On Absurdities and Atrocities


“As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities.”

– Voltaire

The Argument from Design


‘The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. 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.

It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was 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 seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are 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.

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 have 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? 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. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 589-590


Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Certainty‏


When contemplating the property certainty, as with knowledge, it turns out to be very difficult to provide an uncontentious analysis. Because of its many different conceptions and dimensions, the full value of certainty is surprisingly hard to capture. To that end, below is a list of quotations to help sketch a definition of the property certainty.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
– Voltaire

“The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof.”
– Ashley Montagu

“There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life.”
– John Stuart Mill

“I believe that we do not know anything for certain, but everything probably.”
– Christiaan Huygens

“What is known for certain is dull.”
– Max Ferdinand Perutz

“To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.”
– Chinese proverb

“Inquiry is fatal to certainty.”
– Will Durant

“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.”
– Anatole France

“If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.”
– Karl Popper

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