"I suppose you will wonder at the present trouble from one who is a perfect stranger to you, though you are not so to him; but I hope the occasion will excuse my boldness. I have made it, sir, my business, ever since I thought myself capable of such sort of reasoning, to prove to myself the being and attributes of God: And being sensible that it is a matter of the last consequence, I endeavoured, after a demonstrative proof, not only more fully to satisfy my own mind, but also, in order to defend the great truths of natural religion, and those of the Christian revelation which follow from them, against all opposers; but must own with concern, that hitherto I have been unsucessful; and though I have got very probable arguments, yet I can go but a very little way with demonstration in the proof of those things. When first your book on those subjects (which, by all, whom I have discoursed with, is so justly esteemed,) was recommended to me, I was in great hopes of having all my inquiries answered; but since, in some places, either through my not understanding your meaning, or what else I know not, even that has failed me, I almost despair of ever arriving to such a satisfaction as I aim at, unless by the method I now use. You cannot but know, sir, that of two different expressions of the same thing, though equally clear to some persons, yet, to others, one of them is sometimes very obscure, though the other be perfectly intelligible: Perhaps this may be my case here; and could I see those of your arguments, of which I doubt, differently proposed, possibly I might yield a ready assent to them. This, sir, I cannot but think a sufficient excuse for the present trouble; it being such an one as I hope may prevail for an answer, with one who seems to aim at nothing more than that good work of instructing others."
"In your Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God Prop. VI. [edit.2d, p.69 and 70,] you propose to prove the infinity or omnipresence of the self-existent being. The former part of the proof seems highly probable, but the latter part, which seems to aim at demonstration, is not to me convincing. The latter part of the paragraph is, if I mistake not, an entire argument of itself, which runs thus; to suppose a finite being to be self-existent, is to say that it is a contradiction for that being not to exist, the absence of which may yet be conceived without a contradiction; which is the greatest absurdity in the world. The sense of these words [the absence of which] seems plainly to be determined, by the following sentence, to mean its absence from any particular place. Which sentence is to prove it to be an absurdity; and is this; for if a being can, without a contradiction, be absent from one place, it may, without a contradiction, be absent from another place, and from all places. Now, supposing this to be a consequence, all that it proves is, that if a being can, without a contradiction, be absent from one place, at one time, it may without a contradiction be absent from another place, and so from all places, at different times; (for I cannot see, that if a being can be absent from one place at one time, therefore it may without a contradiction be absent from all places at the same time, i. e. may cease to exist.) Now, if it proves no more than this, I cannot see that it reduces the supposition to any absurdity. Suppose I could demonstrate, that any particular man should live a thousand years; this man might, without a contradiction, be absent from one, and from all places, at different times; but it would not from thence follow that he might be absent from all places at the same time, i. e. that he might cease to exist. No; this would be a contradiction, because I am supposed to have demonstrated that he should live a thousand years. It would be exactly the same, if, instead of a thousand years, I should say, for ever; and the proof seems the same, whether it be applied to a self-existent or a dependent being. What else I have to offer is in relation to your proof that the self-existent being must of necessity be but one: Which proof is as follows, in Prop. VII, [edit.2d. p.74,] -- to suppose two or more different natures existing of themselves, necessarily and independent from each other, implies this plain contradiction; that each of them being independent from the other, they may either of them be supposed to exist alone; so that it will be no contradiction to imagine the other not to exist, and consequently neither of them will be necessarily existing. The supposition indeed implies, that since each of these beings is independent from the other, they may either of them exist alone, i. e. without any relation to, or dependence on the other; but where is the third idea, to connect this proposition and the following one, viz. so that it will be no contradiction to imagine the other not to exist? Were this a consequence of the former proposition, I allow it would be demonstration, by the first corollary of Prop. III, [2d ed. p.26;] but since these two propositions [they may either of them be supposed to exist alone,] and [so that it will be no contradiction to imagine the other not to exist,] are very widely different; since likewise it is no immediate consequence, that because either may be supposed to exist independent from the other, therefore the other may be supposed not to exist at all; how is what was proposed, proved? That the propositions are different, I think is plain; and whether there be an immediate connexion, every body that reads your book must judge for themselves. I must say, for my own part, the absurdity does not appear at first sight, any more than the absurdity of saying that the angles below the base in an isosceles triangle are unequal; which, though it is absolutely false, yet I suppose no one will lay down the contrary for an axiom; because, though it is true, yet there is need of a proof to make it appear so.
"Perhaps, it may be answered, that I have not rightly explained the words, to exist alone;' and that they do not mean only to exist independent from the other; but that existing alone means that nothing exists with it. Whether this or the other was meant, I cannot determine; but, whichever it was, what I have said will hold. For if this last be the sense of those words, [they either of them may be supposed to exist alone;] it indeed implies that it will be no contradiction to suppose the other not to exist. But then I ask, how come these two propositions to be connected: That, to suppose two different natures existing of themselves, necessarily and independent from each other, implies that each of them may be supposed to exist alone in this sense? which is exactly the same as I said before, only applied to different sentences. So that if existing alone be understood as I first took it, I allow it is implied in the supposition; but cannot see that the consequence is, that it will be no contradiction to suppose the other not to exist. But if the words existing alone,' are meant in the latter sense, I grant, that if either of them may be supposed thus to exist alone, it will be no contradiction to suppose the other not to exist. But then I cannot see, that to suppose two different natures existing, of themselves, necessarily and independent from each other, implies that either of them may be supposed to exist alone in this sense of the words, but only that either of them may be supposed to exist without having any relation to the other, and that there will be no need of the existence of the one in order to the existence of the other. But though, upon this account, were there no other principle of its existence, it might cease to exist; yet, on the account of the necessity of its own nature, which is quite distinct from the other, it is an absolute absurdity to suppose it not to exist.
"Thus, sir, I have proposed my doubts, with the reasons of them: In which, if I have wrested your words to another sense than you designed them, or in any respect argued unfairly, I assure you it was without design. So I hope you will impute it to mistake. And, if it will not be too great a trouble, let me once more beg the favour of a line from you, by which you will lay me under a particular obligation to be, what, with the rest of the world, I now am,
Your most obliged Servant, &c."