Reply to Mr. Hume's Argument Against Miracles
O. U. I.
Supernaturalism, Observation, Error, Cultural Geography, Electricity, Chemistry, Theology of Nature, Natural Law, Expertise
The writer argues that experience is not a proper test of credibility, since it is 'in the highest degree fluctuating and uncertain, nay, the term itself is scarcely intelligible, unless in combination with some person, age, or country, to which it refers' (291). Examples are given of natural phenomena observable only in certain parts of the world, or observed only at certain periods, like the phenomena of electricity, most of which were not observed before the previous century. A natural philosopher, it is argued, might be justified in withholding assent to the evidence on which the discovery of new physical qualities is based, but not if the evidence was such as had 'never deceived him in any other instance', however extraordinary the thing observed might be. This is not, the writer continues, an uncommon experience: 'The science of chemistry exhibits many appearances little less revolting to an uninformed mind than Miracles themselves'. Consideration is given to the objection to this argument based on the disanalogy of physical facts and miraculous phenomena. Reasoning upon 'theistical principles', it is claimed, 'Miracles are, in reality, no farther improbable in themselves than as they are unusual; in other words, there is no antecedent presumption arising from the nature of the Godhead, or the constitution of things established in the present world, which should lead us to think it unlikely that the Almighty [...] may suspend the operation of his own established laws'. Miracles require divine omnipotence no more than do the 'common operations of nature', and should consequently be judged on the same basis. (292) The biblical miracles were properly objects of observation 'to ordinary men': 'They were not like the result of many philosophical experiments, which require a scientific eye to remark, and a scientific pen to report them' (293).
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