Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XVI.

Chap. XVI.

            2. Another branch of this selfish fondness, by reason of which we miscarry of science, is the almost insuperable prejudice of custom, and education: by which our minds are encumbered, and the most are held in a fatal ignorance. Yea could a man be composed to such an advantage of constitution, that it should not at all adulterate the images of his mind; yet this second nature would aLter the crasis of the understanding, and render it as obnoxious to aberrances, as now. And though in the former regard, the soul were a pure αγραφον γραμματειον[Greek: agraphon grammateion]; yet custom and education would scrible into an incapacity of new impressions. Thus we judge all things by our anticipations; and condemn or applaud them, as they agree or differ from our first receptions. One country laughs at the laws, customs, and opinions of another, as absurd and ridiculous; and the other is as charitable to them, in its conceit of theirs. This confirms the most sottish idolaters in their accustomed adorations, beyond the conviction of anything but doomsday. The impressions of a barbarous education are stronger in them, than nature; when in their cruel worships they lance themselves with knifes, and expose their harmless infants to the flames as a sacrifice to their idols. And 'tis on this account, that there's no religion so irrational, but can boast its martyrs. This is it, which befriends the Talmud and Alcoran; and did they not owe their credit more to customary and preengaged assent, than to any rational inducement, we might expect their ashes: whereas education hath so rooted these misbelievers in their ungrounded faith, that they may as soon be plucked from themselves, as from their obstinate adherencies; and to convert a Turk, or Jew, may be well a phrase for an attempt impossible. We look for it only from him, to whom our impossibles are none. And 'tis to be feared that Christianity itself by most, that have espoused it, is not held by any better tenure. The best account that many can give of their belief, is, that they were bred in it; and the most are driven to their religion by custom and education, as the Indians are to baptism; that is, like a drove of cattle to the water. So that had providence determined our nativities among the enemies of the cross, and theirs under a Christian horoscope; in all likelihood we should have exchanged the scene of our belief with that of our abode and breeding. There is nothing so absurd, to which education cannot form our ductile minority; it can lick us into shapes beyond the monstrosities of Africa. And as King James would say of parliaments, it can do anything but make a man a woman. For our initial age is like the melted wax to the prepared seal, capable of any impression from the documents of our teachers. The half-moon or cross, are indifferent to its reception; and we may with equal facility write on this rasa tabula, Turk, or Christian. To determine this indifferency, our first task is to learn the creed of our country; and our next to maintain it, we seldom examine our receptions more than children do their catechisms; but by a careless greediness swallow all at a venture. For implicit faith is a virtue, where orthodoxy is the object. Some will not be at the trouble of a trial: others are scared from attempting it. If we do, 'tis not by a sun-beam or ray of universal light; but by a flame that's kindled by our affections, and fed by the fuel of our anticipations. And thus like the hermit, we think the sun shines nowhere, but in our cell; and all the world to be darkness but ourselves. We judge truth to be circumscribed by the confines of our belief, and the doctrines we were brought up in: and with as ill manners, as those of China, repute all the rest of the world monoculous. So that what some astrologers say of our fortunes and the passages of our lives; may by the allowance of a metaphor be said of our opinions: that they are written in our stars, being to the most as fatal as those involuntary occurrences, and as little in their power as the placets of destiny. We are bound to our country's opinions, as to its laws: and an accustomed assent is tantamount to an infallible conclusion. He that offers to dissent, shall be an outlaw in reputation: and the fears of guilty Cain, shall be fulfilled on him, who ever meets him shall slay him. Thus custom and education have sealed the canon; and he that adds or takes away from the book of orthodox belief; shall be more than in danger of an anathema: and the Inquisition is not confined to the jurisdiction of the Triple-crown. The rankest follies are sacred, if customary; and the fashion is handsome, and agreeable, though never so uncouth to an unconcerned beholder. Their antic deckings with feathers is as comely in the account of those barbarous nations, which use them; as the ornaments of lace, and riband, are in ours. And the plucking off the shoe is to the Japonians as decent a salutation, as the uncovering of the head is to us, and their abhorred neighbours. And as we are fond of every thing with which custom hath acquainted us; so on the other hand we start and boggle at every unusual appearance, and cannot endure the sight of the bugbear, novelty. On this account very innocent truths are often affixed with the reproach of heresie; and made terrible things in the imaginations of their misinformed and frighted enemies; who like children scared in the dark, fly the monsters of their fancies, and dare not stay to take a true account of the object of their fears. So that there is scarce any truth, but its adversaries have made it an ugly vizard; by which it's exposed to the hate and disesteem of superficial examiners: for an opprobrious title with vulgar believers is as good as an argument. And 'tis but writing the name that customary receptions have discredited, under the opinions we dislike; and all other refutation is superfluous. Thus shallow apprehenders are frighted from many sober verities; like the King of Arabs, who ran away from the smoking mince-pie, apprehending some dangerous plot in the harmless steam.

            So then, while we thus mistake the infusions of education, for the principles of universal nature; we must needs fail of a scientifical theory. And therefore the two nations differing about the antiquity of their language, made appeal to an undecisive experiment; when they agreed upon the trial of a child brought up among the wild inhabitants of the desert. The language it spake, had no reason to be accounted the most ancient and natural: and the lucky determination for the Phrygians by its pronouncing the word beck, which signified bread in the dialect of that country, they owed not to nature, but the goat-herd; from which the exposed infant, by accompanying that sort of animals, had learnt it.

            Again (3.) Interest is another thing, by the magnetism of which our affections are almost irresistibly attracted. It is the pole, to which we turn, and our sympathizing judgements seldom decline from the direction of this impregnant. Where interest hath engaged men; they'll find a way to truth, or make one. Anything is good and true, to one whose interest it is, to have it so. And therefore self-designers are seldom disappointed, for want of the speciousness of a cause to warrant them; in the belief of which, they do oft as really impose upon themselves, as they industriously endeavour it upon others. With what an infinite of lawsuits, controversies, and litigious cases doth the world abound? And yet every man is confident of the truth and goodness of his own. And it may be as Master Hobbes observes, one reason that mathematical demonstrations are uncontroverted, is, because interest hath no place in those unquestionable verities: when as, did the advantage of any stand against them, perhaps Euclid's elements would not pass with so universal a suffrage. Sir H. Blunt tells us, that temporal expectations bring in droves to the Mahometan faith; and we know the same holds thousands in the Romish. The eagles will be, where the carcase is; and that shall have the faith of most, which is best able to pay them for't. An advantageous cause never wanted proselytes. I confess, I cannot believe all the learned Romanists profess against their conscience; but rather, that their interest brings their consciences to their profession: and self-advantage can as easily incline some, to believe a falsehood, as profess it. A good will, helped by a good wit, can find truth any where: and, what the chemists brag of their elixir, it can translate any metal into gold, in the hand of a skilful artificer, in spite of the adage, ex quolibet ligno Mercurius. Though yet I think, that every religion hath its bare nominals: and that pope was one with a witness, whose saying it was, quantum nobis lucri peperit illa fabula de Christo!

            4. Besides, fourthly, self-love engageth us for anything, that is a Minerva of our own. And thereby detains us in the snares of ignorance and folly. We love the issues of our brains, no less than those of our bodies: and fondness of our own begotten notions, though illegitimate, obligeth us to maintain them. We hug intellectual deformities, if they bear our names; and will hardly be persuaded they are so, when ourselves are their authors. If their dam may be judge, the young apes are the most beautiful things in nature; and if we might determine it, our proper conceptions would be all voted axioms. Thus then the female rules, and our affections wear the breeches: while our understandings govern, as the story saith Themistocles did Athens. So that to give the sum of all, most of the contests of the litigious world pretending for truth, are but the bandyings of one man's affections against another's: in which, though their reasons may be foiled, yet their passions lose no ground, but rather improve by the antiperistasis of an opposition.

 

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