Deep Things of Satan

Jim West stumbled across this little tome: De Diepten des Satans, of Geheymenissen der Atheisterij (“The Depths of Satan, Or, The Secrets of Atheism”) by the Dutch writer Frans Kuyper in 1677. Fun stuff, if you read Old Dutch.

Google Translate can’t handle old Dutch – it’s too different from modern Dutch, which why the New Netherland Project stays in business – but there seems to be something in the extended title about the “demons currently named Cartesians and Quakers.” Looks delightfully insane.

My guess is that this is part of the 17th century’s wave of anti-atheist publications. The first that I know of is Henry More’s 1651 An Antidote Against Atheism (available via Wikisource), although he apologizes for writing the book because there are “so many already on the same Subject.” Obviously, there are earlier works that I’m not aware of.

Also of note is The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation by the naturalist John Ray in 1697. (Google copy is a much later edition.) This is one of the earliest and most through presentations of the argument from design. For this sin Ray was ruthlessly plagiarized by his followers, including William Paley.

What’s interesting about all this is that, for all the arguments launched against atheism during the 17th century, there don’t seem to have been any atheists. There might have been a few, but they left no evidence. Granted, we don’t expect to see manifestos, but they might have left diaries, correspondence or other private writings to let us know. So it looks like all these people were railing at phantoms.

The best guess is that this is all a result of the Protestant Reformation. Faith had stopped being a matter of trusting in God and become a matter of believing the right things about God. The idea of believing in God carried with it the idea of not believing in God, and the notion of a loss of faith terrified people. Some people who were perfectly innocent of atheism, such as Spinoza, were branded as atheists and harshly treated. Kuyper here was a particular critic of Spinoza, and I have a hunch that he’s the real target in this work.

Like current apologetics, these works were meant to reassure the faithful rather than convince the atheist. The demons that Kuyper was afraid of were most likely the demons of doubt in his own head.

  • vasaroti

    I wouldn’t be so sure there were no atheists. “The first atheist texts in Europe are generally referred to as the clandestina or clandestine literature, about 200 examples of which survive.”
    http://www.investigatingatheism.info/whoswhoseventeenth.html

    Even if there were just a handful of writing atheists, paranoid authority figures would blow the threat up out of proportion, just as today’s demagogues have to find something to whip the faithful into a frenzy over in order to get into their wallets. In De Deipten, we’re looking at the intellectual ancestors of “Focus on the Family!”
    Surely the religious wars would have led many to say “a pox on both your houses,” or at least, “can’t go to church, got a running sore.” And, when I look at 17th century painting, I see as much saccharine as sincerity in religious works. One might say the Catholic v Protestant bloodshed is the fertilizer for the Age of Reason. I would guess the American ‘founding fathers’ had that conflict in mind when crafting the separation of church and state.

  • mikespeir

    Yeah, we atheists are tight with Cartesians, Quakers, and Satan.

  • FO

    Yeah, probably they just labelled people of different faith “Atheist” because they didn’t believe in the only possible God in the only possible way…
    It is entirely possible that the term was slanderous.

  • Mieke

    Hm, I can read it fine but it takes forever to download because every page is seen as a (highly detailed) picture instead of a piece of text. Might try again in the library, they´re connection is better.

  • Mieke

    *their*, sorry…

  • Ben

    The philosopher Spinoza was considered, by some to be an atheist:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinoza#Panentheist.2C_pantheist.2C_or_atheist.3F
    He lived from from 1632 to 1677 and was (I think) dutch, born there anyway.


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