Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Mystery and Ineffability

Lactantius on Knowing a Little


Among philosophers some have pretended that man might know every thing, — these are madmen; others that he could know nothing, — these men were not more wise: the former have given too much to man, the latter too little; both the one and the other have rushed into excess. Where then is wisdom? She consists in not believing that you know every thing — that is the attribute of God alone; in not pretending that you know nothing — that is the property of brutes: between these two extremes there is a medium which is appropriated for man — it is knowledge mixed up with darkness and tempered with ignorance.

Charles Townes on the Interaction Between Science and Religion


Science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn’t mean that we’ve found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don’t understand. For example, we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can’t see it – it’s neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it’s there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don’t know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that’s very strange. ¶ So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.

True Paradox


How do we explain human consciousness? Where do we get our sense of beauty? Why do we recoil at suffering? Why do we have moral codes that none of us can meet? Why do we yearn for justice, yet seem incapable of establishing it? Any philosophy or worldview must make sense of the world as we actually experience it. We need to explain how we can discern qualities such as beauty and evil and account for our practices of morality and law. The complexity of the contemporary world is sometimes seen as an embarrassment for Christianity. But law professor David Skeel makes a fresh case for the plausibility and explanatory power of Christianity. The Christian faith offers plausible explanations for the central puzzles of our existence, such as our capacity for idea-making, our experience of beauty and suffering, and our inability to create a just social order. When compared with materialism or other sets of beliefs, Christianity provides a more comprehensive framework for understanding human life as we actually live it. We need not deny the complexities of life as we experience it. But the paradoxes of our existence can lead us to the possibility that the existence of God could make sense of it all.

Why Us?


In ‘Why Us?’, James Le Fanu explores the major implications of the most recent findings of genetics and neuroscience, challenging the common assumption that they must ultimately explain all there is to know about life and man’s place in the world. On the contrary, he argues, they point to an unbridgeable explanatory gap between the genes strung out along the Double Helix and the near infinite beauty and diversity of the living world to which they give rise, and between the monotonous electro-chemistry of the brain and richness and creativity of the human mind. “There is,” he writes, “a powerful impression that science has been looking in the wrong place, seeking to resolve questions that somehow lie outside its domain. It is as if we – and indeed all living things – are in some way different, profounder and more complex than the physical world to which we belong.” A N Wilson in his review described it as ‘an extraordinary work of science … quite wonderfully refreshing’; for Christopher Booker in The Spectator it was “enthralling”: “one of the glories of Le Fanu’s erudite and beautifully written book is that a sense of wonder is evident on every page, even as he lucidly analyses the limitations of the narrow intellectual prism in which science has languished too long.” ~ Publisher’s Description

We’re In This Together


On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening’s guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it’s a legitimate and difficult objection. I’m not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God’s being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I’m taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we’re in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.

Stephen King on Mystery and God


It’s a mystery. That’s the first thing that interests me about the idea of God. If there is one, it’s mysterious and powerful and awesome to even consider the concept, and you have to take it seriously. I understand where Bill Maher is coming from when he says, basically, the world is destroying itself over a bunch of fairy tales about talking snakes and men who are alive inside fishes. I’m very sympathetic to it, but at the same time, given the cosmos that we’re living in, it’s very persuasive, the idea that there is some kind of first cause that’s running things. It might not be the god of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, it might not be the god of al-Qaida, and it might not be the god of Abraham, but something very well could be running things. The order of the universe as we see it, the interlocking nature, and the way things work together, are persuasive of the idea that there may be some overarching first cause.

In Search of a Confident Faith


In Search of a Confident Faith is an excellent comprehensive apologetic for establishing trust in God "for real." I wanted to review this book due to my own interest in Christians becoming confident in their faith. The book reaffirms the Christian faith as one of propositional knowledge confirmed through personal experience; but does so at a very accessible level. Moreland and Issler address many helpful points concerning the influence of Western culture in creating doubt in Christians’ faith. First, the authors address the misuse of the term "faith" in today’s culture as a "blind leap" or as in place of reason. The term historically entailed a much richer meaning of trust and confidence, which crucially required the proper exercise of reason, evidence, and knowledge. Second, they describe the essential role of knowledge in the Christian faith; through a look at the Biblical view of knowledge, through breaking down the concept of knowledge, and through addressing our plausibility structures (explained more thoroughly later). Third, the authors attend to intellectual and emotional doubts: both through logical arguments and then through practical steps in handling these doubts. Fourth, Moreland and Issler handle doubt caused by low expectations of God’s intervention into a believer’s life and make practical suggestions for increasing trust in God. Their writing systematically and carefully treats each area without losing interest or bogging down in terminology. ~ Mary Jo Sharp @

Andrew Sullivan on Making Distinctions

Go The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling — whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim — is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.

Nassim Taleb on the Opacity of History


History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanisms work. What I call the generator of historical events is different from the events themselves, much as the minds of the gods cannot be just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. ¶ This disconnect is similar to the difference between the food you see on the table at the restaurant and the process you can observe in the kitchen. … the human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are: a) the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize; b) the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and c) the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories — when they “Platonify.”

Anthony Kenny on the Mind of God


If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity — limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic — we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displaced in the behavior of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicates such as "know," "believe," "think," "design," "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God’s mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behavior and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying.

D. Z. Phillips on Theories of Everything


What kind of theory is a theory about the structure of the world? If by “the world” one wants to mean “everything”, there is no such theory. Certainly, science has no such theory, nor could it have. “Everything” is not the name of one big thing or topic, and therefore, there can be no theory concerning a thing or topic of this kind. To speak of a thing is to acknowledge the existence of many things, since one can always be asked which thing one is referring to. Science is concerned with specific states of affairs, no matter how wide the scope of its questions may be. Whatever explanations it offers, further questions can be asked about them. It makes no sense to speak of a last answer in science, one that does not admit of any further questions. Science is not concerned with “the structure of the world”, and there are no scientific investigations which have this as their subject.

Jonah Goldberg on a Mysterious God


So let me answer the question even though I find it distasteful. Yes, I believe in God. But I suppose I would emphasize my belief that He is a mysterious God — a very mysterious God — and that the best way we have to understand Him is through metaphors which we will, and almost always should, find wanting. God may be able to make a boulder too heavy for Him to lift, but even He couldn’t do better than “I am that I am.”/ “I am Who am.” Or He could, but we wouldn’t understand it.

Joe Firmage on Scientific Knowledge


You are not alone in a lack of understanding about the nature of inertia. Physicists do not know why objects resist acceleration — why objects push back when pushed. They do not know for sure why your head snaps back when your car speeds up. Inertia “just is.” Also, contrary to popular assumption, scientists don’t understand the mechanism that causes matter to attract itself — the force of gravity that makes objects fall to the ground. To be sure, scientists have painstakingly measured the rates of fall and resistance, and so we can build all sorts of technology that work flawlessly within the equations of these everyday forces. But we do not know why these forces work the way they do.

Philip Yancey on Being Mostly Ignorant about Hell


Still, I must insist that the most important question about heaven and hell — who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death — are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.

Michael Martin on God, Mystery, and Evil


On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond humans’ ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all-powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

Marlene Winell on Ambiguity


Intellectual ambiguity can be very uncomfortable. It is always easier to be sure of something. A religion that neatly provides all the answers saves you the frustration and anxiety that inevitably accompany a struggle with difficult questions. Fundamentalism is especially dogmatic and detailed in describing a grand scheme. The Bible is offered as the inerrant word of God, revealing the path of history, a plan of salvation, and predictions about the future. Reasons and justifications are given. And for questions that still remain, there is the ultimate comfort that comes with trusting that a benign father God had everything under control.

Gordon Kaufman on Language and Theology


The central problem of theological discourse, not shared with any other "language game," is the meaning of the term "God." "God" raises special problems of meaning because it is a noun which by definition refers to a reality transcendent of, and thus not locatable within, experience. A new convert may wish to refer the "warm feeling" in his heart to God, but God is hardly to be identified with this emotion; the biblicist may regard the Bible as God’s Word; the moralist may believe God speaks through men’s consciences; the churchman may believe God is present among his people — but each of these would agree that God himself transcends the locus referred to. As the Creator or Source of all that is, God is not to be identified with any particular finite reality; as the proper object of ultimate loyalty or faith, God is to be distinguished from every proximate or penultimate value or being. But if absolutely nothing within our experience can be directly identified as that to which the term "God" properly refers, what meaning does or can the word have?

Aldous Huxley on the Darkness


Man inhabits, for his own convenience, a homemade universe within the greater alien world of external matter and his own irrationality. Out of the illimitable blackness of the world the light of his customary thinking scoops, as it were, a little illuminated cave — a tunnel of brightness, in which, from the brink of consciousness to its death, he lives, moves, and has his being. …. We ignore the outer darkness; or if we cannot ignore it, if it presses too insistently upon us, we disapprove of being afraid.

Will and Ariel Durant on Superstition


Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal. Only the fortunate can take life without mythology. Most of us suffer in body and soul, and Nature’s subtlest anodyne is a dose of the supernatural. Even Kepler and Newton mingled their science with mythology: Kepler believed in witchcraft, and Newton wrote less on science than on the Apocalypse. ¶ Popular superstitions were beyond number. Our ears burn when others speak of us. Marriages made in May will turn out unhappily. Wounds can be cured by anointing the weapon with which they were inflicted. A corpse resumes bleeding in the presence of the murderer. Fairies, elves, hobgoblins, ghosts, witches, demons lurk everywhere. Certain talismans… guarantee good good fortune. Amulets can ward of wrinkles, impotence, the evil eye, the plague. A king’s touch can cure scrofula. Numbers, minerals, plants, and animals have magic qualities and powers. Every event is a sign of God’s pleasure or wrath, or of Satan’s activity. Events can be foretold from the shape of the head or the lines of the hands. Health, strength, and sexual power vary with the waxing and waning of the moon. Moonshine can cause lunacy and cure warts. Comets presage disasters. The world is (every so often) coming to an end.

Edwin Hubble on Empiricism and Speculation


Research men attempt to satisfy their curiosity, and are accustomed to use any reasonable means that may assist them toward the receding goal. One of the few universal characteristics is a healthy skepticism toward unverified speculations. These are regarded as topics for conversation until tests can be devised. Only then do they attain the dignity of subjects for investigation. … With increasing distance our knowledge fades and fades rapidly. Eventually we reach the dim boundary, the utmost limits of our telescope. There we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurements for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.

Albert Einstein on True Religion


The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts.

Bertrand Russell on Questions and Philosophy


Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

Ethics of Theism


It has been said by a great mind, that confusion is worse than error.1 Erroneous statements and opinions, in their naked deformity, are generally too hideous to win the regard and confidence of men even in their present depraved condition; while the manifestation of what is true, in its simple grandeur and pure light, is often too bright and fair to be agreeable to the eye and the heart of man. The great work which a lover of truth finds to do, is to separate the conglomerate mass of knowledge, or what men call knowledge, into its two component parts, the true and the false. What is false owes all its plausibility and power to its being associated and mingled with what is true. What is true, is rendered dim and uncertain and weak by being blended and confounded with the erroneous. The human mind is like a thrashing-floor. The honest inquirer will be constantly using the fan, to separate the chaff from the wheat.

Thomas Reid on Rationalism and Empiricism in the Philosophy of Mind


There is such proneness in men of genius to invent hypotheses, and in others to acquiesce in them as the utmost which the human faculties can attain in philosophy, that it is of the last consequence to the progress of real knowledge, that men should have a clear and distinct understanding of the nature of hypotheses in philosophy, and of the regard that is due to them. ¶ Although some conjectures may have a considerable degree of probability, yet it is evidently in the nature of conjecture to be uncertain. In every case, the assent ought to be proportioned to the evidence; for to believe firmly what has but a small degree of probability, is a manifest abuse of our understanding. Now, though we may, in many cases, form very probable conjectures concerning the works of men, every conjecture we can form with regard to the works of God has as little probability as the conjectures of a child with regard to the works of a man.

Thomas Reid on Induction and Hume’s Skepticism



Of probable Reasoning.

The field of demonstration, as has been observed, is necessary truth; the field of probable reasoning is contingent truth, not what necessarily must be at all times, but what is, or was, or shall be.

No contingent truth is capable of strict demonstration; but necessary truths may sometimes have probable evidence.

Dr Wallis discovered many important mathematical truths, by that kind of induction which draws a general conclusion from particular premises. This is not strict demonstration, but, in some cases, gives as full conviction as demonstration itself; and a man may be certain, that a truth is demonstrable before it ever has been demonstrated. In other cases, a mathematical proposition may have such probable evidence from induction or analogy, as encourages the Mathematician to investigate its demonstration. But still the reasoning proper to mathematical and other necessary truths, is demonstration; and that which is proper to contingent truths, is probable reasoning.

These two kinds of reasoning differ in other respects. In demonstrative reasoning, one argument is as good as a thousand. One demonstration may be more elegant than another; it may be more easily comprehended, or it may be more subservient to some purpose beyond the present. On any of these accounts it may deserve a preference: But then it is sufficient by itself; it needs no aid from another; it can receive none. To add more demonstrations of the fame conclusion, would be a kind of tautology in reasoning; because one demonstration, clearly comprehended, gives all the evidence we are capable of receiving.

The strength of probable reasoning, for the most part, depends not upon any one argument, but upon many, which unite their force, and lead to the fame conclusion. Any one of them by itself would be insufficient to convince; but the whole taken together may have a force that is irresistible, so that to desire more evidence would be absurd. Would any man seek new arguments to prove that there were such persons as King Charles the First, or Oliver Cromwell?

Such evidence may be compared to a rope made up of many slender filaments twisted together. The rope has strength more than sufficient to bear the stress laid upon it, though no one of the filaments of which it w composed would be sufficient for that purpose.


It is a common observation, that it is unreasonable to require demonstration for things which do not admit of it. It is no less unreasonable to require reasoning of any kind for things which are known without reasoning. All reasoning must be grounded upon truths which are known without reasoning. In every branch of real knowledge there must be first principles whose truth is known intuitively, without reasoning, either probable or demonstrative. They are not grounded on reasoning, but all reasoning is grounded on them. It has been shown, that there are first principles of necessary truths, and first principles of contingent truths. Demonstrative reasoning is grounded upon the former, and probable reasoning upon the latter.

That we may not be embarrassed by the ambiguity of words, it is proper to observe, that there is a popular meaning of probable evidence, which ought not to be confounded with the philosophical meaning, above explained.

In common language, probable evidence is considered as an inferior degree of evidence, and is opposed to certainty: So that what is certain is more than probable, and what is only probable is not certain. Philosophers consider probable evidence, not as a degree, but as a species of evidence which is opposed, not to certainty, but to another species of evidence called demonstration.

Demonstrative evidence has no degrees; but probable evidence, taken in the philosophical sense, has all degrees, from the very least, to the greatest which we call certainty.

That there is such a city as Rome, I am as certain as of any proposition in Euclid ; but the evidence is not demonstrative, but of that kind which Philosophers call probable. Yet, in common language, it would found oddly to fay, it is probable there is such a city as Rome, because it would imply some degree of doubt or uncertainty.

Taking probable evidence, therefore, in the philosophical sense, as it is opposed to demonstrative, it may have any degrees of evidence, from the least to the greatest.

I think, in most cafes, we measure the degrees of evidence by the effect they have upon a found understanding, when comprehended clearly and without prejudice. Every degree of evidence perceived by the mind, produces a proportioned degree of assent or belief. The judgment may be in perfect suspense between two contradictory opinions, when there is no evidence for either, or equal evidence for both. The least preponderancy on one side inclines the judgment in proportion. Belief is mixed with doubt, more or less, until we come to the highest degree of evidence, when all doubt vanishes, and the belief is firm and immoveable. This degree of evidence, the highest the human faculties can attain, we call certainty.

Chap. in. but js itself of different kinds. The chief of these, I shall mention., without pretending to make a complete enumeration.

The first kind is that of human testimony, upon which the greatest part of human knowledge is built.

The faith of history depends upon it, as well as the judgment of solemn tribunals, with regard to mens acquired rights, and with regard to their guilt or innocence when they are charged with, crimes. A great part of the business of the Judge, of Counsel at the bar, of the Historian, the Critic, and the Antiquarian, is to canvass and weigh this kind of evidence ; and no man can act with common prudence in the ordinary occurrences of life, who has not some competent judgment of it.

The belief we give to testimony in many cases is not solely grounded upon the veracity of the testifier. In a single testimony, we consider the motives.a man might have to falsify. If there be no appearance of any such motive, much more if there be motives on the other side, his testimony has weight independent of his moral character. If the/ testimony be circumstantial, we consider how far the circumstances agree together, and with things that are known. It is so very difficult to fabricate a story, which cannot be detected by a judicious examination of the circumstances, that it acquires evidence, by being able to bear such a trial. There is an art in detecting false evidence in judicial proceedings, well known to able judges and barristers; so that I believe few false witnesses leave the bar without suspicion of their guilt..

When there is an agreement of many witnesses, in a great variety of circumstances, without the possibility of a previous con^ cert, the evidence may be equal to that of demonstration*

A second kind of probable evidence, is the authority of those who are good judges of the point in question. The supreme court


of judicature of the British nation, is often determined by the opinion of lawyers in a point of law, of physicians in a point of medicine, and of other artists, in what relates to their several professions. And, in the common affairs of life, we frequently rely upon the judgment of others, in points of, which we are not proper judges ourselves.

A third kind of probable evidence, is that by which we recognise the identity of things, and persons of our acquaintance: That two swords, two horses, or two persons, may be so perfectly alike, as not to be distinguishable by those to whom they are best known, cannot be shown to be impossible. But we learn either from nature, or from experience, that it never happens; or so, very rarely, that a person or thing, well known to us, is immediately recognised without any doubt, when we perceive the marks or signs by which we were in use to distinguish it from all other individuals of the kind..

This evidence we rely upon in the most important affairs of life; and, by this evidence, the identity, both of things and of persons, is determined in courts of judicature.

A fourth kind of probable evidence, is that which we have of mens future actions and conduct, from the general principles of action in man, or from our knowledge of the individuals..



Notwithstanding the folly and vice that is to be found among men, there is a certain degree of prudence and probity which we rely upon in every man that is not insane. If it were not so, no man would be safe in the company of another, and there could be no society among mankind. If men were, as much disposed to • hurt as to do good, to lie as to speak truth, they could not live together; they would keep at as great distance from one another as possible, and the race would soon perish.


We expect that men will take some care of themselves, of their family, friends, and reputation: That they will not injure others without some temptation: That they will have some gratitude for good offices, and some resentment of injuries.

Such maxims with regard to human conduct are the foundation of all political reasoning, and of common prudence in the conduct of life. Hardly can a man form any project in public or in private life, which does not depend upon the conduct of other men, as well as his own, and which does not go upon the supposition that men will act such a part in such circumstances. This evidence may be probable in a very high degree, but can never be demonstrative. The best concerted project may fail, and wife counsels may be frustrated, because some individual acted a part which it would have been against all reason to expect.

Another kind of probable evidence, the counterpart of the last, is that by which we collect mens characters and designs from their actions, speech, and other external signs.

We fee not mens hearts, nor the principles by which they are actuated ; but there are external signs of their principles and dispositions, which, though not certain, may sometimes be more trusted than their professions; and it is from external signs that we must draw all the knowledge we can attain of “men’s characters.

The next kind of probable evidence I mention, is that which Mathematicians call the probability of chances.

We attribute some events to chance, because we know only the remote cause which must produce some one event of a number; but know not the more immediate cause which determines a particular event of that number in preference to the others.


I think all the chances about which we reason in mathematics CHAP. Hi. are of this kind. Thus, in throwing a just die upon a table, we fay it is an equal chance which of the six sides shall be turned up; because neither the person who throws, nor the bystanders know the precise measure of force and direction necessary to turn up any one side rather than another. There are here therefore six events, one of which must happen; and as all are supposed to have equal probability, the probability of any one side being turned up, the ace, for instance, is as one to the remaining number five.

The probability of turning up two aces with two dice is as one to thirty-five; because here there are thirty-six events, each of which has equal probability.

Upon such principles as these, the doctrine of chances has furnished a field of demonstrative reasoning of great extent, although the events about which this reasoning is employed be not necessary, but contingent, and be not certain, but probable.

This may seem to contradict a principle before advanced, that contingent truths are not capable of demonstration; but it does not: For, in the mathematical reasonings about chance, the conclusion demonstrated, is not, that such an event shall happen, but that the probability of its happening bears such a ratio to the probability of its failing; and this conclusion is necessary upon the suppositions on which it is grounded.

The last kind of probable evidence I shall mention, is that by which the known laws of Nature have been discovered, and the effects which have been produced by them in former ages, or which may be expected in time to come.

The laws of Nature are the rules by which the Supreme Being governs the world. We deduce them only from facts that fall within our own observation, or are properly attested by those who have observed them.

The knowledge of some of the laws of Nature is necessary to all men in the conduct of life. These are soon discovered even by savages. They know that fire burns, that water drowns, that bodies gravitate towards the earth. They know that day and night, summer and winter, regularly succeed each other. As far back as their experience and information reach, they know that these have happened regularly; and, upon this ground, they are led, by the constitution of human nature, to expect that they will happen in time to come, in like circumstances.

The knowledge which the Philosopher attains of the laws of Nature differs from that of the vulgar, not in the first principles on which it is grounded, but in its extent and accuracy. He collects with care the phenomena that lead to the fame conclusion, and compares them with those that seem to contradict or to limit’ it. He observes the circumstances on which every phenomenon depends, and distinguishes them carefully from those that are accidentally conjoined with it. He puts natural bodies in various situations, and applies them to one another in various ways, oh purpose to observe the effect; and thus acquires from his fenses a more extensive knowledge of the course of Nature in a short time, than could be collected by casual observation in many ages.

But what is the result of his laborious researches? It is, that, as far as he has been able to observe, such things have always happened in such circumstances, and such bodies have always been found to have such properties. These are matters of fact, attested by fense, memory and testimony, just as the few facts which the vulgar know are attested to them.

And what conclusions does the Philosopher draw from the facts he has collected? They are, that like events have happened in former times in like circumstances, and will happen in time to come; and these conclusions are built on the very fame ground on which the simple rustic concludes that the fun will rife to-morrow.


Facts reduced to general rules, and the consequences of those general rules, are all that we really know of the material world. And the evidence that such general rules have no exceptions, as well as the evidence that they will be the fame in time to come as they have been in time past, can never be demonstrative. It is only that species of evidence which Philosophers call probable. General rules may have exceptions or limitations which no man ever had occasion to observe. The laws of Nature may be changed by him who established them. But we are led by our constitution to rely upon their continuance with as little doubt as if it was demonstrable.

I pretend not to have made a complete enumeration of all the kinds of probable evidence; but those I have mentioned are sufficient to show, that the far greatest part, and the most interesting part of our knowledge, must rest upon evidence of this kind; and that many things are certain for which we have only that kind of evidence which Philosophers call probable.