SOME THOUGHTS ON RUSSELL’S “WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN”

Bertrand Russell made many objections to Christ and Christianity in his paper Why I am not a Christian.

He tackles the idea of God which was strongly advocated by Jesus who went as far as to say we should always be about God alone.

Christians try to put God outside the reach of science by saying he is not an object in the universe and science is about objects in the universe.  They think up arguments for God and claim that science is about experiments not philosophy so if science finds nothing that does not matter.  You would think that if God mediated himself and showed himself through what he has made science would find him. If the bread of communion is the body and blood and soul and godhead of Jesus Christ then God can incarnate himself in the universe so that science becomes an exercise in learning about God.  Christians dictate how God should not engage with science.  That is odd.  I thought they said they regarded God as his own person and not to be dictated to?  In science, the sun rising every day for billions of years does not mean it will probably rise tomorrow.  We are being hypothetical.  The sun does not rise.  Science then is doing philosophy here.   If God can tamper so that we get a probably then that shows that science and God do not fit.

When considering arguments for the existence of God, Russell states, “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God. …If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause…There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed.”

If the world could have come to be without a cause so could God. But if the world could always have existed then why not God?

Imagine the first cause was just an impersonal and spiritual intelligence. That would be simpler than the Christian God who not only is intelligent but is conscious and can relate to people. If you want an simple first cause, the cause cannot be God.

Christians say, "Russell believed in the brute fact of the universe. He didn’t see that it is more likely for God to be such a fact than the creation. God is simple and he is spirit. Spirit is that which exists but which is not physical and has no parts. The creation however is complicated and physical and needs to be put together and organised. He failed to see that when we say everything has a cause we mean the creation. God was not made by anything. He has no cause. He just is. God is a brute fact. Only God can be a brute fact for he is the reason for his own existence."

This assumes that a spirit is so simple that it needs nothing to put it together. But that may be false - sometimes simple things have to come out of complex. It assumes that it is good and perfect to be God. But is it?

You would need to be able to prove spirit really exists. And you would need to prove that being spirit is good. In fact, Christians say we hope to rise again implying that surviving death as a spirit is undesirable and inadequate. It is only good because the alternative is non-existence. That would be a negative goodness. It is not a positive goodness. So it might not be good to be a spirit. It could be a case of being wanting to do things and being unable to without having a body. Or it could be a case where you have no brain or nerves and no feelings and just float around aimlessly. A spirit God as a spirit God, cannot suffer for others. God is said to have become man in Jesus Christ. But that is different. He had to take on an additional nature in order to do it.

Russell is said to misused Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor means one must always accept the simplest and most suitable explanation of the available evidence. Suppose the universe could be a brute fact. Suppose God could be a brute fact. Occam’s Razor supposedly says that we should take it for granted that God as the simplest adequate explanation is the brute fact. Russell could have avoided being accused of abusing the Razor by exploring the alleged simplicity of God more in depth. The idea is nonsense for a mind is a machine and a mind that has no parts or components like God who is just a monad, a spirit, is not a mind.

“There is a very common argument from Natural Law. That was a favourite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so… We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind.”

Christianity says that Russell attempts to refute the idea that the universe works according to laws - eg, it is law that if you get too close to the sun you will burn up - because he is afraid that the suggestion that it does imply that there must be a God to make these laws. He suggests that what we see as natural laws are simply the regularities we observe. They are not really laws. In this view, the sun is hot not because laws actually decree that it will be but by chance.

They say this is an example of circular reasoning, “The universe does not really work through laws so there is no God. Because there is no God we know it does not work by laws.  Russell is assuming as true what he says he needs to prove. Assuming is not proving."  Wrong.  We don't need to refer to nature's predictability as laws but as regularities.  You don't need to say that some ghost put water on your landing when a leak would do to explain it.

With regard to the notion that there can be no law without a law maker let us assume this is true.  I say that if there is no God, if there is nothing at all, it is the law that there will be no suffering. Laws exist whether there is a lawmaker or not.  But again we don't need the ideas of law.

Russell contemplates the Argument for God’s existence From Design:

“The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. ..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 have 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, the Fascisti, and Mr. Winston Churchill?”

Christians reply, "Russell assumes that God must make only perfect things. If for him if things are imperfect or seem to be imperfectly designed then they disprove God. He does not consider the possibility that creation was designed well but we ruined it. We ruined the design at the Fall. The ruin does not refute design but rather supports it."

If design is ruined by evil, that evil surely might attack our minds first and foremost. So how can we judge then if creation is designed? Is not blaming the fall for the lack of design an attempt to dismiss any evidence that there is no design?

Another Christian answer to Russell’s problem is that God does make things perfectly. It is because we refused to be perfect that creation is imperfect. Also, an artist might design some “flaw” into his painting. That does not mean his painting is imperfect. It is as perfect in the way it is meant to be.

If we were in a hellish universe, Christians would still be saying that. It is rubbish spouted by people who have no real understanding of the horrors of suffering. How can they really know what it was like for more than 99.9% of the human race?

Christians say, "Russell thinks that the things that don’t seem designed prove there is no designer. If you go into a tailor’s premises and see there are a few coats completed amid a pile of material lying everywhere you will not take the latter as evidence that there is no tailor. You will take the coats as evidence that there is."

But if the rags were found along the road you would not say there was a tailor there. You only take the rags as evidence for a tailor when you know you are in a tailor's shop.

Russell argued:

God only makes things that look perfectly designed.

There are imperfections in the universe.

Therefore there is no God.

He takes the first premise as proven though it is only an assumption. It is not necessarily correct. But it is not necessarily wrong either.

He says, “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." I am not very much impressed by the splendour of those people."

He insinuates that believers in divine design are arrogant and haughty. That is an ad hominem argument. If all believers have that pompous attitude it does not disprove divine design. He is trying to provoke ill feeling against believers to prejudice the reader against divine design.
The argument would show that believing in divine design is not nice but not that it is incorrect.

After stating that life will disappear from the universe one day and there is no eternal life he writes, “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. “

It seems true that some people need the teaching of eternal life. In fact, they make themselves need it. If they were properly adjusted they would love life for being life and settle for that. In reality, what they need is not the belief but to grow out of it.

“ The whole conception of a God is a conception derived from the ancient oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. “

We are superstitiously doing away with our freedom by believing in God because it is derived from ancient intolerance and power-seeking

The Christian reply is that," Russell forgets that the Christian God is a God of liberty and freedom. He wishes us free us from slavery to sin. He makes an ad hominem attack on belief in God. Even if belief in God did take away our freedom and happiness it still would not follow that it is false."  This is not true for the Bible God gives us a revelation that is replete with violence and threats and Jesus promised a cross not a crown.  And it is strictly logically correct that God belief hurting us would not show the belief wrong.  But if God is love and a tree is known by its fruits God probably does not exist if terrible harm arises from faith.

They continue, "And another logical error is that if belief in God came from ancient despotism, it does not mean that it is a bad doctrine now."

In fact pagans did rites for gods and goddesses but that was all about this world.  They wanted favours.  Life was hard.  They did not love their gods much.  Their idea of religion was more honest and freedom affirming than Christianity. 

Overall the book does a reasonable job of refuting the God of Christianity.  A bit more development in some themes would have been great.



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