Re: Bertrand Russell--Way off Topic

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 16:24:19 EST

  • Next message: Susan Brassfield: "Re: Bertrand Russell--Way off Topic"


    On Mon, 03 Jan 2000 10:01:21 -0600, Susan Brassfield wrote:

    SB>A while back I quoted Bertrand Russell to Stephen (Mr. Quote himself)

    I'm insulted. I thought to Susan I was Mr *Mis*-Quote! :-)

    >he quoted the following Russell passage back at me and explained that this
    >exact paragraph was, at least in part, what drove him into the arms of

    The point is that if Rusell was right that, as Susan quotes:

    SB>"Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the
    >world which Science presents for our belief.

    then it doesn't matter *what* I was driven into the arms of. If Russell is
    right that the world is "purposeless" and "void of meaning", then it is
    equally meaningless for me to have remained an atheist or to have become
    a Christian.

    Moreover, if Russell is right, as Susan quotes:

    SB>...that all the
    >labours of the ages, all the
    >devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius,
    >are destined to
    >extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple
    >of Man's
    >achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in

    then a time will *inevitably* come when there won't be *any* atheists or
    Christians, or any life at all, left in the universe. In that case it will be as
    though man never was. Then (and therefore now) it won't *matter* if the
    atheists were right and the Christians wrong.

    Indeed if Susan *really* believes this, why does she *bother* arguing
    against Christianity, or for atheism? I suspect that Susan, like most
    professed atheists, have not (indeed *cannot* and stay sane) come to terms
    with the *full* implications of their avowed philosophy.

    SB>....all these
    >things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no
    >philosophy which rejects
    >them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only
    >on the firm foundation
    >of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely
    >built."--From "A Free Man's Worship" You can find the entire essay at

    Thanks to Susan for this link. I must say it seems strange that it is found
    under a URL called "PositiveAtheism"!

    SB>It bugged me that the usually positive and cheerful Russell who also wrote
    >"What I believe is that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will
    >survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver
    >with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness in nonetheless
    >true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and
    >love lose their value because they are not everlasting."
    >Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not A Christian".

    Susan should finish the quote:

    "Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold..." (Russell B.,
    "Why I Am Not A Christian", 1961, p43).

    This is hardly "positive and cheerful"! But OTOH it probably is an accurate
    metaphor of how the atheist Russell saw the world.

    Besides, that Russell is "usually positive and cheerful" does not change the
    *reality* of what he was writing about. Susan's own quote above says:
    "only on the firm foundation of unyielding *despair*, can the soul's
    habitation henceforth be safely built" (my emphasis)

    BTW how *exactly* do "thought and love" *not* "lose their value" when
    "the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath
    the debris of a universe in ruins"?

    SB>would write something so baldly grim. Therefore I had a feeling it was out
    >of context.

    The fact is that Russell *did* "write something so baldly grim", as Susan
    herself has confirmed by her own quote!

    Susan by waving her magic "out of context quote" wand does not change
    what Russell actually wrote. The universe *is* inexorably running down
    and a time will inevitably come (unless God intervenes) when *all* life in
    the universe will be extinguished. Then it will be as if mankind had never

    SB>Stephen should have read on in the essay. He might have avoided
    >Christianity altogether! :-)

    Again, the point is that on atheistic premises that if: "the whole temple of
    Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a
    universe in ruins", *it doesn't matter* if I had (or had not) "avoided
    Christianity altogether"?

    SB>This is the next paragraph:
    >"The savage, like ourselves, feels the oppression of his impotence before
    >the powers of Nature;
    >but having in himself nothing that he respects more than Power, he is
    >willing to prostrate
    >himself before his gods, without inquiring whether they are worthy of his
    >worship. Pathetic
    >and very terrible is the long history of cruelty and torture, of
    >degradation and human sacrifice,
    >endured in the hope of placating the jealous gods: surely, the trembling
    >believer thinks, when
    >what is most precious has been freely given, their lust for blood must be
    >appeased, and more
    >will not be required. The religion of Moloch -- as such creeds may be
    >generically called -- is in
    >essence the cringing submission of the slave, who dare not, even in his
    >heart, allow the thought
    >that his master deserves no adulation. Since the independence of ideals is
    >not yet
    >acknowledged, Power may be freely worshipped, and receive an unlimited
    >respect, despite its
    >wanton infliction of pain."

    Apart from the fallacy of assuming that the *Christian* God is the same as
    the "The religion of Moloch" (when the Bible *condemns* it - see Lev
    18:21; Lev 20:2-5), again, on Russell's own premises, what does it
    *matter* if a person does or does not worships God or gods?

    SB>And this, more characteristic of the cheerful and highly moral Russell I
    >know and love, is further down:

    This "highly moral" bit is interesting. On a debate on the Reflector a former
    reflectorite, Jim Bell, posted the following, which if it's true, shows that
    Russell was anything *but* "moral":

    On 08 Mar 96 15:25:54 EST, Jim Bell wrote:


    Re: Russell. It is interesting to chart his moral course. Paul Johnson does
    this in -Intellectuals-, a wonderful book about many of the leading "lights"
    who rejected objective morality. Russell spent his dotage chasing young
    skirts, deflowering chambermaids, and generally making a pest of himself. So
    much for moral feelings.




    On 17 Jun 97 13:06:18 EDT, Jim Bell wrote:


    >RS <Bertrand Russell is a good place to start.

    JB>Thanks for the reference. In the context of our discussion, this is an
    >interesting case. Do you know about the disparity between Russell's
    >materialist philosophy and his actual behavior? Do you know about his first
    >wife, Alys, and what he did to her (she was a devout Quaker, BTW)? About his
    >moral hypocrisy with his second wife, Dora? The string of adulteries behind
    >the back of his third wife? His indifference toward his children? I wonder if
    >he is the best example to use.



    I will try to get Paul Johnson's "The Intellectuals" from a library to
    confirms this.

    SB>"Let us preserve our respect for truth, for beauty, for the ideal of
    >perfection which life does not permit us to attain, though none of these
    >things meet with the approval of the unconscious universe. If Power is bad,
    >as it seems to be, let us reject it from our hearts. In this lies Man's
    >true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own
    >love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the insight of
    >our best moments. In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the
    >tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free
    >from our fellow-men, free from the petty planet on which our bodies
    >impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the
    >tyranny of death. Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us
    >to live constantly in
    >the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of
    >fact, with that vision
    >always before us."

    This sounds all very well, but again, if Russell is right that:

    "all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human
    genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and
    that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried
    beneath the debris of a universe in ruins"

    then what does it *matter* if one does, or does not:

    "live constantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into
    the world of fact, with that vision always before us"?

    I read somewhere that Russell, at the end of his life, was reduced to
    reading a detective novel a day. On atheistic premises that is equally as
    meaningful (or meaningless) as anything else.

    At least Christianity, on its premises, that Christ will return to interrupt the
    natural course of the universe's otherwise inevitable slide into heat-death,
    and will eternally reward the righteous and punish the unrighteous, gives a
    *reason* for its followers thinking that what they think, say and do in this
    life is eternally significant.

    Personally I have *never* for one moment regretted my decision to
    renounce atheism/agnosticism for Christianity. I have had (and am having)
    a *great* life, whereas before I was despairing and suicidal.

    Moreover, I know that if atheism is true it does not ultimately matter that I
    became a Christian, but if Christianity turns out to be true it ultimately
    matters *a great deal* (to put it mildly) that I did not remain an


    "There is a vast weight of empirical evidence about the universe which says
    that unless you invoke supernatural causes, the birds could not have arisen
    from muck by any natural processes. Well, if the birds couldn't have arisen
    from muck by any natural processes, then they had to arise from non-birds.
    The only alternative is to say that they did arise from muck because God's
    finger went out and touched that muck. That is to say, there was a non-
    natural process. And that's really where the action is. Either you think that
    complex organisms arose by non-natural phenomena, or you think that they
    arose by natural phenomena. If they arose by natural phenomena, they had
    to evolve. And that's all there is to it. And that's the only claim I'm
    making." (Lewontin R., in Bethell T., "Agnostic Evolutionists", in "The
    Electric Windmill: An Inadvertent Autobiography", Regnery Gateway:
    Washington DC, 1988, pp205-206)
    Stephen E. Jones | |

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Jan 04 2000 - 16:25:04 EST