Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bertrand Russell: Why I am not a Christian

I read this awhile ago but it's worth a re-read and linkage: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell0.htm

He addresses the "First Cause" argument... in 1927...  decades before William Lane Craig made it the cornerstone of his career.  Can't WLC do a teensy bit of research on his pet theory?  The gaping hole in that argument is "Who made God?" He never seems to remember that people have been pointing out that flaw in this "argument" for a long long time

I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?"

The old Argument from Design is still haunting us today, too.  Russell summarizes it this way:  "You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. "  This is also called the teleological argument.  I have to *lol* at this point he makes:

Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: "Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe."

The moral argument goes back that far too.  There is apparently nothing new in the modern Christian's argument arsenal.  "Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed" This form seems to be the most popular at least from what I've seen.  Or maybe I think it's popular because I find it so utterly stupid.

If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God

Next he examines Christ specifically, which I haven't heard Christians really talking much about.  I think they avoid quoting Christ because they really don't follow much of his purported teachings.  They're much more fond of "John" of the 4th gospel, and Paul.  They conveniently forget that Christ failed to predict his return, or that he wanted them to give up their possessions.

His observation that people believe for emotional reasons still rings true:  "do not think that the real reason that people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it."  haha  I can just hear him say this in his British accent.

I'm not sure what this argument is called.   Argument from pragmatism?  Christianity has a good effect on (some) people therefore it should be followed even if you don't believe it's true.  Of course the same could be said for all the other religions of the world.  He doesn't mince words at all here:

You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress of humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or ever mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
I find his observation about fear & cruelty very profound:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand.

There's no reason to attack someone you don't fear, so that makes sense.  I do agree that homophobia is real - it's a fear that acceptance of homosexuals in the world would either 1) make their own suppression of their homosexual impulses seem silly or 2) make their own heterosexual impulses seem silly.  Either way, attitudes toward differences are really self-centered fears turned outward.

His ending reflects my attitude pretty well including my guarded optimism that rationalism and reality will win out:  . We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

It's a good thing people can't really roll over in their graves.  He'd be so ashamed of what America has become.

I think he's a good example to point to when Christians accuse us of having a depressing worldview.  From their own impoverished view, life without hope of an eternity in Heaven kissing God's ass must seem pointless.  They need to read Russell.
Here is his message to the future, taped 30 years after "Why I am Not A Christian"


Ockham's Razorboy said...

I've been a fan of Bertrand Russell's for a long time now. The fact that he's coming up in the research I'm doing for my dissertation makes me a very happy little unbeliever.

LadyAtheist said...

He had a long career with a lot of publicastions. Apparently it's true that only the "good" die young!

Anonymous said...

The name you were looking for is "Appeal to Consequence". It's a fallacy.

You're welcome ;)

L.Long said...

I found Russell from an atheist blog and after looking him up I soon realized that the stupid(compliment) Xtians don't have anything new or better to say then back then. And that most of the faithful(insult) will not be persuaded as they have had the truth shown to them and they still reject growing up.
Stupid is a compliment because it simply means a lack of knowledge. Delusional the word I usually use is the WILLFUL SUSPENSION of intelligence to maintain a known falsehood.

Plasma Engineer said...

Yes - an excellent reference work. I like to think of it as the short original form of 'The God Delusion'. It can be read in an hour or so and perfectly summarises all the important arguments. I have the book on the shelf in front of me now.

Higgs Boson said...

If only we had more like him in the media today. I always thought of him as a very intelligent and 'nice' man - like part of the oldschool. Dawkins and Hitchens have always struck me as being totally obnoxious and almost zealot-like, and I found it hard to read their works as a result.

Thank you very much for the links!

LadyAtheist said...

Thank you all for the comments... and appeal to consequence yep that's the one.

Russell held Christianity up to scrutiny and the truth spoke for itself.

But 150 years after Origin of Species we're still dealing with Biblical literalists who want to disrupt science education, so maybe the stridency is from frustration.