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skepticism Robert Ingersoll apologetics religion

The Bleakness of Skepticism

By Bill Lockwood

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Robert Ingersoll, the prominent lawyer and statesmen of yesteryear, was known as the Great Agnostic. After serving as a colonel in the American Civil War he became active in politics but is best remembered in history as a preacher of scientific rationalism, attacking the Bible. "I insist, that the discoveries of Darwin do away absolutely with the inspiration of the Scriptures—with the account of the creation in Genesis, and demonstrate not simply the falsity, not simply the wickedness, but the foolishness of the 'sacred volume,"' he thundered. Fighting to establish atheistic concepts in American thinking, Ingersoll had a "profound influence" on religion.

Now, a century later, the religion of humanism holds the chief seat in synagogue of Western culture. With ant-theistic blasts such as "Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful," and "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves," the Humanist Manifesto demands that the world's populace acknowledge that "science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces" (p. 17): there is no God.


It is instructive, however, to contemplate the question in respect to humanism's statement of salvation given above—"Salvation from what?" From superstitious belief? If evolution is true, then my beliefs are also the result of inevitable naturalistic evolutionary forces and cannot be chalked up to superstition. And if "we must save ourselves," as Humanism puts it, then what does it matter to any other individual that I believe the Bible? Not only would ethics themselves be "autonomous and situational" but so also would be my belief system.

But in the end, the salvation of skepticism/humanism is a barren wilderness, promising everything but delivering nothing. Listen to the cheerless Ingersoll as he speaks over the ashes of his dead brother Ebon C. Ingersoll, in 1879. "While yet in love with life and raptured with the world, he passed to silence and pathetic dust." Likening Ebon's life to a ship at sea, Ingersoll pondered, "For, whether in mid-sea or 'mong the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life ... [becomes] a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death." He added that "Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry" (The World's Famous Orations, ed. By William Jennings Bryan, vol. X, p. 81-83).

How my soul longs to be able rather to say, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain, ... For I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ!"

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Published October 1996