Bertrand Russell - Religion and Science

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On Russell's " Religion And Science "

Jun 30, 2006 (Updated Jul 6, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A well- documented thesis by one of the best thinkers of the twentieth-century.

Cons:The Christian Church and the Papacy are portrayed in their dark periods.

The Bottom Line: I recommend this book by one of the greatest thinkers of our time. His views on religion and science had truths, fair.

Bertrand Russell's classic book, " Religion and Science," was one of the author's many brilliant, albeit controversial, essays on religion and science. First published in 1935 and subsequently reprinted over two dozens times, Russell presented a brief yet insightful study of the conflicts between science and traditional religion during the last four centuries.

In " Religion and Science," Russell ventured into topics on Copernican Revolution, evolution, demonology and medicine, soul and body, determinism, cosmic purpose, and science of ethics. He had long engaged a wary public in determined debate on logical analysis, rationality and scientific observation versus dogmatic religious, ethereal truths, and other social and religious issues.

This book is sure to interest all readers of religion and science. The reader of this book will have a glimpse and understand the mind of those who oppose religion of any kind- atheists and agnostics.

Russell was an ardent proponent of conflict thesis and as a philosopher, he was best in analytic philosophy. He was an agnostic. Coined(1870) by Thomas Henry Huxley, an agnostic is a person who believes that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God or an ultimate cause, or anything beyond material phenomena. He questions the existence of God, heaven, etc., in the absence of material proof and in unwillingness to accept supernatural revelation.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell( 1872-1970) was a distinguished British philosopher, mathematician, Nobel Prize winner, renowned peace advocate and a famous agnostic. Born in England, he was educated privately as a child and studied mathematics at Cambridge University. For the next twenty years, Russell wrote intensely at philosophical studies showing his interests to massive social concerns beyond narrow academic inquiries. As a peace advocate, Russell spent six months in jail because of his outspoken pacifism during the First World War. One of his major achievements was three-volume " Principia Mathematica(1910-1913) which he co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead. The book attempted to demonstrate the philosophy known as " logicism," that the truths of mathematics obtain because, ultimately, they are deductive consequences of the laws of logic.

Russell was awarded Britain's highest civilian honor, the Order of Merit and Nobel Prize For Literature. He taught for many years at Cambridge University. Russell final years were spent protesting the American involvement in Vietnam and denouncing the evils of nuclear weapons. Married four times, he died in 1970 at age 98 in Wales, England.

INTRODUCTION by Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse is a Professor of Philosophy and Zoology at the University of Guelph, Ontario. He authored many books, including " Evolutionary Naturalism " and " Darwinian Paradigm ".

Ruse noted four main positions as to possible relations and tolerance between science and religion, considering Russell thesis.

1. There is that which sees an opposition, a warfare between science and religion, with two systems making contradictory claims about reality.

2. There are those who would separate science and religion, arguing that there can be no clash because the two phenomena deal with entirely different areas of experience, asking and answering different questions.

3. There are the dialogue advocates. They believe science and religion deal with different issues, but there can be overlap and interaction. The need then is for the two sides to adjust harmoniously. This is a position of long standing, having its roots deep in the Christian tradition of so-called " natural theology "- the attempt to understand God and His Works through reason, going back to Saint Augustine who warned the faithful that too literal a reading of the Bible would lead only to contradiction and a handy arguments for the non-believer.

4. Finally, there are those who would integrate science and religion.


Russell examined accounts in which scientific advances clashed with with Christian doctrine or Biblical interpretations of the day. He noted three aspects of the great historical religions: 1. A Church 2. A creed and 3. A code of personal morals. He then identified creeds are the intellectual source of the conflict between science and religion, but the bitterness of the opposition has been to the connection of creeds with Churches and with moral codes. Those who questioned creeds weakened the authority and might diminished the incomes of churchmen. Moreover, they were thought to be undermining morality, since moral duties were deduced by churchmen from creeds.


According to Russell, the first pitched battle between theology and science was the astronomical dispute as whether the earth or the sun was the centre of what we now the solar system. The early Christian Church, throughout later antiquity and middle ages, supported the orthodox theory, the Ptolemaic theory. According to this theory, the earth is at rest in the centre of the universe, while the sun, moon, planets and system of fixed stars revolve round it, each in its own sphere.

Ptolemy( 2d.cent.a.d.), an Alexandrian astronomer, mathematician and geographer, rejected the view of the Greek Aristarchus of Samos, who lived in the third century B.C., that the earth moves. The Greeks, B.C., long knew that the earth is a sphere. Eratosthenes discovered how to estimate the size the earth.

Copernicus(1473-1543) introduced a new theory in his book, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies, published in 1543. According to the Copernican theory, the earth has two-fold motion: it rotates on its axis once a day, and it revolves round the sun once a year.

Galileo Galilei(1564-1642) supported the Copernican theory and when he invented the telescope in 1611, he discovered new astronomical facts, including the existence of Jupiter's moons, four more planets, Venus has phases like the moon, the moon has mountains, the sun has spots. Galileo's telescope, discoveries and theories shook, horrified the Church and Christian Theology because he proved the Copernican theory was right.

Galileo was ordered by the Pope to appear before the Inquisition, which commanded him to abjure his errors and he did, for fear of his life and his family, on February 26, 1616. Sixteen years later, after publishing his book, " Dialogues On the Two Greatest Systems of the World" ( 1632 ) which favoured the Copernicus theory over Ptolemy's, Galileo was condemned by the Church and the Inquisition as a heretic. He was forced, in lieu of jail time, to spent his last years in retirement and in silence. Forbidden to see his family and friends,he became blind in 1637 and died in 1642.

Russell noted that " The Church forbade the teaching of the Copernican System as true in all learned and educational institutions that it could control. Works or books teaching that earth moves remained on the Index till 1835."

The Index is the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or Index of Prohibited Books was a former list of books that the Roman Catholic Church forbade its members to read ( except by special permission ) because judged dangerous to faith or morals.


Russell, in keeping with his agnostic views, favored and believed in the Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The Doctrine of Gradual Evolution of plants and animals and variation was postulated by Charles Darwin in his book, Origin of Species(1859). He rejected Creation theory and opined that Noah's Flood is a myth. Evolution theory holds upon the occurrence of chance variation and gradual evolution of plants and animals, including man. It was necessary to assume a lapse of time- millions of years- as geology is favourable to the hypothesis of organic evolution, not 6,000 years, as Creationists assert. Russell cited Lyell's Principles of Geology(1830) which made an emphatic statement of the evidence for the antiquity of the earth and of life and that their beginnings had not started 6,000 years ago, according to the Creation theory. Geologists argued that the earth is millions and millions years old.

Demonology and Medicine

Russell wrote:

" The scientific study of the human body and its diseases has to contend- and to some extent still has to contend- with a mass of superstition, largely pre-Christian in origin, but supported, until quite modern times, by the whole weight of ecclesiastical authority. Disease was sometimes a divine visitation in punishment of sin, but more often the work of demons. It could be cured by the intervention of saints, either in person or through their holy relics; by prayer and pilgrimages; or ( when due to demons ) by exorcism and by treatment which the demons ( and the patient ) found disgusting."

Russell noted that the Church Creeds and religious beliefs led the Christian Church to these : 1.Insanity was regarded as due to diabolical possession 2. Millions burned to death as witches because of this Biblical text: " A sorceress must not be allowed to live "- Exodus 22:18. 3. The Church opposed medical advances: dissection, discovery of circulation of the blood, inoculation against smallpox, vaccination(1885), anaesthetics(1847).


Russell rejected the concept of soul, arguing that perceptions, habit, memory, consciousness, thoughts and experiences are all stored in the brain. He noted: " If we are to believe in the survival of a personality after death of the body , we must suppose that there is continuity of memories or least of habit, since otherwise there is no reason to suppose that the same is continuing. But at this point physiology makes difficulty."


Russell did not believe on cosmic purpose, arguing against any ultimate meaning to the universe and its existence. He presented in this essay a gloomy future of mankind with these words:
" 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."


Russell, in " Religion and Science," cut through the false, unrealistic, anti-science, oppressive dogmas, creeds and beliefs of the Christian Church, from the 15th- Century to 19th- century A.D., like a toiler wielding a sharp scythe in field of poppies. Granting, as Russell asserted, that Religion and Science are in mortal combat, science emerged, obviously, the victor along the issues of Copernican theory, demonology and medicine. Undoubtedly, The Inquisition of The Church was an institution the Church would rather not discuss and forget. Galileo, undoubtedly, the Father of Scientific Experiments, was condemned by the Inquisition just because his great discoveries and scientific theories ran counter to the Church dogmas and creeds.

I am ambivalent on the issues of evolution and creation. It is hard for one to think that man evolved from fish, then crocodile, the monkeys, the apes. Consider the brain of man or the human heart- their intricacies, their marvels. There must a creator, a designer, of man and the flora and fauna of this earth. On that point, I would believe the Creation theory. I believe on Causal laws, as Russell professed. The Creator or God is First Cause or Original Cause of this wonderful earth and the whole universe. Who knows biblical six days were really eons and eons of time?

Russell's discourse on soul and body, cosmic purpose and mysticism was brilliant. He based his postulates on science, specifically on physical sciences. But religion thrives and lives by faith. True faith is the evidence of things not heard, not seen, not felt, not established, not proven by science, or all knowledge and wisdom of this world.

To me, there is no warfare or conflict between religion and science. Each has a part or a role to play in society. Science succeeded to make life better in medicine, travel and communications( computer science), engineering, space travel, education, health science, etc. While religion plays an important morality role in the family, in the community and the nation . The Church of any denomination is an important tool or factor in reining the beastly nature of man and guiding him to his full potential.

As Russell aptly puts it: " A purely personal religion, so long as it is content to avoid assertions which science can disprove, may survive undisturbed in the scientific age."

If one is sick, he goes to his doctor, to a hospital. Conversely, if one is losing hope, is facing misfortunes, desperate and troubled, he turns to religion, to The Power Beyond- God for succor and comfort.

Recommend this product? Yes

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