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tate, in proportion to the doubts we entertain on either of these heads.
The more persons there are who relate the same transaction, of which they are equally credible witnesses, the stronger is the evidence for it. But the more persons there are through whose hands the same narration is conveyed to us, the weaker is the evidence. In this latter case, the witnesses are called dependent ones; but in the former they are said to be independent. Whatever imperfection there may be in any one of a number of independent witnesies, it is in part removed by the testimony of others; but every imperfection in the original evidence is increased in proportion to the number of dependent witnesses, through whose hands the same story is transmitted.
The marks of a story being related by a number of independent witnesses, of full credit, is their agreement in the principal articles, and their disagreement with respect to things of less consequence, or at least a
variety, or diversity in their manner of relating the same story.
The reason of this is, that to things of principal importance they will all equally attend, and therefore they will have their minds equally impressed with the ideas of them; but that to things of less consequence they will not give the same attention, and therefore they will be apt to conceive differently concerning them.
If a number of persons agree very minutely with respect to all the facts of any narrative, general and particular, and also in the order and manner of the narration, it will amount to a proof that they have agreed together to tell the fame story; and in this they will be supposed to have been influenced by some motive not favourable to the value of their testimony; and besides, having learned circumstances one of another, they cannot be considered as independent of one another. All histories which have been written by different persons,
in all respects equally credible, agree in the main things, but they are as certainly found to differ with respect to things of less consequence.
We likewise distinguish with respect to the nature of the fact to which our assent is required, for we expect more numerous, more express, and in all reípects, more unexceptionable evidence, according to the degree of its previous improbability, arising from its want of analogy to other facts already known; and in this there is a gradation, from things which are antecedently highly probable, and therefore require but little positive evidence, to things which are utterly incredible, being so contrary to what we already know of the course of nature, and the author of it, that no evidence could convince us of it,
fervant should tell me that, as he was passing through a certain place, he saw a friend of mine, who I knew had business in that neighbourhood, and the character of my servant was such that I had never T 3
known him to tell me a wanton lie, I should readily believe him ; and if I had any thing to do in the case, I should, without hesitation, act upon the supposition that what he told me was true. But if the same servant should say that, coming through the same place, he saw another of my friends whom I knew to have been dead, I Mould not believe him, though the thing in itself was not naturally impossible; and if ten or a dozen persons of our common acquaintance, persons of knowledge and curiosity, should, independently of one another, seriously inform me that they were present themselves, and had no doubt of the fact, I might believe it.
It follows, however, from this obfervation; that miracles require a much stronger testimony than common facts. The latter are analogous to such other facts as are the subject of every day's experience, so that we are continually expecting such things, and they are never any surprize to us; whereas the former are contrary to that analogy, and are therefore unexpected.
By the help of these maxims I shall now proceed to examine the evidence of the Jewish and christian revelations, shewing how far they are in themselves credible or incredible upon the whole; then examining the evidence which has been produced in their favour, and lasly considering some particular objections which have been made to them.
Of the antecedent credibility of the fewish
and Christian revelations.
HE belief of the Jewish and christian
revelations, which have so close a connection that they must stand or fall together, is to believe that the divine being has, from time to time, interposed in the moral government of the world; having, upon several important occasions, spoken to mankind by persons called prophets,' in