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to 1, that their testimony is true, or that they are not both wrong ; if three, 999 to 1, and so on. So if fifty such witnesses should concur, the probability of their testimony would be a number expressed by 50 nines to l; and that such great odds should lose, would by many be regarded as a greater miracle than if the sun should appear at midnight, or the dead be raised to life*. Some
ingenious * Mr. Hume's celebrated argument against miracles seems to me to amount to nothing more than his own assertion, that if any number of men whatever should tell him they had seen a miracle, he would not believe them. But a religious mind would be more inclined to think that the Creator of the Universe might, for wise purposes, suspend or reverse the ordinary operations of nature, than that ten thousand men should concur in a falsehood.-- First Edition.
The stupendous work of the Creation required an inspired writer to describe it; and all beyond what he has taught us, is too vast for the mind of man to comprehend. But we all have lived but a few years in this world, before we clearly perceived, that in every year there is a Power or Conservator, who works a miracle for the preservation of the human species. We have sometimes extreme heat, sometimes extreme cold, extreme rain, or drought, and many other extremes, where we are all convinced that a little more would end in the destruction of the race of man; but when we apprehend that the ship is just going to strike upon a rock, where all embarked in it must inevitably, perish, we find that there is an invisible almighty pilot at the helm, who steers us again from the impending danger, into the main ocean of safety and comfort.
How this has been effected, no astronomer, chemist, or human scholar, has yet been able to teach us,
ingenious friends of mine, accustomed to disquisitions of this nature, have drawn this conclusion from these principles, viz. That no degree of negative testimony merely can ever totally destroy the probability of affirmative testimony: as, for instance, if one man asserts a fact, and another of equal credit denies it, some probability remains on the side of the affirmative ; as if one should affirm that A had a legacy by a certain will, and if another should assert he had read the will, and that there was no legacy for A, yet before A himself saw the will, upon this testimony he would give something for his chance. If we should suppose that the holder of any ticket in the lottery is informed by two men, each of whom is as much in the habit of telling lies as truth, so that it is an even chance what each asserts is true or false, and if one should declare that he heard that ticket called a prize of 10001., the other that he heard it called a blank; from this testimony the chance of that prize would be worth 250l. Or if we suppose
that, The Mahometan writers surpass us Christians in their expressions of reverence and veneration for the Creator. One celebrated Poet has said, “ If you were to endeavour to recount all the blessings you have derived from your Creator, even till the day of judgment, you could not mention one in a thousand.” And in another place :-“ The sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, are all employed to produce you bread; there. fore, O man, do not eat it with ingratitude.”-Sádi. .
that, from the morning of a certain day; an underwriter would insure a ship at a premium of ten per cent., but that he was afterwards informed by two sailors, each of whose credibility we will estimate at an even chance as before ; by one, that on that day he saw the ship spring a leak and sink ; by the other, that he sailed in company with that ship all the day, and that he left her in the evening safe and well;—(here I preclude the supposition that both are correct with respect to the fact, but one mistakes the day ;)—though these two testimonies are directly opposite, yet they by no means cancel each other, but they produce such an effect, that if the underwriter is a man of prudence and calculation, he would not afterwards insure that ship for less than 327 per cent*. The demonstration of the solution of these cases I must leave to those who have an acquaintance with the principles, and a disposition to be amused by such speculations. But it must be
* The higher the probability of each of such opposite testimonies, the more nearly they will cancel each other, or less effect will be produced. But negation merely can never totally destroy affirmation : the effect of an affirmation can only be cancelled by an affirmation of something of a directly opposite nature. If two persons, equally credible, should assert, one that I had lost 1000l., the other that A had won 10001., then A's situation would be of the same value it was before ; and gamesters and underwriters would not object to stand in his shoes.
admitted, as we cannot with any degree of certainty appreciate the credit of each witness, they are of ' little or no use in practice, though they are undeniably true in abstract theory. But science built upon a firın foundation, when properly considered, never can be at variance with good sense. The most honourable acquittal leaves some unfavourable, presumption; for if the person tried should have the misfortune to have one or two more such. acquittals for the same crime, it cannot be affirmed that that person will stand as clear from suspicion, as if he never had been tried at all; therefore some probability must remain in favour of each accusation, for the sum of any number of nothings would still be nothing t.
It is so much the general understanding of mankind that no evidence amounts to certainty, that the most conscientious witnesses in all times have been inclined to qualify their testimony by belief, The witnesses of the present day perpetually believe, where they entertain no doubt: and Cicero tells us, Veterum in testimoniis dicendis ea fuit diligentia ac religio; quod inscientia multa versaretur in vita, ut,
+ In looking into the Civil Law books, I find in Farinacius, Quæst. LXV.n. 201..“ Plus (inquiunt Doctores) creditur duobus affirmantibus quam mille negantibus:" and Muscardus calls this, Regula illa vulgaris, vol. I. conclu. 70.
arbitrari se, testes dicerent, etiam quod ipsi vidissent. Lib. IV. Acad. Quest.
In the consideration of circumstantial evidence, I have stated that the circumstances must be proved by living witnesses or positive testimony: but there is a species of testimony which is called the evidentia rei : though this must be introduced by positive evidence, yet, when produced, it speaks for itself, and requires no explanation. Of this nature may be mentioned two cases which have happened, within a few years, upon the Northern circuit. In one case, a person was found shot by a ball; and the wadding of the pistol stuck in the wound, and was found to be part of a ballad called Sweet Poll of Plymouth, which corresponded with another part found in the pocket of the prisoner. The other also was a case of murder ; and in the head of the deceased there was a chip' or splinter, which exactly fitted the cavity in a bludgeon, from which a piece had been lately broken ; which bludgeon the prisoner carried in his hand when he was apprehended. Though this account of the two pieces of the ballad, and two pieces of the bludgeon, must be proved by positive testimony, yet the court and jury are as competent judges of the fitness and correspondence of the parts as the witnesses. Cui adsunt testimonia rerum, uid opus est verbis ?