Another Russell Quote

Sorry for the lack of blogging. It is final exams week around here, which means busy, busy, busy. It certainly has not been for lack of blog fodder. For example, have a look at this post from P.Z. Myers. Essential reading.

So how about another Bertrand Russell quote? Like the last one, this is from his book Religion and Science It is the most perfect statement I know of a view I have expressed imperfectly here on many occasions:

I come now to the last question in our discussion of Cosmic Purpose, namely is what has happened hitherto evidence of the good intentions of the universe? The alleged ground for believing this, as we have seen, is that the universe has produced US. I cannot deny it. But are we really so splendid as to justify such a long prologue? The philosophers lay stress on values: they say we think certain things good, and that since these things are good, we must be very good to think them so. But this is a circular argument. A being with other values might think ours so atrocious as to be proof that we are inspired by Satan. Is there not something a trifle absurd in the spectacle of human beings holding a mirror before themselves, and thinking what they behold so excellent as to prove that a Cosmic Purpose must have been aiming at it all along? Why, in any case, this glorification of Man? How about lions and tigers? They destroy fewer animal or human lives than we do and they are much more beautiful than we are. How about ants? They manage the Corporate State much better than an y Fascist. Would not a world of nightingales and larks and deer be better than our human world of cruelty and injustice and war? The believers in Cosmic Purpose make much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it. If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts.

Man, as a curious accident in a backwater, is intelligible: his mixtures of virtues and vices is such as might be expected to result from fortuitous origin. But only abysmal self-complacency can see in Man a reason which Omniscience could consider adequate as a motive for the Creator. The Copernican revolution will not have done its work until it has taught men more modesty than is to be found among those who think Man sufficient evidence of Cosmic Purpose.

All praise is superfluous.


  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    December 8, 2009

    But Russell was one of them Atheism 1.0 atheists!

  2. #2 KeithB
    December 8, 2009

    It seems to me that Russel was the first Atheist 2.0! Or at least 1.8. 8^)

  3. #3 NewEnglandBob
    December 8, 2009

    One can not be a New Atheist (or New {anything}) after one is dead but Bertrand Russell’s words are seminal to today’s outspoken rationalism and humanism.

  4. #4 Valhar2000
    December 9, 2009

    But Bertrand Russel was Hurting The Cause (TM) and causing Deep Rifts (TM)!

  5. #5 Takis Konstantopoulos
    December 9, 2009

    He also said:

    So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.

    Still, there are many who use their Bibles as Science substitutes.

  6. #6 sgfan
    December 9, 2009

    thanks for share

  7. #7 Blue Ridge
    December 9, 2009

    Spinoza said the same thing (Ethics, appendix to part 1):

    All such opinions [misconceptions] spring from the notion commonly entertained, that all things in nature act as men themselves act, namely, with an end in view. It is accepted as certain, that God himself directs all things to a definite goal (for it is said that God made all things for man, and man that he might worship him)….

    After men persuaded themselves, that everything which is created is created for their sake, they were bound to consider as the chief quality in everything that which is most useful to themselves, and to account those things the best of all which have the most beneficial effect on mankind. Further, they were bound to form abstract notions for the explanation of the nature of things, such as goodness, badness, order, confusion, warmth, cold, beauty, deformity, and so on ; and from the belief that they are free agents arose the further notions of praise and blame, sin and merit.

    Spinoza’s point was not that God does not exist, but that he is wrongly conceived.

    In the foregoing I have explained the nature and properties of God. I have shown that he necessarily exists, that he is one : that he is, and acts solely by the necessity of his own nature ; that he is the free cause of all things, and how he is so ; that all things are in God, and so depend on him, that without him they could neither exist nor be conceived ; lastly, that all things are predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power.

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