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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/370

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

where, a finite being, or beings, who can play with the solar system as a child plays with a toy; and that such being may be willing to do anything which he is properly supplicated to do, For we are not justified in saying that it is impossible for beings having the nature of men, only vastly more powerful, to exist; and if they do exist, they may act as and when we ask them to do so, just as our brother men act. As a matter of fact, the great mass of the human race has believed, and still believes, in such beings, under the various names of fairies, gnomes, angels, and demons. Certainly I do not lack faith in the constancy of natural order. But I am not less convinced that if I were to ask the Bishop of Manchester to do me a kindness which lay within his power, he would do it. And I am unable to see that his action on my request involves any violation of the order of Nature. On the contrary, as I have not the honor to know the bishop personally, my action would be based upon my faith in that "law of Nature," or generalization from experience, which tells me that, as a rule, men who occupy the bishop's position are kindly and courteous. How is the case altered if my request is preferred to some imaginary superior being, or to the Most High Being, who, by the supposition, is able to arrest disease, or make the sun stand still in the heavens, just as easily as I can stop my watch, or make it indicate any hour that pleases me?

I repeat that it is not upon any a priori considerations that objections, either to the supposed efficacy of prayer in modifying the course of events, or to the supposed occurrence of miracles, can be scientifically based. The real objection, and, to my mind, the fatal objection, to both these suppositions, is the inadequacy of the evidence to prove any given case of such occurrences which has been adduced. It is a canon of common sense, to say nothing of science, that the more improbable a supposed occurrence, the more cogent ought to be the evidence in its favor. I have looked somewhat carefully into the subject, and I am unable to find in the records of any miraculous event evidence which even approximates to the fulfilment of this requirement.

But, in the case of prayer, the bishop points out a most just and necessary distinction between its effect on the course of Nature outside ourselves and its effect within the region of the supplicator's mind.

It is a "law of Nature," verifiable by everyday experience, that our already-formed convictions, our strong desires, our intent occupation with particular ideas, modify our mental operations to a most marvelous extent, and produce enduring changes in the direction and in the intensity of our intellectual and moral activities.

Men can intoxicate themselves with ideas as effectually as with alcohol or with bang, and produce, by dint of intense thinking, mental conditions hardly distinguishable from monomania. Demoniac possession is mythical; but the faculty of being possessed, more or less completely, by an idea is probably the fundamental condition of