Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion

 
AN INQUIRY

INTO THE

REALITY OF DIVINE REVELATION
 

PART ONE


CHAPTER 1.

MIRACLES IN RELATION TO CHRISTIANITY

AT the very outset of inquiry into the origin and true character of Christianity we are brought face to face with the Supernatural. Christianity professes to be a Divine revelation of truths which the human intellect could not otherwise have discovered. It is not a form of religion developed by the wisdom of man and appealing to his reason, but a system miraculously communicated to the human race, the central doctrines of which are either superhuman or untenable. If the truths said to be revealed were either of an ordinary character or naturally attainable, they would at once discredit the claim to a Divine origin. No one could maintain that a system discoverable by reason would be supernaturally communicated. The whole argument for Christianity turns upon the necessity of such a revelation, and the consequent probability that it would be made.

There is nothing singular, it may be remarked, in the claim of Christianity to be a direct revelation from God. With the exception of the religions of Greece and Rome, which, however, had their subsidiary supposition of Divine inspiration, there has scarcely been any system of religion which has not been proclaimed to the world as a direct Divine communication. Long before Christianity claimed this character, the religions of India anticipated the idea.  To quote the words of an accomplished scholar: "According to the orthodox views of Indian theologians, not a single line of the Veda was the work of human authors. The whole Veda is in some way or other the work of the Deity; and even those who received it were not supposed to be ordinary mortals, but beings raised above the level of common humanity, and less liable, therefore, to error in the reception of revealed truth." [2:1]  The same origin is claimed for the religion of Zoroaster, whose doctrines, beyond doubt, exercised great influence at least upon later Jewish theology, and whose Magian followers are appropriately introduced beside the cradle of Jesus, as the first to do honour to the birth of Christianity. In the same way. Mohammed announced his religion as directly communicated from heaven.

Christianity, however, as a religion professing to be divinely revealed, is not only supernatural in origin and doctrine, but its claim to acceptance is necessarily based upon supernatural evidence; for it is obvious that truths which require to be miraculously communicated do not come within the range of our intellect, and cannot, therefore, be intelligently received upon internal testimony. "And, certainly," says an able Bampton Lecturer, "if it was the will of God to give a revelation, there are plain and obvious reasons for asserting that miracles are necessary as the guarantee and voucher for that revelation. A revelation is, properly speaking, such only by virtue of telling us something which we could not know without it. But how do we know that that communication of what is undiscoverable by human reason is true? Our reason cannot prove the truth of it, for it is by the very supposition beyond our reason. There must be, then, some note or sign to certify to it and distinguish it as a true communication from God, which note can be nothing else than a miracle." [2:2]  In another place the same Lecturer stigmatises the belief of the Mohammedan "as in its very principle irrational," because he accepts the account which Mohammed gave of himself, without supernatural evidence. [2:3]  The belief of the Christian is contrasted with it as rational, "because the Christian believes in a supernatural dispensation upon the proper evidence of such a dispensation - viz., the miraculous." [2:4] Mohammed is reproached with having "an utterly barbarous idea of evidence, and a total miscalculation of the claims of reason," because he did not consider miraculous evidence necessary to attest a supernatural dispensation; "whereas the Gospel is adapted to perpetuity for this cause especially, with others, that it was founded upon a true calculation, and a foresight of the permanent need of evidence; our Lord admitting the inadequacy of His own mere word, and the necessity of a rational guarantee to His revelation of His own nature and commission." [3:1]

The spontaneous offer of miraculous evidence, indeed, has been advanced as a special characteristic of Christianity, logically entitling it to acceptance in contradistinction to all other religions.  "It is an acknowledged historical fact," says Bishop Butler, "that Christianity offered itself to the world, and demanded to be received, upon the allegation -- i.e., as unbelievers would speak, upon the pretence -- of miracles, publicly wrought to attest the truth of it in such an age; ... and Christianity, including the dispensation of the Old Testament, seems distinguished by this from all other religions." [3:2]

The Necessity of Miraculous Evidence
Most of the great English divines have clearly recognised and asserted the necessity of supernatural evidence to establish the reality of a supernatural revelation. Bishop Butler affirms miracles and the completion of prophecy to be the "direct and fundamental proofs" of Christianity. [3:3] Elsewhere he says: "The notion of a miracle, considered as a proof of a divine mission, has been stated with great exactness by divines, and is, I think, sufficiently understood by everyone. There are also invisible miracles -- the Incarnation of Christ, for instance -- which, being secret cannot be alleged as a proof of such a mission, but require themselves to be proved by visible miracles. Revelation itself, too, is miraculous; and miracles are the proof of it." [3:4]  Paley states the case with equal clearness: "In what way can a revelation be made but by miracles? In none which we are able to conceive." [3:5] His argument, in fact, is founded upon the principle that "nothing but miracles could decide the authority" of Christianity. [3:6]   In another work he asserts that no man can prove a future retribution but the teacher "who testifies by miracles that his doctrine comes from God." [3:7] Bishop Atterbury, again, referring to the principal doctrines of ecclesiastical Christianity, says: "It is this kind of Truth that God is properly said to reveal; Truths, of which, unless revealed, we should have always continued ignorant; and 'tis in order only to prove these Truths to have been really revealed that we affirm Miracles to be Necessary." [4:1]

Dr. Heurtley, Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, after pointing out that the doctrines taught as the Christian Revelation are such as could not by any possibility have been attained by the unassisted human reason, and that, consequently, it is reasonable that they should be attested by miracles, continues: "Indeed, it seems inconceivable how without miracles -- including prophecy in the notion of a miracle -- it could sufficiently have commended itself to men's belief? Who would believe, or would be justified in believing, the great facts which constitute its substance on the ipse dixit of an unaccredited teacher? and how, except by miracles, could the first teacher he accredited? Paley, then, was fully warranted in the assertion ... that 'we cannot conceive a revelation'—such a revelation of course as Christianity professes to be, a revelation of truths which transcend man's ability to discover -- 'to be substantiated without miracles.' Other credentials, it is true, might be exhibited in addition to miracles and such it would be natural to look for -- but it seems impossible that miracles could be dispensed with." [4:2] Dr. Mansel bears similar testimony: "A teacher who proclaims himself to be specially sent by God, and whose teaching is to be received on the authority of that mission, must, from the nature of the case, establish his claim by proofs of another kind than those which merely evince his human wisdom or goodness. A superhuman authority needs to be substantiated by superhuman evidence; and what is superhuman is miraculous." [4:3]

Newman, in discussing the idea and scope of miracles, says: "A revelation -- that is, a direct message from God to man itself bears in some degree a miraculous character ... And as a revelation itself, so again the evidences of a revelation may all more or less be considered miraculous ... It might even be said that, strictly speaking, no evidence of a revelation is conceivable which does not partake of the character of a miracle; since nothing but a display of power over the existing system of things can attest the immediate presence of Him by whom it was originally established." [4:4]

Dr. Mozley has stated in still stronger terms the necessity that Christianity should be authenticated by the evidence of miracles. He supposes the case that a person of evident integrity and loftiness of character had appeared, eighteen centuries ago, announcing himself as pre-existent from all eternity, the Son of God, Maker of the world, who had come down from heaven and assumed the form and nature of man in order to be the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, and so on, enumerating other doctrines of Christianity. Dr. Mozley then asks: "What would, be the inevitable conclusion of sober reason respecting that person? The necessary conclusion of sober reason respecting that person would be that he was disordered in his understanding ... By no rational being could a just and benevolent life be accepted as proof of such astonishing announcements. Miracles are the necessary complement, then, of the truth of such announcements, which, without them, are purposeless and abortive, the unfinished fragments of a design which is nothing unless it is the whole They are necessary to the justification of such announcements, which indeed, unless they are supernatural truths, are the wildest delusions." [5:1] He, therefore, concludes that "Christianity cannot be maintained as a revelation undiscoverable by human reason, a revelation of a supernatural scheme for man's salvation, without the evidence of miracles." [5:2]

Miracles Inseparable from Christianity
In all points Christianity is emphatically a Supernatural Religion claiming to be divine in its origin, superhuman in its essence, and miraculous in its evidence. It cannot be accepted without an absolute belief in miracles, and those who profess to hold the religion whilst they discredit its supernatural elements -- and they are many at the present day -- have widely seceded from ecclesiastical Christianity. Miracles, it is true, are external to Christianity in so far as they are evidential, but inasmuch as it is admitted that miracles alone can attest the reality of Divine revelation they are still inseparable from it; and as the contents of the revelation are, so to say, more miraculous than its attesting miracles, the supernatural enters into the very substance of Christianity and cannot be eliminated. It is obvious, therefore, that the reality of miracles is the vital point in the investigation which we have undertaken. If the reality of miracles cannot be established, Christianity loses the only evidence by which its truth can sufficiently attested. If miracles be incredible, the supernatural revelation and its miraculous evidence must together be rejected.

This fact is thoroughly recognised by the ablest Christian divines. Dean Mansel, speaking of the position of miracles in regard to Christianity, says: "The question, however, assumes a very different character when it relates, not to the comparative importance of miracles as evidences, but to their reality as facts, and as facts of a supernatural kind. For, if this is denied, the denial does not merely remove one of the supports of a faith which may yet rest securely on other grounds. On the contrary, the whole system of Christian belief with its evidences ... all Christianity, in short, so far as it has any title to that name, so far as it has any special relation to the person or the teaching of Christ, is overthrown at the same times." [6:1]  A little further on he says: "If there be one fact recorded in Scripture which is entitled, in the fullest sense of the word, to the name of a miracle, the Resurrection of Christ is that fact. Here, at least, is an instance in which the entire Christian faith must stand or fall with our belief in the supernatural." [6:2]  He, therefore, properly repudiates the view, "which represents the question of the possibility of miracles as one which merely affects the external accessories of Christianity, leaving the essential doctrines untouched." [6:3] Dr. Mozley, in a similar manner, argues the inseparable union of miracles with the Christian faith. "Indeed, not only are miracles conjoined with doctrine in Christianity, but miracles are inserted in the doctrine and are part of its contents.  A man cannot state his belief as a Christian in the terms of the Apostles' Creed without asserting them. Can the doctrine of our Lord's Incarnation be disjoined from one physical miracle? Can the doctrine of His justification of us and intercession for us be disjoined from another? ... If a miracle is incorporated as an article in a creed, that article of the creed, the miracle, and the proof of it by a miracle, are all one thing. The great miracles, therefore, upon the evidence of which the Christian scheme rested, being thus inserted in the Christian Creed, the belief in the Creed was of itself the belief in the miraculous evidence of it ... Thus miracles and the supernatural contents of Christianity must stand or fall together." [6:4] Dr. Heurtley, referring to the discussion of the reality of miracles, exclaims: "It is not too much to say, therefore, that the question is vital as regards Christianity." [6:5] Dr. Westcott not less emphatically makes the same statement.

"It is evident," he says, "that if the claim to be a miraculous religion is essentially incredible, apostolic Christianity is simply false. The essence of Christianity lies in a miracle; and, if it can be shown that a miracle is either impossible or incredible, all further inquiry into the details of its history is superfluous in a religious point of view." [7:1]  Similarly, Dr. Farrar has said: "However skilfully the modern ingenuity of semi-belief may have tampered with supernatural interpositions, it is clear to every honest and unsophisticated mind that, if miracles be incredible, Christianity is false. If Christ wrought no miracles, then the Gospels are untrustworthy ... If the Resurrection be merely a spiritual idea, or a mythicised hallucination, then our religion has been founded on an error..." [7:2]

It has been necessary clearly to point out this indissoluble connection between ecclesiastical Christianity and the supernatural, in order that the paramount importance of the question as to the credibility of miracles should be duly appreciated. Our inquiry into the reality of Divine Revelation, then, whether we consider its contents or its evidence, practically reduces itself to the very simple issue: Are miracles antecedently credible? Did they ever really take place? We do not intend to confine ourselves merely to a discussion of the abstract question, but shall also endeavour to form a correct estimate of the value of the specific allegations which are advanced.

Vital Importance of the Question of Miracles
Having, then, ascertained that miracles are absolutely necessary to attest the reality of Divine revelation, we may proceed to examine them more closely, and for the present we shall confine ourselves to the representations of these phenomena which are given in the Bible. Throughout the Old Testament the doctrine is inculcated that supernatural communications must have supernatural natural attestation. God is described as arming his servants with power to perform wonders, in order that they may thus be accredited as his special messengers. The Patriarchs and the people of Israel generally are represented as demanding "a sign" of the reality of communications said to come from God, without which, we are led to suppose, they not only would not have believed, but would have been justified in disbelieving, that the message actually came from him. Thus Gideon [7:3] asks for a sign that the Lord talked with him, and Hezekiah [7:4] demands proof of the truth of Isaiah's prophecy that he should be restored to health. It is, however, unnecessary to refer to instances, for it may be affirmed that, upon all occasions, miraculous evidence of an alleged divine mission is stated to have been required and accorded.

The startling information is at the same time given, however, that miracles may be wrought to attest what is false, as well as to accredit what is true. In one place, [8:1] it is declared that, if a prophet actually gives a sign or wonder, and it comes to pass, but teaches the people, on the strength of it, to follow other gods, they are not to hearken to him, and the prophet is to be put to death. The false miracle is, here, [8:2] attributed to God himself: "For the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God -- with all your heart and with all your souls." In the book of the Prophet Ezekiel the case is stated in a still stronger way, and God is represented as directly deceiving the prophet: "And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel." [8:3] God, in fact, is represented as exerting his almighty power to deceive a man, and then as destroying him for being deceived. In the same spirit is the passage [8:4] in which Micaiah describes the Lord as putting a lying spirit into the mouths of the prophets who incited Ahab to go to Ramoth-Gilead. Elsewhere, [8:5] and notably in the New Testament, we find an ascription of real signs and wonders to another power than God. Jesus himself is represented as warning his disciples against false prophets, who work signs and wonders: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful work?" of whom he should say: "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." [8:6] And again in another place: "For false prophets shall arise, and shall work signs and wonders (sêmeia kai terata) to seduce, if it were possible, the elect." [8:7] Also, when the Pharisees accuse him of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils, Jesus asks, "By whom do your children cast them out?" [8:8] a reply which would lose all its point if they were not admitted to be able to cast out devils. In another passage John is described as saying: "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbad him." [8:9] Without multiplying instances, however, there can be no doubt of the fact that the reality of false miracles and lying wonders is admitted in the Bible.

The Origin of Miracles Avowedly Doubtful
The obvious deduction from this representation of miracles is that the source and purpose of such supernatural phenomena must always be exceedingly uncertain. [9:1]  Their evidential value is, therefore, profoundly affected, "it being," as Newman has said of ambiguous miracles, "antecedently improbable that the Almighty should rest the credit of His revelation upon events which but obscurely implied His immediate presence." [9:2] As it is affirmed that other supernatural beings exist, as well as an assumed Personal, God, by whose agency miracles are performed, it is impossible to argue with reason that such phenomena are at any time specially due to the intervention of the Deity. Newman recognises this, but passes over the difficulty with masterly lightness of touch. After advancing the singular argument that our knowledge of spirits is only derived from Scripture, and that their existence cannot be deduced from nature, whilst he asserts that the being of a God -- a Personal God be it remembered -- can be so discovered, and that, therefore, miracles can only properly be attributed to him, he proceeds: "Still, it may be necessary to show that on our own principles we are not open to inconsistency. That is, it has been questioned whether, in admitting the existence and power of Spirits on the authority of Revelation, we are not in danger of invalidating the evidence upon which that authority rests. For the cogency of the argument for miracles depends on the assumption that interruptions in the course of nature must ultimately proceed from God, which is not true if they may be effected by other beings without His sanction. And it must be conceded that, explicit as Scripture is in considering miracles as signs of Divine agency, it still does seem to give created spirits some power of working them; and even in its most literal sense intimates the possibility of working them in opposition to the true doctrine (Deut. 13:1:3; Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9:11)." [9:3] Newman repudiates the attempts of various writers to overcome this difficulty by making a distinction between great miracles and small, many miracles and few, or by referring to the nature of the doctrine attested in order to determine the author of the miracle, or by denying the power of spirits altogether, and explaining away Scripture statements of demoniacal possession and the narrative of the Lord's Temptation. "Without having recourse to any of these dangerous modes of answering the objection," he says, "it may be sufficient to reply that since, agreeably to the antecedent sentiment of reason, God has adopted miracles as the seal of a divine message we believe he will never stiffer them to be so counterfeited as to deceive the humble inquirers." [10:1] This is the only reply which even so powerful a reasoner as Newman can give, to an objection based on distinct statements of Scripture itself. He cannot deny the validity of the objection; he can only hope or believe in spite of it. Personal belief, independent of evidence, is the most common and the weakest of arguments; at the best, it is prejudice masked in the garb of reason. It is perfectly clear that being thus acknowledged to be common both to God and to other spirits, they cannot be considered a distinctive attestation of divine intervention; and, as Spinoza finely argued, not even the mere existence of God can be inferred from them; for, as a miracle is a limited act, and never expresses more than a certain and limited power, it is certain that we cannot from such an effect conclude even the existence of a cause whose power is infinite. [10:2]

Dilemma From Their Dual Character
This dual character obviously leads to many difficulties in defining the evidential function and force of miracles, and we may best appreciate the dilemma which is involved by continuing to follow the statements and arguments of divines themselves. To the question whether miracles are absolutely to command the obedience of those in whose sight they are performed, and whether, upon their attestation, the doer and his doctrine are to be accepted as of God, Archbishop Trench unhesitatingly replies: "It cannot be so, for side by side with the miracles which serve for the furthering of the kingdom of God runs another line of wonders, the counter-workings of him who is ever the ape of the Most Highs." [10:3] The deduction is absolutely logical and cannot be denied. "This fact", he says, "that the kingdom of lies has its wonders no less than the kingdom of truth, is itself sufficient evidence that miracles cannot be appealed to absolutely and finally, in proof of the doctrine which the worker of them proclaims." This being the case, it is important to discover how miracles perform their function as the indispensable evidence for a Divine revelation, for with this disability they do not seem to possess much potentiality. Archbishop Trench, then, offers the following definition of the function of miracles: "A miracle does not prove the truth of a doctrine, or the divine mission of him that brings it to pass. That which alone it claims for him at the first is a right to be listened to; it puts him in the alternative of being from heaven or from hell. The doctrine must first commend itself to the conscience as being good, and only then can the miracle seal it as divine.  But the first appeal is from the doctrine to the conscience, to the moral nature of man." [11:1] Under certain circumstances, he maintains, their evidence is utterly to be rejected. "But the purpose of the miracle," he says, "being, as we have seen, to confirm that which is good, so, upon the other hand, where the mind and conscience witness against the doctrine, not all the miracles in the world have a right to demand submission to the word which they seal. On the contrary, the great act of faith is to believe, against, and in despite of them all, in what God has revealed to, and implanted in the soul of the holy and the true; not to believe another Gospel, though an angel from heaven, or one transformed into such, should bring it (Deut. 13:3; Gal. 1:8); and instead of compelling assent, miracles are then rather warnings to us that we keep aloof, for they tell us that not merely lies are here, for to that the conscience bore witness already, but that he who utters them is more than a common deceiver, is eminently 'a liar and an Anti-christ,' a false prophet -- standing in more immediate connection than other deceived and evil men to the kingdom of darkness, so that Satan has given him his power (Rev. 13:2), is using him to be an especial organ of his, and to do a special work for him." [11:2] And he lays down the distinct principle that "The miracle must witness for itself, and the doctrine must witness for itself, and then, and then only, the first is capable of witnessing for the second." [11:3]

These opinions are not peculiar to the Archbishop of Dublin, but are generally held by divines, although Dr. Trench expresses them with unusual absence of reserve. Dr. Mozley emphatically affirms the same doctrine when he says: "A miracle cannot oblige us to accept any doctrine which is contrary to our moral nature, or to a fundamental principle of religion." [11:4] Dr. Mansel speaks to the same effect: "If a teacher claiming to work miracles proclaims doctrines contradictory to previously established truths, whether to the conclusions of natural religion or to the teaching of a former revelation, such a contradiction is allowed, even by the most zealous defenders of the evidential value of miracles, to invalidate the authority of the teacher. But the right conclusion from this admission is not that true miracles are invalid as evidences but that the supposed miracles in this case are not true miracles at all -- i.e., are not the effects of Divine power, but of human deception or of some other agency." [12:1] A passage from a letter written by Dr. Arnold which is quoted by Dr. Trench in support of his views both illustrates the doctrine and the necessity which has led to its adoption: "You complain," says Dr. Arnold, writing to Dr. Hawkins, "of those persons who judge of a revelation not by its evidence, but by its substance. It has always seemed to me that its substance is a most essential part of its evidence; and that miracles wrought in favour of what was foolish or wicked would only prove Manicheism. We are so perfectly ignorant of the unseen world that the character of any supernatural power can only be judged by the moral character of the statements which it sanctions. Thus only can we tell whether it be a revelation from God or from the Devil." [12:2] In another place Dr. Arnold declares: "Miracles must not be allowed to overrule the Gospel; for it is only through our belief in the Gospel that we accord our belief to them." [12:3]

Mutual Dependence of Miracles and Doctrines
It is obvious that the mutual dependence which is thus established between miracles and the doctrines in connection with which they are wrought destroys the evidential force of miracles, and that the first and the final appeal is made to reason. The doctrine, in fact, proves the miracle instead of the miracle attesting the doctrine. Divines of course attempt to deny this, but no other deduction from their own statements is logically possible. Miracles, according to Scripture itself, are producible by various supernatural beings, and may be Satanic as well as Divine; man, on the other hand, is so ignorant of the unseen world that avowedly he cannot, from the miracle itself, determine the agent by whom it was performed; [13:1] the miracle, therefore, has no intrinsic evidential value. How, then, according to divines, does it attain any potentiality? Only through a favourable decision on the part of Reason or the "moral nature in man" regarding the character of the doctrine. The result of the appeal to Reason respecting the morality and credibility of the doctrine determines, the evidential status of the miracle. The doctrine, therefore, is the real criterion of the miracle which, without it, is necessarily an object of doubt and suspicion.

We have already casually referred to Newman's view of such a relation between miracle and doctrine, but may here more fully quote his suggestive remarks. "Others, by referring to the nature of the doctrine attested," he says, "in order to determine the author of the miracle, have exposed themselves to the plausible charge of adducing, first the miracle to attest the divinity of the doctrine, and then the doctrine to prove the divinity of the miracle." [13:2] This argument he characterises as one of the "dangerous modes" of removing a difficulty, although he does not himself point out a safer, and, in a note, he adds: "There is an appearance of doing honour to the Christian doctrines in representing them as intrinsically credible, which leads many into supporting opinions which, carried to their full extent, supersede the need of miracles altogether. It must be recollected, too, that they who are allowed to praise have the privilege of finding fault, and may reject, according to their a priori notions, as well as receive. Doubtless the divinity of a clearly immoral doctrine could not be evidenced by miracles; for our belief in the moral attributes of God is much stronger than our conviction of the negative proposition that none but He can interfere with the system of nature. [14:1] But there is always the danger of extending this admission beyond its proper limits, of supposing ourselves adequate judges of the tendency of doctrines; and, because unassisted reason informs us what is moral and immoral in our own case, of attempting to decide on the abstract morality of actions These remarks are in nowise inconsistent with using (as was done in a former section) our actual knowledge of God's attributes obtained from a survey of nature and human affairs, in determining the probability of certain professed miracles having proceeded from Him. It is one thing to infer from the experience of life, another to imagine the character of God from the gratuitous conceptions of our own minds." [14:2] Although Newman apparently fails to perceive that he himself thus makes reason the criterion of miracles, and therefore incurs the condemnation with which our quotation opens, the very indecision of his argument illustrates the dilemma in which divines are placed. Dr. Mozley, however, still more directly condemns the principle which we are discussing-that the doctrine must be the criterion of the miracle -- although he also, as we have seen, elsewhere substantially affirms it. He says: "The position that the revelation proves the miracles, and not the miracles the revelation, admits of a good qualified meaning; but, taken literally, it is a double offence against the rule that things are properly proved by the proper proof of them; for a supernatural fact is the proper proof of a supernatural doctrine; while a supernatural doctrine, on the other hand, is certainly not the proper proof of a supernatural fact." [14:3]

Doctrine as the Criterion of Miracles
This statement is obviously true, but it is equally undeniable that, their origin being uncertain, miracles have no distinctive evidential force. How far, then, we may inquire in order thoroughly to understand the position, can doctrines prove the reality of miracles or determine the agency by which they are performed? In the case of moral truths within the limits of reason, it is evident that doctrines which are in accordance with our ideas of what is good and right do not require miraculous evidence at all. They can secure acceptance by their own merit alone. At the same time, it is universally admitted that the truth or goodness of a doctrine is, in itself, no proof that it emanates directly from God, and consequently the most obvious wisdom and beauty in the doctrine could not attest the Divine origin of miracle. Such truths, however, have no proper connection with revelation at all. "These truths," to quote the words of Bishop Atterbury, "were of themselves sufficiently obvious and plain, and needed not a Divine testimony to make them plainer. But the truths which are necessary in this manner to be attested are those which are of positive institution; those which, if God had not pleased to reveal them, human reason could not have discovered; and those which, even now they are revealed, human reason cannot fully account for and perfectly comprehend." [15:1] How is it possible, then, that reason or "the moral nature in man" can approve as good, or appreciate the fitness of, doctrines which in their very nature are beyond the criterion of reason? [15:2] What reply, for instance, can reason give to any appeal to it regarding the doctrine of the Trinity or of the Incarnation? If doctrines the truth and goodness of which are apparent do not afford any evidence of Divine revelation, how can doctrines which reason can neither discover nor comprehend attest the Divine origin of miracles?  Dr. Mozley clearly recognises that they cannot do so. "The proof of a revelation," he says - and, we may add, the proof of a miracle, itself a species of revelation -- "which is contained in the substance of a revelation, has this inherent check or limit in it: viz., that it cannot reach to what is undiscoverable by reason. Internal evidence is itself an appeal to reason, because at every step the test is our own appreciation of such and such an idea or doctrine, our own perception of its fitness; but human reason cannot in the nature of the case prove that which, by the very hypothesis, lies beyond human reason." [15:3] It naturally follows that no doctrine which lies beyond reason, and therefore requires the attestation of miracles, can possibly afford that indication of the source and reality of miracles which is necessary to endow them with evidential value; and the supernatural doctrine must, therefore, be rejected in the absence of miraculous evidence of a decisive character.

Dr. Mozley labours earnestly, but unsuccessfully, to restore to miracles as some part of that potentiality of which these unfortunate limitations have deprived them. Whilst, on the one hand, he says, "We must admit, indeed, an inherent modification in the function of a miracle as an instrument of proof," [16:1] he argues that this is only a limitation, and no disproof of it, and he contends that "the evidence of miracles is not negative, because it has conditions". [16:2] His reasoning, however, is purely apologetic, and attempts, by the unreal analogy of supposed limitations of natural principles and evidence, to excuse the disqualifying limitation of the supernatural. He is quite conscious of the serious difficulty of the position. "The question," he says, "may at first sight create a dilemma -- if a miracle is nugatory on the side of one doctrine, what cogency has it on the side of another? Is it legitimate to accept its evidence when we please, and reject it when we please?" The only reply he seems able to give to these very pertinent questions is the remark which immediately follows them: "But in truth a miracle is never without an argumentative force, although that force may be counterbalanced." [16:3] In other words, a miracle is always an argument, although it is often a bad one. It is scarcely necessary to go to the supernatural for bad arguments.

It might naturally be expected that the miraculous evidence selected to accredit a Divine revelation should possess certain unique and marked characteristics. It must, at least, be clearly distinctive of Divine power, and exclusively associated with Divine truth. It is inconceivable that the Deity, deigning thus to attest the reality of a communication from himself of truths beyond the criterion of reason, should not make the evidence simple and complete, because, the doctrines proper to such a revelation not being appreciable from internal evidence, it is obvious that the external testimony for them -- if it is to be of any use -- must be unmistakable and decisive. The evidence which is actually produced, however, so far from satisfying these legitimate anticipations, lacks every one of the qualifications which reason antecedently declares to be necessary. Miracles are not distinctive of Divine power, but are common to Satan, and they are admitted to be performed in support of falsehood as well as in the service of truth. They bear, indeed, so little upon them the impress of their origin and true character that they are dependent for their judgment of the very doctrines to attest recognition upon our which they are said to have been designed.

Miracles Incompetent to Perform Function
Even taking the representation of miracles, therefore, which divines themselves give, they are utterly incompetent to perform their contemplated functions. If they are superhuman they are not super-Satanic, and there is no sense in which they can be considered miraculously evidential of anything. To argue, as theologians do, that the ambiguity of their testimony is deliberately intended as a trial of our faith is absurd, for, reason being unable to judge of the nature either of supernatural fact or supernatural doctrine, it would be mere folly and injustice to subject to such a test beings avowedly incapable of sustaining it. Whilst it is absolutely necessary, then, that a Divine revelation should be attested by miraculous evidence to justify our believing it, the testimony so-called seems, in all respects, unworthy of the name, and presents anomalies much more suggestive of human invention than Divine originality. We are, in fact, prepared, even by the Scriptural account of miracles, to expect that further examination will supply an explanation of such phenomena which will wholly remove them from the region of the supernatural.
 


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