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There is nothing in this conclusion in the slightest degree opposed tothe most approved doctrine of causation. No effect can be without acause. No doubt, then, the regency of invariable causation holds good ofhuman volitions. No doubt the volitions and consequently the actions ofmen are the joint results of the external circumstances amid which[Pg 99] menare placed, and of their own characters; which again are the results ofcircumstances, natural and artificial. So much must needs be admitted,and something more besides. Certain causes will infallibly be succeededby certain effects. From any particular combination of circumstances,certain determinate consequences and no others will result; those againwill give rise to consequences equally determinate, and those in turn toothers, and so on in an infinite series. It follows, then, from theregency of causation, that there is a determinate course already, as itwere, traced out, which human events will certainly follow to the end oftime; every step of which course, however remote, might now be foreseenand predicted by adequate, that is to say by infinite, intelligence.Infinite intelligence would do this, however, not by the aid of law, butby virtue of its own intrinsic and unassisted strength, wherewith itwould perceive how each succeeding combination of causes would operate.For, as cannot be too often repeated, a law is merely a record ofrecurrences; and in human affairs there can be no recurrences of thesame aggregate either of causes or results. There being then no historiclaws, there can be no Science of History, for science cannot existwithout laws. The historic prescience, which is an attribute of InfiniteIntelligence, not being regulated by law, or at any rate not by any lawexcept that of causation, is not, technically speaking, a science, andeven if it were, would be utterly beyond the reach of human intellectand attainable only by Infinite Wisdom.
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Or is it possible for a question to be more distinctly begged than when,to the question whether a miracle has occurred, it is answered that amiracle is not a miracle[Pg 149] unless there be uniform experience against it;that uniformly adverse experience is direct and full proof againstanything; and that therefore there must always be full proof againstmiracles? What is here taken for granted to be full proof is the verything requiring to be proved. If past uniformity really be a pledge forcontinued uniformity, of course there can be no departure fromuniformity. If the whole question does not at once fall to the ground,it is because no question has ever really arisen. But what shadow ofpretext is there for treating an hitherto unvaried course of events asnecessarily invariable? From past experience we have deduced what we arepleased to call laws of nature, but it is morally impossible that wecan seriously think, whatever we are in the habit of saying, that theselaws are self-denying ordinances whereby nature's God has voluntarilyabdicated part of His inalienable prerogative. The utmost efficacy weare warranted in ascribing to them is that of lines marking certain ofthe courses within which God's providence is pleased to move. But howcan we pretend to know for how long a season such may continue to be thedivine pleasure? How do we know that the present season may not be thefirst of an alternating series, and that it may not at any momentterminate, and be succeeded by one of an opposite character? What thoughwe have some shadow of historical evidence that most physical phenomenahave been going on in much the same order for some six thousand years,is that a basis whereon to theorise with regard to the proceedings ofHim in whose sight one day is as a thousand years and a thousand yearsas one day? Might not as well some scientific member of an insect tribeof ephemera, whom ancestral tradition, confirmed by personal experience,had assured that an[Pg 150] eight-day clock had already gone on for six days,pronounce it to be a law of the clock's nature that it should go on forever without being again wound up? Would the insect philosopher'sdogmatism be one whit less absurd than that of those human ephemera whoso positively lay down the law about the clockwork of the universe?Those laws of nature to which unerring regularity and perpetuity ofoperation are so confidently attributed, may they not, perchance, be butsingle clauses of much farther reaching laws, according to whose otherprovisions the force of these isolated clauses may, in novelcombinations of circumstances, be counteracted by some latent andhitherto unsuspected force? Or is it not, at all events, open to theirdivine promulgator to suspend their operation at his pleasure? May itnot conceivably have been preordained that the globe of our earth, afterrevolving for a given number of ages, in one direction, shall then, likea meat-jack, or like an Ascidian's heart, reverse its order ofprocedure, and commence a contrary series of revolutions? Or might notHe who prescribed to the earth its rotatory movement, will that therotation should for some hours cease, and that the sun should inconsequence seem to stand still, as it is recorded to have done at thecommand of Joshua? Improbable as these suppositions may be, who that hasnot been taken into counsel by his Creator can[Pg 151] presume to say that theymay not be correct? The events which they involve are not inconceivable,and whatever is not utterly inconceivable may possibly occur, howevernumerous the chances against its occurrence. It is not then the factthat 'past experience,' however unvaried, affords full proof of thefuture existence of any event, or constitutes certainty against thefuture existence of the reverse of that event. Completest uniformity ofexperience cannot create a certainty by which any opposite probabilitywould be completely annihilated. It only creates a probability which,however great, is still only a probability, and which would become asmaller probability by deduction from it of any opposite probability.But mere probability, however great, always includes some doubt as toits own correctness, some suspicion that its opposite may possibly becorrect. How much soever, therefore, uniform experience may vouch forthe inviolability of natural laws, it always remains possible for thoselaws to be violated, and, as miracles are nothing else but violations ofnatural laws, it always remains possible for miracles to happen. Butsince miracles are possible, testimony to their occurrence may, withequal possibility, be true, and no further refutation can, I submit, beneeded for an argument which insists that all such testimony should beset aside without enquiry as self-evidently false.
Quite fairly it may be urged that the writer of passages like thesewould, if writing in modern language, and with the aid of modernconceptions, have expressed himself much as Professor Huxley does when,declaring that the circulation of the blood and the regular movements ofthe respiratory, alimentary, and other internal organs are simply'affairs of mechanism, resulting from the structure and arrangement' ofthe bodily organs concerned, from 'the contractility of those organs,and from the regulation of that contractility by an automatically actingnervous apparatus;' that muscular contractility and the automaticactivity or irritability of the nerves are 'purely the results ofmolecular mechanism;' and that 'the modes of motion which constitute thephysical bases of light, sound, and heat are transmuted by the sensoryorgans into affections of[Pg 190] nervous matter,' which affections become 'akind of physical ideas constituting a physical memory,' and may becombined in a manner answering to association and imagination, or maygive rise to muscular contractions in those reflex actions which are themechanical representatives of volition.' Quite fairly may a doctrine,capable of being thus translated, be described as leading 'straight tomaterialism.' Quite justly may its author be claimed by Huxley as jointprofessor of a materialistic creed. True, Descartes lodges within hishuman mechanism a chose pensante or rational soul, whose principalseat is in the brain, and who is treated as corresponding to a hydraulicengineer stationed in the centre of waterworks for the purpose ofincreasing, slackening, or otherwise altering their movements. But thisrational soul is a very needless appendage to either the Cartesian orthe Huxleian system, wherein, if its post be not a literal sinecure,there is, at any rate, little or nothing for it to do which might notquite as well be done without it. The hydraulic engineer, sitting in hiscentral office, has to wind up the whole machinery from time to time,and to turn now this tap, now that, when he wishes to set this or thatparticular machine in motion. But, as no one need be told, our chosepensante has nothing to do with the winding up of our digestive,circulatory, or respiratory apparatus; and so far from internallyarranging those other internal organs from the mere arrangement of whoseparts, according to Descartes, the reception, conversion, and retentionof sensations, and the movements, whether internal or external,thereupon consequent, naturally proceed, or from regulating themolecular mechanism, whence, according to Professor Huxley, results theautomatic nervous activity which, in his opinion, governs[Pg 191] the movementsof the limbs not less absolutely than those of the intestines, it, ninetimes out of ten, neither knows nor suspects that any such organs ormechanism exist. If the functions above attributed to the human framecould be shown really to belong to it, pure, not to say crass,materialism, would require no further proof. Those particular functionsundoubtedly take place without the cognisance of that particularsensitive soul which we call ourself, so that if no other sensitive soultake cognisance of them, they must needs be, not simply automaticperformances, but performances of an automaton of such marvellous powersas to be quite equal to the performance likewise of whatever humanoperations are vulgarly classed as mental. Assume, however illogically,that motion is a function of matter, and from that premiss, whether trueor false, the conclusion that thought likewise is a function of mattermay be quite logically deduced. 'That thought is as much a function ofmatter as motion is' must needs be conceded to Professor Huxley, who,therefore, if he could show that motion is really such a function, wouldbe fully justified in adding, that 'the distinction between spirit andmatter vanishes,' that 'we lose spirit in matter.'