Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dept. of re, -turns, -urns, -runs

There has been a rumor in recent years to the effect that I have become less opposed to religious orthodoxy than I formerly was. This rumor is totally without foundation. I think all the great religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Communism – both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. With very few exceptions, the religion which a man accepts is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of environment is what has led him to accept the religion in question. It is true that the Scholastics invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one of these arguments which is not purely logical. I mean the argument from design. This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin; and, in any case, could only be made logically respectable at the cost of abandoning God’s omnipotence. Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae, would consider Himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and Stalin and the H-bomb.
Bertrand Russell, 1957 Preface to 1927 essay, Why I Am Not a Christian. The complete essay is online in several places.

Touchstones. All returns, the argument doesn't change, no matter how networked, here's a network via BMO, the same lineaments again, riverrun past eve, again. Good t-shirts might help:


Blogger Mike Golby said...

...and somewhere in that essay is a short statement summing up Russell's approach(es) to omnipotence and 'intelligent design': "By chance? Yes. By design? Too difficult."

Or something similar. My memory's fading fast. Lousy design, I guess... (ehem)

4/06/2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Keith, you probably have this bit in mind:

The Argument from Design

The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire's remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.

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 or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless.

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 about 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.

4/06/2006 11:44 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

Do you guys know of the project headed (?) I think by Stewart Brand called The Clock Of The Long Now ?

4/11/2006 6:25 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Jon: here

4/11/2006 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Sally Wilde said...

I think it's a great irony that the logical apparatus developed by Russell has given Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God many new leases on life (and continues to do so!).

4/12/2006 11:01 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

sorry to mislead, Tom .. I knew of it, and have read Stewart's book. I was wondering if you folks knew of it. Obviously you do.

4/14/2006 7:34 AM  

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