Re: Bertrand Russell--Way off Topic

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Wed Jan 05 2000 - 10:12:18 EST

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    On Tue, 04 Jan 2000 16:39:08 -0600, Susan Brassfield wrote:


    SB>it's a sermon I wrote and delivered at my local Unitarian church on the
    >last Sunday of the old year. Since I'm thinking about these general topics
    >lately, it has a bearing on this conversation.

    Susan is an *atheist* and yet she preaches sermons at a Unitarian
    *church*? This is itself a comment on where a church ends up when it
    rejects the Scriptures and trusts only in its own unaided reason:

    "unitarian...a member of a denomination that stresses individual freedom of
    belief, the free use of reason in religion, a united world community, and
    liberal social action" (


    SB> Stephen quotes me quoting Russell:
    >>SB>"Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the
    >>>world which Science presents for our belief.
    >and then adds:
    >SJ>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.

    SB>it matters for the same reason it matters that I stab you with a stright
    >pin. If I did that, you would jump and say bad things. (In the reverse
    >situation I would say *very* bad things.)

    Maybe Susan can explain exactly *how* me remaining an atheist or
    becoming a Christian "matters...for the same reason it matters that" Susan
    stabs me "with a straight pin"?

    >SJ>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

    SB>it will have mattered to us.

    My point was that *in the end* (if Russell is right) then "it will be as
    though man never was" and so *in the long run* it won't *matter* "if
    the atheists were right and the Christians wrong".

    SB>Dispair is a sin whether you are an atheist or a theist.

    Well Susan herself has quoted Russell advocating "unyielding despair" so
    on Susan's own premises, Russell must be a sinner!

    SB>It may be among the worst of all sins.

    And how exactly can atheism talk meaningfully about "sin"? Under atheism
    who is there to sin against?

    Indeed I find it is interesting how atheists cannot consistently live out their
    own creed but must parasitically draw on the vocabulary of theistic
    religions like Christianity for their key concepts!

    SB>this is a bit from my sermon:
    >"When the Roots and Branches Adult Education class was reading and
    >discussing the Old Testament we were surprised at how little was said about
    >the afterlife.

    This is not altogether true. The OT's teaching on the afterlife starts at
    Genesis and progressively grows clearer until it culminates in the teaching's
    of the Old Testament's Messiah, namely Jesus. *All* the key afterlife
    themes can be found in embryonic form in the OT.

    SB>It seemed like the ancient Jews thought about the afterlife
    >very little. Finally, about a year ago I happened to be present when a
    >local Rabbi was asked about the Jewish version of the afterlife. "We are
    >told how to live a good life," he answered. 'What happens after we die is
    >G-d's business and none of our concern.'"

    Since Judaism has rejected its own Messiah, it is not surprising that Jewish
    rabbis have no better answers on the afterlife than the man in the street!

    But maybe the rabbi's problem is not knowledge but *unbelief*. If he knew
    his own Bible (the Christian Old Testament) he would know that the OT
    did say some very important things about the afterlife. For example, the OT
    prophet Daniel prophesied that there will be a general resurrection and

    "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to
    everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2).

    There is plenty more but it is probably off-topic to list pages of Scripture
    references to the afterlife from the Old Testament.

    >SJ>>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>again you are equating arguing against creationism (or it's latest
    >permutation "ID") philosophy.

    Susan is simply *wrong* about ID being just a "permutation" of
    "creationism". A creationist can be an IDer, but an IDer need not be a
    creationist. As I have pointed out previously, there are some IDers who are
    not even Christians and some who are not even *theists* (at least not in
    any conventional sense).

    SB>with arguing against God or Christianity. I think *YOU* are wrong. ).

    Susan has said *plenty* of disparaging things "against God or Christianity".
    Just recently, for example, she equated God with the Tooth Fairy!

    SB>I think you fool yourself for religious reasons

    The point is *why* does Susan think that I fool myself for religious
    reasons, if she is not "arguing against God or Christianity?

    SB>but it is you (and Creationists in general) I argue against.

    I am not even a young-Earth creationist and I provisionally accept common
    ancestry. So why does Susan argue against *me* as well as "Creationists in
    general", if her real argument is not "against God or Christianity"?

    >>SB>built."--From "A Free Man's Worship" You can find the entire essay at

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

    SB>wait until you get a look at "atheist spirituality"! :-)

    See my comment above that "atheists cannot consistently live out their own
    creed but must parasitically draw on the vocabulary of theistic religions like
    Christianity for their key concepts".

    If atheists deny there is any such thing as "spirit", why do they need to use
    the word? That atheist must parasitise concepts drawn from Christian
    theism is IMHO a self-refutation of atheism.

    >>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".

    >SJ>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.

    SB>More Russell, from "Why I am Not A Christian"
    >"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 and
    >millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view
    >to suppose that life will die
    >out -- at least 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. "

    Russell here contradicts himself. He had previously said that "all these
    things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no
    philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand", and draws the
    conclusion of "unyielding despair" from it, yet here he claims that "Nobody
    really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years

    This just goes to support my claim that atheists cannot really live by the
    creed they profess,

    SB>Russell and the good Rabbi agree:

    Which is maybe not surprising since the "good Rabbi" may be an
    atheist/agnostic too (like a lot of so-called `Christian' clergymen), since if
    Susan has quoted him correctly he apparently does not even know (or
    believe) his own Scriptures.

    SB>It's really none of our business what happens a million years from now.

    First, if that was the case, why did Russell say (quoted by Susan) all that
    stuff about the universe ultimately dying of heat death? And that no
    philosophy which rejected it can stand?

    Second, it *does* affect us *now* what will happen in the future. If we
    know that in the end (on atheist premises) it will make no difference what
    we believe, then it affects what we believe right now. That is, on atheism's
    own premises, atheism itself has at best only *temporary* value - it is not
    something that is true for all time. Christianity, OTOH, on its own
    premises, is something that is true for all time.

    SB>You probably needed a course of Prozac.

    I don't have a problem *now* - that was 30+ years ago. Since I became a
    Christian I have never been depressed or needed drugs (apart from antibiotics).

    >SJ>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>see above. Why does it matter if one of us stabs the other with a stright pin?

    See also above. I will await Susan's explanation of the relevance of the
    straight pin to the question of whether remaining an atheist or becoming a
    Christian matters!

    >SJ>see above. Why does it matter if one of us stabs the other with a stright pin?
    >>Susan by waving her magic "out of context quote" wand does not change
    >>what Russell actually wrote.

    SB>I was curious why the "universe will end" message was so strong that you
    >became a Christian and you were unmoved by the following paragraph which so
    >very persuasively argues *against* embracing religion. I suspected for a
    >moment you were ignorant of the paragraph that followed your quote.

    Frankly I couldn't see its relevance. That Russell might try to act cheerful in
    the face of reality makes no difference to the reality. I found a philosophy
    which if denies what Russell thought was inevitable.

    That is, the universe would continue on sliding inexorably into heat death,
    except that according to Christianity Christ will return and create a new
    heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). Note
    BTW the OT prophesies on the afterlife!

    So I don't have to *put on* a cheerful face. I *cannot help* feeling cheerful
    about the *wonderful* things that I believe are going to happen!

    >SJ>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>God has never intervened on behalf of any of us in the past.

    Susan should speak for herself! God has intervened on *my* behalf *many
    times* in the past!

    Indeed Susan preaches in a Unitarian church whose *very existence* is
    evidence that God has intervened in the past, in the Person of His Son. If
    there had been no intervention by God in the Incarnation, there would be
    no Christian church, including breakaways like Susan's Unitarian church.

    There wouldn't be any year 2000 either if "God has never intervened ...
    in the past!

    SB>98% of all species that ever lived are now extinct.

    Maybe Susan can expand on why she thinks that the extinction of species
    is evidence that God has never intervened.

    Since humans would never have arisen while the dinosaurs remained on
    Earth, I personally believe that God may have intervened to destroy the
    dinosaurs by causing a large asteroid to impact the Earth in the Cretaceous.

    SB>He, She, It or They will not intervene on our behalf.

    How does Susan *know* this?

    SB>He, She, etc. didn't intervene when
    >approximately 1/3 of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death.

    Again, how does Susan *know* this? God might have intervened to
    *cause* "the Black Death" and/or He might have intervened so that *only*
    "approximately 1/3 of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death".

    SB>I don't really see that behavior changing.

    Maybe the *real* problem is in Susan's first four words: "I don't really

    >SJ>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>Russell sees *all* gods as Moloch. He doesn't exempt any of them for
    >reasons he has explained in detail.

    As an atheist Russell believed that God and gods were equally unreal. But
    that does not explain why he uncritically equates the Biblical conception of
    God with that of "The religion of Moloch". The latter taught and carried
    out the sacrifice of children, whereas the latter taught *against* the
    sacrifice of children.

    From a Christian perspective that is explained by the guilty sinner Russell's
    hatred of God!

    >>SB>Russell sees *all* gods as Moloch. He doesn't exempt any of them for
    >reasons he has explained in detail.
    >>SB>And this, more characteristic of the cheerful and highly moral Russell I
    >>>know and love, is further down:

    >SJ>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":


    Here is a part-paragraph by the historian Paul Johnson which sums up his
    chapter in his book "Intellectuals" on Russell:

    "Russell's victims were often humbler creatures: chambermaids,
    governesses, any young and pretty female whisking around the house.
    Professor Hook, in his portrait of Russell, claims this was the essential
    reason his third marriage broke up. Hook said he learned 'on good
    authorities that Russell, 'despite his advanced age, was pursuing anything in
    skirts that crossed his path, and that he was carrying on flagrantly even
    with the servant girls, not behind [Peter's*] back but before her eyes and
    those of his house guests'. She left him and returned, but Russell refused to
    take a pledge of marital fidelity and eventually she decided she was no
    longer prepared to be humiliated."

    * his wife Margery ("Peter") Spence. Square brackets are in original.

    (Johnson P., "Intellectuals", Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 1988, p218)

    SB>you are making the mistake--made by a lot of Christians--that morality is
    >closely associated with sexuality. Russell didn't think so and neither do
    >I. Morality is a much bigger subject. To consign the word "morality" to the
    >narrow meaning of "don't get laid" makes it MUCH easier to light the match
    >on the auto da fe.

    So now Susan has her own special definition of what "highly moral"

    It appears that one can be a geriatric sexual predator preying on one's
    young female employees (effectively raping them, because they know that
    if they complained they would be out of a job), and yet still be "highly
    moral" in Susan's atheistic worldview?

    But then what exactly is Russell's objection to "The religion of Moloch"?
    No doubt its adherents thought they were being "highly moral" too!

    Maybe Susan can explain the distinctions between "highly moral", merely
    "moral" and "immoral" in her system of thought, with examples of each?

    SB>the very same charges have been leveled at Ghandi--who was not an
    >atheist--and Ronald Reagan who at least *said* he was a Christian. So what?

    It is *irrelevant* what Ghandi or Reagan did. If they committed a "string of
    adulteries" then I would not claim they were "highly moral".

    But Susan was claiming that *Bertrand Russell* was "highly moral", even
    though he went around seeking "victims" who "were often humbler
    creatures: chambermaids, governesses" (ie. sexual harassment and
    effectively rape of his defenceless employees), committed a "string of
    adulteries" and was indifferent toward his children.

    The test is would Susan regard Russell's behaviour above as "highly moral"
    if she was one of Russell's young female employees or Russell's wife?

    If not then Susan should repudiate Russell's morality as no better than a
    selfish *animal* who doesn't care who he hurts in indulging his sexual lusts.

    >SJ>"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:

    SB>because how the universe ends is none of our business. How we *live*
    >matters. It matters to *us*.

    Why then is Russell writing about "how the universe ends" if it "is none of
    our business"?

    And while we personally won't be around when the universe ends, and so it
    may not matter to us personally in that sense, it should matter to us *as
    members of the human race* 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 ruins".

    >SJ>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.

    SB>:-) since I write detective novels, I don't find that such an awful fate.

    My point was the great atheistic philosopher Russell was reduced to such
    escapism because he had come to realise that according to his atheistic
    philosophy life turned out to be meaningless at the end. But I won't press
    this until I find the quote.

    >SJ>>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.
    >so *that's* why you must have gods? So you won't feel insignificant? So we
    >are here for a very brief time. What we do with that time is extremely
    >important *to us*. Why not? *I* am not insignificant!! and I don't need a
    >6000 year old battle god to make me significant.

    SB>so *that's* why you must have gods? So you won't feel insignificant? So we
    >are here for a very brief time. What we do with that time is extremely
    >important *to us*. Why not? *I* am not insignificant!! and I don't need a
    >6000 year old battle god to make me significant.

    It seems to me that Susan is kidding herself. It seems to me that Susan
    needs to keep putting down the Christian God by such derogatory terms as
    "6000 year old battle god" (all the while saying with she is not "arguing
    against God or Christianity"!) in order to make her feel significant.

    The silly thing is that if she gave up her claim to *self*-significance, God
    would make her far more significant than her wildest dreams!

    >SJ>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.

    SB>Congratulations. I'm having a great life also. :-)

    Then why all the railings against the Christian God and His creationist

    >SJ>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

    SB>Pascal's wager! :-) good luck!

    I don't need " good luck". Under "Pascal's wager" I *can't lose*:

    "`Either God is or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason
    cannot decide this question...cannot prove either wrong.... Let us assess the
    two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing....'

    According to Pascal's wager, one cannot lose by wagering that God and
    immortality exist. Even if one cannot prove God nor an after life, it is a
    good bet to believe in him. We have nothing to lose. If God does not exist,
    the life of the believer is a great life anyway. If he does exist, then so much
    the more. Not only is this life great but the one to come will be even
    greater. So, believing in God and a life to come is a good bet, both for this
    life and the one to come. The wager cannot be avoided. We must either
    believe in God or not. Since we can't avoid betting, the odds
    overwhelmingly favor betting on God." (Geisler N.L., "Baker Encyclopedia
    of Christian Apologetics", 1999, p584)


    Stephen E. (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ Email:
    3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \ Web:
    Warwick 6024 -> *_,--\_/ Phone: +61 8 9448 7439
    Perth, Western Australia v "Test everything." (1 Thess. 5:21)

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