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xii. 1. Mark ii.
Mark ix. 14.
courses, by the extraordinary atmospherical refraction of part of the solar rays, by which From Matth. I believe the miracle in question to have been affected (a). It is very true that my 23. Luke vi. 1. knowledge of the sciences of astronomy and optics is very limited when compared with John v. 1. to that of Laplace and his friend; but I may surely be allowed to know more of them than Matth. xvii. 14. the man, who, without displaying any irrational credulity, believes that on a certain day Luke ix. 37. the moon had at London, forgotten to set. I have likewise conversed often, on the sub- John vii. 1. ject of miracles in general, and of that of Joshua in particular, with philosophical laymen, some of whom, with respect to their knowledge of optics and astronomy, might, without presumption, have been brought into comparison even with Laplace; and they saw as little danger, as I do, to any part of the creation, from a temporary increase of the refractive power of the atmosphere to any extent. Indeed all philosophical theists, with whom I have conversed freely on such subjects, have held the will of God to be the immediate cause (I mean efficient cause) of every law of inanimate nature, as well as of every deviation from those laws, which deviations were foreseen and provided for from the beginning, when "the world first rose out of chaos." I confess likewise that I see not how the restoration of a dead man to life, or any other miracle recorded of our Lord in the Gospels, could affect such a vast number of others, as to bring what our critic calls an incredible body of evidence against the reality of those miracles. The most astonishing of them all has long appeared to me to be the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, because it seems to imply the power of creation; and we certainly have the evidence of uniform experience, as far as experience can be had in such a case, that not an atom of matter has been either created or annihilated since the beginning of the world. The quantity however of new matter added, on those two occasions, to the old, supposing such to have been the case, was comparatively so small, that the philosophers, who weigh not only the mountains of the earth," but even the earth itself and all the planetary system, " in a pair of scales," and who hope, by the aid of "a calculus sufficiently powerful, to make near approaches to OMNICIENCE," will admit that it could not have greatly disturbed the motions of the earth and moon, or any other planet!
On the principles of pure theism, therefore, though certainly not on those of atheism or fatalism, the possibility of miracles-and even of such miracles as those of our Lord,-will surely be admitted: but the great question is, what evidence is sufficient to render them credible? The Christians say that the evidence of testimony is sufficient for this purpose, and indeed that no other evidence can be had. That the truth of the Gospel miracles admits, in the present age, of no other evidence than that of testimony, will be readily admitted; but our critic contends, as Hume had done before him, that the improbability of the violation of the order of those events, of which the course is known from experience to be perfectly uniform, is so strong, that no testimony can prevail against it. "It will always be more wonderful, he says, that the violation of such order should have taken place, than that any number of witnesses should have been deceived themselves, or should be disposed to deceive others."
If this doctrine be true, how many facts have taken place in nature, or have been said by philosophers to take place in nature, which not one man of ten thousand, or even ten millions, can rationally believe to have happened? "That testimony derives all its force from experience," says the critic, "seems very certain ;" and Hume, as he acknowledges, had said the same thing before him. But if this be true, upon what evi, dence can I and hundreds of millions beside me believe, that showers of meteoric stones have, in different ages and distant nations, fallen from the atmosphere on the earth? I never saw one such stone fall, and I have the evidence of uniform experience that the atmosphere does not regularly generate metallic stones. Every man who is in the same predicament with me, has the same immense weight of experience to place in the ba
(a) See the Appendix to Dissertation I. Book v. chap. i. of this Work.
A. M. 4035, lance against the testimony of the comparatively very small number who say that they &c. or 5441. had witnessed such stones fall from the heavens; and if it be very certain that testimony derives all its force from experience, how can it be possible for hundreds of millions Vulg. Er. 30. of men, possessing common sense, to admit, in opposition to their own uniform expe
rience, the testimony of some dozens of people who may have been deceived themselves, or disposed, like the London citizen with his moon of cheese, to deceive others? It is vain to say that we have the experience of ages, and of numbers of chemists who have examined the stones, in corroboration of the testimony that they fell from the heavens; for in this argument where experience of the uniformity of the laws of nature is opposed to testimony bearing witness that those laws have been occasionally suspended, no experience can be admitted but individual, personal experience. The experience of ages and of distant nations-indeed the experience of every individual but myself is known to me only by testimony; and is it possible that any philosopher can seriously contend that testimony derives all its force from that experience, of which we never could have known any thing-of which, indeed, we never could have heard, but through the medium of testimony?
This is surely not possible, and therefore it must be by every man's indivdual personal experience, by which, on the principles of Hume and his followers, the truth of testimony is to be tried? If so, I ought not to believe that there has ever been an earthquake, for I never felt the shock of one, though I have heard of many, and of some which were said to have been felt by numbers in the very town where I then was! I ought not to believe that a monstrous child was ever born of a woman, for I never saw a human being, who could with any propriety be called a monster, whilst I know, by uniform personal experience, that every monstrous birth, if there have been any such births, has been a deviation from the regular course of nature. In vain shall I be told, that earthquakes may be accounted for in certain circumstances, and shewn to be produced by the operation of the laws of nature; for those circumstances are probably assumed for the purpose, and whether they be or not, they are made known to me only by testimony, which I ought to disregard, because directly contrary to my uniform experience.
But even this mode of converting testimony into experience, cannot be had recourse to in the case of the meteoric stones; for according to one of the most scientific chemists of the age (a)," it would be absurd, in the present state of our knowledge, to attempt any explanation of the manner in which they are formed; for not even a conjectural cause for them in the smallest degree probable can be assigned." We are told indeed that the testimony produced in support of the origin of those stones, "has been confirmed by a scrupulous examination into the natural history of the facts (the stones) themselves. When the stones which were said to have fallen from the heavens came to be chemically analyzed, they were found to have every where the same characters, and to consist of the same ingredients, nearly in the same proportions;" whilst no other stones have anywhere been found of precisely the same character. "Here thefore, says the reviewer of Laplace, we have a testimony confirmed, and rendered quite independent of our previous knowledge of the veracity of the witnesses."
This inference I cannot admit; nor can I conceive by what rule of logic it is drawn from the premises. Not to insist on the unquestionable fact, that the result of the chemical analysis of the stones, can be known to those myriads, who were not present when it was made, only by testimony, all that seems to me to have been proved by that analysis is, that the stones in question are of one and the same species, and that the species itself is very uncommon. These two facts I admit to have been completely proved, for I have no hesitation to receive the testimony of the chemist by whom they were ascertain
(a) See Thomson's System of Chemistry, Ed. 3. vol. 4. p. 163, &c.)
23. Luke vi. 1.
Mark ix. 14.
ed; but why stones of a singular character, found in different regions of the earth, should From Matth. therefore be inferred to have fallen from the heavens, I confess that I am yet to learn. xii. 1. Mark ií. That a stone of two or three tons weight, as some of those meteoric stones have been, John v. 1. to should be generated in the higher regions of the atmosphere, and float in a horizontal Matth. xvii. 14. direction over various countries, at the distance of sixty miles from the earth, is direct- Luke ix. 37. ly contrary not only to all my experience, but likewise to all that I know of the consti-John vii. 1. tution of the atmosphere, as well as of the law of gravitation-the best ascertained, perhaps, of all the laws of corporeal nature! Am I then to reject with scorn all that I have been told of ignited stones falling from the heavens? Undoubtedly I ought to do so, if testimony derives all its force from experience; for though those stones have been chemically analyzed, and their composition ascertained by experiments, not an individual of the human race can believe that they fell from the atmosphere, on any other evidence than the unsupported testimony of those very few persons who have said that they saw them fall. "But it will always be more wonderful that masses of iron, pyrites, and earth, of the weight of two or three tons, should be formed in the higher regions of the atmosphere, and even float horizontally in that rare medium, as a log of wood floats in water, than that any number of witnesses, who affirm that they saw them fall, should have been deceived themselves, or disposed to deceive others." They may have had their origin in the heart of the earth, and been forced upwards by subterraneous fire; and this may seem the more probable, that the principal ingredient in them is iron in the metallic state; that they have been generally found hot and buried to a considerable depth in the earth; and that such eruptions from the bowels of the earth, through the craters of volcanoes, have frequently been accompanied by appearances in the air which might easily be mistaken by a few individuals-almost stupified with astonishment, for meteors descending from the heavens.
In a word, it appears to me that there is not one objection urged by Hume, Laplace, or any of their pupils, against the sufficiency of testimony to prove the reality of the Gospel miracles, which does not hold with at least equal force against the reality of those showers of meteoric stones which are said to have fallen in all the quarters of the globe. The truth, however, is, that these objections are in both cases founded on a palpable mistake. Testimony is so far from deriving all its force from experience, that as was justly observed long ago, (a) it is the sole foundation of by far the greater part of what the opponents of the Gospel call firm, unalterable, and universal experience; and that if we did not, in certain circumstances, repose implicit confidence in testimony, every man's knowledge of events would be confined to those, which had fallen under the immediate observation of his own senses. Hume seems to have been perfectly aware of this, when he supposed a case, in which, were it ever to occur, testimony would be sufficient to establish the credibility even of a miracle.
"No testimony, says he, (b) is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish-When any one tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person. should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other, and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."
There is some inaccuracy of language in talking of greater and less miracles when Omnipotence is supposed to have performed them all; but it is no more than justice to acknowledge that the author admitted, in a note, that all real miracles are equally easy
(a) By Dr Campbell in his admirable Dissertation on Miracles,
(b) Essay on Miracles,
A. M. 4035, to the Almighty, by observing "that the raising of a feather, when the wind wants
&c. or 5441. Ann. Dom.
31, &c. Vulg. Er. 30.
ever so little force requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle as the raising of a house or a ship into the air." By greater and less miracles therefore, and by always rejecting the greater, it is evident that he meant nothing more than that of two or more deviations from the known laws of nature, one might in itself, when contemplated with all its circumstances, appear less probable than the others; and that if he could not reject them all, his principles would compel him to reject that which should appear least probable when viewed in all its bearings.
This seems to be a just maxim; and therefore if it can be shown that the testimony, given by the apostles and other first preachers of the Gospel to the miracles of their Lord, would, on the supposition that those miracles were not really performed, have been as great a deviation from the known laws of nature as the miracles themselves, the balance must be considered as evenly poised by opposite miracles; and whilst it shall continue so, the judgment must remain in a state of suspense. But if it shall appear that, in this case, the false testimony would have been a deviation from the laws of nature much less probable in itself than the miracles recorded in the Gospels, the balance will be instantly destroyed; and by Mr Hume's maxim, we must reject the supposition of falsehood in the testimony of the apostles, and admit the miracles of Christ to have been really performed.
In this argument it is needless to waste time in proving that those miracles, as they are represented in the writings of the New Testament, were of such a nature, and performed before so many witnesses, that no imposition could possibly be practised on the senses of those who affirm that they were present. From every page of the Gospels this is so evident, that the philosophical adversaries of the Christian faith never suppose the apostles to have been themselves deceived *, but boldly accuse them of bearing false witness. But if this accusation be well founded, their testimony itself is as great a miracle, or, in other words, as real a deviation from the laws of nature, as any which they record of themselves or of their Master.
That testimony does not derive all its force from experience has been already proved; and is indeed little less than self-evident from the unquestionable fact that the earliest assent, which is given to testimony by children who have no experience, is unlimited, whilst the experience of age renders men distrustful. Exactly the reverse would be the case, were our belief in testimony the result of experience. It has therefore been thought that the beneficent Author of nature, who intended man to be a social creature, hath implanted in every human breast an instinctive propensity to speak truth, and likewise a disposition to confide implicitly in the veracity of others; and it cannot be denied that children believe whatever is told them, and that the greatest liar on earth speaks a hundred truths for one falsehood. That truth is indeed always at the door of the lips; that it requires no effort to bring it forth; that in ordinary cases men speak truth uninfluenced by any motive moral or political; and that lying is never practised by the worst of men without some effort to accomplish some end, are positions which daily experience renders it impossible to question. But notwithstanding all this, I do not think that truth is spoken by an original and instinctive principle; because men
* The reviewer of Laplace, so often referred to, speaking of the improbability of a hundred dice thrown at once all falling on the same faces, adds "If we had ourselves been spectators of such an event, we would not believe our own eyes, till we had scrupulously examined all the circumstances, and assured ourselves that there was no trick nor deception. Af ter such an examination, we would not hesitate to admit it, notwithstanding its great improbability, and no one would have recourse to an inversion of the
laws of vision in order to account for it." This acute writer therefore must allow, that no trick or deception could have been practised in the resurrection of the widow's son at Nain, in the resurrection of Lazarus, or in the feeding of five thousand men on five barley loaves and two small fishes. Either these miracles must have been really performed, or the evangelists must have wilfully borne false witness; for there is no other alternative.
xii. 1. Mark if
appear not to be impelled by instinct to speak any articulate language at all; and it is From Matth. surely inconceivable that instinct should teach the use of arbitrary and artificial signs, 23. Luke vi. 1. such as the words of every language undoubtedly are, or that between such signs and John v. 1. to ideas any natural relation should ever be formed.
Matth. xvii. 14.
Truth is the conformity of those words or other signs by which things are represent- Luke ix. 37. ed, to the things themselves; and things themselves are what they are independent of John vii. 1. us, our instincts, and perceptions. When we have precise and adequate ideas or notions of objects, and when those ideas or notions are related to each other, as the objects themselves are related, we are in possession of knowledge, or what may be called mental truth. In this case there is a real and natural connection between the signs and the things signified; for we cannot frame one original and simple idea, which has no archetype in nature, nor can one object distinctly perceived, generate in our minds the ideas or notions that are generated by other and quite different objects. Here external things are the objects, and ideas are the signs, which, when they are in conformity to the things signified by them constitute truth; and this truth depends not in the smallest degree on the moral dispositions of him, on whose mind it is impressed. These truths are the truths of God spoken alike, and with equal faithfulness to all who have powers of perception to receive them; and in the case under consideration, they were received as well by the Jewish Pharisees as by the apostles of Christ.
But in human testimony the ideas in the mind of the speaker are the things signi. fied, and the words of the language spoken are the signs by which they are expressed; and when these things and signs are in conformity to each other, the words uttered express so much truth. Now, though in this case there is no natural connection between the signs and the things signified-between ideas or notions in the mind and articulate vocal sounds, yet it is obvious, that, without a violent effort of the speaker to the contrary, they must always be in conformity with each other, because, in every language, there are words appropriated to the purpose of denoting every idea, and every relation of ideas, which can be expressed by that language; and in the mind of every man those ideas, relations of ideas, and their appropriate words, have been constantly associated or linked together from the time that he first learned to speak. So intimate is this association, and so impossible to be broken, that whoever will pay sufficient attention to the operations of his own mind, will find that he thinks as well as speaks in some language; and that in cogitation he runs over silently and habitually, those sounds which in speaking he actually utters. Hence it is, that hardly any man has written in perfect purity a language in which he has not been accustomed to think; and hence too, I believe, it is, that so many men of deep thinking have been remarked for the practice of speaking to themselves.
If this be so, it is impossible that a man, without some effort, should ever speak any thing but truth; for the ideas of what he has seen or heard, &c. are not of his manufacture; they are generated in his mind by external objects according to the established laws of nature; and till they be effaced from his memory, they must always, by the law of association, which is one of those laws *, make their appearance there
That the association of ideas not only with one another, but also with the articulate sounds by which they are denominated in that language which is vernacular to us, is a law of nature, is incontrovertible. It is a law which extends in some degree to the inferior animals; for, if they were not under the influence of it, neither the dog nor the horse could be trained to render those numberless services to man, which are actually rendered by both. It seems to be a fact as universal in the animal kingdom as gravitation is
in the material world, and is therefore, equally with