The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Memorial Edition (II, v-270)
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Some Mistakes of Moses
FOR many years I have regarded the Pentateuch simply as a record of a barbarous people, in which are found a great number of the ceremonies of savagery, many absurd and unjust laws, and thousands of ideas inconsistent with known and demonstrated facts. To me it seemed almost a crime to teach that this record was written by inspired men; that slavery, polygamy, wars of conquest and extermination were right, and that there was a time when men could win the approbation of infinite Intelligence, Justice, and Mercy, by violating maidens and by butchering babes. To me it seemed more reasonable that savage men had made these laws; and I endeavored in a lecture, entitled "Some Mistakes of Moses," to point out some of the errors,contradictions, and impossibilities contained in the Pentateuch. The lecture was never written and consequently never delivered twice the same. On several occasions it was reported and published without consent, and without revision. All these publications were grossly and glaringly incorrect. As published, they have been answered several hundred times, and many of the clergy are still engaged in the great work. To keep these reverend gentlemen from wasting their talents on the mistakes of reporters and printers, I concluded to publish the principal points in all my lectures on this subject. And here, it may be proper for one to say, that arguments cannot be answered by personal abuse; that there is no logic in slander, and that falsehood, in the long run, defeats itself, People who love their enemies should, at least, tell the truth about their friends. Should it turn out that I am the worst man in the whole world, the story of the flood will remain just as improbable as before, and the contradictions of the Pentateuch will still demand an explanation.
There was a time when a falsehood, fulminated from the pulpit, smote like a sword; but, the supply having greatly exceeded the demand, clerical misrepresentation has at last become almost an innocent amusement. Remembering that only a few years ago men, women, and even children, were imprisoned, tortured and burned, for having expressed in an exceedingly mild and gentle way, the ideas entertained by me, I congratulate myself that calumny is now the pulpit's last resort. The old instruments of torture are kept only to gratify curiosity; the chains are rusting away, and the demolition of time has allowed even the dungeons of the Inquisition to be visited by light. The church, impotent and malicious, regrets, not the abuse, but the loss of her power, and seeks to hold by falsehood what she gained by cruelty and force, by fire and fear. Christianity cannot live in peace with any other form of faith. If that religion be true, there is but one savior, one inspired book, and but one little narrow grass-grown path that leads to heaven. Such a religion is necessarily uncompromising, unreasoning, aggressive and insolent. Christianity has held all other creeds and forms in infinite contempt, divided the world into enemies and friends, and verified the awful declaration of its founder -- a declaration that wet with blood the sword he came to bring, and made the horizon of a thousand years lurid with the fagots' flames.
Too great praise challenges attention, and often brings to light a thousand faults that otherwise the general eye would never see. Were we allowed to read the Bible as we do all other books, we would admire its beauties, treasure its worthy thoughts, and account for all its absurd, grotesque and cruel things, by saying that its authors lived in rude, barbaric times. But we are told that it was written by inspired men; that it contains the will of God; that it is perfect, pure, and true in all its parts; the source and standard of all moral and religious truth; that it is the star and anchor of all human hope; the only guide for man, the only torch in Nature's night. These claims are so at variance with every known recorded fact, so palpably absurd, that every free, unbiased soul is forced to raise the standard of revolt.
We read the pagan sacred books with profit and delight. With myth and fable we are ever charmed, and find a pleasure in the endless repetition of the beautiful, poetic, and absurd. We find, in all these records of the past, philosophies and dreams, and efforts stained with tears, of great and tender souls who tried to pierce the mystery of life and death, to answer the eternal questions of the Whence and Whither, and vainly sought to make, with bits of shattered glass, a mirror that would, in very truth, reflect the face and form of Nature's perfect self.
These myths were born of hopes, and fears, and tears, and smiles, and they were touched and colored by all there is of joy and grief between the rosy dawn of birth, and death's sad night. They clothed even the stars with passion, and gave to gods the faults and frailties of the sons of men. In them, the winds and waves were music, and all the lakes, and streams, and springs, -- the mountains. woods and perfumed dells were haunted by a thousand fairy forms. They thrilled the veins of Spring with tremulous desire; made tawny Summer's billowed breast the throne and home of love; filled Autumn's arms with sun-kissed grapes, and gathered sheaves; and pictured Winter as a weak old king who felt, like Lear upon his withered face, Cordelia's tears. These myths, though false, are beautiful, and have for many ages and in countless ways, enriched the heart and kindled thought. But if the world were taught that all these things are true and all inspired of God, and that eternal punishment will be the lot of him who dares deny or doubt, the sweetest myth of all the Fable World would lose its beauty, and become a scorned and hateful thing to every brave and thoughtful man.
Robert G. Ingersoll
Oct. 7th, 1879.
Some Mistakes of Moses.
He Who Endeavors to Control the Mind by Force
is a Tyrant, He Who Submits is a Slave.
I WANT to do what little I can to make my country truly free, to broaden the intellectual horizon of our people, to destroy the prejudices born of ignorance and fear, to do away with the blind worship of the ignoble past, with the idea that all the great and good are dead, that the living are totally depraved, that all pleasures are sins, that sighs and groans are alone pleasing to God, that thought is dangerous, that intellectual courage is a crime, that cowardice is a virtue, that a certain belief is necessary to secure salvation, that to carry a cross in this world will give us a palm in the next, and that we must allow some priest to be the pilot of our souls.
Until every soul is freely permitted to investigate every book, and creed, and dogma for itself, the world cannot be free. Mankind will be enslaved until there is mental grandeur enough to allow each man to have his thought and say. This earth will be a paradise when men can, upon all these questions differ, and yet grasp each other's hands as friends. It is amazing to me that a difference of opinion upon subjects that we know nothing with certainty about, should make us hate, persecute, and despise each other. Why a difference of opinion upon predestination, or the Trinity, should make people imprison and burn each other seems beyond the comprehension of man; and yet in all countries where Christians have existed, they have destroyed each other to the exact extent of their power. Why should a believer in God hate an atheist? Surely the atheist has not injured God, and surely he is human, capable of joy and pain, and entitled to all the rights of man. Would it not be far better to treat this atheist, at least, as well as he treats us?
Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is -- not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness. We do not wish to be forgiven, but we wish Christians to so act that we will not have to forgive them.
If all will admit that all have an equal right to think, then the question is forever solved; but as long as organized and powerful churches, pretending to hold the keys of heaven and hell, denounce every person as an outcast and criminal who thinks for himself and denies their authority, the world will be filled with hatred and suffering. To hate man and worship God seems to be the sum of all the creeds.
That which has happened in most countries has happened in ours. When a religion is founded, the educated, the powerful -- that is to say, the priests and nobles, tell the ignorant and superstitious -- that is to say, the people, that the religion of their country was given to their fathers by God himself; that it is the only true religion; that all others were conceived in falsehood and brought forth in fraud, and that all who believe in the true religion will be happy forever, while all others will burn in hell. For the purpose of governing the people, that is to say, for the purpose of being supported by the people, the priests and nobles declare this religion to be sacred, and that whoever adds to, or takes away from it, will be burned here by man, and hereafter by God. The result of this is, that the priests and nobles will not allow the people to change; and when, after a time, the priests, having intellectually advanced, wish to take a step in the direction of progress, the people will not allow them to change. At first, the rabble are enslaved by the priests, and afterwards the rabble become the masters.
One of the first things I wish to do, is to free the orthodox clergy. I am a great friend of theirs, and in spite of all they may say against me, I am going to do them a great and lasting service. Upon their necks are visible the marks of the collar, and upon their backs those of the lash. They are not allowed to read and think for themselves. They are taught like parrots, and the best are those who repeat, with the fewest mistakes, the sentences they have been taught. They sit like owls upon some dead limb of the tree of knowledge, and hoot the same old hoots that have been hooted for eighteen hundred years. Their congregations are not grand enough, nor sufficiently civilized, to be willing that the poor preachers shall think for themselves. They are not employed for that purpose. Investigation is regarded as a dangerous experiment, and the ministers are warned that none of that kind of work will be tolerated. They are notified to stand by the old creed, and to avoid all original thought, as a moral pestilence. Every minister is employed like an attorney -- either for plaintiff or defendant, -- and he is expected to be true to his client. If he changes his mind, he is regarded as a deserter, and denounced, hated, and slandered accordingly. Every orthodox clergyman agrees not to change. He contracts not to find new facts, and makes a bargain that he will deny them if he does. Such is the position of a Protestant minister in this nineteenth century. His condition excites my pity; and to better it, I am going to do what little I can.
Some of the clergy have the independence to break away, and the intellect to maintain themselves as free men, but the most are compelled to submit to the dictation of the orthodox, and the dead. They are not employed to give their thoughts, but simply to repeat the ideas of others. They are not expected to give even the doubts that may suggest themselves, but are required to walk in the narrow, verdureless path trodden by the ignorance of the past. The forests and fields on either side are nothing to them. They must not even look at the purple hills, nor pause to hear the babble of the brooks. They must remain in the dusty road where the guide-boards are. They must confine themselves to the "fall of man," "the expulsion from the garden," the "scheme of salvation," the "second birth," the atonement, the happiness of the redeemed, and the misery of the lost. They must be careful not to express any new ideas upon these great questions. It is much safer for them to quote from the works of the dead. The more vividly they describe the sufferings of the unregenerate, of those who attended theaters and balls, and drank wine in summer gardens on the Sabbath-day, and laughed at priests, the better ministers they are supposed to be. They must show that misery fits the good for heaven, while happiness prepares the bad for hell; that the wicked get all their good things in this life, and the good all their evil; that in this world God punishes the people he loves, and in the next, the ones he hates; that happiness makes us bad here, but not in heaven; that pain makes us good here, but not in hell. No matter how absurd these things may appear to the carnal mind, they must be preached and they must be believed. If they were reasonable, there would be no virtue in believing. Even the publicans and sinners believe reasonable things. To believe without evidence, or in spite of it, is accounted as righteousness to the sincere and humble Christian.
The ministers are in duty bound to denounce all intellectual pride, and show that we are never quite so dear to God as when we admit that we are poor, corrupt and idiotic worms; that we never should have been born; that we ought to be damned without the least delay; that we are so infamous that we like to enjoy ourselves; that we love our wives and children better than our God; that we are generous only because we are vile; that we are honest from the meanest motives, and that sometimes we have fallen so low that we have had doubts about the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures. In short, they are expected to denounce all pleasant paths and rustling trees, to curse the grass and flowers, and glorify the dust and weeds. They are expected to malign the wicked people in the green and happy fields, who sit and laugh beside the gurgling springs or climb the hills and wander as they will. They are expected to point out the dangers of freedom, the safety of implicit obedience, and to show the wickedness of philosophy, the goodness of faith, the immorality of science and the purity of ignorance.
Now and then a few pious people discover some young man of a religious turn of mind and a consumptive habit of holy, not quite sickly enough to die, nor healthy enough to be wicked. The idea occurs to them that he would make a good orthodox minister. They take up a contribution, and send the young man to some theological school where he can be taught to repeat a creed and despise reason. Should it turn out that the young man had some mind of his own, and, after graduating, should change his opinions and preach a different doctrine from that taught in the school, every man who contributed a dollar towards his education would feel that he had been robbed, and would denounce him as a dishonest and ungrateful wretch.
The pulpit should not be a pillory. Congregations should allow the minister a little liberty. They should, at least, permit him to tell the truth.
They have, in Massachusetts, at a place called Andover, a kind of minister factory, where each professor takes an oath once in five years -- that time being considered the life of an oath -- that he has not, during the last five years, and will not, during the next five years, intellectually advance. There is probably no oath that they could easier keep. Probably, since the foundation stone of that institution was laid there has not been a single case of perjury. The old creed is still taught. They still insist that God is infinitely wise, powerful and good, and that all men are totally depraved. They insist that the best man God ever made, deserved to be damned the moment he was finished. Andover puts its brand upon every minister it turns out, the same as Sheffield and Birmingham brand their wares, and all who see the brand know exactly what the minister believes, the books he has read, the arguments he relies on, and just what he intellectually is. They know just what he can be depended on to preach, and that he will continue to shrink and shrivel, and grow solemnly stupid day by day until he reaches the Andover of the grave and becomes truly orthodox forever.
I have not singled out the Andover factory because it is worse than the others. They are all about the same. The professors, for the most part, are ministers who failed in the pulpit and were retired to the seminary on account of their deficiency in reason and their excess of faith. As a rule, they know nothing of this world, and far less of the next; but they have the power of stating the most absurd propositions with faces solemn an stupidity touched by fear.
Something should be done for the liberation of these men. They should be allowed to grow -- to have sunlight and air. They should no longer be chained and tied to confessions of faith, to mouldy books and musty creeds. Thousands of ministers are anxious to give their honest thoughts. The hands of wives and babes now stop their mouths. They must have bread, and so the husbands and fathers are forced to preach a doctrine that they hold in scorn. For the sake of shelter, food and clothes, they are obliged to defend the childish miracles of the past, and denounce the sublime discoveries of to-day. They are compelled to attack all modern thought, to point out the dangers of science, the wickedness of investigation and the corrupting influence of logic. It is for them to show that virtue rests upon ignorance and faith, while vice impudently feeds and fattens upon fact and demonstration. It is a part of their business to malign and vilify the Voltaires, Humes, Paines, Humboldts, Tyndalls, Haeckels, Darwins, Spencers, and Drapers, and to bow with uncovered heads before the murderers, adulterers, and persecutors of the world. They are, for the most part, engaged in poisoning the minds of the young, prejudicing children against science, teaching the astronomy and geology of the Bible, and inducing all to desert the sublime standard of reason.
These orthodox ministers do not add to the sum of knowledge. They produce nothing. They live upon alms. They hate laughter and joy. They officiate at weddings, sprinkle water upon babes, and utter meaningless words and barren promises above the dead. They laugh at the agony of unbelievers, mock at their tears, and of their sorrows make a jest. There are some noble exceptions. Now and then a pulpit holds a brave and honest man. Their congregations are willing that they should think -- willing that their ministers should have a little freedom.
As we become civilized, more and more liberty will be accorded to these men, until finally ministers will give their best and highest thoughts. The congregations will finally get tired of hearing about the patriarchs and saints, the miracles and wonders, and will insist upon knowing something about the men and women of our day, and the accomplishments and discoveries of our time. They will finally insist upon knowing how to escape the evils of this world instead of the next. They will ask light upon the enigmas of this life. They will wish to know what we shall do with our criminals instead of what God will do with his -- how we shall do away with beggary and want -- with crime and misery -- with prostitution, disease and famine, -- with tyranny in all its cruel forms -- with prisons and scaffolds, and how we shall reward the honest workers, and fill the world with happy homes! These are the problems for the pulpits and congregations of an enlightened future. If Science cannot finally answer these questions, it is a vain and worthless thing.
The clergy, however, will continue to answer them in the old way, until their congregations are good enough to set them free. They will still talk about believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, as though that were the only remedy for all human ills. They will still teach, that retrogression is the only path that leads to light; that we must go back, that faith is the only sure guide, and that reason is a delusive glare, lighting only the road to eternal pain.
Until the clergy are free they cannot be intellectually honest. We can never tell what they really believe until they know that they can safely speak. They console themselves now by a secret resolution to be as liberal as they dare, with the hope that they can finally educate their congregations to the point of allowing them to think a little for themselves. They hardly know what they ought to do. The best part of their lives has been wasted in studying subjects of no possible value. Most of them are married, have families, and know but one way of making their living. Some of them say that if they do not preach these foolish dogmas, others will, and that they may through fear, after all, restrain mankind. Besides, they hate publicly to admit that they are mistaken, that the whole thing is a delusion, that the "scheme of salvation" is absurd, and that the Bible is no better than some other books, and worse than most.
You can hardly expect a bishop to leave his palace, or the pope to vacate the Vatican. As long as people want popes, plenty of hypocrites will be found to take the place. And as long as labor fatigues, there will be found a good many men willing to preach once a week, if other folks will work and give them bread. In other words, while the demand lasts, the supply will never fail.
If the people were a little more ignorant, astrology would flourish -- if a little more enlightened, religion would perish!
IT is also my desire to free the schools. When a professor in a college finds a fact, he should make it known, even if it is inconsistent with something Moses said. Public opinion must not compel the professor to hide a fact, and, "like the base Indian, throw the pearl away." With the single exception of Cornell, there is not a college in the United States where truth has ever been a welcome guest. The moment one of the teachers denies the inspiration of the Bible, he is discharged. If he discovers a fact inconsistent with that book, so much the worse for the fact, and especially for the discoverer of the fact. He must not corrupt the minds of his pupils with demonstrations. He must beware of every truth that cannot, in some way be made to harmonize with the superstitions of the Jews. Science has nothing in common with religion. Facts and miracles never did, and never will agree. They are not in the least related. They are deadly foes. What has religion to do with facts? Nothing. Can there be Methodist mathematics, Catholic astronomy, Presbyterian geology, Baptist biology, or Episcopal botany? Why, then, should a sectarian college exist? Only that which somebody knows should be taught in our schools. We should not collect taxes to pay people for guessing. The common school is the bread of life for the people, and it should not be touched by the withering hand of superstition.
Our country will never be filled with great institutions of learning until there is an absolute divorce between Church and School. As long as the mutilated records of a barbarous people are placed by priest and professor above the reason of mankind, we shall reap but little benefit from church or school.
Instead of dismissing professors for finding something out, let us rather discharge those who do not. Let each teacher understand that investigation is not dangerous for him; that his bread is safe, no matter how much truth he may discover, and that his salary will not be reduced, simply because he finds that the ancient Jews did not know the entire history of the world.
Besides, it is not fair to make the Catholic support a Protestant school, nor is it just to collect taxes from infidels and atheists to support schools in which any system of religion is taught.
The sciences are not sectarian. People do not persecute each other on account of disagreements in mathematics. Families are not divided about botany, and astronomy does not even tend to make a man hate his father and mother. It is what people do not know, that they persecute each other about. Science will bring, not a sword' but peace.
Just as long as religion has control of the schools, science will be an outcast. Let us free our institutions of learning. Let us dedicate them to the science of eternal truth. Let us tell every teacher to ascertain all the facts he can -- to give us light, to follow Nature, no matter where she leads; to be infinitely true to himself and us; to feel that he is without a chain, except the obligation to be honest; that he is bound by no books, by no creed, neither by the sayings of the dead nor of the living; that he is asked to look with his own eyes, to reason for himself without fear, to investigate in every possible direction, and to bring us the fruit of all his work.
At present, a good many men engaged in scientific pursuits, and who have signally failed in gaining recognition among their fellows, are endeavoring to make reputations among the churches by delivering weak and vapid lectures upon the "harmony of Genesis and Geology." Like all hypocrites, these men overstate the case to such a degree, and so turn and pervert facts and words that they succeed only in gaining the applause of other hypocrites like themselves. Among the great scientists they are regarded as generals regard sutlers who trade with both armies.
Surely the time must come when the wealth of the world will not be wasted in the propagation of ignorant creeds and miraculous mistakes. The time must come when churches and cathedrals will be dedicated to the use of man; when minister and priest will deem the discoveries of the living of more importance than the errors of the dead; when the truths of Nature will outrank the "sacred" falsehoods of the past, and when a single fact will outweigh all the miracles of Holy Writ.
Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?
When every church becomes a school, every cathedral a university, every clergyman a teacher, and all their hearers brave and honest thinkers, then, and not until then, will the dream of poet, patriot, philanthropist and philosopher, become a real and blessed truth.
I WOULD like also to liberate the politician. At present, the successful office-seeker is a good deal like the centre of the earth; he weighs nothing himself but draws everything else to him. There are so many societies, so many churches, so many isms, that it is almost impossible for an independent man to succeed in a political career. Candidates are forced to pretend that they are Catholics with Protestant proclivities, or Christians with liberal tendencies, or temperance men who now and then take a glass of wine, or, that although not members of any church their wives are, and that they subscribe liberally to all. The result of all this is that we reward hypocrisy and elect men entirely destitute of real principle; and this will never change until the people become grand enough to allow each other to do their own thinking.
Our Government should be entirely and purely secular. The religious views of a candidate should be kept entirely out of sight. He should not be compelled to give his opinion as to the inspiration of the Bible, the propriety of infant baptism, or the immaculate conception. All these things are private and personal. He should be allowed to settle such things for himself and should he decide contrary to the law and will of God, let him settle the matter with God. The people ought to be wise enough to select as their officers men who know something of political affairs, who comprehend the present greatness, and clearly perceive the future grandeur of our country. If we were in a storm at sea, with deck wave-washed and masts strained and bent with storm, and it was necessary to reef the top sail, we certainly would not ask the brave sailor who volunteered to go aloft, what his opinion was on the five points of Calvinism. Our Government has nothing to do with religion. It is neither Christian nor pagan; it is secular. But as long as the people persist in voting for or against men on account of their religious views, just so long will hypocrisy hold place and power. Just so long will the candidates crawl in the dust -- hide their opinions, flatter those with whom they differ, pretend to agree with those whom they despise; and just so long will honest men be trampled under foot. Churches are becoming political organizations. Nearly every Catholic is a Democrat; nearly every Methodist in the North is a Republican.
It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave.
All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy -- making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men. An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment. It strikes me that God might write a book that would not necessarily excite the laughter of his children. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that a real God could produce a work that would excite the admiration of mankind. Surely politicians could be better employed than in passing laws to protect the literary reputation of the Jewish God.
Man and Woman.
LET us forget that we are Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, or Freethinkers, and remember only that we are men and women. After all, man and woman are the highest possible titles. All other names belittle us, and show that we have, to a certain extent, given up our individuality, and have consented to wear the collar of authority -- that we are followers. Throwing away these names, let us examine these questions not as partisans, but as human beings with hopes and fears in common.
We know that our opinions depend, to a great degree, upon our surroundings -- upon race, country, and education. We are all the result of numberless conditions, and inherit vices and virtues, truths and prejudices. If we had been born in England, surrounded by wealth and clothed with power, most of us would have been Episcopalians, and believed in church and state. We should have insisted that the people needed a religion, and that not having intellect enough to provide one for themselves, it was our duty to make one for them, and then compel them to support it. We should have believed it indecent to officiate in a pulpit without wearing a gown, and that prayers should be read from a book. Had we belonged to the lower classes, we might have been dissenters and protested against the mummeries of the High Church. Had we been born in Turkey, most of us would have been Mohammedans and believed in the inspiration of the Koran. We should have believed that Mohammed actually visited heaven and became acquainted with an angel by the name of Gabriel, who was so broad between the eyes that it required three hundred days for a very smart camel to travel the distance. If some man had denied this story we should probably have denounced him as a dangerous person, one who was endeavoring to undermine the foundations of society, and to destroy all distinction between virtue and vice. We should have said to him, "What do you propose to give us in place of that angel? We cannot afford to give up an angel of that size for nothing." We would have insisted that the best and wisest men believed the Koran. We would have quoted from the works and letters of philosophers, generals and sultans, to show that the Koran was the best of books, and that Turkey was indebted to that book and to that alone for its greatness and prosperity. We would have asked that man whether he knew more than all the great minds of his country, whether he was so much wiser than his fathers? We would have pointed out to him the fact that thousands had been consoled in the hour of death by passages from the Koran; that they had died with glazed eyes brightened by visions of the heavenly harem, and gladly left this world of grief and tears. We would have regarded Christians as the vilest of men, and on all occasions would have repeated "There is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet!"
So, if we had been born in India, we should in all probability have believed in the religion of that country. We should have regarded the old records as true and sacred, and looked upon a wandering priest as better than the men from whom he begged, and by whose labor he lived. We should have believed in a god with three heads instead of three gods with one head, as we do now.
Now and then some one says that the religion of his father and mother is good enough for him, and wonders why anybody should desire a better. Surely we are not bound to follow our parents in religion any more than in politics, science or art. China has been petrified by the worship of ancestors. If our parents had been satisfied with the religion of theirs, we would be still less advanced than we are. If we are, in any way, bound by the belief of our fathers, the doctrine will hold good back to the first people who had a religion; and if this doctrine is true, we ought now to be believers in that first religion. In other words, we would all be barbarians. You cannot show real respect to your parents by perpetuating their errors. Good fathers and mothers wish their children to advance, to overcome obstacles which baffled them, and to correct the errors of their education. If you wish to reflect credit upon your parents, accomplish more than they did, solve problems that they could not understand, and build better than they knew. To sacrifice your manhood upon the grave of your father is an honor to neither. Why should a son who has examined a subject, throw away his reason and adopt the views of his mother? Is not such a course dishonorable to both?
We must remember that this "ancestor" argument is as old at least as the second generation of men, that it has served no purpose except to enslave mankind, and results mostly from the fact that acquiescence is easier than investigation. This argument pushed to its logical conclusion, would prevent the advance of all people whose parents were not Freethinkers.
It is hard for many people to give up the religion in which they were born; to admit that their fathers were utterly mistaken, and that the sacred records of their country are but collections of myths and fables.
But when we look for a moment at the world, we find that each nation has its "sacred records" -- its religion, and its ideas of worship. Certainly all cannot be right; and as it would require a life time to investigate the claims of these various systems, it is hardly fair to damn a man forever, simply because he happens to believe the wrong one. All these religions were produced by barbarians. Civilized nations have contented themselves with changing the religions of their barbaric ancestors, but they have made none. Nearly all these religions are intensely selfish. Each one was made by some contemptible little nation that regarded itself as of almost infinite importance, and looked upon the other nations as beneath the notice of their god. In all these countries it was a crime to deny the sacred records, to laugh at the priests, to speak disrespectfully of the gods, to fail to divide your substance with the lazy hypocrites who managed your affairs in the next world upon condition that you would support them in this. In the olden time these theological people who quartered themselves upon the honest and industrious, were called soothsayers, seers, charmers, prophets, enchanters, sorcerers, wizards, astrologers, and impostors, but now, they are known as clergymen.
We are no exception to the general rule, and consequently have our sacred books as well as the rest. Of course, it is claimed by many of our people that our books are the only true ones, the only ones that the real God ever wrote, or had anything whatever to do with. They insist that all other sacred books were written by hypocrites and impostors; that the Jews were the only people that God ever had any personal intercourse with, and that all other prophets and seers were inspired only by impudence and mendacity. True, it seems somewhat strange that God should have chosen a barbarous and unknown people who had little or nothing to do with the other nations of the earth, as his messengers to the rest of mankind.
It is not easy to account for an infinite God making people so low in the scale of intellect as to require a revelation. Neither is it easy to perceive why, if a revelation was necessary for all, it was made only to a few. Of course, I know that it is extremely wicked to suggest these thoughts, and that ignorance is the only armor that can effectually protect you from the wrath of God. I am aware that investigators with all their genius, never find the road to heaven; that those who look where they are going are sure to miss it, and that only those who voluntarily put out their eyes and implicitly depend upon blindness can surely keep the narrow path.
Whoever reads our sacred book is compelled to believe it or suffer forever the torments of the lost. We are told that we have the privilege of examining it for ourselves; but this privilege is only extended to us on the condition that we believe it whether it appears reasonable or not. We may disagree with others as much as we please upon the meaning of all passages in the Bible, but we must not deny the truth of a single word. We must believe that the book is inspired. If we obey its every precept without believing in its inspiration we will be damned just as certainly as though we disobeyed its every word. We have no right to weigh it in the scales of reason -- to test it by the laws of nature, or the facts of observation and experience. To do this, we are told, is to put ourselves above the word of God, and sit in judgment on the works of our creator.
For my part, I cannot admit that belief is a voluntary thing. It seems to me that evidence, even in spite of ourselves, will have its weight, and that whatever our wish may be, we are compelled to stand with fairness by the scales, and give the exact result. It will not do to say that we reject the Bible because we are wicked. Our wickedness must be ascertained not from our belief but from our acts.
I am told by the clergy that I ought not to attack the Bible; that I am leading thousands to perdition and rendering certain the damnation of my own soul. They have had the kindness to advise me that, if my object is to make converts, I am pursuing the wrong course. They tell me to use gentler expressions, and more cunning words. Do they really wish me to make more converts? If their advice is honest, they are traitors to their trust. If their advice is not honest, then they are unfair with me. Certainly they should wish me to pursue the course that will make the fewest converts, and yet they pretend to tell me how my influence could be increased. It may be, that upon this principle John Bright advises America to adopt free trade, so that our country can become a successful rival of Great Britain. Sometimes I think that even ministers are not entirely candid.
Notwithstanding the advice of the clergy, I have concluded to pursue my own course, to tell my honest thoughts, and to have my freedom in this world whatever my fate may be in the next.
The real oppressor, enslaver and corrupter of the people is the Bible. That book is the chain that binds, the dungeon that holds the clergy. That book spreads the pall of superstition over the colleges and schools. That book puts out the eyes of science, and makes honest investigation a crime. That book unmans the politician and degrades the people. That book fills the world with bigotry, hypocrisy and fear. It plays the same part in our country that has been played by "sacred records" in all the nations of the world.
A little while ago I saw one of the Bibles of the Middle Ages. It was about two feet in length, and one and a half in width. It had immense oaken covers, with hasps, and clasps, and hinges large enough almost for the doors of a penitentiary. It was covered with pictures of winged angels and aureoled saints. In my imagination I saw this book carried to the cathedral altar in solemn pomp -- heard the chant of robed and kneeling priests, felt the strange tremor of the organ's peal; saw the colored light streaming through windows stained and touched by blood and flame -- the swinging censer with its perfumed incense rising to the mighty roof, dim with height and rich with legend carved in stone, while on the walls was hung, written in light, and shade, and all the colors that can tell of joy and tears, the pictured history of the martyred Christ. The people fell upon their knees. The book was opened, and the priest read the messages from God to man. To the multitude, the book itself was evidence enough that it was not the work of human hands. How could those little marks and lines and dots contain, like tombs, the thoughts of men, and how could they, touched by a ray of light from human eyes, give up their dead? How could these characters span the vast chasm dividing the present from the past, and make it possible for the living still to hear the voices of the dead?
THE first five books in our Bible are known as the Pentateuch. For a long time it was supposed that Moses was the author, and among the ignorant the supposition still prevails. As a matter of fact, it seems to be well settled that Moses had nothing to do with these books, and that they were not written until he had been dust and ashes for hundreds of years. But, as all the churches still insist that he was the author, that he wrote even an account of his own death and burial, let us speak of him as though these books were in fact written by him. As the Christians maintain that God was the real author, it makes but little difference whom he employed as his pen, or clerk.
Nearly all authors of sacred books have given an account of the creation of the universe, the origin of matter, and the destiny of the human race. Nearly all have pointed out the obligation that man is under to his creator for having placed him upon the earth, and allowed him to live and suffer, and have taught that nothing short of the most abject worship could possibly compensate God for his trouble and labor suffered and done for the good of man. They have nearly all insisted that we should thank God for all that is good in life but they have not all informed us as to whom we should hold responsible for the evils we endure.
Moses differed from most of the makers of sacred books by his failure to say anything of a future life, by failing to promise heaven, and to threaten hell. Upon the subject of a future state, there is not one word in the Pentateuch. Probably at that early day God did not deem it important to make a revelation as to the eternal destiny of man. He seems to have thought that he could control the Jews, at least, by rewards and punishments in this world, and so he kept the frightful realities of eternal joy and torment a profound secret from the people of his choice. He thought it far more important to tell the Jews their origin than to enlighten them as to their destiny.
We must remember that every tribe and nation has some way in which the more striking phenomena of nature are accounted for. These accounts are handed down by tradition, changed by numberless narrators as intelligence increases, or to account for newly discovered facts, or for the purpose of satisfying the appetite for the marvelous.
The way in which a tribe or nation accounts for day and night, the change of seasons, the fall of snow and rain, the flight of birds, the origin of the rainbow, the peculiarities of animals, the dreams of sleep, the visions of the insane, the existence of earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, lightning and the thousand things that attract the attention and excite the wonder, fear or admiration of mankind, may be called the philosophy of that tribe or nation. And as all phenomena are, by savage and barbaric man accounted for as the action of intelligent beings for the accomplishment of certain objects, and as these beings were supposed to have the power to assist or injure man, certain things were supposed necessary for man to do in order to gain the assistance, and avoid the anger of these gods. Out of this belief grew certain ceremonies, and these ceremonies united with the belief, formed religion; and consequently every religion has for its foundation a misconception of the cause of phenomena.
All worship is necessarily based upon the belief that some being exists who can, if he will, change the natural order of events. The savage prays to a stone that he calls a god, while the Christian prays to a god that he calls a spirit, and the prayers of both are equally useful. The savage and the Christian put behind the Universe an intelligent cause, and this cause whether represented by one god or many, has been, in all ages, the object of all worship. To carry a fetich, to utter a prayer, to count beads, to abstain from food, to sacrifice a lamb, a child or an enemy, are simply different ways by which the accomplishment of the same object is sought, and are all the offspring of the same error.
Many systems of religion must have existed many ages before the art of writing was discovered, and must have passed through many changes before the stories, miracles, histories, prophecies and mistakes became fixed and petrified in written words. After that, change was possible only by giving new meanings to old words, a process rendered necessary by the continual acquisition of facts somewhat inconsistent with a literal interpretation of the "sacred records." In this way an honest faith often prolongs its life by dishonest methods; and in this way the Christians of to-day are trying to harmonize the Mosaic account of creation with the theories and discoveries of modern science.
Admitting that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, or that he gave to the Jews a religion, the question arises as to where he obtained his information. We are told by the theologians that he received his knowledge from God, and that every word he wrote was and is the exact truth. It is admitted at the same time that he was an adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, and enjoyed the rank and privilege of a prince. Under such circumstances, he must have been well acquainted with the literature, philosophy and religion of the Egyptians, and must have known what they believed and taught as to the creation of the world.
Now, if the account of the origin of this earth as given by Moses is substantially like that given by the Egyptians, then we must conclude that he learned it from them. Should we imagine that he was divinely inspired because he gave to the Jews what the Egyptians had given him?
The Egyptian priests taught first, that a god created the "original matter" leaving it in a state of chaos; second, that a god molded it into from; third, that the breath of a god moved upon the face of the deep; fourth, that a god created simply by saying "Let it be;" fifth, that a god created light before the sun existed.
Nothing can be clearer than that Moses received from the Egyptians the principal parts of his narrative, making such changes and additions as were necessary to satisfy the peculiar superstitions of his own people.
If some man at the present day should assert that he had received from God the theories of evolution, the survival of the fittest, and the law of heredity, and we should afterwards find that he was not only an Englishman, but had lived in the family of Charles Darwin, we certainly would account for his having these theories in a natural way. So, if Darwin himself should pretend that he was inspired, and had obtained his peculiar theories from God, we should probably reply that his grandfather suggested the same ideas, and that Lamarck published substantially the same theories the same year that Mr. Darwin was born.
Now, if we have sufficient courage, we will, by the same course of reasoning, account for the story of creation found in the Bible. We will say that it contains the belief of Moses, and that he received his information from the Egyptians, and not from God. If we take the account as the absolute truth and use it for the purpose of determining the value of modern thought, scientific advancement becomes impossible. And even if the account of the creation as given by Moses should turn out to be true, and should be so admitted by all the scientific world, the claim that he was inspired would still be without the least particle of proof. We would be forced to admit that he knew more than we had supposed. It certainly is no proof that a man is inspired simply because he is right.
No one pretends that Shakespeare was inspired, and yet all the writers of the books of the Old Testament put together, could not have produced Hamlet.
Why should we, looking upon some rough and awkward thing, or god in stone, say that it must have been produced by some inspired sculptor, and with the same breath pronounce the Venus de Milo to be the work of man? Why should we, looking at some ancient daub of angel, saint or virgin, say its painter must have been assisted by a god?
Let us account for all we see by the facts we know. If there are things for which we cannot account, let us wait for light. To account for anything by supernatural agencies is, in fact to say that we do not know. Theology is not what we know about God, but what we do not know about Nature. In order to increase our respect for the Bible, it became necessary for the priests to exalt and extol that book, and at the same time to decry and belittle the reasoning powers of man. The whole power of the pulpit has been used for hundreds of years to destroy the confidence of man in himself -- to induce him to distrust his own powers of thought, to believe that he was wholly unable to decide any question for himself and that all human virtue consists in faith and obedience. The church has said, "Believe, and obey! If you reason, you will become an unbeliever, and unbelievers will be lost. If you disobey, you will do so through vain pride and curiosity, and will, like Adam and Eve, be thrust from Paradise forever.
For my part I care nothing for what the church says, except in so far as it accords with my reason; and the Bible is nothing to me, only in so far as it agrees with what I think or know.
All books should be examined in the same spirit, and truth should be welcomed and falsehood exposed, no matter in what volume they may be found.
Let us in this spirit examine the Pentateuch; and if anything appears unreasonable, contradictory or absurd, let us have the honesty and courage to admit it. Certainly no good can result either from deceiving ourselves or others. Many millions have implicitly believed this book, and have just as implicitly believed that polygamy was sanctioned by God. Millions have regarded this book as the foundation of all human progress, and at the same time looked upon slavery as a divine institution. Millions have declared this book to have been infinitely holy, and to prove that they were right, have imprisoned, robbed and burned their fellow-men. The inspiration of this hook has been established by famine, sword and fire, by dungeon, chain and whip, by dagger and by rack, by force and fear and fraud, and generations have been frightened by threats of hell, and bribed with promises of heaven.
Let us examine a portion of this book, not in the darkness of our fear, but in the light of reason.
And first, let us examine the account given of the creation of this world, commenced, according to the Bible, on Monday morning about five thousand eight hundred and eighty-three years ago.
MOSES commences his story by telling us that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
If this means anything, it means that God produced, caused to exist, called into being, the heaven and the earth. It will not do to say that he formed the heaven and the earth of previously existing matter. Moses conveys, and intended to convey the idea that the matter of which the heaven and the earth are composed, was created.
It is impossible for me to conceive of something being created from nothing. Nothing, regarded in the light of a raw material, is a decided failure. I cannot conceive of matter apart from force. Neither is it possible to think of force disconnected with matter. You cannot imagine matter going back to absolute nothing. Neither can you imagine nothing being changed into something. You may be eternally damned if you do not say that you can conceive these things, but you cannot conceive them. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot even think of a commencement or an end of matter, or force.
If God created the universe, there was a time when he commenced to create. Back of that commencement there must have been an eternity. In that eternity what was this God doing? He certainly did not think. There was nothing to think about. He did not remember. Nothing had ever happened. What did he do? Can you imagine anything more absurd than an infinite intelligence in infinite nothing wasting an eternity?
I do not pretend to tell how all these things really are; but I do insist that a statement that cannot possibly be comprehended by any human being, and that appears utterly impossible, repugnant to every fact of experience, and contrary to everything that we really know, must be rejected by every honest man.
We can conceive of eternity, because we cannot conceive of a cessation of time. We can conceive of infinite space because we cannot conceive of so much matter that our imagination will not stand upon the farthest star, and see infinite space beyond. In other words, we cannot conceive of a cessation of time; therefore eternity is a necessity of the mind. Eternity sustains the same relation to time that space does to matter.
In the time of Moses, it was perfectly safe for him to write an account of the creation of the world. He had simply to put in form the crude notions of the people. At that time, no other Jew could have written a better account. Upon that subject he felt at liberty to give his imagination full play. There was no one who could authoritatively contradict anything he might say. lt was substantially the same story that had been imprinted in curious characters upon the clay records of Babylon, the gigantic monuments, of Egypt, and the gloomy temples of India. In those days there was an almost infinite difference between the educated and ignorant. The people were controlled almost entirely by signs and wonders. By the lever of fear, priests moved the world. The sacred records were made and kept, and altered by them. The people could not read, and looked upon one who could, as almost a god. In our day it is hard to conceive of the influence of an educated class in a barbarous age. It was only necessary to produce the "sacred record," and ignorance fell upon its face. The people were taught that the record was inspired, and therefore true. They were not taught that it was true, and therefore inspired.
After all, the real question is not whether the Bible is inspired, but whether it is true. If it is true, it does not need to be inspired. If it is true, it makes no difference whether it was written by a man or a god. The multiplication table is just as useful, just as true as though God had arranged the figures himself. If the Bible is really true, the claim of inspiration need not be urged; and if it is not true, its inspiration can hardly be established. As a matter of fact, the truth does not need to be inspired. Nothing needs inspiration except a falsehood or a mistake. Where truth ends, where probability stops, inspiration begins. A fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth does not need the assistance of miracle. A fact will fit every other fact in the Universe, because it is the product of all other facts. A lie will fit nothing except another lie made for the express purpose of fitting it. Alter a while the man gets tired of lying, and then the last lie will not fit the next fact, and then there is an opportunity to use a miracle. Just at that point, it is necessary to have a little inspiration.
It seems to me that reason is the highest attribute of man, and that if there can be any communication from God to man, it must be addressed to his reason. It does not seem possible that in order to understand a message from God it is absolutely essential to throw our reason away. How could God make known his will to any being destitute of reason? How can any man accept as a revelation from God that which is unreasonable to him? God cannot make a revelation to another man for me. He must make it to me, and until he convinces my reason that it is true, I cannot receive it.
The statement that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, I cannot accept. It is contrary to my reason, and I cannot believe it. It appears reasonable to me that force has existed from eternity. Force cannot, as it appears to me, exist apart from matter. Force, in its nature, is forever active, and without matter it could not act and so I think matter must have existed forever. To conceive of matter without force, or of force without matter, or of a time when neither existed, or of a being who existed for an eternity without either, and who out of nothing created both, is to me utterly impossible. I may be damned on this account, but I cannot help it. In my judgment, Moses was mistaken.
It will not do to say that Moses merely intended to tell what God did, in making the heavens and the earth out of matter then in existence. He distinctly states that in the beginning God created them. If this account is true, we must believe that God, existing in infinite space surrounded by eternal nothing, naught and void, created, produced, called into being, willed into existence this universe of countless stars.
The next thing we are told by this inspired gentleman is that God created light, and proceeded to divide it from the darkness.
Certainly, the person who wrote this believed that darkness was a thing, an entity, a material that could get mixed and tangled up with light, and that these entities, light and darkness, had to be separated. In his imagination he probably saw God throwing pieces and chunks of darkness on one side, and rays and beams of light on the other. It is hard for a man who has been born but once to understand these things. For my part, I cannot understand how light can be separated from darkness. I had always supposed that darkness was simply the absence of light, and that under no circumstances could it be necessary to take the darkness away from the light. It is certain, however, that Moses believed darkness to be a form of matter, because I find that in another place he speaks of a darkness that could be felt. They used to have on exhibition at Rome a bottle of the darkness that overspread Egypt.
You cannot divide light from darkness any more than you can divide heat from cold. Cold is an absence of heat, and darkness is an absence of light. I suppose that we have no conception of absolute cold. We know only degrees of heat. Twenty degrees below zero is just twenty degrees warmer than forty degrees below zero. Neither cold nor darkness are entities, and these words express simply either the absolute or partial absence of heat or light. I cannot conceive how light can be divided from darkness, but I can conceive how a barbarian several thousand years ago, writing upon a subject about which he knew nothing, could make a mistake. The creator of light could not have written in this way. If such a being exists, he must have known the nature of that "mode of motion" that paints the earth on every eye, and clothes in garments seven-hued this universe of worlds.
WE are next informed by Moses that "God said let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters;" and that "God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament."
What did the writer mean by the word firmament? Theologians now tell us that he meant an "expanse." This will not do. How could an expanse divide the waters from the waters, so that waters above the expanse would not fall into and mingle with the waters below the expanse? The truth is that Moses regarded the firmament as a solid affair. It was where God lived, and where water was kept. It was for this reason that they used to pray for rain. They supposed that some angel could with a lever raise a gate and let out the quantity of moisture desired. It was with the water from this firmament that the world was drowned when the windows of heaven were opened. It was in this firmament that the sons of God lived -- the sons who "saw the daughters of men that they were fair and took them wives of all which they chose." The issue of such marriages were giants, and "the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."
Nothing is clearer than that Moses regarded the firmament as a vast material division that separated the waters of the world, and upon whose floor God lived, surrounded by his sons. In no other way could he account for rain. Where did the water come from? He knew nothing about the laws of evaporation. He did not know that the sun wooed with amorous kisses the waves of the sea, and that they, clad in glorified mist rising to meet their lover, were, by disappointment, changed to tears and fell as rain.
The idea that the firmament was the abode of the Deity must have been in the mind of Moses when he related the dream of Jacob. "And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set upon the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it; and behold the Lord stood above it and said, I am the Lord God."
So, when the people were building the tower of Babel "the Lord came down to see the city, and the tower which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and nothing will be restrained from them which they imagined to do. Go to, let us go down and confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech."
The man who wrote that absurd account must have believed that God lived above the earth, in the firmament. The same idea was in the mind of the Psalmist when he said that God "bowed the heavens and came down."
Of course, God could easily remove any person bodily to heaven, as it was but a little way above the earth. "Enoch walked with God" and he was not, for God took him." The accounts in the Bible of the ascension of Elijah, Christ and St. Paul were born of the belief that the firmament was the dwelling-place of God. It probably never occurred to these writers that if the firmament was seven or eight miles away, Enoch and the rest would have been frozen perfectly stiff long before the journey could have been completed. Possibly Elijah might have made the voyage, as he was carried to heaven in a chariot of fire "by a whirlwind."
The truth is, that Moses was mistaken, and upon that mistake the Christians located their heaven and their hell. The telescope destroyed the firmament, did away with the heaven of the New Testament, rendered the ascension of our Lord and the assumption of his Mother infinitely absurd, crumbled to chaos the gates and palaces of the New Jerusalem, and in their places gave to man a wilderness of worlds.
WE are next informed by the historian of creation, that after God had finished making the firmament and had succeeded in dividing the waters by means of an "expanse" he proceeded "to gather the waters on the earth together in seas, so that the dry land might appear."
Certainly the writer of this did not have any conception of the real form of the earth. He could not have known anything of the attraction of gravitation. He must have regarded the earth as flat and supposed that it required considerable force and power to induce the water to leave the mountains and collect in the valleys. Just as soon as the water was forced to run down hill, the dry land appeared, and the grass began to grow, and the mantles of green were thrown over the shoulders of the hills, and the trees laughed into bud and blossom, and the branches were laden with fruit. And all this happened before a ray had left the quiver of the sun, before a glittering beam had thrilled the bosom of a flower, and before the Dawn with trembling hands had drawn aside the curtains of the East and welcomed to her arms the eager god of Day.
It does not seem to me that grass and trees could grow and ripen into seed and fruit without the sun. According to the account, this all happened on the third day. Now, if, as the Christians say, Moses did not mean by the word day a period of twenty-four hours, but an immense and almost measureless space of time, and as God did not, according to this view make any animals until the fifth day, that is, not for millions of years after he made the grass and trees, for what purpose did he cause the trees to bear fruit?
Moses says that God said on the third day, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after his kind; and God saw that it was good, and the evening and the morning were the third day."
There was nothing to eat this fruit; not an insect with painted wings sought the honey of the flowers; not a single living, breathing thing upon the earth, plenty of grass, a great variety of herbs, an abundance of fruit, but not a mouth in all the world. If Moses is right, this state of things lasted only two days; but if the modern theologians are correct, it continued for millions of ages.
It is now well known that the organic history of the earth can be properly divided into five epochs -- the Primordial, Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary. Each of these epochs is characterized by animal and vegetable life peculiar to itself. In the First will be found Algæ and Skull-less Vertebrates, in the Second, Ferns and Fishes, in the Third, Pine Forests and Reptiles, in the Fourth, Foliaceous Forests and Mammals, and in the Fifth, Man."
How much more reasonable this is than the idea that the earth was covered with grass, and herbs, and trees loaded with fruit for millions of years before an animal existed.
There is, in nature, an even balance forever kept between the total amounts of animal and vegetable life. "In her wonderful economy she must form and bountifully nourish her vegetable progeny -- twin-brother life to her, with that of animals. The perfect balance between plant existences and animal existences must always be maintained, while matter courses through the eternal circle, becoming each in turn. If an animal be resolved into its ultimate constituents in a period according to the surrounding circumstances, say, of four hours, of four months, of four years, or even of four thousand years, -- for it is impossible to deny that there may be instances of all these periods during which the process has continued -- those elements which assume the gaseous form mingle at once with the atmosphere and are taken up from it without delay by the ever-open mouths of vegetable life. By a thousand pores in every leaf the carbonic acid which renders the atmosphere unfit for animal life is absorbed, the carbon being separated, and assimilated to form the vegetable fibre, which, as wood, makes and furnishes our houses and ships, is burned for our warmth, or is stored up under pressure for coal. All this carbon has played its part, and many parts in its time, as animal existences from monad up to man. Our mahogany of to-day has been many negroes in its turn, and before the African existed, was integral portions of many a generation of extinct species."
It seems reasonable to suppose that certain kinds of vegetation and certain kinds of animals should exist together, and that as the character of the vegetation changed, a corresponding change would take place in the animal world. It may be that I am led to these conclusions by "total depravity" or that I lack the necessary humility of spirit to satisfactorily harmonize Haeckel and Moses; or that I am carried by pride, blinded by reason, given over to hardness of heart that I might be damned, but I never can believe that the earth was covered with leaves, and buds, and flowers, and fruits before the sun with glittering spear had driven back the hosts of Night.
AFTER the world was covered with vegetation, it occurred to Moses that it was about time to make a sun and moon; and so we are told that on the fourth day God said, "Let there be light in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also."
Can we believe that the inspired writer had any idea of the size of the sun? Draw a circle five inches in diameter, and by its side thrust a pin through the paper. The hole made by the pin will sustain about the same relation to the circle that the earth does to the sun. Did he know that the sun was eight hundred and sixty thousand miles in diameter; that it was enveloped in an ocean of fire thousands of miles in depth, hotter even than the Christian's hell. Over which sweep tempests of flame moving at the rate of one hundred miles a second, compared with which the wildest storm that ever wrecked the forests of this world was but a calm? Did he know that the sun every moment of time throws out as much heat as could be generated by the combustion of millions upon millions of tons of coal? Did he know that the volume of the earth is less than one-millionth of that of the sun? Did he know of the one hundred and four planets belonging to our solar system, all children of the sun? Did he know of Jupiter eighty-five thousand miles in diameter, hundreds of times as large as our earth, turning on his axis at the rate of twenty-five thousand miles an hour accompanied by four moons, making the tour of his orbit in fifty years, a distance of three thousand million miles? Did he know anything about Saturn, his rings and his eight moons? Did he have the faintest idea that all these planets were once a part of the sun; that the vast luminary was once thousands of millions of miles in diameter; that Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars were all born before our earth, and that by no possibility could this world have existed three days, nor three periods, nor three "good whiles" before its source, the sun?
Moses supposed the sun to be about three or four feet in diameter and the moon about half that size. Compared with the earth they were but simple specks. This idea seems to have been shared by all the "inspired" men. We find in the book of Joshua that the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. "So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."
We are told that the sacred writer wrote in common speech as we do when we talk about the rising and setting of the sun, and that all he intended to say was that the earth ceased to turn on its axis for about a whole day."
My own opinion is that General Joshua knew no more about the motions of the earth than he did about mercy and justice. If he had known that the earth turned upon its axis at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, and swept in its course about the sun at the rate of sixty-eight thousand miles an hour, he would have doubled the hailstones, spoken of in the same chapter, that the Lord cast down from heaven, and allowed the sun and moon to rise and set in the usual way.
It is impossible to conceive of a more absurd story than this about the stopping of the sun and moon, and yet nothing so excites the malice of the orthodox preacher as to call its truth in question. Some endeavor to account for the phenomenon by natural causes, while others attempt to show that God could, by the refraction of light have made the sun visible although actually shining on the opposite side of the earth. The last hypothesis has been seriously urged by ministers within the last few months. The Rev. Henry M. Morey of South Bend, Indiana, says "that the phenomenon was simply optical. The rotary motion of the earth was not disturbed, but the light of the sun was prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection by which the sun now appears to be above the horizon when it is really below. The medium through which the sun's rays passed may have been miraculously influenced so as to have caused the sun to linger above the horizon long after its usual time for disappearance."
This is the latest and ripest product of Christian scholarship upon this question no doubt, but still it is not entirely satisfactory to me. According to the sacred account the sun did not linger, merely, above the horizon. but stood still "in the midst of heaven for about a whole day," that is to say, for about twelve hours. If the air was miraculously changed, so that it would refract the rays of the sun while the earth turned over as usual for "about a whole day," then, at the end of that time the sun must have been visible in the east, that is, it must by that time have been the next morning. According to this, that most wonderful day must have been at least thirty-six hours in length. We have first, the twelve hours of natural light, then twelve hours of "refracted and reflected" light. By that time it would again be morning, and the sun would shine for twelve hours more in the natural way, making thirty-six hours in all.
If the Rev. Morey would depend a little less on "refraction" and a little more on "reflection" he would conclude that the whole story is simply a barbaric myth and fable.
It hardly seems reasonable that God, if there is one, would either stop the globe, change the constitution of the atmosphere or the nature of light simply to afford Joshua an opportunity to kill people on that day when he could just as easily have waited until the next morning. It certainly cannot be very gratifying to God for us to believe such childish things.
It has been demonstrated that force is eternal; that it is forever active, and eludes destruction by change of form. Motion is a form of force, and all arrested motion changes instantly to heat. The earth turns upon its axis at about one thousand miles an hour. Let it be stopped and a force beyond our imagination is changed to heat. It has been calculated that to stop the world would produce as much heat as the burning of a solid piece of coal three times the size of the earth. And yet we are asked to believe that this was done in order that one barbarian might defeat another. Such stories never would have been written, had not the belief been general that the heavenly bodies were as nothing compared with the earth.
The view of Moses was acquiesced in by the Jewish people and by the Christian world for thousands of years. It is supposed that Moses lived about fifteen hundred years before Christ, and although he was "inspired," and obtained his information directly from God, he did not know as much about our solar system as the Chinese did a thousand years before he was born. "The Emperor Chwenhio adopted as an epoch, a conjunction of the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which has been shown by M. Bailly to have occurred no less than 2449 years before Christ." The ancient Chinese knew not only the motions of the planets, but they could calculate eclipses. "In the reign of the Emperor Chow-Kang, the chief astronomers, Ho and Hi were condemned to death for neglecting to announce a solar eclipse which took place 2169 B.C., a clear proof that the prediction of eclipses was a part of the duty of the imperial astronomers."
Is it not strange that a Chinaman should find out by his own exertions more about the material universe than Moses could when assisted by its Creator?
About eight hundred years after God gave Moses the principal facts about the creation of the "heaven and the earth" he performed another miracle far more wonderful than stopping the world. On this occasion he not only stopped the earth, but actually caused it to turn the other way. A Jewish king was sick, and God, in order to convince him that he would ultimately recover, offered to make the shadow on the dial go forward, or backward ten degrees. The king thought it was too easy a thing to make the shadow go forward, and asked that it be turned back. Thereupon, "Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord, and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz." I hardly see how this miracle could be accounted for even by "refraction" and "reflection."
It seems, from the account, that this stupendous miracle was performed after the king had been cured. The account of the shadow going backward is given in the eleventh verse of the twentieth chapter of Second Kings, while the cure is given in the seventh verse of the same chapter. "And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered."
Stopping the world and causing it to turn back ten degrees after that, seems to have been, as the boil was already cured by the figs, a useless display of power.
The easiest way to account for all these wonders is to say that the "inspired" writers were mistaken. In this way a fearful burden is lifted from the credulity of man, and he is left free to believe the evidences of his own senses, and the demonstrations of science. In this way he can emancipate himself from the slavery of superstition, the control of the barbaric dead, and the despotism of the church.
Only about a hundred years ago, Buffon, the naturalist, was compelled by the faculty of theology of Paris to publicly renounce fourteen "errors" in his work on Natural History because they were at variance with the Mosaic account of creation. The Pentateuch is still the scientific standard of the church, and ignorant priests, armed with that, pronounce sentence upon the vast accomplishments of modern thought.
"He Made The Stars Also."
MOSES came very near forgetting about the stars and only gave five words to all the hosts of heaven. Can it be possible that he knew anything about the stars beyond the mere fact that he saw them shining above him?
Did he know that the nearest star, the one we ought to be best acquainted with, is twenty-one billion of miles away, and that it is a sun shining by its own light? Did he know of the next, that is thirty-seven billion miles distant? Is it possible that he was acquainted with Sirius, a sun two thousand six hundred and eighty-eight times larger than our own, surrounded by a system of heavenly bodies, several of which are already known, and distant from us eighty-two billion miles? Did he know that the Polar star that tells the mariner his course and guided slaves to liberty and joy, is distant from this little world two hundred and ninety-two billion miles, and that Capella wheels and shines one hundred and thirty-three billion miles beyond? Did he know that it would require about seventy-two years for light to reach us from this star? Did he know that light travels one hundred and eighty-five thousand miles a second? Did he know that some stars are so far away in the infinite abysses that five millions of years are required for their light to reach this globe?
If this is true, and if as the Bible tells us, the stars were made after the earth, then this world has been wheeling in its orbit for at least five million years.
It may be replied that it was not the intention of God to teach geology and astronomy. Then why did he say anything upon these subjects? and if he did say anything, why did he not give the fact?
According to the sacred records God created, on the first day, the heaven and the earth, "moved upon the face of the waters," and made the light. On the second day he made the firmament or the "expanse" and divided the waters. On the third day he gathered the waters into seas, let the dry land appear and caused the earth to bring forth grass, herbs and fruit trees, and on the fourth day he made the sun, moon and stars and set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth. This division of labor is very striking. The work of the other days is as nothing when compared with that of the fourth. Is it possible that it required the same time and labor to make the grass, herbs and fruit trees, that it did to fill with countless constellations the infinite expanse of space?
WE are then told that on the next day "God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales and every living creature which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind, and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth."
Is it true that while the dry land was covered with grass, and herbs, and trees bearing fruit, the ocean was absolutely devoid of life, and so remained for millions of years?
If Moses meant twenty-four hours by the word day, then it would make but little difference on which of the six days animals were made; but if the word day was used to express millions of ages during which life was slowly evolved from monad up to man, then the account becomes infinitely absurd, puerile and foolish. There is not a scientist of high standing who will say that in his judgment the earth was covered with fruit-bearing trees before the moners, the ancestors it may be of the human race, felt in Laurentian seas the first faint throb of life. Nor is there one who will declare that there was a single spire of grass before the sun had poured upon the world his flood of gold.
Why should men in the name of religion try to harmonize the contradictions that exist between Nature and a book? Why should philosophers be denounced for placing more reliance upon what they know than upon what they have been told? If there is a God, it is reasonably certain that he made the world, but it is by no means certain that he is the author of the Bible. Why then should we not place greater confidence in Nature than in a book? And even if this God made not only the world but the book besides, it does not follow that the book is the best part of creation, and the only part that we will be eternally punished for denying. It seems to me that it is quite as important to know something of the solar system, something of the physical history of this globe, as it is to know the adventures of Jonah or the diet of Ezekiel. For my part, I would infinitely prefer to know all the results of scientific investigation, than to be inspired as Moses was. Supposing the Bible to be true; why is it any worse or more wicked for Freethinkers to deny it, than for priests to deny the doctrine of evolution, or the dynamic theory of heat? Why should we be damned for laughing at Samson and his foxes, while others, holding the Nebular Hypothesis in utter contempt, go straight to heaven? It seems to me that a belief in the great truths of science are fully as essential to salvation, as the creed of any church. We are taught that a man may be perfectly acceptable to God even if he denies the rotundity of the earth, the Copernican system, the three laws of Kepler, the indestructibility of matter and the attraction of gravitation. And we are also taught that a man may be right upon all these questions, and yet, for failing to believe in the "scheme of salvation," be eternally lost.
ON this, the last day of creation, God said: -- "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind; and God saw that it was good."
Now, is it true that the seas were filled with fish, the sky with fowls, and the earth covered with grass, and herbs, and fruit bearing trees, millions of ages before there was a creeping thing in existence? Must we admit that plants and animals were the result of the fiat of some incomprehensible intelligence independent of the operation of what are known as natural causes? Why is a miracle any more necessary to account for yesterday than for to-day or for to-morrow?
If there is an infinite Power, nothing can be more certain than that this Power works in accordance with what we call law, that is, by and through natural causes. If anything can be found without a pedigree of natural antecedents, it will then be time enough to talk about the fiat of creation. There must have been a time when plants and animals did not exist upon this globe. The question, and the only question is, whether they were naturally produced. If the account given by Moses is true, then the vegetable and animal existences are the result of certain special fiats of creation entirely independent of the operation of natural causes. This is so grossly improbable, so at variance with the experience and observation of mankind, that it cannot be adopted without abandoning forever the basis of scientific thought and action.
It may be urged that we do not understand the sacred record correctly. To this it may be replied that for thousands of years the account of the creation has, by the Jewish and Christian world, been regarded as literally true. If it was inspired, of course God must have known just how it would be understood, and consequently must have intended that it should be understood just as he knew it would be. One man writing to another, may mean one thing, and yet be understood as meaning something else. Now, if the writer knew that he would be misunderstood, and also knew that he could use other words that would convey his real meaning, but did not, we would say that he used words on purpose to mislead, and was not an honest man.
If a being of infinite wisdom wrote the Bible, or caused it to be written, he must have known exactly how his words would be interpreted by all the world, and he must have intended to convey the very meaning that was conveyed. He must have known that by reading that book, man would form erroneous views as to the shape, antiquity, and size of this world; that he would be misled as to the time and order of creation; that he would have the most childish and contemptible views of the creator; that the "sacred word" would be used to support slavery and polygamy; that it would build dungeons for the good, and light fagots to consume the brave, and therefore he must have intended that these results should follow. He also must have known that thousands and millions of men and women never could believe his Bible, and that the number of unbelievers would increase in the exact ratio of civilization, and therefore, he must have intended that result.
Let us understand this. An honest finite being uses the best words, in his judgment, to convey his meaning. This is the best he can do, because he cannot certainly know the exact effect of his words on others. But an infinite being must know not only the real meaning of the words, but the exact meaning they will convey to every reader and hearer. He must know every meaning that they are capable of conveying to every mind. He must also know what explanations must be made to prevent misconception. If an infinite being cannot, in making a revelation to man, use such words that every person to whom a revelation is essential will understand distinctly what that revelation is, then a revelation from God through the instrumentality of language is impossible, or it is not essential that all should understand it correctly. It may be urged that millions have not the capacity to understand a revelation, although expressed in the plainest words. To this it seems a sufficient reply to ask, why a being of infinite power should create men so devoid of intelligence, that he cannot by any means make known to them his will? We are told that it is exceedingly plain, and that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. This statement is refuted by the religious history of the Christian world. Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning. About the meaning of this book, called a revelation, there have been ages of war, and centuries of sword and flame. If written by an infinite God, he must have known that these results must follow; and thus knowing, he must be responsible for all.
Is it not infinitely more reasonable to say that this book is the work of man, that it is filled with mingled truth and error, with mistakes and facts, and reflects, too faithfully perhaps, the "very form and pressure of its time"?
If there are mistakes in the Bible, certainly they were made by man. If there is anything contrary to nature, it was written by man. If there is anything immoral, cruel, heartless or infamous, it certainly was never written by a being worthy of the adoration of mankind.