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Robert Ingersoll Why Am I Agnostic

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Why Am I Agnostic

Robert Green Ingersoll

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Contents of this file                           page

WHY AM I AN AGNOSTIC? -- 1889                          1
WHY AM I AN AGNOSTIC? -- PART 2, 1890                  8

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"With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls."

The same rules or laws of probability must govern in religious
questions as in others. There is no subject -- and can be none --
concerning which any human being is under any obligation to believe
without evidence. Neither is there any intelligent being who can,
by any possibility, be flattered by the exercise of ignorant
credulity. The man who, without prejudice, reads and understands
the Old and New Testaments will cease to be an orthodox Christian.
The intelligent man who investigates the religion of any country
without fear and without prejudice will not and cannot be a

Most people, after arriving at the conclusion that Jehovah is
not God, that the Bible is not an inspired book, and that the
Christian religion, like other religions, is the creation of man,
usually say: "There must be a Supreme Being, but Jehovah is not his
name, and the Bible is not his word. There must be somewhere an
over-ruling Providence or Power."

This position is just as untenable as the other. He who cannot
harmonize the cruelties of the Bible with the goodness of Jehovah,
cannot harmonize the cruelties of Nature with the goodness and
wisdom of a supposed Deity. He will find it impossible to account
for pestilence and famine, for earthquake and storm, for slavery,
for the triumph of the strong over the weak, for the countless
victories of injustice. He will find it impossible to account for
martyrs -- for the burning of the good, the noble, the loving, by
the ignorant, the malicious, and the infamous.

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How can the Deist satisfactorily account for the sufferings of
women and children? In what way will he justify religious
persecution -- the flame and sword of religious hatred? Why did his
God sit idly on his throne and allow his enemies to wet their
swords in the blood of his friends? Why did he not answer the
prayers of the imprisoned, of the helpless? And when he heard the
lash upon the naked back of the slave, why did he not also hear the
prayer of the slave? And when children were sold from the breasts
of mothers, why was he deaf to the mother's cry?

It seems to me that the man who knows the limitations of the
mind, who gives the proper value to human testimony, is necessarily
an Agnostic. He gives up the hope of ascertaining first or final
causes, of comprehending the supernatural, or of conceiving of an
infinite personality. From out the words Creator, Preserver, and
Providence, all meaning falls.

The mind of man pursues the path of least resistance, and the
conclusions arrived at by the individual depend upon the nature and
structure of his mind, on his experience, on hereditary drifts and
tendencies, and on the countless things that constitute the
difference in minds. One man, finding himself in the midst of
mysterious phenomena, comes to the conclusion that all is the
result of design; that back of all things is an infinite
personality -- that is to say, an infinite man; and he accounts for
all that is by simply saying that the universe was created and set
in motion by this infinite personality, and that it is miraculously
and supernaturally governed and preserved. This man sees with
perfect clearness that matter could not create itself, and
therefore he imagines a creator of matter. He is perfectly
satisfied that there is design in the world, and that consequently
there must have been a designer. It does not occur to him that it
is necessary to account for the existence of an infinite
personality. He is perfectly certain that there can be no design
without a designer, and he is, equally certain that there can be a
designer who was not designed. The absurdity becomes so great that
it takes the place of a demonstration. He takes it for granted that
matter was created and that its creator was not. He assumes that a
creator existed from eternity, without cause, and created what is
called matter out of nothing; or, whereas there was nothing, this
creator made the something that we call substance.

Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of an infinite
personality? Can it imagine a beginningless being, infinitely
powerful and intelligent? If such a being existed, then there must
have been an eternity during which nothing did exist except this
being; because, if the Universe was created, there must have been
a time when it was not, and back of that there must have been an
eternity during which nothing but an infinite personality existed.
Is it possible to imagine an infinite intelligence dwelling for an
eternity in infinite nothing? How could such a being be
intelligent? What was there to be intelligent about? There was but
one thing to know, namely, that there was nothing except this
being. How could such a being be powerful? There was nothing to
exercise force upon. There was nothing in the universe to suggest
an idea. Relations could not exist -- except the relation between
infinite intelligence and infinite nothing.

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The next great difficulty is the act of creation. My mind is
so that I cannot conceive of something being created out of
nothing. Neither can I conceive of anything being created without
a cause. Let me go one step further. It is just as difficult to
imagine something being created with, as without a cause. To
pustulate a cause does not in the least lessen the difficulty. In
spite of all, this lever remains without a fulcrum. We cannot
conceive of the destruction of substance. The stone can be crushed
to powder, and the powder can be ground to such a fineness that the
atoms can only be distinguished by the most powerful microscope,
and we can then imagine these atoms being divided and subdivided
again and again and again; but it is impossible for us to conceive
of the annihilation of the least possible imaginable fragment of
the least atom of which we can think. Consequently the mind can
imagine neither creation nor destruction. From this point it is
very easy to reach the generalization that the indestructible could
not have been created.

These questions, however, will be answered by each individual
according to the structure of his mind, according to his
experience, according to his habits of thought, and according to
his intelligence or his ignorance, his prejudice or his genius.

Probably a very large majority of mankind believe in the
existence of supernatural beings, and a majority of what are known
as the civilized nations, in an infinite personality. In the realm
of thought majorities do not determine. Each brain is a kingdom,
each mind is a sovereign.

The universality of a belief does not even tend to prove its
truth. A large majority of mankind have believed in what is known
as God, and an equally large majority have as implicitly believed
in what is known as the Devil. These beings have been inferred from
phenomena. They were produced for the most part by ignorance, by
fear, and by selfishness. Man in all ages has endeavored to account
for the mysteries of life and death, of substance, of force, for
the ebb and flow of things, for earth and star. The savage,
dwelling in his cave, subsisting on roots and reptiles, or on
beasts that could be slain with club and stone, surrounded by
countless objects of terror, standing by rivers, so far as he knew,
without source or end, by seas with but one shore, the prey of
beasts mightier than himself, of diseases strange and fierce,
trembling at the voice of thunder, blinded by the lightning,
feeling the earth shake beneath him, seeing the sky lurid with the
volcano's glare, -- fell prostrate and begged for the protection of
the Unknown.

In the long night of savagery, in the midst of pestilence and
famine, through the long and dreary winters, crouched in dens of
darkness, the seeds of superstition were sown in the brain of man.
The savage believed, and thoroughly believed, that everything
happened in reference to him; that he by his actions could excite
the anger, or by his worship placate the wrath, of the Unseen. He
resorted to flattery and prayer. To the best of his ability he put
in stone, or rudely carved in wood, his idea of this god. For this
idol he built a hut, a hovel, and at last a cathedral. Before these
images he bowed, and at these shrines, whereon he lavished his

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wealth, he sought protection for himself and for the ones he loved.
The few took advantage of the ignorant many. They pretended to have
received messages from the Unknown. They stood between the helpless
multitude and the gods. They were the carriers of flags of truce.
At the court of heaven they presented the cause of man, and upon
the labor of the deceived they lived.

The Christian of to-day wonders at the savage who bowed before
his idol; and yet it must be confessed that the god of stone
answered prayer and protected his worshipers precisely as the
Christian's God answers prayer and protects his worshipers to-day.

My mind is so that it is forced to the conclusion that
substance is eternal; that the universe was without beginning and
will be without end; that it is the one eternal existence; that
relations are transient and evanescent; that organisms are produced
and vanish; that forms change, -- but that the substance of things
is from eternity to eternity. It may be that planets are born and
die, that constellations will fade from the infinite spaces, that
countless suns will be quenched, -- but the substance will remain.

The questions of origin and destiny seem to be beyond the
powers of the human mind.

Heredity is on the side of superstition. All our ignorance
pleads for the old. In most men there is a feeling that their
ancestors were exceedingly good and brave and wise, and that in all
things pertaining to religion their conclusions should be followed.
They believe that their fathers and mothers were of the best, and
that that which satisfied them should satisfy their children. With
a feeling of reverence they say that the religion of their mother
is good enough and pure enough and reasonable enough for them. In
this way the love of parents and the reverence for ancestors have
unconsciously bribed the reason and put out, or rendered
exceedingly dim, the eyes of the mind.

There is a kind of longing in the heart of the old to live and
die where their parents lived and died -- a tendency to go back to
the homes of their youth. Around the old oak of manhood grow and
cling these vines. Yet it will hardly do to say that the religion
of my mother is good enough for me, any more than to say the
geology or the astronomy or the philosophy of my mother is good
enough for me. Every human being is entitled to the best he can
obtain; and if there has been the slightest improvement on the
religion of the mother, the son is entitled to that improvement,
and he should not deprive himself of that advantage by the mistaken
idea that he owes it to his mother to perpetuate, in a reverential
way, her ignorant mistakes.

If we are to follow the religion of our fathers and mothers,
our fathers and mothers should have followed the religion of
theirs. Had this been done, there could have been no improvement in
the world of thought. The first religion would have been the last,
and the child would have died as ignorant as the mother. Progress
would have been impossible, and on the graves of ancestors would
have been sacrificed the intelligence of mankind.

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We know, too, that there has been the religion of the tribe,
of the community, and of the nation, and that there has been a
feeling that it was the duty of every member of the tribe or
community, and of every citizen of the nation, to insist upon it
that the religion of that tribe, of that community, of that nation,
was better than that of any other. We know that all the prejudices
against other religions, and all the egotism of nation and tribe,
were in favor of the local superstition. Each citizen was patriotic
enough to denounce the religions of other nations and to stand
firmly by his own. And there is this peculiarity about man: he can
see the absurdities of other religions while blinded to those of
his own. The Christian can see clearly enough that Mohammed was an
impostor. He is sure of it, because the people of Mecca who were
acquainted with him declared that he was no prophet; and this
declaration is received by Christians as a demonstration that
Mohammed was not inspired. Yet these same Christians admit that the
people of Jerusalem who were acquainted with Christ rejected him;
and this rejection they take as proof positive that Christ was the
Son of God.

The average man adopts the religion of his country, or,
rather, the religion of his country adopts him. He is dominated by
the egotism of race, the arrogance of nation, and the prejudice
called patriotism. He does not reason -- he feels. He does not
investigate -- he believes. To him the religions of other nations
are absurd and infamous, and their gods monsters of ignorance and
cruelty. In every country this average man is taught, first, that
there is a supreme being; second, that he has made known his will;
third, that he will reward the true believer; fourth, that he will
punish the unbeliever, the scoffer, and the blasphemer; fifth, that
certain ceremonies are pleasing to this god; sixth, that he has
established a church; and seventh, that priests are his
representatives on earth. And the average man has no difficulty in
determining that the God of his nation is the true God; that the
will of this true God is contained in the sacred scriptures of his
nation; that he is one of the true believers, and that the people
of other nations -- that is, believing other religions -- are
scoffers; that the only true church is the one to which he belongs;
and that the priests of his country are the only ones who have had
or ever will have the slightest influence with this true God. All
these absurdities to the average man seem self-evident
propositions; and so he holds all other creeds in scorn, and
congratulates himself that he is a favorite of the one true God.

If the average Christian had been born in Turkey, he would
have been a Mohammedan; and if the average Mohammedan had been born
in New England and educated at Andover, he would have regarded the
damnation of the heathen as the "tidings of great joy."

Nations have eccentricities, peculiarities, and
hallucinations, and these find expression in their laws, customs,
ceremonies, morals, and religions. And these are in great part
determined by soil, climate, and the countless circumstances that
mould and dominate the lives and habits of insects, individuals,
and nations. The average man believes implicitly in the religion of
his country, because he knows nothing of any other and has no

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desire to know. It fits him because he has been deformed to fit it,
and he regards this fact of fit as an evidence of its inspired

Has a man the right to examine, to investigate, the religion
of his own country -- the religion of his father and mother?
Christians admit that the citizens of all countries not Christian
have not only this right, but that it is their solemn duty.
Thousands of missionaries are sent to heathen countries to persuade
the believers in other religions not only to examine their
superstitions, but to renounce them, and to adopt those of the
missionaries. It is the duty of a heathen to disregard the religion
of his country and to hold in contempt the creed of his father and
of his mother. If the citizens of heathen nations have the right to
examine the foundations of their religion, it would seem that the
citizens of Christian nations have the same right. Christians,
however, go further than this; they say to the heathen: You must
examine your religion, and not only so, but you must reject it;
and, unless you do reject it, and, in addition to such rejection,
adopt ours, you will be eternally damned. Then these same
Christians say to the inhabitants of a Christian country: You must
not examine; you must not investigate; but whether you examine or
not, you must believe, or you will be eternally damned.

If there be one true religion, how is it possible to ascertain
which of all the religions the true one is? There is but one way.
We must impartially examine the claims of all. The right to examine
involves the necessity to accept or reject. Understand me, not the
right to accept or reject, but the necessity. From this conclusion
there is no possible escape. If, then, we have the right to
examine, we have the right to tell the conclusion reached.
Christians have examined other religions somewhat, and they have
expressed their opinion with the utmost freedom -- that is to say,
they have denounced them all as false and fraudulent; have called
their gods idols and myths, and their priests impostors.

The Christian does not deem it worth while to read the Koran.
Probably not one Christian in a thousand ever saw a copy of that
book. And yet all Christians are perfectly satisfied that the Koran
is the work of an impostor. No Presbyterian thinks it is worth his
while to examine the religious systems of India; he knows that the
Brahmins are mistaken, and that all their miracles are falsehoods.
No Methodist cares to read the life of Buddha, and no Baptist will
waste his time studying the ethics of Confucius. Christians of
every sort and kind take it for granted that there is only one true
religion, and that all except Christianity are absolutely without
foundation. The Christian world believes that all the prayers of
India are unanswered; that all the sacrifices upon the countless
altars of Egypt, of Greece, and of Rome were without effect. They
believe that all these mighty nations worshiped their gods in vain;
that their priests were deceivers or deceived; that their
ceremonies were wicked or meaningless; that their temples were
built by ignorance and fraud, and that no God heard their songs of
praise, their cries of despair, their words of thankfulness; that
on account of their religion no pestilence was stayed; that the
earthquake and volcano, the flood and storm went on their ways of
death -- while the real God looked on and laughed at their
calamities and mocked at their fears.

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We find now that the prosperity of nations has depended, not
upon their religion, not upon the goodness or providence of some
god, but on soil and climate and commerce, upon the ingenuity,
industry, and courage of the people, upon the development of the
mind, on the spread of education, on the liberty of thought and
action; and that in this mighty panorama of national life, reason
has built and superstition has destroyed.

Being satisfied that all believe precisely as they must, and
that religions have been naturally produced, I have neither praise
nor blame for any man. Good men have had bad creeds, and bad men
have had good ones. Some of the noblest of the human race have
fought and died for the wrong. The brain of man has been the
trusting-place of contradictions. Passion often masters reason, and
"the state of man, like to a little kingdom, suffers then the
nature of an insurrection."

In the discussion of theological or religious questions, we
have almost passed the personal phase, and we are now weighing
arguments instead of exchanging epithets and curses. They who
really seek for truth must be the best of friends. Each knows that
his desire can never take the place of fact, and that, next to
finding truth, the greatest honor must be won in honest search.

We see that many ships are driven in many ways by the same
wind. So men, reading the same book, write many creeds and lay out
many roads to heaven. To the best of my ability, I have examined
the religions of many countries and the creeds of many sects. They
are much alike, and the testimony by which they are substantiated
is of such a character that to those who believe is promised an
eternal reward. In all the sacred books there are some truths, some
rays of light, some words of love and hope. The face of savagery is
sometimes softened by a smile -- the human triumphs, and the heart
breaks into song. But in these books are also found the words of
fear and hate, and from their pages crawl serpents that coil and
hiss in all the paths of men.

For my part, I prefer the books that inspiration has not
claimed. Such is the nature of my brain that Shakespeare gives me
greater joy than all the prophets of the ancient world. There are
thoughts that satisfy the hunger of the mind. I am convinced that
Humboldt knew more of geology than the author of Genesis; that
Darwin was a greater naturalist than he who told the story of the
flood; that Laplace was better acquainted with the habits of the
sun and moon than Joshua could have been, and that Haeckel, Huxley,
and Tyndall know more about the earth and stars, about the history
of man, the philosophy of life -- more that is of use, ten thousand
times -- than all the writers of the sacred books.

I believe in the religion of reason -- the gospel of this
world; in the development of the mind, in the accumulation of
intellectual wealth, to the end that man may free himself from
superstitious fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the
forces of nature to feed and clothe the world.

Let us be honest with ourselves. In the presence of countless
mysteries; standing beneath the boundless heaven sown thick with
constellations; knowing that each grain of sand, each leaf, each

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blade of grass, asks of every mind the answerless question; knowing
that the simplest thing defies solution; feeling that we deal with
the superficial and the relative, and that we are forever eluded by
the real, the absolute, -- let is admit the limitations of our
minds, and let us have the courage and the candor to say: We do not
North American Review, December, 1889.



The Christian religion rests on miracles. There are no
miracles in the realm of science. The real philosopher does not
seek to excite wonder, but to make that plain which was wonderful.
He does not endeavor to astonish, but to enlighten. He is perfectly
confident that there are no miracles in nature. He knows that the
mathematical expression of the same relations, contents, areas,
numbers and proportions must forever remain the same. He knows that
there are no miracles in chemistry; that the attractions and
repulsions, the love and hatreds, of atoms are constant. Under like
conditions, he is certain that like will always happen; that the
product ever has been and forever will be the same; that the atoms
or particles unite in definite, unvarying proportions, -- so many
of one kind mix, mingle, and harmonize with just so many of
another, and the surplus will be forever cast out. There are no
exceptions. Substances are always true to their natures. They have
no caprices, no prejudices, that can vary or control their action.
They are "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever."

In this fixedness, this constancy, this eternal integrity, the
intelligent man has absolute confidence. It is useless to tell him
that there was a time when fire would not consume the combustible,
when water would not flow in obedience to the attraction of
gravitation, or that there ever was a fragment of a moment during
which substance had no weight.

Credulity should be the servant of intelligence. The ignorant
have not credulity enough to believe the actual, because the actual
appears to be contrary to the evidence of their senses. To them it
is plain that the sun rises and sets, and they have not credulity
enough to believe in the rotary motion of the earth -- that is to
say, they have not intelligence enough to comprehend the
absurdities involved in their belief, and the perfect harmony
between the rotation of the earth and all known facts. They trust
their eyes, not their reason. Ignorance has always been and always
will be at the mercy of appearance. Credulity, as a rule, believes
everything except the truth. The semi-civilized believe in
astrology, but who could convince them of the vastness of
astronomical spaces, the speed of light, or the magnitude and
number of suns and constellations? If Hermann, the magician, and
Humboldt, the philosopher, could have appeared before savages,
which would have been regarded as a god?

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When men knew nothing of mechanics, nothing of the correlation
of force, and of its indestructibility, they were believers in
perpetual motion. So when chemistry was a kind of sleight-of-hand,
or necromancy, something accomplished by the aid of the
supernatural, people talked about the transmutation of metals, the
universal solvent, and the philosopher's stone. Perpetual motion
would be a mechanical miracle; and the transmutation of metals
would be a miracle in chemistry; and if we could make the result of
multiplying two by two five, that would be a miracle in
mathematics. No one expects to find a circle the diameter of which
is just one fourth of the circumference. If one could find such a
circle, then there would be a miracle in geometry.

In other words, there are no miracles in any science. The
moment we understand a question or subject, the miraculous
necessarily disappears. If anything actually happens in the
chemical world, it will, under like conditions, happen again No one
need take an account of this result from the mouths of others: all
can try the experiment for themselves. There is no caprice, and no

It is admitted, at least by the Protestant world, that the age
of miracles has passed away, and, consequently, miracles cannot at
present be established by miracles; they must be substantiated by
the testimony of witnesses who are said by certain writers -- or,
rather, by uncertain writers -- to have lived several centuries
ago; and this testimony is given to us, not by the witnesses
themselves, not by persons who say that they talked with those
witnesses, but by unknown persons who did not give the sources of
their information.

The question is: Can miracles be established except by
miracles? We know that the writers may have been mistaken. It is
possible that they may have manufactured these accounts themselves.
The witnesses may have told what they knew to be untrue, or they
may have been honestly deceived, or the stories may have been true
as at first told. Imagination may have added greatly to them, so
that after several centuries of accretion a very simple truth was
changed to a miracle.

We must admit that all probabilities must be against miracles,
for the reason that that which is probable cannot by any
possibility be a miracle. Neither the probable nor the possible, so
far as man is concerned, can be miraculous. The probability
therefore says that the writers and witnesses were either mistaken
or dishonest.

We must admit that we have never seen a miracle ourselves, and
we must admit that, according to our experience, there are no
miracles. If we have mingled with the world, we are compelled to
say that we have known a vast number of persons -- including
ourselves -- to be mistaken, and many others who have failed to
tell the exact truth. The probabilities are on the side of our
experience, and, consequently, against the miraculous; and it is a
necessity that the free mind moves along the path of least

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The effect of testimony depends on the intelligence and
honesty of the witness and the intelligence of him who weighs. A
man living in a community where the supernatural is expected, where
the miraculous is supposed to be of almost daily occurrence, will,
as a rule, believe that all wonderful things are the result of
supernatural agencies. He will expect providential interference,
and, as a consequence, his mind will pursue the path of least
resistance, and will account for all phenomena by what to him is
the easiest method. Such people, with the best intentions, honestly
bear false witness. They have been imposed upon by appearances, and
are victims of delusion and illusion.

In an age when reading and writing were substantially unknown,
and when history itself was but the vaguest hearsay handed down
from dotage to infancy, nothing was rescued from oblivion except
the wonderful, the miraculous. The more marvelous the story, the
greater the interest excited. Narrators and hearers were alike
ignorant and alike honest. At that time nothing was known, nothing
suspected, of the orderly course of nature -- of the unbroken and
unbreakable chain of causes and effects. The world was governed by
caprice. Everything was at the mercy of a being, or beings, who
were themselves controlled by the same passions that dominated man.
Fragments of facts were taken for the whole, and the deductions
drawn were honest and monstrous.

It is probably certain that all of the religions of the world
have been believed, and that all the miracles have found credence
in countless brains; otherwise they could not have been
perpetuated. They were not all born of cunning. Those who told were
as honest as those who heard. This being so, nothing has been too
absurd for human credence.

All religions, so far as I know, claim to have been
miraculously founded, miraculously preserved, and miraculously
propagated. The priests of all claimed to have messages from God,
and claimed to have a certain authority, and the miraculous has
always been appealed to for the purpose of substantiating the
message and the authority.

If men believe in the supernatural, they will account for all
phenomena by an appeal to supernatural means or power. We know that
formerly everything was accounted for in this way except some few
simple things with which man thought he was perfectly acquainted.
After a time men found that under like conditions like would
happen, and as to those things the supposition of supernatural
interference was abandoned; but that interference was still active
as to all the unknown world. In other words, as the circle of man's
knowledge grew, supernatural interference withdrew and was active
only just beyond the horizon of the known.

Now, there are some believers in universal special providence
-- that is, men who believe in perpetual interference by a
supernatural power, this interference being for the purpose of
punishing or rewarding, of destroying or preserving, individuals
and nations.

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Others have abandoned the idea of providence in ordinary
matters, but still believe that God interferes on great occasions
and at critical moments, especially in the affairs of nations, and
that his presence is manifest in great disasters. This is the
compromise position. These people believe that an infinite being
made the universe and impressed upon it what they are pleased to
call "laws," and then left it to run in accordance with those laws
and forces; that as a rule it works well, and that the divine maker
interferes only in cases of accident, or at moments when the
machine fails to accomplish the original design.

There are others who take the ground that all is natural, that
there never has been, never will be, never can be any interference
from without, for the reason that nature embraces all, and that
there can be no without or beyond.

The first class are Theists pure and simple; the second are
Theists as to the unknown, Naturalists as to the known; and the
third are Naturalists without a touch or taint of superstition.

What can the evidence of the first class be worth? This
question is answered by reading the history of those nations that
believed thoroughly and implicitly in the supernatural. There is no
conceivable absurdity that was not established by their testimony.
Every law or every fact in nature was violated. Children were born
without parents; men lived for thousands of years; others subsisted
without food, without sleep; thousands and thousands were possessed
with evil spirits controlled by ghosts and ghouls; thousands
confessed themselves guilty of impossible offenses, and in courts,
with the most solemn forms, impossibilities were substantiated by
the oaths, affirmations, and confessions of men, women, and

These delusions were not confined to ascetics and peasants,
but they took possession of nobles and kings; of people who were at
that time called intelligent; of the then educated. No one denied
these wonders, for the reason that denial was a crime punishable
generally with death. Societies, nations, became insane -- victims
of ignorance, of dreams, and, above all, of fears. Under these
conditions human testimony is not and cannot be of the slightest
value. We now know that nearly all of the history of the world is
false, and we know this because we have arrived at that phase or
point of intellectual development where and when we know that
effects must have causes, that everything is naturally produced,
and that, consequently, no nation could ever have been great,
powerful, and rich unless it had the soil, the people, the
intelligence, and the commerce. Weighed in these scales, nearly all
histories are found to be fictions.

The same is true of religions. Every intelligent American is
satisfied that the religions of India, of Egypt, of Greece and
Rome, of the Aztecs, were and are false, and that all the miracles
on which they rest are mistakes. Our religion alone is excepted.
Every intelligent Hindoo discards all religions and all miracles
except his own. The question is: When will people see the defects
in their own theology as clearly as they perceive the same defects
in every other?

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


All the so-called false religions were substantiated by
miracles, by signs and wonders, by prophets and martyrs, precisely
as our own. Our witnesses are no better than theirs, and our
success is no greater. If their miracles were false, ours cannot be
true. Nature was the same in India and in Palestine.

One of the corner-stones of Christianity is the miracle of
inspiration, and this same miracle lies at the foundation of all
religions. How can the fact of inspiration be established? How
could even the inspired man know that he was inspired? If he was
influenced to write, and did write, and did express thoughts and
facts that to him were absolutely new, on subjects about which he
had previously known nothing, how could he know that be had been
influenced by an infinite being? And if he could know, how could he
convince others?

What is meant by inspiration? Did the one inspired set down
only the thoughts of a supernatural being? Was he simply an
instrument, or did his personality color the message received and
given? Did he mix his ignorance with the divine information, his
prejudices and hatreds with the love and justice of the Deity? If
God told him not to eat the flesh of any beast that dieth of
itself, did the same infinite being also tell him to sell this meat
to the stranger within his gates?

A man says that he is inspired -- that God appeared to him in
a dream, and told him certain things. Now, the things said to have
been communicated may have been good and wise; but will the fact
that the communication is good or wise establish the inspiration?
If on the other hand, the communication is absurd or wicked, will
that conclusively show that the man was not inspired? Must we judge
from the communication? In other words, is our reason to be the
final standard?

How could the inspired man know that the communication was
received from God? If God in reality should appear to a human
being, how could this human being know who had appeared? By what
standard would he judge? Upon this question man has no experience;
he is not familiar enough with the supernatural to know gods even
if they exist. Although thousands have pretended to receive
messages, there has been no message in which there was, or is,
anything above the invention of man. There are just as wonderful
things in the uninspired as in the inspired books, and the
prophecies of the heathen have been fulfilled equally with those of
the Judean prophets. If, then, even the inspired man cannot
certainly know that he is inspired, how is it possible for him to
demonstrate his inspiration to others? The last solution of this
question is that inspiration is a miracle about which only the
inspired can have the least knowledge, or the least evidence, and
this knowledge and this evidence is not of a character to
absolutely convince even the inspired.

There is certainly nothing in the Old or the New Testament
that could not have been written by uninspired human beings. To me
there is nothing of any particular value in the Pentateuch. I do
not know of a solitary scientific truth contained in the five books
commonly attributed to Moses. There is not, as far as I know, a

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line in the book of Genesis calculated to make a human being
better. The laws contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and
Deuteronomy are for the most part puerile and cruel. Surely there
is nothing in any of these books that could not have been produced
by uninspired men. Certainly there is nothing calculated to excite
intellectual admiration in the book of judges or in the wars of
Joshua; and the same may be said of Samuel, Chronicles, and Kings.
The history is extremely childish, full of repetitions of useless
details, without the slightest philosophy, without a generalization
born of a wide survey. Nothing is known of other nations; nothing
imparted of the slightest value; nothing about education,
discovery, or invention. And these idle and stupid annals are,
interspersed with myth and miracle, with flattery for kings who
supported priests, and with curses and denunciations for those who
would not hearken to the voice of the prophets. If all the historic
books of the Bible were blotted from the memory of mankind, nothing
of value would be lost.

Is it possible that the writer or writers of First and Second
Kings were inspired, and that Gibbon wrote "The Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire?" without supernatural assistance? Is it possible
that the author of judges was simply the instrument of an infinite
God, while John W. Draper wrote "The Intellectual Development of
Europe" without one ray of light from the other world? Can we
believe that the author of Genesis had to be inspired, while Darwin
experimented, ascertained, and reached conclusions for himself.

Ought not the work of a God to be vastly superior to that of
a man? And if the writers of the Bible were in reality inspired,
ought not that book to be the greatest of books? For instance, if
it were contended that certain statues had been chiselled by
inspired men, such statues should be superior to any that
uninspired man has made. As long as it is admitted that the Venus
de Milo is the work of man, no one will believe in inspired
sculptors -- at least until a superior statue has been found. So in
the world of painting. We admit that Corot was uninspired. Nobody
claims that Angelo had supernatural assistance. Now, if some one
should claim that a certain painter was simply the instrumentality
of God, certainly the pictures produced by that painter should be
superior to all others.

I do not see how it is possible for an intelligent human being
to conclude that the Song of Solomon is the work of God, and that
the tragedy of Lear was the work of an uninspired man. We are all
liable to be mistaken, but the Iliad seems to me a greater work
than the Book of Esther, and I prefer it to the writings of Haggai
and Hosea. AEschylus is superior to Jeremiah, and Shakespeare rises
immeasurably above all the sacred books of the world.

It does not seem possible that any human being ever tried to
establish a truth -- anything that really happened -- by what is
called a miracle. It is easy to understand how that which was
common became wonderful by accretion, -- by things added, and by
things forgotten, -- and it is easy to conceive how that which was
wonderful became by accretion what was called supernatural. But it
does not seem possible that any intelligent, honest man ever
endeavored to prove anything by a miracle.

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As a matter of fact, miracles could only satisfy people who
demanded no evidence; else how could they have believed the
miracle? It also appears to be certain that, even if miracles had
been performed, it would be impossible to establish that fact by
human testimony. In other words, miracles can only be established
by miracles, and in no event could miracles be evidence except to
those who were actually present; and in order for miracles to be of
any value, they would have to be perpetual. It must also be
remembered that a miracle actually performed could by no
possibility shed any light on any moral truth, or add to any human

If any man has ever been inspired, this is a secret miracle,
known to no person, and suspected only by the man claiming to be
inspired. It would not be in the power of the inspired to give
satisfactory evidence of that fact to anybody else.

The testimony of man is insufficient to establish the
supernatural. Neither the evidence of one man nor of twelve can
stand when contradicted by the experience of the intelligent world.
If a book sought to be proved by miracles is true, then it makes no
difference whether it was inspired or not and if it is not true,
inspiration cannot add to its value.

The truth is that the church has always -- unconsciously,
perhaps -- offered rewards for falsehood. It was founded upon the
supernatural, the miraculous, and it welcomed all statements
calculated to support the foundation. It rewarded the traveller who
found evidences of the miraculous, who had seen the pillar of salt
into which the wife of Lot had been changed, and the tracks of
Pharaoh's chariots on the sands of the Red Sea. It heaped honors on
the historian who filled his pages with the absurd and impossible.
It had geologists and astronomers of its own who constructed the
earth and the constellations in accordance with the Bible. With
sword and flame it destroyed the brave and thoughtful men who told
the truth. It was the enemy of investigation and of reason. Faith
and fiction were in partnership.

To-day the intelligence of the world denies the miraculous.
Ignorance is the soil of the supernatural. The foundation of
Christianity has crumbled, has disappeared, and the entire fabric
must fall. The natural is true. The miraculous' is false.

North American Review, March, 1890.

****    ****
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The Bank of Wisdom Inc. is a collection of the most thoughtful,
scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of
suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the
Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our
nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and
religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to
the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so
that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

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The Bank of Wisdom is run by Emmett Fields out of his home in Kentucky. He painstakingly scanned in these works and put them on disks for others to have available. Mr. Fields makes these disks available for only the cost of the media.

Files made available from the Bank of Wisdom may be freely reproduced and given away, but may not be sold.

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

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