I am curious whether there is an example of a 19th century historical figure who 1) did not consider himself/herself a Christian, but 2) alluded to or quoted Bible passages fluently in his/her speech or writing.

Recently I was reading a biography of a 19th century person who made extensive references to Scripture (explicit and casual) in his writings. I found myself evaluating his faith commitment on that basis, since in the 21st century I don't think a non-believer would bother to do that (except perhaps a politician, and in a stilted fashion). So in this question I am looking for a counter-example to my 21st century bias/expectation.

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    Not an answer, but in 19 C religious /scriptural education was a sine qua non, so anyone with any education would be able to quote Scripture, whether they believed it or not. And I suppose you have to be taught about "God" before you decide he/she/it doesn't exist ;-) – TheHonRose Mar 3 at 10:27
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    Can't quote any sources at this point, so posted as a comment - it is believed by some scholars that Lincoln was an atheist. It's definitely true that Samuel Clemens was an atheist. Both could (and did) quote Scripture, although most of Clemens's references were early in his career. – Jurp Mar 3 at 12:56
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    Ben Franklin also made a lot of agnostic-friendly statements, in an era when actually coming out as an atheist would have been taboo. – T.E.D. Mar 3 at 14:41
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    @TheHonRose: Yes, it was simply common culture, just as one might quote from Shakespeare or Greek & Roman writers. Today's equivalent might be citing movies & TV shows. – jamesqf Mar 3 at 17:57
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    What research have you done? – Mark C. Wallace Mar 3 at 23:44

Well, I've found some citations, so now I have an answer: Samuel Clemens. This is an accepted Master's thesis that does a good job of explaining Clemens' lack of religion.

An excerpt:

...perhaps the incident in Huckleberry Finn where the oversized Bible, spread on the chest of the dying Boggs, crushing the life out of him, is as symbolic of Twain's religious attitude as anything he ever wrote.

And this is a collection of his quotes. Here are a few of them:

[The Bible is] a mass of fables and traditions, mere mythology.

Man is a marvelous curiosity ... he thinks he is the Creator's pet ... he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to him and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea.

There is no other life; life itself is only a vision and a dream for nothing exists but space and you. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad.

Note that the second link calls Clemens a man who believed in God but was not religious - this is patently false, as shown by many of the quotes. The issue with Clemens is that his actual, unedited Autobiography wasn't published until just recently, and even then, some material is being suppressed on his direct posthumous wishes.

EDIT - as noted in the comment, I only supply atheistic quotes and should in completeness supply Christian quotes. In fairness, I needed to find Christian and Scriptural references that Clemens did NOT use facetiously or ironically. This is difficult (without my rereading his canon), but I did find this one:

God puts something good and loveable in every man His hands create.

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    That's one half of an answer. Now you need to get some actual Bible quotes out of him. – Spencer Mar 6 at 11:49
  • Actually, facetious quotes would be acceptable as long as they are substantive. – Spencer Mar 6 at 22:22
  • In that case, pretty much anything out of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn would suffice. :) There is also a case where he was presented as a preacher when introduced to the head of the expedition that he documented in "Innocents Abroad". – Jurp Mar 6 at 23:00

I am curious whether there is an example of a 19th century historical figure who 1) did not consider himself/herself a Christian, but 2) alluded to or quoted Bible passages fluently in his/her speech or writing.

see related Question: Has the United States ever had a non-Christian President?

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams. Arguable the United States did not have a Christian president until Martin Van Buren.

Arguable the first six US Presidents were Deists and Unitarians.

The age of enlightenment during the 17th to 19th century, was rich with non Christian thinkers...

Deism was the 19th century's atheist. Before Darwin their was no reasonable alternative for life other than God's creation. Thus people who did not see God's hand in the human experience came up with Deism, attributing creation of heaven and earth to God, but did not believe God ever communicated or cared about humanity. List of famous Deists include:

List of Deists

  • Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906), Austrian physicist famous for his founding contributions in the fields of statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics.[6][7]
  • Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), French military and political leader[8]
  • Max Born (1882–1970), German-British physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 30s. Born won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics (shared with Walther Bothe).[9][10]
  • Humphry Davy (1778–1829), British chemist and inventor.[19]
  • Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931), American inventor and businessman.[24]
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), American polymath; one of the Founding Fathers of the United States[26]
  • William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he promoted "immediate emancipation" of slaves in the United States.[28]
  • Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855), German mathematician and physical scientist who contributed significantly to many fields, including number theory, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy and optics.[29][30][31][32][33]
  • Victor Hugo (1802–85), French writer, artist, activist and statesman[38][39]
  • James Hutton (1726–1797), Scottish physician, geologist, naturalist, chemical manufacturer and experimental agriculturalist. His work helped to establish the basis of modern geology. His theories of geology and geologic time, also called deep time, came to be included in theories which were called plutonism and uniformitarianism.[41][42]
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), author of the Jefferson Bible, an American Founding Father, the principal author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States.[43][44][45]
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829), French naturalist. He was a soldier, biologist, academic, and an early proponent of the idea that evolution occurred and proceeded in accordance with natural laws.[48]
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), sixteenth president of the United States of America. He never joined any church and has been described as a "Christian deist". As a young man, he was religiously skeptical and sometimes ridiculed revivalists. During his early years, Lincoln enjoyed reading the works of deists such as Thomas Paine and Voltaire. He drafted a pamphlet incorporating such ideas but did not publish it. After charges of hostility to Christianity almost cost him a congressional bid, he kept his unorthodox beliefs private. James Adams labelled Lincoln as a deist. In 1834, he reportedly wrote a manuscript essay challenging Christianity modelled on Paine's book The Age of Reason, which a friend supposedly burned to protect him from ridicule. He seemed to believe in an all-powerful God, who shaped events and, by 1865, was expressing those beliefs in major speeches.[citation needed]
  • Charles Lyell (1797–1875), British lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which popularised James Hutton's concepts of uniformitarianism.[54]
  • Colin Maclaurin (1698–1746), Scottish mathematician who made important contributions to geometry and algebra. The Maclaurin series, a special case of the Taylor series, are named after him.[55]
  • James Madison (1751–1836), "Father of the United States Constitution", one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and the 4th President of the United States[56]
  • Alfred M. Mayer (1836–1897), American physicist.[57]
  • Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907), Russian chemist and inventor. He is credited as being the creator of the first version of the periodic table of elements.[58]
  • Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1796), German philosopher influential in the Jewish Haskalah[59]
  • John Muir (1838–1914), Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States.[60]
  • Simon Newcomb (1835–1909), Canadian-American astronomer and mathematician.[61]
  • Thomas Paine (1737–1809), English pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical, inventor, and intellectual, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States[62]
  • Elihu Palmer (1764–1806), American author and advocate of deism[63]
  • Wolfgang Pauli (1900–1958), Austrian theoretical physicist. In 1945, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. He is best known for his work on Pauli principle and spin theory.[64][65]
  • Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist, sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for 30 years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, and semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.[66]
  • Max Planck (1858–1947), German physicist, regarded as the founder of quantum theory.[67]
  • José Rizal (1861–1896), a Filipino patriot, philosopher, medical doctor, poet, journalist, novelist, political scientist, painter and polyglot. Considered to be one of the Philippines' most important heroes and martyrs whose writings and execution contributed to the igniting of the Philippine Revolution. He is also considered as Asia's first modern non-violent proponent of freedom.[68].
  • Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937), New Zealand chemist and "father" of nuclear physics, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances".[69][70][71]
  • Maximilien Robespierre (1758–94), French revolutionary and lawyer[72]
  • Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident, and human rights activist.[73]
  • Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright.[74]
  • Adam Smith (1723–1790), Scottish Philosopher and economist; considered the father of modern economics[75]
  • Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), American anarchist, philosopher and abolitionist[76]
  • Mark Twain (1835–1910), American author and humorist[38]
  • Jules Verne (1828–1905), French author who pioneered the science fiction genre in Europe. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days.[78][79][80][81]
  • Voltaire (1694–1778), French Enlightenment writer and philosopher[82]
  • George Washington (1732–1799), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the 1st President of the United States[56]
  • James Watt (1736–1819), Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.[83][84]
  • Johann Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830), Bavarian Philospoher, Cannon Law Professor and Founder of the Illuminati[85]
  • Henrik Wergeland (1808–1845), Norwegian poet and theologist (by self-definition).
  • Hermann Weyl (1885–1955), German mathematician and theoretical physicist.
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    But as you noted, Deists believed in an impersonal God. So - they were believers,not non-believers. Also as you noted - Deists were, by definition, non-Christian. – Jurp Mar 6 at 23:02
  • @Jurp Yes the question conflicts a bit from body to title. I chose to answer the question as quoted at the top of my answer from the body. Specifically non Christians who quoted the Bible and sometimes even called themselves Christian while calling the divinity of Christ a terrible blasphemy ( John Adams) Or saying they subscribe to christiology, the morale teachings of Christianity but don’t believe Jesus was the son of god nor influenced by god. – JMS Mar 6 at 23:24
  • When you look at the Founders (lots of Deists), you have to wonder what the current "America was founded as a Christian country" people are thinking. – Jurp Mar 6 at 23:27
  • @Jurp When you do selective cherry picking of history, as JMS did, and you ignore the simple facts of the founding colonies (Plymouth, Jamestown) having a deep Christian backbone, and the common cultural habit of Americans of that era of practicing (however imperfectly) a Christian belief (they were varied then too) then you'll understand. The only person who knows whether or not Thomas Jefferson believed that he was meeting his Maker, or accepting that he was now fertilizer, was Thomas Jefferson. You don't have to be the Pope to be Christian: if Mother Theresa had doubts, anyone can. – KorvinStarmast Mar 7 at 0:35
  • You just did it again, and you pretend that somehow the Enlightenment was separate form the Continuum of American cultural growth as colonies. They are inextricably linked, both the Enlightenment and Christianity as the imported cultural themes in the new world. The Free churchmen were also children of the enlightenment, and that is who founded a lot of American towns. every settlement had a church. (On the frontier, heh, that varied a bit) The variations in Christian practice / belief in the 17th and 18th century was "all over the map" as it is now. Your attempt to pigeon hole is in error. – KorvinStarmast Mar 7 at 1:15

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