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On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism: An Answer To The Arguments Of Hume, Lecky, And Others, Against Miracles.:

Is The Belief In Miracles A Survival Of Savage Thought?

The philosophical argument has been put in another form by Mr. E. B. Tylor, in a lecture at the Royal Institution, and in several passages in his other works. He maintains that all Spiritualistic and other beliefs in the supernatural are examples of the survival of savage thought among civilised people; but he ignores the facts which compel the beliefs. The thoughts of those educated men who know, from the evidence of their own senses, and by repeated and careful investigation, that things called supernatural are true and real facts, are as totally distinct from those of savages as are their thoughts respecting the sun, or thunder, or disease, or any other natural phenomenon. As well might he maintain that the modern belief that the sun is a fiery mass, is a survival of savage thought, because some savages believe so too; or that our belief that certain diseases are contagious, is a similar survival of the savage idea that a man can convey a disease to his enemy. The question is a question of facts, not of theories or thoughts, and I entirely deny the value or relevance of any general , arguments, theories, or analogies, when we have to decide on matters of fact.

Thousands of intelligent men now living know, from personal observation, that some of the strange phenomena which have been pronounced absurd and impossible by scientific men, are nevertheless true. It is no answer to these, and no explanation of the facts, to tell them that such beliefs only occur when men are destitute of the critical spirit, and when the notion of uniform law is yet unborn; that in certain states of society illusions of this kind inevitably appear, that they are only the normal expression of certain stages of knowledge and of intellectual power, and that they clearly prove the survival of savage modes of thought in the midst of modern civilisation.

I believe that I have now shown—1. That Hume's arguments against miracles are full of unwarranted assumptions, fallacies, and contradictions, and have no logical force whatever. 2. That the modern argument of the telegraph-wire conveyance and drinking stone-lion are positively no arguments at all, since they rest on false or assumed premises. 3. That the argument that dependence is to be placed upon the opinions of men of science rather than on the facts observed by other men, is opposed to universal experience and the whole history of science. 4. That the philosophical argument so well put by Mr. Lecky and Mr. Tylor, rests on false or unproved assumptions, and is therefore valueless.

In conclusion, I must again emphatically point out that the question I have been here discussing is—in no way, whether miracles are true or false, or whether modern Spiritualism rests upon a basis of fact or of delusion,— but solely, whether the arguments that have hitherto been supposed conclusive against them have any weight or value. If I have shown—as I flatter myself I have done— that the arguments which have been supposed to settle the general question so completely as to render it quite unnecessary to go into particular cases, are all utterly fallacious, then I shall have cleared the ground for the production of evidence; and no honest man desirous of arriving at truth will be able to evade an inquiry into the nature and amount of that evidence, by moving the previous question—that miracles are improvable by any amount of human testimony. It is time that the "derisive and unexamining incredulity" which has hitherto existed should give way to a less dogmatic and more philosophical spirit, or history will again have to record the melancholy spectacle of men, who should have known better, assuming to limit the discovery of new powers and agencies in the universe, and deciding, without investigation, whether other men's observations are true or false.

Previous: Review Of Mr. Lecky's Assertions About Miracles. Up: An Answer To The Arguments Of Hume, Lecky, And Others, Against Miracles. Next: The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural.

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