A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part III Natural Law Argument

The next in the series of rejections to Christianity that Russell offers is the rejection of the argument from natural law. The argument is typically framed in this way:

  1. Nature operates according to fixed natural laws
  2. If natural laws exist there must be a natural law giver
  3. We call that natural law give God

Essentially the argument observes that there is regularity in the universe and such regularity means there is a God who keeps control over nature. In other words if you have a universe that operates under certain natural laws then there must be a universal God who governs these laws.

Initially Russell offers something more like critiques of the natural law argument that wouldn’t qualify as a refutation. For example he says that the natural law argument is intellectually lazy because it simply states “God did it” which Russell says is easier than trying to find explanations. Else where he criticizes the use of the term “natural law” because he doesn’t believe there are these natural laws that exist in the natural world. Rather he says what we call “natural law” are more like conventions of thought and agreed upon by those in the field of investigation in question. I don’t want to get into the critique of Russell’s critiques which can be easily surmised. However, I would like to discuss the argument that he does offer.

Russell’s explains his argument in this way:

The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question “Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others — the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.

This is the crux of Russell’s argument:


  1. If there was no reason for the laws which God gave
  2. Then not everything functions by laws


  1. If there was reason for the laws which God gave
  2. Then God Himself was subject to law
  3. Thus the God answer makes no progress in explaining natural law

This is the dilemma that Russell brings up. In this case we have a false dilemma since there is a third option that Russell does not discuss.   The third option calls into question premise two. Within premise two there is a categorical error because God Himself cannot be subject to anything external. If God were subject to external laws then He Himself wouldn’t be God, but rather the law that He is subject to would reign over Him. To take this one step further such a being is not the Christian conception of God so any time Russell speaks of such a being who is subject to laws he is not addressing the Christian God and his argument wouldn’t be relevant.

In classical Protestant Theology we speak of the “asciety” of God is an attribute of His Being. This refers to the property by which God exists in and of Himself; without which He would lose His God like character. Thus God is not contingent upon anything outside Himself. Unlike you or me who are contingent upon God for it is He in whom we live and breath and have our being. God requires nothing or is contingent upon nothing outside of His Being.

In short Russell does not have the Christian God in mind when he makes his argument rendering his argument irrelevant to the reasons why he says he is not a Christian.




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Filed under Atheism, Bertrand Russell

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