This work, originally published in 1772, was intended as a popular digest of the more elaborately developed philosophy presented by Holbach in his magnum opus, Système de la nature (The System of Nature, 1770). In 206 very brief chapters, Holbach systematically presents the atheistic challenge to religion, critiquing point by point every contention of religion from the nature of God to the existence of the soul, belief in miracles, heaven and hell, the divine right of kings, the role of the priesthood, and many other points of dogma and tradition.
Though the extreme materialism and determinism of his philosophy was disturbing to even some of his colleagues (Voltaire accused Holbach of "snatching consolation and hope" from humanity), Holbach’s work remained influential after his death and seems in many respects a forerunner of much contemporary philosophy.
About the Author
One of the leading lights of the French Enlightenment, Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), was an acquaintance of Diderot, Rousseau, and David Hume, among others, and a prolific contributor of scientific articles to Diderot’s famous Encyclopédie. A man not only of considerable wealth and influence, but great generosity, he was known among friends as the “maitre d’hotel of philosophy” because he so often entertained noted philosophers and intellectuals of the day at his home. Interested in both science and philosophy, he felt constrained to use pseudonyms when publishing his radical philosophic views. He advocated a philosophy of atheistic materialism and at the same time harshly lambasted all religious interpretations of life as rank superstition, taking special aim at the Christian worldview of his day.