Seeing God in art and nature

If a man had before his eyes a fine picture, representing, for example, the passage of the Red Sea, with Moses, at whose voice the waters divide themselves, and rise like two walls to let the Israelites pass dryfoot through the deep, he would see, on the one side, that innumerable multitude of people, full of confidence and joy, lifting up their hands to heaven; and perceive, on the other side, King Pharaoh with the Egyptians frighted and confounded at the sight of the waves that join again to swallow them up. Now, in good earnest, who would be so bold as to affirm that a chambermaid, having by chance daubed that piece of cloth, the colours had of their own accord ranged themselves in order to produce that lively colouring, those various attitudes, those looks so well expressing different passions, that elegant disposition of so many figures without confusion, that decent plaiting of draperies, that management of lights, that degradation of colours, that exact perspective – in short, all that the noblest genius of a painter can invent? If there were no more in the case than a little foam at the mouth of a horse, I own, as the story goes, and which I readily allow without examining into it, that a stroke of a pencil thrown in a pet by a painter might once in many ages happen to express it well. But, at least, the painter must beforehand have, with design, chosen the most proper colours to represent that foam, in order to prepare them at the end of his pencil; and, therefore, it were only a little chance that had finished what art had begun. Besides, this work of art and chance together being only a little foam, a confused object, and so most proper to credit a stroke of chance – an object without form, that requires only a little whitish colour dropped from a pencil, without any exact figure or correction of design. What comparison is there between that foam with a whole design of a large continued history, in which the most fertile fancy and the boldest genius, supported by the perfect knowledge of rules, are scarce sufficient to perform what makes an excellent picture? I cannot prevail with myself to leave these instances without desiring the reader to observe that the most rational men are naturally extreme loath to think that beasts have no manner of understanding, and are mere machines. Now, whence proceeds such an invincible averseness to that opinion in so many men of sense? It is because they suppose, with reason, that motions so exact, and according to the rules of perfect mechanism, cannot be made without some industry; and that artless matter alone cannot perform what argues so much knowledge. Hence it appears that sound reason naturally concludes that matter alone cannot, either by the simple laws of motion, or by the capricious strokes of chance, make even animals that are mere machines. Those philosophers themselves, who will not allow beasts to have any reasoning faculty, cannot avoid acknowledging that what they suppose to be blind and artless in these machines is yet full of wisdom and art in the First Mover, who made their springs and regulated their movements. Thus the most opposite philosophers perfectly agree in acknowledging that matter and chance cannot, without the help of art, produce all we observe in animals. – from The Existence of God (c. 1713)