‘Great Agnostic’ set high standard for miracles

“When I say I want a miracle, I mean by that, I want a good one. All the miracles recorded in the New Testament could have been simulated. A fellow could have pretended to be dead, or blind, or dumb, or deaf….

“I would like to see a miracle like that performed in North Carolina. Two men were disputing about the relative merits of the salve they had for sale.

“One of the men, in order to demonstrate that his salve was better than any other, cut off a dog’s tail and applied a little of the salve to the stump, and, in the presence of the spectators, a new TAIL grew out.

“But the other man, who also had salve for sale, took up the piece of tail that had been cast away, put a little salve at the end of that, and a new DOG grew out, and the last heard of those parties they were quarreling as to who owned the second dog.

“Something like that is what I call a miracle.”

— From an interview with Robert Ingersoll in the Pittsburgh Dispatch (Dec. 11, 1880)

Susan Jacoby notes in her recent biography, “The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought,” that “Between 1874 and his death in 1899, Ingersoll spoke in every state except Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma.”