Preface to the Revised American Edition
|March 22, 2012||Filled under All text of Paley Natural Theology, Preface||
The present edition of the Natural Theology of Dr. Paley was undertaken with the view of making this admirable work more extensively useful than it could ever be under the form in which it has been usually circulated. A great proportion of those who have read it must have sensibly felt the disadvantage under which they labor in comprehending the descriptions; and of course the arguments of the author, from the want of a knowledge of the subjects to which they relate. No man could so well supply the want of this knowledge, by clearness of statement and description, as Dr. Paley; and it is probable that few other writers would have made a book so intelligible, which relates to subjects remote from common observation, without the aid of plates and illustrations. Still it must be imperfectly comprehended in many important parts, except by those acquainted with the sciences from which his illustrations are drawn. Enough it is true may be understood by all, to carry them along with the argument, and produce a general conviction of its truth. But the conceptions even of professional readers would be much more clear, definite, and satisfactory, were the description aided by visible representations.
It was the original design of the publishers to have merely attached the plates and references of Paxton, which have been published in England and in this country in a separate volume, to the text of Dr. Paley. It was, however, suggested to them that the value of their edition might be increased by the addition of Notes, and they had made arrangements for this purpose and were going on with the work, when Mr. Paxton’s edition of the Natural Theology fell into their hands, containing, beside the plates, a considerable number of Notes. From these Notes a selection has been made of such as seemed most valuable and interesting. A number of Notes have also been made up of quotations from the excellent treatise of Mr. Charles Bell on Animal Mechanics, published in the Library of Useful Knowledge; a tract which cannot be too highly recommended to the perusal of those who take pleasure in studying the indications of a wise and benevolent Providence in the works of creation.
A few additional Notes have also been subjoined, which have not been before published.
It seems to be supposed by some, that the progress made in science since the writing of this work must have furnished ample, however, upon reflection, that this is not likely to be the case, and that no particular advantage to the argument is to be expected from bringing it down, as it is often expressed, to the present state of science. The object of the work is, not to teach science in its connexion with Natural Theology, a plan entirely different, and one upon which distinct works may, and have been written, but to gather material from the knowledge communicated by science, wherewith to construct an argument for the existence and attributes of God. The excellence of such a work, then, will not consist in the number of illustrations, or in the copiousness and completeness of the materials, but in the judgment with which they are selected, and the aptness with which they are made to bear upon the question at issue.
So far, therefore, as the argument is concerned, no additional strength will be given to it by new discoveries in science. As Dr. Paley has himself admitted, a single case thoroughly made out, proves all that can be proved, and, generally speaking, the most familiar instances which can be selected and made intelligible are the best for this purpose, and will have the greatest influence upon men’s minds. All the knowledge, therefore, which is necessary for the completeness and strength of the argument was possessed long ago.
Still there is an advantage in selecting and arguing from a variety of examples, arising out of the different constitutions of men’s minds, or their different habits of thinking and reasoning. Some are more affected by examples of one kind, and some by those of another. In this way much more might be done in the way of illustrating and enforcing the argument, and holding it up in every possible light, than has been attempted in the present edition. The principal object here had in view, has been to make such additions, as with the help of the engraved views, would bring the argument, as stated by the author, clearly within reach of all readers.
To give a correct edition, various English and American copies have been consulted, in which variations have been found; but those readings have been adopted, which appeared best to comport with that familiarity, and originality of expression, which gives its principal charm, and its great force and clearness to Dr. Paley’s style.