Bertrand Russel gave a lecture on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society. This lecture was titled “Why I Am Not A Christian”. During this lecture, Russel gives a definition of what he considers a Christian to be. He also comments on the existence of God and presents rebuttals against the most commonly used arguments for the existence of God, both rational and moral. Russel then addressed why he considered Christ a person with a high degree of moral goodness, but not the highest of all people throughout history.
Russel begins by asking what a Christian is, and shows how there had been a time the definition was not as vague as it seemed when he gave this lecture. Back during the times of St. Aquinas, anyone that claimed to be a Christian held very strongly the beliefs of God and immortality. This would also include anyone from any religious background that believed in God and immortality, so if these two things are not followed by the belief that Christ was at the very least the very best of mankind no one would be able to call themselves a Christian. Russel also said that a belief in hell was an essential part of Christian ideology.
Then Russel turns his attention to the arguments most commonly used for gods existence that are considered based on reason. The First cause argument, The Natural-Law Argument, and The Argument from Design. These arguments have been used by the Catholic Church to explain how one could explain the existence God through rational means.
The First Cause Argument is the idea that everything has a cause, and that when we reached the first event to have happened, then we have found God. Russel cites John Stuart Mills’ Autobiography to address the glaring hole in the First-cause Argument. John Stuart Mills said “My father taught me that the question ‘who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question ‘who made God?’” This sentence shows the biggest flaw in this argument, for God had to have a cause that created him. Russel argues further that, if God had no first cause, why would the world need a first cause? Possibly more importantly, is there any reason why it should not have always existed?
The most common argument for Gods Existence is that of The Natural-law. This argument flourished with the rise of Newtonian cosmogony. There was beheld that planetary bodies were guided in their rotation by the law of gravity, and that God was the author of that law. However, with increased understanding of gravity by Einstein’s work, and with our more complex understanding of the probabilities that exist within the operation of atoms, it is increasingly difficult to see natural laws as a direct mandate created by God. These laws we seem to comprehend are more of a statistical average than a universal constant of God’s creation.
The third and final rational argument Russel confronts is the Argument from Design. It has been commonly held that everything in the universe was finely tuned so that we may be able to exist in it. If there were any differences, we would be unable to inhabit the world on which we live. This argument made more sense before Darwin was able to set a good theory of why life adapted to fit in the world, not that the world was created to sustain life.
After going through rational arguments, Russel wanted to address moral arguments for Deity. Russel mentions Kant’s work and the fact that if there is such a thing as right or wrong, is the difference due to God? If you say God is good, then right and wrong are independent of God. If you allow this idea then you must allow that right and wrong exist outside of God’s existence. The other option is that some even more superior being gave orders to god.
Another moral argument is that the Argument for the Remedying of Injustice. This argument is that there must be a world where all of the injustices in this world are met with their payments. The problem Russel shows about this is that this world is not dedicated to justice. We see good people suffer and we see bad people flourish. Also, with our understanding of science, it is reasonable to believe that all other worlds will suffer injustice like we do.
Russel’s final remarks are on Christ and his morality. Russel identifies a few of Christ’s teachings that he would agree with. Such as “Resist not evil: but whosever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Or “judge not lest ye be judged.” Russel seems to support these claims and acknowledges them as teachings of a great moral teacher, but he also provides points that make him consider Christ as the highest moral being.
Russel points out that Christ and many of his followers believed is second coming would be very soon. So much so that many did not plant trees because they wouldn’t have reached their fullness. Another issue is that Christ taught so passionately about hell, and he also taught of the unforgivable sin of denying the Holy Spirit. Russel argues that no person with that high of a degree of kindliness would ever put such fear in the world.
Russel has pinted out many flaws in these arguments. A few of which I found myself agreeing with before being shown in what ways they were flawed. Russel voiced an opinion that showed just how many of the arguments are argued for the sake of a sense of safety. That many of these arguments are deeply rooted in our willingness to accept things because they make us feel as if we had a grand care taker.