W.G.T. Shedd: Atom Is God

W.G.T. Shedd writes:

“There is in the cesspools of the great capitals of Christendom a mass of human creatures who are born, who live, and who die, in moral putrefaction. Their existence is a continued career of sin and woe. Body and soul, mind and heart, are given up to earth, to sense, to corruption. They emerge for a brief season into the light of day, run their swift and fiery career of sin, and then disappear. Dante, in that wonderful Vision which embodies so much of true ethics and theology, represents the wrathful and gloomy class sinking down under the miry waters and continuing to breathe in a convulsive, suffocating manner, sending up bubbles to the surface, that mark the place where they are drawing out their lingering existence.1 Something like this, is the wretched life of a vicious population. As we look in upon the fermenting mass, the only signs of life that meet our view indicate that the life is feverish, spasmodic, and suffocating. The bubbles rising to the dark and turbid surface reveal that it is a life in death.

1 Dante: Inferno, vii. 100-180.

But this, too, is the result of sin. Take the atoms one by one that constitute this mass of pollution and misery, and you will find that each one of them is a self-moving and an unforced will. Not one of these millions of individuals has been necessitated by Almighty God, or by any of God’s arrangements, to do wrong. Each one of them is a moral agent, equally with you and me. Each one of them is self-willed and self-determined in sin” (W.G.T. Shedd, Sermons to the Natural Man).

God’s active hardening of Pharaoh as recounted by Paul in Romans 9 is FAR MORE powerful than Shedd's weak “necessitation.” In relation to God and sin, Shedd believes that ALL molecules are maverick. When atoms or molecules do something truly good, then they are not being maverick and — thankfully — God is in control. BUT when these little particles of ultimate self-determination start to misbehave, then Shedd’s god (with a lowercase “g”) responds by joining with these mutinous marbles “a most wise and powerful bounding.” Shedd’s belief is that Atom Is God (not that Shedd would explicitly attribute eternality or “holy, holy, holy” to atoms, but he is clearly attributing ultimate self-determination and self-causation to these atoms). To put it forcefully, bluntly, and briefly. Shedd is Paul's objector in Romans 9:19-20 and Isaiah's vaunting axe in Isaiah 10:15.