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Of the supposed Presumption against a Revelation, considered as miraculous ..
CHAP, III. Of our Incapacity of judging, what were to be expected in a Revelation ;
and the Credibility, from Analogy, that it must contain Things appearing liable to Objections..
Of Christianity, considered as a Scheme or Constitution imperfectly comprehended...
CHAP. V. Of the particular System of Christianity; the Appointment of a Mediator,
198 and the Redemption of the World by him
Of the Want of Universality in Revelation : and of the supposed Deficiency in the Proof of it....
Of the particular Evidence for Christianity
Of the Objections which may be made against arguing from the Analogy of Nature to Religion.....
PROBABLE evidence is essentially distinguished from demonstrative by this, that it admits of degrees; and of all variety of them, from the highest moral certainty, to the very lowest presumption. We cannot indeed say a thing is probably true upon one very slight presumption for it; because, as there may be probabilities on both sides of a question, there may be some against it: and though there be not, yet a slight presumption does not beget that degree of conviction, which is implied in saying a thing is probably true. But that the slightest possible presumption is of the nature of a probability, appears from hence, that such low presumption often repeated will amount even to moral certainty. Thus a man's having observed the ebb and flow of the tide today, affords some sort of presumption, though the lowest imaginable, that it may happen again to-morrow : but the observation of this event for so many days, and months, and ages together, as it has been observed by mankind, gives us a full assurance that it will.
That which chiefly constitutes Probability is expressed
in the word Likely, i. e. like some truth', or true event; like it, in itself, in its evidence, in some more or fewer of its circumstances. For when we determine a thing to be probably true, suppose that an event has or will come to pass, it is from the mind's remarking in it a likeness to some other event, which we have observed has come to pass. And this observation forms, in numberless daily instances, a presumption, opinion, or full conviction, that such event has or will come to pass; according as the observation is, that the like event has sometimes, most commonly, or always, so far as our observation reaches, come to pass at like distances of time, or place, or upon like occasions. Hence arises the belief, that a child, if it lives twenty years, will grow up to the stature and strength of a man; that food will contribute to the preservation of its life, and the want of it for such a number of days be its certain destruction. So likewise the rule and measure of our hopes and fears concerning the success of our pursuits; our expectations that others will act so and so in such circumstances; and our judgment that such actions proceed from such principles; all these rely upon our having observed the like to what we hope, fear, expect, judge; I say upon our having observed the like, either with respect to others or ourselves. And thus, whereas the prince', who had always lived in a warm climate, naturally concluded in the way of analogy, that there was no such thing as water's becoming hard, because he had always observed it to be fluid and yielding; we, on the contrary, from analogy conclude, that there is no presumption at all against this : that it is supposable there may be frost in England any given day in January next; probable, that there will on some day of the month; and that there is a moral certainty, i. e. ground for an expectation without any doubt of it, in some part or other of the winter.
1 Verisimile. ? The story is told by Mr. Locke in the chapter of Probability.
Probable evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of information; and is to be considered as relative only to beings of limited capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of knowledge, whether past, present, or future, can be probable to an infinite Intelligence; since it cannot but be discerned absolutely as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false. But, to Us, probability is the very guide of life.
From these things it follows, that in questions of difficulty, or such as are thought so, where more satisfactory evidence cannot be had, or is not seen ; if the result of examination be, that there appears, upon the whole, any the lowest presumption on one side, and none on the other, or a greater presumption on one side, though in the lowest degree greater ; this determines the question, even in matters of speculation; and, in matters of practice, will lay us under an absolute and formal obligation, in point of prudence and of interest, to act upon that presumption or low probability, though it be so low as to leave the mind in very great doubt which is the truth. For surely a man is as really bound in prudence to do what upon the whole appears, according to the best of his judgment, to be for his happiness, as what he certainly knows to be so. Nay, further, in questions of great consequence, a reasonable man will think it concerns him to remark lower probabilities and presumptions than these ; such as amount to no more than showing one side of a question to be as sup