« AnteriorContinuar »
vassed with the severest scrutiny, and give a reason for both to every fair inquirer, or honestly confess their errours upon conviction. They would rather own truth in the lowest degradation,
than sit with folly and errour in the highest dignity; well knowing, FF that, however the latter may get the lead in their short course
through a benighted world, yet that truth' finally shall win the race and triumph for ever; and to add only one feature more, (for I intend not a finished picture,) they are men humbly sensible of
their remaining ignorance and imperfection, patient of instruction -- and reproof, never satisfied with any present attainments, but still
reaching after higher measures of knowledge and virtue. o Let the free-thinkers of this age take up, for a moment, this
portrait, and try if they can discern their own likeness.
FROM THE SAME.
REPLY TO MR. HUME'S ARGUMENT AGAINST MIRACLES.
THE credibility of miracles is a doctrine upon which all revealed religion may be said to depend. For, as the external proofs of revelation are divided into miracles, properly so called, and prophecies, which, taken along with their accomplishments, are but another species of miracles; if facts like these are themselves incapable of being proved by any testimony, they are also incapable of being applied as evidences of a revelation from God.
On this account it is of the highest importance to the interests of Christianity to refute an opinion of Mr. Hume, which he seems to have adopted on account of the powerful evidence which attests the miracles of the Gospel, an evidence not to be overturned or shaken, but by this bold and novel paradox, namely, that they are incapable of proof by any testimony whatever. Mr. Hume's position is this:
That no testimony in behalf of miracles ought to be admitted, unless the falsehood of such testimony would be a greater miracle than the supernatural facts asserted to have taken place, in which case the value of the testimony would be no more than a balance between two contending improbabilities.
Now, in the first place, it is little better than nonsense to consider the falsehood of a proposition as a miracle; for a miracle is a fact, and a miracle performed is a fact already past. But, as no interposition of the Almighty in arresting and suspending the common course of nature, which is the idea of a miracle, can make an event to have happened which has not happened, or vice versa, so neither can any similar interposition diminish one shade of probability which attaches to the evidence of such an event. The
falsehood of testimony may, therefore, be improbable in the highest degret; but it is an abuse of language to call it miraculous.
If the impropriety of the terms employed by Mr. Iłume on this occasion be not yet sufficiently cicar, let the reader substitute to the word " miraculous,” a paraphrase, which is exactly equivalent
“ No testimony in behalf of miracles is to be admitted, unless the falsehood of such testimony would be a fact inferring a greater violation of the order of nature, than the miracles to be proved."
Not to take advantage, however, of Mr. Hume's inaccuracy in the use of terins, (in which, however, no small portion of the fallacy of bis argument consists,) and in order to afford to his opinion every fair advantage in the representation, let him be understood to mcan, “ unless the falsehood of the testimony were impossible," which nearly amounts to the same thing with saying that it is not to be admitted at all.
By this time, perhaps, the reader may feel some anxiety to learn on what grounds so extraordinary a sentiment was formed. It is, we are told, because miracles are contrary to experience, and experience is the proper test of credibility.
The ambiguity and fallacy of this objection are evident; for whatever is applied as a test, by which truth and falsehood are to be distinguished from each other, must be something positive and definite; whereas experience is in the highest degree fluctuating and uncertain, nay, the term itselfis scarcely intelligible, unless in combination with some person, age, or country, to which it refers; and even then, whose experience are we to select? This is no un. necessary question; for, compare only the experience of one, who has scarcely seen any thing beyond his own village, with that of a second, who has traversed the kingdom, and the experience of this second person with that of a third, who is acquainted with every quarter of the globe: compare, again, the general experience of an enlightened age with that of some dark and unobserving period which went before it, and by such a test we must be compelled to reject, not miracles only, but some of the most obvious and well attested facts in nature.
A native of the torrid zone has never beheld water congealed to ice, and is almost as slow in admitting the fact upon testimony, as Mr. Hume is in allowing the reality of miracles. Yet do we not consider this conduct of the understanding as irrational and absurd? Does it not lead to a conclusion obviously false? For, after all, such a substance as ice really exists.
* Mr. Hume was so pinched by this argument, as to maintain, for consistency's sake, that the king of Siam was right in rejecting the evidence of Europeans for the existence of ice? What! right in rejecting the evidence of a real fact? But the use he intended to make of this strange position was, that the evidence in favour of miracles ought, in common sense, to be rejected, even though they were true; and, indeed, this accords with the tenour of the whole argument, which is directed, not so much against the existence of miracles, as against the proof of them.
Again, I have never beheld, and, therefore, have no experience of the fiery eruptions of Ætna or Vesuvius: I have never felt any one of those earthquakes which have shaken continents and laid cities prostrate; am I, therefore, warranted in refusing my assent to the fact, that mountains may break forth into flames, or that the earth may be agitated by internal convulsions?
Once more.-Few of the phænomena of electricity had been observed before the last century; yet would it have been right to deny the existence of such a property in matter a century before, had any of its effects been casually discovered at that time, and
delivered upon competent testimony? 1. And thus, with respect to any other qualities in nature yet un
discovered, a philosopher may, indeed, have reason to suspend or withhold his assent to the evidence on which the discovery may l'est; but supposing that evidence to be such as had never deceived him in any other instance, however extraordinary, however unlike to any thing observed before the appearances might be, he would not hold himself at liberty to reject them as incredible in themselves. Neither is this trial of the understanding at all unfrequent. The science of chymistry exhibits many appearances little less revolting to an uninformed mind than miracles themselves. _To this argument, however, two objections will be opposed. Ist. That in the instances adduced above, two experiences are opposed to each other, and, as the stronger are allowed to prevail, experience is still assumed as the test of credibility. 2dly. That the instances themselves are physical facts, and, therefore, neither prove nor disprove any thing with respect to phænomena confessedly miraculous.
The first of these admits of an easy solution; for the medium through which alone the experience of one man can be brought into contact with that of another, is testimony: thus, for example; A, who has never travelled out of England, believes in the reality of volcanoes, not upon B's experience, not because B hath beheld such appearances, but because B is a credible witness, and affirms that he hath seen them.
The second objection seems entitled to more consideration. If, however, the real difference between the essence of physical and preternatural phænomena be attentively considered, it will appear to be much less than is commonly supposed, so little indeed as to remove every thing formidable out of the argument. For if we reason upon theistical principles, and this essay is not addressed to atheists, miracies are, in reality, no further improbable in themselves, than as they are unusual; in other words, there is no antetedent presumption arising from the nature of the Godhead, or the constitution of things established in the present world, which should lead us to think it unlikely that the Almighty, for great and ise purposes, may suspend the operation of his own established ws. But there is a presumption arising from the wisdom, the ognity, the general order of his government, that such interrupons would rarely occur. Both these suppositions harmonize with
the Christian testimony in favour of miracles. But to proceed. Whoever attends to the process of his own understanding in considering this subject, will scarcely fail to discover a fallacy which he puts upon himself, as if miracles were more difficult to be achieved than ordinary facts, and therefore more difficult to be proved. Surely, while we reason thus, we forget in whose world we are, or whose operations we are discussing. To a power short of omnipotence, the common operations of nature would be impossible; for the Almighty it implies no more power to raise the dead than to expand a flower.
In order to set this idea in a clearer light, let it be supposed, (and it is at least conceivable, though contrary to fact,) that miracles, as we call them, were matters of frequent occurrence; that diseases, for instance, were as frequently healed by a word or a wish, as by the operation of medicine; or, that the dead were as often restored to life by similar means, as the living are swept away by violent and accidental causes. In either of these cases, the frequency of the facts would occasion them to be confounded with the ordinary course of nature, and no one would conceive the production of such effects to require more power than any of the common operations of Providence. The degree of improbability, therefore, which belongs to miracles, will be allowed to arise merely from the circumstance of their being unusual.
. But if no extraordinary degree or effort of divine power be required to the production of these effects, however stupendous, and if there be no antecedent improbability that in certain circumstances they may be produced, an important consequence will follow, which is, not only that they may be proved by evidence in general, but by the same evidence on which we admit the truth of other physical, though extraordinary facts. * The last observation applies directly to the testimony of the evangelists; for in their narratives we have the evidence of two original spectators at least, with respect to miraculous operations; and these operations are mingled with a great number of ordinary facts, which generally arose out of them, & were occasioned by them. The evidence of the one and the other, therefore, is precisely the same. Is it then reasonable to garble this evidence at pleasure, to admit whatever is natural in it, and reject what is otherwise, or abandon both together, on account of the conceived improbability of one; or shall we not rather, and does not the preceding argu. ment leave us free to admit both, in consequence of those unequivocal characters of probity, simplicity, and original information. which are stamped upon every part of the evangelick story?
It must also be observed, that the actions there recorded as mi. raculous, were as properly objects of observation, and that to or. dinary men, as the most familiar appearances in nature. They were not like the result of many philosophical experiments, which require a scientifick eye to remark, and a scientifick pen to repor them. A Galilæan peasant, who had eyes and honesty, was a capable of attesting that he saw sight restored to the blind, an
limbs to the lame, and life to the dead, as a philosopher of Athens.
To the same purpose it is to be observed, that in order to produce assent to the miracles related in the Gospels, we are not called upon to lend our minds to long trains of reasoning, and adopt at last conclusions formed by the evangelists, but we take a plain story related by plain men, and conclude for ourselves.
Hitherto we have been reasoning principally against Mr. Hume's conclusion. It may now be worth while to consider, whether his minor ought to be allowed; or whether, after all, experience is against the existence of miracles. If an advocate for the reality of these mighty works were to reason thus, I affirm that such suspensions of the order of nature have taken place in many ages and countries; surely then they are so far forth agreeable, to experience-what could be opposed to the argument, but that all this is learned from testimony? And how has Mr. H. been able to collect a much wider experience on the other side, but from the same source? In fact, there is partial experience on both sides, and that experience is acquired by means of testimony.
But, in the last place, it will be asked, whether experience be allowed to have no concern in regulating our assent to evidence? Undoubtedly it has a very important concern; for though we have shown that no experience, however extensive, can render all testimony whatever inapplicable to any given facts, so as to constitute them antecedently incapable of proof; yet it has an extensive province of its own, which is, not to sit in judgment upon facts to be proved, but upon the characters of those who are to prove them. Experience will decide that testimony is generally found to be true
false, according to the integrity, competence, and original inormation of the witnesses; and when it hath decided that a union of these circumstances alone, without regard to the nature of the acts to be proved, í supposing them to imply no contradiction,) is pued to belief, experience, instead of an adversary, becomes a firm and faithful ally of revelation.
published in this Country; 1 that this would ever be tr Persons will probably lumes, and to our Mag such articles from the particularly interesting.
ur Readers will probably observe, that we have made ample mons from the Christian Observer, for which, we trust, they ? more disposed to thank us than to expect an apology. The mert volumes of that excellent and popular work were never
in this Country; nor did we know until very lately, would ever be the case. However, as few of the same will probably subscribe to the republication of those voza to our Magazine, we shall continue to enrich it with
les from the Christian Observer, as may be deemed