Telling Chinese History A Selection of Essays ..

Gibbon’s treatment of miracles from the purely historical point of view (he owed a great deal to Middleton, see above, p. ) was particularly disconcerting. In the early age of Christianity “the laws of nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman Empire, was involved in a praeternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers in a laborious work has recorded all the great phenomena of nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe.” How “shall we excuse the supine inattention of the pagan and philosophic world to those evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses?”

Telling Chinese History: A Selection of Essays / Edition …

Telling chinese history a selection of essays

Telling Chinese History: A Selection of Essays by …

But in the nineteenth century the methods of criticism, applied by German scholars to Homer and to the records of early Roman history, were extended to the investigation of the Bible. The work has been done principally in Germany. The old tradition that the Pentateuch was written by Moses has been completely discredited. It is now agreed unanimously by all who have studied the facts that the Pentateuch was put together from a number of different documents of different ages, the earliest dating from the ninth, the last from the fifth, century B.C.; and there are later minor additions. An important, though undesigned, contribution was made to this exposure by an Englishman, Colenso, Bishop of Natal. It had been held that the oldest of the documents which had been distinguished was a narrative which begins in Genesis, Chapter I, but there was the difficulty that this narrative seemed to be closely associated with the legislation of Leviticus which could be proved to belong to the fifth century. In 1862 Colenso published the first part of his . His doubts of the truth of Old Testament history had been awakened by a converted Zulu who asked the intelligent question whether he could really believe in the story of the Flood, “that all the beasts and birds and creeping things upon the earth, large and small, from hot countries and cold, came thus by pairs and entered into the ark with Noah? And did Noah gather food for them all, for the beasts and birds of prey as well as the rest?” The Bishop then proceeded to test the accuracy of the inspired books by examining the numerical statements which they contain. The results were fatal to them as historical records. Quite apart from miracles (the possibility of which he did not question), he showed that the whole story of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt and the wilderness was full of absurdities and impossibilities. Colenso’s book raised a storm of indignation in England—he was known as “the wicked bishop”; but on the Continent its reception was very different. The portions of the Pentateuch and Joshua, which he proved to be unhistorical, belonged precisely to the narrative which had caused perplexity; and critics were led by his results to conclude that, like the Levitical laws with which it was connected, it was as late as the fifth century.

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In England the prevalent deistic thought did not lead to the same intellectual consequences as in France; yet Hume, the greatest English philosopher of the century, showed that the arguments commonly adduced for a personal God were untenable. I may first speak of his discussion on miracles in his and in his philosophical (1748). Hitherto the credibility of miracles had not been submitted to a general examination independent of theological assumptions. Hume, pointing out that there must be a uniform experience against every miraculous event (otherwise it would not merit the name of miracle), and that it will require stronger testimony to establish a miracle than an event which is not contrary to experience, lays down the general maxim that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony is of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.” But, as a matter of fact, no testimony exists of which the falsehood would be a prodigy. We cannot find in history any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men of such unquestionable good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit in the eyes of mankind as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood, and at the same time attesting facts performed in such a public manner as to render detection unavoidable —all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.

Available in: Paperback. This superb collection of essays on late imperial and modern Chinese history spans the brilliant forty-year career of the late
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In this brief review of the triumphs of reason in the nineteenth century, we have been considering the discoveries of science and criticism which made the old orthodoxy logically untenable. But the advance in freedom of thought, the marked difference in the general attitude of men in all lands towards theological authority to-day from the attitude of a hundred years ago, cannot altogether be explained by the power of logic. It is not so much criticism of old ideas as the appearance of new ideas and interests that changes the views of men at large. It is not logical demonstrations but new social conceptions that bring about a general transformation of attitude towards ultimate problems. Now the idea of the progress of the human race must, I think, be held largely answerable for this change of attitude. It must, I think, be held to have operated powerfully as a solvent of theological beliefs. I have spoken of the teaching of Diderot and his friends that man’s energies should be devoted to making the earth pleasant. A new ideal was substituted for the old ideal based on theological propositions. It inspired the English Utilitarian philosophers (Bentham, James Mill, J. S. Mill, Grote) who preached the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the supreme object of action and the basis of morality. This ideal was powerfully reinforced by the doctrine of historical progress, which was started in France (1750) by Turgot, who made progress the organic principle of history. It was developed by Condorcet (1793), and put forward by Priestley in England. The idea was seized upon by the French socialistic philosophers, Saint-Simon and Fourier. The optimism of Fourier went so far as to anticipate the time when the sea would be turned by man’s ingenuity into lemonade, when there would be 37 million poets as great as Homer, 37 million writers as great as Molière, 37 million men of science equal to Newton. But it was Comte who gave the doctrine weight and power. His social philosophy and his religion of Humanity are based upon it. The triumphs of science endorsed it; it has been associated with, though it is not necessarily implied in, the scientific theory of evolution; and it is perhaps fair to say that it has been the guiding spiritual force of the nineteenth century. It has introduced the new ethical principle of duty to posterity. We shall hardly be far wrong if we say that the new interest in the future and the progress of the race has done a great deal to undermine unconsciously the old interest in a life beyond the grave; and it has dissolved the blighting doctrine of the radical corruption of man.

Frederic E. Wakeman Jr., Telling Chinese History: A Selection of Essays, Selected and Edited by Lea H. Wakeman, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2009, 480 pp.

The Real History of White People

We do not know enough about the earliest history of the Greeks to explain how it was that they attained their free outlook upon the world and came to possess the will and courage to set no bounds to the range of their criticism and curiosity. We have to take this character as a fact. But it must be remembered that the Greeks consisted of a large number of separate peoples, who varied largely in temper, customs and traditions, though they had important features common to all. Some were conservative, or backward, or unintellectual compared with others. In this chapter “the Greeks” does not mean all the Greeks, but only those who count most in the history of civilization, especially the Ionians and Athenians.

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The Real History of White People

Ionia in Asia Minor was the cradle of free speculation. The history of European science and European philosophy begins in Ionia. Here (in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.) the early philosophers by using their reason sought to penetrate into the origin and structure of the world. They could not of course free their minds entirely from received notions, but they began the work of destroying orthodox views and religious faiths. Xenophanes may specially be named among these pioneers of thought (though he was not the most important or the ablest), because the toleration of his teaching illustrates the freedom of the atmosphere in which these men lived. He went about from city to city, calling in question on moral grounds the popular beliefs about the gods and goddesses, and ridiculing the anthropomorphic conceptions which the Greeks had formed of their divinities. “If oxen had hands and the capacities of men, they would make gods in the shape of oxen.” This attack on received theology was an attack on the veracity of the old poets, especially Homer, who was considered the highest authority on mythology. Xenophanes criticized him severely for ascribing to the gods acts which, committed by men, would be considered highly disgraceful. We do not hear that any attempt was made to restrain him from thus assailing traditional beliefs and branding Homer as immoral. We must remember that the Homeric poems were never supposed to be the word of God. It has been said that Homer was the Bible of the Greeks. The remark exactly misses the truth. The Greeks fortunately had no Bible, and this fact was both an expression and an important condition of their freedom. Homer’s poems were secular, not religious, and it may be noted that they are freer from immorality and savagery than sacred books that one could mention. Their authority was immense; but it was not binding like the authority of a sacred book, and so Homeric criticism was never hampered like Biblical criticism.