Vacherot, La metaphysique et la science. Preface, p. xxix.
THE REVIVAL OF ATHEISM.
(At Geneva, 24th Nov. 1863.—At Lausanne, 18th Jan. 1864.)
The subject of the present Lecture will be—The revival of Atheism. And I do not employ the word ’atheism’—a term which has been so greatly abused—without mature reflection. When Socrates opposed the idea of the holy God to the impure idols of paganism; when he dethroned Jupiter and his train in order to celebrate “the supreme God, who made and who guides the world, who maintains the works of creation in the flower of youth, and in a vigor always new," they accused Socrates of being an atheist. Descartes, the great geometrician who proclaimed the existence of God more certain than any theorem of geometry, has been denounced as an atheist. When men began to forsake the temples of idols in order to worship the unknown God who had just manifested Himself to the world, the Christians were accused of atheism because they refused to bow down to wood and stone. Such abuses might dispose one to renounce the use of the word. Besides, when a word has been for a long time the signal of persecution and the forerunner of death, one hesitates to employ it. In an age when atheists were burned, generous minds would use their best efforts to prove that men suspected of atheism had not denied God, because they would not have been understood had they attempted to say—“They have denied God perhaps, but that is no reason for killing them.” Thence arose the sophistical apologies for certain doctrines, apologies made with a good intention, but which trouble the sincerity of history. These are the brands of servitude, which must disappear where liberty prevails. We are able now to call things by their proper names, for there exist no longer for atheism either stakes or prisons. In affirming that certain writers, some of whom are just now the favorites of fame, are shaking the foundations of all religion, one exposes no one to severities which have disappeared from our manners, one only exposes oneself to the being taxed with intolerance and fanaticism. But candor is here a duty. If this duty were not fulfilled, liberty of thought would no longer be anything else than liberty of negation; and, while truth was oppressed, error alone would be set free.
Let us settle clearly the terms of this discussion. It is often asserted that an atheist does not exist. Does this mean that the lips which deny God, always in some way contradict themselves? Does it mean that every soul bears witness to God, perhaps unconsciously to itself, either by a secret hope, or by a secret dread? This is true, as I think; but we are speaking here of doctrines and not of men. It is true again that the negation of the Creator allows of the existence,