Russell XI: Self-Proclaimed Moral Superiority


After repeating the Euthyphro argument in the form addressed in the last post, Russell gives a couple of suggestions as to how a theist might answer it:

You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.

Of course, this leaves one wondering why, if Russell would accept that some “superior deity” is the real source of ethics, he cannot accept that the God of Christianity could be that same source.

But the New Atheists do not accept this, they assume that such a deity would suffer from the same problem. This is only a valid objection, as I’ve said, if two things can be demonstrated:

1. That God acting according to his nature can really be said to be either arbitrary or referencing an outside standard of goodness (as the Euthyphro claims), and
2. That there is a secular source of ethics that is not susceptible to the same kind of attack.

This much has been said. What is new here is that Russell, while not adopting it, speaks favorably of the idea that Satan created the world. While it’s obvious that he doesn’t believe in Satan, let alone Satan as creator, I think his willingness to praise this idea is significant.

In simplest terms, it is an argument from pure cynicism.

While it may be great rhetoric to play to a judgmental cynicism about the world Christianity praises as God’s creation, it is neither good logic, nor a way toward a more peaceful and loving society. This is doubly frustrating in that promoting reason and ridding the world of the “evils of religion” are the stated purposes of the modern atheist movement–the two things most obviously hindered by the glib judgmentalism these writers so often promote.

Rather than a logical argument, this is a kind of phariseeism: insinuating that the world doesn’t meet one’s high standards, as if one is so superior to the rest of humanity as to sit in judgment on it. I see this pattern as strongly in modern secular groups as in churches (though we have our own hypocrisies, to be sure). And I find that I don’t like listening to angry moralism better simply because “God will judge you” has been replaced with “I judge God”.

Surely, anyone who claims to be free of “the evils of religion” should act less like a pharisee than the New Atheist writers.

2 responses to “Russell XI: Self-Proclaimed Moral Superiority

  • makagutu

    You are making an assumption here that Russell believes the universe is created which I don’t think was the case. As a satirist he is giving the theist room for manouvre, why you have a problem with this I can’t tell.

    • Debilis

      Okay, once more for tonight.

      I don’t think I’ve made that assumption. That is, I don’t see how anything I’ve written requires that Russell believes the universe was created.

      I’d meant to completely ignore that issue.

      Also, I don’t claim to know exactly what his personal motivations are, but I doubt that his intention here was to help the theist make her case. Rather, he’s referencing ideas which specifically run counter to Christian theology.

      As to why I have a problem with it, I find the argument both untrue and cynical. Even if it, somehow, helped the theist win a debate, I like to think that I’d not be interested in room for maneuvering if it were the result of a bad argument.

      Okay, I’m aware that there is more, but it is late here (Korea). I’m off to bed. I’ll answer more responses in the morning.

      Best to you until then.

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