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- The Making of Religion - 6/68 -

Iamblichus, reveal Porphyry wandering puzzled among mediums, floating lights, odd noises, queer dubious 'physical phenomena.' He did not begin with accurate experiments as to the existence of rare, and apparently supernormal human faculties, and he seems to have attained no conclusion except that 'spirits' are 'deceitful.'[1]

Something more akin to modern research began about the time of the Reformation, and lasted till about 1680. The fury for burning witches led men of sense, learning, and humanity to ask whether there was any reality in witchcraft, and, generally, in the marvels of popular belief. The inquiries of Thyraeus, Lavaterus, Bodinus, Wierus, Le Loyer, Reginald Scot, and many others, tended on the whole to the negative side as regards the wilder fables about witches, but left the problems of ghosts and haunted houses pretty much where they were before. It may be observed that Lavaterus (circ. 1580) already put forth a form of the hypothesis of telepathy (that 'ghosts' are hallucinations produced by the direct action of one mind, or brain, upon another), while Thyraeus doubted whether the noises heard in 'haunted houses' were not mere hallucinations of the sense of hearing. But all these early writers, like Cardan, were very careless of first-hand evidence, and, indeed, preferred ghosts vouched for by classical authority, Pliny, Plutarch, or Suetonius. With the Rev. Joseph Glanvil, F.R.S. (circ. 1666), a more careful examination of evidence came into use. Among the marvels of Glanvil's and other tracts usually published together in his 'Sadducismus Triumphatus' will be found letters which show that he and his friends, like Henry More and Boyle, laboured to collect first-hand evidence for second sight, haunted houses, ghosts, and wraiths. The confessed object was to procure a 'Whip for the Droll,' a reply to the laughing scepticism of the Restoration. The result was to bring on Glanvil a throng of bores--he was 'worse haunted than Mr. Mompesson's house,' he says-and Mr. Pepys found his arguments 'not very convincing.' Mr. Pepys, however, was alarmed by 'our young gib-cat,' which he mistook for a 'spright.' With Henry More, Baxter, and Glanvil practically died, for the time, the attempt to investigate these topics scientifically, though an impression of doubt was left on the mind of Addison. Witchcraft ceased to win belief, and was abolished, as a crime, in 1736. Some of the Scottish clergy, and John Wesley, clung fondly to the old faith, but Wodrow, and Cotton Mather (about 1710-1730) were singularly careless and unlucky in producing anything like evidence for their narratives. Ghost stories continued to be told, but not to be investigated.

Then one of the most acute of philosophers decided that investigation ought never to be attempted. This scientific attitude towards X phenomena, that of refusing to examine them, and denying them without examination, was fixed by David Hume in his celebrated essay on 'Miracles.' Hume derided the observation and study of what he called 'Miracles,' in the field of experience, and he looked for an _a priori_ argument which would for ever settle the question without examination of facts. In an age of experimental philosophy, which derided _a priori_ methods, this was Hume's great contribution to knowledge. His famous argument, the joy of many an honest breast, is a tissue of fallacies which might be given for exposure to beginners in logic, as an elementary exercise. In announcing his discovery, Hume amusingly displays the self-complacency and the want of humour with which we Scots are commonly charged by our critics:

'I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusions, and consequently will be useful as long as the world endures.'

He does not expect, however, to convince the multitude. Till the end of the world, 'accounts of miracles and prodigies, I suppose, will be found in all histories, sacred and profane.' Without saying here what he means by a miracle, Hume argues that 'experience is our only guide in reasoning.' He then defines a miracle as 'a violation of the laws of nature.' By a 'law of nature' he means a uniformity, not of all experience, but of each experience as he will deign to admit; while he excludes, without examination, all evidence for experience of the absence of such uniformity. That kind of experience cannot be considered. 'There must be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.' If there be any experience in favour of the event, that experience does not count. A miracle is counter to universal experience, no event is counter to universal experience, therefore no event is a miracle. If you produce evidence to what Hume calls a miracle (we shall see examples) he replies that the evidence is not valid, unless its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact. Now no error of human evidence can be more miraculous than a 'miracle.' Therefore there can be no valid evidence for 'miracles.' Fortunately, Hume now gives an example of what he means by 'miracles.' He says:--

'For, first, there is _not to be found_, in _all history_, any miracle attested by a _sufficient number_ of men, of such unquestioned _good sense, education_, and _learning_, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted _integrity_, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time attesting facts performed in such a _public manner_, and in so _celebrated a part of the world_, as to render the detection unavoidable; all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.'[2]

Hume added a note at the end of his book, in which he contradicted every assertion which he had made in the passage just cited; indeed, be contradicted himself before he had written six pages.

'There surely never was a greater number of miracles ascribed to one person than those which were lately said to have been wrought in France upon the tomb of Abbe Paris, the famous Jansenist, with whose sanctity the people were so long deluded. The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, were everywhere talked of as the usual effects of that holy sepulchre. But what is more extraordinary, many of the miracles were _immediately proved upon the spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity_, attested by _witnesses of credit and distinction_, in _a learned age_, and on the most _eminent theatre_ that is _now in the world_. Nor is this all. A relation of them was published and dispersed everywhere; nor were the Jesuits, though a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined enemies to those opinions, in whose favour the miracles were said to have been wrought, ever able _distinctly to refute or detect them_. Where shall we find such a number of circumstances, agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And what have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute _impossibility, or miraculous nature_ of the events which they relate? And this, surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation.'

Thus Hume, first denies the existence of such evidence, given in such circumstances as he demands, and then he produces an example of that very kind of evidence. Having done this, he abandons (as Mr. Wallace observes) his original assertion that the evidence does not exist, and takes refuge in alleging 'the absolute impossibility' of the events which the evidence supports. Thus Hume poses as a perfect judge of the possible, in a kind of omniscience. He takes his stand on the uniformity of all experience that is not hostile to his idea of the possible, and dismisses all testimony to other experience, even when it reaches his standard of evidence. He is remote indeed from Virchow's position 'that what we call the laws of nature must vary according to our frequent new experiences.'[3] In his note, Hume buttresses and confirms his evidence for the Jansenist miracles. They have even a martyr, M. Montgeron, who wrote an account of the events, and, says Hume lightly, 'is now said to be somewhere in a dungeon on account of his book.' 'Many of the miracles of the Abbe Paris were proved immediately by witnesses before the Bishop's court at Paris, under the eye of Cardinal Noailles....' 'His successor was an enemy to the Jansenists, yet twenty-two _cures_ of Paris ... pressed him to examine these miracles ... _But he wisely forbore_.' Hume adds his testimony to the character of these _cures_. Thus it is wisdom, according to Hume, to dismiss the most public and well-attested 'miracles' without examination. This is experimental science of an odd kind.

The phenomena were cases of healing, many of them surprising, of cataleptic rigidity, and of insensibility to pain, among visitors to the tomb of the Abbe Paris (1731). Had the cases been judicially examined (all medical evidence was in their favour), and had they been proved false, the cause of Hume would have profited enormously. A strong presumption would have been raised against the miracles of Christianity. But Hume applauds the wisdom of not giving his own theory this chance of a triumph. The cataleptic seizures were of the sort now familiar to science. These have, therefore, emerged from the miraculous. In fact, the phenomena which occurred at the tomb of the Abbe Paris have emerged almost too far, and now seem in danger of being too readily and too easily accepted. In 1887 MM. Binet and Fere, of the school of the Salpetriere, published in English a popular manual styled 'Animal Magnetism.' These authors write with great caution about such alleged phenomena as the reading, by the hypnotised patient, of the thoughts in the mind of the hypnotiser. But as to the phenomena at the tomb of the Abbe Paris, they say that 'suggestion explains them.'[4] That is, in the opinion of MM. Binet and Fere the so-called 'miracles' really occurred, and were worked by 'the imagination,' by 'self-suggestion.'

The most famous case--that of Mlle. Coirin--has been carefully examined by Dr. Charcot.[5]

Mlle. Coirin had a dangerous fall from her horse, in September 1716, in her thirty-first year. The medical details may be looked for in Dr. Charcot's essay or in Montgeron.[6] 'Her disease was diagnosed as cancer of the left breast,' the nipple 'fell off bodily.' Amputation of the breast was proposed, but Madame Coirin, believing the disease to be radically incurable, refused her consent. Paralysis of the left side set in (1718), the left leg shrivelling up. On August 9, 1731, Mlle. Coirin 'tried the off chance' of a miracle, put on a shift that had touched the tomb of Paris, and used some earth from the grave. On August 11, Mlle. Coirin could turn herself in bed; on the 12th the horrible wound 'was staunched, and began to close up and heal.' The paralysed side recovered life and its natural proportions. By September 3, Mlle. Coirin could go out for a drive.

All her malady, says Dr. Charcot, paralysis, 'cancer,' and all, was 'hysterical;' 'hysterical oedema,' for which he quotes many French authorities and one American. 'Under the physical [psychical?] influence brought to bear by the application of the shift ... the oedema, which was due to vaso-motor trouble, disappeared almost instantaneously. The breast regained its normal size.'

Dr. Charcot generously adds that shrines, like Lourdes, have cured patients in whom he could not 'inspire the operation of the faith cure.' He certainly cannot explain everything which claims to be of supernatural origin in the faith cure. We have to learn the lesson of patience. I am among the first to recognise that Shakespeare's words hold good to-day:

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'

If Dr. Charcot had believed in what the French call _suggestion mentale_-- suggestion by thought-transference (which I think he did not)--he could have explained the healing of the Centurion's servant, 'Say the word, Lord, and my servant shall be healed,' by suggestion & distance (telepathy), and by premising that the servant's palsy was 'hysterical.' But what do we mean by 'hysterical'? Nobody knows. The 'mind,' somehow, causes gangrenes, if not cancers, paralysis, shrinking of tissues; the mind, somehow, cures them. And what is the 'mind'? As my object is to give

The Making of Religion - 6/68

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