Boyle on Atheism

Boyle on Atheism

Transcribed and edited by J.J. MacIntosh
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 550
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442671553
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    Boyle on Atheism
    Book Description:

    Opposition to atheism flourished in the seventeenth century, and famed scientist-philosopher Robert Boyle (1627-91) was so opposed to it that he had planned throughout his life to publish a work on his various objections, a project that never came to fruition. Despite this, a great deal of his thought on atheism still exists within the manuscripts he left behind after his death.

    WithBoyle on Atheism, J.J. MacIntosh has culled the Boyle manuscripts held at the Royal Society Library in London and transcribed the portions that relate to atheism, arranging them in the order Boyle appears to have intended (as outlined in one of the pieces). The volume contains Boyle's views on the causes (and remedies) of atheism, the nature of God, various possible arguments for God's existence, the excellency of Christianity, and the character of atheists and the deficiencies to be found in their arguments.

    To round out the volume, MacIntosh has added a short biography of Boyle, a general introduction to the text, introductions to the various sections, and explanatory footnotes.Boyle on Atheismprovides, for the first time, and at length, publication of the material that Boyle himself thought worth marshalling on a subject of great personal importance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7155-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS FOR BOYLE’S WORK
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. General Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    It was Boyle’s intention to publish a treatise on atheism, and he made notes towards such a work throughout his adult life. In Oldenburg’s list of Boyle’s papers made in March 1677, there appears the title ‘Observations upon the causes and Pretences and Remedies of Atheisme.’aAgain, in a further list compiled in July 1684, we have ‘Some Considerations about some causes of Atheism.’bAlso, in a notebook dating from the late 1680s we have ‘Considerations about some Causes & Remedyes of Atheism.’cFinally, in a list of Boyle’s unpublished writings dated 3 July 1691, there appears ‘An imperfect and...

  6. Boyle’s Life
    (pp. 3-48)

    There is no definitive full-scale biography of Boyle. Readers interested the full life story should turn first to Hunter 1994b, which contains an excellent introduction by Hunter as well as the best transcription of Boyle’s own third-person autobiographical ‘An Account of Philaretus During His Minority’ (BP 37.170r-184v, with some misordering), written between Boyle’s coming of age in January 1648 and July of the following year. Other fairly full accounts are Birch’s 1744Life, Maddison 1969, and More 1944, which is interesting but must be read with considerable care. More often fails to distinguish his own conjectures from Boyle’s views, and...

  7. 1 Boyle’s Headings and Overview
    (pp. 49-69)

    The Observations containd in this Paper are in the Entrance of it reduc’d to three Heads, to which as many Sections are allow’d.

    In the First of these, the Author represents some Reasons why it should not be thought strange if it be found¹ somewhat difficult to demonstrate the Existence of a Deity.

    The First of these Reasons is, that by reason of the selfe existence and Primity of God, his Essence cannot be Causable.

    The Vitious Affections & Habits and the depravd frame of mind to be met with in most Atheists do very much indispose them to be...

  8. 2 Demonstration and Its Difficulties
    (pp. 70-170)

    At the end of the sixteenth century, despite the re-emergence of classical scepticism, the general view was still that demonstrative certainty was obtainable in empirical matters. It is available, Thomas Blundeville suggested in hisArt of Logike(1599), from three sources: universal experience, principles, and the natural ability we have to follow logical arguments. Universal experience, he tells us, is

    the common iudgement of men in such things as are to be perceyued and knowne by the outwarde sences: as fyre to be hot, the heauens to turne round about, wine and pepper to be hot in operation, women to...

  9. 3 Arguments for God’s Existence
    (pp. 171-315)

    Boyle is clear that moral demonstrationsshouldbe sufficient, but he is also clear that they are not full demonstrations, so his constant theme is that they need not convince determined disbelievers:

    For, besides the difficulty of treating clearly and cogently of such abstruse subjects as are many that relate to Atheism; the Will and Affections have so great an influence upon some mens Understandings, that ‘tis almost as difficult to make thembeleive, as to make themLove, against their Will. And it must be a very dazzleing Light, that makes an impression upon those that obstinately shut their...

  10. 4 The Unprevalence of Arguments against God’s Existence
    (pp. 316-382)

    In the piece here reproduced as § 4.1, Boyle is engaged in a vigorous on classical Epicurean atomism. Elsewhere in Boyle’s published works and in the manuscripts there are many references to Epicurean atomism and atheism, and it is clear both that he associated the two and that he- nonetheless had a considerable respect for Epicurus. Leaving aside the tracts written specifically in response to Linus, Hobbes, and More, and the many theological references to Moses, Solomon, and St Paul, Epicurus is one of only half a dozen thinkers to whom Boyle constantly referred, the others being Aristotle, Descartes, Gassendi,...

  11. 5 The Conclusion
    (pp. 383-386)

    I have now gone through the Particulars I thought fit at present to offer about Atheisme. I confess I purposely forbore divers things that might have been pertinently alleadged, and I have been the more succinct in those I have mentiond that I might comply with my intended brevity. But this was not the only motive I had to pass over in silence divers Arguments wont to be urged against Atheists, for some I pretermitted, because as they are usually proposd, they seem to me not be so warily proposd as I could wish, & as I thinke some of...

  12. Appendix A: Dating
    (pp. 387-410)
  13. Appendix B: People Mentioned by Boyle in This Volume
    (pp. 411-422)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 423-458)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 459-480)
  16. Index
    (pp. 481-493)