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cumulating every hour. They have grown into such a mass of evidence, that the supposition of its falsehood is infinitely more incredible than any one mystery in the volumes of revelation, or even than all their mysteries put together. Your inquiries, sir, appear to have been unlappily directed—but what sort of proof do you desire, and what would satisfy you?” “Such proofs as accompany physical science. This I have always loved; for I never find it deceive me. I rest upon it with entire conviction. There is no mistake, and can be no dispute in mathematics. And if a revelation comes from God, why have we not such evidence for it as mathematical demonstration ?” “Sir, you are too good a philosopher not to know that the nature of evidence must be adapted to the nature of its object: that if you break in upon this adaptation, you will have no evidence at all; seeing that evidence is no more interchangeable than objects. If you ask for mathematical evidence, you must confine yourself to mathematical disquisitions. Your subject must be quantity. If you wish to pursue a moral investigation, you must quit your mathematics, and confine yourself to moral evidence. Your subject must be the relations which subsist between intelligent beings. It would be quite as wise to apply a rule in ethics to the calculation of an eclipse, as to call for Euclid when we want Vol. III. 50
to know our duty, or to submit the question, “whether God has spoken,” to the test of a problem in the conic sections. How would you prove mathematically that bread nourishes men, and that severs kill them 2 Yet you and I both are as firmly convinced of the truth of these
A propositions, as of any mathematical demonstra
tion whatever; and should I call them in question, my neighbors would either pity me as an idiot, or shut me up as a madman. It is, therefore, a great mistake to suppose, that there is no satisfactory nor certain evidence but what is reducible to mathematics.” This train of reflection appeared new to him. For, however obvious it is, we must remember, that nothing is more superficial than freethinking philosophy, and nothing more credulous than its unbelief. Dogmatical positions, asserted with confidence, set off with small ridicule, and favorable to native depravity, have a prodigious ef. fect upon the volatile youth; and persuade him, that they have enlightened his understanding, when they have only flattered his vanity, or corrupted his heart. The officer, though staggered, made an effort to maintain his ground, and lamented that the “objections to other modes of reasoning are numerous and perplexing, while the mathematical conclusion puts all scepticism at defiance.”
“Sir” rejoined the clergyman, “objections against a thing fairly proved, are of no weight. The proof rests upon our knowledge, and the objections upon our ignorance. It is true, that moral demonstrations and religious doctrines may be attacked in a very ingenious and plausible manner, because they involve questions on which our ignorance is greater than our knowledge; but still our knowledge is knowledge; or, in other words, our certainty is certainty. In mathematical reasoning our knowledge is greater than our ignorance. When you have proved that the three angles of every triangle are equal to two right angles, there is an end of doubt; because there are no materials for ignorance to work up into phantoms; but your knowledge is really no more certain than your knowledge on any other subject.
“There is also a deception in this matter. The defect complained of is supposed to exist in the mature of the proof; whereas it exists, for the most part, in the mind of the inquirer. It is impossible to tell how far the influence of human depravity obscures the light of human reason.”
At the mention of “depravity,” the officer smiled, and seemed inclined to jest: probably suspecting, as is common with men of that class, that his antagonist was going to retreat into his creed, and intrench himself behind a technical term, instead of an argument. The triumph was premature. “You do not imagine, sir,” said he, continuing his discourse to the officer, “you do not imagine that a man who has been long addicted to stealing, feels the force of reasoning against thest as strongly as a man of tried honesty. If you hesitate, proceed a step further. You do not imagine that an habitual thief feels as much abhorrence of his own trade and character, as a man who never committed an act of theft in his whole life. And you will not deny that the practice of any crime gradually weakens, and frequently destroys, the sense of its turpitude. This is a strong fact, which as a philosopher, you are bound to explain. To me it is clear as the day, that his vice has debauched his intellect: for it is indisputable, that the considerations which once filled him with horror, produce now no more impression upon him than they would produce upon a horse. Why? Has the vice changed? Have the considerations changed 7 No. The vice is as pernicious, and the considerations are as strong, as ever. But his power of perceiving truth is diminished; and diminished by his vice; for, had he not fallen into it, the considerations would have retained, and, (should he be saved from it,) they would resume their original force upon his mind. Permit yourself, for one moment, to reflect how hard it is to persuade men of the virtues of others against whom they are prejudiced! ' You shall bring no proof of the virtues which the prejudice shall not resist or evade. Remove the prejudice, and the proof appears invincible. Why? Have the virtues changed 4 has the proof been strengthened No. But the power of perceiving truth is increased; or, which is the same thing, the impediment to perceiving it, is taken away. If, then, there are bad passions among men; and if the object of Divine revelation is to control and rectify them; it follows, that a man to whom the revelation is proposed, will be blind to its evidence, in exact proportion to the perverting influence of those passions. And were the human mind free from corruption, there is no reason whatever to think that a moral argument would not be as conclusive as a mathematical argument is now; and that the principles of moral and religious science would not command an assent as instantaneous and peremptory as that which is commanded by mathematical axioms.” After a short pause, in which no reply was made by the officer, and the looks of the company revealed their sentiments, the clergyman proceeded: