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Religion and Science – tekijä: Bertrand…
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Religion and Science (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 1935; vuoden 1997 painos)

– tekijä: Bertrand Russell (Tekijä), Michael Ruse (Johdanto)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
529634,395 (3.78)11
"New truth is often uncomfortable," Bertrand Russell wrote, "but it is the most important achievement of our species." In "Religion and Science" (1961), his popular polemic against religious dogma, he covers the ground from demonology to quantum physics, yet concedes that science cannot touch the profound feelings of personal religious experience.… (lisätietoja)
Jäsen:TGidney
Teoksen nimi:Religion and Science
Kirjailijat:Bertrand Russell (Tekijä)
Muut tekijät:Michael Ruse (Johdanto)
Info:Oxford University Press (1997), Edition: 2nd Revised ed., 272 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
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Religion and Science (tekijä: Bertrand Russell) (1935)

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    Etiikka (tekijä: Benedict de Spinoza) (fundevogel)
    fundevogel: Russell's discussion of morality in the chapter "Science of Ethics" draws heavily on Spinoza's analysis of human behavior and perception of "good" and "bad". It's a good idea to be familiar with Spinoza's Ethics when looking into secular morality or the evolution of morality.… (lisätietoja)
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    Before Darwin : reconciling God and nature (tekijä: Keith Stewart Thomson) (eromsted)
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In the first instance, I wish to repudiate the statement made by Manny on comment 72 here: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/551961-lame?page=2#comment_number_73

I mean, I was gasping, possibly even moaning...but it wasn't because Bertrand is my pornography....

So we have here a guy who thought he could spend his life being opinionated about everything and telling it how it is until he changes his mind. Russell believed that facts weren't the way to change people's minds, only emotional arguments could do that, and this book is an example in point. He writes seductively, if you didn't happen to know first that he's a wanker, you might even start believing him. Not this little black duck. I've been to a Bertrand Russell School and wankers doesn't begin to cover it. Only a jolly big wanker could have come up with the idea of a type of school where the kids and the teachers all thought they were very special indeed.

In his opinion, science deals with facts and the truth, the rest of what we do - and I guess he is bagging his own discipline here - is just matter of opinion and some people shout louder than others. I was rather shocked to read, when he is discussing Nietzsche's idea that most men are just animals and there are supermen above them:



We have here a sharp disagreement of great practical importance, but we have absolutely no means, of a scientific or intellectual kind, by which to persuade either party that the other is in the right. There are, it is true, ways of altering men's opinions on such subjects, but they are all emotional, not intellectual.....questions as to 'values' lie wholly outside the domain of knowledge.



Hence my moaning. My 'Oh Bertrand'. Three of us sat there mulling over this. Anna, who is a physicist, clearly thought equality of man was something that could be intellectually demonstrated. Manny was doubting that this meant Bertrand would be racist. Me, I'm thinking we'll see about that.

If you go to the wiki page on Bertrand, one of the things you see is this:


On 16 November 1922, for instance, he gave a lecture to the General Meeting of Dr. Marie Stopes's Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress on "Birth Control and International Relations," in which he described the importance of extending Western birth control worldwide; his remarks anticipated the population control movement of the 1960s and the role of the United Nations.

This policy may last some time, but in the end under it we shall have to give way—we are only putting off the evil day; the one real remedy is birth control, that is getting the people of the world to limit themselves to those numbers which they can keep upon their own soil... I do not see how we can hope permanently to be strong enough to keep the coloured races out; sooner or later they are bound to overflow, so the best we can do is to hope that those nations will see the wisdom of Birth Control.... We need a strong international authority.
—"Lecture by the Hon. Bertrand Russell", Birth Control News, vol 1, no. 8 (December 1922), p.2

Another passage from early editions of his book Marriage and Morals (1929), which Russell later claimed to be referring only to environmental conditioning, and which he significantly modified in later editions, reads:

In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another[...] It seems on the whole fair to regard Negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from the question of humanity) would be highly undesirable.
—Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, pg. 266 (1929)
....

Responding in 1964 to a correspondent's inquiry, "Do you still consider the Negroes an inferior race, as you did when you wrote Marriage and Morals?", Russell replied:

I never held Negroes to be inherently inferior. The statement in Marriage and Morals refers to environmental conditioning. I have had it withdrawn from subsequent editions because it is clearly ambiguous.
—Bertrand Russell, letter dated 17 March 1964 in Dear Bertrand Russell... a selection of his correspondence with the general public, 1950–1968. edited by Barry Feinberg and Ronald Kasrils.(London: Allen & Unwin, 1969, p. 146)


Ambiguous? This is just a straightforward lie on Russell's part. He quite clearly saw black people as inherently inferior and in his essay on Ethics in War, he states this unambiguously, posing the question:

Are there any wars which achieve so much for the good of mankind as to outweigh all the evils...?


and surely his pompous answer will make you gasp too:



By a 'war of colonization' I mean a war whose purpose is to drive out the whole population of some territory and replace it by an invading population of a different race. Ancient wars were very largely of this kind, of which we have a good example in the Book of Joshua. In modern times the conflicts of Europeans with American-Indians, Maories, and other aborigines in temperate regions, have been of this kind. Such wars are totally devoid of technical justification, and are apt to be mor ruthless than any other war. Nevertheless, if we are to judge by results, we cannot regret that such wars have taken place. They have the merit, often quite fallaciously claimed for all wars, of leading in the main to the survival of the fittest, and it is chiefly through such wars that the civilized portion of the world has been extended from the neighborhood of the Mediterranean to the greater part of the earth’s surface. The eighteenth century, which liked to praise the virtues of the savage and contrast them with the gilded corruption of courts, nevertheless had no scruple in thrusting the noble savage out from his North American hunting grounds. And we cannot at this date bring ourselves to condemn the process by which the American continent has been acquired for European civilization. In order that such wars may be justified, it is necessary that there should be a very great and undeniable difference between the civilization of the colonizers and that of the dispossessed natives. It is necessary also that the climate should be one in which the invading race can flourish. When these conditions are satisfied the conquest becomes justified, though the actual fighting against the dispossessed inhabitants ought, of course, to be avoided as far as is compatible with colonizing. Many humane people will object in theory to the justification of this form of robbery, but I do not think that any practical or effective objection is likely to be made.

Such wars, however, belong now to the past. The regions where the white men can live are all allotted, either to white races or to yellow races to whom the white man is not clearly superior, and whom, in any case, he is not strong enough to expel. Apart from small punitive expeditions, wars of colonization, in the true sense, are no longer possible. What are nowadays called colonial wars do not aim at the complete occupation of a country by a conquering race; they aim only at securing certain governmental and trading advantages. They belong, in fact, rather with what I call wars of prestige, than with wars of colonization in the old sense. There are, it is true, a few rare exceptions. The Greeks in the second Balkan war conducted a war of colonization against the Bulgarians; throughout a certain territory which they intended to occupy, they killed all the men, and carried off all the women. But in such cases, the only possible justification fails, since there is no evidence of superior civilization on the side of the conquerors.




This speaks for itself, doesn't it? But nonetheless, let me say WOW. I realise that Russell lived in a time where it was normal to think black people were inferior, but he lived in a time when women were believed to be as well and yet he was outspoken for the idea of a better deal for women. Maybe it was as simple as he was going to get a shag out of the one and not out of the other, though in general intellectuals are more likely to be the other way, champions for man's equality but not women's.

In his review of this book, Manny says


Science, argues Russell, cannot pronounce on ethics, but this is for the simple reason that statements in the realm of ethics are not within the purview of objective knowledge in the first place: they can always be paraphrased as expressions of personal desire or preference, and hence are purely subjective. This argument is probably well known to modern philosophers, but I had not seen it before and Russell puts the case nicely.


But if Russell is saying that science cannot pronounce on ethics, he is also and much more importantly saying that only science can be the arbiter of truth and that if one cannot prove something with the basic methodology of science, it cannot be true, it can only be a matter of opinion. This belief he has, not only gives science exclusive - and dangerous - prerogative to own the truth, it also gives everybody else the right to do as they please, because nothing can be proved, nothing is 'true' outside the purview of science.

So when Manny says:

In the conclusion, Russell suddenly sobers up and tells you what he's really talking about. It's not the Christian Church; it's the new religions of Fascism and Communism, which, as he says, have already killed more intellectual dissidents than the Church did in the last three centuries. You remember that he's writing shortly before World War II. He can see what most people are still trying to pretend isn't there, and he has every reason to be desperately worried. All the clowning around was just to get your attention; you thought you'd avoided being fooled, but he's tricked you at a deeper level than you were expecting. Nice work, Russell.


I think the opposite. To read his relentless diatribe about all ethics being opinion and then have him say at the very end that scientists have to stand up against Hitler is bizarre. It doesn't work - how can it? It is merely one civilised opinion against another.

I don't understand how one can read this book and not be filled with the deepest of unease.

Every time I come across you, Bertrand, I'm unhappy. We must stop meeting; and not just like this. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
In the first instance, I wish to repudiate the statement made by Manny on comment 72 here: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/551961-lame?page=2#comment_number_73

I mean, I was gasping, possibly even moaning...but it wasn't because Bertrand is my pornography....

So we have here a guy who thought he could spend his life being opinionated about everything and telling it how it is until he changes his mind. Russell believed that facts weren't the way to change people's minds, only emotional arguments could do that, and this book is an example in point. He writes seductively, if you didn't happen to know first that he's a wanker, you might even start believing him. Not this little black duck. I've been to a Bertrand Russell School and wankers doesn't begin to cover it. Only a jolly big wanker could have come up with the idea of a type of school where the kids and the teachers all thought they were very special indeed.

In his opinion, science deals with facts and the truth, the rest of what we do - and I guess he is bagging his own discipline here - is just matter of opinion and some people shout louder than others. I was rather shocked to read, when he is discussing Nietzsche's idea that most men are just animals and there are supermen above them:



We have here a sharp disagreement of great practical importance, but we have absolutely no means, of a scientific or intellectual kind, by which to persuade either party that the other is in the right. There are, it is true, ways of altering men's opinions on such subjects, but they are all emotional, not intellectual.....questions as to 'values' lie wholly outside the domain of knowledge.



Hence my moaning. My 'Oh Bertrand'. Three of us sat there mulling over this. Anna, who is a physicist, clearly thought equality of man was something that could be intellectually demonstrated. Manny was doubting that this meant Bertrand would be racist. Me, I'm thinking we'll see about that.

If you go to the wiki page on Bertrand, one of the things you see is this:


On 16 November 1922, for instance, he gave a lecture to the General Meeting of Dr. Marie Stopes's Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress on "Birth Control and International Relations," in which he described the importance of extending Western birth control worldwide; his remarks anticipated the population control movement of the 1960s and the role of the United Nations.

This policy may last some time, but in the end under it we shall have to give way—we are only putting off the evil day; the one real remedy is birth control, that is getting the people of the world to limit themselves to those numbers which they can keep upon their own soil... I do not see how we can hope permanently to be strong enough to keep the coloured races out; sooner or later they are bound to overflow, so the best we can do is to hope that those nations will see the wisdom of Birth Control.... We need a strong international authority.
—"Lecture by the Hon. Bertrand Russell", Birth Control News, vol 1, no. 8 (December 1922), p.2

Another passage from early editions of his book Marriage and Morals (1929), which Russell later claimed to be referring only to environmental conditioning, and which he significantly modified in later editions, reads:

In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another[...] It seems on the whole fair to regard Negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from the question of humanity) would be highly undesirable.
—Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, pg. 266 (1929)
....

Responding in 1964 to a correspondent's inquiry, "Do you still consider the Negroes an inferior race, as you did when you wrote Marriage and Morals?", Russell replied:

I never held Negroes to be inherently inferior. The statement in Marriage and Morals refers to environmental conditioning. I have had it withdrawn from subsequent editions because it is clearly ambiguous.
—Bertrand Russell, letter dated 17 March 1964 in Dear Bertrand Russell... a selection of his correspondence with the general public, 1950–1968. edited by Barry Feinberg and Ronald Kasrils.(London: Allen & Unwin, 1969, p. 146)


Ambiguous? This is just a straightforward lie on Russell's part. He quite clearly saw black people as inherently inferior and in his essay on Ethics in War, he states this unambiguously, posing the question:

Are there any wars which achieve so much for the good of mankind as to outweigh all the evils...?


and surely his pompous answer will make you gasp too:



By a 'war of colonization' I mean a war whose purpose is to drive out the whole population of some territory and replace it by an invading population of a different race. Ancient wars were very largely of this kind, of which we have a good example in the Book of Joshua. In modern times the conflicts of Europeans with American-Indians, Maories, and other aborigines in temperate regions, have been of this kind. Such wars are totally devoid of technical justification, and are apt to be mor ruthless than any other war. Nevertheless, if we are to judge by results, we cannot regret that such wars have taken place. They have the merit, often quite fallaciously claimed for all wars, of leading in the main to the survival of the fittest, and it is chiefly through such wars that the civilized portion of the world has been extended from the neighborhood of the Mediterranean to the greater part of the earth’s surface. The eighteenth century, which liked to praise the virtues of the savage and contrast them with the gilded corruption of courts, nevertheless had no scruple in thrusting the noble savage out from his North American hunting grounds. And we cannot at this date bring ourselves to condemn the process by which the American continent has been acquired for European civilization. In order that such wars may be justified, it is necessary that there should be a very great and undeniable difference between the civilization of the colonizers and that of the dispossessed natives. It is necessary also that the climate should be one in which the invading race can flourish. When these conditions are satisfied the conquest becomes justified, though the actual fighting against the dispossessed inhabitants ought, of course, to be avoided as far as is compatible with colonizing. Many humane people will object in theory to the justification of this form of robbery, but I do not think that any practical or effective objection is likely to be made.

Such wars, however, belong now to the past. The regions where the white men can live are all allotted, either to white races or to yellow races to whom the white man is not clearly superior, and whom, in any case, he is not strong enough to expel. Apart from small punitive expeditions, wars of colonization, in the true sense, are no longer possible. What are nowadays called colonial wars do not aim at the complete occupation of a country by a conquering race; they aim only at securing certain governmental and trading advantages. They belong, in fact, rather with what I call wars of prestige, than with wars of colonization in the old sense. There are, it is true, a few rare exceptions. The Greeks in the second Balkan war conducted a war of colonization against the Bulgarians; throughout a certain territory which they intended to occupy, they killed all the men, and carried off all the women. But in such cases, the only possible justification fails, since there is no evidence of superior civilization on the side of the conquerors.




This speaks for itself, doesn't it? But nonetheless, let me say WOW. I realise that Russell lived in a time where it was normal to think black people were inferior, but he lived in a time when women were believed to be as well and yet he was outspoken for the idea of a better deal for women. Maybe it was as simple as he was going to get a shag out of the one and not out of the other, though in general intellectuals are more likely to be the other way, champions for man's equality but not women's.

In his review of this book, Manny says


Science, argues Russell, cannot pronounce on ethics, but this is for the simple reason that statements in the realm of ethics are not within the purview of objective knowledge in the first place: they can always be paraphrased as expressions of personal desire or preference, and hence are purely subjective. This argument is probably well known to modern philosophers, but I had not seen it before and Russell puts the case nicely.


But if Russell is saying that science cannot pronounce on ethics, he is also and much more importantly saying that only science can be the arbiter of truth and that if one cannot prove something with the basic methodology of science, it cannot be true, it can only be a matter of opinion. This belief he has, not only gives science exclusive - and dangerous - prerogative to own the truth, it also gives everybody else the right to do as they please, because nothing can be proved, nothing is 'true' outside the purview of science.

So when Manny says:

In the conclusion, Russell suddenly sobers up and tells you what he's really talking about. It's not the Christian Church; it's the new religions of Fascism and Communism, which, as he says, have already killed more intellectual dissidents than the Church did in the last three centuries. You remember that he's writing shortly before World War II. He can see what most people are still trying to pretend isn't there, and he has every reason to be desperately worried. All the clowning around was just to get your attention; you thought you'd avoided being fooled, but he's tricked you at a deeper level than you were expecting. Nice work, Russell.


I think the opposite. To read his relentless diatribe about all ethics being opinion and then have him say at the very end that scientists have to stand up against Hitler is bizarre. It doesn't work - how can it? It is merely one civilised opinion against another.

I don't understand how one can read this book and not be filled with the deepest of unease.

Every time I come across you, Bertrand, I'm unhappy. We must stop meeting; and not just like this. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
In this timely work, Russell, philosopher, agnostic, mathematician, and renowned peace advocate, offers a brief yet insightful study of the conflicts between science and traditional religion during the last four centuries. Examining accounts in which scientific advances clashed with Christian doctrine or biblical interpretations of the day, from Galileo and the Copernican Revolution, to the medical breakthroughs of anesthesia and inoculation, Russell points to the constant upheaval and reevaluation of our systems of belief throughout history. In turn, he identifies where similar debates between modern science and the Church still exist today. Michael Ruse's new introduction brings these conflicts between science and theology up to date, focusing on issues arising after World War II.
This classic is sure to interest all readers of philosophy and religion, as well as those interested in Russell's thought and writings. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Mar 4, 2014 |
Bertrand Russell

Religion and Science

Oxford University Press, Paperback, 1997.

8vo. xxiii+254 pp. Introduction by Michael Ruse, 1997 [v-xxiii].

First published, 1935.

Contents

Introduction by Michael Ruse

I. Ground of Conflict
II. The Copernican Revolution
III. Evolution
IV. Demonology and Medicine
V. Soul and Body
VI. Determinism
VII. Mysticism
VIII. Cosmic Purpose
IX. Science and Ethics
X. Conclusion

Index

========================================

This book makes a particularly rewarding read after The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins – who, incidentally, cites Bertrand Russell's volume in his bibliography. Comparisons shouldn't be carried too far, though. The books do have some common ground, but on the whole they explore different sides of the same conundrum. Mr Dawkins is largely concerned with the probability of God's existence and with the harmful consequences that the delusion of His existence produces in many unbalanced human beings. In contrast, Bertrand Russell deals chiefly with the most notable areas of confrontation between religious creeds and scientific enquiry. In fact, the books complement each other very well, although it remains to be seen if Mr Dawkins, who is rather more full of topical references, will age as well as Lord Russell has. Considering that Religion and Science was first published nearly eight decades (!) ago, it has aged fantastically well: few dated references as regards current scientific achievements or the political climate, none of them of earth-shaking importance, is all that suggests bygone eras.

It may not be a flattering observation to note that in 250 loosely printed pages Bertrand Russell says more than Mr Dawkins in 450 closely printed ones, but it happens to be true. I wouldn't go as far as liking the two authors to Harley Davidson and a bicycle, as I did about Bertrand Russell and Bill Bryson, but a Ferrari-Ford comparison is pretty accurate. Never mind. Let's look at Religion and Science for what it's worth trying to keep cross-references with other works to minimum. The book is worth a lot indeed.

Apart from the first and the last chapter, whose subjects are obvious from their titles, the rest of the book may for the sake of convenience be split into two parts. Chapters II to IV are almost exclusively historical. They relate, in Lord Russell's typically concise and amusing style, the major conflicts between religious dogmas, especially Christian ones, and the advances of science which, since the sixteenth century at least, have been in the habit of deeply upsetting the authority of the Church. Although these chapters form the less important part of the book, they are far from being mere imitation of a history textbook. For one thing, and quite apart from a lot of fascinating popular science and still relevant history, Bertrand Russell is a great deal wittier than that. Here is one particular favourite of mine; note also the perceptive observation a little later about the almost inconceivable gulf that separates our times from Galileo's:

Galileo, who was a professor at Pisa but had no respect for the feelings of other professors, used to drop weights from the Leaning Tower just as his Aristotelian colleagues were on the way to their lectures. Big and small lumps of lead would reach the ground almost simultaneously, which proved to Galileo that Aristotle was wrong, but to the other professors that Galileo was wicked. By a number of malicious actions of which this one was typical, he incurred the undying hatred of those who believed that truth was to be sought in books rather than in experiments.

[...]

Throughout the 2000 years from Aristotle to Galileo, no one had thought of finding whether the laws of falling bodies are what Aristotle says they are. To test such statements may seem natural to us, but in Galileo's day it required genius.

Likewise, a few centuries later, it required the genius of Charles Darwin to see the "obvious" and suggest natural selection as the major driving force of evolution. It was a bombshell even bigger than the heliocentric theory, for evolution does concern, not just cherished dogmas, but ourselves too. It puts us in our right place, a shatteringly different one than the grand visions of Christianity. In one of the rare autobiographical moments in the book, Bertrand Russell (who was born in 1872) gives a vivid illustration of those times by recalling one of his tutors who, "with utmost solemnity", told him "If you are Darwinist, I pity you, for it is impossible to be a Darwinist and a Christian at the same time." Although the book is not concerned with the probability of God's existence – in this respect The God Delusion is a fine companion volume – you may be sure that Lord Russell doesn't miss an opportunity to poke fun at those "progressive theologians" who try really hard to unite religion and science. The subject of evolution gives him an excellent opportunity for some classical Russellian fun:

Religion, in our day, has accommodated itself to the doctrine of evolution, and has even derived new arguments from it. We are told that "through the ages one increasing purpose runs," and that evolution is the unfolding of an idea which has been in the mind of God throughout. It appears that during those ages which so troubled Hugh Miller, when animals were torturing each other with ferocious horns and agonizing stings, Omnipotence was quietly waiting for the ultimate emergence of man, with his still more exquisite powers of torture and his far more widely diffused cruelty. Why the Creator should have preferred to reach His goal by a process, instead of going straight to it, these modern theologians do not tell us.

Little did the author know that a time would come when the "modern theologians" would revert to Creationism and proclaim the literal truth of the Bible and the falsehood of evolution. I imagine he would have written a fine essay titled "Why I Am Not a Creationist", and he probably would have appreciated history’s sense of humour, but he could hardly be blamed that he didn't foresee such staggering development. As the famous for his futuristic visions Arthur Clarke used to say, predicting the future is a logical nonsense, and the best one can do is mere extrapolation – which, as often as not, is fabulously inaccurate. Arthur was concerned with technology, of course, but in the field of theology, or in politics as we shall see presently, the future is hardly more prone to extrapolations.

In the end of this chapter Bertrand Russell becomes very serious and he puts his finger on what he thinks, and I agree, is the greatest objection against theology based on evolution. It must have been especially hard in the middle of the glorious Victorian progress of humanity, but today it remains equally disturbing, to say the least. It is very pleasant to think that millions after millions of years evolution, under the gentle guidance of God, has worked hard to produce you, even more so that the Creator had actually created the universe as your private playground. Bertrand Russell would have none of that. The last sentence of his chapter is, I think, the main reason why many people, on purely emotional grounds, continue to reject evolution and embrace religion:

From evolution, so far as our present knowledge shows, no ultimately optimistic philosophy can be validly inferred.

To say that that's a disturbing thought is an understatement. But if any evidence to the contrary has come to light, I haven't heard anything about it. It says something about Bertrand Russell's integrity that he firmly refuses to accept any concepts like creative evolution or the like, even though it is clear that he longs for such consolation. At least his heart does. Yet his mind compels his hand to write that none is forthcoming.

Despite many fine moments in the "first part" of the book, the second one – Chapters V to IX – is by far the most important one. Other reviewers have shrewdly noted that Lord Russell's position appears to be unusually sympathetic and he seems to suggest that science and religion can live together. I don't think this is the case. The author does say that "the fight is languid as compared with what it was" and that "science and religion have become reconciled". Yet in these chapters he presents a devastatingly convincing case that the only possible reconciliation will come when religion gives away more or less everything that causes its very existence. First the division between "Soul and Body", being merely a special case of the illusory distinction between mind and matter, is declared non-existent from a scientific point of view; that's pretty much the end of Christian fairy tales like immortality and reincarnation. Next to go are the fiercely subjective personal experiences of God ("Mysticism"), the free will we are supposed to have ("Determinism") and the ludicrous notion that it all makes some kind of dubious sense ("Cosmic Purpose"). Very much like Mr Dawkins, Bertrand Russell is concerned, not with dogmatic statements, but with scientific evidence and the assessment of probability. So far as I know, none of the groundbreaking scientific achievements in recent times, and there have been many since 1935, has altered significantly the great improbability of immortality, mysticism, free will and cosmic purpose.

Incidentally, the chapter on mysticism – a very tolerant one as Lord Russell recognizes the personal value of the mystical experience, although he is convinced that it is ultimately inessential as far as the human race is concerned – also contains the most extensive explanation about his unusually lenient view towards the putative communion of science and religion. This is a purely political argument and it is just about the only place in the book which is clearly dated. Needless to say, this could not have been otherwise, and in no way does it affect the value of the volume as a whole. Despite the vastly different political map of the world today, the basic arguments are still relevant, indeed even more so.

The newer creeds of Communism and Fascism are the inheritors of theological bigotry; and perhaps, in some deep region of the unconscious, bishops and professors feel themselves jointly interested in the maintenance of the status quo.

Again, little did Bertrand Russell know – he could not possibly have known – that Fascism would survive but a mere decade after the first publication of his book and Communism less than half a century more. Could it be that Creationism evolved as some kind of a by-product from the death of Totalitarianism, when “bishops and professors” were no longer so united? Probably not, but this doesn't change the fact that to predict any of these events in the mid-1930s was surely beyond the powers even of the finest minds. Despite this clearly dated aspect, and despite apparent claims to the contrary, Bertrand Russell still presents formidable arguments that religion and science are not the two sides of the same coin. Rather to the contrary. Just about the only similarity between them is their massive social impact. Otherwise they differ so profoundly in their ways of searching for truth – as beautifully summarised in Chapter I – that it is very difficult, nay impossible, to see how they can co-exist without constant confrontation. If anything, the conflict has intensified since, so Bertrand Russell's book is even more relevant today than it must have been in the mid-1930s. There's just one issue more to be discussed.

Those who maintain the insufficiency of science, as we have seen in the last two chapters, appeal to the fact that science has nothing to say about "values". This I admit; but when it is inferred that ethics contains truths which cannot be proved or disproved by science, I disagree.

Chapter IX, of which these are the first lines, is a somewhat special case. It definitely belongs to the second, philosophical rather than historical, part of the book, yet it also differs significantly in one important aspect. To put the matter briefly and brutally, Lord Russell's evaluation of ethics is pretty much the same as his opinion of aesthetics: pure nonsense. What's the difference between them really? Ethics tries to convince you that there is an ultimate Good and aesthetics postulates that there is an ultimate Beauty. If Bertrand Russell were Bernard Shaw, he might have replied something like "Not bloody likely!" Being nobody else but himself, however, he goes on to propose his highly controversial hypothesis – theory? – that ethics really is "an attempt to give universal, and not merely personal, importance to certain of our desires." Thus it is closely linked with politics, propaganda and other signs of mankind’s lamentable immaturity. But that's the least of its problems.

Lord Russell makes no bones that, in his personal opinion, ethics is an unsuccessful attempt simply because values are subjective; in other words they are beyond the limits of knowledge and there is no such thing as objective truth in this case. Of course the matter is a great deal more complex but the main point is argued rather persuasively. It should be noted that Bertrand Russell does clearly recognize, although traditional ethics does not, that the great social utility of some rules (e.g. do not kill = murder is wrong) is good enough a reason to keep them. Yet in other cases, that is most of them, it would certainly be to the benefit of the human race if we realize how often "there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste." Next book by Bertrand Russell to read: Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954).

This is the place for a few words about the introduction by Michael Ruse, a professor of "philosophy and zoology" (interesting combination) at the University of Guelph, Ontario, as the back cover informs us. I am not as outraged at this essay as some other reviewers have been, although I do think you may skip it without fear of missing any remarkable insight into Lord Russell's mind. The professor has written a fairly decent overview but it is better to start with the book itself; no matter whether you agree with Bertrand Russell or not, the exceptional lucidity of his prose needs no clarification. However, it is worth investigating some of Mr Ruse's criticisms. He is a little dismayed that Cuvier is described as a "model of Catholic correctness", but far more interesting than such trifles is his gentle accusation that Russell's treatment is not subtle enough, and to use his own colourful language "as a matter of historical fact, the relationship was not all one way, with science ever the knight and religion always the dragon." This seems to be a very good point. But consider Mr Ruse's chief example:

In the biological case, for instance, Darwin drew heavily on the Anglican natural theology of his day – his obsession with the adaptiveness of organisms, which his mechanism of natural selection was intended to answer, came from his undergraduate reading of Archdeacon Paley's arguments that the most striking aspect of organic life is its design-like nature. Without Christianity, I doubt we would have Darwinism. Moreover, if you want prejudice and outright misrepresentation of a position, you would have to go far to equal Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's "bulldog", in full stride against the clergy of his day.

Really? The back cover also tells me that Prof. Ruse has written many books, including Evolutionary Naturalism and The Darwinian Paradigm. I don't see myself reading these doubtless profound works. I don't know about T. H. Huxley, as I am regrettably ignorant of his writings, but the little I do know of Darwin completely convinces me that we would have had Darwinism even if Christianity had never existed. That the theory of evolution would have caused much smaller social disturbance in this case is quite another story.

There is only one place where Michael Ruse is frankly outraged and this is Russell's idea of ethics. For once he uses lovely descriptions like "troubling", "wrong" and "deeply immoral". The good professor is dead positive that when he says "Murder is wrong" he really does mean that; it is so and that's that. The old Adolf might have thought otherwise, but no matter. But is murder really wrong, Michael? What about murder of animals? What about murder on the battlefield? What about murder in self-defence? What about the death penalty? To my mind, none of these questions has a straightforward answer. In the case of animals, for example, I should say that killing animals for food is right, but killing them for sport is wrong. Yet if you were to ask me why I think so, I would be hard pressed to give some coherent answer. Was the Holocaust wrong? I should certainly think so; but the more important point is that the Nazis didn't. If you don't agree with Prof. Ruse, he informs you, grandly, that means you just show "your moral emptiness". He also accuses Bertrand Russell of not going "as far as he should". Yet the philosopher does give his reasons why he thinks as he does – and I would indeed go as far as to proclaim "Science and Ethics" the finest chapter in the book – while the professor merely resorts to empty ranting mingled with even emptier rhetoric. So much for Michael Ruse.

Now a few words about Julian Huxley. It is instructive to compare his long, fascinating, verbose and misguided essay "Religion and Science"* with Lord Russell's book of the same name. Mr Huxley is convinced that God does have a place in science. For this is how he calls the laws of the universe that are known and knowable to our minds – if I understand his obscure prose correctly, which I am not at all certain I do. Now, I find this hypothesis extremely baffling for at least two reasons. First, there are absolutely no rational grounds to postulate it in the first place. It doesn’t explain anything, nor does it assert any verifiable claims. Mr Huxley himself quotes Occam’s Razor; he might have followed the advice. Second, even if one is compelled to introduce such a silly notion, one simply couldn’t choose a worse name. Again, Mr Huxley is quite well aware that his “God” has nothing to do with the Christian one, but he appears unable to understand the mighty confusion that this leads to. Richard Dawkins has written well on the subject in the first chapter of The God Delusion where he calls such ideas of God “Einsteinian” and, of course, firmly separates them from the completely different ideas of the monotheistic religions. So much for Mr Huxley.

All in all, Bertrand Russell's Religion and Science has withstood the merciless test of time remarkably well. One can only marvel how extraordinarily modern it sounds. Could it be that our age of rampant fanaticism is more badly in need than ever before of the rational voice Lord Russell advocated all his life? Of course there are some passages that have become dated, but they are rather too insignificant to dwell on. The writing throughout the whole book is Bertrand Russell at his absolute best. Just about the worst thing you may encounter in this respect are several slightly long-winded pages, especially in some of the most philosophical chapters such as "Soul and Body" and "Determinism" for instance, but this is no big deal, either, and keeping in mind the complexity of the subject it is all but inevitable. It is essential to stress that the book is intended as an introduction to the problem, not as an exhaustive study of it. Within these limitations, it is very close to perfection. Magnificent read.

I should like to finish with a quote from the final paragraphs of "Cosmic Purpose". Having demolished intellectually divinely nonsensical "theories" like the theism of The Bishop of Birmingham, the pantheism of J. S. Haldane and the so called "emergent" form of the argument, supported by Prof. Alexander, Bergson and Lloyd Morgan, Bertrand Russell allows himself an appeal to the emotional side of his readers. Examples of Russellian rhetoric are rare enough to be quoted anyway, but I find this one especially impressive:

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?

[...]

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 mixture of virtues and vices is such as might be expected to result from a 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.
**

--------------------------------------------------

* First published in Essays of a Biologist (1923). Reprinted in Traveller's Library (1933), compiled and annotated by Somerset Maugham.

** Compare with the even harsher words of Somerset Maugham from A Writer's Notebook (1949):

Men, commonplace and ordinary, do not seem to me fit for the tremendous fact of eternal life. With their passions, their little virtues and their little vices, they are well enough suited to the workaday world; but the conception of immortality is much too vast for beings cast in so small a mould. I have more than once seen men die, peacefully or tragically, and never have I seen in their last moments anything to suggest that their spirit was everlasting. They die as a dog dies.

The belief of God is not a matter of common sense, or logic, or argument, but of feeling. It is as impossible to prove the existence of God as to disprove it. I do not believe in God. I see no need of such an idea. It is incredible to me that there should be an after-life. I find the notion of future punishment outrageous and of future reward extravagant. I am convinced that when I die, I shall cease entirely to live; I shall return to the earth I came from. Yet I can imagine that at some future date I may believe in God; but it will be as now, when I don't believe in Him, not a matter of reasoning or of observation, but only of feeling.

They ascribe omnipotence and omniscience to him and I don't know what else; it seems to me so strange that they never credit him with common-sense or allow him tolerance. If he knew as much about human nature as I do he'd know how weak men are and how little control they have over their passions, he'd know how full of fear they are and how pitiful, he'd know how much goodness there is even in the worst and how much wickedness in the best. If he's capable of feeling he must be capable of remorse, and when he considers what a hash he's made in the creation of human kind can he feel anything but that? The wonder is that he does not make use of his omnipotence to annihilate himself. Perhaps that's just what he has done.

But why should man be humble when he comes face to face with God? Because God is better and wiser and more powerful than man? A poor reason. No better than that my maid should humble herself before me because I'm white, have more money and am better educated than she is. I should have thought it was God who would have cause to be humble when he reflects upon what an indifferent job he has made in the creation of a human being.
( )
3 ääni Waldstein | Mar 22, 2012 |
Of the books I've read by Russell so far I think he is the easiest on religion here. I see two reasons for this. One, he never talks about sexual repression which is the subject that consistently gets him riled up about the church, and two, at the time this was written (1935) he was optimistic that the days of Christianity fighting progress were behind us and saw the real threats coming from the state. He was keenly aware that the governments of Russia, Germany and, to a lesser extent, his own Britain were throwing their citizens' freedoms under the bus. His later work shows that he later abandoned the optimism he had towards Christianity, but the important thing to remember is that he was pretty darn optimistic here.

The nice thing about the book is Bertand doesn't particularly take a stand on whether or not religion and science are incompatible. Indeed his optimism about the future of Christianity suggests that at the time of this writing he thought that they could coexist. The first half is really just a history of instances when the church determined that science was incompatible with its teachings. The first few chapters are each dedicated to a specific scientific discovery the the church ardently opposed, often with the power of the state and serious threats against the scientists involved. This included discoveries like that the sun was the center of the solar system, that the earth was not a mere 6,000 years old and that the strata of rocks not only pointed to a very, very old earth, but did not show any evidence of a worldwide flood. He briefly mentions evolution, but doesn't seem to realize just how troublesome it would continue to be to many religious people.

Later chapters move away from the structure of relating the history of science being repressed by the church. This is of course because the church no longer had the power or, in Russell's opinion, the inclination to directly oppose science. Instead he focuses on religious schools of thought (not necessarily Christian) that are ideologically incompatible certain scientific thought. There's a chapter on determinism and the threat it poses to the doctrine of damnation (though it should be mentioned that Russell makes it clear that right now there is no way to know if determinism does in fact describe the movements of all things). Then he discusses mysticism and cosmic purpose. Sadly, because these two concepts really describe countless subsets of belief I found the chapters insufficient to really address them completely.

He finishes off with a chapter addressing the popular criticism of science that it doesn't say anything about morality. He did an excellent job talking about how, while technically true this doesn't mean that dependence on science will lead to immorality. Quite the contrary. He dismisses the idea of intrinsic morality and a conscience as illusions covering up the fact that morality is learned. Ultimately he ends up breaking down exactly what subjective morality is. He's 100 percent in step with Spinoza's Ethics though he more fully addresses the real world effect of a world where each person has their own personal morality which may in some ways contradict his fellows'. If nothing else that chapter alone deserves a read as it is the most complete and concise treatment of community and ethics I have come across.

The reason I made a fuss at the beginning of this review about Russell's relatively lenient attitude toward religion here and the fact that he himself does not declare religion and science incompatible is because of the introduction that was given to this book. It was written by Michael Ruse and by the time I had finished it I was certain that he hadn't read a word of Russell prior to getting the gig writing his intro. And after reading the book I'm not sure Ruse ever got around to reading this one either. He seems to think that it is Russell that asserts science and religion cannot coexist when Russell only recounts instances in which religion sees science as incompatible with itself, mostly in the past. To make matters worse Ruse doesn't seem to have a clue what either Russell or Spinoza thought of ethics, though that doesn't stop him from claiming that without religious morality Hitler's actions cannot be considered immoral. This is of course ludicrous since the entire basis of both Russell's and Spinoza's "good" is the fulfillment of the well-being of the individual and his community. It doesn't take a genius to know that the Nazis acted to annihilate the well-being of millions of people for the benefit of a few. I was stupefied that someone so ignorant of Russell and his ideas was given the task of writing his intro, it's really quite shameful. I've never come across such a poorly researched introduction before in my life. ( )
5 ääni fundevogel | Jun 23, 2010 |
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Religion and Science are two aspects of social life, of which the former has been important as far back as we know anything of man's mental history, while the latter, after a fitful flickering existence among the Greeks and Arabs, suddenly sprang into importance in the sixteenth century, and has ever since increasingly moulded both the ideas and the institutions among which we live.
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"New truth is often uncomfortable," Bertrand Russell wrote, "but it is the most important achievement of our species." In "Religion and Science" (1961), his popular polemic against religious dogma, he covers the ground from demonology to quantum physics, yet concedes that science cannot touch the profound feelings of personal religious experience.

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