Continuing on with our examination of Russell’s “Why I’m not a Christian”, we get to an argument from justice.
Roughly stated, the argument claims that, if one believes that there will ultimately be justice, then one needs to believe in an afterlife because there is so much gross injustice in this life.
Personally, I have my reservations about making this argument, not the least of which is that it is highly unlikely to persuade anyone who doesn’t already believe in an afterlife. It struck me as odd, then, that Russell’s response is equally unlikely to convince anyone who doesn’t already reject an afterlife:
If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.
This simply ignores the entire premise of the argument: that justice will eventually be served. Russell is free to reject that premise, but he isn’t making a case until he gives us a reason why he rejects it. As it is, he raises the idea only to avoid answering it.
More significantly for the current debate over atheism, Russell is arguing that his disbelief in justice is more “scientific”. As a lover of science, nearly as much as a believer in God, I find myself offended that science is so often being misappropriated for anti-theistic philosophies that aren’t in the least bit scientific. The New Atheists, in fact, seem to have trouble getting through a page of text without making this error.
Science is silent on metaphysical questions. That is part of its strength, actually. To say that the next life will be like this one, because this is all we know, is no more “scientific” than a British child deciding that Chinese breakfasts consist of oatmeal, toast, and jam because that is all she knows. It is pure assumption, nothing more.
Far too many have no ethical misgivings whatsoever about co-opting science in order to bolster what are actually philosophical assumptions. As much as many Christians need to be reminded not to put words in the mouth of God, it seems that the New Atheists require the same with respect to science.
If science is silent on an issue, one shouldn’t claim to speak for it.