‘The Great Agnostic’: NPR Interview on Robert G. Ingersoll

rgiIf you think that people openly identifying themselves as atheists and criticizing religion has only been a phenomenon of the last ten years – attributable to the popularity of such bestselling books as The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith, then here’s what to do.

Take 45 minutes out of your weekend and listen to a fascinating National Public Radio interview with author Susan Jacoby about Robert G. Ingersoll, known as “the Great Agnostic”. Atheists have been stirring the pot for longer than you may think.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) was a 19th century American orator who spoke vigorously in defense of atheism, secularism, and the separation of church and state. In an age where most people’s information and entertainment came from listening to well-crafted and delivered oratory, Ingersoll was well-respected and much sought after. His writings are clear, refreshing, and most of all, inspiring.

From The Great Infidels (1881), his thoughts on evidence and argument:

Great virtues may draw attention from defects, they cannot sanctify them. A pebble surrounded by diamonds remains a common stone, and a diamond surrounded by pebbles is still a gem. No one should attempt to refute an argument by pronouncing the name of some man, unless he is willing to adopt all the ideas and beliefs of that man. It is better to give reasons and facts than names. An argument should not depend for its force upon the name of its author. Facts need no pedigree, logic has no heraldry, and the living should not awed by the mistakes of the dead.

And his thoughts on Hell:

Infinite punishment is infinite cruelty, endless injustice, immortal meanness. To worship an eternal gaoler hardens, debases, and pollutes even the vilest soul. While there is one sad and breaking heart in the universe, no good being can be perfectly happy.

That’s just the beginning of this man’s amazing work. Here’s a list of some of his quotes and some of his books and talks which have been painstakingly transcribed.

(H/T to whyevolutionistrue for the link)

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