An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

X. Of Miracles
86. There is, in Dr. Tillotson's writings, an argument against the real presence, which is
as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument can possibly be supposed against a
doctrine, so little worthy of a serious refutation. It is acknowledged on all hands, says that
learned prelate, that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely
in the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses to those miracles of our Saviour,
by which he proved his divine mission. Our evidence, then, for the truth of the Christian
religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first
authors of our religion, it was no greater; and it is evident it must diminish in passing
from them to their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their testimony, as
in the immediate object of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a
stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in
scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It
contradicts sense, though both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be
built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as
external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by the immediate
operation of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is so convenient as a decisive argument of this kind, which must at least silence
the most arrogant bigotry and superstition, and free us from their impertinent
solicitations. I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which,
if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of
superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. For
so long, I presume, will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in all history,
sacred and profane.
87. Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must
be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to
lead us into errors. One, who in our climate, should expect better weather in any week of
June than in one of December, would reason justly, and conformably to experience; but it
is certain, that he may happen, in the event, to find himself mistaken. However, we may
observe, that, in such a case, he would have no cause to complain of experience; because
it commonly informs us beforehand of the uncertainty, by that contrariety of events,
which we may learn from a diligent observation. All effects follow not with like certainty
from their supposed causes. Some events are found, in all countries and all ages, to have
been constantly conjoined together: Others are found to have been more variable, and
sometimes to disappoint our expectations; so that, in our reasonings concerning matter of
fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the
lowest species of moral evidence.
A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are
founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of