'OUR evidence for the truth of the Christian religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater. It is evident it must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their testimony as in the immediate object of his senses.'
This is wrong, The testimony of some men is more valid than is the evidence of the senses of some others. All depends upon the power of the mind judging.
'It is a general maxim, that no objects have any discoverable connexion together. All the inferences which we can draw from one to another are founded merely on our experience of their constant and regular conjunction; It is evident that we ought not to make an exception to this maxim in favour of human testimony, whose connexion with any event seems in itself as little necessary as any other.'
It may be put to any person who carefully considers Hume’s previous position as to the fixedness of the proofs of the senses, whether this last citation does not upset what he previously affirms.
'The memory is tenacious to a certain degree. Men commonly have an inclination to truth and a principle of probity. They are sensible to shame
when detected in a falsehood. These are qualities in human nature.'
This is a mistake; for they are not qualities in human nature. They are the qualities of grown men, because they are reflective of the state of the man when he is living in community--not as man.
'Contrariety of evidence, in certain cases, may be derived 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 testimony--or from the union of all these circumstances. We entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact when the witnesses contradict each other--when they are but few, or of a doubtful character--when they have an interest in what they affirm--when they deliver their testimony with hesitation, or, on the contrary, with too violent asseverations. There are many other particulars of the same kind, which may diminish or destroy the force of any argument derived from human testimony.'
Now, we contest these conclusions; and we will endeavour to meet them with a direct overthrowing answer. The recognition of likelihood--not to say of truth--is intuitive, and does not depend on testimony. In fact, sometimes our belief goes in another direction than the testimony, though it be even to matters of fact.
Hume resumes with his cool, logical statements: 'The reason why we place any credit in witnesses and historians is not derived from any connexion which we perceive a priori between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them.'
Just so! we would add to this 'because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them.'
We are now arrived at the grand dictum of cool-headed,
self-possessed Hume, who thought that by dint of his logical clearness, and by his definitions, he had exposed the impossibility of that unaccountable thing which men call a miracle, and upon the possibility or the non-possibility of which religion will, be ultimately found to wholly depend, because religion is, entirely opposed to laws of 'must be' and 'must not be'.
'A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature' he declares.
Not so, we will rejoin. It is only a violation of the laws of our nature. A very different thing. We have no right to set our nature up as the measure of all nature. This is merely the mind’s assumption; and it is important to expose its real emptiness, because all Hume’s philosophy turns upon this, which he imagines to be a rigid axiom, to which all argument must recur.
'A firm and unalterable experience has established the laws of nature. The proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.' So says Hume.
But experience has nothing to do with a miracle, because it is a sense not comprised in the senses, but an unexperienced sensation or perception, exposing the senses as dreams, and overriding their supposed certainty and totality by a new dream, or apparent certainty, contradicting the preceding. If this were not possible, then the senses, or the instantaneous judgment which comes out of their sum--or the thing 'conviction' as we call it--would be the measure of everything past, present, and to come--which we know it is not.
Hume, or any. philosopher, is wrong in dogmatizing at all; because he only speaks from his own experience;
and individual experience will in no wise assist towards the discovery of real truth. In philosophy, no one has a right to lay down any basis, and to assume it as true. The philosopher must always argue negatively, not affirmatively. The moment he adopts the latter course, he is lost. Hume presupposes all his Treatise on Miracles in this single assumption that nature itself has laws, and not laws only to our faculties. The mighty difference between these two great facts will be at once felt by a thinker; but we will not permit Hume to assume anything where he has no right, and so to turn the flank of his adversary by artfully putting forward unawares and carrying an assumption. Nature is only nature in man’s mina, but not true otherwise, any more than that the universe exists out of the mind--or out of the man, who has in thinking to make it. Take away, therefore, the man in whom the idea of it is, and the universe disappears. We will question Hume, the disbelieving philosopher, as to his right to open his lips, because it is very doubtful if language, which is the power of expression, any more than that which we call consistent thought, is inseparably consistent to man, who is all inconsistence in his beginning, middle, and end--in his coming here and in his going hence from here, out of this strange world; to which he does not seem really to belong, and in which world he seems to have been somehow obtruded, as something not of it--strange as this seems.
As to the philosophy of Hume, granting the ground, you have, of course, all the basis for, the constructions raised upon that ground. But suppose we, who argue in opposition to Hume, dispute his ground?
Hume, in his Treatise on Miracles, only begs the question; and there is therefore no wonder that, having first secured his position by consent or negligence
of the opponent, he may deal from it the shot of what artillery he pleases; and his opponent, having. once allowed the first ground--or the capacity to argue--has unwittingly let in all the ruinous results which follow; these philosophically are indisputable. We would urge that Hume has no capacity to argue in this way, inasmuch as he has taken the 'human 'mind' as the capacity of arguing. Either .reason or miracle must be first removed, because you can admit either; for they are opposites, and cannot camp in the same mind one is idea, the other is no idea--in this world; and as we are in this world, we can only judge as in this world. In another world, Hume the philosopher may himself be an impossibility, and therefore be a miracle, through his own philosophy, and the application of it.
Hume is the man of ideas, and is therefore very correct, as a philosopher, if philosophy were possible; but we deny that it is possible in regard to any speculation out of this world. Ideas--that is, philosophical ideas--may be described as the steps of the ladder by which we philosophically descend from God. Emotions are also the steps by which alone we can ascend to Him. Human reason is a possibility, from the line drawn by which either ascent or descent may be made. The things Necessity, or Fate, and Free Will, passing into the mind of man (both may be identical in their nature, though opposite in their operation), dictate from the invisible, but persuade from the visible.
Hume asserts that 'a uniform experience amounts to a proof'. It does not do so, any more than 'ninety-nine' are a 'hundred'.
He also says that 'there is not to be found in all history any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men to be believed.' Now, we will rejoin to this,
that a public miracle is a public impossibility; for the moment it has become public, it has ceased to be a miracle. 'In the case of any particular assumed miracle', he further says, 'there are not a sufficient number of men of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning as to secure us against all delusion in themselves--of such undoubted integrity as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others.' Now, to this our answer is, that our own senses deceive us; and why, then, should not the asseverations of others?
Hume adduces a number of circumstances which, he insists, 'are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men'; but nothing can give us this assurance in other men’s testimony that he supposes. We judge of circumstances ourselves, upon our own ideas of the testimony of men--not upon the testimony itself; for we sometimes believe that which the witnesses, with the fullest reliance upon themselves, deny. We judge upon our own silent convictions--that is, upon all abstract points. It is for this reason that assurances even by angels, in Scripture, have not been believed by the persons to whom the message was directly sent. Of course, if the miracle was displayed through the ordinary channels of human comprehension, it was no miracle; for comprehension never has miracle in it.
'The maxim by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings is, that the objects of which we have no experience resemble those of which we have' says Hume.
Now, this remark is most true; but we cannot help this persuasion. We conclude inevitably that things unknown should resemble things known, because, whatever may be outside of our nature, we have no means of knowing it, or of discovering anything else
that is other than ourselves. We can know nothing, except through our own machinery of sense. As God made outside and inside, God alone works, though we think that we--that is, Nature--work. God (who is Himself miracle) can effect impossibilities, and make two one by annihilating the distinction between them.
Hume says that 'where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations.'
So we ought, if the world were real; but, as it is not, we ought not. Things unreal cannot make things real.
Hume declares that 'if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense. Human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority. A religionist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality. He may know his narrative to be false, and yet persevere in it with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause. Even where this delusion has not taken place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest, of mankind in any other circumstances, and self-interest with equal force. His auditors may not have, and commonly have not, sufficient judgment to canvass his evidence. What judgment they have, they renounce by principle in these sublime and mysterious subjects. If they were ever so willing to employ it, passion and a heated imagination disturb the regularity of its operations. Their credulity increases his impudence, and his impudence overpowers their credulity.'
Now, the reverse of all this is more nearly the fact. Ordinary minds have more incredulity than credulity. It is quite a mistake to imagine that credulity is the
quality of an ignorant mind; it is rather incredulity that is.
'Eloquence, when at its highest pitch', says Hume, 'leaves little room for reason or reflection.'
Now, on the contrary, true eloquence is the embodiment or synthesis of reason and reflection.
'Eloquence', resumes Hume, 'addresses itself entirely to the fancy or the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains; but what a Tully or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over a Roman or Athenian audience, every capuchin, every itinerant or stationary teacher, can perform over the generality of mankind, and in a higher degree, by touching such gross and vulgar passions.'
All the above is simply superficial assumption.
Hume then of 'forged miracles and prophecies'; but there is no proof of any forged miracle or prophecy. He says that 'there is a strong propensity in mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous. There is no kind of report which rises so easily and spreads so quickly, especially in country places and provincial towns, as those concerning marriages, insomuch that two young persons of equal condition never see each other, twice, but the whole neighbourhood immediately join them together.'
This is all nonsense. There is always a reason for these suppositions.
Hume then goes on to adduce this same love of inspiring curiosity and delight in wonders as the cause of the belief in miracles.
'Do not', he asks, 'the same passions, and others still stronger, incline the generality of mankind to believe and report, with the greatest vehemence and assurance, all religious miracles?'
Now, this is only very poor.; and, besides, it is all assumption of truths where they are not.
Hume speaks of supernatural and miraculous relations as having been received from 'ignorant and barbarous ancestors'. But what is ignorance and barbarism?--and what is civilization? He says that they have been 'transmitted with that inviolable sanction and authority which always attend received opinions'. But supernatural and miraculous relations have never been received opinions. They have always been contested, and have made their way against the common sense of mankind, because the common sense of mankind is common sense, and nothing more; and, in reality, common sense goes but a very little way, even in the common transactions of life; for feeling guides us in most matters.
'All belief in the extraordinary', Hume declares, 'proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, which only receives a check at intervals from sense and learning'. But what are sense and learning both but mere conceits?
'"It is strange", a judicious reader is apt to say', remarks Hume, 'upon the perusal of these wonderful histories, "that such prodigious events never happen in our days".' But such events do occur, we would rejoin; though they are never believed, and are always treated as fable, when occurring in their own time.
'It is experience only', says Hume, 'which gives authority to human testimony'. Now, it is not experience only which induces belief, but recognition. It is not ideas, but light. We do not go to the thing in ideas, but the thing comes into us, as it were: for instance, a man never finds that he is awake by experience, but by influx of the thing 'waking'--whatever the act of waking is, or means.
'When two kinds of experience are contrary, we
have nothing to do but to subtract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder.'
This which follows may be a conclusion in regard to the above. If beliefs were sums, we should, and could, subtract the difference between two amounts of evidence, and accept the product; but we cannot help our beliefs, because they are intuitions, and not statements.
Hume towards the close of his strictly hard and logical Treatise on Miracles, brings forward an argument, which to all appearance is very rigid and conclusive, out of this his realistic philosophy--if that were true:
'Suppose that all the historians who treat of England should agree that on the 1st 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 acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament, and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the throne, and governed England for three years. I must confess that I should be surprised 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.'
Now, in their own sequence, as they occur to us as real facts in the world, so unreal even are true, positive circumstances, that we only believe them by the same means that we believe dreams--that is, by intuition. There is no fact, so to say. Startling as it may appear, I appeal to the consciousness of those who have witnessed death whether the death itself
did not seem unreal, and whether it did not remain without belief as' a fact until the negative--that, is 'The dead man is not here'--affirmed it, not through present persuasions, but through unreal incidents, post-dating reappearance.
As to the belief in miracles, Hume asserts that the Christian religion cannot be believed by any reasonable person without a miracle. 'Mere reason', he assures us, '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.'
The theosophic foundation of the Bhuddistic Maya, or Universal Illusion, has been finely alluded to by Sir William Jones, who was deeply imbued with the Oriental mysticism and transcendental religious views.
'The inextricable difficulties', says he, 'attending the vulgar notion of material substances, concerning which we know this only, that we know nothing, induced many of the wisest among the ancients, and some of the most enlightened among the moderns, to believe that the whole creation was rather an energy than a work, by which the Infinite Being, who is present at all times and in all places, exhibits to the minds of His creatures a set of perceptions, like a wonderful picture or piece of music, always varied, yet always uniform; so that all bodies and their qualities exist, indeed, to every wise and useful purpose, but exist only as far as they are perceived--a theory no less pious than sublime, and as different from any principle of atheism as the brightest sunshine differs from the blackest midnight.'