Science & Miracle.By H. K. Rusden.
Science and Miracle.
[Read before the Free Discussion Society on 21st May, 1882.]
Bishop Moorhouse's late lecture on this subject of "Science and Miracle" is not the least remarkable of those with which he has astonished his auditors and readers. The Bishop is an intelligent man, and cannot but be forcibly impressed by the vast additions which are daily being made to exact knowledge or science, and the consequent detractions which are made from inexact or confused knowledge, or, as he says, speculation. Like his great prototype Bishop Berkely, however,—to save his particular theories by which he lives, and moves, and has his being as a church dignitary,—he takes refuge in metaphysics; and by calling that science which is not science, but confused knowledge or speculation, he makes true, exact science appear as uncertain as speculation. He thus loses or obscures the important distinction between the two, and then makes believe that there is no real difference between them. Science and superstition, however, are like oil and water; you may shake them up in a rhetorical bottle, and pour them out then, apparently, a homogenous fluid; but let them remain at rest for but a little time, and regard them with attention, and you will see them resume their natural and distinct relative positions. I propose to show the line of demarcation which naturally subsists between them, and how the Bishop has managed to mix them together. Bishop Berkely began this metaphysical confusion, and turned it to great account; and so dexterously that many men to-day who should know better are deceived into thinking that the mixture is permanent, if not natural. Let us see what are its constituents, and what are their natural relative positions.page 3
The Bishop began by explaining his idea of Science. "Let us ask," he said "what it is that we know." Now instead of regarding as Science that kind of knowledge which has advanced civilized man above the savage,—the careful observation of external Nature, and the checking of that observation by exact measurement, experiment, and verification of the relations, of the actual objects before us, he follows Berkeley's method of introspection, and says that we know nothing but states of conciousness! Now a state of consciousness is not an object of scientific knowledge—such exact knowledge as I allude to as having helped man forward in civilisation; it is but a means by which we arrive at that knowledge. To say we know states of consciousness only is to mistake the means for the end. States of consciousness are means only by which we observe the actual objects—the knowledge of which is profitable. If we really regarded a state of consciousness as the object of knowledge, we should never get beyond it. We should know nothing of the real object; as the Bishop says that we now know nothing of it. But I maintain that we have knowledge of external objects; and more certain useful knowledge of them by observation and experiment than we have or could have by following the Bishop's introspective method, which is calculated merely to confuse and deceive.
Let us take a few examples. I see the Moon. Only by sight do I know it at all. Taking the state of consciousness produced by it as the object of knowledge, I find that it is pleasant to look at, and I can imagine anything I like about it. I can imagine the subjective impression peopled by similar introspective—angels or lunatics, gods or devils. But this is not knowledge, nor the way to it. It is simply introspection, speculation, folly. But if I observe not my own subjective impression—my state of consciousness, but, instead, the Moon itself as a veritable external object—if I carefully note its nightly change of altitude and form, and the places of its rising and setting, and compare them with other facts of astronomy, I find that the position of the Moon at a given time will inform me of my exact latitude and longitude in a ship at sea, when, perhaps, all other means fail me. Now page 4 this is what I call real knowledge, exact knowledge, or science,—our guide in life,—which is wholly different in kind from a mere metaphysical investigation into a state of consciousness, which would teach me little that would be useful, and might introduce another state of consciousness as unpleasant as that produced by a ship-wreck. Say I feel the want of a dinner. This is a state of consciousness. If I regard it solely as such, it is likely to be permanent, as I cannot dine upon it satisfactorily. If I disregard the state of consciousness, and look about for such external objects as bread and meat, and succeed in getting them, I arrive at more pleasant states of consciousness without so much as thinking of them. In fact, states of consciousness exist only for the metaphysician; for other people are unconscious of them, and therefore for them they cannot consistently be called even states of consciousness. The introspective method of seeking knowledge in states of consciousness is a mistake of the means for the end. Practical, exact, scientific knowledge is as different from that as oil is from water. It regards the knowledge of objects themselves as alone useful and real, and leaves the study of states of consciousness to the metaphysician and the theologian. If it recognise them at all, it takes them to be simply the impressions made upon our sensitive bodies by external actual objects, of the existence of which outside us they are the evidence and proof. Even then our states of consciousness have so little of the nature of real knowledge in them, that we know that nothing is more deceptive and fallacious unless we carefully compare them together and reject what is contradictory; and have even to compare them with those of other people before we can rely upon them at all as giving us true information of external objects themselves. The Bishop, however, dwells upon our states of consciousness as being all that we can possibly know, though he admits that they are altogether unlike the things which, as I suppose, he says, produce them. How can he possibly know that they are unlike our impressions of them if he knows them not at all, but only knows the states of consciousness which he only supposes represent them? The things—the external objects, the Moon, wood, iron, page 5 dinner—are mere supposition, you observe. Of course they are themselves unlike the impressions they produce in us, as the letters h-o-r-s-e are unlike a horse. Yet you will observe that when I see those letters, the sight of them produces in me a state of consciousness—not of the letters, but of a horse; but they would have no meaning in my state of conscioussness but for the previous practical knowledge of the actual external object—a horse; and the connection, in experience, of those letters with such an external object. The letters are but a means not the object of knowledge, exactly as my state of consciousness itself is a means only of knowledge, and not the object observed and known.
But, says the Bishop, "you may say, what is the matter which moves? and what and whence is the motion of that matter? I cannot tell, he continues, no man can ever tell. We are obliged to speculate on what matter is—and what motion is—whence these are, and how they are;"—but, he says, "we can never know anything about them, because they are outside our consciousness!" Of course we can never know anything about them by the introspective metaphysical method, which mistakes the mere means for the matter of knowledge, and refuses to recognise the actual objects as such at all—those objects with which Science actually alone concerns itself.
The Bishop then quotes Professor Huxley as supporting him, and following Berkeley, and calling "motion a name for certain changes in the relations of our sensations; and matter—the hypothetical substance of physical phenomena, the assumption of the existence of which is as pure a piece of metaphysical speculation as is that of the existence of the substance of mind." It is a melancholy fact that Huxley does follow Berkeley in this metaphysical unscientific method. Yet all that Professor Huxley knows of his favourite science of Biology is based upon the recognition of the objects of it as real. If their existence is a mere assumption, what becomes of his science?
The Bishop proceeds—'Men must speculate upon the fundamental problems of existence. But then remember," he says,—" the sum of their speculations is not science but philosophy. Science is the sum of our knowledge, and we page 6 only know the states of our consciousness.' On the contrary—Science is the knowledge of objects; exactitude is attained by observation, comparison, measurement, experiment, and verification, which are possible solely as applied to external objects, but which it is impossible without external objects to apply to states of consciousness. Metaphysic dreams about states of consciousness as being knowledge, but philosophy is not metaphysic. Philosophy is the rational instead of the introspective application of scientific knowledge to the moral problems of existence. The Bishop here gave an extra snake to the metaphysical bottle of oil and water. It is a trick of his trade. Then, having thus mixed science and metaphysic, he calls states of consciousness impressions, and asks what Science knows about them? and replies that Science knows only that they follow each other according to certain rules which she grandly calls Laws of Nature. As I have said, Science recognises such impressions as being produced in us by external objects, with which it alone concerns itself—leaving the impressions to the metaphysician, who takes stock of them alone. Just as Hobbes said of words—" They are the counters of wise men; they do but reckon by them'; but they are the money of fools that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any doctor whatsoever, if but a man.
The Bishop continues,—" Science says, for instance, Combine oxygen and hydrogen under given conditions and you will get water; and Science is always justified by the event. Do as she tells you, and always, in spite of what any one may do, you will get water." So far, he is strictly correct. He proceeds—" Has she the right, then, to say that the result can never fail? That the rules which she has discovered are of such eternal necessity that they can never be broken? That what happens in the ordinary course of things must always happen? Certainly I say she is; with the proviso, admitted by the Bishop "under given conditions," the same result will always recur. But he next says—"That God himself, who fixed the rules, cannot break through them?" Science knows the rules alone, but nothing of God, or of any maker of the rules or page 7 Laws of Nature, which she has learned, from experience, are never and cannot be broken. Besides, the Bishop should not have overlooked that the introduction of a God would be a new condition not included in the premises, and therefore not in the assertion, that under given conditions the same result will always recur. The Bishop says you will never hear a scientific man who is also a philosopher say this. Not Professor Huxley, not Tyndall. But the assertion is, with the proviso, perfectly impregnable, as I think I have shown.
The Bishop proceeds to quote Professor Mozley as showing why it should not be said that a miracle is impossible, namely—that the irresistible but merely instinctive conclusion that the same antecedent will and must always be followed by the same consequent—is one for which "no reason whatever can be assigned." It is curious that the Bishop should mention in such close juxtaposition the names of Professors Mozley and Tyndall, and yet be apparently unaware of the brilliant refutation by Tyndall of the very assertion he here quotes from Mozley. It is contained in the Fortnightly Review for 1st June, 1867 The assertion of Professor Mozley is, however, made in contempt or forgetfulness of the grounds of all reasoning. No proposition would be valid in reasoning unless, under the same conditions, it continued to be always true; and the Laws of Nature are on precisely the same footing as the laws of reasoning. That 2 and 2 make 4 is a natural law as well as a law of reasoning; and all laws of Nature are as certainly true. It is of course an abstract proposition, but it is a proposition which one practical instance to the contrary would invalidate, like any other natural law. But such is the simplicity of the terms of the proposition, that we know that in any alleged instance to the contrary the example must be false, or the conditions must be different, which is the same thing. So it is in every instance cited by the Bishop. The Bishop, however, calls the conviction of the inviolability of the course of Nature a vast assumption for which no reason can he given. When an assumption is made by a scientific man, he calls it an hypothesis and nothing more, until he can explain the reason. But when he understands the reason, and verifies page 8 it by rational experiment, he knows that it is true. And, as Professor Tyndall says in his refutation of Mozley—"The scientific mind can find no repose in the mere registration of sequence in Nature. The further question intrudes itself with resistless might; whence comes the sequence? What is it that binds the consequent with its antecedent in Nature? The truly scientific intellect never can attain rest until it reaches the forces by which the observed succession is produced. It was thus with Torricelli; it was thus with Newton; it is thus pre-eminently with the real scientific man of to-day. In common with the most ignorant, he shares the belief that Spring will succeed Winter, that Summer will succeed Spring, that Autumn will succeed Summer, and that Winter will succeed Autumn. But he knows still further—and this knowledge is essential to his intellectual repose—that this succession, besides being permanent, is, under the circumstances, necessary; that the gravitating force exerted between the Sun and a revolving sphere with an axis inclined to the plane of its orbit must produce the observed succession of the seasons. Not until this relation between forces and phenomena has been established is the law of reason rendered concentric with the Law of Nature, and not until this is effected does the mind of the scientific philosopher rest in peace."—(Melbourne reprint, page 27.)
The other Laws of Nature are as certain and invariable as that by which we know that 2 and 2 equal 4, and always must equal four. The laws of Nature are often much more complex and therefore harder to discern; hence the inviariable necessity of the proviso mentioned at first—but afterwards apparently forgotten by the Bishop,—"under given conditions." He says what he says and thinks what he thinks because he is under given conditions.
Since the reduction of human knowledge to exactitude—since it became worthy to be called Science—there have been no miracles. The word "miracle" means, etymologically, a wonder, and belongs to the age of ignorance. Scientific men are not satisfied with wondering—they work and experiment till they understand. Theologically, the word 'miracle' means an interference with natural laws, which Science regards as quite as possible as that 2 and 2 page 9 should make anything but 4. The Bishop alleges that there are exceptions to natural laws, quite forgetting the proviso that natural laws are always true under given conditions, as he at first said. So if you interpose an extra unit when adding 2 to 2, you make 5 of it instead of 4. But any one can see that that happens only by the interposition of a new condition, and that the natural law remains intact. Miracles are now just as possible as ever, where the people are ignorant or incompetent, and wonder instead of testing by experiment. Miracles never did occur where the spectators were scientific men, or even ordinarily well informed, unless strongly biassed in favor of faith. Even the Bishop thinks they never happen now, though, as a Bishop, he holds that God can still perform them though he does not. This is an unscientific position, and I think it is scarcely even a theologic one. For to those who have faith all things are possible—in imagination. So the Bishop now restricts miracles to subjective phenomena—the most obscure and untestable of all; and, by the introspective metaphysical method, I should be surprised if he were unable to fancy that he was conscious of an occasional miracle in himself. Many regard it as a wonder or miracle that a man in his position should be so far affected by the progress of exact knowledge as to recognise the inutility of praying for rain. Logically, miracle means neither more nor less than an impossibility.
But the methods of Science and Theology are as opposed as their conclusions. Religions all inculcate faith; Science inculeates scepticism. The Bishop has faith in miracles in the ignorant age of the origin of the New Testament. Science cannot admit them at all, for with one Bible author, at least, it holds "that the thing that hath been is that which shall be; that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the Sun." Science finds no ground or excuse for admitting an origin of natural laws, and even the Bishop would scarcely contend that there ever was a time when 2 and 2 would not make 4 without the fiat of a Creator. Yet that is but one of the simplest of all natural laws, which are none of them less certain and eternal. page 10 The Bishop then quotes the fact that water ceases to contract, and expands, when below 40 degrees of Fahrenheit's thermometer, as an exception to the law of the contraction of bodies by cold; and makes great capital of it as proving that there are exceptions to natural laws. But his fallacy is transparent enough. There are no exceptions under given conditions. If the natural law is that water always expands at a given temperature, and always contracts at another, there is no exception shown. If water at a given temperature expanded at one time and contracted at another time, whether by the operation of prayer of a Bishop or not, all that would be proved would be that the natural law was unknown—not that the law varied or failed. But having erroneously asserted the deviation of the law, the Bishop then produces the application of his argument. "If," he says, "I say that a dead man can come to life again, Science affirms that it is unlikely." I say that Science affirms that if a man comes to life again he has not been dead at all. The Bishop says that it would be an exception to the natural law, like the expansion of freezing water. He is plainly wrong. The revival of a man apparently dead proves that he was not really dead at all, and the expansion of freezing water is no exception to the law, because it always does the same thing at the same temperature. No instance to the contrary can be produced. His argument therefore falls to the ground, and so does his assertion that it is an unreasoning assumption that what commonly happens will always happen. It is not an unreasoning assumption, because all reasoning is based upon the conclusion (not assumption)—the conclusion verified by accumulated experience, that the laws or processes of Nature are not only uniform but necessary.
The Bishop says, "Philosophy is sometimes hardy enough to deny not only that a dead man can come to life again, but that there can be any life beyond this, any God, or any Spirit. But then," he says, "philosophy is only speculation : it does not know." Now against this I protest. Philosophy is the love of wisdom; the love of strict reasoning from exact knowledge. Metaphysic is speculation. The possibility of God, or of a life after death, page 11 may be imagined in metaphysic, or speculation, or theology; but Philosophy and Science are at one in judging not only that speculations of the kind are beneath their notice, but that they are contrary to the consistent witness of experience. The essential meaning of the word "God" is—a being competent and willing to interfere with the course of Nature. Philosophy and Science are based upon the certainty (from experience) that interference with the course of Nature is impossible. If such interference were possible, Science and Philosophy would be impossible. This endeavor to confuse philosophy with speculation and metaphysic was but another shake of the metaphysical bottle; and after it naturally follows the next assertion, that "a miracle may have occurred." Then the Bishop says "whether it has or not will depend on the evidence produced. All that Science can say is this : the evidence must be strong and ample. Let us take the alleged resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as an example. You say that the ordinary rule in his case was not followed. Well, says Science, I cannot deny the possibility of that; only as it contradicts ordinary experience—as it opposes our natural assumption that what ordinarily follows always follows,—you must be prepared to give me good evidence of the fact." Now, in the first place, I deny that Science can admit the possibility of the truth of the assertion that a miracle ever took place. Hume destroyed this argument. He said, "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force which remains after deducting the inferior. When any one says that a dead man was restored to life, I immediately consider whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and, according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle." This reasoning of Hume's cannot be refuted. We have the testimony of page 12 all mankind (including that of the asserters of the miracle) as to the course of Nature, and that a dead man is incapable of rising to life. The miracle is alleged as contrary to this rule and course of Nature, which is, therefore, admitted in the premises. The evidence in favor of it is, consequently, necessarily less than that against it, and the particular miracle must be rejected in favor of the universal consistency of Nature. But what about the evidence in the instance chosen by the Bishop? he says that Science says, "you must show me that the occasion of it was worthy, that the evidence of it is adequate, and that the predicted consequences of it have followed." "Well I believe," says the Bishop, "that we are in a position to do all these things. First, the occasion of the alleged fact was worthy." And the worthiness of the occasion, the Bishop alleges, consisted in the fact that Christ rose to take away human sin—and took it away. Now, taking sin to mean—as evidently meant by the Bishop—man's proneness to evil-doing, it is an obvious fact that Christ's rising did not take it away. The human race is just as sinful, or prone to do evil, as ever, and the Bishop's occupation would be gone if it were not so. It is his particular vocation to help people now to do what he says Christ did for good and for all 1,800 years ago. I, of course, hold that sin is simply a priestly fiction, and has no reality. For the word "sin" implies that all man's evil-doing is an offence against God; whereas all his good or evil-doing concerns his fellow-men only. But the Bishop cannot deny the reality of sin, for he lives by it; and that being so, his position is contradictory when he says that Christ abolished it or took it away. But, secondly, he says,—"Is there sufficient evidence that the miracle occurred?" He says we have the evidence of eyewitnesses who were truthful, sincere, and perfectly competent. Now it is well known that there were no witnesses whatever of the alleged fact (according to the Scriptures) except the Roman guards, who are said, in the Gospels, to have stated that the disciples came by night and stole him away. There were no other witnesses. The further accounts of what occurred, that we possess, are not only incredible but contradictory, and no one knows who wrote page 13 them. The whole story is utterly irreconcilable with the complete silence on the subject of all contemporary writers. Philo-Judæs, Josephus, Nicolaus of Damascus, and Justus of Tiberias, all wrote minutely on all such subjects, and their absolute silence cannot be explained or ignored. The Bishop relies on Paul, and says that his admitted Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians prove that he enjoyed the personal friendship of Peter, James, and John; whereas those Epistles prove rather his consistent animosity to them. The Bishop says that St. Paul affirms that he and all the apostles, and even 500 brethren at once, saw the Lord after his resurrection. Now, if Paul in one place says that he himself saw Jesus, he plainly says in another that what he saw was only a vision; and, in any case, it was After—not only the resurrection but the ascension also. His statements of the circumstances were evidently made at random, and were contradictory. His assertion as to the 500 brethren is inconsistent with another statement that there were then only 120 brethren altogether, and it is therefore wholly unreliable, if he really made it at all.
Thus none of the disciples even profess to have seen the resurrection at all; but if they had seen it they would have been interested, and therefore doubtful, witnesses. They were admittedly ignorant people, selected for their unreasoning faith; and Paul was not one of them. We have no direct or authentic evidence of the existence of Paul, and he cannot have been the prominent person that he is represented to have been, or contemporary writers would have mentioned him, which they do not. We know absolutely nothing of the first 300 years of Christianity. We have to rely for all early particulars entirely upon Eusebius, Bishop of Cæsarea, who was a man admitted to be utterly unreliable and unscrupulous, weak, and superstitious. The Fathers of his time were like himself, and nothing that came through their hands can properly be regarded as trustworthy. No one accuses them of wishing to deceive more than they were themselves deceived; but we know that they did not think it wrong to deceive and lie in such a cause. The best ecclesiastical historians admit this. But, besides this, there is before them a blank page 14 of nearly 300 years, respecting which we have no intelligence whatever but theirs; and the complete silence of all Pagan authors as to the existence of the Church, or of Paul, or of the Apostles, as the prominent persons that they are in the New Testament, and by the Fathers represented to have been, cannot be ignored or controverted. The Jewish authors I have named were able men, who were just the persons to give full particulars had they known them. The Pagan authors were men of character and ability, and mentioned everything of the sort that came to their knowledge. Yet they never once allude to the wonderful things which are said to have happened in their time, nor to the persons who, according to Eusebius, were remarkable prominent characters. The existence of those persons, as such, is therefore an incredible anomaly. The extremely judicial and careful analysis of these authorities, and of the facts that they profess to describe, made by Judge John Lumisden Strange, is well worth the perusal of any one who wishes to learn the truth on the subject.*
The Bishop seems to think that the fact that the religion of these men is, in his estimation, the purest and most spiritual the world ever knew (which is entirely matter of opinion) is an argument for their veracity. I think as much may be, and is, said for Mormonism and Mahoinetanism, and far more for Buddhism. I am willing to admit that the intentions of the founders of Christianity were good. They did not really intend to deceive people any more than they wished to be themselves deceived, but they were admittedly and certainly not very particular. Their religion was totally different from the Bishop's—far less pure and spiritual than his; and they thought it quite right to use deceit and fraud to forward their religion. And how can we be surprised at that when we find now an able, clever, brilliantly intelligent man like Bishop Moor-house deliberately disposing of the question of the value of evidence in the manner I have described. The strength of his foregone conclusion is more evident than even his ingenuity in arguing in its favour. He alleges not only page 15 that Jesus abolished sin—which the Bishop himself and every one else knows that he did not, — but that also he brought immortality to light—which every one sees that he was just as far from doing. There were, long before, many similar stories, in and out of the Bible, of men recalled from the grave by miracles, and of others ascending to heaven by like means. Then how did Jesus bring anything to light respecting it, whether he himself rose from the grave or not? It was no new thing, and he added nothing whatever to the evidence for it. If, after a proper public inquest held, he had called all the chief priests and Pilate and his officers together, and had before their faces risen to Heaven in broad daylight, there could then at least have been little room to doubt or dispute. But there was no attempt to provide witnesses of any kind, far less impartial or competent ones, and no evidence of any kind was provided for more than 200 years. What knowledge, then, have we of the alleged resurrection of Christ comparable to that which we have of the transit of Venus in 1874, or of that one which is infallibly coming in 1882? For, though that is yet to come to pass, we know it must come, because we understand the principles which make it certain; and we ought to know, on the same principles, that the resurrection of Christ cannot have taken place. For these principles are identical in Nature with that by which 2 + 2=4, which the whole power of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost could not make 5, nor even 3!
Bishop Moorhouse is not an ignorant man. He knows probably a good deal more than I do. But he is, unfortunately, a Bishop, and cannot move or think out of the orbit of a Bishop. He has not had, as I have, the immense advantage of 20 years of real free discussion. What is the consequence? Before he attempted to state the proposition he wished to prove, he devoted half his lecture to a deliberate attempt to invalidate and discredit all the real practical knowledge to which human nature has attained, and to reduce it to what he called states of consciousness!!! which are among the most equivocal and deceptive of all phenomena known to us! In any case he should be aware that, on his own principles, both the alleged fact of the page 16 resurrection of Christ and his belief in it can be no more than states of consciousness, and therefore (possibly) a dream, a vision, a fiction! But he omitted to mention that.
You will observe that the whole point of this paper is to exhibit and insist upon the superior value and reality of practical exact knowledge of real objects as verified by observation and experiment, in contrast to the so-called knowledge of metaphysicians and theologians, which they deny is knowledge of objects, but allege is that of states of consciousness only, which are insusceptible of quantification or verification. States of consciousness are means not objects of knowledge. If Professor Huxley and others make the mistake of adopting the metaphysical theory, they but play into the hands of the professional depredators of Science in the interests of ignorance and superstition. I trust that I have made myself understood; that I have given sufficient reasons for judging that the metaphysical theory of knowledge of states of consciousness only is inadmissible by rational men, and that real verified human knowledge of external objects is that by which we travel by rail, converse by telegraph, manufacture watches, and, centuries beforehand, foretell eclipses and transits accurately to seconds of time, in utter unconsciousness of the states of consciousness by means of which we know them. Science relates not to states of consciousness, but to objects themselves, and therefore only is it reliable and certain for all practical purposes.
Printed By J, Wing, 33 Wellington Street, Collingwood.
* See his "Sources and Development of Christianity,"—and "What is Christianity?"