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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
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Prof Briggs

Robert Green Ingersoll

                          ****     ****

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

     PROFESSOR BRIGGS is undoubtedly a sincere man.

     To the study of the Bible he has given the best years of his
life. When he commenced this study he was probably a devout
believer in the plenary inspiration of the Scripture -- thought
that the Bible was without an error; that all the so-called
contradictions could be easily explained. He had been educated by
Presbyterians and had confidence in his teachers.

     In spite of his early training, in spite of his prejudices, he
was led, in some mysterious way, to rely a little on his own
reason. This was a dangerous thing to do. The moment a man talks
about reason he is on dangerous ground. He is liable to contradict
the "Word of God." Then he loses spirituality and begins to think
more of truth than creed. This is a step toward heresy -- toward

     Professor Briggs began to have doubts about some of the
miracles. These doubts, like rats, began to gnaw the foundations of
his faith. He examined these wonderful stories in the light of what
is known to have happened, and in the light of like miracles found
in the other sacred books of the world. And he concluded that they
were not quite true. He was not ready to say that they were
actually false; that would be too brutally candid.

     I once read of an English lord who had a very polite
gamekeeper. The lord wishing to show his skill with the rifle fired
at a target. He and the gamekeeper went to see where the bullet had
struck. The gamekeeper was first at the target, and the lord cried
out: "Did I miss it?"

     "I would not," said the gamekeeper, "go so far as to say that
your lordship missed it, but -- but -- you didn't hit it."

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

     Professor Briggs saw clearly that the Bible was the product,
the growth of many centuries; that legends and facts, mistakes,
contradictions, miracles, myths and history, interpolations,
prophecies and dreams, wisdom, foolishness, justice, cruelty,
poetry and bathos were mixed, mingled and interwoven. In other
words, that the gold of truth was surrounded by meaner metals and
worthless stones.

     He saw that it was necessary to construct what might be called
a sacred smelter to divide the true from the false.

     Undoubtedly he reached this conclusion in the interest of what
he believed to be the truth. He had the mistaken but honest idea
that a Christian should really think. Of course, we know that all
heresy has been the result of thought. It has always been dangerous
to grow. Shrinking is safe.

     Studying the Bible was the first mistake that Professor Briggs
made, reasoning was the second, and publishing his conclusions was
the third. If he had read without studying, if he had believed
without reasoning, he would have remained a good, orthodox
Presbyterian. He probably read the works of Humboldt, Darwin and
Haeckel, and found that the author of Genesis was not a geologist,
not a scientist. He seems to have his doubts about the truth of the
story of the deluge. Should he be blamed for this? Is there a
sensible man in the wide world who really believes In the flood?

     This flood business puts Jehovah in such an idiotic light. Of
course, he must have known, after the fall of Adam and Eve, that he
would have to drown their descendants. Certainly it would have been
more merciful to have killed Adam and Eve, made a new pair and kept
the serpent out of the Garden of Eden. If Jehovah had been an
intelligent God he never would have created the serpent. Then there
would have been no fall, no flood, no atonement, no hell.

     Think of a God who drowned a world! What a merciless monster!
The cruelty of the flood is exceeded only by its stupidity.

     Thousands of little theologians have tried to explain this
miracle. This is the very top of absurdity. To explain a miracle is
to destroy it. Some have said that the flood was local. How could
water that rose over the mountains remain local?

     Why should we expect mercy from a God who drowned millions of
men, women and babes? I would no more think of softening the heart
of such a God by prayer than of protecting myself from a hungry
tiger by repeating poetry.

     Professor Briggs has sense enough to see that the story of the
flood is but an ignorant legend. He is trying to rescue Jehovah
from the frightful slander. After all, why should we believe the
unreasonable? Must we be foolish to be virtuous? The rain fell for
forty days; this caused the flood. The water was at least thirty
thousand feet in depth. Seven hundred and fifty feet a day -- more
than thirty feet an hour, six inches a minute; the rain fell for
forty days. Does any man with sense enough to eat and breathe
believe this idiotic lie?

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

     Professor Briggs knows that the Jews got the story of the
flood from the Babylonians, and that it is no more inspired than
the history of "Peter Wilkins and His Flying Wife." The destruction
of Sodom and Gomorrah is another legend. If those cities were
destroyed sensible people believe the phenomenon was as natural as
the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii. They do not believe
that in either case it was the result of the wickedness of the

     Neither does any thinking man believe that the wife of Lot was
changed or turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for having
looked back at her burning home, How could flesh, bones and blood
be changed to salt? This presupposes two miracles. First, the
annihilation of the woman, and second, the creation of salt. A God
cannot annihilate or create matter. Annihilation and creation are
both impossible -- unthinkable. A grain of sand can defy all the
gods. What was Mrs. Lot turned to salt for? What good was achieved?
What useful lesson taught? What man with a head fertile enough to
raise one hair can believe a story like this?

     Does a man who denies the truth of this childish absurdity
weaken the foundation of virtue? Does he discourage truth-telling
by denouncing lies? Should a man be true to himself? If reason is
not the standard, what is? Can a man think one way and believe
another? Of course he can talk one way and think another. If a man
should be honest with himself he should be honest with others. A
man who conceals his doubts lives a dishonest life. He defiles his
own soul.

     When a truth-loving man reads about the plagues of Egypt,
should he reason as he reads? Should he take into consideration the
fact that like stories have been told and believed by savages for
thousands of years? Should he ask himself whether Jehovah in his
efforts to induce the Egyptian King to free the Hebrews acted like
a sensible God? Should he ask, himself whether a good God would
kill the babes of the people on account of the sins of the king?
Whether he would torture, mangle and kill innocent cattle to get
even with a monarch?

     Is it better to believe without thinking than to think without
believing? If there be a God can we please him by believing that he
acted like a fiend?

     Probably Professor Briggs has a higher conception of God than
the author of Exodus. The writer of that book was a barbarian -- an
honest barbarian, and he wrote what he supposed was the truth. I do
not blame him for having written falsehoods. Neither do I blame
Professor Briggs for having detected these falsehoods. In our day
no man capable of reasoning believes the miracles wrought for the
Hebrews in their flight through the wilderness. The opening of the
sea, the cloud and pillar, the quails, the manna, the serpents and
hornets are no more believed than the miracles of the Mormons when
they crossed the plains.

     The probability is that the Hebrews never were in Egypt. In
the Hebrew language there are no Egyptian words, and in the
Egyptian no Hebrew. This proves that the Hebrews could not have

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

mingled with the Egyptians for four hundred and thirty years. As a
matter of fact, Moses is a myth. The enslavement of the Hebrews,
the flight, the journey through the wilderness existed only in the
imagination of ignorance.

     So Professor Briggs has his doubts about the sun and moon
having been stopped for a day in order that Gen. Joshua might kill
more heathen. Theologians have gathered around this miracle like
moths around a flame. They have done their best to make it
reasonable. They have talked about refraction and reflection, about
the nature of the air having been changed so that the sun was
visible all night. They have even gone so far as to say that Joshua
and his soldiers killed so many that afterward, when thinking about
it, they concluded that it must have taken them at least two days.

     This miracle can be accounted for only in one way. Jehovah
must have stopped the earth. The earth, turning over at about one
thousand miles an hour -- weighing trillions of tons -- had to be
stopped. Now we know that all arrested motion changes instantly to
heat. It has been calculated that to stop the earth would cause as
much heat as could be produced by burning three lumps of coal, each
lump as large as this world.

     Now, is it possible that a God in his right mind would waste
all that force? The Bible also tells us that at the same time God
cast hailstones from heaven on the poor heathen. If the writer had
known something of astronomy he would have had more hailstones and
said nothing about the sun and moon.

     Is it wise for ministers to ask their congregations to believe
this story? Is it wise for congregations to ask their ministers to
believe this story? If Jehovah performed this miracle he must have
been insane. There should be some relation, some proportion,
between means and ends. No sane general would call into the field
a million soldiers and a hundred batteries to kill one insect. And
yet the disproportion of means to the end sought would be
reasonable when compared with what Jehovah is claimed to have done.

     If Jehovah existed let us admit that he had some sense.

     If it should be demonstrated that the book of Joshua is all
false, what harm could follow? There would remain the same reasons
for living a useful and virtuous life; the same reasons against
theft and murder. Virtue would lose no prop and vice would gain no
crutch. Take all the miracles from the Old Testament and the book
would be improved. Throw away all its cruelties and absurdities and
its influence would be far better.

     Professor Briggs seems to have doubts about the inspiration of
Ruth. Is there any harm in that? What difference does it make
whether the story of Ruth is fact or fiction; history or poetry?
Its value is just the same. Who cares whether Hamlet or Lear lived?
Who cares whether Imogen and Perdita were real women or the
creation of Shakespeare's imagination?

     The book of Esther is absurd and cruel. It has no ethical
value. There is not a line, a word in it calculated to make a human

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

being better. The king issued a decree to kill the Jews. Esther
succeeded in getting this decree set aside, and induced the king to
issue another decree that the Jews should kill the other folks, and
so the Jews killed some seventy-five thousand of the king's
subjects. Is it really important to believe that the book of Esther
is inspired? Is it possible that Jehovah is proud of having written
this book? Does he guard his copyright with the fires of hell? Why
should the facts be kept from the people? Every intelligent minster
knows that Moses did not write the Pentateuch; that David did not
write the Psalms, and that Solomon was not the author of the song
or the book of Ecclesiastes. Why not say so?

     No intelligent minister believes the story of Daniel in the
Lion's den, or of the three men who were cast into the furnace, or
the story of Jonah. These miracles seem to have done no good --
seem to have convinced nobody and to have had no consequences.
Daniel was miraculously saved from the lions, and then the king
sent for the men who had accused Daniel, for their wives and their
children, and threw them all into the den of lions and they were
devoured by beasts almost as cruel as Jehovah. What a beautiful
story! How can any man be wicked enough to doubt its truth?

     God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah ran away, took a boat
for another place, God raised a storm, the sailors became
frightened, threw Jonah overboard, and the poor wretch was
swallowed and carried ashore by a fish that God had prepared. Then
he made his proclamation in Nineveh. Then the people repented and
Jonah was disappointed. Then he became malicious and found fault
with God. Then comes the story of the gourd, the worm and the east
wind, and the effect of the sun on a bald-headed prophet. Would not
this story be just as beautiful with the storm and fish left out?
Could we not dispense with the gourd, the worm and the east wind?

     Professor Briggs, does not believe this story. He does not
reject it because he is wicked or because he wishes to destroy
religion, but because, in his judgment, it is not true. This may
not be religious, but it is honest. It may not become a minister,
but it certainly becomes a man.

     Professor Briggs wishes to free the Old Testament from
interpolations, from excrescences, from fungus growths, from
mistakes and falsehoods.

     I am satisfied that he is sincere, actuated by the noblest

     Suppose that all the interpolations in the Bible should be
found and the original be perfectly restored, what evidence would
we have that it was written by inspired men? How can the fact of
inspiration be established? When was it established? Did Jehovah
furnish anybody with a list of books he had inspired? Does anybody
know that he ever said that he had inspired anybody? Did the writer
of Genesis claim that he was inspired? Did any writer of any part
of the Pentateuch make the claim? Did the authors of Joshua,
Judges, Kings or Chronicles pretend that they had obtained their
facts from Jehovah? Does the author of Job or of the Psalms pretend
to have received assistance from God?

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

     There is not the slightest reference to God in Esther or in
Solomon's Song. Why should theologians say that those books were
inspired? The dogma of inspiration rests on no established fact. It
rests only on assertion -- the assertion of those who have no
knowledge on the subject. Professor Briggs calls the Bible a "holy"
book. He seems to think that much of it was inspired; that it is in
some sense a message from God. The reasons he has for thinking so
I cannot even guess. He seems also to have his doubts about certain
parts of the New Testament. He is not certain that the angel who
appeared to Joseph in a dream was entirely truthful, or he is not
certain that Joseph had the dream.

     It seems clear that when the gospel according to Matthew was
first written the writer believed that Christ was a lineal
descendant of David, through his father, Joseph. The genealogy is
given for the purpose of showing that the blood of David flowed in
the veins of Christ. The man who wrote that genealogy had never
heard that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ. That was an

     How is it possible to prove that the Holy Ghost was the father
of Christ? The Holy Ghost said nothing on the subject. Mary wrote
nothing and we have no evidence that Joseph had a dream.

     The divinity of Christ rests upon a dream that somebody said
Joseph had.

     According to the New Testament, Mary herself called Joseph the
father of Christ. She told Christ that Joseph, his father, had been
looking for him. Her statement is better evidence than Joseph's
dream -- if he really had it. If there are legends in Holy
Scripture, as Professor Briggs declares, certainly the divine
parentage of Christ is one of them. The story lacks even
originality. Among the Greeks many persons had gods for fathers.
Among Hindoos and Egyptians these god-men were common. So in many
other countries the blood of gods was in the veins of men. Such
wonders, told in Sanskrit, are just as reasonable as when told In
Hebrew -- just as reasonable in India as in Palestine. Of course,
there is no evidence that any human being had a god for a father,
or a goddess for a mother. Intelligent people have outgrown these
myths. Centaurs, satyrs, nymphs and god-men have faded away.
Science murdered them all.

     There are many contradictions in the gospels. They differ not
only on questions of fact, but as to Christianity itself. According
to Matthew, Mark and Luke, if you will forgive others God will
forgive you. This is the one condition of salvation. But in John we
find an entirely different religion. According to John you must be
born again and believe in Jesus Christ. There you find for the
first time about the atonement -- that Christ died to save sinners.
The gospel of John discloses a regular theological system -- a new
one. To forgive others is not enough. You must have faith. You must
be born again.

     The four gospels cannot be harmonized. If John is true the
others are false. If the others are true John is false. From this
there is no escape. I do not for a moment suppose that Professor
Briggs agrees with me on these questions. He probably regards me as

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

a very bad and wicked man, and my opinions as blasphemies. I find
no fault with him for that. I believe him to be an honest man;
right in some things and wrong in many. He seems to be true to his
thought and I honor him for that.

     He would like to get all the stumbling-blocks out of the
Bible, so that a really thoughtful man can "believe." If
theologians cling to the miracles recorded in the New Testament the
entire book will be disparaged and denied. The "Gospel ship" is
overloaded. Some-things must be thrown overboard or the boat will
go down. If the churches try to save all they will lose all.

     They must throw the miracles away. They must admit that Christ
did not cast devils out of the bodies of men and women -- that he
did not cure diseases with a word, or blindness with spittle and
clay; that he had no power over winds and waves; that he did not
raise the dead; that he was not raised from the dead himself, and
that he did not ascend bodily to heaven. These absurdities must be
given up, or in a little while the orthodox ministers will be
preaching the "tidings of great joy" to benches, bonnets and bibs.

     Professor Briggs, as I understand him, is willing to give up
the absurdist absurdities, but wishes to keep all the miracles that
can possibly be believed. He is anxious to preserve the important
miracles -- the great central falsehoods -- but the little lies
that were told just to embellish the story -- to furnish vines for
the columns -- he is willing to cast aside.

     But Professor Briggs was honest enough to say that we do not
know the authors of most of the books in the Bible; that we do not
know who wrote the Psalms or Job or Proverbs or the Song of Songs
or Ecclesiastes or the Epistle to the Hebrews. He also said that no
translation can ever take the place of the original Scriptures,
because a translation is at best the work of men. In other words,
that God has not revealed to us the names of the inspired books.
That this must be determined by us. Professor Briggs puts reason
above revelation. By reason we are to decide what books are
inspired. By reason we are to decide whether anything has been
improperly added to those books. By reason we are to decide the
real meaning of those books.

     It therefore follows that if the books are unreasonable they
are uninspired. It seems to me that this position is absolutely
correct. There is no other that can be defended. The Presbyterians
who pretend to answer Professor Briggs seem to be actuated by

     Dr. Da Costa answers with vituperation and epithet. He answers
no argument; brings forward no fact; points out no mistake. He
simply attacks the man. He exhibits the ordinary malice of those
who love their enemies.

     President Patton, of Princeton, is a despiser of reason; a
hater of thought. Progress is the only thing that he fears. He
knows that the Bible is absolutely true. He knows that every word
is inspired. According to him, all questions have been settled, and
criticism said its last word when the King James Bible was printed.

                         Bank of Wisdom
                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

                        PROFESSOR BRIGGS.

The Presbyterian Church is infallible, and whoever doubts or denies
will be damned. Morality is worthless without the creed. This is
the religion, the philosophy, of Dr. Patton. He fights with the
ancient weapons, with stone and club. He is a private in Captain
Calvin's company, and he marches to defeat with the courage of
invincible ignorance.

     I do not blame the Presbyterian Church for closing the mouth
of Professor Briggs. That church believes the Bible -- all of it --
and the members did not feel like paying a man for showing that it
was not all inspired. Long ago the Presbyterians stopped growing.
They have been petrified for many years. Professor Briggs had been
growing. He had to leave the church or shrink. He left. Then he
joined the Episcopal Church. He probably supposed that that church
preferred the living to the dead. He knew about Colenso, Stanley,
Temple, Heber Newton, Dr. Rainsford and Farrar, and thought that
the finger and thumb of authority would not insist on plucking from
the mind the buds of thought.

     Whether he was mistaken or not remains to be seen.

     The Episcopal Church may refuse to ordain him, and by such
refusal put the bigot brand upon its brow.

     The refusal cannot injure Professor Briggs. It will leave him
where it found him -- with too much science for a churchman and too
much superstition for a scientist; with his feet in the gutter and
his head in the clouds.

     I admire every man who is true to himself, to his highest
ideal, and who preserves unstained the veracity of his soul.

     I believe in growth. I prefer the living to the dead. Men are
superior to mummies. Cradles are more beautiful than coffins.
Development is grander than decay. I do not agree with Professor
Briggs. I do not believe in inspired books, or in the Holy Ghost,
or that any God has ever appeared to man. I deny the existence of
the supernatural. I know of no religion that is founded on facts.

     But I cheerfully admit that Professor Briggs appears to be
candid, good tempered and conscientious -- the opposite of those
who attack him. He is not a Freethinker, but he honestly thinks
that he is free.


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