Today is a big day for Solas – our first collective book has been released. It is a response to Bertrand Russell’s dated but still influential book, ‘Why I am not a Christian?”. It is entitled why I am not an atheist and has 11 contributors, scientists, a psychiatrist, ministers, men, women, a journalist, a CEO etc. I love it! And think it is a brilliant book to get for both Christians and non-Christians alike. You can order if from Christian Focus Publications, or Amazon or any good book shop. But we would much prefer you to order it from Solas because it helps our ministry – and we will throw in free postage and packing… You can get it here –
And there is also a Facebook page –
Please spread the word! As a taster I include my own essay in this book below – it is my direct response to Russell. You will note that virtually every argument you hear from the ‘New Atheists’ is used by Russell….there is nothing new under the sun!
And this blog –
A DEBATER explains why he is not an Atheist
I spend a great deal of my time debating, discussing with and meeting atheists and agnostics. For the purposes of this essay, I am regarding them as similar; although agnostics are people who say they do not know and indeed cannot know God, to all intents and purposes they live as if there were no God – they are functional atheists. However, an increasing number of people are beginning to self-identify as out-and-out atheists – 14 per cent in the United States and 22 per cent in the United Kingdom. And they are becoming more vocal and militant.
There were times in the past when I wanted to join their ranks. In many ways, atheism was the most attractive option. If there is no God then I don’t have to worry about Him, and if there is no life after death then I don’t have to worry about that – let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
It was Bertrand Russell who identified these two questions – the existence of God and immortality – as the two key questions. Few people today would know anything about Russell and even fewer would have read his book, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays. And yet, although few will have read the book, most will know the arguments, because it is these arguments that are repeated ad nauseam on websites, in debates, in the broadcast media and in pubs and cafes throughout the land. In fact, it is Russell’s book that provides a starting point for this collection of essays.
It was on 6 March 1927 that he delivered a lecture to the South London Branch of the National Secular Society at Battersea Town Hall. Russell was a member of the British aristocracy who became one of the world’s most prominent philosophers and is considered to be one of the founders of analytic philosophy. I personally find his background fascinating and helpful in understanding some of his prejudices and preconceptions.
His father was an atheist who consented to his mother having an affair with his tutor. His mother died when Bertrand was just two years old. When he was four, his father died after a long period of depression, and Russell was brought up by his grandmother, Countess Russell, the wife of the former Prime Minister John Russell.
Bertrand’s father had stipulated in the will that he should be brought up as an agnostic – something which the Countess, who was a deeply devoted Scottish Presbyterian, overturned in court. As a result, Bertrand was brought up in a home where prayer and Bible reading were normal. Indeed, he cites his grandmother’s favourite verse in Why I Am Not A Christian as his motto: ‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil’ (Exod. 23:2, KJV).
The young Russell, lonely and suicidal, was fascinated by mathematics and religion. Aged fifteen, he decided there was no such thing as free will; aged seventeen, he decided there was no such thing as life after death, and a year later, he decided that there was no God. He went on to study mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, became a lecturer and had a glittering career in philosophy for the rest of this life.
He was an extremely influential character, noted for his pacifism, anti-nuclear bomb stance and his atheism/agnosticism. As regards the latter, his views have largely become the default philosophy of the British elite and those who advocate a secular humanist viewpoint. His private life was very confused; he married four times and had numerous affairs. He died in 1970 at the grand old age of 98.
Apart from his History of Western Philosophy, his most famous and influential work is the lecture given in 1927. It was subsequently published in pamphlet form and then became part of a collection of essays, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays, a book which has frequently been cited as one of the most influential of the twentieth century. I read this book a number of years ago and only recently returned to it. In this essay, I want to explain why Russell actually drives me towards Christianity rather than away from it. Paradoxically, the very reasons that Russell gives are the reasons that I cannot be an atheist.
It should also be noted how dated and yet how relevant Russell’s essay is. It is dated because its science, history and social analyses are so out of date. And yet it is relevant because Russell espouses arguments that are used on the Internet, in newspaper columns and in debates, as though they were somehow shocking new revelations, another advance in the inevitable progress of mankind. Little do many of our progressives realize that all they are espousing are the tired and dated arguments of Bertrand Russell. When I read Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, I realized how the main arguments were just a rehash of Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian, and so I went back to read it again.
BECAUSE ART REQUIRES AN ARTIST I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Russell has as the cornerstone of his atheism the question, ‘Who created God?’ – which he believed killed off the First Cause argument. It still amazes me that an intellectual regards this as a killer point.
The First Cause argument is simply that everything in this world has a cause until you get back to the First Cause, which we call God. Russell says that that used to make sense to him until at the age of 18 he read John Stuart Mill’s autobiography and came to the conclusion that if everything must have a cause then God must have a cause. If there is anything without a cause, then it might as well be the world. In what would now be seen as an incredibly out-of-date and unscientific statement, Russell goes on to argue: ‘There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all.’
Unfortunately for Russell and his followers, we now do have every reason to believe the world did have a beginning. Christians listen to the Bible which tells us: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ (Gen. 1:1) Those who do not listen to God speaking in Scripture can then listen to Him speaking in nature. Since the 1950s, science has told us through the Big Bang theory that the universe did indeed have a beginning. Arno Penzias, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered the background radiation that provided evidence for the Big Bang, declared: ‘The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.’ We now know scientifically what the Bible has declared all along.
When John Lennox pointed this out to Richard Dawkins, he rather sniffily responded, ‘Well it had a 50:50 chance.’ Of course, it did. In fact, there are only two options. To quote Professor Lennox: ‘Either human intelligence owes its origin to mindless matter or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.’ Indeed.
So I believe in God because it is reasonable, rational and scientific to believe that the creation had a Creator. It did not self-create.
That still leaves the alleged killer problem for Russell, Dawkins and many fourth-form school pupils, ‘Who created God?’ The answer is – nobody. None of the monotheistic religions argue for a created God – that is what we call an idol. The point is that God is uncreated. We can either believe in eternal ‘stuff’ or an eternal Creator. I find the latter to be far more logical and reasonable.
When as a young boy I tried to be an atheist, it was impossible – not because of religious upbringing (indeed, like Russell, I think that would have made it easier) but rather because whenever I walked outside my home, along the Nigg cliffs in Easter Ross in the Scottish Highlands, I found it impossible to believe that all this beauty, creativity and glorious nature was the product of an unguided non-intelligent process. To believe in that would have required a leap of faith greater than any I was being asked to take as a potential Christian.
Another way of putting this argument is that recently revived by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig – the Kalam cosmological argument. Put simply it states:
- everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence
- the universe has a beginning of its existence
- therefore the universe has a cause of its existence The logic is irrefutable. The evidence is overwhelming. Russell was wrong, although we have to grant that he was living in a much more backward scientific culture and he did not have the knowledge we now have – knowledge that Sir Fred Hoyle once declared shook his atheism more than anything. This is a knowledge which some scientists, after Russell, were reluctant to accept, purely and simply because it destroyed the major premise of the foundational text of their atheism. This evidence now leads us on to the second argument.
BECAUSE THERE IS AN ORDERED UNIVERSE I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
On the basis of his dismissal of the First Cause argument, Russell then somewhat cavalierly dismissed the natural law and design arguments. Rather than the ‘laws’ of the universe being given by God, they just simply happen to be. Rather than the world giving evidence of design, it gives evidence of somewhat bad design. ‘Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?’
But Russell again inadvertently highlights two great reasons not to be an atheist. Firstly, we now know that the argument from design is far deeper and more profound than we ever could have imagined. The fine- tuning of the universe is one of the discoveries of science post-Russell, which greatly undermines his cause. There are fifteen constants in the universe, (gravity, properties of carbon, thermodynamics, etc.), which have to be exactly in tune with one another in order for the universe even to exist. The chances of this happening are so infinitesimal that the odds are a number that is ten to the power of more zeros than atoms that exist in the whole universe!
I heard it put another way: if you took a penny and put it on the ground in the state of Texas, and then covered the whole state of Texas with pennies, and then built them up in a column all the way to the moon, and then did that for the whole US (including Alaska) and then did that 1,000 times, and then you took one of those coins and put a pink dot on it, and randomly inserted it into the pile of coins going all the way to the moon; and then you asked a blindfolded child to pick out the one coin, the chances of the child doing so would be equivalent to the chances of the universe existing with just exactly the right constants all in place. Bertrand Russell was a mathematician but it was not his mathematics that stopped him believing in God.
BECAUSE I AM FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE, I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Another superb mathematician, my friend John Lennox, has been a great help to me in understanding this. He gives another reason to believe – human DNA and the human genome project (the head of which, Francis Collins, is also a Christian).
John Lennox explains it this way. Imagine you go to the beach and as you are walking along you see the words ‘I Love You’ spelled out in the sand. You naturally assume that there is intelligence behind those words. Someone wrote them. That is the obvious and correct assumption. It is an axiom of science that information does not self- generate. Someone/something has put it there. Lennox points out that our human bodies are full of a code that would stretch over many thousands of miles, consists only of four letters and yet is essential and unique to every one of us. Why then do you not understand and accept that someone put that code there?
And again the Bible was there before us – ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) The Logos spoke and the world came into being. The idea of God ‘speaking’ and things coming into existence is far more plausible now that we understand that everything consists of information!
Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers, writes: ‘For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.’
The more I get to know about the human body, the more I am amazed by it. In the latter part of 2011 I spent several weeks in hospital seriously ill. Through the skill of the medical staff and, I believe, the intervention of God in answer to the prayers of His people, I recovered. One of the legacies of that experience has been to leave me with a heightened sense of wonder at the marvels of creation, including my own battered and weary body. God is the great designer.
BECAUSE THERE IS EVIL I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Russell does not understand why there is evil in the world. Like so many before and after, he basically declares: if I were God I would have done a better job.
Now let us assume there is no God. What difference would that make? There would still be suffering, evil, death and sorrow. Removing God does not solve the problem. There would still be the KKK and the Fascists, or Al Qaeda, or the Communists, or the child slave traders, or the millions of paedophiles …
This great problem of evil was what drove me to Christ. At university I studied Weimar and Nazi Germany; the big question for me was why human beings could behave in such a way. Germany was not, after all, a backward nation of primitive savages, but rather the most advanced, cultured, scientific, progressive nation in the world, and yet it was a nation that gave rise to the Holocaust. The fact that such a thing could happen blows away Russell’s optimism that human beings would just continue to progress as science advanced. The problem of evil makes no sense unless you recognize categories of good and evil, and it is difficult to do so without some absolute standard – and that is difficult without an absolute Lawgiver.
That still leaves the problem of why God would allow suffering or create a world in which suffering was even possible. Russell’s simplistic, literalist analysis that God is responsible for creating Fascism only works if you assume that God is responsible for everything and that there is no possibility of free will or indeed human responsibility. Russell came to the position first of all that there was no free will, and then to the position that there was no God. The tragedy, of course, is that it does not end there. In taking away both free will and God, you end up in the position where you ultimately deny the essence of humanity.
BECAUSE THERE IS MORALITY I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
And you also deny the fact of morality. After the Second World War, Russell was being interviewed on the BBC Home Service and came out with the statement that ‘Dachau (the Nazi concentration camp) is wrong’ is not a fact. I quoted this during a debate at the University of Cambridge and my opponent challenged me to prove that Dachau was wrong. He said he felt it was wrong but he could not prove it was wrong as a fact in the same way that gravity is a fact.
My response? We were at different starting points. He started with the view that there was no God and because of that he ended up in the unenviable position of not being able to prove that the Holocaust was wrong. I started with the view that the Holocaust was wrong and when I asked why, and kept asking, I ended up with God, and so I could say it was wrong. The argument from morality is not that Christians are more moral; it is that without God an absolute morality is almost impossible, as morality only becomes a social construct. With God, there is good. Without God, there is chaos.
If I had the power, I could easily create a world in which you did not suffer, experience sorrow or have broken relationships. I could make you into a chair. You would experience no pain, no sorrow, no hatred. But then you would experience no pleasure, no joy and no love. You would live in this blissfully unaware state. That may be Buddhist nirvana but it is not human.
But if I were to create a world in which you had the freedom to choose good and evil, to love or hate, to rejoice and to think, then I am absolutely certain that I could not have done better than God. Perhaps the price of human freedom and love is the KKK and Fascism?
An atheist has no answer to the problem of evil and suffering, other than suck it up and see. A Christian does – Christ. This brings me on to another great reason for not being an atheist.
BECAUSE OF JESUS CHRIST I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Russell did not like Jesus Christ. He had a somewhat simplistic, caricatured version of His teaching (for example, he argues that no Christian should be a judge because Jesus said, ‘Do not judge’!), expressed doubts as to whether He existed at all and condemned Him for believing in hell.
Again, it is a simplistic and rather twisted understanding of the teaching of Christ, alleging, for example, that Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they did not like His preaching, when the reality was that He condemned them because they were hypocrites using religion to oppress the people. But when I read the teaching of Jesus Christ, when I see His miracles and His acts of compassion, when I observe His radicalism and His kindness, I cannot but be drawn to Him. I am reminded of the teaching in Hebrews: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he also made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb. 1:1-3a)
If I want to know what God is like, then I look at Christ. Logic, reason and science tell me that there is a Creator; they tell me of His divine nature and eternal power (Rom. 1:18) but they do not tell me of a Saviour. They do not tell me of the God of love, justice and mercy. Christ does. Furthermore ,when I see what Christ did for me – ‘The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20) – then I am stunned and amazed. ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10)
BECAUSE OF THE CHURCH I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
This is surprising for many people. It has become fashionable, even amongst professing Christians, for people to declare that they love Jesus but don’t like the church. Indeed the church is probably a major reason why many people do not believe – at least at a superficial and emotional level.
Russell hated the church with a passion: “You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”
It is all high-flown rhetoric and largely unhistorical, hysterical nonsense, but it has had its desired effect. Just as in Weimar Germany, some politicians and social theorists looked for someone to blame (‘it’s all the fault of the Jews’), so in today’s Western world there are people who really do believe that the church is the primary source of evil within the world.
Steven Weinberg rather chillingly declares: ‘With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.’ The New Atheists take up on Russell’s hatred of the church and turn it into an attack on religion as a virus. And what should happen with a virus? It should be eradicated.
Such hatred only comes from ignorance and prejudice. Just as it was very difficult for any Germans who had normal dealings with Jews to regard them as vermin, so it is very difficult for anyone who comes across the church of Jesus Christ to write it off as a source of all evil. I was strongly opposed to Christianity and the church but it was the love and actions of Christians that helped persuade me there was a great deal more to it than I thought.
Today it is still the case that the best ‘apologia’ for the gospel is the church of Jesus Christ where Christ’s command to love is obeyed and His prophecy about effective witness is fulfilled. ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35, ESV)
Of course, I am fully aware that the church often does things wrong and that there are people in the church who disgrace the name of Christ, but then the Bible explains this by pointing out that we are all sinners and we have to battle against the evil within all our lives. What amazes me is that in the midst of such ugliness I can still find the beautiful bride of Christ. The Christian view is both realistic (recognizing the ugliness) and restorative (seeing the beauty). This leads us on to another reason for not being an atheist.
BECAUSE I AM NOT A UTOPIAN I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Bertrand Russell had an incredible faith. He believed in progress. He believed, like Weinberg, that for good men to do evil it required religion. He believed that the world ‘needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.’
He believed that science could recreate man: “When we have discovered how character depends upon physiological conditions, we shall be able, if we choose, to produce far more of the type of human being that we admire. Intelligence, artistic capacity, benevolence – all these things no doubt could be increased by science. There seems scarcely any limit to what could be done in the way of producing a good world, if only men would use science wisely.”
His was a utopianism that became dangerous. He opposed the rearmament of Britain against Hitler, although he was strongly against Hitler. He believed in peace and progress – great ideas but not entirely realistic. The philosopher John Gray, in his wonderful but depressing book, Black Mass, points out how secular utopianism was just as dangerous as religious utopianism. He cites Lewis Namier: ‘Hitler and the Third Reich were the gruesome and incongruous consummation of an age, which, as none other, believed in progress and felt assured it was being achieved.’
I am not an atheist because I do not share Russell’s faith in the inevitable progress of humanity. He was speaking from the context of a particular culture – one in which he was part of the elite, where he had been taught about his own class and race superiority, and who believed that he had the answers. In fact, his belief in progress and morality was greatly undermined by his own actions – by their fruit you shall know them. His commitments in marriage largely depended on how he felt and what he was looking for. His teachings on sex and marriage seemed to be more about justifying his own sexual immorality than about any concepts of truth, good or beauty. In one infamous passage, he even went so far as to argue that women teachers should not be virgins!
“… everybody who has taken the trouble to study morbid psychology knows that prolonged virginity is, as a rule, extraordinarily harmful to women, so harmful that, in a sane society, it would be severely discouraged in teachers. The restrictions imposed lead more and more to a refusal, on the part of energetic and enterprising women, to enter the teaching profession. This is all due to the lingering influence of superstitious asceticism.”
The Muslim heaven may be populated with virgins for the man; Russell’s utopia was populated by ‘sexually liberated’ women, who would, of course, be available for the man too! Well, Russell is getting his ‘sexually liberated’ Britain in the twenty-first century – although one suspects it has not done much for education.
BECAUSE I AM AFRAID I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Here I seem to be agreeing with Russell. He declares: ‘Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear.’ In one sense he is right. There are things we are afraid of, and so we should be. Russell was afraid of nuclear war, and rightly so. He was afraid of ignorance and disease – again, rightly so.
I too have many fears. But three of them I do not share with Russell. I am afraid of death because it is the last enemy. I am afraid of myself because I know a little of the corruption of my own heart. And I am afraid of God because He is a being greater than I can conceive of and awesome in His holiness. And that is why I am a Christian – because Christ has killed death, renewed my heart and brought me into the presence of God the Father. He deals with all my fears.
BECAUSE I HAVE A SENSE OF HOPE AND ETERNITY I AM NOT AN ATHEIST
Although Russell’s view of humanity in general and his own group in particular was optimistic in the short term, in the long term his view of the universe was depressingly bleak: “Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending – something dead, cold, and lifeless.”
I don’t accept that. Long before Russell, the wisest man in the world, King Solomon, reflected on the meaning of life, the universe and everything. He wrote down his struggles in a marvellous book, which, although 3,000 years old, is as relevant today as it ever was. Indeed it has dated a lot less than Why I Am Not a Christian.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reflects upon the fact that ‘under the sun’ everything is meaningless. The phrase ‘under the sun’ is used several times and is the key to understanding the whole book. It simply means ‘without God’. If you accept Russell’s philosophy then ‘dead, cold, and lifeless’ is what this world is going to become. It is what you are going to become. That might be more palatable if you are a wealthy member of the English aristocracy with a plentiful supply of wine, women and song – but it does not offer the rest of us much hope, and ultimately is even hopeless for them.
There is an alternative. And it is one that is not wishful thinking, sky fairies or myth.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 says: ‘I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ That’s the key. God has made us with this burden of humankind. We have an awareness of beauty, transcendence and something beyond. But we are in the dark. We cannot see – which is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be the light of the world. Logos, Love and Light bring Life.
That is why I am not an atheist.