Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Robert G. Ingersoll

Tom Flynn

In the course of a thirty-year speaking career, Robert Green Ingersoll—“the Great Agnostic”—was seen and heard by more Americans than any human being prior to the advent of motion pictures and radio. The best-known critic of religion in American history, he was regarded as the nation’s foremost public speaker in a day when oratory was a principal medium of information and entertainment. Today Ingersoll is largely forgotten, partly because of antipathy among the religious, partly because he created no organization to perpetuate his influence, and partly because of inconsistencies in his principal arguments— yet also because much that he advocated entered consensus opinion and ceased to be controversial.


BIOGRAPHY

Ingersoll was born on August 11, 1833, the third and youngest child of John and Mary Livingston Ingersoll. John Ingersoll was a Presbyterian minister and an early abolitionist; Mary prepared and circulated a petition urging Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, allegedly the first such petition prepared by a woman in the United States (Kittredge, 13–14).

Robert’s middle name celebrates another abolitionist minister, Beriah Green (1795–1874). In 1832 Green won national attention with abolitionist sermons delivered at an Ohio college. Green was a correspondent and friend of John Ingersoll’s; they probably visited when Green traveled east to become president of a radical abolitionist college near Utica, New York, one month before Robert’s birth.

John Ingersoll’s precocious abolitionism often alienated even northern congregations; the family moved regularly. Mary Ingersoll died at Cazenovia,

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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