Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

No means of detection remain, but those which must be drawn from the very testimony itself of the reporters : And these, though always sufficient with the judicious and knowing, are commonly too fine to fall under the comprehension of the vulgar.

Upon the whole, then, it appears, that no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be opposed by another proof derived from the very nature of the fact, which it would endeavour to establish. 'Tis experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and 'tis the same experience, which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but fubftract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder. But according to the principle here explained, this substraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an intire annihilation; and therefore we may establish it as a máxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any fuch system of religion *

I am

. * I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impoflible to find any such in all the records of history. Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that from the first of January, 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days : Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: That all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction : 'Tis evident, that our present

philosophers,

I am the better pleased with this method of reasoning, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends or dif

guised

philosophers, instead of doubting that fact, ought to receive it for certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived. The decay, corruption, and dissolution of nature, is an event rendered probable by so many analogies, that any phænomenon, which seems to have a tendency towards that catastrophe, comes within the reach of human testimony, if that teftimony be very extensive and unis. form.

But suppose, that all the historians, who treat of ENGLAND, should agree, that on the first of JANUARY, 1600, Queen ELIZABETH died ; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknowleged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, took poffeffion of the throne, and governed England for three years : I must confess, I should be surprized at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence ; the wisdom and integrity of that renowned queen ; with the little or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: All this might astonish me ; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phænomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than to admit so fignal a violation of the laws of nature.

But should this miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion ; men, in all ages, have been so much imposed on by ridiculous stories of that kind, that this very circumstance would be a full proof of a cheat, and fufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them reject the fact, but even reject it without farther examination. Though the Being to whom the miracle is ascribed, be, in this case, Almighty, it does not, upon that account, become a whit more probable ; fince 'tis imposible for us to know the attributes or actions of such a Being, otherwise than from the experience which we have of his productions, in the usual course of nature. This itill seduces us to paft observation, and obliges us to compare the instances of the violations of truth in the testimony of men with those of the violation of the laws of

nature

[ocr errors]

guised enemies to the Christian Religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and 'tis a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us examine those miracles, related in scripture; and not to lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine ourselves to fuch as we find in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the production of a mere human writer and historian. Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, wrote in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates ; corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts, which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: Of our fall from that state: Of the age of man, extended to near a thou

W

nature by miracles, in order to judge which of them is most likely and probable. As the violations of truth are more common in the testimony concerning religious miracles, than in that concerning any other matter of fact; this must diminish very much the authority of the former testimony, and make us form a general resolution, never to lend any attention to it, with whatever specious pretext it may be covered.

mai

My lord Bacon seems to have embraced the same principles of reasoning. « Faci“ enda enim eft congeries five historia naturalis particularis omnium monstrorum & “ partuum naturæ prodigioforum ; omnis denique novitatis & raritatis & inconsueti “ in natura. Hoc vero faciendum eft cum severissimo delectu, ut conftet fides. “ Maxime autem habenda sunt pro fufpectis quæ pendent quomodocunque ex religione, “ ut prodigia Livir: Nec minus quæ inveniuntur in fcriptoribus magiæ naturalis, “ aut etiam alchymix, & hujusmodi hominibus ; qui tanquam proci funt & ama" tores fabularum."

Nov. Organ. Lib. 2. Aph. 29.

fand

sand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge : Of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the favourites of heaven ; and that people, the countrymen of the author : Of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the falfhood of such a book, fupported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.

aco

What we have said of miracles may be applied, without any variation, to prophecies; and indeed, all prophecies are real miracles, and as such only, can be admitted as proofs of any revelation. If it did not exceed the capacity of human nature to foretel future events, it would be absurd to employ any prophecy as an argument for a divine mission or authority from heaven. So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

Vol. II.

S E C TI ON XI.

OF A PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE AND OF.

A FUTURE STATE.

T WAS lately engaged in conversation with a friend who I loves feeptical paradoxes; where, though he advanced many principles, of which I can by no means approve, yet as they seem to be curious, and to bear some relation to the chain of reasoning carried on through this enquiry, I shall here copy them from my memory as accurately as I can, in order to submit them to the judgment of the reader.

Our conversation began with my admiring the singular good fortune of philosophy, which, as it requires intire liberty, above all other privileges, and flourishes chiefly from the free opposition of sentiments and argumentation, received its first birth in an age and country of freedom and toleration, and was never cramped, even in its most extravagant principles, by any creeds, confessions, or penal statutes. For except the banishment of PROTAGORAS, and the death of SOCRATES, which last event proceeded partly from other motives, there are scarce any instances to be met with, in anticnt history, of this bigotted jealousy, with which the present age is so much infested. Epicurus lived at ATHENS to an advanced age, in

peace

« ZurückWeiter »