Archives for posts with tag: religion

I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this, but I’m going to post the entire chapter by Bertrand Russell on intelligent design. It is, in my opinion, an excellent piece of writing and I feel it should be shared and exposed to the world. I love the humor and the no nonsense argumentation, and I hope you appreciate it as well. And I hope his family will forgive me if I’m breaking copyright laws…

The argument from design

The next step in this process brings us to the argument from design. 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 were ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.
When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending – something dead, cold, and lifeless.
I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it, it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out – atleast I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation – it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.

– Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian. A lecture originally delivered on March 6, 1927. Extract from my Routledge edition, 2010.

Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape

– Bertrand Russell

I like it when students vandalize with purpose. I’m not religious or affiliated with any related cause, I just noticed this little post-script on a poster in the Humanities building on campus and thought it worth taking a photo of.


“I condemn Christianity. I bring against the Christian church the most terrible of all the accusations that an accuser has ever had in his mouth. It is, to me, the greatest of all corruptions; it seeks to work the ultimate corruption, the worst possible corruption. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity, it has turned every value into worthlessness, and every truth into a lie, and every integrity into baseness of soul. Let any one dare speak to me of its “humanitarian” blessings!”

– Nietzsche.

“It is true that Christianity, and all previous optimisms, have represented the world as eternally ruled by a beneficent Providence, and thus metaphysically good. But this has been at bottom, only a device by which to prove the future excellence of the world – to prove, for example, that good men would be happy after death. It has always been this deduction – illegitimately made of course – which has given comfort. ‘He’s a good fellow, and ‘t will all be well.’
It may be said, indeed that there is comfort in the mere abstract doctrine that Reality is good. I do not myself accept the proof of this doctrine, but even if true, I cannot see why it should be comforting. For the essence of my contention is that Reality, as constructed by metaphysics, bears no sort of relation to the world of experience. It is an empty abstraction, from which no single inference can be validly made as to the world of appearance, in which world, nevertheless, all our interests lie.

– Bertrand Russell, Seems, Madam? Nay, it is.

I love this extract. I’m constantly confronted with what at first seems like impossibly dense texts for my course. Reading thinkers like Russell or Schopenhauer convince me that it is entirely unnecessary to write in such a convoluted manner. (A style which, in my opinion, French philosophers especially enjoy.)

It is not rational arguments, but emotions, that cause belief in a future life.
The most important of these emotions is fear of death, which is instinctive and biologically useful. If we genuinely and wholeheartedly believe in the future life, we should cease completely to fear death. The effects would be curious, and probably such as most of us would deplore. But our human and sub-human ancestors have fought and exterminated their enemies throughout many geological ages, and have profited by courage, it is therefore an advantage to the victors in the struggle for life to be able on occasion, to overcome the natural fear of death. Among animals and savages, instinctive pugnacity suffices for this purpose; but at a certain stage of development, as the Mohammedans first proved, belief in Paradise has considerable military value as reinforcing natural pugnacity. We should therefore admit that militarists are wise in encouraging the belief in immortality, always supposing that this belief does not become so profound as to produce indifference to the affairs of the world.”

– Bertrand Russell, Do we survive death?

“No man treats a motor-car as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say: ‘You are a wicked motor-car, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.’ He attempts to find out what is wrong, and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion. And this applies even in the treatment of little children. Many children have had habits which are perpetuated by punishment, but will probably pass away of themselves if left unnoticed. Nevertheless, nurses with very few exceptions consider it right to inflict punishment, although by so doing they run the risk of causing insanity.

– Bertrand Russell, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?

“On entering adult life, however, a young person so [to be fearless and friendly] educated will find himself or herself plunged into a world full of injustice, full of cruelty, full of preventable misery. The injustice, the cruelty, and the misery that exist in the modern world are an inheritance from the past, and their ultimate source is economic, since life-and-death competition for the means of subsistence was in former days inevitable. It is not inevitable in our age. With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of Churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception. The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilisation for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.

– Bertrand Russell, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?

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