses: I would therefore ask Mr. Owen, and every one present, if you can, by any exertion of your faculties, imagine a sixth sense? What would it be? If you were to imagine any other sense, it must be analogous to those you already possess. You might imagine a being like the fabulous Argus, with a hundred eyes; but fancy that you possessed an organ, like that of Fame, that would enable you to hear from a greater distance than the eye could reach to; but could you have imagined this unless you had derived the simple idea of hearing from your organ of hearing. But a sixth sense, unlike those possessed, cannot be imagined. Now, if Mr. Owen cannot, from his five senses, imagine a sixth, how can he assert that a savage or philosopher could imagine a God? But I call upon Mr. Owen to imagine and report to us a sixth sense.

      In the system of causation, natural religionists go upon the ladder of effect and cause, up to the first cause; but to reason a posteriori on this subject, is, in my opinion, fallacious. It is predicated of a petitio principii, inasmuch as it assumes that the material universe is an effect. Quod erat demonstrandum--the very thing to be proved. I do hope that this debate will put the question between Deists and Christians to repose. Deism is all founded on a petitio principii--a begging of the question to be proved. Atheism or Christianity must obtain the dominion over every inquisitive mind. When I hear a Deist talking about "the light of nature" and "the great God of nature," I am reminded of the school-boy, who stole a penknife; and when charged with the fact, said, he found it growing upon an apple-tree. This was equivalent to a confession of the theft, since we all know penknives do not grow upon apple-trees. In like manner the reasonings of the Deists, upon their own premises, show that their conclusions do not logically follow. You might as well look for penknives growing upon apple-trees as for Lord Herbert's doctrine in the mind of a savage. There is no stopping-place between Atheism and Christianity.

      As we have, perhaps, sufficiently gone into the detail of demonstrating, from the mysteries of Atheism, that the materialist acts upon the [125] very principle which he condemns in Christians: that is, in believing what he cannot comprehend, and contrary to his own experience; and not only this, but in giving to imagination a power which it does not possess, and afterward acting according to the mere vagaries of fancy, more than the most enthusiastic Christians; I say, having shown that the materialists assent to and teach mysteries which they cannot ever explain; believe and reason contrary to universal experience, and follow imagination, while they ascribe these as foibles to others; I will finish my readings and comments upon this system, by giving the moral consummation from one of their ablest writers.

      You have heard a great deal about necessity. All Mr. Owen's facts have been adduced to prove that we are locked up in the chains of an inexorable fatality. That you may see the moral tendency of this doctrine, I shall read you a few sentences from Mirabaud's System of Nature:

      "Life being commonly for man the greatest of all benefits, it is to be presumed that he who deprives himself of it is impelled by an invincible force. It is the excess of misery, despair, derangement of the machine, caused by melancholy, which carries man on to destroy himself. Agitated, then, by contrary impulses, he is, as we have before said, obliged to follow a middle course that conducts him to his death. If man is not free in any one instance of his life, he is again much less so in the act by which it is terminated.

      "We see, then, that he who kills himself does not commit, as they pretend, an outrage on nature, or, if they will, on its author. He follows an impulse of nature, in taking the only means that she leaves him to quit his pains; he goes out of existence by a door that she leaves open to him; he cannot offend her in accomplishing the law of necessity; the iron hand of which having broken the spring that rendered life desirable to him, and urged him to conserve himself, shows that he ought to quit a rank or system which he finds too bad to be willing to remain in. His country, or his family, have no right to complain of a member that it cannot render happy, and from whom it has nothing more to hope for itself. To be useful to his country, or to his family, it is necessary that man should cherish his own peculiar existence, that he has an interest in conserving himself, loves the bonds which unite him to others, and is capable of occupying himself with their felicity. In short, that the suicide should be punished in the other life, and repent of his precipitate steps, it were needful that he should outlive himself, and that, in consequence, he should carry with him, into his future residence, his organs, his senses, his memory, his ideas, and his actual mode of existing and of thinking. [126]

      "In short, nothing is more useful than to inspire men with a contempt for death, and to banish from their minds the false ideas which are given them of its consequences. The fear of death will never make anything but cowards; the fear of its pretended consequences will make nothing but fanatics, or pious, melancholy beings, useless to themselves and to others. Death is a resource that we must not, by any means, take away from oppressed virtue, which the injustice of men frequently reduces to despair. If men feared death less, they would neither be slaves nor superstitious. Truth would find defenders more zealous; the rights of man would be more hardily sustained; error would be more powerfully combated, and tyranny would be forever banished from nations. Cowardice nourishes it, and fear perpetuates it. In short, men can neither be contented nor happy while their opinions shall oblige them to TREMBLE!"

      Such, my friends, is the necessary consequence of the doctrine of necessity. I propose to-morrow, all things concurring, to present you systematically with the argument already introduced demonstrative of the last position; and, after that, to adduce the direct and positive evidences of the truth and certainty of the Christian religion.

[COD 122-127]

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Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen
Evidences of Christianity: A Debate (1829)