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opinions on very slight grounds; since no one individual is competent to investigate fully all disputable points. Such a one, therefore, is no lover of Truth ; nor is in the right way to attain it on any point. He may more reasonably hope this, who, though he may on many points perceive some (and perhaps a great) preponderance of probability on this or that side, is contented to come to a decisive conclusion, only on those few which he has been enabled thoroughly to investigate. . “The fault I have been speaking of, is one which men are the less likely to detect in themselves, from this circumstance; that in many practical cases, it is necessary to come to some decision speedily, even though we may not have before us the fullest evi. dence that we could desire, or even that we might hope, were more time allowed us, to obtain. The physician may be compelled to prescribe, or the general to give his orders, immediately, and without waiting to examine all the reasons on both sides; because delay would be as pernicious as mistake. In cases of this kind, the utmost we can do is to make up our minds according to the best reasons that occur ; and though we are not called on, even then, to come to any certain conclusion in our own minds, if there are no grounds for it; yet we must act as if we were certain. And the habit is often in this manner acquired, of forming our opinions as hastily as our practical decisions; and that too, even in cases where no immediate step is
taken,—no danger, equal to the danger of error, to be incurred by remaining in suspense.”
The writer of this passage plainly declares, that religious truth is mainly a matter, not of practice but of opinion, in spite of there being “ cases,” and those many, where it is otherwise; and that, therefore, doubts about it involve the necessity of a suspension of judgment.......
In another place he observes, that there is no real force in an objection which is sometimes urged against the pursuit of Truth; viz, that “it is not even desirable, were it possible to bring the mind into a state of perfectly unbiassed indifference, so as to weigh the evidence in each case with complete impartiality.”
“ The evidence," he continues, “ for the truth of the Christian religion, it is said, a good man must wish, and ought to wish, to find satisfactory; one who loves and practices virtue, cannot be, and ought not to be, indifferent as to the question whether there be or be not a God who will reward it. This objection arises, I conceive, from an indistinct and confused notion of the sense of the terms employed. A candid and unbiassed state of mind, which is sometimes called indifference or impartiality, i.e. of the judgment, does not imply an indifference of the will, an absence of all wish on either side, but merely an absence of all influence of the wishes in forming our decision, all leaning of the judgment on the side of inclination,--all perversion of the evidence in consequence. That we should
wish to find Truth on one side rather than the other, is, in many cases, not only unavoidable, but commendable; but to think that true which we wish, without impartially weighing the evidence on both sides, is undeniably a folly, though a very common one...... If a scheme be proposed to any one, for embarking his capital in some speculation by which he is to gain immense wealth, he will doubtless wish to find that the expectations held out are well founded ; but we should call him very imprudent, if (as many do) he should suffer this wish to bias his judgment, and should believe, on insufficient grounds, the fair promises held out to him; his wishes, we should say, were both natural and wise"; but since they could not render the event more probable, it was most unwise to allow them to influence his decision. In like manner, (to take the instance above alluded to,) a good man will indeed wish to find the evidence of the Christian religion satisfactory; but a wise man will not for that reason think it satisfactory, but will weigh the evidence the inore carefully, on account of the importance of the question.”
[It is here supposed that the deference due to any professed religious truth, varies with the probability that it is true, not in any degree with its importance.]... ... The points fixed by the Creeds are the only ones, on which there is not a safest course.
It was observed by the great M. Pascal', con
cerning the truths of religion, that even supposing their evidence to be, as sceptics assert, so inconclu. sive as to leave us altogether in doubt whether they are true or not; supposing it to be even as likely as not that they are a groundless fiction; still, even in this case, we are bound, on all the common principles of prudence, to take for granted their truth, and to regulate all the details of our conduct as if we were certain of them. For, that even on this supposition, our case would be like that of persons playing at a game of chance, whose interest it obviously is, to hazard a small sum on the chance of gaining a great one, wherever that chance is any thing like an even one.
Supposing, for instance, that I am any thing like as likely as not to gain a £1000. prize in the lottery by paying 20 shillings for a ticket, even though I am at the same time as likely as not to draw a blank, still it is obviously my interest to run the risk. And similarly, supposing it to be as likely as not that I may obtain eternal happiness in exchange for eternal misery, by leading a religious life, even though I am at the same time as likely as not, to gain nothing by it, it is surely not overstating the matter, to say, that in common prudence, I am bound to hazard a trifling temporary self-denial, which, at worst, will be but thrown away, and which is as likely as not to prove of incalculable advantage.
Such is the argument of Pascal, which admits of being extended thus :
On the principles of games of chance, supposing the chances even, whether I shall draw a prize or a blank, it is worth paying £50. on the chance of drawing £100.; for if I lose, I shall lose only £50., and if I gain I shall gain £50., and I am as likely to gain as to lose.
Again, supposing it two to one against my gaining, yet, if the gain, supposing me to gain, is twice as great as the loss will be, supposing me to lose, still the chance will be worth running ;—which will be the case, if I pay £33. 6s. 8d, on the chance of £100.; for if I lose, I lose only £33. 68, 8d.—if I gain, I gain £66. 138. 4d.
Again, supposing the chances against me three to one; still I might risk £25, to gain £75.
On supposing then ninety-nine to one against me, I might risk £1. to gain £99.
[With so great a prize then as eternal life in - view, the risk of this life, though on a very small chance, is even justified on the principles of calculation.].....
In the affairs of this life, men know well enough what is meant by the safest course. In religion, a difficulty arises from the dread of superstition.
When you must necessarily act on one of two views of a subject, it does not follow that the most probable of the two is the safest to act upon; one may be indefinitely improbable, and the other next to certain, and yet it may be safest to act as if the first was true, and the second false. On the contrary, in matters of mere speculation, when two