Thursday, August 05, 2004

Campbell on Hume on the King of Siam

From Campbell, Dissertation on Miracles:

Let us then examine, by his own principles, whether the King of Siam, of whom the story he alludes to is related by Locke, [fn: Essay on Human Understanding, Book iv. chap. 15 sect. 5] could have sufficient evidence, from testimony, of a fact so contrary to his experience as the freezing of water. He could just say as much of this event, as the author can say of a dead man's being restored to life: "Such a thing was never observed, as far as I could learn, in any age or country." If the things themselves too be impartially considered, and independently of the notions acquired by us in these northern climates, we should account the first at least as extraordinary as the second.--That so pliant a body as water should be come hard like pavement, so as to bear up an elephant on its surface, is as unlikely, in itself, as that a body inanimate to-day should be animated to-morrow. Nay, to the Indian monarch, I must think, that the first would appear more a miracle, more contrary to experience, than the second. If he had been acquainted with _ice_ or frozen water, and afterwards seen it become fluid, but had never seen nor learned, that after it was melted it became hard again, the relation must have appeared marvellous, as the process from fluidity to hardness never had been experienced, though the reverse often had. But I believe nobody will question, that on this supposition it would not have appeared quite so strange as it did. Yet this supposition makes the instance more parallel to the restoring of the dead to life. The process from animate to inanimate we are all acquainted with; and what is such a restoration, but the reversing of this process? So little reason had the author to insinuate, that the one was only _not conformable_, the other _contrary_ to experience. If there be a difference in this respect, the first, to one alike unacquainted with both, must appear the more contrary of the two.

Does it alter the matter, that he calls the former "a fact which arose from a state of nature with which the Indian was unacquainted?" Was not such a state quite unconformable, or (which in the author's language I have shown to be the same) contrary to his experience? Is then a state of nature, which is contrary to experience, more credible than a single fact contrary to experience? I want the solution of one difficulty: the author, in order to satisfy me, presents me with a thousand others. Is this suitable to the method he proposes in another place, of admitting always the less miracle, and rejecting the greater? Is it not, on the contrary, admitting without any difficulty the greater miracle, and thereby removing the difficulty which he otherwise would have had in admitting the less? Does he forget, that to exhibit a state of nature entirely different from what we experience at present, is one of those enormous prodigies, which, in his account, render the Pentateuch unworthy of credit?....

Does the author then say, that no testimony could give the King of Siam sufficient evidence of the effects of cold on water? No. By implication he says the contrary: "It required very strong testimony." Will he say, that those most astonishing effects of electricity lately discovered, so entirely unanalogous to every thing before experienced--will he say, that such facts no reasonable man could have sufficient evidence from testimony to believe? No....Yet it is obvious to every considerate reader, that this argument concludes equally against those truly marvellous, as against miraculous events; both being alike unconformable, or alike contrary, to former experience.

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