Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/58

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48
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

priori considerations. The question is a question of fact, historical fact. The universe has come into existence somehow or other, and the question is, whether it came into existence in one fashion, or whether it came into existence in another; and, as an essential preliminary to our further discussion, permit me to say two or three words as to the nature of historical evidence, and the kinds of historical evidence. The evidence as to the occurrence of any fact in past time is of one or two kinds, which, for convenience' sake, I will speak of on the one hand as testimonial evidence, and on the other as circumstantial evidence. By testimonial evidence I mean human testimony; and by circumstantial evidence I mean evidence which is not human testimony. Let me illustrate by a familiar figure what I mean by these two kinds of evidence, and what is to be said respecting their value:

Suppose that a man tells you that he saw a person strike another and kill him; that is testimonial evidence of the fact of murder. But it is possible to have circumstantial evidence of the fact of murder; that is to say, you may find a man dying with a wound upon his head having exactly the form and character of the wound which is made by an axe, and, with due care to take surrounding circumstances into account, you may conclude with the utmost certainty that the man has been murdered—is dying in consequence of the violence inflicted by that implement. We are very much in the habit of considering circumstantial evidence as of less value than testimonial evidence, and it may be in many cases, where the circumstances are not perfectly clear and perfectly intelligible, that it is a dangerous and uncertain kind of evidence; but it must not be forgotten that in many cases it is quite as good as testimonial evidence, and that not unfrequently it is a great deal better than testimonial evidence. For example, take the case to which I referred just now. The circumstantial evidence is better and more convincing than the testimonial evidence, for it is impossible, under the circumstances that I have mentioned, to suppose that the man had met his death from any cause but the violent blow of an axe wielded by another man. The circumstantial evidence in favor of a murder having been committed, in that case, is as complete and as convincing as evidence can be. It is evidence which is open to no doubt and no falsification. But the testimony of the witness is open to multitudinous doubts. He may have been mistaken. He may have been actuated by malice. It has constantly happened that even an accurate man has declared a thing has happened in this, that, or the other way, when a careful analysis of the circumstantial evidence has shown that it did not happen in that way, but in some other way.

Now we must turn to our three hypotheses. Let me first direct your attention to what is to be said about the hypothesis of the eternity of this state of things in which we now are. What will first strike you is, that that is an hypothesis which, whether true or false, is not capable of verification by evidence; for, in order to secure testi-