Bertrand Russell’s (Un)Apologetic

The group discusses Bertrand Russell’s infamous essay Why I Am Not a Christian. Russell led the 20th century British revolt against idealism and contributed greatly to the philosophical field of logic. Jared Oliphint leads a march through Russell’s essay as the group offers a critique of the philosopher’s arguments.

Participants: , ,

Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.


10 years ago

Actually found Dr. Trueman’s sermon on Mark 5 (Jesus sending demons into the pigs) referred to in the podcast: http://www.cornerstoneopc.com/08-10-08.mp3

Tim H.

10 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. I really appreciated his exposition.

But having heard the MP3, I’m wondering why he preached with a bucket on his head.

Camden Bucey

10 years ago

Thanks for that follow-up. I know we said we would put it in the show notes.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

Excellent show. I think this was probably the best thing I’ve heard from you guys, in terms of engaging with an opposing argument in a serious, nuanced way. I never felt like you were arguing in bad faith or glossing over any difficult problems. Great job.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with you! 🙂

I’m going to listen to it again, but after my first listen on the way to work today I had two points I’d like to discuss.

First, about halfway through there was an interesting excursion into the necessity of the historicity of Christ. Your arguments seemed to be based on the premise that redemption could only be accomplished by Christ dying as a penal sacrifice which was(is?) then imputed to us, or something like that. As I listened, I started wondering how much emphasis should be placed on the “only” in the previous sentence. Would you want to claim that there was absolutely no other way for redemption to occur? That God could not have chosen to fulfill his redemptive plan by some other means? Is that the sort of constraint that you are comfortable putting on God? And if so, what is your justification?

Second, I think I started losing the plot at the end, with the discussion of each self having their own truth, and atheists being interested in having relationships with other people. I almost thought my podcatcher had skipped to an Emergent Village podcast or something… have you guys been reading some especially persuasive post-modernist arguments lately? Russell would probably respond that no, we don’t each get our own truth; we get our own search for the truth, which is external to us, and we can only assess our nearness to the truth (and the nearness of others) by proxy – by assessing the methods used in the pursuit of that truth. And with regard to atheists (and everyone) having a desire for human relationships – of course you get that impression… people who aren’t like that don’t get out much, and they don’t talk to you! 🙂 Seriously, it shouldn’t be surprising that most people care mostly about their relationships with other people; even people skeptical of evolution should recognize that people who don’t form social bonds don’t get far in the world, and would tend to be weeded out over the years, especially as population density increases.



10 years ago

First, glad you found it interesting, definitely appreciated.

And you’re right, the “relational” point was pretty poorly made. I think what I was trying to get at was not that the relational need is surprising based on obvious observation of atheist’s need to relate, but surprising based on how inconsistent that seems with their belief that the universe is inherently and empirically impersonal (thus un-relational) at its core.

Steve Ruble

10 years ago

I thought of another thing while writing the previous comment, but I decided to split it into a second comment. So here it is:

At the end, you really got into it about Russell’s opinion that we shouldn’t care about the fact that everything will end in oblivion. He thinks it’s not a big deal; you think it’s a HUGE deal. I understand your position – although I don’t sympathize with it – but I don’t think you understand what it’s like from Russell’s (and my) side of things. Here’s a little conversation that I intend to be evocative of what it’s like to hear people care about the possibility of oblivion:

Proog: “Do you realize that there are people in the world who don’t know you exist?”
Emo: “Yeah, so?”
P: “Well, doesn’t that bother you? That there are people walking around right now who don’t know about you? Who don’t care what you’re doing or how you’re feeling?”
E: “No, not really.”
P: “Why not? I mean, how can anything you do have any ultimate meaning if everybody doesn’t know about it?”
E: “I know about it. You might know about it. Why would I want everybody to know about it?”
P: “Because then it would have true meaning. Actions are only truly meaningful if every single person in the world knows about them and cares about them.”
E: “Why?”
P: “Because otherwise there are people for whom it isn’t meaningful, and if that’s true it can’t be truly meaningful, can it?”
E: “Why not?
P: “Because for some people it’s not meaningful!”
E: “So? Why should I care?”
P: “Because!”

Seriously. After a while of not being reminded that some people like to care about whether they’ll exist at the end of the universe, conversations on the topic begin to sound that absurd. I used to care myself – until I realized that I only cared because people around me had acted and spoken as if it was important. Gradually, I realized that that was all there was to it: there was no “there” there, as they say. I’m certainly not going to care if I’m not there at the end of the universe – obviously – and I’m actually not going to care about much else on the way there, after I’m gone. The meaningfulness of people and events distant from me is governed by the same relationship whether they are distant in time or in space; and inversely, the meaningfulness of my life is governed by people and events close to me in time and space, not by things far away.

I understand how you feel – you think that God and the end of the universe are close to you in time and space, and so they have a bearing on your meaning-making processes. But you, in turn, should understand where Russell and I are coming from, and that the absence of God and heaven from our meanings does not diminish their richness.


"Philosophy for Theologians" on Aquinas and Other Topics | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

9 years ago

[…] are saying: the account of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” in their third episode (the first really good one; I was not crazy about their Descartes presentation, and episode one […]


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