Ingersoll had solid philosophic and scientific reasons underpinning his unbelief in anything supernatural. His friend Herman E. Kitteridge, discussed these questions with him and goes into detail about them in his biography of Ingersoll.
This can be found in its entirely at theingersolltimes.com website on the second page under ABOUT INGERSOLL – KITTERIDGE BIOGRAPHY
Kitteridge makes it clear that Ingersoll thought of himself as an atheist, despite his depiction as the Great Agnostic.
He was positive he does not believe there is a God; but, because of lack of knowledge, cannot make the positive assertion that God does not exist. Still, as demonstrated below, he felt that the attitude of the agnostic – not pretending to know- was in specific applications the only tenable one.
Ingersoll’s science was that of over 134 years ago. That confirmed for him that the universe had always existed and that both matter and energy were in constant transformation but never created or destroyed.
As always, he explained himself in accessible language. This is well demonstrated in the following extracts from the biography which relate to the source of his knowledge and how that explains why different people have different conclusions.
This goes directly to the crucial foundation of the Christian religion – the absolute assertion than all humans (except children, mentally incompetent and those forced) have free will by which they know the right course when they seriously deliberate a moral question; and are free to take the right course, irrespective of all that went into their making; and in becoming who they are.
This must be, as it is the foundation for guilt; need for atonement, forgiveness and Jesus. If ones views and actions are caused by factors beyond their control – as acknowledged in the exceptions noted – then there can be no just guilt. St. Augustine made that explicit. FF)
Source of My Knowledge
Now, I examine my own mind, and I find that I know two things
- First, I know that I exist. How do I know this? Because “I examine”. How could I examine if I did not exist? In other words, I am conscious; therefore, I exist – “I think, hence I am”.
- Second, I perceive that my stream of consciousness if subject to continuous interruptions, or changes; and these interruptions, or changes, I call phenomena
I know phenomena. Above, below, behind these phenomena, I cannot logically and honestly go.
Whether the multitudinous divergent phenomena manifest in my subjective consciousness, through the five senses are mere seeming, whether they represent objective relatives, and, if so, whether those realities are different from, or greater or less than, the phenomena themselves, I do not and cannot know.
Whether the paper on which I write, my limbs, my body, are objective relatives, and, if so, whether they are precisely what they seem to be, I do not and cannot know. Why can I not know? Because everything concerning them must reach my consciousness through one or more of the senses, and be perceived as phenomena.
What then, shall be my attitude?
- l Shall I either assent to or deny the assertion of the idealist, that back of subjective phenomena, there is no objective reality, no material substance?
- l Shall I either assent to or deny the assertion of the dogmatic materialist, that back of subjective phenomena, there is an objective reality, an eternal material substance which is the cause of those phenomena?
- l Shall I either assent to or deny the assertion of the theist, that back of subjective phenomena is God, their “Great First Cause”?
What shall be my attitude?
“Whoso has mastered the elements of philosophy knows that the attribute of unquestionable certainty appertains only to the existence of a state of consciousness so long as it exists;… “For any demonstration that can be given to the contrary effect, the ‘collection of perceptions’ which makes up our consciousness may be an orderly phantasmagoria generated by the Ego, unfolding its successive scenes on the background of the abyss of nothingness;.
Robert G.Ingersoll • 11.8.1833 – 21.7.1899
“On the other hand, it must no less readily be allowed that, for anything that can be proved to the contrary, there may be a real something which is the cause of all our impressions; that sensations, though not likenesses, are symbols of that something; and that the part of that something, which we call the nervous system, is an apparatus for supplying us with a sort of algebra of fact, based on those symbols. A brain may be the machinery by which the material universe becomes conscious of itself”.
What, then, I ask again, shall be my attitude?
Shall I either assent to or deny the assertion of the idealist, of the dogmatic materialist, or of the theist?
I shall do none of these. I shall say, with Ingersoll, “I do not know”. Until it shall have been blotted out, the attitude of the Agnostic, it seems to me, must be recognized as the only tenable attitude of the human mind.
Says Ingersoll:- “Let us be honest with ourselves. In the presence of countless mysteries; standing beneath the boundless heaven sown tick with constellations; knowing that each grain of sand, each leaf, each blade of grass, asks of every mind the answerless question; knowing that the simplest thing defies solutions; feeling that we deal with the superficial and the relative, and that we are forever eluded by the real, the absolute, – let us admit the limitations of our minds, and let us have the courage and candor to say: we d not know”.
Free will – Ingersoll’s weights and your weights
I once asked Ingersoll why he had accepted Agnosticism, instead of either theism or dogmatic atheism. He replied, in effect, that he possessed, as his only guide in this and all other matters, a brain capable of certain things: there were limits within which its processes were confined. Under given conditions, it reached conclusions – we will say beliefs.
These beliefs unavoidably resulted from evidence, as that which is called “weight” results from the gravitation of matter placed upo a scale. As far as he could see, his beliefs, – his weights, – were right, but he did not affirm that they were right; for he recognized the fact that, after all, his brain, – his mental scales, – might be wrong.
Where did he get his weights?
Where did you get yours?
Can you change your weights at will?
To him, the assertion that an infinitely wise and powerful. Being created and governs this world was a monstrous absurdity; but he did not deny, because as already stated, he realized that the mental scales in which he was obliged to weigh the evidence for and against might be wrong, – might have erroneously tipped to the negative side.
And so he never claimed to know the right weight: he simply read his scale. Moreover, he knew that there were millions of other “Scales”, every one differing from his own, and that, consequently, in spite of themselves, they would all give different weights to the same matter.
This is the golden kernel of Ingersollism. Every mind (has its) its won “weights and measures”
He knew that the theist and the dogmatic atheist alike must, too, have weighed the matter in their scales, and must have reached, unavoidably, their respective conclusions.
He did not blame them for their conclusions: he simply demanded that they, like himself, tell them as conclusions, not as facts. Ingersoll tells of a missionary trying to convince an Indian of the wonderful truths of Christianity.
The red man listened attentively, then stooped and, with a stick, drew a little circle in the stand. “This”, said the, “is what Indian knows”.
Then, tracing a very large circle around the first, he added, “and this is what white man knows: but out here (pointing outside both circles) Indian knows just as much as white man”.
“IT is insisted that man is free, and is responsible, because he knows right from wrong. But the compass does not navigate the ship; neither does it in any way, of itself, determine the direction that is taken. When wind and waves are too powerful, the compass is of no importance.
The pilot may read it correctly, and may know the direction the ship ought to take, but the compass is not a force. So men, blown by the tempests of passion, may have the intellectual conviction that they should go another way; but of what use, of what force, is the conviction?”
Source : Free Inquiry