Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chesterton on Miracles

It reminds me of one of my favorites passages from G.K. Chesteron's Orthodoxy:
If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant's story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism -- the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence -- it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, "Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles," they answer, "But mediaevals were superstitious"; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say "a peasant saw a ghost," I am told, "But peasants are so credulous." If I ask, "Why credulous?" the only answer is -- that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Roger Mitchell said...

Chesterton on the denial of miracles reminds me of Chesterton on the denial of original sin. Also from "Orthodoxy":

"Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious
leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day
not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin,
which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. . . . The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man,
as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it
a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat."

I guess Hume would just deny the causality of the cat.

12:41 PM  
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3:29 PM  

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