John Leng was born at Thornton le Dale, Yorkshire and died of smallpox in London on 26 October 1727. He was educated at St Paul's School and Catharine Hall, Cambridge (BA, 1686; MA, 1690; BD, 1698; DD, 1716), where he became a Fellow in 1688. He was made Bishop of Norwich in 1723, just four years before he died. He was an editor of Aristophanes and Cicero, and author of many sermons and religious tracts, including the Boyle Lectures of 1717 and 1718. These lectures were published in 1719 as Natural Obligations to Believe the Principles of Religion, and Divine Revelation. They constitute on the whole an orthodox attack on deism. Leng argues extensively for the reality of miracles and the incoherence of materialism. Miracles are performed by both God and lesser spirits – including evil spirits, he contends. Consequently, in order to stave off temptation and to meet their moral obligations, humans need to distinguish between divine and diabolical miracles. Leng's arguments against materialism include the claim that materialists are unable to account for moral obligation. If thought is the modification of matter, it is subject solely to mechanical laws, and cannot therefore be voluntary. With no voluntary thought or action, no obligation obtains. Materialism thus cannot distinguish between ‘an abstracted Reason inducing, and a bodily Impulse forcing us to do this or that’ (p. 73).
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.