One who denies the existence of God:–this is called speculative atheism. Professing to believe in God, and yet acting contrary to this belief, is called practical atheism. Absurd and irrational as atheism is, it has had its votaries and martyrs. In the seventeenth century, Spinosa, a foreigner, was its noted defender. Lucilio Vanini, a native of Naples, also publicly taught atheism in France; and, being convicted of it at Toulouse, was condemned and executed in 1619. It has been questioned, however, whether any man ever seriously adopted such a principle. The pretensions to it have been generally founded on pride or affectation. The open avowal of atheism by several of the leading members of the French convention seems to have been an extraordinary moral phenomenon. This, however, as we have seen, was too vague and uncomfortable a principle to last long. Archbishop Tillotson justly observes, that speculative atheism is unreasonable upon five accounts. 1. Because it gives no tolerable account of the existence of the world.–2. It does not give any reasonable account of the universal consent of mankind in this apprehension, that there is a God.–3. It requires more evidence for things than they are capable of giving.–4. The atheist pretends to know that which no man can know.–5. Atheism contradicts itself. Under the first of these he thus argues.–“I appeal to any man of reason whether any thing can be more unreasonable than obstinately to impute an effect to chance, which carries in the very face of it all the arguments and characters of a wise design and contrivance. Was ever any considerable work, in which there was required a great variety of parts, and a regular and orderly disposition of those parts, done by chance! Will chance fit means to ends, and that in ten thousand instances, and not fail in any one? How often might a man, after he had jumbled a set of letters in a bag, fling them out upon the ground, before they would fall into an exact poem; yea, or so much as make a good discourse in prose? And may not a little book be as easily made by chance as the great volume of the world? How long might a man be in sprinkling colours upon canvass with a careless hand, before they would happen to make the exact picture of a man? And is a man easier made by chance than his picture? How long might twenty thousand blind men, who should be sent out from several remote parts of England, wander up and down before they would all meet upon Salisbury plain, and fall into rank and file in the exact order of an army? And, yet, this is much more easy to be imagined than how the innumerable blind parts of matter should rendezvous themselves into a world. A man that sees Henry the Seventh’s chapel at Westminster might with as good reason maintain (yea, with much better, considering the vast difference betwixt that little structure and the huge fabric of the world) that it was never contrived or built by any means, but that the stones did by chance grow into those curious figures into which they seem to have been cut and graven; and that upon a time (as tales usually begin) the materials of that building, the stone, mortar, timber, iron, lead, and glass, happily met together, and very fortunately ranged themselves into that delicate order in which we see them now, so close compacted, that it must be a very great chance that parts them again. What would the world think of a man that should advance such an opinion as this, and write a book for it? If they would do him right, they ought to look upon him as mad; but yet with a little more reason than any man can have to say, that the world was made by chance, or that the first men grew up out of the earth as plants do now. For, can any thing be more ridiculous, and against all reason, than to ascribe the production of men to the first fruitfulness of the earth, without, so much as one instance and experiment, in any age or history, to countenance so monstrous a supposition? The thing is, at first sight, so gross and palpable, that no discourse about it can make it more apparent. And yet, these shameful beggars of principles give this precarious account of the original of things; assume to themselves to be the men of reason, the great wits of the world, the only cautious and wary persons that hate to be imposed upon, that must have convincing evidence for every thing, and can admit of nothing, without a clear demonstration of it”.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.