Bertrand Russell Quotes

I am no great lover of Bertrand Russell, but he did have a wit and often made a lot of sense.  Here’s a collection of his quotes that I found of interest.


“One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it…” Bertrand Russell


“So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.” Bertrand Russell


“Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.” Bertrand Russell


“William James used to preach the ‘will to believe.’ For my part, I should wish to preach the ‘will to doubt.’ … What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.” Bertrand Russell


“The fact that a belief has a good moral effect upon a man is no evidence whatsoever in favor of its truth.” Bertrand Russell


“The fundamental defect of Christian ethics consists in the fact that it labels certain classes of acts ‘sins’ and others ‘virtue’ on grounds that have nothing to do with their social consequences.” Bertrand Russell


“I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian god may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.” Bertrand Russell


“You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal laws, every step toward the diminuation of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world…” Bertrand Russell


“Man, so the theologians assure us, is so splendid a Being that he may well be regarded as the culmination to which the long ages of nebula and slime were a prelude. I think the theologians must have been fortunate in their human contacts.” Bertrand Russell


“You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.” Bertrand Russell


“Then you have to say one or other of two things. Either God only speaks to a very small percentage of mankind — which happens to include yourself — or He deliberately says things are not true in talking to the consciences of savages.” Bertrand Russell


“It has been one of the defects of theologians at all times to over-estimate the importance of our planet.” Bertrand Russell


“…it is always disastrous when governments set to work to uphold opinions for their utility rather than for their truth.” Bertrand Russell


“It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history.” Bertrand Russell


“But in matters of theology or political theory, where a rational man will hold that at best there is a slight balance of probability on one side or the other, people argue with passion and support their opinions by physical slavery imposed by armies and mental slavery imposed by schools.” Bertrand Russell


The consequent improvement in health and increase of longevity is one of the most remarkable and admirable characteristics of our age. Even if science had done nothing else for human happiness, it would deserve our gratitude on this account. Those who believe in the utility of theological creeds would have difficulty in pointing to any comparable advantage that they have conferred upon the human race.” Bertrand Russell


…such arguments as are possible on the subject point to the probable extinction of personality at death. We may regret the thought that we shall not survive, but is a comfort to think that all the persecutors and Jew-baiters and humbugs will not continue to exist for all eternity. We may be told that they would improve in time, but I doubt it.” Bertrand Russell


“Throughout the last 400 years, during which the growth of science had gradually shown men how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another. After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against scientific theories of psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is.” Bertrand Russell


“Theology still tries to interfere in medicine where moral issues are supposed to be specially involved, yet over most of the field the battle for the scientific independence of medicine has been won. No one now thinks it impious to avoid pestilences and epidemics by sanitation and hygiene; and though some still maintain that diseases are sent by God, they do not argue that it is therefore impious to try to avoid them. The consequent improvement in health and increase of longevity is one of the most remarkable and admirable characteristics of our age. Even if science had done nothing else for human happiness, it would deserve our gratitude on this account. Those who believe in the utility of theological creeds would have difficulty in pointing to any comparable advantage that they have conferred upon the human race.” Bertrand Russell


“Man, as a curious accident in a backwater, is intelligible: his mixture of virtues and vices is such as might be expected to result from a fortuitous origin. But only abysmal self-complacency can see in Man a reason which Omniscience could consider adequate as a motive for the Creator. The Copernican revolution will not have done its work until it has taught men more modesty than is to be found among those who think Man sufficient evidence of Cosmic Purpose.” Bertrand Russell


“There is something feeble and a little contemptable about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not real, he becomes furious when they are disputed.” Bertrand Russell


“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand” Bertrand Russell


“The expression ‘free thought’ is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. ‘Free thought’ means thinking freely — as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being. The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyrant of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man’s emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker.” Bertrand Russell


“I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.” Bertrand Russell


“The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.” Bertrand Russell