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another, he must have clearly established in his own mind what evidence
he would require to believe in a special revelation to himself.

But when he communicates this revelation to his fellow-creatures that
which may truly be a revelation to him is not revelation to them. It is
to them merely human testimony, which they are bound to examine more
strictly from its abnormal nature.

Let us now suppose that this believer in his own special revelation
offers to work a miracle in proof of the truth of his doctrine, and
even, further, that he does perform a miracle. Those who witness it
have now before them far higher evidence of inspiration than that of
the prophet’s testimony. They have the evidence of their own senses
that an act contrary to the ordinary laws of nature has been performed.

But even here the amount of conviction will be influenced by the state
of knowledge the spectator of the miracle {399} himself possesses of
the laws of nature which he _believes_ he has thus seen violated.[54]


Granting him, however, the most profound knowledge, the evidence
influencing his own mind will be inferior to that which acts upon the
mind of the inspired worker of the miracle. If there are more witnesses
than one thus qualified, this will to a certain extent augment the
evidence, although a large number might not give it a proportional
addition of weight.

[54] I have adopted in the text that view of the nature of
miracles which prevailed many years ago. In 1838, I published, in
the “Ninth Bridgewater Treatise,” my own views on those important
subjects—the nature of miracles and of prophecy. Those opinions
have been received and adopted by many of the most profound
thinkers of very different religious opinions.

It would be profane to compare evidence derived directly from the
Almighty, which must necessarily be irresistible, with the testimony
of man, which must always be carefully weighed by taking into account
the state of his knowledge, his prejudices, his interests, and his
truthfulness. On the other hand, it would lead to endless confusion,
and be destructive to all reasoning on the subject, to apply the same
word ‘Revelation’ to things so different in their nature as—

The immediate act of the Deity.

The impression produced by that act on the mind of the person inspired.

The description of it given by him in the language of the people he

The record made of his description by those who heard it.

The transmission of this through various languages and people to the
present day.

We have now arrived at the highest external evidence man can have—the
declaration of inspiration by the prophet, {400} supported by an
admitted miracle performed before competent witnesses, to prove the
truth of his inspiration.


But to all who were not present, the evidence of this is entirely
dependent on the truth and even upon the accuracy of _human testimony_.

At every step of its transmission it undergoes some variation in the
words in which it is related; and without the least want of good faith
at any stage, the mere imperfection of language will necessarily
vary the terms by which it is described. Even when written language
has conveyed it to paper as a MSS., there may be several different
manuscripts by different persons. Even in the extraordinary case of two
MSS. agreeing perfectly there remains a perpetual source of doubt as
to the exact interpretation arising from the continually fluctuating
meaning of the words themselves.

Few persons who have not reflected deeply, or had a very wide
experience, are at all aware of the errors arising from this source.


There is a game occasionally played in society which eminently
illustrates the value of testimony transmitted with the most perfect
good faith through a succession of truthful persons. It is called
Russian Scandal, and is thus played:—

One of the party writes a short simple tale, perhaps a single anecdote.
The original composer of the tale, whom we will call A, retires into
another room with B, to whom he communicates it. A then returns to the
party, and sends in C, who is told by B the tale he had just learnt.
B then returns to the party and sends in D, who is informed of the
anecdote by C, and so on until the story has been transmitted through
twelve educated and truthful witnesses.

The twelfth then relates to the whole party the story he has just
heard: after that the original written document is read. {401} The wit
or fun of the transmitted story is invariably gone, and nothing but an
unmeaning platitude generally remains.

One very interesting case occurred a few years ago in which the wit of
the original story had evidently been lost, but had afterwards been
revived in a different form in the latter part of its transmission. The
story at starting consisted of the following anecdote:—

The Duke of Rutland and Theodore Hook having dined with the Lord
Mayor, were looking for their hats previously to their departure. The
Duke, unable to find his own, said to his friend: “Hook, I have lost
my castor.” The Lord Chief Baron, Sir Frederick Pollock, was at that
moment passing down the stairs. Hook perceiving him, replied instantly,
“Never mind, take Pollock’s” (Pollux).

The story told at the conclusion, after a dozen transmissions, was

Theodore Hook and the Duke of Rutland were dining with the Bishop of
Oxford. Both being equally incapable of finding their respective hats,
the Duke said to the wit, “Hook, you have stolen my castor.” “No,”
replied the prince of jokers, “I haven’t stolen your castor, but I
should have no objection to take your beaver;” alluding to Belvoir
Castle, the splendid seat of the Duke of Rutland, which in the language
of the clay is pronounced precisely in the same way as the name of that
animal whom man robs of his great-coat in order to make a covering for
his own skull.

It requires considerable training to become an accurate witness of
facts. No two persons, however well trained, ever express, in the same
form of words, the series of facts they have both observed.

* * * * *


3. There remains a third source from which we arrive at {402} the
knowledge of the existence of a supreme Creator, namely, from _an
examination of his works_. Unlike transmitted testimony, which is
weakened at every stage, this evidence derives confirmation from the
progress of the individual as well as from the advancement of the
knowledge of the race.

Almost all thinking men who have studied the laws which govern the
animate and the inanimate world around us, agree that the belief in
the existence of one Supreme Creator, possessed of infinite wisdom and
power, is open to far less difficulties than the supposition of the
absence of _any_ cause, or of the existence of a _plurality_ of causes.

In the _works_ of the Creator ever open to our examination, we possess
a firm basis on which to raise the superstructure of an enlightened
creed. The more man inquires into the laws which regulate the
material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms
arise from the action of a few simple principles. These principles
themselves converge, with accelerating force, towards some still more
comprehensive law to which all matter seems to be submitted. Simple as
that law may possibly be, it must be remembered that it is only one
amongst an infinite number of simple laws: that each of these laws has
consequences at least as extensive as the existing one, and therefore
that the Creator who selected the present law must have foreseen the
consequences of all other laws.

The _works_ of the Creator, ever present to our senses, give a living
and perpetual testimony of his power and goodness far surpassing any
evidence transmitted through human testimony. The testimony of man
becomes fainter at every stage of transmission, whilst each new inquiry
into the works of the Almighty gives to us more exalted views of his
wisdom, his goodness, and his power. {403}


When I was between sixteen and seventeen years of age, I heard, or
rather I attended, for the first time, to the words of the Athanasian
Creed. I felt the utmost disgust at the direct contradiction in
terms which its words implied; and during several weeks I recurred,
at intervals, to the Prayer-Book to assure myself that I rightly
remembered its singular and self-contradictory assertions. On inquiry
amongst my seniors, I was assured that it was all true, and that it was
part of the Christian religion, and that it was most wicked to doubt
a single sentence of it. Whereupon I was much alarmed, seeing that I
found it absolutely impossible to believe it, and consequently, if it
were an essential dogma, I clearly did not belong to that faith.

In the course of my inquiries, I met with the work upon the Trinity,
by Dr. Samuel Clarke. This I carefully examined, and although very
far from being satisfied, I ceased from further inquiry. This change
arose probably from my having acquired the much more valuable work of
the same author, on the Being and Attributes of God. This I studied,
and felt that its doctrine was much more intelligible and satisfactory
than that of the former work. I may now state, as the result of a long
life spent in studying the _works_ of the Creator, that I am satisfied
they afford far more satisfactory and more convincing proofs of the
existence of a supreme Being than any evidence transmitted through
human testimony can possibly supply.

If I were to express my opinion of the Athanasian Creed merely from my
experience of the motives and actions of mankind, I should say that
it was written by a clever, but most unscrupulous person, who did not
believe one syllable of the doctrine,—that he purposely asserted and
reiterated propositions which contradict each other in terms, in order
that {404} in after and more enlightened times, he should not be
supposed to have believed in the religion which he had, from worldly
motives, adopted.

The Athanasian Creed is a direct contradiction in terms: if three
things can be one thing, then the whole science of arithmetic is at
once annihilated, and those wonderful laws, which, as astronomers have
shown, govern the solar system, are mere dreams. If, on the other hand,
it is attempted to be shown that there may be some mystic sense in
which three and one are the same thing, then all language through which
alone man can exert his reasoning faculty becomes useless, because it
contradicts itself and is untrue.[55]

[55] See Appendix, Note B.


The great basis of virtue in man is _truth_—that is, the constant
application of the same word to the same thing.

The first element of accurate knowledge is _number_—the foundation and
the measure of all he knows of the material world.

I believe these views of the Athanasian Creed are by no means
singular,—that they are indeed very generally held, although very
rarely asserted. If such is the case, it were wise to take the
opportunity which the new Commission for the revision of the Liturgy
presents, to remove from the Rubric doctrines so thoroughly destructive
of all true religion, and about which the author, doubtless in mockery,
so complacently tells us, that whosoever does not believe them “without
doubt, he shall perish everlastingly.”

The true value of the Christian religion rests, not upon speculative
views of the Creator, which must _necessarily_ be different in each
individual, according to the extent of the knowledge of the finite
being, who employs his own feeble powers in contemplating the infinite:
but it rests upon those {405} doctrines of kindness and benevolence
which that religion claims and enforces, not merely in favour of man
himself, but of every creature susceptible of pain or of happiness.


A curious reflection presents itself when we meditate upon a state of
rewards and punishments in a future life. We must possess the memory of
what we did during our existence upon this earth in order to give them
those characteristics.

In fact, memory seems to be the only faculty which must of necessity be
preserved in order to render a future state possible.

If memory be absolutely destroyed, our personal identity is lost.

Further reflection suggests that in a future state we may, as it were,
awake to the recollection that, previously to this our present life,
we existed in some former state, possibly in many former ones, and
that the then state of existence may have been the consequences of our
conduct in those former stages.

It would be a very interesting research if naturalists could devise any
means of showing that the dragon-fly, in its three stages of a grub
beneath the soil—an animal living in the water—and that of a flying
insect—had in the last stage any memory of its existence in its first.

Another question connected with this subject offers still greater
difficulty. Man possesses five sources of knowledge through his senses.
He proudly thinks himself the highest work of the Almighty Architect;
but it is quite _possible_ that he may be the very lowest. If other
animals possess senses of a different nature from ours, it can scarcely
be possible that we could ever be aware of the fact. Yet those animals,
having other sources of information and of pleasure, might, though
despised by us, yet enjoy a corporeal as well as an intellectual
existence far higher than our own.




How, when, and where this vision occurred it is unnecessary for me at
present to state. It did not arise under the action of the laughing-gas
or of chloroform, but by some much more real and immediate spiritual
action. I had no perception of body or of matter, yet I felt that I
was in the presence of a reasoning being of a different order from
man. Language was not the means of our communication; yet it became
necessary, in order to be intelligible, when I wrote down the facts
immediately after that singular event—but language itself is quite
insufficient to give an adequate idea of its immense apparent duration.

The first difficulty I felt in this communion with an unearthly Spirit
was the notion of space. Our views of it differed widely. On many
points, as, for instance, measure, we apprehended each other perfectly,
for each referred to the height of an individual of his own race—of
course about six feet. At last I discovered that my idea of space,
which was founded upon vacuity, was exactly the reverse of that of the
Spirit, which was based upon solidity. I will now, as far as I can,
place before my reader the information I received.


The first desire I expressed to the Spirit was to learn, if possible,
his view of the origin of all things. He stated that {407} the records
of his race, which he declared was the highest in creation, went back,
with great certainty, for myriads of years before all other created
beings: that previously to this, their history was somewhat obscure,
but had recently been placed upon a much surer footing by some of their
most prominent Spirits.

(_a._) In the beginning all space was fluid—apparently one universal
whitish liquid extended in all directions through what we should call
space; so I thought at first that this might have some relation to
the “milky way.” Its temperature was considerable; and in about every
thousand years a torrent of this fluid, of a still higher temperature,
passed through space with a kind of gushing rush. It was peopled by
myriads of happy spirits floating about in it.

After long ages of happiness a dispute arose between two Spirits as to
the possibility of the existence of matter under any other form than
that of a fluid. The Power which controlled their destiny, justly angry
at their presumption, threw into the fluid a very small piece of what,
as far as I could understand, was like organic matter.

(_b._) The effect was astounding: all the fluid in contact with this
intrusive piece of matter gradually lost its fluidity, and a new state
of matter or of space arose which had been unknown in all past time.
The change advanced slowly but certainly, on every side of the intruded
matter. In its new form, as far as I could make out, space became
elastic gelatinous matter. The two quarrelsome Spirits were the first
to be surrounded in it. None in the immediate presence of this new kind
of space could move away, and absorption went on rapidly imprisoning
millions of beings.

A great controversy arose as to the state of those embedded in the
jelly. Some supposed that they were miserably squeezed, {408} and
maintained that they deserved to be thoroughly wretched. Whilst others
asserted, that being entirely relieved from movement, theirs must be
a state of perfect blessedness, their whole faculties being absorbed
in contemplation. In the midst of these discussions the process of
jellification was advancing more and more rapidly, and in ten thousand
years the whole of infinite fluidity throughout all space, with all its
myriads of Beings embedded in it, was transformed into this new form
of space. From the description conveyed to me by the Spirit, I should
infer that the whole of what we call infinite space had now become more
nearly like _blancmange_ than any other sub-aërial substance.


(_c._) After a state of repose of many hundred thousand years a new
catastrophe occurred. Space became too large even for itself. It then
suffered, for many hundred thousand years, enormous compression. During
this long period all its embedded Spirits perished, and space itself,
during six hundred thousand years, became one vast and solid desert,
containing no living beings.

But the vast periods of the past were as nothing compared with the long
series of cycles which now succeeded—each in itself comprising millions
of years.

About this time recorded history began, and is believed, by the Spirit
with whom I was in conference, to be as authentic as the nature of the
circumstances admit.

One solitary survivor seems to have escaped the crash of systems and
the condensation of space. He proceeded to cut himself into two parts,
and to advise each part to follow out the same course, directing them
to transmit the command of their first parent throughout all time.
Alone, in the midst of infinite solidity, the newly-severed beings,
setting themselves back to back, exerted force. Thus urged, matter
itself gave {409} way, and they occupied an elongated hollow space.
Then again bisecting themselves, they further lengthened the path.
After ten thousand years they began to exert their energies in the
transverse directions of that path, and thus widened it. The race
then began to form chambers, each for himself, into which he might
retire for abstruse calculations, the nature of which seemed almost
beyond the remotest reach of utility, although not beyond the power of
the Analytical Engine. Thus vast cities, as it were, became formed,
penetrating in every direction through solid space.

(_d._) After millions of years of industry quietness and calculations,
a most extraordinary catastrophe occurred. It was with the greatest
difficulty that I could discover its nature, or how to explain it
in ordinary language. The nearest approach I can make towards its
explanation is this:—It seemed, from what my spiritual informant
communicated, that the whole universe was lifted up bodily, and then
borne rapidly back with a great shock, thus disarranging everything,
and destroying millions of their race.


But the most incomprehensible part of this historic narration was, that
on the survivors recovering their senses, they found that everything
which had formerly been on their right hand was now on their left. They
also observed, to their still greater dismay, that every abode in the
universe was turned topsy-turvy, so that the surviving philosophers,
who had retired to their attics to study, suddenly found themselves in
their cellars.

I have conveyed, as carefully as the nature of the subject admits, the
impressions this relation made upon me, sometimes assisted in my slow
apprehensions by another unembodied Spirit, whom, to distinguish from
the relator, I shall call Mathesis. {410}


Whenever a man can get hold of numbers, they are invaluable: if
correct, they assist in informing his own mind, but they are still more
useful in deluding the minds of others. Numbers are the masters of
the weak, but the slaves of the strong. I therefore earnestly pressed
for more exact information as to the possible number of years; but it
appeared beyond the Spirit’s power to estimate it, even within a few
millions. He mentioned incidentally that the last vast period he had
just described was merely one of many others of similar extent: also,
that though these periods were not actually equal, the difference,
which even in extreme cases only reached a hundred thousand years, was
not worth considering.

To gratify my longing desire for information on this most important
subject, the Spirit proceeded to inform me that their histories
recorded a large number of these successive catastrophes, and that they
were succeeded by a new and more terrible one, which he was proceeding
to explain, when I interrupted him by asking for an approximate
estimate of their number. Aware of my anxious desire for numerical
accuracy, he said he could, in this one instance, gratify it fully.
“If there is,” said my informant, “any one point better established
than all others, it is that there had occurred exactly one hundred and
twenty-one of these avatars of destruction.”

I now felt as if I had discovered one solitary fixed point in the vast
chaos of time. My guide described to me that, after the termination
of this system of one hundred and twenty-one cycles, a new and more
terrific system of events followed each other.

First, however, he said he must mention an interregnum, irregular in
its progress, but still of vast duration; {411} in fact, some of his
race had been able to prove that it occupied at least three times as
long as any one of those just described.


(_e._) It commenced by a motion very like that to which space itself
had been submitted at the end of each avatar, finishing with a smash,
and followed by a period of repose of about ten thousand years. It
however differed from those avatars inasmuch as there was no inversion
of the position of cellar and attic.

(_f._) A new form of shaking of universal solid space now arose, much
more frequent but less destructive than the former. It occurred about
once in two years, and was repeated many hundred thousand times.

(_g._) Again a period exactly similar to that recorded in (_e_)

(_h._) This was followed by a long series of movements of all solidity,
approaching, as far as I could understand it, to an oscillating or wave
motion. This continued without intermission during exactly three of
those cycles whose precise number had been preserved.

(_i._) During the whole of this period there was a great destruction
of the race. A universal sickness arose and continued more or less, so
that multitudes actually perished, and those who escaped could scarcely
carry on the ordinary calculations necessary for their existence.

(_j._) Another period followed, ending with a smash excessively like

(_k._) Then followed a period of shaking like that in (_f_).

(_l._) Then another smash like (_e_).

(_m._) Period of long repose.

After this came a long state of absolute rest.

Such was the dawn of the most terrible, as well as the {412} most
recent, of these vast changes in the universe which had been so well
related by my ethereal guide.


(_n._) The temperature of the universe had been uniform throughout
many millions of years: it now began to change in different isolated
places. Increased cold in some parts drove the inhabitants from their
dwellings. This was followed by torrents of invisible air, bringing
infection and death to millions of their race. Public opinion was
roused, and their academies of science and of arts were urged to devise

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 29 of 36)