Robert Owen vs. Alexander Campbell

“Mr. Owen to the Clergy of New-Orleans.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:22 (Mar. 26, 1828): 169-70. Robert Owen proposes a public debate between himself and members of the clergy in which he proposes to prove that religions are “the real source of vice, disunion and misery of every description.” Owen’s challenge and responses to it are reprinted from New-Orleans newspapers.

Robert Owen. “To the Inhabitants of New-Orleans.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:24 (Apr. 9, 1828): 186-87. Owen expresses his conviction that “the only way left for the world to free itself from religion’s bondage and the millions of evils which emanate from its slavery, is to render it incumbent upon its ministers to discuss all subjects of religion openly and fairly with other men who dissent from them and who are competent to withdraw the veil of mystery with which religion has been covered, and to assist the people to discover truth for themselves without it being necessary for them to be longer kept in leading strings.”

Two documents reprinted from the Christian Baptist. New Harmony Gazette, 3:27 (Apr. 20, 1828): 215. Concerned about the growing boldness of deist and free-thinkers in Canton, Ohio, a correspondent of the Christian Baptist invites Alexander Campbell to visit and defend the faith against Dr. Underhill, an “emissary of infidelity, of considerable talents.” Campbell replies that Underhill is “too obscure to merit any attention,” but indicates his willingness to debate Underhill’s “great master”- Robert Owen.

Robert Owen. “Mr. Alexander Campbell.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:29 (May 14, 1828): 228. Owen agrees to debate Campbell and suggests several propositions to debate including, “whether mankind can be trained to become more happy, more intelligent, independent, charitable and kind to each other with or without religion?

A. Campbell. “To Robert Owen.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:41 (Aug. 6, 1828): 324. Reprinted from the Christian Baptist. Campbell accepts Owen’s challenge to the clergy as proposed in New Orleans.

R.D. “Alexander Campbell.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:41 (Aug. 6, 1828): 326. R.D. notes that in the forthcoming debate, his father will take the positive and A. Campbell the negative of the following positions: “that all religions of the world have been founded on the ignorance of mankind; that they are directly opposed to the never changing laws of nature; that they have been and are the real source of vice, disunion and misery of every description; that they are now the only real bar to the formation of a society of virtue, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense, and of sincerity and kindness among the whole human family; and that they can no longer be maintained except through the ignorance of the mass of the people, and the tyranny of the few over that mass.”

A. Campbell. “A Debate on the Evidences of Christianity.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:44 (Aug. 27, 1828): 348. Reprinted from the Christian Baptist. Campbell announces that he met with Owen and that they agreed to debate the following April in Cincinnati. Campbell concludes, “From the talents and acquisitions of Mr. Owen, we have no doubt but he will be as capable of defending his positions as any man living; and when we consider his superior opportunities from age, traveling, conversation, and extensive reading for many years, added to the almost entire devotion of his mind to his peculiar views during a period as long as we have lived, we should fear the result of such a discussion, were it not for the assurance we have and feel of the invincible, irrefragable, and triumphant evidences of that religion from which we derive all our high enjoyments on earth, and to which we look for every thing that disarms death of its terrors, and the grave of its victory over the human race.”

B. Bates. “Is Christianity True or False.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:44 (Aug. 27, 1828): 348. Bates predicts that “Unless the Christian religion can endure this fiery ordeal, it will be exploded from among us, like the fairy tales of olden times.”

Robert Dale Owen vs. Origen Bacheler

In this exhaustive exchange of letters Origen Bacheler, former editor of the Anti-Universalist (Boston), and Robert Dale Owen debate the existence of God and the authenticity of the Bible. The Free Enquirer, 3:13-52; 4:13-15 (Jan. 22- Oct. 22, 1831; Jan. 21-Feb. 4, 1832). Vol. 3 pages: 102-03, 110, 117-18, 126-27, 134-35, 140-43, 148-49, 156-59, 162-65, 17274180-81, 193-95, 201-02, 210-11, 214-16, 225-27, 230-32, 242-44, 249-50, 256-58, 264-65, 274-76, 280-81, 290, 295-97, 305-07, 311-12, 321-23, 328-30, 336-38, 342-45, 352-55, 359-62, 368-71, 375-78, 383-86, 389-92, 398, 422-23. Vol. 4 pages: 97-102, 106-10, 114-18.

 E.L. Finley vs. Benjamin Offen

“Affray at Tammany Hall.” Temple of Reason, 1:6 (June 13, 1835): 41-43. The editor provides an account of Finley’s visit to Tammany Hall on May 24, 1835.

E.L. Finley. “Col. Finley’s Address.” Temple of Reason, 1:6-7 (June 13-20, 1835): 47, 52. Finley begs, “Let public opinion awaken in all its energy, and tell these moral incendiaries, that they shall not be permitted to throw their firebrands in your community, and reduce to one moral ruin, your altars, your temples and your domestic hearths. Infidelity is a weed which is not congenial to our soil. It is an exotic. Do not transplant it into our garden; it will extirpate every wholesome and beautiful plant, until it grows into a tree, which overshadowing your noble city, will wither and destroy everything within its influence.”

Benjamin Offen. “Moral Philanthropists. To the Corporate Authorities, and Citizens of New York.” Temple of Reason, 1:7 (June 20, 1835): 51. Offen replies that “the Col. will be disappointed if he expects to lay the foundation of an American Inquisition in New York, and dictate successfully to its enlightened citizens the best method of sustaining morality by confining conscience within legal boundaries.”

Dr. William W. Sleigh vs. New York and Philadelphia Free Enquirers

“Christianity Victorious!” Temple of Reason, 1:27-28 (Nov. 21-28, 1835): 209-11, 221-22. This was the title of an article circulated by Dr. Sleigh in which he contended that after six nights of public discussion with Free Inquirers, at the Temperance Hall in Philadelphia, the audience unanimously agreed that he had shown Christianity to be of divine origin and that the infidels’ attacks on sacred scriptures were without support. Canfield shows Sleigh’s claim to be absurd by producing statements of support. He also provides a brief account of some of the arguments he made during the last night of the discussion.

“Editorial.” Temple of Reason, 1:29 (Dec. 5, 1835): 225-28. Canfield presents some additional point and counterpoints of his discussion with Sleigh and additional evidence supporting his claim that Sleigh violated virtually every rule of conduct mutually agreed to prior to the commencement of the discussion.

“Selected.” Temple of Reason, 1:33 (Jan. 2, 1836): 258-59. A letter from Origen Bacheler, reprinted from the New York Transcript. Bacheler volunteers to aid the skeptics in “bringing forth infidelity in all its strength, thereby giving the former [Christianity] the opportunity  to annihilate it, root and branch, thus rendering a lasting service to the Christian cause, and conferring an incalculable benefit on mankind.”

“Christianity in New York. Comprising Mr. Bacheler’s attack on Dr. Sleigh- Dr. Sleigh’s Reply,- and Mr. Bacheler’s Rejoinder.” Temple of Reason, 1:33-34 (Jan. 2-9, 1836): 260-63, 269-72. Bachelor’s attack on Sleigh is in the form of a letter to a handful of prominent doctors of divinity who testified “their high approbation of the judicious and able manner in which [Dr. Sleigh] has defended Christianity.” Bachelor provides examples of how, during the debates, Dr. Sleigh “repeatedly made unfounded statements,” “left numerous infidel objections standing in their full strength,” and consequently failed to establish the authenticity of the Bible. Dr. Sleigh replies that Bachelor’s attack on him is “not the first time that I have been persecuted and slandered by pseudo-Christians, whoever were worse than Infidels.”

Abner Kneeland & O.A. Brownson. “A Discussion on the Question, Can all Phenomena of Consciousness be Traced back to Sensation?” The Boston Investigator, 315-21 (Apr. 7- May 19, 1837).

Origen Bacheler vs. Russel Canfield

“Public Discussion.” Temple of Reason, 1:44-51 (Mar. 19- May 7, 1836): 345-51, 353-55, 361-65, 370-72, 378-81, 386-90, 394-97, 402. A synopsis of the six day discussion between Bacheler and Canfield at Commissioner Hall in Philadelphia, covering, among other things, the challenge of finite minds comprehending the infinite, prayer, man’s duty, foreknowledge and free will, divine inspiration, corruption of the Bible, sacrificial victims, John the Baptist – Elias, and the creation of evil.

R. Canfield. “The Discussion.” Temple of Reason, 1:44 (Mar. 19, 1836): 352. Canfield credits Origen Bacheler and Alexander Campbell  for possessing “sincerity not often found in a paid, or at least a salaried clergy. Such men should therefore be always well received, and treated with courtesy by our sceptical friends as the champions of free discussion. Their very works furnish an appearance of sincerity in their favor.”

“Editorial.” Temple of Reason, 1:45, 47-48 (Mar. 26, Apr. 9-16, 1836): 355-56, 373-74, 381-82. Under this heading, Canfield notices “arguments to which he had paid but little attention during the oral discussion, or to which attention has not been sufficiently called, in the synopsis.”

Alexander Campbell vs. Samuel Underhill

Alexander Campbell “Cleveland Liberalist.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:24 (Feb. 25, 1837): 188.

Sam’L. Underhill. “To Alexander Campbell editor of the Millennial Harbinger.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:24 (Feb. 25, 1837): 188.

“The Discussion with Mr. Campbell in Cleveland.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, 17 (Sept. 10- Oct. 1, 15-22, Nov. 5-19, 1836; Jan. 7, 1837): 2, 13-14, 17-18, 34-35, 42, 64, 66, 72, 131. Underhill presents his account of his discussion with Alexander Campbell, editor of the Millennial Harbinger, on the evidences of Christianity.

“Campbell Refuted: Being a correspondence between the Rev. Alex. Campbell, of Va. And Dr. Sam’l Underhill of Ohio; on the subject of the debate held in Cincinnati between the celebrated Robert Owen, and Mr. Campbell, in April, 1829.” Cleveland Liberalist, 2:39-42, 44-47 (June 30- July 21, Aug. 4-22, 1838): 306-07, 318-19, 321-22, 329-31, 345-46, 356-57, 365-66, 375.

Charles Knowlton vs. Tyler Thatcher [1]

Charles Knowlton. “Opening Speech.” Ohio Watchman, 3:5-7 (May 13- June 10, 1837): 1-2, 1-2, 1. This speech was delivered during the debate between Knowlton and Rev. Tyler Thatcher at Hawley, Massachusetts in September, 1836.

Rev. Mr. Thatcher’s Reply to Dr. Knowlton. Ohio Watchman, 3:7, 9 (June 10, July 8, 1837): 1-2, 1.

Dr. Knowlton’s Rejoinder. No. I. Is there any being or agent in existence that is not Material?” Ohio Watchman, 3:10 (July 20, 1837): 1.

Gilbert West vs. George Montgomery West

“Report of the Discussion Between G. Vale and the Rev. Dr. West.” Age of Reason, 2:28 (Mar. 18, 1849): 89-92. Eckler provides a brief summary of six meetings between George Montgomery West and Gilbert Vale. Of Mr. Vale’s position, Eckler reports that “He admitted the existence of God- a God of Nature- and his views on this question appear to be substantially the same as those advanced by Thomas Paine. . . . He introduced the revelations of astronomy . . . . the unchanging laws and universal order of the heavenly bodies . . . . and when the minds of his hearers were lost in wonder and astonishment at this sublime and poetic conception, he compared this mighty Power that governs and controls the universe, with the wretched and contemptible description of God recorded in the bible.”

“Impartial Notice or Review of the Discussion between Dr. West and Mr. G. Vale, on the Evidences of Christianity; to which is added a reply to Dr. West’s Ten Golden Axioms, by G. Vale.” Monthly Beacon, 2:11-12 (June-July 1849): 129-40, 153-64.

G. Vale. “Notes on Dr. West and his Pamphlet.” Monthly Beacon, 2:12 (July 1849): 182-87.

“Great Debate on Christianity, Between Joseph Barker and Dr. [Joseph] Berg.” The Boston Investigator, 1182-1203 (Jan. 18- June 14, 1854). Reprinted from the Philadelphia Register. This series features highlights from an eight day debate held in Philadelphia between Barker and Berg concerning the authenticity of the Bible, with Barker arguing against and Berg rejoining in favor of the Bible’s authenticity as divine revelation.[2]

“Debate between [George Jacob] Holyoake and [Thomas] Cooper.” The Boston Investigator, 1418-19 (July 28- Aug. 4, 1858). Reprinted from London Reasoner.

“Letter from Joseph Barker” and “Barker and Warren’s Debate!” The Boston Investigator, 1479, 1481 (Sept. 28, Oct. 12, 1859): 178-79, 195. Barker provides an account of his debate with the Rev. Dr. Warren, on the “divine influence of the Bible,” held in Quincy, Illinois.


[1] Tyler Thatcher, an ultra-Calvinist, challenged Knowlton to a public debate. According the History of the Town of Hawley, “The challenge was accepted, the parties met and a great forensic battle was fought between the theism of the Puritan fathers and modern materialism, Dr. Knowlton taking his turn in occupying the pulpit in the old church, from which, up to that day, nothing had emanated but the pure unadulterated theism of the pilgrim fathers. Mr. Thatcher was assisted by a man named Batchelder, who made it his business to travel the country and hold public meetings with infidels. A large audience gathered from the surrounding towns to hear the debate, and the result was the friends of both sides claimed the victory.” See, William Giles Atkins, History of the Town of Hawley 92 (1887).

[2] For additional accounts of the debate, see Great Discussion on the Origin, Authority, and Tendency of the Bible (1854), and The Bible Vindicated Against the Aspersions of Joseph Barker (1854).