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Power, Omnipotence

I suppose that the man who reads this article is convinced that this world is formed with intelligence, and that a little astronomy and anatomy suffices to make this universal and supreme intelligence admired.

Can he know by himself if this intelligence is omnipotent, that is to say, infinitely powerful? Has he the least notion of the infinite, to understand what is an infinite power?

The celebrated historian philosopher, David Hume, says in "Particular Providence": "A weight of ten ounces is lifted in a balance by another weight; therefore this other weight is of more than ten ounces; but one can adduce no reason why it should weigh a hundred ounces."

One can say likewise: You recognize a supreme intelligence strong enough to form you, to preserve you for a limited time, to reward you, to punish you. Do you know enough of this power to demonstrate that it can do still more?

How can you prove by your reason that this being can do more than he has done?

The life of all animals is short. Could he make it longer?

All animals are the prey of each other: everything is born to be devoured. Could he form without destroying?

You do not know what nature is. You cannot therefore know if nature has not forced him to do only the things he has done.

This globe is only a vast field of destruction and carnage. Either the great Being has been able to make of it an eternal abode of delight for all sentient beings, or He has not been able. If He has been able and if He has not done so, fear to regard him as malevolent; but if He has not been able, fear not to look on Him as a very great power, circumscribed by nature in His limits.

Whether or no His power is infinite does not regard you. It is a matter of indifference to a subject whether his master possesses five hundred leagues of land or five thousand; he is subject neither more nor less.

Which would be the greater insult to this ineffable Being, to say: "He has made miserable men without being able to dispense with them, or He has made them for His pleasure?"

Many sects represent Him as cruel; others, for fear of admitting a wicked God, have the audacity to deny His existence. Is it not better to say that probably the necessity of His nature and the necessity of things have determined everything?

The world is the theatre of moral ill and physical ill; one is only too aware of it: and the "All is good" of Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke and Pope, is only a witty paradox, a poor joke.

The two principles of Zarathustra and Manes, so carefully scrutinized by Bayle, are a still poorer joke. They are, as has been observed already, Molière's two doctors, one of whom says to the other: "Grant me the emetic, and I will grant you the bleeding." Manichæism is absurd; and that is why it has had so many supporters.

I admit that I have not been enlightened by all that Bayle says about the Manichæans and the Paulicians. That is controversy; I would have preferred pure philosophy. Why discuss our mysteries beside Zarathustra's? As soon as you dare to treat of our mysteries, which need only faith and no reasoning, you open precipices for yourself.

The trash in our scholastic theology has nothing to do with the trash in Zarathustra's reveries.

Why debate original sin with Zarathustra? There was never any question of it save in St. Augustine's time. Neither Zarathustra nor any legislator of antiquity had ever heard speak of it.

If you dispute with Zarathustra, put under lock and key the old and the new Testaments which he did not know, and which one must revere without desiring to explain them.

What then should I have said to Zarathustra? My reason cannot admit two gods who fight, that is good only in a poem where Minerva quarrels with Mars. My feeble reason is much more content with a single great Being, whose essence was to make, and who has made all that nature has permitted Him, than it is satisfied with two great Beings, one of whom spoils the works of the other. Your bad principle Ahriman, has not been able to upset a single one of the astronomical and physical laws of the good principle Ormuzd; everything progresses in the heavens with the greatest regularity. Why should the wicked Ahriman have had power over this little globe of the world?

If I had been Ahriman, I should have attacked Ormuzd in his fine grand provinces of so many suns and stars. I should not have limited myself to making war on him in a little village.

There is much evil in this village: but whence have you the knowledge that this evil is not inevitable?

You are forced to admit an intelligence diffused over the universe; but

(1) do you know, for instance, if this power reaches right to foreseeing the future? You have asserted it a thousand times; but you have never been able either to prove it, or to understand it. You cannot know how any being whatever sees what is not. Well, the future is not; therefore no being can see it. You are reduced to saying that He foresees it; but foreseeing is conjecturing. This is the opinion of the Socinians.

Well, a God who, according to you, conjectures, can be mistaken. In your system He is really mistaken; for if He had foreseen that His enemy would poison all His works here below, He would not have produced them; He would not have prepared for Himself the shame of being continually vanquished.

(2) Do I not do Him much more honour by saying that He has made everything by the necessity of His nature, than you do Him by raising an enemy who disfigures, who soils, who destroys all His works here below?

(3) It is not to have an unworthy idea of God to say that, having formed thousands of millions of worlds where death and evil do not dwell, it was necessary that evil and death should dwell in this world.

(4) It is not to disparage God to say that He could not form man without giving him self-esteem; that this self-esteem could not lead him without misguiding him almost always; that his passions are necessary, but that they are disastrous; that propagation cannot be executed without desire; that desire cannot animate man without quarrels; that these quarrels necessarily bring wars in their train, etc.

(5) When he sees part of the combinations of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, and this globe pierced everywhere like a sieve, from which escape in crowds so many exhalations, what philosopher will be bold enough, what scholastic foolish enough to see clearly that nature could stop the effects of volcanoes, the inclemencies of the atmosphere, the violence of the winds, the plagues, and all the destructive scourges?

(6) One must be very powerful, very strong, very industrious, to have formed lions which devour bulls, and to have produced men who invent arms to kill at one blow, not only bulls and lions, but even each other. One must be very powerful to have caused to be born spiders which spin webs to catch flies; but that is not to be omnipotent, infinitely powerful.

(7) If the great Being had been infinitely powerful, there is no reason why He should not have made sentient animals infinitely happy; He has not done so, therefore He was not able.

(8) All the sects of the philosophers have stranded on the reef of moral and physical ill. It only remains to avow that God having acted for the best has not been able to act better.

(9) This necessity settles all the difficulties and finishes all the disputes. We have not the impudence to say--"All is good." We say--"All is the least bad that is possible."

(10) Why does a child often die in its mother's womb? Why is another who has had the misfortune to be born, reserved for torments as long as his life, terminated by a frightful death?

Why has the source of life been poisoned all over the world since the discovery of America? why since the seventh century of our era does smallpox carry off the eighth part of the human race? why since all time have bladders been subject to being stone quarries? why the plague, war, famine, the inquisition? Turn in every direction, you will find no other solution than that everything has been necessary.

I speak here to philosophers only and not to theologians. We know well that faith is the thread in the labyrinth. We know that the fall of Adam and Eve, original sin, the immense power given to the devil, the predilection accorded by the great Being to the Jewish people, and the baptism substituted for the amputation of the prepuce, are the answers which explain everything. We have argued only against Zarathustra and not against the university of Conimbre or Coïmbre, to which we submit in our articles.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire