Summary: A Review Of “Why I Am Not A Christian” By Bertrand Russell
Without a doubt, Bertrand Russell stands as one of the most formidable minds of the modern era. Through his efforts with Alfred North Whitehead in “Principia Mathematica”, Russell further elaborated the relationship between mathematics and deductive logic. Russell's endeavors, however, were not confined to complex philosophical treatises having little influence outside of academic circles. Russell's work spanned the intellectual spectrum, ranging from works on the history of philosophy to international relations and political theory. Russell even produced newspaper articles for mass consumption. But despite his prolific intellectual output, Russell did not apply his mathematician's logic and objectivity to much of his non-scientific thought, especially in the area of religion as embodied by his work “Why I Am Not A Christian”.
Instead of addressing a single topic throughout the entire work, “Why I Am Not A Christian” is a collection of articles and essays addressing Russell's position on religious matters in general and issues regarding Christianity in particular. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so he is.” Many times influential voices speaking in the opinion-molding institutions of academia and media contend that one's views on religion do not necessarily impact other areas of existence such as the political or the sociological. Scripture teaches that this popular opinion is incorrect. However, the Bible is not readily accepted by those arguing for the mentioned opinion. Even though the work argues against the traditional positions of Christianity, the power of “Why I Am Not A Christian” resides in how it links one's views regarding religion with one's beliefs about society and the world despite the author's attempt to argue otherwise.
Russell's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) found their basis in his position that the theistic proofs are not as conclusive as believers make them out to be. When asked what he would say if confronted by the Creator at his death, Russell said he would respond by saying, “God! Why did you make evidence of your existence so insufficient?”
In “Why I Am Not A Christian”, Russell proceeds to critique each of these arguments. None of them escape his scathing scrutiny. Of the argument from the First Cause, Russell remarks that, if everything must have a cause, then God cannot be the uncaused cause by those following in the intellectual lineage of Aquinas. Russell claims that this argument actually results in an endless digression of creators begetting creators much like those mythological cosmologies where the Earth rests atop an elephant resting atop a tortoise etc. etc (7).
From the outset, Russell argues from faulty notions. According to Norman Geisler in “Introduction To Philosophy: A Christian Perspective”, in a thoroughly naturalistic context something cannot come from nothing. But by its definition, a noncontingent being does not require a cause since its existence is complete in itself (289). Only finite contingent beings require a cause.