A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part IV The Argument From Design

Right from the beginning I will have to disagree with Russell on what the design argument is. He writes,

“You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.”

In my studies what Russell has described here is the “anthropic principle.” When we look at the term “anthropic” we see the Greek word anthropos which means humans. Hence the “anthropic principle” simply states that the universe was created in such a way to sustain human life. This is different from the design argument as I understand it. The design argument typically follows the line of argument such as:

  1. The universe exhibits empirical property
  2. This empirical property demonstrates strong evidence of design
  3. If the universe exhibits design it must have a designer

I only mention this point of distinction because these two arguments have conflicting ends in that one seeks to demonstrate that the universe was made for man while the other seeks to demonstrate the existence of God.

Russell’s refutation seems to come in two parts. The first part sounds like the argument from evil and the second part is a scientific argument from the law of entropy. For his first refutation Russell says,

“When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists?”

Basically this refutation states,

  1. If God exists He would be omnipotent and omniscient
  2. If God created this world it would exhibit His omnipotence and omniscience
  3. The world has defects
  4. Therefore, it could not have been created by an omnipotent and omniscient God

In-bedded within this refutation is a false dilemma. The dilemma is this, the argument asserts that either this world exhibits God’s omnipotence and omniscience or God does not exist. What makes this dilemma false is that these are not the only two available options. Consider the possibility that creating a world that consistently reflects His omnipotence and omniscience would violate a different aspect of His character, like justice for example. It could be the case that by allowing the defects, that God does in the world, that He is actuality keeping His justice and by doing so He keeps His omnipotence and omniscience. Such a proposition negates the dilemma created by Russell.

Russell does make a good point when he says,

“Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system.”

The refutation is, if the world was made to sustain life why doesn’t it? Here again we run into the problem that Russell is attacking the anthropic principle not the design argument. The design argument states that the universe exhibits design therefore it must have had a designer. Perhaps as a critique against the anthropic principle Russell might be on to something, but as a refutation of design argument he has missed the point.

Does Russell have a point here? I would say no because he has failed to address the design argument. The design argument is one of the proofs for the existence of God; however, the purpose of his paper is to explain why he isn’t a Christian. I’m assuming he means to refute Christianity by refuting God’s existence. Herein lies the real problem. Arguments for the existence of God only seem to deal with an “abstract concept god” and in doing so  fails to deal with the personal triune God of the Bible who is described in terms of basicality1 such as “the alpha and omega”. If God is properly basic as I am suggesting that He is, it won’t be enough to refute the classical arguments for His existence; rather Russell would have to refute the ontological merits for Christianity.

1. For an explanation of “basicality” look at Warrant And Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga.


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