Imágenes de páginas


would be, that there was an extraordinary cause in operation, to which the observed effect must be ascribed. No one would be so foolish as to suppose, that if heat operated according to the laws which usually regulate it, and no other cause was concerned in the effect, that ice would remain unmelted for an hour, in such a temperature. In all cases where an effect different from the ordinary one in the same circumstances takes place, we are instinctively led to the supposition of the operation of an extraordinary cause, although we may be entirely ignorant of its nature. But when a real deviation from the laws of nature is observed, the rational conclusion is, that the power of God must have been interposed; since none has power to control or suspend the laws of nature but he that established them: and such an event is properly called a miracle. Now, although it requires strong evidence to satisfy an impartial mind of the existence of a miracle, the difficulty of believing in such a fact, does not in the least depend upon the principle assumed by the Essayist; namely, that such an event implies a violation of the uniformity of causation: for as has been shown, that idea never enters the mind of any one. The difficulty in believing in a miracle is owing to the presumption, arising from common experience, that the laws of nature will remain the same; and from the circumstance that we may never before have witnessed an event of this kind. But the thought that the thing is impossible to divine power, would never be likely to enter into any unsophisticated mind; and nothing would be requisite to produce the fullest conviction of its truth, but the opportunity of observing it in circumstances favourable to a distinct view of the fact. And when the miracle is attended by such evidence as commands assent, such as that of our own senses, no difficulty of crediting the fact would ever be experienced, on account of the uniformity of causation, or on any other account whatever.

If the preceding observations are correct, as it relates to facts which fall under the observation of the senses, the same conclusions will be true in regard to facts made known to us by testimony, of the strongest kind. It is true, this writer seems to maintain, that there is always some uncertainty in the information derived from this source. “The causes of testimony,” says he, "or those considerations which operate on the minds of the witnesses, cannot always be ascertained; and as we are uncertain as to the causes in operation, we cannot be certain of the effects; we cannot be sure that the circumstances of the witnesses are such as

have given rise to true testimony, and, consequently, we cannot be sure that the testimony is true.” According to this doctrine, testimony can in no case whatever lay a rational foundation for unhesitating assent to any fact. However numerous, and however respectable the witnesses, and whatever may be their circumstances, “we cannot be sure that the testimony is true.” But is this statement correct? Is it not in direct repugnance to the experience and conviction of every man? How do most of us know, that there is in the world such a country as France, or Great Britian? Is it not by testimony? And can we not be certain respecting this, and a thousand other matters, which we know only by the information of others? Does any intelligent man doubt any more whether there lately existed in Europe such a man as Napoleon Bonaparte, or such a man as the Duke of Wellington? The truth is, that every man is conscious of believing thousands of facts on the testimony of others with fully as much certainty as he does the things which pass before his eyes; and it would be in vain to tell men that they might be deceived in any case where their knowledge depended on testimony, “because we cannot be sure that the testimony is true;" we might as well attempt to persuade them that they did not perceive the light which was shining around them, or even that they did not exist. This being a subject on which every man's own convictions are sufficient, no argument is reeded. The case is as plain as it can be. Admitting, then that testimony may be such as to remove all doubt or uncertainty, as much as the evidence of the senses or of consciousness, the question is, supposing testimony of this kind to exist in support of a fact which implies a deviation from the

regular operation of the laws of nature, Can we on the ground of such testimony credit the miracle? When the question is thus stated, the doctrine of this philosopher is, in conformity with his prototype, Mr. Hume, that there can arise no rational belief; for, however strong the testimony may be, it cannot be stronger than the intuitive certainty, that the same causes must be fol. lowed by the same effects. Our belief in testimony itself, he informs us, is founded on the same principle; for the reason why we believe that witnesses, in certain circumstances, will speak the truth, is, because we have always observed, that when thus situated, they do speak the truth. Now, the fal. lacy of this statement has already been shown: a principle is assumed which is altogether incorrect; or, rather, a true principle is applied to a case to which it does not belong. It is true, that

the same cause does uniformly produce the same effect: concerning this there is not, nor can there be any dispute. But we have shown, that in the case of a deviation from the laws of nature, there is no need of calling this first principle at all into question. It is not alleged, that the miraculous fact is produced by the simple operation of the laws of nature; but the very contrary is asserted and believed, in every such case. Let the fact be, that some combustible substance, when cast into a hot fire, is not touched by the flame; or, to use the author's favourite illustration, that a piece of ice remains for an hour in a hot fire without being melted. Now, if it was maintained or believed, that no cause operated here but the fire, according to its common properties, there would be an absurdity in the supposition; a cause on one day produces a different effect from what the same cause does on another day. To-day a hot fire melts ice; to-morrow a fire of the same kind does not melt ice. But we venture to affirm, that this is a supposition which was never made by the most credulous of mortals. We believe that no persons, however rude, ever believed in a fact as miraculous, who did not suppose that some other than the common natural cause was in operation to produce that effect. Indeed, this idea enters into every definition of a miracle: it is an effect produced by some supernatural power. How then does such a belief mili. tate with the principle of the uniformity of causation? So far from this, it recognises the axiom, and therefore ascribes the effect not to an ordinary but to an extraordinary cause. Whether, in any given case, the testimony is sufficient, to induce an impartial man to believe in the existence of such a supernatural operation is altogether a different question. The point, and the only point now under discussion is, whether the uniform sequence of effects creates an insuperable bar in the way of our believing in a miracle, or in an event which a deviation from the common course of na. ture. And we trust that we have—with some repetition perhaps--made it evident, that this principle of common sense, that the same cause operates uniformly, or as long as it is the same produces the same effects, is, in no degree violated by the belief in miracles; because, in every miracle, it is not only supposed, but explicitly taught, that the effect owes its existence, not to the same cause which operates in the usual course of the laws of nature, but to a divine and supernatural agent, by whose interposition the laws of nature are suspended or counteracted. That an agent capable of producing such an effect

exists in the universe, none but an atheist will deny; and that the Creator of the world will never choose so to interpose as to give a striking evidence of his power aud providence, is what no one has any right to assert. What would be our conclusions in regard to this matter, if we were left to reason on the subject, may be doubtful; but when facts are seen by ourselves, or reported to us by a sufficient number of faithful and intelligent witnesses, there remains no rational alternative, but to give due credit to what is thus clearly made known. Multitudes of events which are not miraculous, are, prior to experience, altogether improbable; but when they actually occur before our eyes, or when hundreds of disinter. ested persons assure us that they have witnessed them, we never make the abstract improbability of their occurrence a reason for disbelieving them. The very same principle applies to miracles. There may be, to our apprehension, a great improbability that the laws of nature will ever be suspended by divine power, but when we ourselves see events by which these laws are contravened, or, when a sufficient num. ber of witnesses agree in attesting such facts, we cannot but receive as true, what we see with our own eyes, and what is reported by men of truth and intelligence. What kind and degree of testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, or a real deviation from the laws of nature, is a thing not to be as. certained by abstract reasoning; but when the evidence is exhibited, and the circumstances of any particular fact understood, no man needs to be informed what he should believe or disbelieve. Indeed, he has no choice in the case, if he only suffers the evidence to be fairly presented to his mind; for, as this writer has abundantly shown, belief in such a case is involuntary, whatever may be said or reasoned, abstractly, respecting the impossibility of believing in a fact which involves a departure from the course of nature; yet, if such a fact be clearly and repeatedly presented to our sight; or if it be attested by hundreds and thousands of persons who have no conceivable motive to assert what is false in the case, we should be constrained in such case to yield our assent; and the man who should in such circumstances, declare that he disbelieved what he saw with his eyes, or was attested by such a number of veracious witnesses, ought to be suspected of falsifying his own convictions, rather than disbelieving his own senses, or rejecting the testimony of a multitude of sensible and impartial witnesses.

When this author asserts, that our belief in testimony arises


from our having observed, that witnesses of a certain cha. racter and in certain circumstances do invariably speak the truth, and may therefore itself be resolved into the law of uniform causation, he does but revive Mr. Hume's principle, that our belief in testimony is the effect of experience: an opinion which has been refuted by Doctor George Campbell, of Aberdeen, in his work on Miracles, with a clearness and force, which leaves nothing to be done or desired in regard to this matter. It is there shown that belief in the testimony of others is an ultimate law of our nature, and is prior to and independent of experience; and that the effect of experience

on our belief in testimony is rather to weaken it; which is · confirmed by the fact that children are more credulous than

adults; and prior to the experience of the want of veracity in many, receive indiscriminately as true every thing which is told them. It might, we think, be demonstrated, that if belief in testimony depended on experience, it would be impossible for man to acquire knowledge; but it is not to our purpose, at present, to discuss this subject. We shall, therefore, bring our review of this volume to a close, by an illustration drawn from Sacred History. It is related in the book of Daniel, iii. 20, that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, “commanded the most mighty men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those menand these three men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound, into the midst of the burning fiery furnace." While the king surrounded by an immense multitude of people was looking into the furnace, to his astonishment he observed, that the men were walking about unhurt in the midst of the fire, and when they were called, they came forth; and “ upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed; neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of fire passed on them.” Now, it is not our object to express any opinion respecting the credibility of this fact; but merely to use it by way of illustrating the views which we have given, respecting the effect which would be produced by witnessing such a miracle; or by having it attested in a certain way.

We will now suppose, that the facts here recorded did actually take place, and that they were witnessed


« AnteriorContinuar »