Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
A Self-Trained Berkeleian
By Jonathan Edwards (17031758)
[From Notes on Natural Science. Written in his Sixteenth Year.]
AND how doth it grate upon the mind, to think that Something should be from all eternity, and yet Nothing all the while be conscious of it. To illustrate this: Let us suppose that the World had a being from all eternity, and had many great changes, and wonderful revolutions, and all the while Nothing knew it, there was no knowledge in the Universe of any such thing. How is it possible to bring the mind to imagine this? Yea, it is really impossible it should be, that anything should exist, and Nothing know it. Then you will say, If it be so, it is, because Nothing has any existence but in consciousness: No, certainly, nowhere else, but either in created or uncreated consciousness.
Suppose there were another Universe, merely of bodies, created at a great distance from this; created in excellent order, harmonious motions, and a beautiful variety; and there was no created intelligence in it, nothing but senseless bodies, and nothing but God knew anything of it, I demand where else that Universe would have a being, but only in the Divine consciousness? Certainly, in no other respect. There would be figures, and magnitudes, and motions, and proportions; but where, where else, except in the Almightys knowledge? How is it possible there should?But then you will say, For the same reason, in a room closely shut up, which nobody sees, there is nothing, except in Gods knowledge.I answer, Created beings are conscious of the effects of what is in the room; for, perhaps, there is not one leaf of a tree, nor a spear of grass, but what produces effects, all over the Universe, and will produce them, to the end of eternity. But any otherwise, there is nothing in a room so shut up, but only in Gods consciousness. How can anything be there, any other way? This will appear to be truly so, to any one who thinks of it, with the whole united strength of his mind. Let us suppose, for illustration, this impossibility, that all the spirits in the Universe were, for a time, deprived of their consciousness, and that Gods consciousness, at the same time, were to be intermitted. I say the Universe, for that time, would cease to be, of itself; and this not merely, as we speak, because the Almighty could not attend to uphold it; but because God could know nothing of it. It is our foolish imagination, that will not suffer us to see it. We fancy there may be figures and magnitudes, relations and properties, without any one knowing of it. But it is our imagination hurts us. We do not know what figures and properties are.
Our imagination makes us fancy that we see shapes, and colors, and magnitudes, though nobody is there to behold it. But to help our imagination, let us thus state the case: Let us suppose the creation deprived of every ray of light, so that there should not be the least glimmering of light in the Universe. Now all will own, that, in such case, the Universe would really be immediately deprived of all its colors. No one part of the Universe is any more red, or blue, or green, or yellow, or black, or white, or light, or dark, or transparent, or opaque. There would be no visible distinction between the Universe and the rest of the incomprehensible void: yea, there would be no difference, in these respects, between the Universe and the infinite void; so that any part of that void would really be as light and as dark, as white and as black, as red and as green, as blue and as brown, as transparent and as opaque, as any part of the Universe: so that, in such case, there would be no difference, in these respects, between the Universe and Nothing. So also, there would be no difference between one part of the Universe and another: all, in these respects, is alike confounded with, and undistinguished from, infinite emptiness.
At the same time, also, let us suppose the Universe to be altogether deprived of motion, and all parts of it to be at perfect rest. Then, the Universe would not differ from the void, in this respect: there would be no more motion in the one, than in the other. Then, also, solidity would cease. All that we mean, or can be meant, by solidity, is resistance: resistance to touch, the resistance of some parts of space. This is all the knowledge we get of solidity, by our senses, and, I am sure, all that we can get, any other way. But solidity shall be shown to be nothing else, more fully, hereafter. But there can be no resistance, if there is no motion. One body cannot resist another, when there is perfect rest among them. But, you will say, Though there is no actual resistance, yet there is potential resistance: that is, such and such parts of space would resist upon occasion. But this is all that I would have, that there is no solidity now; not but that God could cause there to be, on occasion. And if there is no solidity, there is no extension, for extension is the extendedness of solidity. Then, all figure, and magnitude, and proportion, immediately cease. Put, then, both these suppositions together: that is, deprive the Universe of light, and motion, and the case would stand thus, with the Universe: There would be neither white nor black, neither blue nor brown, neither bright nor shaded, pellucid nor opaque, no noise nor sound, neither heat nor cold, neither fluid nor solid, neither wet nor dry, neither hard nor soft, nor solidity, nor extension, nor figure, nor magnitude, nor proportion, nor body, nor spirit. What, then, is to become of the Universe? Certainly, it exists nowhere, but in the Divine mind. This will be abundantly clearer to one, after having read what I have further to say of solidity, etc.: so that we see that a Universe, without motion, can exist nowhere else, but in the mindeither infinite or finite.
Corollary. It follows from hence, that those beings, which have knowledge and consciousness, are the only proper, and real, and substantial beings: inasmuch as the being of other things is only by these. From hence, we may see the gross mistake of those who think material things the most substantial beings, and spirits more like a shadow; whereas, spirits only are properly substance.