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Before the positive evidence for Christianity is considered, together with the objections against that evidence, the prejudices against revelation in general, and the Christian revelation in particular, must be removed; to the former the present chapter is devoted.

I. There is no presumption from analogy against the general scheme of Christianity; for it is no presumption against it that it is not discoverable by reason and experience, or that it is unlike the course of nature; and there can be no other kind of presumption.

II. There is no presumption against a revelation, considered as miraculous, in the beginning of the world, for this is a question about a matter of fact, or about the extent of the exertion of an ordinary power, or about the extent of the exertion of a power called extraordinary, but certainly exerted.

III. There is no presumption against it from analogy after the settlement of a course of nature, for we have not a parallel case to compare with it, &c., &c., &c.

I. IT is commonly supposed that there is some peculiar presumption, from the analogy of nature, against the Christian scheme, at least, against miracles, 128 so as that stronger evidence is necessary to prove the truth and reality of them than would be sufficient to convince us of other events, or matters of fact.4444Hume has gone farther; he asserts, “the credit we give to testimony is derived solely from experience”—“a miracle is contrary to experience.”—“No testimony should ever gain credit to an event, unless it is more extraordinary that it should be false, than that the event should have happened.”—“It is contrary to experience that a miracle should be true, but not contrary to experience that testimony should be false.” In short, he considers miracles as impossible, for, speaking of the Abbé de Paris’s miracles, he says, “What have we now to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility OR miraculous nature of the events they relate.” Besides the answers here given, vide the Introduction to “The Analogy,” and that to “Paley’s Evidences.” The fallacy of Hume’s reasoning consists in this, that he argues from the laws of matter and motion established in the world, which laws, being confessedly arbitrary constitutions of the Creator, the manner of their operation can not be drawn from any previous reasoning, but must be drawn solely from experience; but if we admit the existence of a God, we must admit that we can discover by reasoning “a priori” a connection between all Almighty cause and every effect which is the object of power. To establish his position it is necessary to prove, that nothing is possible but what is established in the usual course of nature. And as to his objection from testimony—for he opposes the uncertainty of testimony to the certainty of contrary experience—this is answered Infra, III. Farther, that the evidence of testimony is superior to that of experience, and that they are somewhat connected, so that the weakening of the one weakens the other, is shown in “Price’s Dissertations,” page 400, and in “Dr. Adam’s Essay on Miracles,” page 5. Now there is no appearance of a presumption, from the analogy of nature, against the 129 general scheme of Christianity—that God created, and invisibly governs the world by Jesus Christ; and by him will hereafter judge it in righteousness; and that good men are under the secret influence of his spirit. For, if there be a presumption from analogy, it must be either because it is not discoverable by reason or experience; or else, because it is unlike the known course of nature, which is so discoverable. Now there is none on the first account, because that things lie beyond the natural reach of our faculties is no sort of presumption against the truth and reality of them; because it is certain there are innumerable things in the constitution and government of the universe which are thus beyond the natural reach of our faculties. And there is no presumption on the second account, for, in the natural government of the world, as well as in the moral government of it, we see things in a great degree unlike one another, and therefore we ought not to wonder at such unlikeness between things visible and invisible. However, the Christian and natural schemes are by no means entirely unlike. So that whether we call this general Christian dispensation miraculous or not, we see there is no presumption against it from analogy. But we are to consider miracles as visible4545A miracle is defined by Hume to be a violation of a law of nature, by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposing of an invisible agent. It is correctly defined by others, as an extraordinary work, in which the interposition of Divine Power is clear and indisputable. and invisible. 130 The former furnish a proof of a Divine mission; the latter, being secret, do not, but require themselves to be proved by visible miracles, as, for example, the incarnation of Christ. Revelation itself, too, is miraculous, and miracles are the proof of it—the supposed presumption against these we shall now consider.

II. There can be no peculiar presumption from the analogy of nature against a revelation considered as miraculous at the beginning of the world—no such presumption as is implied in the word miraculous; for a miracle, in its very notion, is relative to a course of nature, and implies somewhat different from it, considered as being so. Now, either there was no course of nature at that time, or if there were, we do not know what the course of nature is upon the first peopling of worlds. And therefore this is not to be considered as a question about a miracle, but as a common question of fact, admitting of the report of tradition, like other matters of fact of equal antiquity. Or else it is a question about the extent to which an ordinary power exerted itself—a power different from the present course of nature (but not, as we have seen, to be called miraculous) namely, whether this power merely made man, or exerted itself farther in giving him a revelation. Or even if the power be 131 called miraculous, it will make no difference, for the power, whatever it be called, was exerted; and the question will then be, the extent to which an extraordinary power exerted itself. Against this there is as little presumption as there would be, if it were granted that our Saviour exerted miraculous powers, against his exerting it in a greater degree, or in more or fewer instances. If, then this is a fact, admitting the testimony of tradition, what is that testimony? not that religion was reasoned out, but altogether the contrary—that it came into the world by revelation. This was mentioned in the former part of this treatise, as affording a confirmation of natural religion; and here we see it has a tendency to remove any prejudices against a subsequent revelation.

III. But it may be objected that there is some peculiar presumption from analogy against miracles; particularly against revelation, after the settlement, and during the continuance of a course of nature.

GENERAL ANSWER. Before we can raise an argument from analogy, for or against a revelation, considered as miraculous, we should be acquainted with a similar or parallel case. And nothing short of the history of a world in like circumstances with our own can be a parallel case; and had we even this, it would be but a single instance, and a presumption from it must be infinitely precarious.


PARTICULAR ANSWERS: 1st. There is a very strong presumption against common speculative truths, and against the most ordinary facts prior to the proof of them, which, yet, is overcome by almost any proof. The question, therefore, whether there be any peculiar presumption at all from analogy, is of no consequence; for if there be a small additional presumption against miracles, is that worth reckoning with the millions to one that there are against the most common facts?4646As this has been controverted, and as it does not appear to have been Locke’s opinion (for in his chapter on Probability he says, in things happening indifferently, there is nothing for nor against them), it may be useful to confirm the account of Butler by a passage from Price’s Dissertations. “In many cases of particular histories, which are immediately believed upon the slightest testimony, there would have appeared to us, previously to this testimony, an improbability of almost infinity to one against their reality, as any one must perceive who will think how sure he is of the falsehood of all facts that have no evidence to support them, or which he has only imagined to himself. It is, then, very common for the slightest testimony to overcome an almost infinite improbability. In order to discover whether there is this improbability, let the connection of such facts with testimony be withdrawn, and then let it be considered what they are. If upon doing this, i. e., upon making them objects of imagination unsupported by any proof, they became improbable, the point, I should think, will be determined; for, to find that a fact, when its connection with testimony is withdrawn, becomes improbable, is the same as to find that independently of testimony it is improbable.—Vide Price’s Four Dissertations. The only material question is, whether there be any such presumption 133against miracles as to render them in any sort incredible.

2d. Leaving out the consideration of religion, the presumption against miracles is, beyond all comparison, less than against common facts, before any evidence for either. For we are so ignorant, as to what the course of nature depends on, that there is no improbability for or against supposing that length of time may have given cause for changing it.

3d. But taking in the consideration of religion, we see distinct reasons for miracles, namely, to afford mankind instruction, additional to that of nature, and to attest the truth of it; and this gives a positive credibility to their history in cases where these reasons hold.

4th. Miracles must not be compared to common natural events, but to the extraordinary phenomena of nature, such as comets, the power of magnetism and electricity; and as distinguished from such phenomena there is no peculiar presumption against miracles.



1. Explain what Butler means by, “the general scheme of Christianity;” and show that there is no appearance of a presumption from the analogy of nature against it.

2. By what arguments does Hume attempt to prove that we ought not to believe in any miracles? Wherein does the fallacy of his reasoning consist?

3. Give the correct definition of a “miracle;” and illustrate by examples the two classes, into which they are divided, of visible and invisible.

4. Why can there be no peculiar presumption firom the analogy of nature against a revelation, considered as miraculous, at the beginning of the world?

5. Describe the three views, under which alone the subject of a revelation from the beginning can be fairly considered.

6. Why may we safely admit the testimony of tradition as to the original revelation? And what is that testimony?

7. Give a general answer to the objection that “after the settlement, and during the continuance of a course of nature, there is a presumption from analogy against miracles.”

8. What comparison does Butler draw between miracles and ordinary facts, in order to show what is the only material question respecting the former? How does Price support these assertions?

9. What weight does the consideration of religion add to the testimony concerning miracles?

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