The Bridgewater Treatises
on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God,
As Manifested in the Creation.



  The so-called Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (Second Edition, 1838) by Charles Babbage is not a part of the Bridgewater series, but is famous in its own right. It has been said by way of eulogy, that the computer age began with the publication of this book.


The purpose of the book is to comment on the following quotation from Treatise III,
by William Whewell, page 251:

We may thus, with the greatest propriety, deny to the mechanical philosophers and mathematicians of recent times any authority with regard to their views of the administration of the universe; we have no reason whatever to expect from their speculations any help, when we attempt to ascend to the first cause and supreme ruler of the universe. But we might perhaps go further, and assert that they are in some respects less likely than men employed in other pursuits to make any clear advance towards such a subject of speculation. Persons whose thoughts are thus entirely, occupied in deduction are apt to forget that this is, after all, only one employment of the reason among more; only one mode of arriving at truth, needing to have its deficiencies complete by another. Deductive reasoners, those who cultivate science, of whatever kind, by means of mathematical and logical processes alone, may acquire an exaggerated feeling of the amount and value of their labours. Such employments, from the clearness of the notions involved in them, the irresistible concatenation of truths which they unfold, the subtlety which they require, and their entire success in that which they attempt, possess a peculiar fascination for the intellect. Those who pursue such studies have generally a contempt and impatience of the pretensions of all those other portions of our knowledge, where from the nature of the case, or the small progress hitherto made in their cultivation, a more vague and loose kind of reasoning seems to be adopted. Now if this feeling be carried so far as to make the reasoner suppose that these mathematical and logical processes can lead him to all the knowledge and all the certainty which we need, it is clearly a delusive feeling. For it is confessed on all hands, that all which mathematics or which logic can do, is to develope and extract those truths, as conclusions, which were in reality involved in the principles on which our reasonings proceeded.

Babbage takes great exception to this statement. He asserts:

[v] If it is meant, that there is a "higher region" of evidence than that of "mathematical proof and physical consequence," then it is in my opinion utterly and completely erroneous; and as I am confident this erroneous light will be that in which the statement will be understood by many, I think it necessary to state distinctly what appears to me the relative position of the subjects in discussion. ...

[vii.] The first class of truths (those of Pure Mathematics) appears to rest on necessity. The second, (the Laws of Nature,) on necessity and our external senses. The third, (those of Natural Religion,) on our external senses and internal consciousness. The last, (those of Revelation,) on human testimony. If they admit of any classification, as subjects having a common resemblance, or as possessing different degrees of evidence, I have placed them in the only order which, in my opinion, is consistent with truth; convinced that it is more injurious to religion to overrate, than to undervalue the cogency of the evidence on which it rests.

In other words, Whewell elevates divine revelation to a higher plane than any conclusions of natural philosophy, as the highest source of truth, whereas Babbage views "divine revelation" as only proceeding from human testimony, and therefore the least source of truth, as it depends not only or solely on objective truth but also on the character of the witness.


CHAPTER I  The Nature of the Argument .... 23

[24] Many excellent and religious persons not deeply versed in what they mistakenly call "human knowledge" but which is in truth the interpretation of those laws that God himself has impressed on his creation, have endeavoured to discover proofs of design in a multitude of apparent adaptations of means to ends, and have represented the Deity as perpetually interfering, to alter for a time the laws he had previously ordained; thus by implication denying to him the possession of that foresight which is the highest attribute of omnipotence.

[Here Babbage assumes that an omnipotent God would not design a universe in which he would choose to interfere. To use the analogy of a potter, an omnipotent God would cast his pots without the personal involvement of shaping them with his hands. This is, in my view, an odd notion of omnipotence. dcb]

CHAPTER II.  Argument in favour of Design from the changing of Laws in Natural Events .... 30

CHAPTER III.  Argument to show that the Doctrines in the preceding Chapter do not lead to Fatalism .... 50

CHAPTER IV. On the Account of the Creation, in the First Chapter of Genesis .... 63

[65] It is time to point out to those who support what is called the literal interpretation of Scripture, the precipice to which their doctrines, if true, would inevitably lead; and to show, not by the glimmerings of elaborate criticism, but by the plainest principles of common sense, that there exists no such fatal collision between the words of Scripture and the facts of nature.

CHAPTER V.  Further View of the same Subject .... 72

[76] Let us suppose all writings in the English, and indeed in all other languages previous to the time of Shakespeare, to have been destroyed;—let us imagine one manuscript of his plays to remain, but not a vestige of the works of any of his contemporaries; and further, suppose the whole of the succeeding works of English literature to be annihilated nearly up to the present time. Under such circumstances, what would be our knowledge of Shakespeare? We should undoubtedly understand the general tenor and the plots of his plays. We should read the language of all his characters; and viewing it generally, we might even be said to understand it. But how many words connected with the customs, habits, and manners of the time must, under such circumstances, necessarily remain unknown to us! Still further, if any question arose, requiring for its solution a knowledge of the minute shades of meaning of words now long obsolete, or of terms supposed to be used in a strict or philosophical sense, how completely unsatisfactory must our conclusions remain! Such I conceive to be the view which common sense bids us take of the interpretation of the book of Genesis. The language of the Hebrews, in times long subsequent to the date of that book, may not have so far changed as to prevent us from understanding generally the history it narrates; but there appears to be no reasonable ground for venturing to pronounce with confidence on the minute shades of meaning of allied words, and on such foundations to support an argument opposed to the evidence of our senses. 

CHAPTER VI. Of the Desire of Immortality .... 82

CHAPTER VII. On Time ..... 87

CHAPTER VIII. Argument from Laws intermitting -- on the Nature of Miracles .... 92

[92] The object of the present chapter is to show that it is more consistent with the attributes of the Deity to look upon miracles not as deviations from the laws assigned by the Almighty for the government of matter and of mind; but as the exact fulfilment of much more extensive laws than those we suppose to exist. In fact, if we were endued with acuter senses and higher reasoning faculties, they are the very points we should seek to observe, as the tests of any hypothesis we had been led to frame concerning the nature of those laws.

[Babbage again shows his assumption that an omnipotent God would not create a universe in which he would choose to intervene, as intervention implies (to Babbage) an imperfection. - dcb]

CHAPTER IX.  On the permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we inhabit .... 108

CHAPTER X.  On Hume's Argument against Miracles .... 120

[121] Hume contends that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.

[Babbage disagrees -- arguing that a "computing engine" can anticipate any sequence of events. Just because empirical observation seems to identify simple laws, does not necessarily mean that the engine actually follows these laws without exception.  See [168] cited below. dcb]

CHAPTER XI.  Reflections on the Inquiry in the preceding Chapter .... 132

CHAPTER XII.  the Nature of a Superintending Providence .... 141

CHAPTER XIII.  A priori Argument in favour of the Occurrence of Miracles .... 149

CHAPTER XIV. Thoughts on the Nature of Future Punishments .... 159

CHAPTER XV.  Reflections on Free Will .... 167

[167] The great question of the incompatibility of one of the attributes of the Creator—that of fore-knowledge, with the existence of the free exercise of their will in the beings he has created,—has long baffled human comprehension.

[168] it is possible so to adjust the engine, that it shall change the law it is calculating into another law, at any distant period which may be assigned.



A, page 32. On the great Law which regulates Matter .... 179

B, page 33. On the Calculating Engine .... 186

C, page 111. Extract from the Theory of Probabilities of La Place .... 189

D, page 92. Note to Chap. VIII. on Miracles .... 191

E, page 181. Note to Chap. X. on Hume's Argument against Miracles .... 192

F. On the Consequences of Central Heat .... 204

G. On the Action of Existing Causes in producing Elevations and Subsidences in Portions of the Earth's Surface .... 209

H. Tables showing the Expansion of Beds of Granite variously heated .... 221

I . Extracts from Letters of Sir John Herschel .... 225

K. On the Elevation of Beaches by Tides .... 248

L. On Ripple Mark ....  252

[252] the small waves raised on the surface of the water, by the passage of a slight breeze, are called Ripple; and a series of marks, very similar in appearance, which are sometimes seen at low water on the flat part of a sea-beach formed of fine sand, are called ripple-marks. Such marks occur in various strata of stone, and at various depths below the solid surface of the globe, and are regarded as evidence of their having been formed beneath the sea. Similar appearances occur when a strong wind drives over the face of a sandy plain, and are frequently seen upon the surface of snow.

[254] If, after the formation of ripple-marks at the bottom of a shallow sea, some adjacent river or some current deposit upon them the mud which it holds in suspension, then the first marks will be preserved, and new ripple marks may appear above them. Such is the origin of those marks we observe in various sand-stones, from the most recent down to those of the coal measures.

M. On the Age of Strata, as inferred from the Kings of Trees embedded in them .... 256

N. On a Method of multiplying Illustrations from Wood-Cuts .... 265


Note: Links to the Ninth Treatise are provided by permission of  Dr. John van Whye.