« AnteriorContinuar »
late Samuel Bailey.1 Bailey claims for himself the merit of calling attention to the fact that, we assume uniformity of causation in the past, with precisely the same degree of certainty as we count on it in the future. However arrived at, the belief is universal that, like causes not only do and will continue to produce like effects, but that they always have done so. The belief that a stone thrown upwards always had a tendency to return to the earth in times past, is as strong as the belief that the same would happen now. This assumption respecting physical events is equally potent respecting mental phenomena. In all our dealings with others we act upon this belief. We expect an act of kindness to give pleasure, or an insult to give offence, with the same confidence as we expect lead to sink in water or fire to burn: and we take it for granted that this always was so. Given similar conditions we assume similar results no less in moral and intellectual than in physical events.
Apply these considerations to our belief in testimony. The credibility of all testimony, whether oral or written, is invariably tried by rules which involve belief in the uniformity of causation. “It is allowed,” says Bailey, “that the concurrence of a number of witnesses in the same assertion, their reputation for veracity, the fact of the testimony being against their own interest, the probability of detection in any false statement, are all circumstances enhancing the credibility of what they affirm.” Why so ? It is in virtue of our belief in the uniformity of causation. Or as Hume puts it: “It is experience which gives authority to human testimony.” Where testimony conflicts, as it sometimes does, with the constancy of some assumed law of nature, we are reduced (if the case does not admit of an experimental test) to a balance of probabilities. We weigh the character of the witnesses, or the accuracy of the observations, against our knowledge of the order of phenomena which the alleged event is said to
? Vide Essay on the Uniformity of Causation.
contravene. If the occurrence testified to violate a conplete induction—such as a law of nature whose constancy we have frequently experienced—no testimony, however well supported, would be strong enough to establish it as fact. Suppose, for instance, that a number of scientific men, men of known integrity, who had no interests to serve but those of truth and science, whose powers of observation were highly practised, whose professional reputations would be injured by error, and ruined by suspicion of dishonesty,—suppose a number of such men to declare that, on a certain occasion when they met together, by the simple word of command of one of the party, heat suddenly ceased to cause the expansion of mercury in the thermometer. However unimpeachable we may imagine the testimony to be in such a case, the statement would, by all but completely ignorant and uneducated persons, at once be discredited. Not the apparent fact, mind, that the mercury did not rise in the tube; but that this was brought about simply by a word of command. The claim of these witnesses to credence would rest solely upon our knowledge of their characters, backed by our experience of such men generally. We should believe them either because we had hitherto found them truthful; or, as a rule, had found men of their stamp worthy of belief. We trust, in short, to the uniformity of our experience, i.e., to the uniformity of the law of causation. How then can we ever set aside this law, for the sake of testimony whose validity ever depends on the law ?
There is no way to evade this objection to miracles save one: this is to maintain that a miracle is not a violation of the natural law. Modern theologians, almost to a man, embrace this doctrine. It is not, however, a new one. Brown, amongst others, sturdily defended the position in reply to Hume. Brown frankly admitted that, if Hume's definition of a miracle were correct, his argument would be unanswerable. For, says Brown, ,“ however .constant the connection of truth with testi
mony, in the most favourable circumstances, may be, it cannot be more, though it may be less, constant than the connection of any other physical phenomena, which have been by supposition unvaried in their order of sequence till the very moment of that supposed violation of their order in which the miracle is said to consist.” The connection between truth and testimony is less constant than the connection between death and decay for instance. Consequently it is more probable that the connection between truth and testimony should be broken, than that the connection between death and decay should be so; and hence that the dead should be brought to life again. “ That a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand witnesses should in the same circumstances (i.e., specially favourable to truth) concur in the same false account, would be a miracle indeed; but it would only be a miracle still.” We may set one miracle against another“the miracle of their falsehood against the physical miracle reported by them; but we cannot do better than this: we cannot render it less a violation of a law of nature, and less inconsistent therefore with the principle which both speculatively and practically has guided us in all views of the sequence of events.” 1
Brown candidly confesses, no stand is to be made here; but he repudiates Hume's definition of a miracle. “The laws of nature," says he, “surely are not violated when a new antecedent is followed by a new consequent; they are violated only when the antecedent being exactly the same, a different consequent is the result,” &c. "A miracle is not a violation of any law of nature. . . . It has nothing in it which is inconsistent with our belief in the most undeviating uniformity of nature; for it is not the sequence of a different event when the preceding circumstances have been the same; it is an effect that is new to our observation, because it is the result of new and peculiar circumstances.” A miracle, he argues, is
1 Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect.
an extraordinary result of an extraordinary antecedent; so is any new and startling event in the course of nature. But we do not conclude a violation of the laws of nature because of our previous ignorance; neither should we do so in the case of a miracle. “It is the Divine will that, preceding it immediately, is the cause of the extraordinary effect which we call miraculous; and whatever may be the new consequent of the new antecedent, the course of nature is as little violated by it as it was violated by the electrician, who for the first time drew lightning from the clouds," &c. Again, “The Highest of all Powers of whose mighty agency the universe which sprung from it affords evidence so magnificent, has surely not ceased to be one of the Powers of nature. . . . He is the greatest of all the Powers of nature, but he is still one of the Powers of nature as much as any other Power.”
This is precisely the dictum of our living apologists. Here we have the last word in defence of miracles. Archbishop Thomson writes, “We should need to know far more of the laws of nature before we attribute to them, as some people do, a rigid inflexibility, in which the idea of God is extinguished, and man becomes a machine.” That is to say, we have no right to assume a miracle to be less natural (though more unusual) than any other event: God having the power to control all events.
Archbishop Trench more plainly affirms, “We should term the miracle, not an infraction of a law, but behold in it a lower law neutralised, and for a time put out of working by a higher. And of this abundant analogous examples are evermore going forward before our eyes.” 1 As man, by means of the proper antidote, arrests the action of a deadly poison, why should not God, also by the control of physicial means, arrest the decay of death itself ?
The late Dean Mansel wrote: “A superhuman authority needs to be substantiated by superhuman evidence; and
1 On Miracles, p. 15.
what is superhuman is miraculous.” The Duke of Argyll, quoting this passage, adds: “It is important to observe that this definition does not involve the idea of a violation of the laws of nature. It does not involve the idea of the exercise of will apart from the use of means. It does not imply any exception to the law of causation." The Duke goes on to compare the operation of the divine will, as a cause, with the human will; and asks : “Is it difficult to believe that after the same manner also the divine will, of which ours is the image only, works and effects its purpose ?”1
The late Dr. Mozley argues that, although our belief in the order of nature has all the potency of a necessary belief, it is still a belief for which we can give no logical reason. Upon these negative grounds of our ignorance, he avers that “a miracle is not an anomaly or irregularity, but part of the system of the universe.” 2
Canon Row says: “ The laws of nature are consequently no more violated by the performance of a miracle than they are by the activities of man.” “We may take Peter's walking on the water as a crucial example. It has been affirmed that the force of gravitation must have been suspended in his favour. But the narrative affirms the contrary, for the sacred writer tells us that the moment Peter's faith failed him he began to sink, thus proving that the power of gravitation was not suspended for a moment. The only thing necessary was the presence of some force capable of neutralising its action on Peter's body, precisely in the same way as it is constantly neutralised by ourselves whenever we lift a weight from the ground.”
All this, you see, is nothing but Brown's theory over again; only that Brown more baldly declares God to be “One of the Powers of nature.” Still it comes to the same thing: the will of God takes the place of the
1 Reign of Law, p. 21.
2 Bampton Lecture, 1865.