Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation
I. Proposition I. First then, it is absolutely and undeniably certain, that Something must have existed from eternity. something has existed from all eternity.—8This is so evident and undeniable a proposition, that no atheist in any age has ever presumed to assert the contrary; and therefore there is little need of being particular in the proof of it. For since something now is, it is evident that something always was; otherwise the things that now are must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely and without cause, which is a plain contradiction in terms. For to say a thing is produced, and yet that there is no cause at all of that production, is to say that something is effected, when it is effected by nothing; that is, at the same time when it is not effected at all.—Whatever exists, has a cause, a reason, a ground of its existence; (a foundation, on which its existence relies; a ground or reason why it doth exist rather than not exist;) either in the necessity of its own nature, and then it must have been of itself eternal; or in the will of some other being, and then that other being must, at least in the order of nature and causality, have existed before it.
Of the difficulty of conceiving eternity. That something therefore has really existed from eternity, is one of the certainest and most evident truths in the world; acknowledged by all men, and disputed by none. Yet as to the manner how it can be; there is nothing in nature more difficult for the mind of man to conceive, than this very first plain and self-evident truth. For, how any thing can have existed eternally; that is, how an eternal duration can be now actually past, is a thing utterly as impossible for our narrow understandings to comprehend, as any thing that is not an express contradiction can be imagined to be: and yet to deny the truth of the proposition, that an eternal duration is now actually past, would be to assert something still far more unintelligible, even a real and express contradiction.
Difficulties arising merely from the nature of eternity, not to be regarded, because equal in all suppositions. The use I would make of this observation, is this: That since in all questions concerning the nature and perfections of God, or concerning any thing to which the idea of eternity or infinity is joined; though we 9can indeed demonstrate certain propositions to be true, yet it is impossible for us to comprehend or frame any adequate or complete ideas of the manner how the things so demonstrated can be: therefore, when once any proposition is clearly demonstrated to be true, it ought not to disturb us that there be perhaps perplexing difficulties on the other side, which merely for want of adequate ideas of the manner of the existence of the things demonstrated, are not easy to be cleared. Indeed, were it possible there should be any proposition which could equally be demonstrated on both sides of the question, or which could on both sides be reduced to imply a contradiction; (as some have very inconsiderately asserted;) this, it must be confessed, would alter the case. Upon this absurd supposition, all difference of true and false, all thinking and reasoning, and the use of all our faculties, would be entirely at an end. But when to demonstration on the one side, there are opposed on the other, only difficulties raised from our want of having adequate ideas of the things themselves; this ought not to be esteemed an objection of any real weight. It is directly and clearly demonstrable, (and acknowledged to be so, even by all atheists that ever lived,) that something has been from eternity: All the objections therefore raised against the eternity of any thing, grounded merely on our want of having an adequate idea of eternity, ought to be looked upon as of no real solidity. Thus in other the like instances: It is demonstrable, for example, that something must be actually infinite: All the metaphysical difficulties, therefore, which arise usually from applying the measures and relations of things finite, to what is infinite; and from supposing finites to be [aliquot] parts of infinite, when indeed they are not properly so, but only as mathematical points to quantity, which have no proportion at all: (and from imagining all infinites to be equal, when in things disparate they manifestly are not so; an infinite line, being not only not equal to, but infinitely less than 10an infinite surface, and an infinite surface than space infinite in all dimensions:) All metaphysical difficulties, I say, arising from false suppositions of this kind, ought to be esteemed vain and of no force. Again: it is in like manner demonstrable, that quantity is infinitely divisible: All the objections therefore raised, by supposing the sums total of all infinities to be equal, when in disparate parts they manifestly are not so; and by comparing the imaginary equality or inequality of the number of the parts of unequal quantities, whose parts have really no number at all, they all having parts without number; ought to be looked upon as weak and altogether inconclusive: To ask whether the parts of unequal quantities be equal in number or not, when they have no number at all, being the same thing as to ask whether two lines drawn from differently distant points, and each of them continued infinitely, be equal in length or not, that is, whether they end together, when neither of them have any end at all.