#012: Robert G. Ingersoll and the Golden Age of Freethought (feat. Justin Clark) | A Leap of Doubt

In this episode, we are diving into the history of the American freethought movement, specifically the “Golden Age of Freethought” from the late nineteenth-century to the beginning of WWI. The orator, essayist, and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), who was widely known as the “Great Agnostic,” was a key figure during this period, and so we talk about his life and work at length. My guest for this episode is Justin Clark. A public and intellectual historian and graduate of Indiana University, Justin wrote a Master’s thesis on the life and work of Ingersoll and is the co-founder of, a website about secular humanism, atheism, skepticism, and free thought.

In our discussion, Justin and I covered a lot of ground, including: what differences and similarities exist between the Golden Age of Freethought in the American Midwest and the Enlightenment Deism of eighteenth-century American politics? In what sense can Ingersoll be considered a public intellectual of his time? How and why did the freethought movement in America fall apart by the turn of the twentieth century? Are we living in another Golden Age (or Silver Age) of Freethought in America today? We also tackle the importance and under-appreciation of synthesis and popularization of intellectual endeavors for the benefit of all members of the public.


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The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.