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Charles Bradlaugh Roberts Bradlaugh Night1 1bradlaugh1

Mr. BRADLAUGH: The proposition which Mr. Roberts has undertaken to prove in this debate is, that "the Scriptures are the authentic and reliable records of Divine revelation"; and, so far as this debate is concerned, you have nothing whatever to do with what persons of Mr. Bradlaugh’s class may have urged at some other time, the more especially as there would be probably great difference of opinion as to who were the proper people to put in under that designation, and we should only be entering into a collateral debate, which would have nothing to do with the real question at issue. I will ask Mr. Roberts to be kind enough, in every text he quotes, to give me chapter and verse, because it will be convenient both to myself and to the audience. We have only had one loose reference to Jeremiah, and I have been wandering a little through the book, finding some things, perhaps, Mr. Roberts won’t think applicable, but which I shall have to use, if they suit me, in the course of this debate. Then I ask him also, if he quotes an author outside the Bible, to be good enough not to say "about" the time he lived, because on that we shall have great difference of opinion, but to state the time he thinks he did live, and the authorities upon which he bases that statement, because it is for him to produce his witnesses, and for him to verify them. Next I will ask him when he says Justin Martyr says this, or Origen says that, to be kind enough to refer me to the particular work, to the particular book, to the particular chapter, and, if it have sections, to the particular section; and, if it be a book that don’t happen to be translated in English, to the particular version, because there will be a misfortune about some of his witnesses, that they don’t always say the same things in different versions and languages; and, if he is right in his representation of Justin Martyr, I am most unfortunate, because no edition of Justin Martyr I have ever read has got a solitary word capable of the construction he has put upon it. Of course, it is possible that Mr. Roberts may quote to me some particular book of Justin Martyr’s that I have overlooked, and it would be my duty to look it up in such a case; but if he simply uses round words, without giving express statements, I must say that his witnesses are too general even to be touched; and, when he talks of "contemporary writers," will he permit me to suggest that Clement of Rome, Origen, and Justin Martyr are very awkward instances of contemporary authors? Now, these are only little points; but still, if we understand what we mean about them as we go along, it will very much clear the way. Now the burden of the proof lies upon Mr. Roberts. He has not told us – although what he has undertaken to prove is that the Scriptures are the authentic and reliable records of Divine revelation–even what he means by the Scriptures. I shall assume, for the purpose of this debate, that he means the ordinary authorised English version, beginning with the Book of Genesis, and ending with the Book of Revelation; and supposing that should not happen to be right–because it may turn out to be wrong–then I will ask my antagonist, Mr. Roberts, to kindly explain to us what he means; and, if he means anything else but this, why he means something else, and why we are to reject this version, and why we should take something else. I heard him say something about "perverse erudition", but as I make no pretensions to special learning, I shall, therefore, try to confine myself as nearly as I can to authors that are entirely within the reach of all of us; but I ask Mr. Roberts not to refrain, on account of my ignorance, from going to any learned author he likes. It is my duty to be prepared to examine every witness he offers. Then having assumed that those (pointing to the English Bible) are the Scriptures, I will ask what is meant–because he did not tell us–by the words "Divine Revelation", and I may say at once that I have never contended, that I do not contend, and I do not know any decently-educated man who does contend, that the whole of this Bible is the work either of "ignorant and fanatical" men, or, to use his other phrase, of "ignorant and designing" men. On the contrary, the contention that I should submit to you would be that the Bible, like many other books, is a collection of the works of different men in different ages, many of the earlier books in it being simply collections of, or collections founded on the works of still earlier writers, differing with the ages out of which they grew and with the men whose ideas more or less accurately we get in some of them; added to, curtailed, interlined, abbreviated, augmented, according to the fashions and whims and myths and superstitions of the different ages through which they have come down to us; and I do not pretend that at any particular date some class of ignorant and designing men forged a whole book, which they called the Bible, for the purpose of deceiving the people; such would simply be an absurd contention. If Mr. Roberts will address himself to the proving what lies on him, and not to the answering of what I do not urge, it will save a great deal of time. Now, the question assumes the existence of a Deity capable of making a revelation; and if I were not content, for the purpose of this debate, to assume this, I should not be here; but, as I happen to be an Atheist–although for the purposes of this debate I am quite content to assume a divinity capable of making a revelation–it is necessary I should be told what attributes are claimed for that Deity. Now, Mr. Roberts has refrained from saying a word on that subject. While he alleges that it is Divine revelation, he has not told us what he means by "Divinity", and clearly all people do not agree on that; the Mahomedans and Buddhists have a different view from Mr. Roberts. It is not simply myself, but out of the fourteen hundred millions of people in the world, probably thirteen hundred millions, and some ninety-nine millions and a few odd thousands, would have a different view from that put forward by Mr. Roberts, so that it is necessary that he should tell us what attributes he attributes to the Deity; and I shall, for the purpose of this debate, attribute to the Deity the following attributes; and if Mr. Roberts objects to any of them, he is perfectly entitled to strike any of them out if he will kindly say why, and give you the attributes he prefers– omnipotence, allgoodness, omnipresence, omniscience, including in this foreknowledge, immutability, infinity, eternity, personality. Now, if any of those attributes are objectionable, I shall be glad to hear Mr. Roberts strike out those he thinks wrong. I should not have ventured to state them at all if Mr. Roberts had fulfilled his duty at the commencement. And then I say, that the book cannot be a divine revelation which in any of its contents contradicts any of those attributes. I say, if I find within the four corners of this book anything contradicting specifically any one of those attributes, I say that then the book as a whole–because it is as a whole that we are dealing with it–ceases to be capable of proof by Mr. Roberts as the divine revelation he pretends. I am not using the word "pretend" in any unfair sense, but simply as meaning the contention he is bound to maintain. Then I say that a divine revelation ought not to be self-contradictory, and if in addition, or if, having failed in showing that it contradicts the attributes, I show that the book is in any portion of it self-contradictory, I say that then I destroy its claim to be considered a divine revelation. Now, on this, it is possible that the contention Mr. Roberts foreshadowed may arise. He says he will admit, if I understood him rightly, that hostile ingenuity may perhaps lay hold of real contradictions on the surface. Well, now, I should submit to you that, primafacie, that book cannot be a revelation from God to man, from which hostile ingenuity to a simple mind may show what would be by that hostile ingenuity sufficient contradiction to compel the simple mind to reject it; I say that it ought not to need the acute brain of a gentleman like Mr. Roberts to explain God’s revelation; that God Himself ought to have made it quite clear if He intended its reception, and that there ought not to be any contradictions either on the surface or anywhere else. Well, then, I submit to you that contradiction on the surface is a contradiction, and that adding the words "on the surface" do not make it any less a contradiction; and, then, if I should be told that that simply means that it is a contradiction on the surface of the English, but if you go to some other language it is to be explained away, then I will ask Mr. Roberts whether any sort of penalty attaches in his mind to the reception or rejection of divine revelation, and, if so, in what language the penalty is going to be inflicted? because it is extremely awkward; take it that there are in the world some eighty millions of people, in round numbers, speaking English; supposing it requires a knowledge of some other language instead of English to comprehend the revelation, and to get rid of the inconsistencies, it is extremely awkward for those who have been born to speak English, and that would of itself seem a fatal objection against the possibility of the book being a revelation; that God should have sent it in one language, while He requires it to be believed in another. And I will ask Mr. Roberts also to tell us–because he has, although telling us to-night he should deal with the present time, he has gone 1,600 or 1,700 years back in a jump–I will ask him to tell us, for my guidance, what he considers to be the original language of each of the books; the date at which he considers each of the books respectively to have been revealed, and to whom, and the evidence in support of each of those propositions. Then I will urge to you, supposing we get over those little points, that a Divine revelation ought not to be inconsistent with itself, and ought not to be inconsistent with science, and that such inconsistencies exist will be the case that I shall try to make out. Now, in the speech which we have just listened to, there are one or two points, not of argument, because it appears to me that my friend had overlooked, so far as the opening speech was concerned, what was the subject of debate. He addressed some few words, which might have been appropriate (supposing they had been substantiated) to the question. Did the Four Gospels and the writings of the apostles exist in the second century? But I heard nothing that was appropriate to anything else, and that would only be a very limited stage of the inquiry. He said something about "If Mr. Bradlaugh’s views be correct, skull, crossbones, and corruption brood over everybody". Well, now, that solemn absurdity scarcely frightened me. At first I did not know which of my views Mr. Roberts was referring to, for I have expressed views on a great many subjects. I have some views on politics, I have some views on political economy, and it did occur to me that what we were to debate was, not what are Mr. Bradlaugh’s views in general, but the proposition: "Are the Scriptures the Authentic and Reliable Records of Divine Revelation?" So that although the skull, and crossbones, and corruption, may have some remote reference to Mr. Bradlaugh’s views when they are under debate, I will submit to you the only views of Mr. Bradlaugh that Mr. Roberts has a right to deal with in his discussion, are those I put forward on this platform, and no others. Mr. Roberts has been good enough to state, and I thank him for the frankness of the admission, that there should be historic harmony, if the Bible be true, between records purporting to be historic in this book, and the records, so far as we can get them, of humanity; and I shall ask Mr. Roberts to show that there is such harmony especially in relation to the records of the Egyptians; and I will ask him whether it is not admitted, by nearly every person with a pretence to scholarship, that the Hebrew chronology is so sadly deficient that it does not make allowance within many centuries for the period necessary for verified Egyptian civilization. This is one point to which I will ask Mr. Roberts to direct his attention. Then Mr. Roberts appeals to the sentiment which, he says, animates the book from beginning to end. Will he kindly tell me what that sentiment is, for I avow I do not know. I am ready to show that there are, at least, fifty contradictory sentiments. I will show you a sentiment of mercy, a sentiment of cruelty, a sentiment of love, a sentiment of hatred, a sentiment of freedom, a sentiment of slavery, a sentiment in favour of monarchy, and a sentiment against it; and I ask, therefore, for some kind of clue to what Mr. Roberts means. I do not pretend that he has not got a clear meaning in his own mind; I only want to know what it is, so that I may fairly reply to it. Mr. Roberts says that his reasons are such as ought to convince any logical mind. Well, that is a great comfort, because there are certainly some logical minds in the audience, and when we hear the reasons, you will be able to judge them. And then he occupied some time about what he was going to do during the six nights. I shall confine myself to that alone to-night, because it will save us a considerable waste of time; and what he undertook to prove to-night was that the state of affairs now existing in the world is consistent with the view that the Bible is a revelation from God, and not the work of ignorant and fanatical men. Now, I do not contend it is the work of ignorant and fanatical men. And, next I contend that the whole of the rest is utterly irrelevant until Mr. Roberts has explained to us what he means by divine revelation, and all about it. Then Mr. Roberts says there is some pity to be felt for me in my position. Well, now that is very kind. I always like a nice feeling to exist with anybody with whom I come in contact. It is the first time I have met with Mr. Roberts. Pity is akin to love, and no one knows but what the extension of the feeling of pity may so influence him that he may become a member of the National Secular Society. But an ounce of evidence is worth two tons of pity, and we have not yet had the ounce. And then he says that certain things are not explicable on the Freethinker’s hypothesis. It will be time enough for Mr. Roberts to take the Freethinker’s hypothesis from me in this debate, and not manufacture a man of straw for the purpose of killing it; it will save a great waste of time. Then he urges that there are difficulties and obscurities which may exist. "Difficulties and obscurities" in God’s revelation to human kind! Could God have prevented those difficulties and obscurities, and made them clearer, or could He not? And, then, I will also ask him, so that I may not be misled, chapter and verse, to kindly give me a list of the difficulties and obscurities. I will then not need to press upon them at all. I am sure, with that frankness which characterises every one who wants to believe in the Bible as a Divine revelation, now that Mr. Roberts has told you there are difficulties and obscurities, he will have no hesitation in giving a list of them. Then I will ask him, when he has given that list, to tell us in each case whether he could have made it more clear. If he cannot, then I will ask him whether that is not a fatal difficulty at once; and if he says "Yes", I will ask him how he holds that an All-wise and Omnipotent God has given us an obscure revelation, which he (Mr. Roberts) could have made clearer. Then he says that the positive evidence is all one way; with that I am quite agreed; the only difficulty is, we are disagreed as to on which side that evidence is to be found. And then there is another difficulty, that we do not understand the word "evidence" in the same way. Mr. Roberts, having to prove something about the state of affairs now existing, quotes, with extreme looseness, Tertullian, and Clement of Rome, and Justin Martyr. Well, that may be some evidence when we get to what it is. But if he were to confine himself tonight to the state of affairs now existing, I don’t know what relation it bears to the matter. Then, he says, the Jews exist, and Jeremiah says something about them; Jeremiah says a good many things about them; he says something about the prophets prophesying falsely and telling lies. In the 23rd of Jeremiah you will find a great deal about the prophets lying. Will my friend tell me how much of the prophecies are lies, and how I am to distinguish the lies from the truth, and separate them? Well, then, I want to know why the Jews existing should be more evidence to the truth of the Bible, than the Mahomedans existing to the truth of the Koran, or the Brahmins existing for their sacred books, or the Buddhists for theirs. I do not say that the argument is utterly irrelevant, but fail to appreciate its relevancy for the moment. Well, then, he says, if the Bible be true, there ought to be corrupt Christians. Well, I shall be obliged if he will give me the exact chapter and verse on which he relies, show me the exact date at which he thinks that chapter and verse came out, and then leave me to deal with them. And then he talks about the writings of the apostles? and says "Are they the writings of the apostles?" and says Mr. Bradlaugh’s class have abandoned their first contention, that the book is a monkish production of the fourth and fifth centuries. Well, I never made that contention yet. I will tell you what I have said: that, as far as the Hebrew Bible is concerned, the whole work of the Massorah, which gives the Bible its meaning in that language to-day, cannot be carried back to a date earlier than about that period. But that is a very different thing from saying that the whole Bible is a monkish production of the fourth and fifth centuries; and I have never abandoned that, and scholarship has never refuted it, and I am ready to prove it. But there is a great deal to be done before we get to that; Mr. Roberts has got to make out some revelation to be challenged, and he has not yet presented any at all. Then he has vaguely referred you to Tertullian. Now I object to vague references, because I am prepared to show you, from the writings of Origen, which have been quoted in the same loose fashion, that, if Origen be true, the Scriptures cannot be true, for that Origen makes statements with reference to Bible facts which are not to be found in any page of the Bible at all. I did not dream that we were to have the apostolic fathers to-night; but I may also say that we have not had them, for the references have been so funny, that I have been puzzled as to what was meant. For example, the letter of Clement of Rome has been put to you. Why, Mr. Roberts well knows that the whole of the writings attributed to Clement of Rome, whether his first epistle or second, have all been challenged; that, instead of being able to identify the author of what is called the first epistle of Clement with the person who is claimed to have been the Bishop of Rome, that there is the utmost uncertainty about it; and that in an edition of the Nicene Fathers published in the present day, that very statement is made by the editors of it. Now, I tell Mr. Roberts that I have at least taken the pains to learn the A B C of this argument; therefore, I ask him to give the chapter and verse of every author he quotes. I do not know that there is contemporary evidence of the existence of the four gospels in the alleged writings of the apostle Paul; and I say that, if there were ever so much evidence, you would not be one step nearer proving the question, "Are these Scriptures the authentic record of the Divine revelation?" You would not be near it at all; it is with the contents you have got to deal, the contents of which you have got to examine their teachings. But I urge to you that the whole of the times between the date of the alleged appearance of the writings attributed to Clement and the writings attributed to Origen are simply filled up with hosts of forgeries, are filled up with hosts of frauds, the bulk of which have had to be abandoned; and I say that state of things could not possibly have existed had there been the real and true evidence which Mr. Roberts would like to have to quote. Now, I will give him just one or two texts, and I will ask him whether, referring to Ex. 32:7-14, 1 am to find there a fair representation of the character of Deity. The historian there states that God, having chosen Aaron as His priest, while God was choosing him, Aaron made another god for the Jews to worship; that God became angry about it, said to Moses, "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may destroy this people;" that Moses remonstrated with God, and argued Him out of it, and then God plagued the people for making the calf that Aaron had made (verse 35). And I say again, look at chap. 28 verse 1, 2 and 3, and tell me whether I am to take that as a fair representation of the character of Deity; and, then, at Numb. 23:19, at Sam. 15:29, at Mal. 3:6, which represents that God cannot repent and cannot change; and then I will draw his attention to 2 Kings 20: 1; 2 Sam. 24:15, 16; Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11, which show that God did repeatedly repent and change. Now, the chairman warns me that I have just got to the end of my time, and I submit to you, in concluding, that, up to the present moment, there has not been a particle of evidence of any kind advanced by Mr. Roberts in support of his proposition, nor has he given us such an explanation of it as will enable us to understand what he meant by it.

The CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, I have now great pleasure in calling upon Mr. Roberts to occupy a quarter of an hour, adopting, if he likes, the Socratic method, and putting questions to Mr. Bradlaugh, and Mr. Bradlaugh at once to reply.

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