Principles Of Moral And Political Philosophy "Who Can Refute A Sneer?"
by William Paley

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"Who Can Refute A Sneer?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: An English theologian and philosopher born in Peterborough, William Paley graduated from Cambridge in 1763 and became a fellow of his college. In 1776 he retired to the rectory at Musgrave, Westmoreland, and later held various church offices. In his voluminous work on moral and political philosophy, Paley describes "that science which teaches men their duty, and the reasons of it." In Book V, "Duties Toward God," the author speaks of the necessity of reverencing the Deity, of informing and directing those less inclined to belief by a solemnity and decorum of conduct. While a freedom of inquiry concerning spiritual matters is necessary, Christianity must never be made "a topic of raillery, a theme for the exercise of wit or eloquence, or a subject of contention for literary fame and victory." Referring to Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as an illustration (though not specifically naming it), Paley brands such a work "one continued sneer upon the cause of Christianity." He writes:

. . . The knowledge this author possesses of the frame and conduct of the human mind, must have led him to observe, that such attacks do their execution without inquiry. Who can refute a sneer? Who can compute the number, much less, one by one, scrutinize the justice, of those disparaging institutions which crowd the pages of this elaborate history?