Quote of the day: Robert G. Ingersoll #3

I think I have a least a week’s worth of great excerpts from the essay “The Gods” (1872), by The Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll, the subject of Susan Jacoby’s new biography.  Here’s Ingersoll on the lack of evidence for religious claims:

There is but one way to demonstrate the existence of a power independent of and superior to nature, and that is by breaking, if only for one moment, the continuity of cause and effect. Pluck from the endless chain of existence one little link; stop for one instant the grand procession and you have shown beyond all contradiction that nature has a master. Change the fact, just for one second, that matter attracts matter, and a god appears.

The rudest savage has always known this fact, and for that reason always demanded the evidence of miracle. The founder of a religion must be able to turn water into wine — cure with a word the blind and lame, and raise with a simple touch the dead to life. It was necessary for him to demonstrate to the satisfaction of his barbarian disciple, that he was superior to nature. In times of ignorance this was easy to do. The credulity of the savage was almost boundless. To him the marvelous was the beautiful, the mysterious was the sublime. Consequently, every religion has for its foundation a miracle — that is to say, a violation of nature — that is to say, a falsehood.

No one, in the world’s whole history, ever attempted to substantiate a truth by a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of miracle. Nothing but falsehood ever attested itself by signs and wonders. No miracle ever was performed, and no sane man ever thought he had performed one, and until one is performed, there can be no evidence of the existence of any power superior to, and independent of nature.

The church wishes us to believe. Let the church, or one of its intellectual saints, perform a miracle, and we will believe. We are told that nature has a superior. Let this superior, for one single instant, control nature, and we will admit the truth of your assertions.

We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a ‘this year’s fact’. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years. Their reputation for “truth and veracity” in the neighborhood where they resided is wholly unknown to us. Give us a new miracle, and substantiate it by witnesses who still have the cheerful habit of living in this world. Do not send us to Jericho to hear the winding horns, nor put us in the fire with Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego. Do not compel us to navigate the sea with Captain Jonah, nor dine with Mr. Ezekiel. There is no sort of use in sending us fox-hunting with Samson. We have positively lost all interest in that little speech so eloquently delivered by Balaam’s inspired donkey. It is worse than useless to show us fishes with money in their mouths, and call our attention to vast multitudes stuffing themselves with five crackers and two sardines. We demand a new miracle, and we demand it now. Let the church furnish at least one, or forever after hold her peace.

Note the word “cracker,” antedating P.Z. by over a century!

The absence of modern miracles is also the subject of another famous quote, often attributed to Zola but actually written by Anatole France in his Le Jardin d’Epicure (1895). (I had some trouble tracking this down!):

Étant à Lourdes, au mois d’août, je visitai la grotte où d’innombrables béquilles étaient suspendues, en signe de guérison. Mon compagnon me montra du doigt ces trophées d’infirmerie et murmura à mon oreille :

— Une seule jambe de bois en dirait bien davantage.

My translation (excuse the poor French):

When I was at Lourdes in August, I visited the grotto where innumerable crutches had been put on display as a sign of miraculous healing. My companion pointed out these trophies of illness and whispered in my ear:

“One single wooden leg would have been much more convincing.”

Or a single glass eye!

The absence of miracles these days is, in other words, summed up by the question: “Why won’t God heal amputees?

115 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    R.G Ingersoll is just awesome

  3. MJA
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    God is simply another name for One,
    As is the Universe.
    Truth is inseparable, don’t you know?
    =

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      No, “God” is not simply another name for “the Universe” unless you are either

      a.) an atheist
      or
      b.) packing a lot of sneaking assumptions into your definition of “Universe.”

      • MJA
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        C) I’m just a truest. =

        • Sastra
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          Could you explain that?

          • MJA
            Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

            Truth is

            =

            • Sastra
              Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

              Thanks for the detailed, elucidating explanation.

              • MJA
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

                If you need more than that, you’ve gone the wrong Way. =

              • Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                Well, MJA, you really are a “One” aren’t you?

                I think you also have the distinction of being the most cryptic and least verbose troll we’ve seen on WEIT.

                All I have to say to you is eiπ + 1 = 0! Ha!

                /@

              • Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                * e**iπ

                (Rem: <sup> tags don’t work here. Ha! me.)

            • gbjames
              Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

              I guess if I had to choose between a troll that left two word comments or one that ran on and on like our friend yesterday…. I’ll go with the two word variety.

            • Notagod
              Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              Bullshit is

              =

      • Posted January 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        Sastra, that’s why Richard Swinburne fails the Ockham: He claims that Bing Itself as an explanation is simpler than naturalism as the former is simple in His nature, but that means nothing, it’s those convoluted, ad hoc assumptions that make Him so very complicated! Modal logic cannot instantiate those assumptions [ I cannot stand even looking at modal logic!. Indeed, definition without evidence, faith, postulation and modal logic can never instantiate that bit of superstition!
        As with full animism, no supernatural intent appears for God, and so, theism = reduced animism and is just as superstitious1
        By the way, to obviate having to give evidence for miracles. Fr. McGregor maintains that Yeshua did not effect a miracle of the fishes and the bread but instead the " miracle" was getting others to bring both forth for all.
        Theologians go from one silly notion to another to obviate some difficulty, ever arriving at others.
        After tons of trees as paper and millennia of apologetics, theologians cannot give evidence but misinterpretations thereof, such that here as Victor Stenger maintains, where there should be mountains of evidence, none appears, then indeed evidence of absence is absence of evidence, and no argument from ignorance.
        Theologians depend on the arguments from personal incredulity and from ignorance, which underlies most of their other arguments. And having no referents, as we naturalists show by knocking off them one by one with our arguments, and His having incoherent and contradictory attributes, He cannot possibly exist!
        This occurs by analysis, not a priori or by dogma. We naturalists, then, do not have to traverse the Cosmos nor have omniscience ourselves! On Dawkins' scale, I'm an eight!
        One argument alone deprives Him of referents!

        The fool is the theist; we naturalists/ rationalists/ full skeptics shout from the roof:no God exists!
        So, yes, from the side of science and reason, no compatibility exists betwixt the supernatural and science; from the side of religion, that woo, yes, but it can accommodate to freedom and to authoritarianism.
        The supernatural and its twin superstition are what [ the late ] Dr. Paul Kurtz calls ‘ The Transcendental Temptation,” a must read tome.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      So when preachers and religious believers say God wants people to behave a certain way, they mean the Universe wants people to behave a certain way?

      When they urge people to give glory to God, they really mean to give glory to the universe?

      • MJA
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        A certain Way is a true Way. =

        • gbjames
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          I’ll offer the prayer I saw someone else utter…

          Bullshit =

          Did it work? Did it go away?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          Which way is the true way, and how do we determine that.

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            A trueway has a limited number of exits and allows only certain types of vehicles.

            Oh, wait. . .

    • raven
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      God is simply another name for One

      Citation needed.

      Hitchens Rule. A claim made without proof or data may be dismissed without proof or data.

      You are wrong.

      • MJA
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Truth is self-evident,
        And the proof you and me. =

        • raven
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Truth is self-evident,

          Another assertion without proof.

          If truth was self evident, there wouldn’t be such a thing as religion.

          The self evident truth is that religion is all made up fantasy. That is why there are thousands of gods and no agreement on which are real. If any.

  4. Sastra
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    The common response to “why aren’t there miracles happening today” is that “there are — you just won’t believe them.” People are constantly trotting out amazing stories which apparently only the ‘receptive’ will find convincing, since they lack strict scientific verification. But faith is deciding that you don’t need such verification: the evidence is there … and is sufficient.

    God rewards such faith.

    The implication is not that the properly faithful have believed without evidence — or even without good evidence. The miracles are good enough. The faithful believed the true stories of true miracles based on evidence which was balanced in juuuuust the right way: enough to convince those seeking the real God and not enough to convince those seeking a false God or no God at all.

    Another miracle, that people would discover that God has set the world up just in the way that confirms their beliefs!

    You get the same tired dodge with the paranormal, too, which is only another form of the supernatural. “You wouldn’t believe no matter what.”

    • Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      “God has set the world up just in the way that confirms their beliefs”

      Hmm… but surely it looks like God set it up in such a way that it looks like He didn’t… 

      /@

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      “He couldn’t believe in ghosts or demons. He knew that supernatural happenings tended to break down, under detailed examination, into eminently natural events. The ones that didn’t break down—stopped. Ghosts just wouldn’t stand still and let a nonbeliever examine them. The phantom of the castle was invariably on vacation when a scientist showed up with cameras and tape recorders.” (Robert Sheckley)

  5. Winnie
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I was appalled to read Kenneth Miller arguing that “In saying that there are ‘no miracles,’ [Einstein] was not ruling out the divine, but speaking to the scientific comprehensibility of nature. Einstein also said there are two ways to live: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is. I choose the latter, and clearly, so did he.”

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Of course Miller would choose to see “everything” as a miracle. He’s doing apologetic, and knows that it’s wise to make God into an unfalsifiable proposition.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Do you have a reference for the Miller statement for me? I’d like to see it.

      Thanks!

      • Winnie
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        It was from a ‘Templeton Conversation’ between Hitchens and Miller: http://www.templeton.org/belief/debates.html

        The topic was ‘Does science make belief in God obsolete?’ There are two other debates and 12 or 13 essays in the series (Michael Shermer, Steven Pinker and Victor Stenger among others).

  6. Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    So very well put by Mr R G Ingersoll but of course one will still hear the ignorant and the wooly eared proclaim the same old tired cliches: “I know it in my heart and that is good enough for me” Which if you sum it up amounts to ‘I’m not reading that!’

    • MJA
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Follow your heart, it rings true. =

      • raven
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        raven:

        All faith claims reduce down to voices in someone’s head.

        mja:

        Follow your heart, it rings true. =

        There is one example right here.

        There are thousands of gods and no way to tell which are the real ones, if any.

    • raven
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      “I know it in my heart and that is good enough for me”

      What they really mean, is that voices in someone’s head told them.

      There are millions of people who hear voices in their heads identified as “god”. Those voices all say different things.

      All faith claims reduce down to voices in someone’s head.

  7. Kevin Alexander
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    If I ever get to Lourdes, I’m leaving a toupee.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Ha! Very good.

      I’d love to leave a dildo — and see what people make of that!

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        +1 to both of you!

    • still learning
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Imagine the consternation if someone left a brain!

  8. Rhetoric
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Why Won’t God Heal Amputees is a great site. Used to have a pretty active online community (forum) but it has since withered. Hope HAL and V are alright!

    • Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      It’s one of the very first atheist websites I knew of & one of the things that prompted me towards “strident” atheism! ;-)

      (The other main goad was a Creationist on Twitter.)

      /@

  9. MorsGotha
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Awesome quote. Though I would contend one point in it: ‘There is but one way to demonstrate the existence of a power independent of and superior to nature, and that is by breaking, if only for one moment, the continuity of cause and effect.’.

    Physicists have done exactly that already in the realm of QM, since cause and effect simply don’t work the same way there.

    Does this mean that you have ‘shown beyond all contradiction that nature has a master.’? No, it means you have found new physics to study, unless by master of nature he ment physical laws.

    Disclaimer: Apologies if I interpreted the quote wrong, also apologies to physicists if I mangled physics.

    • MJA
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Self-evident
      Nature is the Master and rather than laws infinitely free.
      Truth,

      =

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        = Gobbledegook.

      • MorsGotha
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        I dont understand what you mean. Can you please explain?

        • Sastra
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Ah, grasshopper –

          if you have to ask, you’ll never know….

          • MJA
            Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

            The truth can be spoken but for many it can’t be heard. =

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Although I hesitate (for good reason!) to mess around with Ingersoll, I’d modify his phrase “the continuity of cause and effect” into “the continuity of physical cause and effect” since, in a natural world view, everything mental is ultimately reducible to the nonmental, or physical. So as long as QM doesn’t involve some sort of mysterious “agent causation,” the continuity remains.

      • MJA
        Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        e = m

        • Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Well, MJA, you’re certainly no Einstein.

          Back to the blackboard for you!

          /@

          • MJA
            Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            Thank you,

            e = mc2
            e = m
            =

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      My attempt at mangling physics follows :)

      As an unlettered non-scientist science lover I’m happy to be corrected on this, but with respect to the arrow of time & the 2nd “law” of thermodynamics [which is a principle that falls out naturally from statistical mechanics]

      I wonder if “causality” is an artefact of our poor understanding of the world. Much of physics does not explicitly use cause and effect. i.e. The equations work equally well forwards or backwards, deriving the past from present as much as the future from the past.

      *taps foot while waiting to be shot to pieces*

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        If you expect to be shot to pieces, don’t you accept both causality and time’s arrow? :-)

        Those two are not the same effects. I describe causality in a comment awaiting moderation. TL;DR: Relativity shows that signals has to travel between causally ordered events.

        All our physics obeys causality and, on microscales, reversibility as you suggest. It is on larger scales that both entropy and entanglement shows a time arrow.

        At the very least these two mechanisms both need an environmental “sink” at the horizon of the observable universe, where their degrees of freedom can disperse irretrievably.

        In our inflationary standard cosmology that can happen indefinitely since our universe expands indefinitely. We live in happy circumstances, we can have a memory of a past.

        [However, something funny happens if the universe is a multiverse. Susskind shows how reversibility reappears on "small" scales between universes that tunnels from one vacuum energy to another.

        He derives the cause [sic!] of time’s arrow as so called terminal vacuums, which stops inflation and appears as singularities analogous to black holes. Except they don’t “evaporate” much, and hence time’s symmetry is broken.]

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Torbjörn for setting me straight. I fail to grok the Susskind bracketed footnote above. When you have a moment please provide a link that explains this?

          Also… I listened to a Krauss lecture recently where he said [I think!] that if you view an inflationary bubble in a multiverse from outside the bubble it appears to shrink to nothing ~ the opposite of how it would appear from inside. Is that in any way related to your Susskind remarks?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        I forgot, I was going to commend you for noting the distinction between “cause and effect” and causal ordering!

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          Hi praise indeed. Thank you.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      QM … cause and effect simply don’t work the same way there.

      Since I need to nitpick the physics, let me start with “cause and effect”. That is a philosophical description, which doesn’t happen in nature. Einstein showed that nature obeys causality under relativity, which means signals travels between causally connected events.

      Having signals means no instant action at a distance (universal speed limit), but more importantly it means the laws of physics are the same for all observers. In some cases this means they order observations differently, but not so for causally connected events. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relativity_of_simultaneity ]

      QM and special relativity is happily married in relativistic quantum field theory. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_field_theory ]

      This marriage is so successful that Bell test experiments, that fails to break quantum theory under relativity, is the least uncertain experiments of all of physics, sometimes approaching 25 sigma! [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_test_experiments ]

      (What breaks is that locality of spacetime is different from our naive intuition. Entangled systems are separated in space but not spacetime.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      QM … cause and effect simply don’t work the same way there.

      Since I need to nitpick the physics, let me start with “cause and effect”. That is a philosophical decription, which doesn’t happen in nature. Einstein showed that nature obeys causality under relativity, which means signals travels between causally connected events.

      Having signals means no instant action at a distance (universal speed limit), but more importantly it means the laws of physics are the same for all observers. In some cases this means they order observations differently, but not so for causally connected events. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relativity_of_simultaneity ]

      QM and special relativity is happily married in quantum field theory. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_field_theory ] This marriage is so successful that Bell test experiments, that intends to break relativity, is the least uncertain experiments of all of physics, sometimes approaching 25 sigma! [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_test_experiments ]

      (What breaks is that locality of spacetime is different from our naive intuition. Entangled systems are separated in space but not spacetime.)

  10. Don
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Just a few miles from my place, on a large limestone monument with a sleeping babe on top, in the village cemetery in Lyndon Center, Vermont, there is this epitaph for George F. Spencer, 1908. The first two lines are from Ingersoll’s “The Gods and Other Lectures” (1875):

    Beyond the universe there is nothing and within… the
    universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist.*
    Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so
    deeply ruinous to human happiness as those imposters who
    pretend to lead by a light above nature.

    Science has never killed or persecuted a single
    person for doubting or denying its teachings, and
    most of those teachings have been true; but religion
    has murdered millions for doubting or denying her
    dogmas, and most of those dogmas have been false.

    All stories about gods and devils, of heavens and hells, as they do not conform to nature and are not apparent to sense, should be rejected without consideration.

    The lips of the dead are closed forever. There comes no voice from the tomb, Christianity is responsible for having cast the fable of eternal fire over almost every grave.

    • Robert Hampson
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      it’s because of faithless people like yourself that miracles are not given. Read Betty Malz: My Brief Glimpse at Eternity. Rudimentary Science can’t explain her experiences. It’s so naive to even consider that when you die there’s nothing but blackness. If that were so then there would be no universe, no light. We would not have a mind to think and eyes to see, It’s a simple concept. Before the creation of the universe there was a supreme being and this being created time, and with time came space. Because if there was no God where did all this atomic matter come from? Like I said: we shouldn’t really be here if there is nothing when we die – but we are, and we have intelligent minds to think. This energy that makes our thoughts, controls our physical bodies cannot die, it passes to another plane of existence as a soul, a spirit. It is really crazy to think that our mortal minds, with our earthly sciences, can begin to reason and contemplate with the meaning of life – wishful conjecture, nothing more. Open your eyes and you will see that you only exist because you were created. Science is blind to the true laws of the universe and the man behind the ethereal curtain. Remember one thing: no after life, no universe, that is the law that science contradicts, that is the law that would be sound judgement if there was NO God. But as we have seen: there is a universe, therefore there must be an afterlife. “I think therefore I am”: Rene Descartes’. For him that has faith let him listen!

      • raven
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        You realize this is gibberish, don’t you?

      • Notagod
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Because if there was no God where did all this atomic matter come from?

        Therefore, if your contention were true YOUR god would merely be a servant just like you are to your fantasy.

      • yngveb
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        *Longtime reader and lurker de-lurking mainly due to having verbal constipation as opposed to diarrhea*

        Am I the only one who is exasperated when someone gets this much wrong in one paragraph? It’s like one has to explain every branch of science from its foundation and up in order to pick out and correct all the false assumptions.
        The assumption
        1. that the Universe cannot not be created.
        2. that the creator has to be the god of a particular faith.
        3. that brains cannot create minds.
        4. i’ll stop there before I bore myself.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          You are not the only one. Welcome to the club.

      • Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Ah! A verbose troll.

        /@

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        You realize the original “man behind the curtain” was a fraud, right?

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Inspiring argument, but I have to quibble. You say, “If there was no God where did all this atomic matter come from?”, but the correct form is “If there was no Zeus, where did God and all this atomic matter come from?”

        Zeus is, to anyone not blinded by their own selfish sin and rebellion to Zeus, the ground of all being.

    • marycanada FCD
      Posted January 12, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks for posting

      • Don
        Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        It’s a fairly prominent monument in that good-sized cemetery. I know nothing of Spencer, of his role in this community, or of his family. But he did, it seems, make sure the stone was fairly deeply incised with the message he was determined to leave behind, in anticipation of how it might provoke others. Indeed, in the years fallowing his burial there, censorious vandals did try to destroy the inscription, but more than 100 years later it remains legible.

    • MJA
      Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Beyond the Universe is the Universe,
      As within is as without,
      One is the other,
      The other just One.
      Be the Universe,
      Be Just,
      Be One.
      =

  11. DrBrydon
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “Give us one fact for charity.”

    Brilliant. I’ve only read a few pages of Ingersoll, but he’s on the shelf, and I will be reading more.

    Jerry, Have you read Tom Paine?

    That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology.

    As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition. (Age of Reason (Modern Library, 1943), p. 306).

  12. Mark
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “There is but one way to demonstrate the existence of a power independent of and superior to nature, and that is by breaking, if only for one moment, the continuity of cause and effect.”
    “We want a ‘this year’s fact’. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years. Their reputation for “truth and veracity” in the neighborhood where they resided is wholly unknown to us. Give us a new miracle, and substantiate it by witnesses who still have the cheerful habit of living in this world. Do not send us to Jericho to hear the winding horns, nor put us in the fire with Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego. Do not compel us to navigate the sea with Captain Jonah, nor dine with Mr. Ezekiel. There is no sort of use in sending us fox-hunting with Samson. We have positively lost all interest in that little speech so eloquently delivered by Balaam’s inspired donkey. It is worse than useless to show us fishes with money in their mouths, and call our attention to vast multitudes stuffing themselves with five crackers and two sardines. We demand a new miracle, and we demand it now. Let the church furnish at least one, or forever after hold her peace”

    This person seems to be ranting like a child wanting to manipulate a parent to giving him what he wants but shouldn’t have. Perhaps he is angry at his CONCEPT of God, touted to him by religion, as opposed to being angry at the true God, the creator of the Universe and more, who is infinite and can’t be grasped with finite human intellect, but is rather to be perceived by the human spirit?

    In any event is he really saying that if he witnesses a disruption of the natural order of the physical universe (his perception of a ‘miracle’) that will be enough to convince him that there’s a being (for lack of a better word) that exists within and outside time and space that has created the physical universe?

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      He’s saying that’s a MINIMUM condition, otherwise the god-botherers should STFU already because they’ve got NOTHING.

      Do you have a problem with that?

    • blitz442
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      “the true God, the creator of the Universe and more, who is infinite and can’t be grasped with finite human intellect, but is rather to be perceived by the human spirit”

      How do we know that your assertions of the existence of God and his specific attributes is real knowledge due to some legitimate “other way of knowing”, such as a spirit, rather than you just making stuff up?

      Step one would be demonstrating the existence of this knowledge-detection facility that you call a spirit. And if such a thing exists, how do we test its accuracy? What if other folks have spirit knowledge detectors too, yet come up with different claims about reality?

      Should we just assume that Mark’s spirit knowledge accumulator is the bestest?

    • raven
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      If the gods existed, they would be as obvious and uncontroversial as trees and water.

      If the xian god existed, jesus would have his own website, TV and radio programs, and Youtube channel. These are all within the reach of an intelligent third grader.

      If god isn’t as competent as a grade schooler, then why call it god?

      • blitz442
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        To quote a commentator on this website who said something smart:

        “I don’t need an ontological argument to demonstrate the existence of my chair, house, or pet dog.”

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      “, as opposed to being angry at the true God, the creator of the Universe and more, who is infinite and can’t be grasped with finite human intellect, but is rather to be perceived by the human spirit?”

      That sounds like a concept of God invented by religion.

      • Notagod
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Or what the magicians used to say before James Randi force them to admit it was all illusion.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Your analogy of the child angry at the parent is very flattering to believers because it assumes that atheists are demanding that God do something.

      Technically, no — we are telling believers that their hypothesis is flawed due to a serious lack of evidence.

      This is a very important distinction.

      By thinking about this issue as you apparently do, you’re flipping the situation around. The matter at hand is whether God exists, not whether our relationship with God is properly respectful of our uneven positions. Our quarrel is not with God: it is with you. When theists pretend that they are so small they are no longer in the equation, then they equate themselves with God, borrowing its infallibility. Arrogance on stilts, pretending to be humility.

      Don’t do that.

      • d
        Posted January 12, 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        “Arrogance on stilts” – Wow, what a great phrase!

  13. gluonspring
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Elijah said as much himself, right there in the Bible, when he mocked the followers of Baal when their god wouldn’t bring fire down on a sacrificial offering:

    ============
    Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

    27At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 1 Kings 18:26-29
    ======

    Of course, in the story, after dousing the sacrifice with water (I think it was probably oil, but… hey) he quietly implored YHWH who sent down a mighty fire that burned up the water, sacrifice, and alter.

    It’s a good story, but it always bothered me as a kid. If it was acceptable for Elijah to mock the followers of Baal, surely it would be acceptable for people who didn’t believe in YHWH to mock us in the same way if we couldn’t produce a miracle on demand?

    Alas, this simple embarrassment failed do much to dent my fellows enthusiasm for this story.

    In any case, it is a fun thing to say to believers: “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” Most don’t know their Bible well enough to recognize the quote, but for those few who do it is worth the bother to see the uncomfortable recognition on their face.

  14. Mark
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It would be better to NOT have ‘proof’ that God exists, than to have the proof and to reject God. HOWEVER with that said anyone can simply ask God to reveal Himself to them and if genuine then He will, in His time and in His way as the one asking could handle the knowledge… otherwise no responsibility should rest on that person to “accept or reject” Him and therefor no ‘consequence’ of doing or not doing so. This is how I best understand it.

    • raven
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      HOWEVER with that said anyone can simply ask God to reveal Himself to them and if genuine then He will,

      Assertion without proof.

      It’s also wrong.

      Most of us are ex-xians. We know. Some of the atheist leaders are ex-ministers. They know.

      Theists can never agree on anything. Whether there are multiple gods, what the gods names are, or what they want. This is because it is all just made up fantasy.

      The traditional way to bring people to god is simply to threaten to kill them. It can be hard to convince people a magic Sky Monster exists. But it is easy to convince them to say they believe in the Sky Monster with a sword at their throat.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Not a very convincing “understanding”. If your god exists he is a total jerk who acts like a petulant child. Definitely not worth worshiping.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      I asked when I was a child. He never did.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        But you forget Mark’s little escape hatch… “in His own time”. The test can never fail!

        • blitz442
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          Indeed, just like any prayer.

          Prayer answered – praise the Lord!
          Prayer ignored – praise the Lord, and his mysterious ways!

          • DV
            Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Case in point: Somebody has a terminally sick loved one and solicits prayers on facebook. Deluge of prayers come in, with people outdoing each other in testimonies and declarations of faith in the healing power of prayer. People recite incantations and claim the patient is thereby healed by the power of prayer. Patient dies. Everyone is profusely thankful to God for delivering the patient from suffering and bringing her home.

    • blitz442
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      It would be better to NOT have ‘proof’ that God exists, than to have the proof and to reject God.

      Idiotic statement. As least we can make a rational decision on whether to accept or reject God if we have good reason to know that he exists!

      “HOWEVER with that said anyone can simply ask God to reveal Himself to them and if genuine then He will, in His time and in His way as the one asking could handle the knowledge”

      I just did that. Now, how can I distinguish evidence of his existence from just wishful thinking? Surely he knows exactly how to do this with me, so why hasn’t it happened yet?

      Maybe the problem is that any evidence sufficient for me should be sufficient for other people as well, and I would have this strange desire to demonstrate my newfound knowledge of the existence of the Master of the Universe to intelligent skeptics.

      God, for all of his perfectness, hasn’t seemed to be able to work that one out yet. Oh well.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Mark wrote:

      simply ask God to reveal Himself to them and if genuine then He will, in His time and in His way as the one asking could handle the knowledge…

      There are many terms for this. They include “subjective validation,” “motivated reasoning,” and “confirmation bias.”

      The criteria here are so loose — so open to interpretation — that almost anything would and could count as evidence for God. The critical factor isn’t what happens: it’s the attitude of the person who waits and hopes and looks to see. Phony psychics count on this sort of “test.”

      If someone were to say that they tried this and God never revealed Himself in His own time and in His own way so that the one asking could handle the knowledge — you would never accept that, would you? That’s because the concept isn’t being tested — the person taking the test is. They have to be creative enough, eager enough, and willing enough to see God’s hand in some event, any event.

      Otherwise, they must not have been trying hard enough. They. Focus on the believer.

      There need not be an actual God which really exists, for this to work. It will work on anything. That should be a problem for you.

  15. DV
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    In Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, he points out the inconvenient statistic that even if you take the miracle cures officially counted by the Catholic church as true, the number of people “cured” at Lourdes (or Fatima or Medjugorje) is still a very small percentage of the people who have travelled for healing to these places, and there are more people who died (by accident, or other reasons) on the journey than got cured. On the whole, you’re better off not making the pilgrimage at all.

  16. Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Believers will believe, eg Our Lady of Fatima and various Sun miracles:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun

    Maybe there’s a gene for belief.

  17. Mateus
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    My to read list: 1)Walter Kaufmann 2)Robert Ingersoll

  18. Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoy Ingersoll’s thinking as well. He reminds me so much of Hitchens and Dawkins.

    I do have one question regarding his logic flow in the first two paragraphs.

    In the first two paragraphs he asserts that if you 1)pluck just “one link from an endless chain of existence,” god disappears.

    2) He follows this assertion with, even the rudest savage has always know this fact.”

    3) In the second paragraph he also asserts that the “credulity of the savage was almost boundless.”

    My question is, how does #3 logically follow #1 and #2? What am I incorrectly understanding?

    • Sastra
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I think Ingersoll is saying that even the most primitive people knew the difference between common causality and the extraordinary, and that gods or spirits had to do something unusual in order for us to suspect their presence. They’d leave evidence.

      But primitive and simple people accept bad evidence too easily.

    • DV
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      The savage knows a miracle would be proof of God, but to a savage nearly everything is miraculous.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    (sub)

  20. david
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Is there any chance of having some Nietzsche quotes highlighted?

    How about this, for example?

    “God’s honesty. A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure that his creatures understand his intention – could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of the truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth? But perhaps he is a god of goodness notwithstanding and merely could not express himself more clearly! Did he perhaps lack the intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? So much the worse! For then he was perhaps also in error as to that which he calls his ‘truth’, and is himself not so very far from being the ‘poor deluded devil’! Must he not then endure almost the torments of Hell to have to see his creatures suffer so, and go on suffering even more through all eternity, for the sake of knowledge of him, and not be able to help and counsel them, except in the manner of a deafand-dumb man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to fall on his child or his dog? – A believer who reaches this oppressive conclusion ought truly to be forgiven if he feels more pity for this suffering god than he does for his ‘neighbours’- for they are no longer his neighbours if that most solitary and most primeval being is also the most suffering being of all and the one most in need of comfort. – All religions exhibit traces of the fact that they owe their origin to an early, immature intellectuality in man – they all take astonishingly lightly the duty to tell the truth: they as yet know nothing of a duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications. . .”

    (Daybreak.91).

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Nietzsche is pietzchse, but I don’t know very much about his work.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Groaaannn!
        :D

      • Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Do Americans really rhyme “Nietzsche” with “peachy”? Really?

        /@

        • Gary W
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          Indeed we do, Lord Cholmondeley.

          • DrBrydon
            Posted January 11, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            Nice. :)

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, wanna make something of it?! Huh? Huh?

          You Brits don’t even pronounce your own language right.

      • david
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        How about this one -

        “‘In hoc signo vinces’['In this sign you will conquer', attributed to the Emporer Constantine]. However much progress Europe may have made in other respects, in religious matters it has not yet attained to the free-minded naivety of the ancient Brahmins: a sign that there was more thinking, and that more pleasure in thinking was customarily inherited, four thousand years ago in India than is the case with us today.

        For those Brahmins believed, firstly that the priests were more powerful than the gods, and secondly that the power of the priests resided in the observances: which is why their poets never wearied of celebrating the observances (prayers, ceremonies, sacrifices, hymns, verses) as the real givers of all good things. However much poetising and superstition may have crept in here between the lines, these propositions are true!

        A step further, and one threw the gods aside – which is what Europe will also have to do one day! Another step further, and one no longer needed the priests and mediators either; and the teacher of the religion of self-redemption, the Buddha, appeared: how distant Europe still is from this level of culture!

        When, finally, all the observances and customs upon which the power of the gods and of the priests and redeemers depends will have been abolished, when, that is to say, morality in the old sense will have died, then there will come – well, what will come then? But let us not speculate idly: let us first of all see to it that Europe overtakes what was done several thousands of years ago in India, among the nation of thinkers, in accordance with the commandments of reason!

        There are today among the various nations of Europe perhaps ten to twenty million people who no longer ‘believe in God’- is it too much to ask that they should give a sign to one another? Once they have thus come to know one another, they will also have made themselves known to others – they will at once constitute a power in Europe and, happily, a power between the nations! Between the classes! Between rich and poor! Between rulers and subjects! Between the most unpeaceable and the most peaceable, peace-bringing people!”

        (Daybreak.96) written 1881

        If you want any more, just say, I know his work intimately . . .

        • lamacher
          Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          “In hoc signo …’ Just another of the made-up crap by Eusebius, an early Liar for Jesus. Constantine never said that, nor did he have his troops carve fish on their sword blades – no evidence of same on his triumphal arch in Rome. Current L for J have a long tradition to fall back on.

  21. WiseApe
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    ” “Why won’t God heal amputees?“ – He will, you just have to be reborn as a salamander. Of course, in order to be reborn you also have to be Hindhu, but that’s a whole other story.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      I had a Pentecostal friend who went on a mission trip somewhere in South America. This friend believes that he can heal people himself by calling on the name of Jesus. When he got back he was anxious to show us his photos. In one he he is busy healing a line of people. He showed us one guy, on the fringes of the knot of people, who was actually missing eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him, I don’t like that kind of social discomfort, but my wife did, “Did you heal that blind guy?” Turns out my fear of discomfort was misplaced. He wasn’t bothered by the question at all. No, he cheerfully told us, he was going to, but the guy slipped away before they got to him. He seemed perfectly confident that he could have healed him if he’d gotten the chance. My wife asked him if he’d ever seen someone without eyes or limbs healed. No, but that seemed to him to have no bearing on anything, not even worth discussing further.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

        No matter. You can rest assured that had your Pentacostal friend actually attempted to heal the eyeless man, he would have had some outrageously pat excuse for why it hadn’t worked out.

        • gluonspring
          Posted January 12, 2013 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          Well, sure. The man might not have had enough faith, or he might have required an exorcism first to remove a demon and my friend wouldn’t have been versed in exorcism and no one who was would be handy. I’m quite sure that he would not even have to have thought up an excuse because, there would be ready made ones to fall back on. It’s just all so absurd, and yet it is as no part of the absurdity penetrates even a little into the fog.

  22. marksolock
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  23. Posted January 12, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Mencken wrote an editorial about Ingersoll (“What America lacks is, obviously, another Ingersoll) in the November 1924 issue of his American Mercury:

    http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmMercury-1924nov-00290

    He also reviewed a book about Ingersoll by Cameron Rogers that had just appeared in the June 1927 issue.

    http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmMercury-1927jun-00254

    Follow the links and you’ll see that the whole Mercury through 1960 is online. Mencken was a great editor, and the articles are still entertaining reading, at least through the December 1933 issue when he quit as editor. After that the magazine eventually became completely different from anything the Sage of Baltimore had in mind when he started it.

    There’s a statue of Ingersoll in Peoria, BTW.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I thought Peoria was in ILL. Where’s BTW? :)


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