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DR RICHARD BENTLEY.
AMONGST numberless benefactions to the cause of religion and humanity, the Hon. Robert Boyle settled by his will an annual stipend so as to secure the preaching of eight sermons every year, proving the Christian religion against notorious infidels—viz., Atheists, Deists, Pagans, Jews, and Mohammedans. The first series was delivered in 1692 by the acute, learned, and, we are sorry to add, litigious Richard Bentley. * With much of the wit of his contemporary, South, and not a little of his style, the lectures by the future Master of Trinity are the most brilliant in the three well-known folios. Even now they may be considered “light reading," and at the time when their hits at the “ Leviathan" and Hobbism could be thoroughly appreciated, they must have been exceedingly amusing
The Atomic Theory. If they will still be meddling with atoms, be hammering and squeezing understanding out of them, I would advise them to make use of their own understanding for the instance. Nothing, in my opinion, could run us down more effectually than that; for we readily allow, that if any understanding can possibly be produced by such clashing of senseless atoms, it is that of an Atheist, that hath the fairest pretensions and the best title to it. We know, it is “the fool that hath said in his heart, There is no God.” And it is no less a truth than a paradox, that there are no greater fools than atheistical wits, and none so credulous as infidels. No article of religion,
* Born at Wakefield, January 27, 1662; died at Cambridge, July 14, 1742.
though as demonstrable as the nature of the thing can admit, hath credibility enough for them. And yet these same cautious and quick-sighted gentlemen can wink and swallow down this sottish opinion about percipient atoms, which exceeds in incredibility all the fictions of Æsop's fables. For is it not every whit as likely, or more, that cocks and bulls might discourse, and hinds and panthers hold conferences about religion, as that atoms can do so ? that atoms can invent arts and sciences, can institute society and government, can make leagues and confederacies, can devise methods of peace and stratagems of war? And, moreover, the modesty of mythology deserves to be commended ; the scenes there are laid at a distance : it is once upon a time, in the days of yore, and in the land of Utopia, there was a dialogue between an oak and a cedar: whereas the Atheist is so impudently silly, as to bring the farce of his atoms upon the theatre of the present age; to make dull, senseless matter transact all public and private affairs, by sea and by land, in houses of parliament, and closets of princes. Can any credulity be comparable to this ? If a man should affirm, that an ape, casually meeting with pen, ink, and paper, and falling to scribble, did happen to write exactly the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, would an Atheist believe such a story ? And yet he can easily digest as incredible as that; that the innumerable members of a human body, which, in the style of the Scripture, * are all written in the Book of God,” and may admit of almost infinite variations and transpositions above the twentyfour letters of the alphabet, were at first fortuitously scribbled, and by mere accident compacted into this beautiful, and noble, and most wonderfully useful frame which we now see it carry. But this will be the argument of my next discourse, which is the second proposition drawn from the text, that the admirable structure of human bodies, whereby they are fitted
* Psalm cxxxix. 16.
to live, and move, and be vitally informed by the soul, is unquestionably the workmanship of a most wise, and powerful, and beneficent Maker: to which Almighty Creator, together with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory and majesty and power, both now and from henceforth ever
But, secondly, we affirm that no insect or animal did ever proceed equivocally from putrefaction, unless in miraculous cases, as in Egypt by the divine judgments, but all are generated from parents of their own kind, male and female; a discovery of that great importance that perhaps few inventions of this age can pretend to equal usefulness and merit, and which alone is sufficient (if the vices of men did not captivate their reason) to explode and exterminate rank Atheism out of the world. For if all animals be propagated by generation from parents of their own species, and there be no instance in nature of even a gnat or a mite, either now or in former ages, spontaneously produced, how came there to be such animals in being, and whence could they proceed? There is no need of much study and deliberation about it; for either they have existed eternally by infinite successions already gone and past, which is in its very notion absurd and impossible, or their origin must be ascribed to a supernatural and divine power that formed and created them. Now, to prove our assertion about the seminal production of all living creatures, that we may not repeat the reasons which we have offered before against the first mechanical formation of human bodies, which are equally valid against the spontaneous origin of the minutest insects, we appeal to observation and experiment, which carry the strongest conviction with them, and make the most sensible and lasting impressions. For, whereas it hath been the general tradition and belief that maggots and flies breed in putrefied carcasses, and particularly bees come from oxen, and hornets from horses, and scorpions from crab-fish, &c., all this is now found to be fable and mistake. That sagacious and learned naturalist, Francisco Redi, made innumerable trials with the putrid flesh of all sorts of beasts and fowls, and fishes and serpents, with corrupted cheese, and herbs, and fruits, and even insects themselves; and he constantly found, that all those kinds of putrefaction did only afford a nest and aliment for the eggs and young of those insects that he admitted to come there, but produced no animal of themselves by a spontaneous formation: for, when he suffered those things to putrefy in hermetically sealed glasses, and vessels close covered with paper-and not only so, lest the exclusion of the air might be supposed to hinder the experiment, but in vessels covered with fine lawn, so as to admit the air and keep out the insects—no living thing was ever produced there, though he exposed them to the action of the sun, in the warm climate of Florence, and in the kindest season of the year. Even flies crushed and corrupted, when enclosed in such vessels, did never procreate a new fly, though there, if in any case, one would have expected that success. And when the vessels were open, and the insects had free access to the aliment within them, he diligently observed that no other species were produced but of such as he saw go in and feed, and deposit their eggs there, which they would readily do in all putrefaction, even in a mucilage of bruised spiders, where worms were soon hatched out of such eggs, and quickly changed into flies of the same kind with their parents. And was not that a surprising transformation indeed, if, according to the vulgar opinion, those dead and corrupted spiders spontaneously changed into flies? And thus far we are obliged to the diligence of Redi; from whence we may conclude, that no dead flesh, nor herbs, nor other putrefied bodies, nor anything that hath not then actually either a vege
table or animal life, can produce any insect. And if we should allow, as he did, that every animal and plant doth naturally breed and nourish by its substance some peculiar insect, yet the Atheist could make no advantage of this concession as to a like origination of mankind. For surely it is beyond even an Atheist's credulity and impudence, to affirm that the first men might proceed out of the galls and tumours of leaves of trees, as some maggots and flies are supposed to do now; or might grow upon trees, as the story goes about barnacles; or perhaps might be the parasites of some vast prodigious animals, whose species is now extinct. But though we suppose him guilty of such an extravagant folly, he will only shift the difficulty, and not wholly remove it; for we shall still expect an account of the spontaneous formation of those mountainous kind of animals and men-bearing trees. And as to the worms that are bred in the intestines and other inward parts of living creatures, their production is not material to our present inquiry, till some Atheist do affirm, that his own ancestors had such an original. I say, if we should allow this concession of Redi, it would do no service to our adversaries: but even here also they are defeated by the happy curiosity of Malpighi and others, who observed and discovered, that each of those tumours and excrescences of plants, out of which generally issues a fly or a worm, are at first made by such insects, which wound the tender buds with a long hollow trunk, and deposit an egg in the hole with a sharp corroding liquor, which causeth a swelling in the leaf, and so closeth the orifice: and within this tumour the worm is hatched, and receives its aliment, till it hath eat its way through.
And then, as to the vulgar opinion, that frogs are made in the clouds, and brought down by the rains, it may be thus easily refuted: for at that very instant, when they are supposed to descend, you may find, by dissection, their stomachs full of meat newly gathered or partially digested ; so that