Remembering Robert Ingersoll September 15, 2010

Remembering Robert Ingersoll

Robert Ingersoll may have been called “The Great Agnostic,” but when you read some of his rhetoric, you realize he would’ve made one hell of a New Atheist.

George White has a piece about Ingersoll in the just-now-online-even-though-it’s-from-August issue of Freethought Today. Just check out some of Ingersoll’s statements:

“It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.”

“The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.”

The book, called the bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book they wish to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!

The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.

Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.

This is all from a guy born in 1833.

I’m happy to say there are quite a lot of people like him today. We’re still in the minority, but we’re definitely not alone.

By the way, you can read the complete collection of Ingersoll’s lectures here.

(P.S. That lady in the picture looks strangely familiar…)

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  • steve

    It’s a little hard to come by non-sketchy Ingersoll books. So if you’re like me and reading articles on a screen gives you a headache, you’ll have to do some digging to find a physical copy.

  • Joost

    I’ve recently started reading Ingersoll’s “Some mistakes of Moses” and he’s funny as hell and straight to the point. He makes it very clear what he thinks not just of the bible, but also of the clergy.

    Link below to the version – click the “read online” link on that page for the full scanned version.

  • gski

    I think it is safe to say croaking does more good for the frog than praying does for the minister.

  • Samiimas

    Now I don’t see how this guy could possibly still be remembered and respected today what with him calling believers ignorant, brainless know nothing.

    I thought being rude and aggressive like that was supposed to just alienate you and hurt your cause? It’s almost like this guy and Dawkins got to be world famous and influence millions by being asses while those trying to be polite where ignored almost completely.

  • Woo Purdue represent 😛

  • In a weird way, the highest praise I can give Ingersoll is to mention that when I visited Arlington National Cemetery, his was the first grave site I wanted to see.

  • Bobbio

    The public library in Joliet, Illinois has an almost complete set of the Dresden Edition of The Complete Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, and it is fantastic!! It was published in the very early 1900’s, and I believe is 10 or 12 volumes. Ingersoll was a great human being, unfortunately all but forgotten today (except for people like us).
    He was a patriotic American and family man, and, yes…an agnostic!!

    All of Ingersoll’s written works are available in a single CD. I have it, and they appear to be scanned from the original books, not typewritten copies as are available on the internet. Unfortunately, I can’t now remember the website to purchase the CD. It costs approximately $25.

  • If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.


    @ Samiimas: When was Dawkins an ass? He is, if anything, too damned polite. It causes him problems.

  • cutthroatjane

    When was Dawkins an ass? He is, if anything, too damned polite. It causes him problems.

    i have always been kind of confused when people say dawkins is rude and mean but i think sometimes those qualities get confused honesty and bluntness.

  • Badger3k

    WTF with that site? Is it just a trick of the ad process that there seem to be creationist ads, or is that intentional? Anyway, you can also get Ingersoll’s material on google-books (ex: Ingersoll

    and the Robert G Ingersoll podcast ( can’t get the link to work- is also real good. Too bad he stopped a while back. May also be available on iTunes.

  • LibriVox have a collection of audiobooks of the lectures.

  • muggle

    This is, frankly, why the term new Atheists pisses me off. On two levels:

    1. It dishonors truly great outspoken people of the 19th century like Ingersoll. He was hardly alone in his doubting ways though one of the greatest orators on the subject. They even adopted the pansy as a symbol.

    2. It implies that disbelieving is new when I’m sure that as long as there was some fool that believed in some deity or deities, there was someone calling bullshit on that.

  • Bob

    I recently had a conversation on Facebook wherein I likened Genesis to Kipling’s ‘Just-So’ stories, and was informed by a Very Proud Christian Lady that:

    – The Bible is not a bunch of ‘Just-So’ stories! It’s God’s Truth!

    – You cannot be Christian and believe in evolution.

    – Evolution is how Satan gets people to disbelieve in God.

    Ingersoll’s words ring even more true today. We’re on the verge of electing more of these folks with resoundingly empty skulls. They’re actively re-writing history and altering the public school curriculum, and about the only group that seems to be paying attention are the atheists.

  • Hitch

    There never was anything new about new atheism, nor is there anything new about the backlash, nor is it new that people try to create negative associations with atheism when someone is outspoken.

    But there are stories people like to tell, such as that this is new, that for example abolishion and civil rights movements were driven by believers. Hence major historic figures and their actions are forgotten.

    Because Ingersoll alone gives evidence to the contrary. One of the most prominent intellectual abolishionists and a gifted public orator and outspoken what we would today call “new atheist”.

    Sadly what is also not new is that atheism keeps one from attaining high political office. Ingersoll is case in point.

  • Richard Wade

    I became aware of Ingersoll when a friend of mine did a superb live impersonation of him at the Center For Inquiry West, in Hollywood. The more I read of his works, the more I appreciate his genius. All over the country, he could attract and hold the attention of enormous audiences in the days before microphones and air conditioning. His use of English is like Mozart’s use of music, and his use of satire is like Miyamoto Musashi’s use of a sword.

    People whining about how he (or Dawkins) are “rude” should stop confusing honesty with abuse, and coddling with manners. What they criticize deserves to be eviscerated, and they do it artfully.

  • muggle

    True, Hitch. Very true.

  • Stagamancer

    I can’t believe I had no idea who Ingersoll was before this post. I just read his essay “The Gods” and it was like he took my thoughts and put them on the page in a more eloquent and comprehensive way than I ever could. Pure genius.

    For access to hard copies, I suggest your nearby college library. I found all 12 volumes of his complete works and an edition of all his lectures at the University of Oregon library. Even if your not a student and can’t check them out, nothing is too long you can’t get through a couple essays in an hour or so.

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