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fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain sufpended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water ; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happen in the common course of natute. 'Tis no miracle that a man in seeming good health should die on a sudden; because such a kind of death, tho' more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But 'tis a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be an uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior *.
* Sometimes an event may not, in itself, seem to be contrary to the laws of ñature, and yet, if it were real, it might, by reason of some circumstances, be denominated a miracle ; because, in fact, it is contrary to these laws Thus if a perfon, claiming a divine authority, should command a fick person to be well, a healthful man to fall down dead, the clouds to pour rain, the winds to blow, in short, should order many natural events, which immediately follow upon his command; these might juftly be esteemed miracles, because they ar ally, in this case, contrary
the laws of nature. For if any suspicion remain, that the event and command concurred by accident, there is no miracle and no transgreffion of the laws of nature. If this suspicion be removed, there is evidently a miracle, and a transgression of these laws; because nothing can be more contrary to nature than that the voice or command of a man should have such an influence. A miracle may be ac. curately defined, a transgreffion of a law of na!ure by a particular w:lition of ibe Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent. A miracle may
either be discoverable by men or not. This alters not its nature and esence. The
The plain consequence is (and 'tis a general maxim worthy of our attention) “ That no testimony is suffi« cient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony bę of « such a kind, that its falfhood would be more miracu. “ lous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish : « And even in that case, there is a mutual destruction of “ arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance “ fuitable to that degree of force, which remains, after “ deducting the inferior.” 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 falshood 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,
In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an intire proof, and that the fallhood of that testimony would be a kind of prodigy : But 'tis easy to Thew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concessions, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence.
For first, there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good-fense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such un
raising of a house or ship into the air is a vifible miracle. The raising of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of a force requisite for that pure pose, is as real a miracle, sho' not fo fenfible with regard to us.
doubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of being detected in any fallhood ; and at the same time attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.
Secondly. We may observe in human nature a principle, which, if strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the assurance which we might have, from human testimony, in any kind of prodigy. The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects of which we have no experience, resemble those, of which we have: that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to fuch of them as are founded on the greatest number of past observations. But tho' in
proceeding by this rule, we readily reject any fact which is unusual and incredible in an ordinary degree; yet in advancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule ; but when any thing is affirmed utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits such a fact, upon account of that very circumstance which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of surprize and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events from which it is derived. And this goes so far, that even those who cannot enjoy this pleasure immediately, nor can believe those miraculous events, of which they are informed, yet love to partake of the fatisfaction at secondhand, or by rebound, and place a pride and delight in exciting the admiration of others. K2
* With what greediness are the miraculous accounts of
know his narration to be false, and yet persevere
Eloquence, when in its highest pitch, leaves little room
* The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, os which detect themselves by their absurdity, mark fufficiently the strong
Thirdly. It forms a very strong presumption against all fupernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admiffion to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transa mitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend received opinions. When we perufe the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves transported into some new world, where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner, from what it does at present, Battles, revolutions, pestilences, famines, and death, are never the effects of those natural causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles, judgments, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages of science and knowlege, we foon learni, that there is nothing mysterious or fupernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that tho' this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and
i propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind. This is our natural
of thinking, even with regard to the most common and most credible events. For instance: There is no kind of report, which rises so easily, and spreads fo quickly, especially in country places and provincial towns, as those concerning marriages; insomuch that two young persons of equal condition never see, each other twice, but the whole neighbourhood immediately join them together. The pleasure of telling a piece of new's so interesting, of propagating it, and of being the first reporters of it, spreads the intelligence. And this is so well known, that no man of fenfe gives attention to these reports, till he finds thein confirmed by some greater evidence. Do not the same passions, and others ftill ftronger, inclins the generality of mankind to the believing and reporting, with the greatest vehemence and assurance, all religious miracles ?