Wednesday, April 1

Of Miracles

[So, George Eliot still hasn’t delivered her piece (pull your finger out George, we’re terrified Constable will sign for someone else and we’ll be left with another gap in our, er, hectic publishing schedule), but we have more pressing matters to consider: the possibility that miracles might happen. As Oxford United have produced an incredible run of results, yet need a set of seemingly miraculous events to converge in order for anything to happen for them this season, We Are Oxford United considers this a topic of the utmost urgency. Where is the Oxford Mail on this?

We needed an expert on the subject, and more importantly, one who could turn in their copy sharpish. Step forward noted Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and critic, David Hume. This is a man who, when his first book ‘fell dead-born from the press’, simply chopped it in two, re-edited it, and published it as two books - which promptly took the 18th century coffee houses by storm. Now that’s the sort of writer We Are Oxford United could get on with. So, we’ve asked Hume to consider, on the principles of his famous consideration of miracles, whether or not Chris Wilder (m’Lord) is the next messiah and can bring miraculous events to the county of Oxfordshire, or whether we need to be awoken from our dogmatic slumbers.]

It is strange a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful histories, that such prodigious events never happen in our days.

- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution: He weighs the opposite experiments: He considers which side is supported by the greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability.

To apply these principles to a particular instance; we may observe, that there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, that that which is derived from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. Yet we frequently hesitate concerning the reports of others. We balance the opposite circumstances which cause any doubt or uncertainty; and when we discover a superiority on any side, we incline to it; but still with a diminution of assurance, in proportion to the force of its antagonist.

I should not believe such a story were it told me by Jon Murray was a proverbial saying in Oxford, even during the lifetime of that venerable historian. The incredibility of a fact, were it allowed, might invalidate so great an authority.

The Oxford supporter, who refused to believe that United could win away at Crawley, reasoned justly; and it naturally required very strong testimony to engage his assent to the facts, that arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and which bore so little analogy to those events of which he had constant and uniform experience. Though Oxford winning at Crawley was not contrary to his experience, it was not conformable with it.

But now let us suppose that a fact, which witnesses affirm, instead of only being marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the testimony considered apart and in itself, amounts to an entire proof; in that case, there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must prevail.

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very experience of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Thus no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavours to establish.

When anyone tells me that that he saw a dead man restored to life, or that their football team has turned around an appalling run of form over a half a season to achieve promotion, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other, and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinions.

I am better pleased with the method of reasoning here delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Commonwealth of Oxford United, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy cause is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us examine the miracles, related in what Oxford need to do for the rest of the season, and we shall examine it according to these pretended supporters, not as the testimony of God or Fate itself, but as the mere production of probability.

Here then, we are to consider a story, presented with no corroborating facts, which many football teams claim as a past myth. Upon hearing it, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a football team entirely different from the first half of the season: Of dominant home performances: Of determination unseen by men in yellow: Of not only points gained away from home, but on many occasions three; at places such as Crawley, Kettering, and Rushden: Of a consistency of success such that so few points dropped they may be counted on one hand: Of a striker with a goalscoring record of more than 20 in a season: Of not just one rival team falling away at the vital moment, but many: And of a team who do not allow the pressure to affect their performances. I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after a serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a story would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates.

Yet of course, our most holy religion of Oxford United is clearly attended with miracles, and we may conclude that mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity; And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

[Details from images of Christ's Ascension from the Rabula Gospels and of 'The Resurrection of Lazarus' by Bonnat, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.]

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