« AnteriorContinuar »
II like; and from them this general maxim is deduced relative to our faith in testimony, “ That we must believe the testimony of men when, the facts testified by them being possible, we cannot believe they are deceived, or intend to deceive, without supposing that they have lost their reason.”
VIII. “Our faith in testimony,” says Mr Beattie, "doth often, but not always, amount to absolute certainty. That there is such a city as Constantinople, such a country as Lapland, and such a mountain as the peak of Teneriff ; that there were such men as Hannibal and Julius Cæsar ; that England was conquered by William the Norman ; and that Charles I. was beheaded, -of these and suchlike truths, every person acquainted with historyand geography accounts himself absolutely certain. When a number of persons, not acting in concert, having no interest to disguise the truth, and who are sufficient judges of that to which they bear testimony, concur in making the same report, it would be accounted madness not to believe them. Nay, when a number of witnesses, separately examined, and having had no opportunity to concert a plan beforehand, do all agree in their declarations, we make no scruple of yielding full faith to their testimony, even though we have no evidence of their honesty and skill nay, though they be notorious both for knavery and folly; because the fictions of the human mind being infinite, it is impossible that each of these witnesses should, by mere accident, devise the very same circumstances. If, therefore, their declarations concur, this is a certain proof that there is no fiction in the case, and that they all speak from real experience and knowledge.”— Essay on Truth, Part I. chap. ii. $ 8.
IX. To the same purpose Mr Douglas speaks in his
proper testimony: “ Two qualifications,” says he, “must concur to establish the credibility of witnesses; a sufficient knowledge of the matters of fact they attest, and a disposition not to falsify what they know : and when these two qualifications do concur, we think ourselves obliged to admit what is attested as true.”—P. 199. Dr Church, also, in his Vindication, p. 62, says: “It must be granted that present facts, which are appeals to the senses, are more striking and satisfactory than any long intricate reasonings. And hence miracles may be pronounced to be the shortest and clearest means of conviction of the divine authority of any mission, and consequently of any doctrine to those who see them. And further, as we may have sufficient certainty of their having been worked in times past, they must, if well attested, be full proofs, even to us who do not see them.”
But it is needless to multiply testimonies on this point, as every one's experience must teach him that when we are persuaded that a person is not deceived himself, and that he truly speaks according to his knowledge, it is no longer in our power to withhold our assent from what he says. Consequently, if any miracle be attested by those who were eyewitnesses of it, and in such circumstances that we cannot suspect their veracity, we have from their testimony a full and convincing proof of the existence of the miracle,-a proof which, as Dr Beattie observes, “it would be accounted madness not to yield to ;” and which, according to Mr Douglas, would oblige us to receive what was so attested as true.
X. We may consider this subject in another point of view, which will illustrate it still further. It is doubtless a just and convincing inference which is made from the effect to the cause. We see an effect produced ; we know the cause which naturally and constantly produces such an effect. We argue, therefore, with the greatest certainty, from the known existence of the effect, that the cause producing it existed also.
The testimony of men concerning any matter of fact is an effect produced of which we are sensible. We know this effect may arise from two different causes, and from no other : it may either arise from the real existence of the fact itself, of which those men were eyewitnesses ; or it may arise from their mistake or imposture, as being either deceived themselves, or wishing to deceive others. If we have any reason to suspect either that the witnesses were themselves mistaken, or intended to deceive others by their testimony, then it goes for nothing—it gains no credit–because it is not looked upon as an effect of the real existence of the fact attested by it. But if, on the contrary, the circumstances be such that we see it impossible that the testimony could arise from mistake or imposture, then it could have no other cause than the real existence of the attested fact—the existence of which, therefore, we are no longer at liberty to deny.
XI. Upon these grounds the adversaries of Christianity pay every due regard to human testimony in the ordinary concerns of life, and make no difficulty in regulating by it their belief and conduct with regard to all natural occurrences. But being sensible of the strength of testimony in favour of religion and against their tenets, when allowed its due weight with regard to miracles, they have been forced to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events; and whilst they allow testimony its full authority in proving the former, they pretend that no credit can be given to it when applied to the latter.
“A miracle,” says Mr Hume, “supported by any human testimony, is more properly a subject of derision than of argument,” Ess. on Mir., p. 194. And again, near the end of his essay, he says : “Upon the whole, it appears that no testimony for any kind of miracle can ever possibly amount to a probability, much less to a proof.” A little after, indeed, he corrects his too general assertion, and restricts the impossibility of proving the existence of miracles by testimony to such only as are wrought in favour of religion. “We may establish it as a maxim that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any system of religion.” And in a note upon this passage, he adds: “I beg the limitation 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 be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony."
I am, indeed, somewhat at a loss to comprehend Mr Hume's object in these passages, and am inclined to think that he has here fallen into one of the self-contradictions so frequent in deistical philosophy; for first, he he tells us, in general, a “miracle supported by any human testimony is more properly a subject of derision than of argument.” If so, how is it possible that any miracle can admit of proof from testimony ? Must we suppose him to mean that only such miracles as are in favour of religion, and supported by human testimony, are subjects of derision? But how, then, will he reconcile the obvious difficulty, that human testimony is sufficient to prove the existence of a miracle when separated from religion, but becomes a subject of derision when used to prove the existence of the same miracle if performed in favour of religion ? Secondly, the whole scope of Mr Hume's argument throughout this essay, is to show that
the existence of a miracle as such, and independent of any connection with religion, can never be proved by human testimony.
“A miracle," says he, “ is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established 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 imagined ; and if so, it is an undeniable consequence that it cannot be surmounted by any proof whatever from testimony. A miracle, therefore, however attested, can never be rendered credible, even in the lowest degree.”—Ess. on Mir., p. 179, 180: Lond. edit. 1750, 12mo.
Here we see, according to this author, that the objection against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, as being a violation of the laws of nature, can never be surmounted by any proof from testimony. How, then, can he reconcile with this undeniable consequence of his formidable argument what he says in the note above cited, that “ 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?" Let him extricate himself as he best may ; but this shows his insuperable aversion to religious miracles provable by human testimony, since he is determined to run the risk of his judgment being suspected, and his common-sense itself called in question, rather than admit them.
XII. Dr Middleton, also, with his adherents, is so averse to human testimony in proof of miracles, that he rejects all credibility of miracles founded upon such evidence, and openly professes that he knows no miracles, no revealed truths, nothing which can possibly be discovered of the ways or will of the Creator, but by attending to the revelation which He has made of Himself from