Why I Am Agnostic (Part IV)
By: Robert Green Ingersoll
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Among such books my youth was passed. All the seeds of Christianity -- of superstition, were sown in my mind and cultivated with great diligence and care.
All that time I knew nothing of any science -- nothing about the other side -- nothing of the objections that had been urged against the blessed Scriptures, or against the perfect Congregational creed. Of course I had heard the ministers speak of blasphemers, of infidel wretches, of scoffers who laughed at holy things. They did not answer their arguments, but they tore their characters into shreds and demonstrated by the fury of assertion that they had done the Devil's work. And yet in spite of all I heard -- of all I read. I could not quite believe. My brain and heart said No.
For a time I left the dreams, the insanities, the illusions and delusions, the nightmares of theology. I studied astronomy, just a little -- I examined maps of the heavens -- learned the names of some of the constellations -- of some of the stars -- found something of their size and the velocity with which they wheeled in their orbits -- obtained a faint conception of astronomical spaces -- found that some of the known stars were so far away in the depths of space that their light, traveling at the rate of nearly two hundred thousand miles a second, required many years to reach this little world -- found that, compared with the great stars, our earth was but a grain of sand -- an atom -- found that the old belief that all the hosts of heaven had been created for the benefit of man, was infinitely absurd.
I compared what was really known about the stars with the account of creation as told in Genesis. I found that the writer of the inspired book had no knowledge of astronomy -- that he was as ignorant as a Choctaw chief -- as an Eskimo driver of dogs. Does any one imagine that the author of Genesis knew anything about the sun -- its size? that he was acquainted with Sirius, the North Star, with Capella, or that he knew anything of the clusters of stars so far away that their light, now visiting our eyes, has been traveling for two million years?
If he had known these facts would he have said that Jehovah worked nearly six days to make this world, and only a part of the afternoon of the fourth day to make the sun and moon and all the stars?
Yet millions of people insist that the writer of Genesis was inspired by the Creator of all worlds.
Now, intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian.
I admit that this unknown writer was sincere, that he wrote what he believed to be true -- that he did the best he could. He did not claim to be inspired -- did not pretend that the story had been told to him by Jehovah. He simply stated the "facts" as he understood them.
After I had learned a little about the stars I concluded that this writer, this "inspired" scribe, had been misled by myth and legend, and that he knew no more about creation than the average theologian of my day. In other words, that he knew absolutely nothing.
And here, allow me to say that the ministers who are answering me are turning their guns in the wrong direction. These reverend gentlemen should attack the astronomers. They should malign and vilify Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Herschel and Laplace. These men were the real destroyers of the sacred story. Then, after having disposed of them, they can wage a war against the stars, and against Jehovah himself for having furnished evidence against the truthfulness of his book.
Then I studied geology -- not much, just a little -- Just enough to find in a general way the principal facts that had been discovered, and some of the conclusions that had been reached. I learned something of the action of fire -- of water -- of the formation of islands and continents -- of the sedimentary and igneous rocks -- of the coal measures -- of the chalk cliffs, something about coral reefs -- about the deposits made by rivers, the effect of volcanoes, of glaciers, and of the all surrounding sea -- just enough to know that the Laurentian rocks were millions of years older than the grass beneath my feet -- just enough to feel certain that this world had been pursuing its flight about the sun, wheeling in light and shade, for hundreds of millions of years -- just enough to know that the "inspired" writer knew nothing of the history of the earth -- nothing of the great forces of nature -- of wind and wave and fire -- forces that have destroyed and built, wrecked and wrought through all the countless years.
And let me tell the ministers again that they should not waste their time in answering me. They should attack the geologists. They should deny the facts that have been discovered. They should launch their curses at the blaspheming seas, and dash their heads against the infidel rocks.
Then I studied biology -- not much -- just enough to know something of animal forms, enough to know that life existed when the Laurentian rocks were made -- just enough to know that implements of stone, implements that had been formed by human hands, had been found mingled with the bones of extinct animals, bones that had been split with these implements, and that these animals had ceased to exist hundreds of thousands of years before the manufacture of Adam and Eve..
Then I felt sure that the "inspired" record was false -- that many millions of people had been deceived and that all I had been taught about the origin of worlds and men was utterly untrue. I felt that I knew that the Old Testament was the work of ignorant men -- that it was a mingling of truth and mistake, of wisdom and foolishness, of cruelty and kindness, of philosophy and absurdity -- that it contained some elevated thoughts, some poetry, -- a good deal of the solemn and commonplace, -- some hysterical, some tender, some wicked prayers, some insane predictions, some delusions, and some chaotic dreams.
Of course the theologians fought the facts found by the geologists, the scientists, and sought to sustain the sacred Scriptures. They mistook the bones of the mastodon for those of human beings, and by them proudly proved that "there were giants in those days." They accounted for the fossils by saying that God had made them to try our faith, or that the Devil had imitated the works of the Creator.
They answered the geologists by saying that the "days" in Genesis were long periods of time, and that after all the flood might have been local. They told the astronomers that the sun and moon were not actually, but only apparently, stopped. And that the appearance was produced by the reflection and refraction of light.
They excused the slavery and polygamy, the robbery and murder upheld in the Old Testament by saying that the people were so degraded that Jehovah was compelled to pander to their ignorance and prejudice.
In every way the clergy sought to evade the facts, to dodge the truth, to preserve the creed.
At first they flatly denied the facts -- then they belittled them -- then they harmonized them -- then they denied that they had denied them. Then they changed the meaning of the "inspired" book to fit the facts. At first they said that if the facts, as claimed, were true, the Bible was false and Christianity itself a superstition. Afterward they said the facts, as claimed, were true and that they established beyond all doubt the inspiration of the Bible and the divine origin of orthodox religion.
Anything they could not dodge, they swallowed and anything they could not swallow, they dodged.
I gave up the Old Testament on account of its mistakes, its absurdities, its ignorance and its cruelty. I gave up the New because it vouched for the truth of the Old. I gave it up on account of its miracles, its contradictions, because Christ and his disciples believe in the existence of devils -- talked and made bargains with them. expelled them from people and animals.
This, of itself, is enough. We know, if we know anything, that devils do not exist -- that Christ never cast them out, and that if he pretended to, he was either ignorant, dishonest or insane.
These stories about devils demonstrate the human, the ignorant origin of the New Testament. I gave up the New Testament because it rewards credulity, and curses brave and honest men, and because it teaches the infinite horror of eternal pain.