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Robert Ingersoll Talmage Interviews Talmage Interview 1

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Talmage Interview 1

Robert Green Ingersoll

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Several people, having read the sermons of Mr. Talmage in
which he reviews some of my lectures, have advised me not to pay
the slightest attention to the Brooklyn divine. They think that no
new arguments have been brought forward, and they have even gone so
far as to say that some of the best of the old ones have been left

After thinking the matter over, I became satisfied that my
friends were mistaken, that they had been carried away by the
general current of modern thought, and were not in a frame of mind
to feel the force of the arguments of Mr. Talmage, or to clearly
see the candor that characterizes his utterances.

At the first reading, the logic of these sermons does not
impress you. The style is of a character calculated to throw the
searcher after facts and arguments off his guard. The imagination
of the preacher is so lurid; he is so free from the ordinary forms
of expression; his statements are so much stranger than truth, and
his conclusions so utterly independent of his premises, that the
reader is too astonished to be convinced. Not until I had read with
great care the six discourses delivered for my benefit had I any
clear and well-defined idea of the logical force of Mr. Talmage. I
had but little conception of his candor, was almost totally
ignorant of his power to render the simple complex and the plain
obscure by the mutilation of metaphor and the incoherence of
inspired declamation. Neither did I know the generous accuracy with
which he states the position of an opponent, and the fairness he
exhibits in a religious discussion.

He has without doubt studied the Bible as closely and
critically as he has the works of Buckle and Darwin, and he seems
to have paid as much attention to scientific subjects as most
theologians. His theory of light and his views upon geology are
strikingly original, and his astronomical theories are certainly as
profound as practical. If his statements can be relied upon, he has
successfully refuted the teachings of Humboldt and Haeckel, and
exploded the blunders of Spencer and Tyndall. Besides all this, he
has the courage of his convictions -- he does not quail before a
fact, and he does not strike his colors even to a demonstration. He
cares nothing for human experience. He cannot be put down with
statistics, nor driven from his position by the certainties of
science. He cares neither for the persistence of force, nor the
indestructibility of matter.

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He believes in the Bible, and he has the bravery to defend his
belief. In this, he proudly stands almost alone. He knows that the
salvation of the world depends upon a belief in his creed. He knows
that what are called "the sciences" are of no importance in the
other world. He clearly sees that it is better to live and die
ignorant here, if you can wear a crown of glory hereafter. He knows
it is useless to be perfectly familiar with all the sciences in
this world, and then in the next "lift up your eyes, being in
torment." He knows, too, that God will not punish any man for
denying a fact in science. A man can deny the rundity of the earth,
the attraction of gravitation, the form of the earth's orbit, or
the nebular hypothesis, with perfect impunity. He is not bound to
be correct upon any philosophical subject. He is at liberty to deny
and ridicule the rule of three, conic sections, and even the
multiplication table. God permits every human being to be mistaken
upon every subject but one. No man can lose his soul by denying
physical facts. Jehovah does not take the slightest pride in his
geology, or in his astronomy, or in mathematics, or in any school
of philosophy -- he is jealous only of his reputation as the author
of the Bible. You may deny everything else in the universe except
that book. This being so, Mr. Talmage takes the safe side, and
insists that the Bible is inspired. He knows that at the day of
judgment, not a scientific question will be asked. He knows that
the Haeckels and Huxleys will, on that terrible day, regret that
they ever learned to read. He knows that there is no "saving grace"
in any department of human knowledge; that mathematics and all the
exact sciences and all the philosophies will be worse than useless.
He knows that inventors, discoverers, thinkers and investigators,
have no claim upon the mercy of Jehovah; that the educated will
envy the ignorant, and that the writers and thinkers will curse
their books.

He knows that man cannot be saved through what he knows -- but
only by means of what he believes. Theology is not a science. If it
were, God would forgive his children for being mistaken about it.
If it could be proved like geology, or astronomy, there would be no
merit in believing it. From a belief in the Bible, Mr. Talmage is
not to be driven by uninspired evidence. He knows that his logic is
liable to lead him astray, and that his reason cannot be depended
upon. He believes that scientific men are no authority in matters
concerning which nothing can be known, and he does not wish to put
his soul in peal, by examining by the light of reason, the
evidences of the supernatural.

He is perfectly consistent with his creed. What happens to us
here is of no consequence compared with eternal Joy or pain. The
ambitions, honors, glories and triumphs of this world, compared
with eternal things, are less than naught.

Better a cross here and a crown there, than a feast here and
a fire there.

Lazarus was far more fortunate than Dives. The purple and fine
linen of this short life are as nothing compared with the robes of
the redeemed.

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Mr. Talmage knows that philosophy is unsafe -- that the
sciences are sirens luring souls to eternal wreck. He knows that
the deluded searchers after facts are planting thorns in their own
pillows -- that the geologists are digging pits for themselves, and
that the astronomers are robbing their souls of the heaven they
explore. He knows that thought, capacity, and intellectual courage
are dangerous, and this belief gives him a feeling of personal

The Bible is adapted to the world as it is. Most people are
ignorant, and but few have the capacity to comprehend philosophical
and scientific subjects, and if salvation depended upon
understanding even one of the sciences, nearly everybody would be
lost. Mr. Talmage sees that it was exceedingly merciful in God to
base salvation on belief instead of on brain. Millions can believe,
while only a few can understand. Even the effort to understand is
a kind of treason born of pride and ingratitude. This being so, it
is far safer, far better, to be credulous than critical. you are
offered an infinite reward for believing the Bible. If you examine
it you may find it impossible for you to believe it. Consequently,
examination is dangerous. Mr. Talmage knows that it is not
necessary to understand the Bible in order to believe it. You must
believe it first. Then, if on reading it you find anything that
appears false, absurd, or impossible, you may be sure that it is
only an appearance, and that the real fault is in yourself. It is
certain that persons wholly incapable of reasoning are absolutely
safe, and that to be born brainless is to be saved in advance.

Mr. Talmage takes the ground, -- and certainly from his point
of view nothing can be more reasonable -- that thought should be
avoided, after one has "experienced religion" and has been the
subject of "regeneration." Every sinner should listen to sermons,
read religious books, and keep thinking, until he becomes a
Christian. Then he should stop. After that, thinking is not the
road to heaven. The real point and the real difficulty is to stop
thinking just at the right time. Young Christians, who have no idea
of what they are doing, often go on thinking after joining the
church, and in this way heresy is born, and heresy is often the
father of infidelity. If Christians would follow the advice and
example of Mr. Talmage all disagreements about doctrine would be
avoided. In this way the church could secure absolute intellectual
peace and all the disputes, heartburnings, jealousies and hatreds
born of thought, discussion and reasoning, would be impossible.

In the estimation of Mr. Talmage, the man who doubts and
examines is not fit for the society of angels. There are no
disputes, no discussions in heaven. The angels do not think; they
believe, they enjoy. The highest form of religion is repression. We
should conquer the passions and destroy desire. We should control
the mind and stop thinking. In this way we "offer ourselves a
"living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." When desire dies,
when thought ceases, we shall be pure. -- This is heaven.

Washington, D.C.,
April, 1882.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201



POLONIUS: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
HAMLET: God's bodikins, man, much better: use every man after his
desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own
honor and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your

QUESTION. Have you read the sermon of Mr. Talmage, in which he
exposes your misrepresentations?

ANSWER. I have read such reports as appeared in some of the
New York papers.

QUESTION. What do you think of what he has to say?

ANSWER. Some time ago I gave it as my opinion of Mr. Talmage
that, while he was a man of most excellent Judgment, he was
somewhat deficient in imagination. I find that he has the disease
that seems to afflict most theologians, and that is, a kind of
intellectual toadyism, that uses the names of supposed great men
instead of arguments. It is perfectly astonishing to the average
preacher that any one should have the temerity to differ, on the
subject of theology, with Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, and other
gentlemen eminent for piety during their lives, but who, as a rule,
expressed their theological opinions a few minutes before
dissolution. These ministers are perfectly delighted to have some
great politician, some judge, soldier, or president, certify to the
truth of the Bible and to the moral character of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Talmage insists that if a witness is false in one
particular, his entire testimony must be thrown away. Daniel
Webster was in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law, and thought it the
duty of the North to capture the poor slave-mother. He was willing
to stand between a human being and his freedom. He was willing to
assist in compelling persons to work without any pay except such
marks of the lash as they might receive. Yet this man is brought
forward as a witness for the truth of the gospel. If he was false
in his testimony as to liberty, what is his affidavit worth as to
the value of Christianity? Andrew Jackson was a brave man, a good
general, a patriot second to none, an excellent judge of horses,
and a brave duelist. I admit that in his old age he relied
considerably upon the atonement. I think Jackson was really a very
great man, and probably no President impressed himself more deeply
upon the American people than the hero of New Orleans, but as a
theologian he was, in my Judgment, a most decided failure, and his
opinion as to the authenticity of the Scriptures is of no earthly
value. It was a subject upon which he knew probably as little as
Mr. Talmage does about modern infidelity. Thousands of people will
quote Jackson in favor of religion, about which he knew nothing,
and yet have no confidence in his political opinions, although he
devoted the best part of his life to politics.

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


No man should quote the words of another, in place of an
argument, unless he is willing to accept: all the opinions of that
man. Lord Bacon denied the Copernican system of astronomy, and,
according to Mr. Talmage, having made that mistake, his opinions
upon other subjects are equally worthless. Mr. Wesley believed in
ghosts, witches, and personal devils, yet upon many subjects I have
no doubt his opinions were correct. The truth is, that nearly
everybody is right about some things and wrong about most things;
and if a man's testimony is not to be taken until he is right on
every subject, witnesses will be extremely scarce.

Personally, I care nothing about names. It makes no difference
to me what the supposed great men of the past have said, except as
what they have said contains an argument; and that argument is
worth to me the force it naturally has upon my mind. Christians
forget that in the realm of reason there are no serfs and no
monarchs. When you submit to an argument, you do not submit to the
man who made it. Christianity demands a certain obedience, a
certain blind, unreasoning faith, and parades before the eyes of
the ignorant, with great pomp and pride, the names of kings,
soldiers, and statesmen who have admitted the truth of the Bible.
Mr. Talmage introduces as a witness the Rev. Theodore Parker. This
same Theodore Parker denounced the Presbyterian creed as the most
infamous of all creeds, and said that the worst heathen god,
wearing a necklace of live snakes, was a representation of mercy
when compared with the God of John Calvin. Now, if this witness is
false in any particular, of course he cannot be believed, according
to Mr. Talmage, upon any subject, and yet Mr. Talmage introduces
him upon the stand as a good witness.

Although I care but little for names, still I will suggest
that, in all probability, Humboldt knew more upon this subject than
all the pastors in the world. I certainly would have as much
confidence in the opinion of Goethe as in that of William H.
Seward; and as between Seward and Lincoln, I should take Lincoln;
and when you come to Presidents, for my part, if I were compelled
to pin my faith on the sleeve of anybody, I should take Jefferson's
coat in preference to Jackson's. I believe that Haeckel is, to say
the least, the equal of any theologian we have in this country, and
the late John W. Draper certainly knew as much upon these great
questions as the average parson. I believe that Darwin has
investigated some of these things, that Tyndall and Huxley have
turned their minds somewhat in the same direction, that Helmholtz
has a few opinions, and that, in fact, thousands of able,
intelligent and honest men differ almost entirely with Webster and

So far as I am concerned, I think more of reasons than of
reputations, more of principles than of persons, more of nature
than of names, more of facts, than of faiths.

It is the same with books as with persons. Probably there is
not a book in the world entirely destitute of truth, and not one
entirely exempt from error. The Bible is like other books. There
are mistakes in it, side by side with truths, -- passages
inculcating murder, and others exalting mercy; laws devilish and
tyrannical, and others filled with wisdom and justice. It is

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foolish to say that if you accept a part, you must accept the
whole. You must accept that which commends itself to your heart and
brain. There never was a doctrine that a witness, or a book, should
be thrown entirely away, because false in one particular. If in any
particular the book, or the man, tells the truth, to that extent
the truth should be accepted.

Truth is made no worse by the one who tells it, and a lie gets
no real benefit from the reputation of its author.

QUESTION. What do you think of the statement that a general
belief in your teachings would fill all the penitentiaries, and
that in twenty years there would be a hell in this world worse than
the one expected in the other?

ANSWER. My creed is this:

1. Happiness is the only good.

2. The way to he happy, is to make others happy. Other things
being equal, that man is happiest who is nearest just -- who is
truthful, merciful and intelligent -- in other words, the one who
lives in accordance with the conditions of life.

3. The time to be happy is now, and the place to be happy, is

4. Reason is the lamp of the mind -- the only torch of
progress; and instead of blowing that out and depending upon
darkness and dogma, it is far better to increase that sacred light.

5. Every man should be the intellectual proprietor of himself,
honest with himself, and intellectually hospitable; and upon every
brain reason should be enthroned as king.

6. Every man must bear the consequences, at least of his own
actions. If he puts his hands in the fire, his hands must smart,
and not the hands of another. In other words: each man must eat the
fruit of the tree he plants.

I can not conceive that the teaching of these doctrines would
fill penitentiaries, or crowd the gallows. The doctrine of
forgiveness -- the idea that somebody else can suffer in place of
the guilty -- the notion that just at the last the whole account
can he settled -- these ideas, doctrines, and notions are
calculated to fill penitentiaries. Nothing breeds extravagance like
the credit system.

Most criminals of the present day are orthodox believers, and
the gallows seems to be the last round of the ladder reaching from
earth to heaven. The Rev. Dr. Sunderland, of this city, in his
sermon on the assassination of Garfield, takes the ground that God
permitted the murder for the purpose of opening the eyes of the
people to the evil effects of infidelity. According to this
minister, God, in order to show his hatred of infidelity,
"inspired," or allowed, one Christian to assassinate another.

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Religion and morality do not necessarily go together. Mr.
Talmage will insist to-day that morality is not sufficient to save
any man from eternal punishment. As a matter of fact, religion has
often been the enemy of morality. The moralist has been denounced
by the theologians. He sustains the same relation to Christianity
that the moderate drinker does to the total-abstinence society. The
total-abstinence people say that the example of the moderate
drinker is far worse upon the young than that of the drunkard --
that the drunkard is a warning, while the moderate drinker is a
perpetual temptation. So Christians say of moralists. According to
them, the moralist sets a worse example than the criminal. The
moralist not only insists that a man can be a good citizen, a kind
husband, an affectionate father, without religion, but demonstrates
the truth of his doctrine by his own life; whereas the criminal
admits that in and of himself he is nothing, and can do nothing,
but that he needs, assistance from the church and its ministers.

The worst criminals of the modern world have been Christians -- I
mean by that, believers in Christianity -- and the most monstrous
crimes of the modern world have been committed by the most zealous
believers. There is nothing in orthodox religion, apart from the
morality it teaches. to prevent the commission of crime. On the
other hand, the perpetual proffer of forgiveness is a direct
premium upon what Christians are pleased to call the commission of

Christianity has produced no greater character than Epicterus,
no greater sovereign than Marcus Aurelius. The wickedness of the
past was a good deal like that of the present. As a rule, kings
have been wicked in direct proportion to their power -- their power
having been lessened, their crimes have decreased. As a matter of
fact, paganism, of itself, did not produce any great men; neither
has Christianity. Millions of influences determine individual
character, and the religion of the country in which a man happens
to be born may determine many of his opinions, without influencing,
to any great extent, his real character.

There have been brave, honest, and intelligent men in and out
of every church.

QUESTION. Mr. Talmage says that you insist that, according to
the Bible, the universe was made out of nothing, and he denounces
your statement as a gross misrepresentation. What have you stated
upon that subject?

ANSWER. What I said was substantially this: "We are told in
the first chapter of Genesis, that in the beginning God created the
heaven and the earth." If this means anything, it means that God
produced -- caused to exist, called into being -- the heaven and
the earth. It will not do to say that God formed the heaven and the
earth of previously existing matter. Moses conveys, and intended to
convey, the idea that the matter of which the universe is composed
was created."

This has always been my position. I did not suppose that
nothing was used as the raw material; but if the Mosaic account
means anything, it means that whereas there was nothing, God caused

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something to exist -- created what we know as matter. I can not
conceive of something being made, created, without anything to make
anything with. I have no more confidence in fiat worlds than I have
in fiat money. Mr. Talmage tells us that God did not make the
universe out of nothing, but out of "omnipotence." Exactly how God
changed "omnipotence" into matter is not stated. If there was
nothing in the universe, omnipotence could do you no good. The
weakest man in me world can lift as much nothing as God.

Mr. Talmage seems to think that to create something from
nothing is simply a question of strength -- that it requires
infinite muscle -- that it is only a question of biceps. Of course,
omnipotence is an attribute, not an entity, not a raw material; and
the idea that something can be made out of omnipotence -- using
that as the raw material -- is infinitely absurd. It would have
been equally logical to say that God made the universe out of his
omniscience, or his omnipresence, or his unchangeableness, or out
of his honesty, his holiness, or his incapacity to do evil. I
confess my utter inability to understand, or even to suspect, what
the reverend gentleman means, when he says that God created the
universe out of his "omnipotence."

I admit that the Bible does not tell when God created the
universe. It is simply said that he did this in the "beginning." We
are left, however, to infer that "the beginning" was Monday
morning, and that on the first Monday God created the matter in an
exceedingly chaotic state; that on Tuesday he made a firmament to
divide the waters from the waters; that on Wednesday he gathered
the waters together in seas and allowed the dry land to appear. We
are also told that on that day "the earth brought forth grass and
herb "yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit,
whose seed was in itself, after his kind." This was before the
creation of the sun, but Mr. Talmage takes the ground that there
are many other sources of light; that "there may have been
volcanoes in active operation on other planets." I have my doubts,
however, about the light of volcanoes being sufficient to produce
or sustain vegetable life, and think it a little doubtful about
trees growing only by "volcanic glare." Neither do I think one
could depend upon "three thousand miles of liquid granite" for the
production of grass and trees, nor upon "light that rocks might
emit in the process of crystallization." I doubt whether trees
would succeed simply with the assistance of the "Aurora Borealis or
the Aurora Australis." There are other sources of light, not
mentioned by Mr. Talmage -- lightning-bugs, phosphorescent beetles.
and fox-fire. I should think that it would be humiliating, in this
age, for an orthodox preacher to insist that vegetation could exist
upon this planet without the light of the sun -- that trees could
grow, blossom and bear fruit, having no light but the flames of
volcanoes, or that emitted by liquid granite, or thrown off by the
crystallization of rocks.

There is another thing, also, that should not be forgotten,
and that is, that there is an even balance forever kept between the
totals of animal and vegetable life -- that certain forms of animal
life go with certain forms of vegetable life. Mr. Haeckel has shown
that "in the first epoch, algae and skull-less vertebrates "were
found together; in the second, ferns and fishes; ln the third,

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pines and reptiles; in the fourth, foliaceous forests and mammals."
Vegetable and animal life sustain a necessary relation; they exist
together; they act and interact, and each depends upon the other.
The real point of difference between Mr. Talmage and myself is
this: He says that God made the universe out of his "omnipotence,"
and I say that, although I know nothing whatever upon the subject,
my opinion is, that the universe has existed from eternity -- that
it continually changes in form, but that it never was created or
called into being by any power. I think that all that is, is all
the God there is.

QUESTION. Mr. Talmage charges you with having misrepresented
the Bible story of the deluge. Has he correctly stated your

ANSWER. Mr. Talmage takes the ground that the flood was only
partial, and was, after all, not much of a flood. The Bible tells
us that God said he would "destroy all flesh wherein is the breath
of life from under heaven, and that everything that is in the earth
shall die;" that God also said: "I will destroy man, whom I have
created, from the face of the earth; both man and beast and the
creeping thing and the fowls of the air, and every living substance
that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth."

I did not suppose that there was any miracle in the Bible
larger than the credulity of Mr. Talmage. The flood story, however,
seems to be a little more than he can bear. He is like the witness
who stated that he had read Gulliver's Travels, the Stories of
Munchausen, and the Flying Wife, including Robinson Crusoe, and
believed them all; but that Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry was a
little more than he could stand.

It is strange that a man who believes that God created the
universe out of "omnipotence" should believe that he had not enough
omnipotence left to drown a world the size of this. Mr. Talmage
seeks to make the story of the flood reasonable. The moment it is
reasonable, it ceases to be miraculous. Certainly God cannot afford
to reward a man with eternal Joy for believing a reasonable story.
Faith is only necessary when the story is unreasonable, and if the
flood only gets small enough, I can believe it myself. I ask for
evidence, and Mr. Talmage seeks to make the story so little that it
can be believed without evidence. He tells us that it was a kind of
"local option" flood -- a little wet for that part of the country.

Why was it necessary to save the birds? They certainly could
have gotten out of the way of a real small flood. Of the birds,
Noah took fourteen of each species. He was commanded to take of the
fowls of the air by sevens -- seven of each sex -- and, as there
are at least 12,500 species, Noah collected an aviary of about
175,000 birds, provided the flood was general. If it was local,
there are no means of determining the number. But why, if the flood
was local, should he have taken any of the fowls of the air into
his ark? All they had to do was to fly away, or "roost high;" and
it would have been just as easy for God to have implanted in them,
for the moment, the instinct of getting out of the way as the
instinct of hunting the ark. It would have been quite a saving of
room and provisions, and would have materially lessened the labor
and anxiety of Noah and his sons.

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Besides, if it had been a partial flood, and great enough to
cover the highest mountains in that country the highest mountain
being about seventeen thousand feet, the flood would have been
covered with a sheet of ice several thousand feet in thickness. If
a column of water could have been thrown seventeen thousand feet
high and kept stationary, several thousand feet of the upper end
would have frozen. If, however, the deluge was general, then the
atmosphere would have been forced out the same on all sides, and
the climate remained substantially normal.

Nothing can be more absurd than to attempt to explain the
flood by calling it partial.

Mr. Talmage also says that the window ran clear round the ark.
and that if I had only known as much Hebrew as a man could put on
his little finger, I would have known that the window went clear
round. To this I reply that, if his position is correct, then the
original translators of King James' edition did not know as much
Hebrew as they could have put on their little fingers; and yet I am
obliged to believe their translation or be eternally damned. If the
window went clear round, the inspired writer should have said so,
and the learned translators should have given us the truth. No one
pretends that there was more than one door, and yet the same
language is used about the door, except this -- that the exact size
of the window is given, and the only peculiarity mentioned as to
the door is that it shut from the outside. For any one to see that
Mr. Talmage is wrong on the window question, it is only necessary
to read the story of the deluge.

Mr. Talmage also endeavors to decrease the depth of the flood.
If the flood did not cover the highest hills, many people might
have been saved. He also insists that all the water did not come
from the rains, but that "the fountains of the great deep were
broken up." -- What are "the fountains of the great deep"? How
would their being "broken up" increase the depth of the water? He
seems to imagine that these "fountains" were in some way imprisoned
-- anxious to get to the surface, and that, at that time, an
opportunity was given for water to run up hill, or in some
mysterious way to rise above its level. According to the account,
the ark was at the mercy of the waves for at least seven months. If
this flood was only partial, it seems a little curious that the
water did not seek its level in less than seven months. With
anything like a fair chance, by that time most of it would have
found its way to the sea again.

There is in the literature of ignorance no more perfectly
absurd and cruel story than that of the deluge.

I am very sorry that Mr. Talmage should disagree with some of
the great commentators. Dr. Scott tells us that, in all
probability, the angels assisted in getting the animals into the
ark. Dr. Henry insists that the waters in the bowels of the earth,
at God's command, sprung up and flooded the earth. Dr. Clark tells
us that it would have been much easier for God to have destroyed
all the people and made some new ones, but that he did not want to
waste anything. Dr. Henry also tells us that the lions, while in
the ark, ate straw like oxen. Nothing could be more amusing than to
see a few lions eating good dry straw. This commentator assures us

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


that the waters rose so high that the loftiest mountains were
overflowed fifteen cubits, so that salvation was not hoped for from
any hills or mountains. He tells us that some of the people got on
top of the ark, and hoped to shift for themselves, but that, in all
probability, they were washed off by the rain. When we consider
that the rain must have fallen at the rate of about eight hundred
feet a day, I am inclined to think that they were washed off.

Mr. Talmage has clearly misrepresented the Bible. He is not
prepared to believe the story as it is told. The seeds of
infidelity seem to be germinating in his mind. His position no
doubt will be a great relief to most of his hearers. After this,
their credulity will not be strained. They can say that there was
probably quite a storm, some rain, to an extent that rendered it
necessary for Noah and his family -- his dogs, cats, and chickens
-- to get in a boat. This would not be unreasonable. The same thing
happens almost every year on the shores of great rivers, and
consequently the story of the flood is an exceedingly reasonable

Mr. Talmage also endeavors to account for the miraculous
collection of the animals in the ark by the universal instinct to
get out of the rain. There are at least two objections to this: 1.
The animals went into the ark before the rain commenced; 2. I have
never noticed any great desire on the part of ducks, geese, and
loons to get out of the water. Mr. Talmage must have been misled by
a line from an old nursery book that says: "And the little fishes
got under the bridge to keep out of the rain." He tells us that
Noah described what he saw. He is the first theologian who claims
that Genesis was written by Noah, or that Noah wrote any account of
the flood. Most Christians insist that the account of the flood was
written by Moses, and that he was inspired to write it. Of course,
it will not do for me to say that Mr. Talmage has misrepresented
the facts.

QUESTION. You are also charged with misrepresentation in your
statement as to where the ark at last rested. It is claimed by Mr.
Talmage that there is nothing in the Bible to show that the ark
rested on the highest mountains.

ANSWER. Of course I have no knowledge as to where the ark
really came to anchor, but after it struck bottom, we are told that
a dove was sent out, and that the dove found no place whereon to
rest her foot. If the ark touched ground in the low country, surely
the mountains were out of water, and an ordinary mountain
furnishes, as a rule, space enough for a dove's foot. We must infer
that the ark rested on the only land then above water, or near
enough above water to strike the keel of Noah's boat. Mount Ararat
is about seventeen thousand feet high; so I take it that the top of
that mountain was where Noah ran aground -- otherwise, the account
means nothing.

Here Mr. Talmage again shows his tendency to belittle the
miracles of the Bible. I am astonished that he should doubt the
power of God to keep an ark on a mountain seventeen thousand feet
high. He could have changed the climate for that occasion. He could
have made all the rocks and glaciers produce wheat and corn in

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


abundance. Certainly God, who could overwhelm a world with a flood,
had the power to change every law and fact in nature.

I am surprised that Mr. Talmage is not willing to believe the
story as it is told. What right has he to question the statements
of an inspired writer? Why should he set up his judgment against
the Websters and Jacksons? Is it not infinitely impudent in him to
contrast his penny-dip with the sun of inspiration? What right has
he to any opinion upon the subject? He must take the Bible as it
reads. He should remember that the greater the miracle the greater
should be his faith.

QUESTION. You do not seem to have any great opinion of the
chemical, geological, and agricultural views expressed by Mr.

ANSWER. You must remember that Mr. Talmage has a certain thing
to defend. He takes the Bible as actually true, and with the Bible
as his standard, he compares and measures all sciences. He does not
study geology to find whether the Mosaic account is true, but he
reads the Mosaic account for the purpose of showing that geology
can not be depended upon. His idea that "one day is as a thousand
years with "God," and that therefore the "days" mentioned in the
Mosaic account are not days of twenty-four hours, but long periods,
is contradicted by the Bible itself. The great reason given for
keeping the Sabbath day is, that "God rested on the seventh day and
was refreshed." Now, it does not say that he rested on the "seventh
period," or the "seventh good-while," or the "seventh long-time,"
but on the "seventh day." In imitation of this example we are also
to rest -- not on the seventh good-while, but on the seventh day.
Nothing delights the average minister more than to find that a
passage of Scripture is capable of several interpretations. Nothing
in the inspired book is so dangerous as accuracy. If the holy
writer uses general terms, an ingenious theologian can harmonize a
seemingly preposterous statement with the most obdurate fact. An
"inspired" book should contain neither statistics nor dates -- as
few names as possible, and not one word about geology or astronomy.
Mr. Talmage is doing the best he can to uphold the fables of the
Jews. They are the foundation of his faith. He believes in the
water of the past and the fire of the future -- in the God of flood
and flame -- the eternal torturer of his helpless children.

It is exceedingly unfortunate that Mr. Talmage does not
appreciate the importance of good manners, that he does not rightly
estimate the convincing power of kindness and good nature. It is
unfortunate that a Christian, believing in universal forgiveness,
should exhibit so much of the spirit of detraction, that he should
run so easily and naturally into epithets, and that he should
mistake vituperation for logic. Thousands of people, knowing but
little of the mysteries of Christianity -- never having studied
theology, -- may become prejudiced against the church, and doubt
the divine origin of a religion whose defenders seem to rely, at
least to a great degree, upon malignant personalities. Mr. Talmage
should remember that in a discussion of this kind, he is supposed
to represent a being of infinite wisdom and goodness. Surely, the
representative of the infinite can afford to be candid, can afford
to be kind. When he contemplates the condition of a fellow-being

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


destitute of religion, a fellow-being now travelling the thorny
path to eternal fire, he should be filled with pity instead of
hate. Instead of deforming his mouth with scorn, his eyes should be
filled with tears. He should take into consideration the vast
difference between an infidel and a minister of the gospel, --
knowing, as he does, that a crown of glory has been prepared for
the minister, and that flames are waiting for the soul of the
unbeliever. He should bear with philosophic fortitude the apparent
success of the skeptic, for a few days in this brief life, since he
knows that in a little while the question will be eternally settled
in his favor, and that the humiliation of a day is as nothing
compared with the victory of eternity. In this world, the skeptic
appears to have the best of the argument; logic seems to be on the
side of blasphemy; common sense apparently goes hand in hand with
infidelity, and the few things we are absolutely certain of, seem
inconsistent with the Christian creeds.

This, however, as Mr. Talmage well knows, is but apparent. God
has arranged the world in this way for the purpose of testing the
Christian's faith. Beyond all these facts, beyond logic, beyond
reason, Mr. Talmage, by the light of faith, clearly sees the
eternal truth. This clearness of vision should give him the
serenity of candor and the kindness born of absolute knowledge. He,
being a child of the light, should not expect the perfect from the
children of darkness. He should not judge Humboldt and Wesley by
the same standard. He should remember that Wesley was especially
set apart and illuminated by divine wisdom, while Humboldt was left
to grope in the shadows of nature. He should also remember that
ministers are not like other people. They have been "called." They
have been "chosen" by infinite wisdom. They have been "set apart,"
and they have bread to eat that we know not of. While other people
are forced to pursue the difficult paths of investigation, they fly
with the wings of faith.

Mr. Talmage is perfectly aware of the advantages he enjoys,
and yet he deems it dangerous to be fair. This, in my Judgment, is
his mistake. If he cannot easily point out the absurdities and
contradictions in infidel lectures, surely God would never have
selected him for that task. We cannot believe that imperfect
instruments would be chosen by infinite wisdom. Certain lambs have
been entrusted to the care of Mr. Talmage, the shepherd. Certainly
God would not select a shepherd unable to cope with an average
wolf. Such a shepherd is only the appearance of protection. When
the wolf is not there, he is a useless expense, and when the wolf
comes, he goes. I cannot believe that God would select a shepherd
of that kind. Neither can the shepherd justify his selection by
abusing the wolf when out of sight. The fear ought to be on the
other side. A divinely appointed shepherd ought to be able to
convince his sheep that a wolf is a dangerous animal, and ought to
be able to give his reasons. It may be that the shepherd has a
certain interest in exaggerating the cruelty and ferocity of the
wolf, and even the number of the wolves. Should it turn out that
the wolves exist only in the imagination of the shepherd, the sheep
might refuse to pay the salary of their protector. It will,
however, be hard to calculate the extent to which the sheep will
lose confidence in a shepherd who has not even the courage to state
the facts about the wolf. But what must be the result when the
sheep find that the supposed wolf is, in fact, their friend, and
that he is endeavoring to rescue them from the exactions of the
pretended shepherd, who creates, by falsehood, the fear on which he
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