Why Russell was Wrong VIII: Russell was Right if you Don’t Think Too Much

ignorant_xlargeAfter suggesting that all life is ultimately doomed to extinction (as if that were a point in favor of the atheist), Russell mentions a possible objection to his case. He doesn’t address the logical issues raised in the last post. Rather, he responds to those who complain of the bleakness of his view, suggesting that they are simply being disingenuous:

I am told that this sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence.

Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.

To seriously suggest that it may be a “consolation” to believe that the human race is dying out is to take the position that human life is all but worthless. Anyone who engages in this kind of talk abdicates all right to accuse religion of encouraging judgmental or negative views. Which, as we shall see, Russell does.

If it is a thoughtless, and indeed cold, approach to the death of our species to suggest that concern for our future is simply “bad digestion”, his primary suggestion isn’t much better. He proposes that we ignore the problem.

Russell, like the New Atheists, has accused theists of pretending at beliefs. I don’t accept this, but I fail to see how, even were it so, belief in God could be any less honest than pretending that major questions on the meaning and fate of life simply aren’t important. Yet, this is exactly what Russell is advocating.

None of us can really look at such a dark fate, or at the evil within us, and accept it without some source of hope equal to the task. Here, Russell recommends that we simply not look. We can and should go through our lives, he says, by distracting ourselves from the really tough issues. Apparently, the bliss of ignorance is comforting and, if Russell is correct, how honest we are with ourselves won’t matter in the end.

Christianity offers something much different: a hope of infinite perfection, of redemption to equal the size of the calamity set before us. Though I think otherwise, there’s always the chance that Russell is right to say it’s all false comfort. Still, it is not demonstrably so in the way that Russell’s willful turning away from the question is.

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