Atheist Bertrand Russell’s The Value of Philosophy: A Short Examination
The Problems of Philosophy
By Mike Robinson
Russell observes in the last chapter in his book The Problems of Philosophy: “Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions.”
Since the atheistic Russell rested his philosophy on a non-Christian foundation he found no “great measure of success” within his philosophical quests. On the other hand, the Christian can discover potent philosophical achievements inasmuch as he can rest on God’s revelation and extend its truth and wisdom in all areas of his intellectual life. The Christian finds in God’s revelation the essential doctrine of the Trinity. From this foundational certainty, one can see countless philosophical truths and applications.
Christian triune theism affirms an ontology (a philosophical matter) where neither the one/unity nor the many/plurality is ultimate and more dominant over the other. Unity and diversity are the two characteristics of the material and immaterial world as equal ultimate features of reality.1
Christian theism, unlike non-Christian worldviews, doesn’t plunge into self-defeat forasmuch as it doesn’t avow—as a vital feature within the ground of knowledge in our epistemic foundation (the Godhead)—unity over diversity or the converse. Non-Christian worldviews like Russell’s are stuck with a worldview that posits the one/unity as the ultimate over the many/plurality or the reverse (more on the One & Many see prior post HERE).
In the doctrine of the Trinity we know that God is both an ultimate unity and plurality as the one God (unity) in three persons (plurality). And this ontic foundation is expressed in the universe:
- One man among many men
- One star among many in a galaxy
- One word among many words yielding a sentence, etc.
This one and many is also embedded in that which is transcendent:
- The laws of logic are one yet exist as many: LOI, LEM, and the LNC
- Moral law is one law existing in Ten Commandments
- Numbers: There is one number “seven” yet an infinite number of “sevens.”
All things and entities, as aspects of the one and the many, are derivative from God’s ontology: The one and the many have equal ultimacy at the most basic position. Moreover this truth, in principle, alone delivers the a priori environment for intelligibility and epistemic rights.2
More Problems for Non-Theistic Philosophy
In The Problems of Philosophy Russell concludes: “Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.” This brief quote posits numerous self-stultifying assertions, but this post has space to expose only one. Russell admits that within his non-Christian worldview, he cannot provide any “definite answers” or “dogmatic assurance” (although he is dogmatic vis-à-vis a lack of dogmatic assurance). Nevertheless he asserts that the mind is capable of union with the universe. However, under his atheism he has no grounds to definitely know that such a union is possible since he has already rendered the possibility of definite knowledge unattainable. If, as Russell maintains throughout this volume, men cannot have definite knowledge regarding sense data, induction, and causality, he undermines his wild assertion that one can attain “union with the universe.” One will find wisdom in Scripture and not in the barren thoughts of an intellectual giant who reposed upon the atheistic worldview.
- Van Til, Cornelius: The Defense of the Faith, p. 25-26.
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