There is perhaps no word in the language which has been less understood or which has excited more controversy than the word miracle. The examination of it, whether from a critical, scientific, or purely historical aspect, seems always to have been capable of arousing the intemperance of superstition or the derision of skepticism. Nor does its true significance appear to have been suspected until, in Christian Science, it at last fell into' its natural place as the demonstration of the theology of Jesus.
Human thought is always rushing to extremes. The world's concept of the miraculous has been no exception to the rule. To-day it presses in ecstasy round the mud-pools at Abonoteichos, where Alexander is groping for his carefully hidden goose's egg; to-morrow it is listening sapiently to the declaration of Hume that there never has been in all history a miracle attested by conclusive evidence. The ordinary reader knows little about Hume, and cares rather less about Alexander. To him the word miracle is inseparable from the New Testament, and its definition as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity" meets with his entire approbation. The naked absurdity of this definition and of the argument founded on it was long ago exposed by Huxley. To insist, he pointed out, that "that which never has happened never can happen, without a violation of the laws of nature," is to insist that everything outside human experience is a violation of natural law. This of course combines a contradiction with a reductio ad absurdum. A contradiction because a violated law ceases to be a law; a reductio ad absurdum because everything outside the experience of a particular age becomes supernatural. Thus, because the telephone was unknown to the ancient Britons, the telephone is a violation of a natural law.
It is almost incredible that this view of miracles should have been deliberately laid down by one of the great thinkers of the century, and accepted by hundreds of thousands of intelligent people. Hume was himself a skeptic, and as such was endeavoring to state a case which to him was opposed to reason, but the position of the churches which for centuries have preached a doctrine identical with this is opposed not merely to reason but to revelation.