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Bertrand Russell’s surprising weakness7 min read

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I am not a philosopher or a scientist, but a writer and thinker at best. There are many arguments that skeptics make which are challenging to me and my faith, causing me to wrestle with the questions posed.

One of last century’s great atheistic intellects was Bertrand Russell. While there are many theistic philosophers whom I would put against Russell in terms of intelligence, I am not one of those.

It is for these reasons and my respect for Russell’s mind that I was so shocked at his lecture, “Why I Am Not A Christian” – his very first argument against the existence of God is so weak.

I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. … 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. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

He should have “wasted” a lot more time on the argument because this one leaves much to be desired, even venturing into the illogical. For someone of Russell’s academic stature to simply rehash the old “Who made God” argument is almost embarrassing.

To simply answer the question why the world and not God must have a beginning, I will simply say that you have to stay in the box you start with. The world cannot be eternal because it exists within the realm of the material. It would counteract virtually every law of science to suppose an eternal universe. The laws of thermodynamics shouldn’t bend that. Not to mention, the accepted theory of the big bang points to a beginning for the universe.

God would not require a beginning or a cause because He would be, by definition, supernatural and outside of the material realm. If something is supernatural then it would, of course, not be subject to natural laws. Unless Russell is granting a Sagan-like deity status to the universe, he does nothing more than wave at the issue as he drives away into a world of his creation.

It is interesting that he said that our belief in a First Cause was due to the “poverty of our imagination.” Is one of the premier atheistic philosophers resorting to an appeal to imagination to move beyond a First Cause? He should not fear, because recently numerous scientists have used little more than “imagination” to argue away from a beginning for the universe.

There have been some interesting and imaginative, if you will, theories that have been bandied about in recent years. None of which approaches any real solution to the problem besides simply throwing other alternatives, no matter how absurd, in the mix.

In looking about the internet in a short period of time, I found several other arguments that supposedly destroy the footing for the First Cause.

Some say that because time began with the universe then the word beginning would have a different meaning and the notion of “cause” would no longer apply before time. This is an absurd word play with no real relevance to the discussion. How you can at the same time argue that time had a beginning, but the universe, which came into existence at the same time, did not? This merely dances around the issue and serves only as a way to muddy the waters.

One of the sillier arguments is that there could be an infinite number of causes, which go back eternally; therefore there is no need for a first cause. This must be where Russell’s call for “imagination” must come in. There is no evidence at all for this, merely atheistic wishful thinking. If something requires a cause so that there must be an infinite number of causes, someone or something somewhere had to get the whole thing started.

Others argue that there are things that have had no beginning, no cause. They point to subatomic particles that appear to be moving in random, unexplainable ways. This is where materialists fall into the trap they claim theists dwell – arguing from ignorance. Many skeptics love to point to times when Christians argued that God directly caused things that were at that point in time “unexplainable.” The skeptic makes the same mistake here. The particles may appear to move in completely random ways with no causes, but is that true or do we only not know yet what causes the movement. The weight of the scientific evidence lies in the side of a cause. Even if the particles movement is completely random, there is no evidence to suggest the randomness, if it exists, happens anywhere outside the subatomic level. It also does not explain how the universe could have began without a cause.

Another argument is that the First Cause does not have to be God. That is neither here nor there. The First Cause reasoning is not meant as an all-or-nothing expression. It is part of a much larger argument. Simply because the First Cause argument does not require a Christian deity does not mean that either does not exist. The First Cause argument only illustrates that through logic one can find a “creator” or “beginner” of the universe.

But it does establish a First Cause that is consistent with a theistic worldview. By merely establishing a First Cause, we see that the Cause must be supernatural (it is not held by natural laws) and eternal (it existed before everything and does not require a cause). Both of those are true of a theistic God, but it was demonstrated outside of revelatory evidence.