BLTC Press Titles

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Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

A dissertation on miracles

by George Campbell




Mr. Humt's favourite argument Is founded on a falft hy. pothefis.

It is not the aim of this author to evince, that miracles, if admitted to be true, would not be a sufficient evidence of a divine mission. His design is solely to prove, that miracles which have not been the objects of our own senses, at least such as are said to have been performed in attestation of any religious system, cannot reasonably be admitted by us, or believed on the teftimony of others. " A " miracle," says he, " supported by any hu•* man testimony, is more properly a subject " of derision than of argument." * A gain, in the conclusion of his essay, " 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." t Here he concludes against all miracles. '* Any kind of miracle" are his express words. He seems, however, immediately sensible, that in asserting this, he hath gone too far; and therefore, in the end of the same paragraph, retracts part of what he had advanced in the beginning. " We may esta" blish it as a maxim, that no human testi" mony can have such force, as to prove a " miracle, and make it a just foundation for " any system of religion." In the note on this passage, he has these words: " I beg " the limitation here made, may be remark*' ed, 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 other" wise, there may possibly be miracles, or " violations of the usual course of nature, of " such a kind, as to admit of proof from hu" man testimony."

* P. 194. f P. 302.

So much for that cardinal point, which the essayist labours so strenuously to evince; and which, if true, will not only be subversive of revelation, as received by us, on the testimony of the apostles, and prophets, and martyrs ; but will directly lead to this general conclusion : " That it is impossible for God " Almighty to give a revelation, attended " with such evidence, that it can be reason" ably believed in after ages, or even in the " same age, by any person who hath not " been an eye witness of the miracles, by " which it is supported."

Now by what wonderful process of reasoning is this strange conclusion made out ? Several topics have been employed for the purpose by this subtle disputant. Among these there is one principal argument, which he is at great pains. to set off to the best advantage. Here indeed he claims a particular concern, having discovered it himself. His title to the honour of the discovery, it is not my business to controvert;. I confine myself entirely to the consideration of its importance. To this end I shall now lay before the reader, the unanswerable argument, as he flatters himself it will be found ; taking the freedom, for brevity's sake, to cpmpendise the reasoning, and to omit whatever is said merely for illustration. To do otherwise would lay me under the necessity of transcribing the greater part of the essay.

" Experience," says he, " is our only guide M in reasoning concerning matters of fact. * " Experience is in some things variable, in " some things uniform. A variable experi" ence gives rise only to probability; an " uniform experience amounts to a proof. + " Probability always supposes an opposition " of experiments and observations, where the " one side is found to overbalance the other, " and to produce a degree of evidence proiC portioned to the superiority. In such cases " we must balance the opposite experiments, " and deduct the lesser number from the " greater, in order to know the exact force " of the superior evidence. % Our belief or " assurance of any fact from the report of " eye-witnesses, is derived from no other " principle than experience; that is, our ob" servation of the veracity of human testi" mony, and of the usual conformity of facts " to the reports of witnesses ||. Now, if the ff fact attested' partakes of the marvellous, if * * P/17V t P. i7V;i7£ X ?• 176. 11 &WiIl.: " it is such as has seldom fallen under our

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