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stances to be taken into consideration in all judge ments of this kind; and the ultimate standard, by which we determine all disputes, that may arise concerning them, is always deriv'd from experience and obserration. Where this experience is not entirely uniform on any side, 'tis attended with an unavoidable contrariety in our judgments, and with the same opposition and mutual destruction of arguments as in every other kind of evidence. We frequently hefi. tate concerning the reports of others. We balance the opposite circumstances, which cause any doubt or uncertainty; and when we discover a superiority on any fide, we incline to it; but still with a dimi. nution of assurance, in proportion to the force of its antagonist.
Tuis contrariety of evidence, in the present case, may be deriv'd from several different causes; from the opposition of contrary testimony; from the character or number of the witnesses; from the manner of their delivering their teftimony ; or from the uni. on of all these circumstances. We entertain a suspi. cion concerning any matter of fact, when the witnel. ! ses contradict each other ; when they are but few, or of a suspicious character ; when they have an interest in what they affirm; when they deliver their testimony with doubt and hesitation, or on the contrary, with Loo violent asseverations. There are many other par.
ticulars of the same kind, which may diminish or destroy the force of any argument, deriv'd from hu. man testimony.
Suppose, for instance, that the fact, which the testimony endeavours to establish, partakes of the extraordinary and the marvellous; in that case, the evidence, resulting from the testimony, receives a diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more or less unusual. The reason, why we place any credit in witnesses and historians is not from ariy connexion, which we perceive à priori betwixt testimony and reality, but because we are accufom'a to find a conformity betwixt them. But when the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our observation, here is a contest of two opposite experiences ; of which the one destroys the other as far as its force goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force, which remains. The very fame principle of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance on the testimony of witnes. ses, gives us also, in this case, another degree of assurance against the fact, which they endeavour to establish ; from which contradiction there necessarily arises a counterpoize, and mutual destruction of be.. lief and authority.. .
I shou'd not believe such a flory were it told me by Cato.; was a proverbial saying in Rome, even during
the life-time of that philosophical patriot * The incredibility of a fact, it was allow'd, might invali. date so great an authority.
The Indian prince, who refus’d to believe the firft relations concerning the effects of frost, reason'd juftly; and it naturally required very strong teiti. mony to engage his affent to facts, which arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and bore so little analogy to those events, of which he had had constant and uniform experience. Tho' they were not contrary to his experience, they were
not conformable to it f. : * Plutarch, in vita Catonis.
4 No Indian, 'tis evident, could have experience, that water did not freeze in cold climates. This is placing nature - in a situation quite unknown to him ; and 'tis imposible for
him iu tell, à priori, what will result from it. 'Tis making a new experiment, the consequence of which is always uncertain. One may sometimes conjecture from analogy what will follow ; but still this is but conjecture. And it muit be confeft, that, in the prefent case of freezing, the evest follows contrary to the rules of analogy, and is such as a cacional Indian would not look for. The operations of cold upon water are not gradual, according to the degrees of cold; but whenever it comes to the freezing point, the water parfes, in a moment, from the utmost liquidity to perfed hard. ness. Such an event, therefore, may be denominated ctraordinary, and requires a pretty strong teftimony to render it credible to people in a warm climate : But still it is not miraculous, nor contrary to uniform experience of the course of nature in cases where all the circumstances are the same. The inhabitants of Sumatra have always seen water liquid in their own climate, and the freezing of their rivers ought to be deem'd a prodigy : But they never faw water in Mija covy during the winter; and therefore they cannot reasona. bly be pofitive what would there be the confequence. .
But in order to increase the probability against the testimony of witnesses, let us suppose that the fact, which they affirm, instead of being only marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the testimony, consider'd apart, and in itself, amounts to an entire proof; in that case there is proof against proof, of which the strongest mult prevail, but ftill with a diminution of its force, in proportion to that of its antagonist.
A MIRACI E is a violation of the laws of nature ; and as a firm and unalterable experience has establish'd 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 imagin'd. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air ; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguish'd by water ; unless it be that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is requir'd a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemid a miracle if it ever happen in the common course of nature. '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 observ'd to happen. But 'tis a miH 4
racle, that a dead man should come to life ; because that has never been observ'd, 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 destroy'd, or the miracle render'd credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior *.
The plain consequence is (and 'tis a general maxim worthy of our attention) “ That no testimony is fuf
* Sometimes an event may not, in itself, seem to be contrary to the laws of nature, 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 person, 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 justly be efteem'd miracles, because they are really, in this case, contrary to the laws of nature. For if any suspicion remain, that the event and com. mand concurr'd by accident, there is no miracle and no trané. gression of the laws of nature. If this suspicion be remov'd, 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 accurately defin'd, a transgreffion of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposal of some invisible agent. A miracle may either be discoverable by men or not. This alters not its nature and essence. The railing of a house or ship into the air is a visible miracle. The raising of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of a force requisite for that purpore, is as real a miracle, tho' not fo fenfible with regard to us,