RobertIngersollA Christian Critique of “The Great Agnostic”

by JP Holding

One purpose of our work is to show just how little certain Skeptical arguments and tactics have changed over the years, and Robert Ingersoll provides us with plenty of examples of this. One easily sees in the works of Ingersoll concerned with the Bible foreshadowing’s of modern Skeptical works; but the shadow is cast by a giant. Ingersoll was far worse than any of these men.

I have chosen to briefly examine two specific works by Ingersoll. One is entitled "About the Holy Bible"; the other, "A Few Reasons for Doubting the Inspiration of the Bible."

General Tactics

How did Ingersoll operate? We discover very quickly that many of his tactics are still in use by Skeptics today, and by way of introduction, we will use comments from the first of the two works we have under consideration, "About the Holy Bible".

Tactic #1: Prejudicial Commentary.

Consider the following statements by him, beginning with one explaining "the origin of the Bible":

A few wandering families — poor, wretched, without education, art or power, descendants of those who had been enslaved for four hundred years, ignorant as the inhabitants of Central Africa, had just escaped from the desert of Sinai…

At that time these wanderers had no commerce with other nations, they had no written language, they could neither read nor write. They had no means by which they could make this revelation known to other nations, and so it remained buried in the jargon of a few ignorant, impoverished and unknown tribes for more than two thousand years.

The men who did the selecting (of the NT books for the canon — JPH) were ignorant and superstitious. They were firm believers in the miraculous. They thought that diseases had been cured by aprons and handkerchiefs of the apostles, by the bones of the dead. They believed in the fable of the Phoenix, and that the hyenas changed their sex every year.

We may admittedly recognize a few things that are just plain wrong in the above paragraphs which Ingersoll, writing in the time he was, can’t really be blamed for. Scholarship of the period did suppose the Hebrews had no written language or literacy at the time; while this was to some extent true (there was without doubt a written language, very highly developed, and literacy was very low, though not non-existent), it was not a conclusion drawn based on evidence, but on the lack thereof — and also based on views of ancient peoples held by scholars of the 19th century, which assumed them to be of lesser intelligence.

Commerce with other nations, while obviously limited by the constraints of travel and communication, did exist. Ancient people were not as unlearned as the scholars of the 19th century surmised — they just didn’t have modern technology at their disposal.

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