Best title of the year so far: “Stupid questions, brilliant answers.”

Stupid questions, brilliant answers.
[Via Freethought Blogs]

”Q: Why are you not a Christian?

Bertrand Russell: Because I see no evidence whatever for any of the Christian dogmas. I’ve examined all the stock arguments in favour of the existence of God, and none of them seem to me to be logically valid.

Q: Do you think there’s a practical reason for having a religious belief, for many people?

Bertrand Russell: Well, there can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true. That’s quite… at least, I rule it out as impossible. Either the thing is true, or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgment. But you can’t… it seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and a fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it’s useful, and not because you think it’s true.

Q: I was thinking of those people who find that some kind of religious code helps them to live their lives. It gives them a very strict set of rules, the rights and the wrongs.

Bertrand Russell: Yes, but those rules are generally quite mistaken. A great many of them do more harm than good. And they would probably be able to find a rational morality that they could live by if they dropped this irrational traditional taboo morality that comes down from savage ages.

Q: But are we, perhaps the ordinary person perhaps isn’t strong enough to find this own personal ethic. They have to have something imposed upon them from outside.

Bertrand Russell: Oh, I don’t think that’s true, and what is imposed on you from outside is of no value whatever. It doesn’t count.

Q: Well, you were brought up, of course, as a Christian. When did you first decide that you did not want to remain a believer in the Christian ethic?

Bertrand Russell: I never decided that I didn’t want to remain a believer. I decided… between the ages of 15 and 18, I spent almost all my spare time thinking about Christian dogmas, and trying to find out whether there was any reason to believe them. And by the time I was 18, I’d discarded the last of them.

Q: Do you think that that gave you an extra strength in your life?

Bertrand Russell: Oh, I don’t… no, I shouldn’t have said so, neither extra strength nor the opposite. I mean, I was just engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.

Q: As you approach the end of life, do you have any fear of some kind of afterlife, or do you feel that that is just…

Bertrand Russell: Oh, no, I think that’s nonsense.

Q: There is no afterlife?

Bertrand Russell: None whatever.

Q: Do you have any fear of something that is common amongst atheists and agnostics, who have been atheists or agnostics all their lives, who are converted just before they die, to a form of religion?

Bertrand Russell: Well, you know, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as religious people think it does. Because religious people, most of them, think that it’s a virtuous act to tell lies about the death beds of agnostics and such. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t happen very often.”


If I had a giant like Russell to question I would certainly think of better ones than heard here. The questioner seemed to fall into the view that religion was needed by weak willed people who could not be trusted to deal with ehtical situations on their own.

And Russell gave very nice answers about his personal views. Fun to listen to.


2 thoughts on “Best title of the year so far: “Stupid questions, brilliant answers.”

  1. Bertrand Russell was a typical English aristocrat of his era. I will never understand why he is considered any better or any worse than his Cambridge contemporaries. His BS was no better or worse than theirs, but somehow he managed to convince a whole generation that his rational for being was better than anyone else’s. The article in Wikipedia shows that even he didn’t believe in his own philosophy. Or, possibly, his philosophy was to explain his womanizing, elitism and irrational thinking.

    1. Well, I guess anyone can take parts of a complex, controversial person to defend their viewpoint. You count personal traits as marks against his achievements and cal him a typical elitist who can be ignored. But he was far from typical.One only has to look at such achievements as Principia Mathematica to see why he was better than his contemporaries. He lost his position because of his political beliefs and even served time in jail for his outspoken pacifism, something few researchers anywhere will do, even with tenure. Yet he modified those pacifist views when Hitler threatened the continent.Typical elitists seldom change core beliefs, even when reality demonstrates their failure. That does not seem like a typical aristocrat. He quit his establishment position and lectured abroad, writing popular books. Not so typical.

      Heck, by the time most of us ever see anything of him, he was an old man, doing what some old people love to do – stir things up and act superior to the new generation. That may be more typical for his age not for his elitism but it does not mean that he is someone who should just be ignored. For his views on logic, on mathematics and on science were pivotal and tremendously important for our understanding of the world today. His BS in the day WAS better than theirs and much of our understanding of how science works descends from his views and the discussions they engendered.

      Not a perfect man but one whose ideas should not just be ignored.

Comments are closed.