The article “Is there a God?” was written by Russell in 1952 at the request of a London magazine; however, it was not published (547-548). Russell, an advocate of science, was known for his unconventional views and social criticism (“Irvine”). This article came at a time when science was finally establishing significant ground. Discoveries in the 20th century such as the theory of relativity, evolution and quantum mechanics meant that people were finally looking towards scientists for answers (Polanyi). People in Western society deferred easily to the authority of science since empirical evidence, unlike religious claims, cannot be refuted (Polanyi). Russell was an analytic philosopher and hence, placed more emphasis on logic and empirical evidence (Irvine). Russell, being a mathematician as well, incorporates more logic than conventional philosophers (Irvine). This article is a profound example of how Russell deals with conventional subject matter. The apparent purpose of this article might be to debate the existence of God; however, Russell’s purpose is polemical. Russell analyses various perspectives on the existence of a deity in the context of 20th century.
In this article, the historical origins of monotheism are explored since it is the most prevalent of all forms of deity worship. Then the various arguments by theologians in favor of existence of a God are considered. Russell narrates the history of philosophy pertaining to the existence of a God. The question of existence and its various implications are tested against scientific claims and evidence. Finally, the moral arguments in favor of deistic worship are considered.
The analytical tone is evident from the start, particularly where the history of monotheism is discussed. Historical analysis of religions shows that the various claims of universal truth are in fact localized. There were various political reasons for believing in one religion or the other. Russell trivializes the claims of the Jewish religion and instead focuses on the growth of their political power. Russell satirizes the whole affair of political struggle between various religions by using the example of Antiochus who decreed the Jews to “eat pork, abandon circumcision, and take baths”. The success of religions is dependent upon military power as Russell shows by the analysis of monotheism’s rise. Russell points to Buddhism and Confucianism as religions having no deities. Hence, Russell reduces religion to an ideology. In the context of 20th century, Russell claims that ideological influence is becoming more and more difficult. The rise of atheism in Soviet Russia, for example, cannot be countered with violence. Russell makes it apparent that the existence of religions is not enough to believe in a deity. To the audience of the 20th century, uninfluenced by the ideological fog of early ages, the first paragraph is convincing.
A hint of dismissive tone against religion is visible throughout the article. Russell makes...