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The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer
This file has been made available by the Bank of Wisdom.

TUESDAY, 20th JUNE, 1876,

IN THE TEMPERANCE HALL, BIRMINGHAM.

MR. GEORGE H. ST. CLAIR IN THE CHAIR.

THE CHAIRMAN: Ladies and Gentlemen, The order of the discussion, this evening, will be the same as last Thursday. The order of the meeting will, I trust, be kept at least as well. There was not much to complain of on that occasion; but there was a little. Some few friends found they were not able to control their feelings; and it is reasonable to suppose that having made that discovery, they have stayed at home to-night. One or two friends, again, seemed desirous of taking part in the debate, and these, no doubt, have sent a challenge in the meantime, to Mr. Bradlaugh or Mr. Roberts, and they will reserve any further arguments until their own proper debate comes off. It cannot be too well understood that any interruption is a loss of time to the speakers, and a loss of time to the entire meeting, and cannot possibly result in any good. The subject for discussion is the same as before, namely, "Are the Scriptures the Authentic and Reliable Records of Divine Revelation?" Mr. Roberts will affirm that they are, and Mr. Bradlaugh will deny. I ask Mr. Roberts to resume the discussion.

Mr. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bradlaugh correctly defined the duties devolving upon the respective parties to this discussion when he said that it belonged to me to affirm that the Bible is true, and that it belonged to him to examine my evidence. Unfortunately, however, so far as the discussion has gone, Mr. Bradlaugh has not acted in accordance with that excellent definition. He has neglected entirely to examine the evidences, such as they are, which I have, so far, rehearsed in your hearing. He has not attempted to controvert the fact that there are Jews, though I should not have been very much surprised had he tried to do so. He has not attempted to controvert the fact that the existence of the Jews is required by the hypothesis of the truthfulness of the Bible. He has not controverted the fact that there is an ecclesiastical tyranny in Europe as the most prominent feature of the European system--a feature which has prevailed for many centuries, as the Bible required. He has not attempted to show that the existence of that ecclesiastical imposture is inconsistent with the position I am taking, or that it fails to sustain the argument I have founded upon it. With regard to the third proposition, he has not attempted to give us a reasonable account of the origin of Christianity, nor has he attempted to deal with the account I gave, which I endeavoured to show was thoroughly reasonable. He has not attempted to deal with the case of Paul; but he has taken the extraordinary course of denying that there ever was such a man, or, at all events, that there is evidence sufficient to justify us in believing in his existence.

When, however, he did attempt to deal with any part of the positive evidence I have rehearsed in your hearing, he has done that which he said he was not called upon to do; he has attempted to disprove my evidence. This he has done by a hurried, rather excited and somewhat disconnected recital of miscellaneous points and passages, which he rather hinted at as inconsistent with my argument, than tried to show that they actually were so.

There was one notable exception to that course of his. I produced the writings of Paul as one of my principal and most valuable evidences. They exist, which is a great fact. I mean the existence of the epistles bearing his name is a great fact, for a reading of them would convince any unbiassed mind that they are no forgery; an unbiassed reader instinctively feels that a forger or literary inventor could not produce such writings. I produced them as a weighty element in the argument. Mr. Bradlaugh did not attempt to disprove them; he said it was not his business. He knows he cannot. When he cannot, he says it is not his business; but when he thinks he can, he tries.

But I am not content to leave the matter in that position. I was a little taken by surprise, I must confess, by Mr. Bradlaugh's tactics on this point, because it is universally conceded now, with the exception of a few of the more unscrupulous and uncritical of the unbelieving class, that Paul lived in the first century, and that Paul wrote these letters. I assumed that Mr. Bradlaugh would admit this also, and argue the case on the basis of that admission. Therefore I had not come prepared with the complete and exhaustive technical evidence which it is possible to produce in support of the fact. I would have prepared myself with the evidence if I had expected Mr. Bradlaugh would have taken the position he has taken. I have come to-night so prepared, and I shall carry the chain of evidence not only back to A.D.150, but right straight away into the days of Paul himself in an unbroken chain--not a broken one, such as Mr. Bradlaugh says he is contented with in the case of Eusebius. In the case of Homer, Herodotus, Livy, and other ancient writers, he has to be content with a very faint and broken chain of evidence, and the principle which guides him in accepting that evidence would compel him in consistency to accept Paul even if there were only a few scattered links, instead of there being, as there is, a chain without a single link missing.

I asked him last Thursday night how far back he would allow the New Testament to have existed. he said A.D. 150. 1 asked him his reasons for fixing upon that date, and he declined to give me them upon the somewhat trivial plea of being afraid to furnish me with valuable information. I hope Mr. Bradlaugh will not any longer refuse to answer my question on such a ground, or he will lay himself open to the imputation that he is afraid to submit his case to the test of cross-examination. The object of all my questions is to put the position he takes to a logical test, and if he evades them, it is simply evading legitimate test, which will reflect injuriously on his advocacy. My object in asking for his reasons for admitting the existence of the New Testament as early as A.D.150, was that I might show to him had he given those reasons, that the evidence which carried the proof back to A.D. 150 would logically carry it back to the days of the apostles. This I hope now to make manifest.

There are five witnesses to the particular date Mr. Bradlaugh speaks of, not that they fix on A.D.150 as hard and fast line, but their witness establishes that date beyond all question. The five witnesses which I produce are Tatianus, who was born A.D.130, who wrote an oration to the Greeks and "The Harmony of the Four Gospels". Then there is Theophilus, of Antioch, who died A.D.181; he wrote three books to Autolycus, in which he mentions John, and makes thirty or forty quotations from the New Testament. We then have Athenagoras, an Athenian philosopher, who became a Christian, and flourished in the second half of the second century. He wrote a treatise on the Resurrection; and also addressed a petition on behalf of the Christians to the Roman Emperor of the day, asking that they might be shielded from the persecution to which they were subjected. In these two publications he quotes the New Testament twenty times. There is, then, Irenaeus, who was born A.D.130, died A.D.202. He wrote "five books against heresies". and in the course of his arguments, he mentions by name twenty one books of the New Testament. Earlier still, we have Melito, of Sardis, who wrote a work "Extracts from the Law and the Prophets", and in which he recognises the New Testament by speaking of the Old, a distinction which did not exist until there came to be a new one, of course. Then there is Papias, of Hierapolis, who died A.D. 153, a disciple of Polycarp, who wrote five books of Commentaries, in which he distinctly mentions by name Matthew, Mark, Peter and John. All these men flourished in the middle of the second century, and gave evidence of the existence of the New Testament, certainly in A.D. 150, for they quote from it as a book commonly accepted at that time. They were separate men, living in various parts of the world, all quoting the New Testament in A.D. 150, which excludes the notion that the New Testament only came into existence in A.D. 150; for, mind you, the argument is stronger than it appears. Athenagoras, for instance, tells the emperor, in his petition, that there was, at that time, a community acting upon the precepts of the New Testament, which he quotes. The very fact of his addressing a petition to the emperor is evidence of this; for how came such a petition to be presented, except that there had, for a long time, existed a community of Christians subject to persecution. Athenagoras, to show their inoffensive character, quotes the precepts of Christ from Matt. 5, as those by which they were governed. Consider what this proves. It proves that the New Testament must have existed a long time previous to the time of Athenagoras writing; for how, otherwise, could subjection to New Testament precepts (so contrary to the natural impulses of men), have been extensively brought about?

I say, then, that the evidence that carries the New Testament back to A.D. 150, logically carries it much farther back than that. But I am not content to rest my case there, and I march, step by step, back into the very age of the apostles while they were yet alive. I produce Justin Martyr. He was born A.D. 103; he was brought up a Greek philosopher, a man of education and of considerable natural abilities. I emphasise upon this, because this man was converted to Christianity in the year A.D. 130, ten years after which, he wrote an apology to the then reigning Emperor (Antoninus Pius) on behalf of the Christians; and again in A.D. 162, to Marcus Aurelius. In both of these, he quotes extensively from the New Testament. If the New Testament was only in existence in A.D. 150, how came Justin Martyr to quote from it in A.D. 140? and if Justin Martyr quoted from it in A.D. 140, is that not evidence of its existence many years before? for how could you imagine an educated man, as Justin Martyr was, embracing Christianity A.D.130, and quoting in A.D.140, from books which were not current in the Christian community, at least at the time he joined them? And if they were current at the time he joined them, they must have been current many years before, for the Christians were scattered in many places, and Justin Martyr travelled among them, and had the opportunity of knowing the facts on so simple a point as this, that is, whether they had the New Testament in their possession or not; and whether, being in their possession, it was a genuine book or the production of forgers. A curious kind of forgery certainly, as anyone may see if they will read; it is a forgery impossible on the face of it. And a successful forgery, extraordinary certainly, if it were a forgery, for it is made up of letters purporting to have been addressed to communities in detail, which communities were in existence, and knew whether they had received those letters or not. But Mr. Bradlaugh says "Oh no; I don't say they are forgeries." When I ask him if they are genuine, then he says, "I have no evidence of it." This is incomprehensible. He broaches a new and extraordinary definition of forgery. I always understood that a forgery was an attempt to imitate something real and valuable; but in this case, Mr. Bradlaugh denies the value or the reality of the thing said to be forged. He will not admit the existence of real apostolic writings, though he says there is plenty of forged apostolic writings. This is an extraordinary position for anyone to take, and I must leave you to draw your own conclusions as to its meaning in this case. I have already spoken of Tatianus, who died A.D.153. He wrote five books of commentaries, in which he distinctly mentions Matthew, Mark, Peter and John. I may say I come prepared with the names of the books and with the quotations from them, if required, wherein all these things appear. Next, I take Polycarp, who was born A.D.80, when the apostle John was still alive. he died A.D.167. While he lived, he wrote a letter to the Philippians. I have that letter in my possession, and with me on the platform. In that letter, Polycarp mentions three books of the New Testament expressly by name, and quotes from the New Testament fifty times. Polycarp, in the early part of his life, had the society of the apostle John, and learned from him concerning Jesus. This we learn from Irenaeus, the disciple and companion of Polycarp. Earlier than Polycarp, we have Ignatius, who was born A.D.35, a year after the crucifixion. He wrote seven epistles, in which seven epistles he quoted forty or fifty times from the New Testament, and refers once expressly to the Epistle to the Ephesians. He died A.D.107. If the New Testament were forged in A.D.150, how came it that Ignatius, who died A.D.107, quoted from it at the end of the first century? His epistles were written at the close of the first century, and in them he quotes the New Testament, which constitutes evidence not only that the New Testament existed at the time he quoted it, but that it was then recognised as a book which was a standard authority for reference among Christians. This shows a previous existence of many years. I go a step or two farther, and I take Hermas, who also flourished before A.D. 100, while John the apostle was still alive. In his work, entitled The Shepherd, there are at least fifty quotations from the New Testament, and we know that Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Origen and others, cite or refer to this work of Hermas as a writing antecedent to their days. Besides Hermas, we may take Clement, who is referred to by Paul. Clement was born A.D.30, and died A.D. 100. He wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church, as I stated on a former evening, in which letter he expressly refers to Paul's epistle to the same community, and quotes many times from the New Testament. Then there is the testimony of Barnabas, who wrote a letter somewhere about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, to which he refers as a contemporary event; and in this letter is quoted the New Testament more than thirty times.

With regard to these witnesses, although I do not accept them as competent expositors of true Christian doctrine, yet they are competent witnesses of what existed while they were yet alive. A man may be a trustworthy witness of a fact without being accepted as a judge of the fact. For instance, scientific men may take the statement of an agricultural labourer as to the finding of a particular plant in a field, while we may reject his theory as to the nature and quality of the plant; or a country villager's evidence may be accepted to the existence of a certain custom in the village back to a certain date, without people being bound by his explanation of the meaning of that custom. We may accept the fact while we disregard the theory. So, these "Fathers", as they are called, may be taken as witnesses of what passed in their own day, as the writings of the apostles, though they may not be accepted as good judges with regard to the true nature of the doctrine of the apostles.

The evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament is so complete, that I can only account for Mr. Bradlaugh's objection to Paul's writings on one principle. There would be no difficulty about the authenticity if it were not for the apostolicity. If these writings of Paul merely ranked with those of the scholars of the day, Mr. Bradlaugh would accept the evidence of their authenticity. In fact he is bound to. There is no denial of the fact that these men whom I have quoted lived at that time. There is no denial of the fact that they wrote at that time, and that they quoted the New Testament. It would not alter the argument if it could be shown that these were not their writings, because the writings produced, even if forged, were forged in the age during which Polycarp and the others lived (as shown by the recognition of their existence by Eusebius, Irenaeus, and others), and the quotations they contain from the New Testament would have the same force as showing that the New Testament existed, as if they were the production of their professed authors.

The evidence is complete. I have carried the proof right back to the age of the apostles. I have proved the New Testament to have been in existence in the first century. It is a perfect marvel that we have such an unbroken chain of evidence, for we have to remember that the Christians in their beginning were a sect everywhere spoken against, despised and trodden down, and composed principally of the poor. The wonder is that documents should have been produced among them which should be extant to the present day. It was different in the days of Eusebius. Then the protection of the State was thrown over them, and Christian documents became public documents, and Christian writers public writers under imperial patronage, as Eusebius was. Before then Christian documents were private documents, and the wonder is that they are now in existence at all. Having been proved from the beginning of their existence, I ask you to take up and apply the argument concerning Paul which I advanced the last night we were together. That argument properly belongs to to-night, and is in the same line as that previously pursued, though the evidence is stronger. With the proof of the document there is the proof of the facts, and therefore of the conclusion I sought to deduce from them.

I have referred to the internal evidence which Mr. Bradlaugh has refused to look at. Surely internal evidence should go for something. In my judgment it weighs a great deal more than any amount of external evidence that can be produced. I think I shall be able, though necessarily in a brief manner, to indicate some general considerations on this point which will help to carry conviction as to the divinity of this book. This belongs to the second part of my general propositions--that the Scriptures besides being "authentic" are "reliable". He has confined himself to the word "authentic". He has limited me in the argument to the idea of authenticity. This is a mistake, for a thing may be utterly worthless and still an authentic record. I believe the Koran to be authentic, but I don't believe it to be reliable. I believe Mahomet wrote it, but I don't believe what he wrote in it. Even on the question of authenticity the Koran cannot be placed in competition with the Bible; but it is necessary, besides saying it is authentic, to show that the Bible is a reliable account of the Divine dealings with mankind; and I proceed by a few hasty thoughts to make that apparent.

I call attention to this fact that the Bible, as a whole, is in harmony with what is now found scientifically to be true, though written at a time when the whole world outside of it was wrapped in speculative fog. I refer now to two items in particular--God and man. With regard to God, the nations of the world said there must be a variety of gods, because there was a variety of power-manifestations. They saw fire and heat, and sunshine and darkness, and water and love and thunder, &c., and they argued these must be manifestations of separate deities. They, therefore, invented Jove and Venus, and Mars and Neptune, &c. A plurality of deities was believed in by almost every nation. But science has shown that all manifestations of power are referable to one common source, origin or principle, though that common origin is itself admitted to be inscrutable. The doctrine is defined as "the co-relation of forces": that is, that all forces have their root or origin in one principle. Now, that fact the Bible taught ages before it occurred to natural thinkers. It taught that there is but one God and one universal Spirit, out of which all things have come. Did time allow, I would show this by a number of citations; but my time is drawing to a close. But there is a difference between the Bible form and the scientific form of this doctrine. Science, at least in the hands of some scientists, makes a curious application of its "co-relation" discovery, which I venture to say does not bear a favourable comparison with the Bible use of that truth. I now refer to the doctrine of the origin of the universe, as expounded by men who wish to get rid of a God, upholder of all, proprietor of all, to whom we are all responsible. They say the primal force is an unintelligent impersonal force. They won't accept a personal God. They say they cannot comprehend such an explanation. They cannot comprehend how universal power should have a personal nucleus at one central point in the heavens, as taught by the Scriptures. They cannot grasp the idea of universal power being, in its totality, One Mighty Being. They reject it because they cannot understand it. But do they give us something they do understand? Let us see. They are obliged to admit that things have had a beginning, at least upon earth. They tell us of a time when the earth was in an incandescent state, and when there was no life on it. They tell us of a time before that, when there wasn't even an incandescent world, but when its substance existed in a nebulous ethereal form, diffused throughout the universe. We follow them, and ask them what preceded the nebulous condition of substance? and whatever it was, how came it to advance to a more concrete state? If the impelling motion was due to blind, unreasoning, unsentient generation in the inert universe of vapour or gas, or whatever it was, why didn't the generation take place countless ages before, when the same force being there, the same power of development existed? Why the blind force did not develop itself millions of years before it did is not explained. It ought to have brought itself out from eternity if there was no intelligence to plan, control, check, restrain, or stimulate. What a strange account of creation we have at the hands of such a theory. Here is the 1st chapter of Genesis, written by an American, according to the philosophy which Mr. Bradlaugh represents:--

CREATION ACCORDING TO DARWIN.

1.--Primarily the Unknowable moved upon cosmos and evolved protoplasm.

2.--And protoplasm was inorganic and undifferentiated, containing all things in potential energy; and a spirit of evolution moved upon the fluid mass.

3.--And the Unknowable said Let atoms attract, and their contact beget light, heat and electricity.

4.--And the unconditioned differentiated atoms, each after its kind, and their combinations beget rock, air and water.

5.--And there went out a Spirit of evolution from the unconditioned, and working in protoplasm, by accretion and absorption, produced the organic cell.

6.--And cell, by nutrition, evolved primordial germ, and germ developed protogene, and protogene begat eozoon, and eozoon begat monad, and monad began animalculae.

7.--And animalculae begate ephemera: then began creeping things to multiply on the face of the earth.

And so on, and so on. Is that a bit more intelligible than this?--

THE BIBLE ACCOUNT.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."

If that is mysterious, I can only say it is at least not more mysterious than the Darwin mystery, and if I must choose between mysteries, I would rather have mystery with intelligence in it than mystery without intelligence. I can understand how things made a start, if there was a designing initiative to start them. I cannot understand how things could start if there was nothing to give them an organic propulsion.

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