Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell ends his speech “Why I’m not a Christian” with some glib, and rather offensive, distortions of Christianity. But, as I think I’ve already addressed any real point being made by them in earlier posts, I’ll skip to his closing remarks about what secularism can create:
We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage … It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.
This is a bold claim in the wake of the Reign of Terror and the First World War, and the best response to it, I think, is to ask how that project has gone since. Around the time of this speech, the world’s largest and greatest experiment at creating a purely secular society filled with intelligence, courage, and brotherhood was begun in earnest. That experiment was known as Communism.
And, a decade later, the advances of science were placed in the hands of a group obsessed with the highly respected theory of eugenics: the Nazis.
Now almost a century on, there is no evidence at all that a more secular world will result in any of the virtues that Russell names here. In fact, passionate anti-theists tend to be reduced to assuming, rather than showing, that secularism will help at all in fostering such virtues. Any dispassionate historian should be astonished to run across anyone insisting today that secularism is clearly what the world needs.
But still we hear exactly this kind of rhetoric. Many are trying desperately to revive the corpse of the Enlightenment without any heed given to what killed it in the first place, and without any contrition over the atrocities it aided. Indeed, the New Atheists tend to cast scorn on those who suggest that we all need to repent of something. They seem to take glibly dismissing past mistakes as a sign of strength.
For all the demands for evidence made by such a group, then, I think it is only fair that they produce some evidence that secularism is nearly so good for the world as they claim before expecting others to believe it.