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CHAPTER I.: Existence of a Deity. - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 3 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 3.
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Existence of a Deity.
That there exist beings, one or many, powerful above the human race, is a proposition universally admitted as true, in all ages, and among all nations. I boldly call it universal, notwithstanding what is reported of some gross savages; for reports that contradict what is acknowledged to be general among men, require more able vouchers than a few illiterate voyagers. Among many savage tribes, there are no words but for objects of external sense: is it surprising, that such people are incapable to express their religious perceptions, or any perception of internal sense? and from their silence can it be fairly presumed, that they have no such perception?* The conviction that men have of superior powers in every country where there are words to express it, is so well vouched, that in fair reasoning it ought to be taken for granted among the few tribes where language is deficient. Even the grossest idolatry affords evidence of that conviction. No nation can be so brutish as to worship a stock or a stone, merely as such: the visible object is always imagined to be connected with some invisible power; and the worship paid to the former, is as representing the latter, or as in some manner connected with it. Every family among the ancient Lithuanians, entertained a real serpent as a household god; and the same practice is at present universal among the negroes in the kingdom of Whidah: it is not the serpent that is worshipped, but some deity imagined to reside in it. The ancient Egyptians were not idiots, to pay divine honours to a bull or a cat, as such: the divine honours were paid to a deity, as residing in these animals. The sun is to man a familiar object; being frequently obscured by clouds, and totally eclipsed during night, a savage naturally conceives it to be a great fire, sometimes flaming bright, sometimes obscured, and sometimes extinguished. Whence then sun-worship, once universal among savages? Plainly from the same cause: it is not properly the sun that is worshipped, but a deity who is supposed to dwell in that luminary.
Taking it then for granted, that our conviction of superior powers has been long universal, the important question is, From what cause it proceeds. A conviction so universal and so permanent, cannot proceed from chance; but must have a cause operating constantly and invariably upon all men in all ages. Philosophers, who believe the world to be eternal and self-existent, and imagine it to be the only deity tho’ without intelligence, endeavour to account for our conviction of superior powers, from the terror that thunder and other elementary convulsions raise in savages; and thence conclude that such belief is no evidence of a deity. Thus Lucretius,
And Petronius Arbiter,
It will readily be yielded to these gentlemen, that savages, grossly ignorant of causes and effects, are apt to take fright at every unusual appearance, and to think that some malignant being is the cause. And if they mean only, that the first perception of deity among savages is occasioned by fear, I heartily subscribe to their opinion. But if they mean, that such perceptions proceed from fear solely, without having any other cause, I wish to be informed from what source is derived the belief we have of benevolent deities. Fear cannot be the source: and it will be seen anon, that tho’ malevolent deities were first recognised among savages, yet that in the progress of society, the existence of benevolent deities was universally believed. The fact is certain; and therefore fear is not the sole cause of our believing the existence of superior beings.
It is beside to me evident, that the belief even of malevolent deities, once universal among all the tribes of men, cannot be accounted for from fear solely. I observe, first, That there are many men, to whom an eclipse, an earthquake, and even thunder, are unknown: Egypt, in particular, tho’ the country of superstition, is little or not at all acquainted with the two latter; and in Peru, tho’ its government was a theocracy, thunder is not known.1 Nor do such appearances strike terror into every one who is acquainted with them. The universality of the belief, must then have some cause more universal than fear. I observe next, That if the belief were founded solely on fear, it would die away gradually as men improve in the knowledge of causes and effects: instruct a savage, that thunder, an eclipse, an earthquake, proceed from natural causes, and are not threatenings of an incensed deity; his fear of malevolent beings will vanish; and with it his belief in them, if founded solely on fear. Yet the direct contrary is true: in proportion as the human understanding ripens, our conviction of superior powers, or of a Deity, turns more and more firm and authoritative; which will be made evident in the chapter immediately following.
Philosophers of more enlarged views and of deeper penetration, may be inclined to think, that the operations of nature and the government of this world, which loudly proclaim a Deity, may be sufficient to account for the universal belief of superior powers. And to give due weight to the argument, I shall relate a conversation between a Greenlander and a Danish mis-sionary, mentioned by Crantz in his history of Greenland. “It is true,” says the Greenlander, “we were ignorant Heathens, and knew little of a God, till you came. But you must not imagine, that no Greenlander thinks about these things. A kajak (a) , with all its tackle and implements, cannot exist but by the labour of man; and one who does not understand it, would spoil it. But the meanest bird requires more skill than the best kajak; and no man can make a bird. There is still more skill required to make a man: by whom then was he made? He proceeded from his parents, and they from their parents. But some must have been the first parents: whence did they proceed? Common report says, that they grew out of the earth: if so, why do not men still grow out of the earth? And from whence came the earth itself, the sun, the moon, the stars? Certainly there must be some being who made all these things, a being more wise than the wisest man.” The reasoning here from effects to their causes is stated with great precision; and were all men equally penetrating with the Greenlander, such reasoning might perhaps be sufficient to account for the conviction of a Deity, universally spred among savages. But such penetration is a rare quality among savages; and yet the conviction of superior powers is universal, not excepting even the grossest savages, who are altogether incapable of reasoning like our Greenland philosopher. Natural history has made so rapid a progress of late years, and the finger of God is so visible to us in the various operations of nature, that we do not readily conceive how even savages can be ignorant: but it is a common fallacy in reasoning, to judge of others by what we feel in ourselves. And to give juster notions of the condition of savages, I take liberty to introduce the Wogultzoi, a people in Siberia, exhibiting a striking picture of savages in their natural state. That people were baptized at the command of Prince Gagarin, governor of the province; and Laurent Lange, in his relation of a journey from Petersburg to Pekin ann. 1715, gives the following account of their conversion. “I had curiosity,” says he, “to question them about their worship before they embraced Christianity. They said, that they had an idol hung upon a tree, before which they prostrated themselves, raising their eyes to heaven, and howling with a loud voice. They could not explain what they meant by howling; but only, that every man howled in his own fashion. Being interrogated, Whether, in raising their eyes to heaven, they knew that a god is there, who sees all the actions, and even the thoughts of men; they answered simply, That heaven is too far above them to know whether a god be there or not; and that they had no care but to provide meat and drink. Another question being put, Whether they had not more satisfaction in worshipping the living God, than they formerly had in the darkness of idolatry; they answered, We see no great difference, and we do not break our heads about such matters.” Judge how little capable such ignorant savages are, to reason from effects to their causes, and to trace a Deity from the operations of nature. It may be added with great certainty, that could they be made in any degree to conceive such reasoning, yet so weak and obscure would their conviction be, as to rest there without moving them to any sort of worship; which however among savages goes hand in hand with the conviction of superior powers.
If fear be a cause altogether insufficient for our conviction of a Deity, universal among all tribes; and if reasoning from effects to their causes can have no influence upon ignorant savages; what other cause is there to be laid hold of? One still remains, and imagination cannot figure another: to make this conviction universal, the image of the Deity must be stamp’d upon the mind of every human being, the ignorant equally with the knowing: nothing less is sufficient. And the original perception we have of Deity, must proceed from an internal sense, which may be termed the sense of Deity.
Included in the sense of Deity, is the duty we are under to worship him. And to enforce that duty, the principle of devotion is made a part of our nature. All men accordingly agree in worshipping superior beings, however they may differ in the mode of worship. And the universality of such worship, proves devotion to be an innate principle.*
The perception we have of being accountable agents, arises from another branch of the sense of Deity. We expect approbation from the Deity when we do right; and dread punishment from him when guilty of any wrong; not excepting the most occult crimes, hid from every mortal eye. From what cause can dread proceed in that case, but from conviction of a superior being, avenger of wrongs? The dread, when immoderate, disorders the mind, and makes every unusual misfortune pass for a punishment inflicted by an invisible hand. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore behold also his blood is required” (a) . Alphonsus King of Naples, was a cruel and tyrannical prince. He drove his people to despair with oppressive taxes, treacherously assassinated several of his barons, and loaded others with chains. During prosperity, his conscience gave him little disquiet; but in adversity, his crimes star’d him in the face, and made him believe that his distresses proceeded from the hand of God, as a just punishment. He was terrified to distraction, when Charles VIII. of France approached with a numerous army: he deserted his kingdom; and fled to hide himself from the face of God and of man.
But admitting a sense of Deity, is it evidence to us that a Deity actually exists? It is complete evidence. So framed is man as to rely on the evidence of his senses (a) ; which evidence he may reject in words; but he cannot reject in thought, whatever bias he may have to scepticism. And experience confirms our belief; for our senses, when in order, never deceive us.
The foregoing sense of Deity is not the only evidence we have of his existence: there is additional evidence from other branches of our nature. Inherent in the nature of man are two passions, devotion to an invisible Being, and dread of punishment from him, when one is guilty of any crime. These passions would be idle and absurd, were there no Deity to be worshipped or to be dreaded. Man makes a capital figure; and is the most perfect being that inhabits this earth: and yet were he endued with passions or principles that have no end nor purpose, he would be the most irregular and absurd of all Beings. These passions both of them, direct us to a Deity, and afford us irresistible evidence of his existence.
Thus our Maker has revealed himself to us, in a way perfectly analogous to our nature: in the mind of every human creature, he has lighted up a lamp, which renders him visible even to the weakest sight. Nor ought it to escape observation, that here, as in every other case, the conduct of Providence to man, is uniform. It leaves him to be directed by reason, where liberty of choice is permitted; but in matters of duty, he is provided with guides less fallible than reason: in performing his duty to man, he is guided by the moral sense; in performing his duty to God, he is guided by the sense of Deity. In these mirrors, he perceives his duty intuitively.
It is no slight support to this doctrine, that if there really be a Deity, it is highly presumable, that he will reveal himself to man, fitted by nature to adore and worship him. To other animals, the knowledge of a Deity is of no importance: to man, it is of high importance. Were we totally ignorant of a Deity, this world would appear to us a mere chaos: under the government of a wise and benevolent Deity, chance is excluded; and every event appears to be the result of established laws: good men submit to whatever happens, without repining; knowing that every event is ordered by divine Providence: they submit with entire resignation; and such resignation is a sovereign balsam for every misfortune.
The sense of Deity resembles our other senses, which are quiescent till a proper object be presented. When all is silent about us, the sense of hearing lies dormant; and if from infancy a man were confined to a dark room, he would be as ignorant of his sense of seeing, as one born blind. Among savages, the objects that rouse the sense of Deity, are uncommon events above the power of man. A savage, if acquainted with no events but what are familiar, has no perception of superior powers; but a sudden eclipse of the sun, thunder rattling in his ears, or the convulsion of an earthquake, rouses his sense of Deity, and directs him to some superior being as the cause of these dreadful effects. The savage, it is true, errs in ascribing to the immediate operation of a Deity, things that have a natural cause: his error however is evidence that he has a sense of Deity, no less pregnant, than when he more justly attributes to the immediate operation of Deity, the formation of man, of this earth, of all the world.
The sense of Deity, like the moral sense, makes no capital figure among savages; the perceptions of both senses being in them faint and obscure. But in the progress of nations to maturity, these senses become more and more vigorous, so as among enlightened nations to acquire a commanding influence; leaving no doubt about right and wrong, and as little about the existence of a Deity.
The obscurity of the sense of Deity among savages, has encouraged some sceptical philosophers to deny its existence. It has been urged, That God does nothing by halves; and that if he had intended to make himself known to men, he would have afforded them conviction equal to that from seeing or hearing. When we argue thus about the purposes of the Almighty, we tread on slippery ground, where we seldom fail to stumble. What if it be the purpose of the Deity, to afford us but an obscure glimpse of his being and attributes? We have reason from analogy to conjecture, that this may be the case. From some particulars mentioned above (a) , it appears at least probable, that entire submission to the moral sense, would be ill-suited to man in his present state; and would prove more hurtful than beneficial. And to me it appears evident, that to be conscious of the presence of the Great God, as I am of a friend whom I hold by the hand, would be inconsistent with the part that Providence has destined me to act in this life. Reflect only on the restraint one is under, in presence of a superior, suppose the King himself: how much greater our restraint, with the same lively impression of God’s awful presence! Humility and veneration would leave no room for other passions: man would be no longer man; and the system of our present state would be totally subverted. Add another reason: Such a conviction of future rewards and punishments as to overcome every inordinate desire, would reduce us to the condition of a traveller in a paltry inn, having no wish but for day-light to prosecute his journey. For that very reason, it appears evidently the plan of Providence, that we should have but an obscure glimpse of futurity. As the same plan of Providence is visible in all, I conclude with assurance, that a certain degree of obscurity, weighs nothing against the sense of Deity, more than against the moral sense, or against a future state of rewards and punishments. Whether all men might not have been made angels, and whether more happiness might not have resulted from a different system, lie far beyond the reach of human knowledge. From what is known of the conduct of Providence, we have reason to presume, that our present state is the result of wisdom and benevolence. So much we know with certainty, that the sense we have of Deity and of moral duty, correspond accurately to the nature of man as an imperfect being; and that these senses, were they absolutely perfect, would convert him into a very different being.
A doctrine espoused by several writers ancient and modern, pretends to compose the world without a Deity; that the world, composed of animals, vegetables, and brute matter, is self-existent and eternal; and that all events happen by a necessary chain of causes and effects. It will occur even at first view, that this theory is at least improbable: can any supposition be more improbable than that the great work of planning and executing this universe, beautiful in all its parts, and bound together by the most perfect laws, should be a blind work, performed without intelligence or contrivance? It would therefore be a sufficient answer to observe, that this doctrine, though highly improbable, is however given to the public, like a foundling, without cover or support. But affirmatively I urge, that it is fundamentally overturned by the knowledge we derive of Deity from our own nature: if a Deity exist, self-existence must be his peculiar attribute; and we cannot hesitate in rejecting the supposition of a self-existent world, when it is so natural to suppose that the whole is the operation of a self-existent Being, whose power and wisdom are adequate to that great work. I add, that this rational doctrine is eminently supported from contemplating the endless number of wise and benevolent effects, display’d every where on the face of this globe; which afford complete evidence of a wise and benevolent cause. As these effects are far above the power of man, we necessarily ascribe them to a superior Being, or in other words to the Deity (a) .2
Some philosophers there are, not indeed so hardened in scepticism as to deny the existence of a Deity: They acknowledge a self-existent Being; and seem willing to bestow on that Being power, wisdom, and every other perfection. But then they maintain, that the world, or matter at least, must also be self-existent. Their argument is, that ex nihilo nihil fit, that it is inconsistent for any thing to be made out of nothing, out of a nonens. To consider nothing or a nonens as a material or substance out of which things can be formed, like a statue out of stone or a sword out of iron, is I acknowledge a gross absurdity. But I perceive no absurdity nor inconsistence in supposing that matter was brought into existence by Almighty power; and the popular expression, that God made the world out of nothing, has no other meaning. It is true, that in the operations of men nothing can be produced but from antecedent materials; and so accustomed are we to such operations, as not readily to conceive how a thing can be brought into existence without antecedent materials, or made out of nothing, as commonly expressed. But will any man in sober sense venture to set bounds to Almighty power, where he cannot point out a clear incon-sistence? It is indeed difficult to conceive a thing so remote from common apprehension; but is there less difficulty in conceiving matter to exist without a cause, and to be intitled to the awful appellation of self-existent, like the Lord of the Universe, to whom a more exalted appellation cannot be given? Now, if it be within the utmost verge of possibility for matter to have been created, I conclude with the highest probability, that it owes its existence to Almighty power. The necessity of one self-existent being is intuitively certain; but I perceive no necessity, nor indeed probability, that there should be more than one. Difficulties about the creation of matter, testify our ignorance; but to argue from our ignorance that a thing cannot be, has always been held very weak reasoning. Our faculties are adapted to our present state, and perform their office in perfection. But to complain that they do not reach the origin of things, is no less absurd than to complain that we cannot ascend to the moon in order to be acquainted with its inhabitants. At the same time, it is a comfortable reflection, that the question, whether matter was created or no, is a pure speculation, and that either side may be adopted without impiety. To me it appears more simple and more natural to hold it to be a work of creation, than to be self-existent, and consequently independent of the Almighty either to create or to annihilate. I chearfully make the former an article of my Creed; but without anathemising those who adopt the latter. I would however have it understood, that I limit my concession to matter in its original rude state. I cannot possibly carry my complaisance so far as to comprehend the world in its present perfection. That immense machine composed of parts without number so artfully combined as to fulfil the intention of the maker, must be the production of a great being, omniscient as well as omnipotent. To assign blind fatality as the cause, is an insufferable absurdity.3
Many gross and absurd conceptions of Deity that have prevailed among rude nations, are urged by some writers as an objection against a sense of Deity. That objection shall not be overlooked; but it will be answered to better purpose, after these gross and absurd conceptions are ex-amined in the chapter immediately following.
The proof of a Deity from the innate sense here explained, differs materially from what is contained in essays on morality and natural religion (a) . The proof there given is founded on a chain of reasoning, altogether independent on the innate sense of Deity. Both equally produce conviction; but as sense operates intuitively without reasoning, the sense of Deity is made a branch of human nature, in order to enlighten those who are incapable of a long chain of reasoning; and to such, who make the bulk of mankind, it is more convincing, than the most perspicuous reasoning to a philosopher.
[* ]In the language even of Peru, there is not a word for expressing an abstract idea, such as time, endurance, space, existence, substance, matter, body. It is no less defective in expressing moral ideas, such as virtue, justice, gratitude, liberty. The Yameos, a tribe on the river Oroonoko described by Condamine, use the word poettarraroincouroac to express the number three, and have no word for a greater number. The Brasilian language is nearly as barren.
[(a) ]Lib. 5.
[1. ]“and in Peru . . . is not known”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]A Greenland boat.
[* ]See this principle beautifully explained and illustrated in a sermon upon the love of God, by Doctor Butler Bishop of Durham, a writer of the first rank. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[(a) ]Genesis, xlii. 21. 22.
[(a) ]See Essays on Morality and Natural Religion, part 2. sect. 3.
[(a) ]Book 2. sketch 1.
[(a) ]First sketch of this third book, sect. 1.
[2. ]In the 1st edition this paragraph is as follows: “A theory espoused by several writers ancient and modern, must not be overlooked; because it pretends to compose the world without a Deity; which would reduce the sense of a Deity to be delusive, if it have any existence. The theory is, That the world, composed of animals, vegetables, and brute matter, is self-existent and eternal; and that all events happen by a necessary chain of causes and effects. In this theory, tho’ wisdom and benevolence are conspicuous in every part, yet the great work of planning and executing the whole, is understood to have been done blindly without intelligence or contrivance. It is scarce necessary to remark, that this theory, assumed at pleasure, is highly improbable, if not absurd; and yet that it is left naked to the world without the least cover or support. But what I chiefly insist on is, that the endless number of wise and benevolent effects, display’d every where on the face of this globe, afford to us complete evidence of a wise and benevolent cause; and as these effects are far above the power of man, we necessarily ascribe them to some superior being, or in other words to the Deity. And this is sufficient to remove the present objection against the existence of a sense of a Deity. But I am not satisfied with this partial victory. I proceed to observe, that nothing more is required but the proof a Deity, to overturn the supposition of self-existence in a world composed of many heterogeneous parts, and of a chain of causes and effects framed without intelligence or foresight, tho’ full of wisdom and contrivance in every part. For if a Deity exist, wise and powerful above all other beings, self-existence ought to be his peculiar attribute; and no person of rationality will have any hesitation in rejecting the self-existence of such a world, when so natural a supposition lies in view, as that the whole is the operation of the truly self-existing being, whose power and wisdom are fully adequate to that arduous task” [2:360–61].
[3. ]Paragraph added in 3rd edition.
[(a) ]Part 2. sect. 7.