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it is liable to no uncertainty, and never was found false in the whole history of man, and amidst the endless vicissitudes of human affairs ? Courts of justice are every day listening to testimonies upon which they ground their most important decisions— decisions that vitally affect the fortunes and lives of their fellow men - which they regard as liable to no shadow of exception, and the conclusive force of which they would not allow to be brought in question with any patience or toleration. And these kinds of testimony, ton, which our judicial tribunals deem so satisfactory, in its evidence is far below that which was furnished by the evangelists and apostles in reference to the gospel miracles. I say, then, that by a conclusive train of reasoning I have before demonstrated, that M. Hume's principle is false, that all human testimony rests only upon a variable experience of its truth, as there are some kinds of testimony so strongly fortified, that they were never found deceptive from the formation of the world to the present moment. This is a view of the subject, allow me to say, which you have not attempted to invalidate, and the force of which you do not appear rightly to have apprehended. You have either not applied your attention to it so closely as to obtain a just comprehension of it, or attempted to evade its force, by taking refuge in the general declaration, that testimony can never be so accumulated as to outweigh invariable experience. With all due respect to your logical powers, this is not the point at issue between M. Hume, you, and myself. In a refutation of his much-vaunted argument, the question to be solved is, not whether testimony can ever be so strongly confirmed as to outweigh invariable experience, but whether testimony must itself always be subject to the deficiency of resting upon a variable experience. This is the genuine subject of this controversy,
and it is a matter of subsequent investigation to determine, whether of the two degrees of evidence, each of which may sometimes amount to certainty, the one or the other is to be preferred. The philosopher can never be disposed to doubt, that we may attain to natural if not mathematical certainty, in regard to the constitution and laws of nature, as weil as to matters proved by competent testimony; and a difficulty arises only when these two kinds of proof come in collision with one another, or, in the language of Mr. Locke, when the reports of witnesses clash with the ordinary course of nature.
From this more extended view of the subject, I trust you will discern not only the cogency of the argument by which I attempted to refute this objection against miracles, but also the exact aptitude and analogical proof of the illustration by which I enforced it, derived from the fable of the father upon his death bed delivering an admonition to unity among his sons by his bundle of rods. Of this representation you say, without any color of reason, 'The force of the illustration appears to me to be just this, and no more: as a number of sticks are stronger than one stick, so is the testimony of a number of witnesses stronger than that of one witness. That it is so, no one can dispute; but the question then recurs, can testimony be so accumulated as to out invariable experience? M. Hume thinks nut, because the ignorance, prejudices, passions, and falsehood of mankind render testimony variable and uncertain in its character. Now, with all due deference to your philosophical discernment, this illustration was neither introduced to show that'as a number of sticks are stronger than one stick, so is the testimony of a number of witnesses stronger than that of one witness,' since it would have required a Solomon to deduce this inference, and we pretend to no rivalry with the wisest of mankind; nor was it intended by a recurrence to this fable to prove that testimony may be so accumulated as to outweigh invariable experience,' since the strength of a Sampson must have been put in requisition to lug such a weight into that field of argument. But the simple and sole purpose of that illustration - a purpose which I presume it has completely answered — was to detect the latent fallacy of M. Hume's reasoning, which infers the general conclusion, that all testimony is supported only by a variable experience of its truth, because some species of testimony are liable to that charge of deficiency. To draw a general conclusion from a partial collection of facts, and more especially when many contradictory facts may be alleged against it, is not only opposed to all ordinary rules of logic, but directly in the teeth of the Baconian
method of inquiry, which imperiously demands that our conclusions shall keep exact pace with the facts upon which they are founded. M. Hume maintains, that no human testimony can authenticate a miracle, because human testimony always rests upon a variable experience. I deny the truth of this premise, and assert that only some kinds of testimony are liable to this charge, but that others may be so strongly confirmed as to be found invariably true in the course of human affairs. In support of this affirmation, I introduce the father, his sone, and his bundle of rods, and show that M. Hume's reasoning is as if these sons had told their father that since these rods may be separately broken, so also they must be frangible when all united. Do not these symbols apıly denote the archetypes to which they refer? Reduce the reasoning of the sceptic to syllogistic form, and see how it will stand the test: Testimony is sometimes doubtful and deceptive; that which is sometimes deceptive must always be so; therefore testimony is always deceptive. Would not this inference be a non sequitur, and resemble an attempt to prove that all mankind are liars and rogues, because some among them are found to be so ? From these considerations, I think you cannot fail to perceive, that the father would neither “trick his children,' when he admonished them as in the fable, nor when he reasoned with them as in the illustration.
In regard to the great affair of the authenticity of miracles, since in this discussion you will bring us to that inquiry, I would decidedly maintain, with the greatest masters of reason that ever lived, that there is a degree of certainty to be derived from human testimony, which will overbalance all that certainty which may be derived from the most invariable experience of the uniform course of pature. M. Hume is not so entirely an original in the invention of the argument about which we are now contending, as you may be inclined to think. Locke speaks of a difficulty arising in the proof of miracles, from the consideration that in these cases testimony is made to clash with ordinary experience. And the very circumstance, that they are denominated signs and wonders in the scriptures, and that the witnesses of those which are recorded are described as so reluctant to believe them, is decisive proof, that even in those days mankind were by no means insensible of the full weight of that evidence which lay against them. The ingenuity of M. Hume, which I am willing to allow consisted in discovering a plausible argument to show, upon philosophical principles, why this difficulty in their proof from testimony must always be insuperable, and in detecting a vitiating property in human testimony, which renders it incompetent to the purpose of authenticating these violations of the laws of nature. Are, then, the miracles recorded in the gospel sufficiently authenticated? When you descend to compare them with the stories of witches and witchcraft, or the idle accounts having currency among the ignorant, about the wonderful feats of impostors who practice upon popular credulity, if I could suppose your mind really affected by a difficulty of this kind, and unable from a confusion of ideas to make a ready discrimination between them, I could only turn physician, and recommend as a remedy for this disorder, a mixture composed of a few ounces of good sense, some grains of philosophy, and a few scruples of mural worth, to purify the intellectual faculties, and restore the diseased action of the mental system. Have ridiculous fooleries of this kind any similitude to that sober, chastened, and well-digested detail of facts recorded in the gospel, the truth of which is not only attested by credible witnesses, but whose testimony is confirmed by every circumstance which can be conceived to recommend it, as well as by permanent institutions reared in their commemoration, which serve as monuments to perpetuate their memories, and the real recurrence of the facts to which they refer, through all future ages? During the progress of every season, and even every Sabbath day, you behold the Christian churches engaged in the promulgation of doctrines, and the celebration of rites and ceremonies, founded upon miraculous facts. Account for their origin, if you can, without having recourse to the assumption that those facts were really and truly exhibited in the history of mankind. I know that M. Gibbon has attempted this, but I know also that he has failed in the proof of it.
Let us now, in as few words as possible, institute an exact balance between the evi
dence afforded by testimony in favor of miracles, and that furnished by our invariable experience as individuals against them, and see which scale ought to preponderate.
First, then, we have in favor of the miracles recorded in the gospel, the following corroborated and accumulated evidence. They are proved by a competent number of credible witnesses, apostles and evangelists, who sustained through life characters for the most consummate purity and unimpeachable integrity. These witnesses, in confirmation of their reports, bore attestation to facts so simple and intelligible that they could not have been deceived about them; they, in consequence of their adoption of the system of theology founded upon these facts, changed all their former opinions, discarded the inveterate prejudices of education, entered upon new habits of life, and subjected themselves to the control of a novel and more rigorous discipline. Nor is this the sum of the whole argument. These witnesses, besides embracing a new faith from conviction of mind, evinced the sincerity of their belief by encountering all kinds of labors, privations, sufferings, humiliations, persecutions, and at last the most horrid deaths. And to complete the proof afforded us of the truth of their testimony, not one among them ever recanted his new opinions, but, adhering to the declaration of them even amidst the pains of martyrdom, not only did they all incontestjbly demonstrate their own sincerity, but had the happiness to carry conviction to the minds of their contemporaries, demolished the venerable structure of the Jewish hierarchy, and bore the banners of the cross over the ruins of that pagan idolatry and superstition which had been receiving strength from immemorial antiquity, and had gradually incorporated itself into the mighty trunk of the Roman Empire, which at that time extended its limbs, and maintained its uncontrollable masterdom over the known world. Place the evidence thus furnished in proof of miracles by the side of your story of the Salem witches, and let me hope that you will blush with ingenuous shame for having ventured upon the comparison.
Having displayed that corroborated testimony which amounts to the highest degree of moral certainty, let us now endeavor to ascertain the exact weight of that evidence which is to be thrown into the scales against it. This is drawn from our uniform and invariable experience of the laws of nature. No philosopher will deny that this consideration presents a great difficulty in the case of miracles, which presuppose violations of those established laws, and all intelligent men acknowledge that more than ordinary evidence is requisite to render them credible. In this argument, I do not presume that my antagonist has run into the extremity of Spinoza, denying the possibility of miracles because the order of nature is immutable, but that, supposing miracles to be achievable by omnipotence, he maintains we can never have sufficient evidence from human testimony that they have been performed. Under this aspect, let us nicely scrutinize the subject. You and I have had invariable experience that water cannot by the word of man be converted into wine ; that the winds and sea do not submit to his order; that he cannot instantaneously heal incurable maladies; nor, above all, raise a dead body in which putrefaction has commenced. This knowledge of the laws of nature would lead us justly to treat with contempt and ridicule the pretensions of such persons as Matthias the impostor, and his stupid followers. This course is reasonable, and sanctioned by every man of sense. But how far should we extend our sceptism and incredulity in such matters? To determine this point, we must ask ourselves, what is the degree of evidence which we derive from the course of nature, tending to show that this order admits of no alterations? It is clear that, in regard to the constitution and laws of nature, we can neither attain to intuitive or demonstrative certainty. If we could do this, the affair would be surnmarily settled, and no room left for doubt. We should then be as sure that a dead man could or could not be raised, as that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. But Science allows that she is in possession of no proofs which will enable her to decide this point, or even that the sun will rise to-morrow, or the tides will now in our rivers. The inhabitants of Lisbon, a moment before the earth opened and swallowed them, were as certain of their safety as they had been
for centuries, and yet their knowledge of nature deceived them. But you will say, that these events arise out of the operation of natural causes, and come within the compass of established laws. And who can show you that the coming of the Son of Man, and the miracles he performed, may not by the Almighty have been incorporated into the frame of nature?
Again : You and I have from experience discovered the uniform course of nature, and justly conclude that, as it now subsists, its laws are never violated; but we never had any observation of them as they were displayed in the times of the apostles, when the whole moral world was in a state of degeneracy and corruption, and stood in need of great reformation.
The King of Siam was no philosopher, and reasoned without his host, when he concluded, from the phenomena exhibited in his tropical climate, that the Dutch ambassador falsified, when he alleged that in Europe water was converted into a solid substance hy the action of cold.
Farther : You will perceive from what has been alleged, that all the evidence we can derive from the course of nature, amounts only to strong probability, and what we may denominate natural or mechanical proof, which is a degree of certainty, very remote from demonstration. This, then, is the certainty of which you speak as resting upon invariable experience, and which, if you repose too unbounded trust in it, you may find oftentimes very treacherous, and a fixture from which your foot may slip. To this we oppose the very bighest degree of moral certainty, based upon apostolic testimony, and as our experience cannot properly be said to extend to nature as it appeared in their day, we cannot but conclude that the proof of the facts which they relate is satisfactory. M. Hume endeavors to propound an infallible standard by which, in all cases, we may test the credibility of a miracle. He says we should not believe a miracle, unless it would be as great a violation of the order of nature that the testimony which sustains it should be false, as that the fact reported should be true. If we could penetrate into the thin and impalpable structure of moral nature, and ascertain precisely the established laws that regulate it, I am not sure that we need object to this maxim. I am inclined to think that it would be as signal a violation of the established laws of moral nature, that the testimony furnished by the evangelists and apostles should be false, as it would be of the order of physical nature, that all the miracles they have related should be true.
You will remark, then, in conclusion, that in the case of miracles, the balance of evidence lies between different degrees of probability – that probability which in both its kinds ordinarily amounts to perfect certainty, but when they come in collision, the one or the other must preponderate, according to its superior force of evidence arising out of the nature and circumstances of the facts. Suppose you and I should hear that the city of Philadelphia had been swallowed by an earthquake. Such report would appear to us very improbable from our past experience, and our knowledge of its situation, soil, and every circumstance which can secure it against disasters of this nature; and yet should we doubt the fact, if related by credible witnesses? But you will say that earthquakes are common in some parts of the earth, and the agents which produce them are known to exist in nature. True; but they are violations of those uniform laws of nature, with which we have become familiar, and which preserve matter in just equipoise, and prevent violent convulsions; and as to the observation that the agents which produce them are known to subsist, the same is the case in reference to miracles, as the omnipotence of God is always exerted, and all that we have to demonstrate is, that in a specific case, this power has been exercised. I am aware, that there is a difference in the cases, and that the one presumes an action contrary to the laws of nature, and the other in conformity to them ; but, inasmuch as it cannot be denied that in both cases a cause adequate to produce the effect subsists in the system, I cannot conceive why we should so readily allow the one, and pertinaciously resuse assent to the other, when it is proved by adequate testimony. The great difficulty in these matters arises out of the uncongeniality or want of homogeneousness in the kinds of evidence — that which depends upon testimony, and that which depends upon experience. They cannot be reduced to a com
mon measure, and therefore can never have their relative value precisely determined. This is an evil inherent in the very essence of the thing; and perhaps the Creator may intend that christianity should be offered to us in this shape, dealing with us as moral agents, whose assent to its doctrines is not coerced by mathematical demonstration, but left to the free and unconstrained exercise of our intellectual and moral powers. This, too, is the condition in which a large proportion of moral and natural truth is left by the great disposer of all things. Why should we, who cannot strictly demonstrate that the sun will rise to-morrow, the tides will flow, or the earth continue in its orbit, expect to obtain mathematical certainty of the truths of Christianity, or of the evidence by which she is sustained? We enjoy all the proofs which the nature of the case admits; and if we are dissatisfied with these, upon a nice scrutiny of our hearts and minds, we shall invariably discover, that our incredulity has not so much arisen from the exercise of our intellectual faculties, as from some deficiency in the state of our moral feelings.
Hoping that, by these reflections and this train of reasoning, if I have not been so fortunate as to remove all your doubts, and silence all your objections which relate to this fundamental point in the system of christianity, I have at least awakened you to a more serious examination of its claims, and subdued some of those prejudices which might close your mind against the light of its evidences, and restrain you from an entrance into its sacred pale, I bid you a respectful and well-wishing adieu.
THE DRAMA. PARK THEATRE. — Mes. and MR. KEELEY. — During a highly successful engagement of Mr. and Mrs. KEELEY at the Park, the public have had an opportunity of judging correctly of their merits, and we are happy to state that they have freely testified their approbation. Mrs. Keeley is an actress unlike any that we ever remember to have seen on the Park boards. The late Mrs. CHAPMAN came nearest to her in style ; and in justice to this favorite actress, we must say, that in one or two things she quite equalled the English artiste. Mrs. Keeley's principal forte seems to lie in the portraying of those characters which come within the range of what is called the domestic drama – a style of composition not so lofty as tragedy, and less serious than the modern melo-drama. In farce, Mrs. Keeley is the gayest of the gay, and quite French in her style, without any of that stiffness which sometimes makes the liveliest farces the most solemn of dramatic representations. Mr. KEELEY is decidedly an odd one.' His person is almost as grotesque as Reeve's, and his manner altogether peculiar to himself. In certain characters of farce he is irresistible. His 'Peter Spyk,' in the 'Loan of a Lover,' we would instance as among the best of his personations. Mrs. Keeley's claims as a singer are as great as her merits in farce. In truth, by many her songs are considered the gems of her performance. Her voice is naturally sweet, but of a limited compass, with a highly cultivated style, and always in good taste. In short, without entering into a laborious critique of performers, whose merits are so palpable as are those of Mrs. and Mr. Keeley (place aur dames!) we congratulate the American public on the sterling acquisition which they are receiving to their theatrical enjoyment in the visit of these artists to this country.
MR. DENVIL. — This gentleman is from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane,' and has appeared at the Park Theatre in the parts of 'Shylock,' 'Richard,' and 'Manfred,' of the last of which we intend to speak anon. The English critics - one of them at least — has said much for Mr. Denvil's personation of 'Shylock,' which is so singularly at variance with the general opinion of those who have witnessed that 'identification' here, that, in justice to Mr. Denvil, we cannot refrain from transcribing it :
DRURY-LANE. – Mr. Denvil made his first metropolitan appearance here last night, and his maiden effort was the arduous one of delineating Shylock. There is a boldness deserving encou