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[886a] that gods exist?

How so?

First, there is the evidence of the earth, the sun, the stars, and all the universe, and the beautiful ordering of the seasons, marked out by years and months; and then there is the further fact that all Greeks and barbarians believe in the existence of gods.

My dear sir, these bad men cause me alarm—for I will never call it “awe”—lest haply they scoff at us. For the cause of the corruption in their case is one you are not aware of; since you imagine that it is solely by their incontinence in regard to pleasures and desires [886b] that their souls are impelled to that impious life of theirs.

What other cause can there be, Stranger, besides this?

One which you, who live elsewhere, could hardly have any knowledge of or notice at all.

What is this cause you are now speaking of?

A very grievous unwisdom which is reputed to be the height of wisdom.

What do you mean?

We at Athens have accounts1 preserved in writing (though, I am told, such do not exist in your country, owing to the excellence of your polity), [886c] some of them being in a kind of meter, others without meter, telling about the gods: the oldest of these accounts relate how the first substance of Heaven and all else came into being, and shortly after the beginning they go on to give a detailed theogony, and to tell how, after they were born, the gods associated with one another. These accounts, whether good or bad for the hearers in other respects, it is hard for us to censure because of their antiquity; but as regards the tendance and respect due to parents, I certainly would never praise them or say that they are either helpful or wholly true accounts. [886d] Such ancient accounts, however, we may pass over and dismiss: let them be told in the way best pleasing to the gods. It is rather the novel views of our modern scientists2 that we must hold responsible as the cause of mischief. For the result of the arguments of such people is this,—that when you and I try to prove the existence of the gods by pointing to these very objects—sun, moon, stars, and earth—as instances of deity and divinity, people who have been converted by these scientists will assert that these things are simply earth and stone, [886e] incapable of paying any heed to human affairs, and that these beliefs of ours are speciously tricked out with arguments to make them plausible.

The assertion you mention, Stranger, is indeed a dangerous one, even if it stood alone; but now that such assertions are legion, the danger is still greater.

What then? What shall we say? What must we do? Are we to make our defence as it were before a court of impious men, where someone had accused us

1 By Hesiod, Pherecydes, etc.

2 Materialists such as Democritus.

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