Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (1927)



2.      One: Belief in God

         a.      No specific idea of what God is like?

3.      Two: Belief in immortality

         a.      If one does not believe in life after death one is not a Christian?

4.      Three: Belief in Christ as the best and wisest of men

         a.      Needn’t believe he was divine?

5.      Russell rejects all three

6.      Note: For Russell, it doesn’t require a belief in Hell



8.      1st cause argument (Cosmological argument)

         a.      Positing God as cause of the world doesn’t help, as who caused God?

         b.      World could have always existed

         c.      No reason why world couldn’t have come into existence without a cause

         d.      Note: You should be able to give Richard Taylor’s response to each of these objections

9.      Design argument

         a.      Argument that world must have been designed to suit living beings is undermined by the realization that living beings adapted to the world and that is why the world seems such a nice fit for living beings

                   i.       Evolution explains design of living things for their environment

         b.      Not likely a good and all powerful being would have designed a world with all the defects of our world (this is a version of the problem of evil)

10.    Moral arguments

         a.      Divine command theory of right and wrong: Right is what God commands and wrong is what God forbids

                   i.       If what is right is right because God commanded it then we can’t praise God for his commands and such commands are arbitrary (lacking a good reason)

                   ii.      If God commands something because it is already right, then right and wrong are independent of God

         b.      Argument for remedying injustice: Sometimes, in this world, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer and so we need to suppose a God who will bring justice into this world

                   i.       But why assume the world must be just?

                   ii.      Given that the world we know if filled with injustice, why assume the rest of reality is any different?



12.    Not the wisest, because he predicted his second coming and it hasn’t happened

13.    Not the best of men

         a.      Christ had a good deal of moral excellence and perfection, such as:

                   i.       Turn the other cheek, judge not lest one be judged, and if one wants to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor (he criticizes Christians for not liking or living up to these teachings)

         b.      But was not the best or most perfect person

         c.      Socrates or Buddha were better men.

14.    Objections to Christ’s moral views

         a.      (1) Christ believed in and threatened hellfire and eternal damnation

                   i.       This has caused unspeakable misery in those who believed they have sinned

                   ii.      A truly good person would not put such fears and terror into the world

                   iii.     Any profoundly humane person wouldn’t believe in everlasting punishment

                   iv.     Hell-fire as a punishment for sin is a doctrine of cruelty and it has brought cruelty into the world

         b.      (2) Christ’s vindictive fury against disbelievers and those who would not listen to him detracts from his excellence

                            (1)    Socrates, for example, had a different attitude

                   ii.      “Only way to God is through me”

                   iii.     If you don’t believe in me you will go to Hell



16.    Positive

         a.      Many believe that one should not attack religion because it makes people virtuous and w/o it, they’d be evil.

                   i.       Is this true? Are atheists any more likely to be immoral than other people?

         b.      Think of the charitable contribution and good work of churches and religious people in general

17.    Negative (Russell’s view)

         a.      Religion is the source of much evil in the world (e.g., consider religious based war: Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Jews and Muslims in Middle east, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Hindus and Muslims in India)

         b.      The stronger the religious fervor, the worse the situation

                   i.       But a recent study found that being a more fundamental and religious Muslim was not correlated with more likely to be a terrorist

         c.      Consider the inquisition (Church persecuting heretics), witch burnings (millions of women)

         d.      Organized churches have been a principle impediment to human progress (support for Nazis, Southern churches support for segregation)


         e.      God’s will and human good not the same

                   i.       Religious based morals not tied to human happiness

                            (1)    Sex is bad; perpetuates fear, shame

                   ii.      Prohibition of contraception and affects on world population are bad



19.    Brainwashed in infancy

20.    Fear/terror of meaningless, death, the unknown

         a.      Desire not to believe that the universe will eventually die out

21.    Need for safety and comfort (a big brother looking out for you)



23.    Virtuous person is not a religious person

24.    Religion drags people down

         a.      Unworthy of free and rational people

         b.      Debasing, not worthy of self-respecting people (“We’re miserable sinners”)

         c.      Slavishly subdued by terror

         d.      Fetters human intelligence using ancient words of ignorant people

         e.      Belief in God a crutch

25.    Instead look to human intelligence and science

                   i.       “To conquer the world”

         b.      Look to our own efforts to improve the world

         c.      Need a fearless outlook

         d.      Faith in human intelligence

26.    Does such a humanism manifest an undue faith in humans?

27.    As if we are so great then we can solve all our problems?

         a.      A kind of hubris? Arrogance?

Questions on Russell on Religion and Christianity

1.         Russell claims: "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God. . . . 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. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." Which of these statements would Richard Taylor agree with and which disagree with and why? Where they disagree, do you support Taylor or Russell? Why?

2.         What must one believe in order to be "a Christian" according to Russell? Is this a good definition of "Christian?"

3.         What are Russell's reasons for not being a Christian? Are these good reasons? Why or why not?

4.         What "moral defects" does Russell find in Jesus' character? Do you agree that these are moral defects? Why or why not?

5.         According to Russell, what motivates people to be religious (besides fear of eternal damnation)? Do you think he is right? Why or why not?

6.         Explain Russell's reasons for claiming that religion has, on balance, been a negative force in human history. Do you agree with him?

7.         Explain why Russell thinks that religious belief is "unworthy of free and rational people." Do you think he is right?

8.         Can an atheist be a morally good person? Why or why not? Can an atheist consistently believe in objective morality? Why or why not? Is it true that "without God, everything is permissible?" Why might some think this is true?

9.         Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Is it more difficult to defend atheism than agnosticism? Why or why not?

10.       According to Russell, the theory of evolution undermines the design argument for God’s existence (pp. 45-46). What is the design argument and how does evolution undermine it?

11.       Is the theory of evolution atheistic? That is, if evolution is a true scientific theory does that make religious belief untenable?