Category: To Set Prometheus Free

Oberon: 2009.

Russell’s attacks on religion

Russell’s attack on religious belief took a variety of forms and was expressed in a variety of ways, often in the form of ridiculing the contradictions, absurdities and anthropocentric parochialisms of religions and their sacred texts, practices and ethics, and sometimes in the form of direct argumentation against the claims either of natural theology or reve­lation. He also argued from more general historical and sociological considerations about the effects of religion – and more generally ’faith’ understood as including not just religion but Soviet Communism and the like – on society and human lives. He saw that religions and political tyrannies share in common a monolithic structure which demands sub­servience and loyalty on pain of punishment, proscribes independence of thought and action, hands down the dogma to be believed and lived by, and issues a one-size-fits-all morality or way of life to which conformity must be absolute. Russell objected both intellectually and morally, and both on principle and in defence of human nature and possibility, to the harm done by this. The tenor of his attacks on religion is explainable accordingly. [59]

Science teaches thinking

The idea of the outward-looking, self-transcending stance expressed itself in two connected ways for Russell. One related to science, the other to personal relationships and the individual’s attitude to others in general. In regard to science, the objectivity and scope of science is obviously such as to make individual self-concern a very minor if not indeed nugatory thing. In the essay ‘The Place of Science in a Liberal Education’ Russell worte, ‘The kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires and interest as affording the key to the understanding of the world’, and this immediately entails that the disciplines of reason and evidence are the sole legitimate determinants of thinking in general. [69-70]