« ПредишнаНапред »
which is to bring us richer reward than did that of the Atlantic to Columbus, at least to convince us that Herschel's philosophical remark may have a wider range than he intended to give it; that in physiology and in psychology, as in chemistry, there may be possible combinations that have never yet been formed under our eyes; new relations, new conditions, yet to exist or appear; all to be governed, when they do occur, by laws that have obtained, indeed, from the creation of the world, but have remained until now, if not inoperative, at least concealed from general observation.
From general observation; for, though unrecognized by science, they are not therefore to be set down as unknown. It is one of the objects proposed in the pages which follow, to glean, from the past as well as the present, scattered intimations of the existence of laws under which it has been alleged that man may attain, from sources other than revelation and analogy, some assurance in regard to the world to come. And since it is evident that no abstract truth is violated by the hypothesis of the existence of such laws, may I not adduce such names as Arago and Herschel to sustain me in asserting, that they lack prudence who take upon themselves to pronounce, in advance, that whoever argues such a theme has engaged in a search after the impossible?
The universal cause
Acts, not by partial but by general laws.-POPE.
MEN are very generally agreed to regard him as stricken with superstition or blinded by credulity who believes in any miracle of modern days. And as the world grows older this disbelief in the supernatural gradually acquires strength and universality.
The reason seems to be, that the more searchingly science explores the mechanism of the universe and unvails the plan of its government, the more evidence there appears for the poet's opinion that it is by general, not by partial, laws that the universe is.governed.
In such a doctrine the question of God's omnipotence is not at all involved. It is not whether He can make exceptions to a system of universal law, but whether He does. If we may permit ourselves to speak of God's choice and intentions, it is not whether, to meet an incidental exigency, He has the power to suspend the order of those constant sequences which, because of their constancy, we term laws; but only whether, in point of fact, He chooses to select that occasional mode of effecting His objects, or does not rather see fit to carry them out after a more unvarying plan, by means less exceptional and arbitrary. It is a question of fact.
But modern Science, in her progress, not only strikes from what used to be regarded as the list of exceptions to the general order of nature one item after another: she exhibits to us, also, more clearly day by day, the
MODERN MIRACLES REJECTED.
simplicity of natural laws, and the principle of unity under which detached branches are connected as parts of one great system
Thus, as applied to what happens in our day, accumulating experience discredits the doctrine of occasional causes and the belief in the miraculous. If a man relate to us, even from his own experience, some incident clearly involving supernatural agency, we listen with a shrug of pity. If we have too good an opinion of the narrator's honesty to suspect that he is playing on our credulity, we conclude unhesitatingly that he is deceived by his own. We do not stop to examine the evidence for a modern miracle: we reject it on general principles.
But, in assenting to such skepticism, we shall do well to consider what a miracle is. Hume, in his well-known chapter on this subject, adduces a useful illustration. The Indian prince, he says, who rejected testimony as to the existence of ice, refused his assent to facts which arose from a state of nature with which he was unacquainted, and which bore so little analogy to those events of which he had had constant and uniform experience. As to these facts, he alleges, "Though they were not contrary to his experience, they were not conformable to it."* And, in explanation of the distinction here made, he adds, in a note, "No Indian, it is evident, could have experience that water did not freeze in cold climates."+
Is the above distinction à substantial one? If so, it leads much further than Hume intended it should.
Not only had the Indian prince never seen water in a solid state; until now, he had never heard of such a thing. Not only was his own unvarying experience
* Hume's "Essays and Treatises on Various Subjects," 2d ed., London, 1784, vol. ii. p. 122.
† Hume's Essays, vol. ii., Note K, p. 479.
THE INDIAN PRINCE
opposed to the alleged fact, but the experience of his fathers, the traditions of his country, all declared that water ever had been, as now it was, a fluid. Had he no right to say that solid water was a thing contrary to his experience? Or ought he, with philosophic moderation, to have restricted his declaration to this, that the phenomenon of ice, if such phenomenon had actual existence, "arose from a state of nature with which he was unacquainted."
We, who have so often walked upon solid water, find no difficulty in deciding that this last is what he ought to have said. Let us forgive the ignorant savage his presumptuous denial, as we would ourselves, in similar case, be forgiven!
Let us reflect how much cautious wisdom, that we find not among the best informed and most learned among ourselves, we are expecting from an unlettered barbarian. Let us inquire whether Hume, calm and philosophic as he is, does not himself fail in the very wisdom he exacts. He says, in the same chapter,
"A miracle is a violation of the laws of Nature; and, as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined."*
Here are two propositions: one, that what a firm and unalterable experience establishes is a law of nature; and the other, that a variation from such a law is a miracle.
But no human experience is unalterable. We may say it has hitherto been unaltered. And even that it is always hazardous to say.
If any one has a right thus to speak of his experience and that of his fellows, was not the Indian prince justified in considering it to be proved, by unalterable
*Hume's Essays, vol. ii. p. 122.
AND THE SCOTTISH HISTORIAN.
experience, that a stone placed on the surface of a sheet of water would sink to the bottom? Was he not fully justified, according to Hume's own premises, in setting down the traveler's allegation to the contrary as the assertion of a miracle, and, as such, in rejecting it as impossible?
"No Indian," says Hume, "could have experience that water did not freeze in cold countries." Of course
not. That was a fact beyond his experience. Are there no facts beyond ours? Are there no states of nature with which we are unacquainted? Is it the Indian prince alone whose experience is limited and fallible?
When a man speaks of the experience of the past as a regulator of his belief, he means he can mean-only so much of that experience as has come to his knowledge mediately or immediately. In such a case, then, to express himself accurately, he ought not to say, "the experience of the past,"-for that would imply that he knows all that has ever happened,-but only, "my past experience."
Then Hume's assertion, in the paragraph above quoted, is, that his past experience, being firm and unalterable, enables him to determine what are invariable laws of nature, and, consequently, what are miracles.
Nor is this the full extent of the presumption. Elsewhere in this chapter the author says "that a miracle supported by any human testimony is more properly a subject of derision than of argument."+
Taken in connection with the paragraph above cited, what a monstrous doctrine is here set up! Let it be
* In another place (p. 119) Hume employs the word infallible in a similar connection, thus:-"A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event." (The italics are his.) † Hume's Essays, vol. ii. p. 133.