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time and space self-existencies, co-eternal with God himself, necessary assistants in his work of creation, by furnishing room, without which he could not have spread forth his worlds, and scope, without which his order of succession and courses of Providence could not have taken effect. Yet who of us doubts the reality of time and space, or that God had the fountain of all created Being solely in himself, without being beholden to anything external for making his gracious intentions practicable?
The aversion against admitting anything above reason, which nevertheless we have seen it is impossible to avoid, has been the fatal eddy drawing men into atheism : for because they could not conceive a substance which could neither be felt, nor seen, nor apprehended by any other avenue of sensation, they denied the existence of spirit; because they could not apprehend the manner of creation, they maintained the external self-existency of matter, never considering that their dread of credulity drove them upon points more inadmissible than any they rejected. For if we have any sphere of reason, it must include the properties of bodies wherewith we are daily conversant: but our experience of what may be done by various assortments of them, will not suffer us to imagine that any combination of them can form a perceptive Being. We know that vast quantities of motion are continually lost by collision and pressure, which matter can never recruit, having none other activity than what it derives from impulse of things external : we know the action of all substances within our notice depends upon certain adequate causes, that their difference of primary properties, their number or proportion to the space they float in, must have had a cause to determine them, therefore there must have been something prior to their operation and existence. All these things are not above reason, our notions of them being grounded on experience, therefore whatever reason disapproves concerning them we must pronounce contrary to it.
But when we go to dive into the original causes, we may expect beforehand to find them above our reason: for of these we have no experience nor other knowledge of their powers, than may be gathered from consideration of what their effects must necessarily require. So that when anything appears hard of conception, if we examine what there is similar within our experience to form a conception by, this will be the most likely method to discover whether it be above or contrary to reason : for it is one thing to find nothing like what is proposed in all our stores of experience, another to find them discordant to it; the one is only a negative evidence, the other a positive, which prevails over the former in all courts of judicature.
I have suggested these considerations in order to recommend the examination of our faculties together with the grounds they have to proceed upon, before we go on to examine other objects by them; and prevail on men to make a difference between not understanding how a thing can be, and understanding clearly that it cannot be, which I conceive would help greatly towards preventing hasty determinations and groundless confidences in many common affairs, but more especially in the contemplation of things invisible. Not that I have any particular end to serve by getting such persuasion to prevail, for I have neither pretence nor design to impose things hard of digestion : I have addressed all along to reason, endeavoring to make everything as clear as the subject would permit by examples, illustrations, and explanations, and desiring nobody to adopt any of my notions surther than he can enter into the reasons on which I present them. And I am so far from intending to depart from this method, that it will be the principal aim of my future progress to apply what I have hitherto collected for explaining difficulties, and bringing down if possible some matters ordinarily esteemed above reason to lie within its compass.
AFTER the declaration made in the beginning of the last Chapter against meddling with external proofs, nobody can expect me to enter upon the authenticity of any particular miracle: no more falls within my province than to examine the credibility of miracles in general, and whether all proofs offered in support of them ought to be rejected without hearing, as an absurdity so abhorrent to reason, that no weight of evidence whatever can overbalance. I shall have no occasion here to distinguish, as is frequently done and frequently disregarded, between immediate acts of the Almighty and supernatural effects produced by subordinate powers, supposed to interfere in the operations of natural causes: because I do not recollect any objections lying against the credibility of one, that do not lie equally against the other. For that of the
divine dominion not suffering the creatures to interfere, is rather an argument of the external kind, than of the intrinsic impossibility of their so doing
It has been said that experience being the ground-work of all our knowledge, nothing ought to be admitted which is not supported by that: but let it be remembered that experience itself had a beginning, all things we can reckon among its stores were once new; therefore if nothing unsupported by it were to gain our assent, we should never have any experience at all. Or if it be allowed from the necessity of the case, to receive new acquisitions until we have gotten a competent stock and no longer, when are we to fix the time of having gained this competent stock? for children at seven years old have some experience, and a man at sixty may have discoveries offered him out of all the course of bis former experience. Well, but we must not take experience too strictly, perhaps by supporting may be meant not-opposing : so that I may receive information of new matters whereof my former experience is totally silent, but nothing that contradicts the testimony I have received from that. I shall not take pains to prove that, properly speaking, no new event contradicts experience, which deposes only concerning things past : that having been already done in better manner than I can mend by Mr. Adams, in his little treatise upon this article, though possibly something of what I shall offer may have arisen from hints suggested there. But whether with strict propriety or no, certain it is we do talk of things contradicting experience; when we conceive it to have been so full as to give a thorough knowledge of the subject in question, whatever is offered concerning it that will not coincide with that, we term contrary to experience.
Nevertheless, experience itself will testify that such contrariety is not so invincible a bar, but that conviction can sometimes force a way in spite of it. Equivocal generation was formerly the orthodox opinion founded on constant experience, by which men knew it was the nature of dust and putrefaction to breed vermin: but now universally exploded. It was holden to be against experience, that there should be sexes among vegetables, until observations upon the farina of lilies, upon the dust flying among the blossoms of mulberries, and the female date-tree becoming barren after cutting down the male, brought the other doctrine into vogue. A few years ago the propagation of animals without sexes would have been thought contradictory to experience: notwithstanding which many have been since persuaded of the fact by their own experiments, or other persons' accounts concerning the fresh-water polypus.
2. Such instances happening more than once or twice, might convince us that experience is not so infallible a guide, as to justify our refusing information from any other hand: for in truth it never makes us thorough masters of the subject; we may know enough for our present uses, but can never know there is not more to be learnt, beside what we have discovered. Our overweening conceit stands upon a hollow foundation, being nothing else than the persuasion that our idea of things comprehends their whole essence, whereas our discernment reaches not to their essence; we can only observe what effects they work upon our senses or upon one another, and from thence deduce imperfectly the powers belonging to them and causes operating upon them; but can make no just deduction, that there are not other powers and causes whose effects we have never yet experienced. Therefore, as has been argued in the Chapter on Judgment, we have no such thing belonging to us as absolute certainty : the notion of it springs from vanity, as if it were beneath us to act or think upon lower grounds. But it has been shown in the same place, that although certainty was not made for man, yet man may do well enough without it: the strongest assurance we can get upon the best grounds of experience is our proper guide, which we shall do right to follow, yet need not pay such implicit submission, as to pronounce it impossible we can ever have just cause to look aside upon some other object.
It will be said all this has nothing to do with miracle, for should we discover some new kind of operation unknown to the sons of men, we should still believe it natural, owing to a latent property always belonging to the bodies exerting it, though never before observed. Those who have changed their opinion upon equivocal or unequivocal generation, upon the sexes of blossoms, or upon the hatching of Polypus's, thought, we suppose, they had found out a secret in nature, not a force put upon her by superior power producing an operation she was not able to perform. Very well ; but let us first examine what we are to understand by nature, for in some senses, perhaps we may find that to be a secret of nature which we vulgarly call supernatural. I do not know anybody of whose person and features we have a more unsettled idea than that same dame Nature; we all think ourselves extremely well acquainted with her : do but mention her name, and everybody knows whom you speak of without asking questions, and yet we are perpetually varying our idea of her shape and size ; but it becomes profound speculatists, who set up for reforming the reason of mankind to know what they talk about before they descant upon it.
Let us observe to them, then, that nature is sometimes opposed to education, and natural endowments distinguished from acquired :
: we are supposed to run about in our childhood and speak our mother tongue naturally; but nobody learns Latin or dancing from nature, and custom is said to change our nature. Physicians are called in to relieve us from obstructions that nature cannot remove : farmers by cultivation make the ground yield them crops that it would never have produced naturally : gardeners by inoculation cause their trees to bear other than the natural fruits: and in general the term artificial stands in contradistinction to natural. Ingratitude, drunkenness, bestiality, treason, animosity between near relations, are termed unnatural. Yet I suppose in all these cases, what is done more than nature can do, will hardly be counted supernatural: which shows that we use the term Nature in a more or less extensive sense according to the occasion whereon we apply it.
3. The word Nature when standing alone commonly denotes the properties of bodies and course of operations among them falling under our notice; the several species of animals, plants, fossils, and so forth, their production, preservation, their powers and qualities affecting one another : all which I take to be the objects of physiology, or natural philosophy, and whoever could understand them all completely, would be deemed to have a thorough knowledge of nature. Yet this idea of it will not fully suffice to carry us through our present question, which extends to a larger compass; the knowledge, the sentiments, the powers and actions of man, together with ethics, politics, mechanics, manufactures, commerce, and other arts and sciences dependent thereon, all which the naturalist has nothing to do with, yet must all be added to his stock to make up that nature whereof we may have experience, and beyond whose experienced powers we would pronounce everything supernatural, and incredible.
But with this addition are we sure of having the whole of nature still? before we can proceed secure in confidence of having gotten all our materials together, we shall have this preliminary to contest. For there are those who think that from the view of this nature, they can discover another beyond, whereof this is only a part, and the rules whereby it is governed, only municipal laws of a single province within a boundless empire : and that there is a universal nature having general laws superior to the municipal, connecting all particular systems in one well-regulated polity under one supreme Governor. Now let our experience of this sublunary globe and the transactions upon it be ever so complete, what can we know by it concerning the general polity, or how far that may, or may not over-rule the particular one provided here?