I wish to offer for the consideration of the Society a few remarks upon the controversy as to the proof of Miracles, which, though they are probably old, I do not happen to have met with. I do not profess to handle the subject completely.
The first remark is, that it appears to me impossible to discuss with profit the special question whether miracles can be proved. To ask such a question is like asking,— What is the proper manner of proving a battle? The answer would be, — There are rules which relate to the proof of facts generally, but none which are specially appropriate to the proof of battles. The nature of the proof must depend on the circumstances of the particular case. Battles fought in our own times, in the last century, in the early days of Greece or Rome, and before the period of authentic history, must be proved in different ways; and the consideration of the evidence relating to them will involve very different principles. The circumstance that in each instance fighting is alleged to have occurred, throws no light at all on the manner in which the allegation is to be made good.
This observation is more important as regards miracles than as regards battles, for the battles of all ages and countries have some features in common; but the word "miracle" is applied to so many different things, that it is almost impossible to define a miracle with any approach to precision. Its etymological meaning is merely "an event which produces wonder," and it is obvious that this quality is not distinctive of any particular class of events. To an astronomical observer, the fact that the sun reached the zenith a few seconds earlier or later than he ought, would produce intense wonder. An ordinary person would not notice it. An ignorant person would not be surprised at it. On the other hand, the savage is surprised at the eclipse which the astronomer foretells. In short, the wonder excited depends not on the character of the event, but on that of the observer.
To define a miracle as a violation of a law of nature, or to introduce such a phrase as "law of nature" into the discussion at all, appears to me to be a mistake. A law of nature is simply a formula which sums up a number of observed facts, and which enables us to predict the recurrence of similar facts upon certain assumptions. If any facts are produced really at variance with such a formula, the formula must itself be wrong. If they are only apparently at variance with it. they may (as in the case of the perturbations of the orbit of Uranus and the discovery of Neptune) turn out to be strong confirmations of its truth; but I do not see how a belief in the fact itself, or the ease or difficulty of proving it, can be affected by the relation in which it is afterwards discovered to stand to the so-called law of nature. If there had been a controversy as to the truth of the theory of gravitation, the fact that Uranus did not move precisely in the direction which the theory appeared to require, would have been common ground to each party in the controversy.
Canon Westcott defines miracles as "phenomena which, either in themselves or from the circumstances under which they are presented, suggest [I suppose he means 'truly'] the immediate working of a personal power producing results not explicable by what we observe in the ordinary course of nature," and many other writers adopt a similar view. This mode of using the word no doubt has its conveniences for certain purposes, but if it is regarded as a definition, it is open to the objection that it substitutes an inference from facts for the facts themselves. In order to bring any event within the definition, it would be necessary to prove not merely that it had occurred, but that it was not caused in any other manner than that alleged, and this would obviously be in most cases not only difficult, but practically impossible.
Upon the whole, it seems to me impossible to draw any distinction between rules as to the proof of miracles, and rules as to the proof of other events. If this conclusion appears strange, a few illustrations will perhaps show that in many cases there would be no difficulty in proving the occurrence of an event which would fall within any possible definition of a miracle.
A prophecy would perhaps be as distinct a case of a miracle as can be suggested. Suppose, now, that a man were to publish in tomorrow's newspapers a list of the topics which would be discussed in the Times on that day fifty years, the miracle could be proved to absolute demonstration. An interference with the motions of the heavenly bodies would be a miracle still more portentous, if such a matter admits of degrees. Suppose a man announced that he could at pleasure reverse the direction of the earth's motion, and that on such a day he would do so accordingly. Suppose that on the appointed day the sun for several hours, together with the other heavenly bodies visible from different parts of the earth, appeared to move from West to East, instead of moving from East to West; suppose that this fact was witnessed by all the inhabitants of both hemispheres, and that astronomers and other scientific men of every kind made minute and careful observations of the event, and recorded them for the instruction of future generations. Surely in such a case the miracle would be proved as distinctly as the transit of Venus. These illustrations might be multiplied to any extent. They seem to me to show that any state of facts which can be distinctly imagined might be proved to exist or to have existed, whatever might be its cause, and however much it might vary from the common course of events. In other words, such illustrations show that the proof of miracles does not form an exception from ordinary rules as to the proof of alleged matters of fact.
What, then, is that process? The process of proving alleged matters of fact, when closely considered, will be found to consist in connecting the past with the present, by tracing backwards the various chains of cause and effect which have led from the one to the other. To take a very simple case. The question is whether A paid B a sum of money a year ago. A produces B's written receipt for it. Here the existence of the receipt is a present fact, of which any one who has to determine the question can assure himself by the exercise of his own senses. The alleged cause of the existence of the receipt is that B wrote it, and B's writing it is said to have been caused by his receiving the money. Thus, A's production of the receipt is the effect of the payment by A to B. This is a very simple case, but the principle applies equally to the most intricate and elaborate inquiries. It would be possible, for instance, to exhibit the whole of the evidence given on the Tichborne Trial in the shape of innumerable effects caused by the prisoner's being or not being the person he pretended to be. His ignorance of French, for instance, was said to be an effect of his being an uneducated Englishman; his recognition by Lady Tichborne the effect of his being her son, and so om
This process implies a classification of events as causes and effects, without which it would be impossible to move a single step in it; "habitually speaking and thinking in French from infancy to the age of twenty-three causes people to know French at forty-three;" "constant observation of a son's features causes his mother to know him," and innumerable maxims of the same kind must either be known or assumed before such words as "proof" and "evidence " have any meaning at all in relation to matters of fact. Before they can be applied to particular cases, it is generally necessary to qualify and restrict them by explanations and adjustments more or less elaborate, according to circumstances. And nearly every mistake which is made upon matters of fact may be traced to mistakes in the framing and application of these maxims. The two instances which I have given will afford an illustration. The true mode of applying them to the particular case which suggested them was somewhat as follows :— "Men do not forget their native languages except under extraordinary circumstances, which are not alleged in this instance; and this man was, by his own account, specially unlikely to forget his native language, for he says he remembers Spanish, which he picked up in a journey of a few weeks at the age of twenty-three, though he has forgotten French, in which ho talked, wrote, and thought up to that age." "A mother would usually recognise her son even after a lapse of many years, but a woman may easily persuade herself that an impostor is her son if she earnestly hopes that he may turn out to be so, and if she has for years refused to believe in her son's death."
The art of investigating questions of fact depends principally on the closeness or losseness with which the process of adjusting generalities to particular circumstances is performed, and the observation which I feel disposed to make on the proof usually alleged in favour of miraculous narratives is, that in most cases those who assert their truth neglect well-established limitations which, as constant experience proves, ought to be imposed upon some of the generalities on which they rely; whilst, on the other hand, they employ in other cases generalities which are not supported by experience at all.
To be more specific, I think that those who assert the truth of miraculous narratives are apt to neglect the limitations which should be imposed upon the argument, "A man not accused of fraud says that he saw this, therefore he did see it;" and that they employ without any warrant for doing so the argument, "Miracles are a well-established class of causes, therefore any given event may not improbably have been the effect of a miracle." I will consider each of these generalities in its turn.
A person who is not accused of fraud, and who, if he tells the truth, had opportunities of observation, affirms that he saw this occur. Therefore it did occur," is the argument which those who attempt to prove miraculous narratives usually seek to establish. Let us suppose for the moment that a case is established in which a person not alleged to be fraudulent declares that he was the eyewitness of an important event; ought we at once to believe him, so as to act upon the supposition of the truth of his statement? I say that every day's experience of the common affairs of life shows that the argument is not strong enough to produce a reasonable conviction upon any matter of importance, unless much more appears. I will illustrate this by an example. Suppose a man were to affirm that he saw another person push some one else into the river above the Falls of Niagara, and that he saw the person so pushed in carried over the falls. Suppose that the person accused declared that the assertion was not true, or that he even said nothing at all; would any court of justice hang the accused person for murder, if the evidence rested there? In order to raise the question, it must be supposed that there was absolutely no corroboration at all of the alleged eye-witnesses's statement; that no one else had seen the murdered mail or the alleged murderer near the spot; that no body was ever found; that no one was missed from the neighbourhood; in a word, that the whole history rusted exclusively on the uncorroborated assertion of the accuser. I venture to say that no English jury would convict the accused in such circumstances. I think that in any country in which such evidence was considered as sufficient to warrant a conviction, life and property would be very unsafe. Let us, however, consider the illustration in a little detail. There is, in the first place, nothing intrinsically improbable in the incident. Murders arc not very common occurrences, but they do, beyond all question, occur from time to time. The absence of the body could be accounted for by the circumstances. A body carried over Niagara would never be seen again. The accused person's denial of guilt would go for very little. A man who committed such a crime would naturally deny it. It might be extremely difficult to suggest any reason which could induce the witness to tell a lie. He would gain no object by it, and might get himself into great difficulties. All these remarks are forcible, but forcible as they are, I do not think that they either would or ought to overcome the allegations which might be made on the other side. These allegations might be put in various forms, but would amount to this,—that any one of many possible reasons may lead a man to make a false statement either wilfully or otherwise, and that unless the statement can, so to speak' be fitted into other facts independently ascertained, it will no more warrant an important conclusion than a single brick will form an arch.
Perhaps it may be observed upon this illustration, that though in the case supposed it might not be proper to hang the accused person as a murderer, many people would believe that he had, in fact, committed murder; and no doubt this is true. Almost any confident statement is believed by a greater or a less number of hearers, especially when nothing turns upon believing or not believing. The only real test of the power of evidence is to be found in the strength of the conviction which it ought to produce,—that is to say, which it can be shown to be generally expedient that it should produce. The sort of belief which people would not act upon in matters of importance hardly deserves the name. If it be true that in the case supposed it would be to the last degree rash and cruel to hang the person denounced, that can only be because the evidence ought not to produce a conviction of his guilt; and if this is conceded, the illustration proves that a bare uncorroborated assertion by a person professing to be an eye-witness of an event is not sufficient evidence of that event to warrant action of an important kind based upon the supposition of its occurrence. When you are obliged to guess, such an assertion may be a reason for making one. guess rather than another. Less evidence than this would make a banker hesitate as to a person's credit, or would lead a customer to doubt whether his banker was solvent; but in such cases all that is possible is a guess, more or less judicious, and a guess, however judicious, is a totally different thing from settled rational belief.
To pass, however, to another topic. The illustration which I have given is one in which the uncorroborated assertion involves no intrinsic improbability,—an expression which I do not stop to attempt to analyse, but which I suppose may be roughly defined as a supposition involving some departure from or exception to common well-known rules as to the manner in which events happen. If a certain amount of such improbability is introduced, the value of the evidence would be diminished in a corresponding degree. Suppose the imaginary witness were to assert that he saw the event in question through a brick wall, or that an animal told him of its occurrence. He would simply be laughed at, however rational and collected he might appear to be. The person charged with the murder would not only not be convicted, but he would not be for a moment suspected. I know of no case except the case of miracles in which an assertion, at once improbable in itself and uncorroborated by other evidence, would receive the least attention.
The matter, however, may be carried still further. Let us suppose that the story suggested was told by a person who affirmed that he was one of several people who witnessed the same event; and let us further suppose that years afterwards his statement was discovered, but that no record remained of what was said by the other spectators, if, indeed, they ever said anything.
In such a case, surely the rational judgment on the whole subject would be that the opportunity of ascertaining the truth of the assertion had been lost, and that the matter must remain involved in doubt.
Lastly, let us suppose that the statement of the original alleged eye-witness had not been preserved at all, and that nothing was preserved except some other person's account of what he said. In such a case no one would think the matter worth inquiring into for any serious practical purpose.
If we put together the different considerations indicated by these remarks, they will produce the following results:— Human testimony, directly or indirectly, is the source upon which all of us arc obliged to rely for nearly the whole of our knowledge and of our opinions, but its cogency depends upon the degree to which it complies with certain well-ascertained conditions. The value of a simple assertion taken alone is, in regard to knowledge, as small as the strength of a single arm in regard to architecture. If you had no assertions you would have no knowledge, and if men had no hands they would have no buildings: but the value of the individual assertion depends upon other assertions with which it is connected and interwoven, just as the efforts of a single hand are important because they are connected with those of other hands, and so form part of a general plan working towards a common result.
The strongest illustration of the force of these remarks is to be found in the administration of justice. Whatever people are or are not in earnest about, they are in earnest about processes upon which depend their lives, their liberty, their characters, and their property. With all its defects, some of which relate to this very subject, it will hardly, I think, be denied that the administration of justice in this country is specially distinguished by the skill with which it provides for the investigation of matters of fact, and this is due to a very great extent not so much to what are technically known as the rules of evidence (though they, subject to some excrescences and technicalities, are of the greatest possible value), as to the general conception of the nature of evidence which pervades, and has indeed moulded and formed those rules. Its general purport is somewhat as follows: —The existing state of things is not to be interfered with; the life, the liberty, the character, and the property of men are to be maintained in static quo, unless the facts which would justify interference with them are proved in a distinct, satisfactory way. In order that they may be so proved, they must not be merely asserted to exist barely and in an unconnected way. They must be connected by well-known links of cause and effect, with assertions made or things actually produced before the person who is to decide. The assertions must in every case (rare and closely defined exceptions only excepted) be the assertions of eye and ear-witnesses, and these assertions must before they are trusted be subjected to the test of cross-examination, and to the tether test of contradiction. Every one who has any interest in the matter must have the fullest opportunity of producing any one who can throw any light upon it. If a document is referred to, either the original, or under strictly defined regulations, a proper copy must be produced. Each party to the inquiry, again, must be fully heard upon all that is brought forward, and each is, generally speaking, actuated by strong motives to support the proposition for which he contends. Lastly, the whole process is regulated and superintended by persons whoso ability and inclination to discharge those functions properly are secured by the most elaborate precautions. These are, and I think are wisely, deemed to be absolutely indispensable precautions before any interference with established interests on the ground of the existence of alleged facts can be justified.
I am sensible that the tests of truth, when thus enumerated, sound common-place and trivial. To appreciate their value it is necessary to see them at work. Having passed many years in continually" watching their practical application, my opinion upon them is that as negative tests they are altogether indispensable, but that as positive tests they are very insufficient. That is to say, many things which are not true are often proved by legal evidence; but I find it hard to imagine reasonable grounds for undoubting belief of any matter of fact which cannot even be proved by legal evidence.
The imperfections of legal evidence upon the commonest matters of fact would form a curious subject of inquiry. At present I can only illustrate it, and I will do so shortly. Perhaps the most striking of all illustrations is to be found in the continual conflict of evidence which arises in nearly every instance of conflicting interests and wishes. I will give a single instance of this which struck me greatly.
A great manufacturing firm at one of the largest towns in England wished to buy the business of another firm, the existence of which was practically the only thing which stood between the first firm and the monopoly of a great article of commerce. The terms of the purchase were arranged between six persons at a conference which took place at a certain hotel, and lasted for several hours. Two of the leading manufacturers of the town in question, and one leading attorney were present on each side. All of them were men of high character, one a person of distinguished ability. The attorneys had no personal interest in the matter. A, B, and C told this story. A and B discussed the matter with D and E for several hours, and at last it was agreed that A and B would make the purchase if D and E would pledge themselves to the truth of certain statements. To this they agreed. A, B, and 0 left the room, and went into another room, and at C's suggestion there drew up a paper recording the statements to be guaranteed by D and E. They produced the paper written on a sheet bearing the hotel stamp. They then went back to the room where they were at first, and read over the paper, to which the other party agreed. A and B swore to this in the most minute detail. C swore to the truth of the part ascribed to him, and particularly to the preparation of the paper by his advice. D, E, and F utterly denied the whole story, and declared that they had never seen the paper at all till it was produced in the arbitration-room.
For various detailed reasons I do not myself think that in this particular instance either or all of the parties committed wilful perjury. What the real truth was I cannot even guess, but I imagine that each party had asserted and talked over their own version of what passed till they persuaded themselves of its truth. The case was decided by the arbitrator (now a Judge) on the sensible ground that the plaintiff had failed to prove his case, and that the defendant was entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Let us suppose that either half of this story had been lost, that the other had been preserved and had been for years propagated amongst the partisans of the one side or the other, that the proceeding had been connected in some way or other with matters of political or religious interest, and that those who afterwards represented the side defeated at the time, had repeated their own version of the story long afterwards as an instance of injustice and oppression, how plausible their case would have been. Put newspapers and printing out of account, and suppose that Arthur Orton were to found a sect, and that when all other records of his trial had perished a garbled summary of his own view of the case were brought to light, how easy it would be to make him a martyr and a hero hunted down by a dark conspiracy of wicked great men.
In a word, as regards all detailed matters of fact, I think that there is a time, greater or less, during which the evidence connected with them may be collected, examined, and recorded. If this is done, a judgment can be formed upon the truth of allegations respecting them at any distance of time. Such judgments are rarely absolute, they ought always, or nearly always, to be tempered by some degree of doubt, but I do not think they need be affected by the lapse of time. It is now nearly twenty years since the trial of the notorious Palmer. Reports of his case may be had without difficulty, and I think that a reader of those reports will be able to form quite as good an opinion of his guilt or innocence a thousand years hence as the jury who tried him in 1856,—assuming, of course, that neither human nature itself nor the habits of life alter to such an extent as to deprive the facts proved of their significance.
If, however, this opportunity is lost, if no complete examination is made at the time of an incident, or if being made, it is not properly or fully recorded, clouds of darkness which can never be dispelled settle down upon it almost immediately. All that remains behind is an incomplete outline which can never be filled up.
If it be asked how far I should carry scepticism of this kind, I reply that I can fix no precise limit to it, because the nature of the case admits of none, but I can in general describe the limits which I cannot define. If we look at the events of our own day we shall, I think, see that it is not only difficult but almost impossible to imagine a falsification of the broad outline of general public history by any process short of a root-and-branch destruction of civilisation and all its products. To deny or to affect to doubt that in 1870 and 1871 there was a war in which the Germans defeated the French, conquered Alsace and Lorraine and exacted an enormous fine, would be simply foolish. If we take a more remote period, original documents of every kind, laws, Acts of State, despatches in the archives of various countries, public monuments, and elaborate histories might be produced in proof of the wars of Louis XIV. or of Philip II. As we travel up the stream it becomes less voluminous. The battle of Cannee is recorded by Livy, Polybius, and Plutarch. We rely on Thucydides for the siege of Syracuse, but when we come to the siege of Troy we are in a mist where nothing can be clearly distinguished, and this mist is quite as thick, though it may not be quite as difficult to dispel, when we look at the details of contemporary history. Such stories as the sinking of the 'Vengeur,' Nelson's order at Trafalgar, and others of the same character, illustrate the ease with which mistakes or fictions find a place in history. Surely the result is that our view of past events is like our view of distant objects. The details, unless they happen to be specially remembered, soon recede and disappear; the broad outlines for a time stand out with a distinctness which they owe to the suppression of details, and which make masses of jagged rock and precipitous snow look like smooth sheets of many-coloured paper. As we get still further off, all sink together into indistinguishable haze, which at the distance of a few yards makes the details of a leaf or flower as indistinct as it makes the stars of a nebula at the distance of billions of miles.
The practical inference from all this is, that whoever attempts to draw important inferences from the alleged occurrence of any detailed matter of fact which was not closely, impartially, and completely inquired into at the time, the result of the inquiry being authentically recorded for future reference, is trying to make a pyramid stand on its point.
If such an inquiry is shown to have taken place, and if its result is to ascertain the fact that an observer not proved to be fraudulent asserts that he witnessed the event, and if this assertion is uncorroborated and unconfirmed, it is worth next to nothing. If the assertion is, besides, either hearsay or intrinsically improbable, I should say that it is worth nothing whatever.
I now come to the second point on which it appears to me that the assertors of miracles are apt to be mistaken,—their employment, without any warrant at all, of the argument: "Miracles are a well-established class of causes, therefore any given event may not improbably have been the effect of a miracle."
I cannot, on the present occasion, give a more careful definition of probability than the one given already, but I may add that the word "improbable" means something more than uncommon, for an event may be in the highest degree uncommon, but probable in an equally high degree. For instance, the transit of Venus will take place in about seven years from this time, and will not take place again for 100 years, or thereabouts, if the heavenly bodies continue during that period to move in the same manner as they move at present. Every combination is uncommon, if not unique. Probably no two games at whist were ever precisely alike, but there is nothing improbable in the occurrence of any combination of the cards.
I suspect that if the matter were worked out, it would appear that in using the words "probable" and "improbable" we refer rather to our belief in those intermediate generalisations to which I have already referred than to specific facts. In saying that a miracle is, or that miracles are probable, a man usually means to say that he accepts as true the proposition that miracles do from time to time occur, that they form a recognised part of the economy of the world, and that to account for the cure of a particular disease, e.g., by the supposition of a miracle, is like ascribing it to the administration of a well-known medicine; that it is no more than the ascription of a well-known effect to a well-recognised cause.
Those who hold this opinion must, of course, use the word "miracle" in the specific sense of a case in which some unseen spiritual being—God, an angel, or a saint, for example—exerts direct force upon material objects in the same way as a man might do if he had the necessary knowledge and power. This is the only way in which the word " miracle " can be used which will make sense of any such theory. I do not know that any one either supports or is interested in supporting the opinion that from time to time simply unaccountable events occur which may be regarded as breaks in the common chain of cause and effect, and which cannot be explained in any way whatever. I must assume, therefore, that in this connection the word "miracle " is used in the sense above ascribed to it.
Those who take this view have, I think, a perfect right to say that the mere rarity of the occurrence of such interferences as they believe in is no argument against their existence.
The illustrations already given prove sufficiently that, under certain conditions, rare occurrences are quite as probable as common ones. The main condition of the probability of such an event is that the rare occurrence should from its nature, and from the circumstances under which it occurs, be capable of being observed, and that the evidence of it should be recorded in the manner which I have already described. If a moa were caught alive and publicly exhibited for money, or if the body of a sea-serpent were to be cast up upon the coast and duly examined by competent naturalists, the existence of moas and sea-serpents would be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. The reason why their existence is disbelieved or doubted is not that they are seen, if at all, so seldom, but because in each particular instance they are seen, if at all, in such an unsatisfactory way that it is doubtful whether they ever were seen.
There are innumerable ghost-stories in circulation, but as far as I know no instance has ever yet been even alleged to exist in which the existence of a ghost has been properly authenticated, nor has any reason ever been assigned why, if such beings exist, their existence should not be authenticated as readily and as conclusively as that of any other being whatever.
Stories of the interference of unseen agents stand upon exactly the same footing, speaking generally. Isolated instances occur in all ages and countries, but the common characteristic of them all is to be unauthenticated. Ten cases distinctly proved under the conditions referred to in the earlier part of this paper, would do more to settle the question of the existence of miracles as a class, than innumerable cases depending on assertions which were not properly examined when they were originally made, and which can now never be examined. On the other hand, what reason can possibly be suggested why the action of an invisible person upon matter, should not be ascertained quite as clearly as the action of a visible person. The restoration of a dead body to life might, if it occurred be proved as conclusively and as notoriously as the death of a living person, or the birth of a child. If such events formed a real class to which new occurrences might be assigned, a large number of instances of their occurrence would be, so to speak, upon record, established beyond all doubt, and the very existence of the controversy shows that nothing of the sort exists. If it should be observed upon this that in most ages and countries narratives of miracles and prodigies are common, the reply is obvious. The supposition that any strange event is caused by an unseen personal agent is the first explanation of such events which suggests itself to an uninstructed mind. Moreover, the poetical faculty, the tendency to personify natural agents, and to give to real or imaginary events a marvellous dress, was for ages, and still is, in various shapes, one of the most powerful and general instincts of the human mind, and these considerations completely explain a general belief in miracles and prodigies not resting on experience. Such a belief raises a probability that the assertion that a miracle has occurred is untrue, just as the prevalence of a report known to be false deprives specific repetitions of it of their value. To put the same considerations in a slightly different shape, every one admits that an enormous mass of miraculous stories are false. To maintain the opposite would involve a necessity for discussing the truth of "The Arabian Nights" and the adventures of the Hindoo gods. Even if it is admitted that some miraculous stories are true, how are we to distinguish them from the many which are false? and if they cannot be distinguished, how, when a new event occurs, is it to be determined whether it ought to be referred to the class of events falsely supposed to be miraculous, or to the class of events truly supposed to be miraculous?
It has become common in these days to argue in favour, at all events, of some miracles, on the ground of their fitting into certain historical theories. This argument is, I think, far too wide and vague to be brought to bear upon any specific question of fact. To pass over living authors, take such a work as Bossuet's Discours sur L'Histoire Universelle. No doubt he makes the Jewish and Christian miracles the centre and back-bone of human historv, and no one, I think, can deny the genius which he displayed in doing so, but the history of mankind may be told in all sorts of ways, and upon all kinds of hypotheses as to the truth and falsehood of different creeds. And it seems to me to be idle to suggest that the notion that a fact gives some kind of dramatic unity to the history of the world is entitled to be regarded as affording any indication whatever of its truth. Why should there be any dramatic unity in human history? Is it likely that if there is, it should be comprehended, developed, and pointed out by any single writer?
As to the value of common belief as an argument in favour of a miraculous narrative (which is also frequently urged), I will content myself with saying that it would prove not only contradictions, but wild absurdities, and I will conclude this paper by a curious example of this.
"The Institutes" of Menu begin with an account of the origin of Castes. "The Principle of Truth created the Bramin from his mouth, the Chehteree from his arms, the Bice from his thighs, and the Soodra from his feet." The translator, Mr. Ilalhed, observes, “The faith of a Gentoo (misguided as it is, and groundless as it may be), is equally implicit with that of a Christian, and his allegiance to his own supposed revelations of the Divine Will altogether as firm. He, therefore, esteems the astonishing miracles attributed to a Brihma, a Raam, or a Krishen, as facts of the most indubitable authenticity, and the relation of them as most strictly historical.
"The translator can positively affirm that the doctrine of the Creation, as set forth in the prefatory discourse to this Code, is there delivered as simple and plain matter of fact, and as a fundamental article in every pious Gentoo's creed ; that it was so meant and understood by the compilers of this work unanimously, who bore the first characters in Bengal, both for their natural and acquired abilities; and that their accounts have been corroborated by the information of many other learned Bramins in the course of a wide and laborious inquiry."
Read at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society, November 8, 1875