Auguste Comte (1798-1857), the French philosopher who formulated Positivism, moved from his radically empiricist philosophy to his Religion of Humanity with its catechism and rules. Many Christian authors took him to be an atheist, something easy to understand since he considers theoological explanations of natural phenomena the most primitive form of human thought, which humanity is destined to outgrow. Nonetheless, as John Stuart Mill explains, he actually took an agnostic position towards the existence of a divine creator and seems to have leaned toward the argument from design:

He indeed disclaimed, with some acrimony, dogmatic atheism, and even says (in a later work, but the earliest contains nothing at variance with it) that the hypothesis of design has much greater verisimilitude than that of a blind mechanism. But conjecture, founded on analogy, did not seem to him a basis to rest a theory on, in a mature state of human intelligence. He deemed all real knowledge of a commencement inaccessible to us, and the inquiry into it an overpassing of the essential limits of our mental faculties. To this point, however, those who accept his theory of the progressive stages of opinion are not obliged to follow him. The Positive mode of thought is not necessarily a denial of the supernatural; it merely throws back that question to the origin of all things. If the universe had a beginning, its beginning, by the very conditions of the case, was supernatural; the laws of nature cannot account for their own origin. The Positive philosopher is free to form his opinion on the subject, according to the weight he attaches to the analogies which are called marks of design, and to the general traditions of the human race. [Auguste Comte and Positivism]


Mill, John Stuart. Auguste Comte and Positivism (1865), available as Project Gutenberg EBook #16833, produced by Marc D'Hooghe.

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Last modified 3 January 2012