What I Believe

What I believe was published in 1925 By Bertie Russell 1872 – 1970
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Nature and Man

Man is a part of Nature, not something contrasted with Nature. His body, like other matter, is composed of electrons and protons, which, so far as we know, obey the same laws as those forming part of animals or plants. There are some who maintain that physiology can never be reduced to physics, but their arguments are not very convincing and it seems prudent to suppose that they are mistaken.

What we call our ‘thoughts’ seem to depend upon the organization of tracks in the brain in the same sort of way in which journeys depend upon roads and railways. The energy used in thinking seems to have a chemical origin; for instance, a deficiency of iodine will turn a clever man into an idiot. Mental phenomena seem to be bound up with material structure. If this be so, we cannot suppose that an individual’s thinking survives bodily death, since that destroys the organization of the brain, and dissipates the energy which utilized the brain tracks.

God and Immortality

The central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science. It cannot be said that God nor Immortality is essential to religion, since neither is found in Buddhism. No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for either. 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.

Personal Immortality

A drop of water can be resolved into oxygen and hydrogen. If a drop of water maintains that it had a quality of aqueous-ness which survived its dissolution we should be inclined to be skeptical. In like manner we know that the brain is not immortal, and that the organized energy of a living body becomes, as it were, demobilized at death, and therefore not available for collective action.

All the evidence goes to show that what we regard as our mental life is bound up with brain structure and organized bodily energy. Therefore it is rational to suppose that mental life ceases when bodily life
ceases. There are grounds upon which this conclusion might be attacked. Psychical research professes to have scientific evidence of survival. Evidence might be so overwhelming that no one with a scientific temper could reject it. The weight to be attached to the evidence, however, must depend upon the antecedent probability of the hypothesis of survival.

For my part, I consider the evidence so far adduced by psychical research in favour of survival much weaker than the physiological evidence on the other side. But I fully admit that it might at any moment become stronger, and in that case it would be unscientific to disbelieve in survival.

Survival of Bodily Death

Survival of bodily death is a different matter from immortality: it may only mean a postponement of psychical death. It is immortality that men desire to believe in. I believe this to be a metaphysical superstition. Mind and matter alike are for certain purposes convenient terms, but are not ultimate realities. Electrons and protons, like the soul, are logical fictions; each is really a history, a series of events, not a persistent reality. Whoever considers conception, gestation, and infancy cannot
seriously believe that the soul is an indivisible something, perfect and complete throughout this process.

Meta physicians have advanced innumerable arguments to prove that the soul must be immortal. This is an instance of the amazing power of desire in blinding even very able men to fallacies which would otherwise be obvious at once. If we were not afraid of death, I do not believe that the idea of immortality would ever have arisen.

Fear as the basis of religious dogma

Fear is the basis of religious dogma, as of so much else in human life. Fear of human beings, individually or collectively, dominates much of our social life, but it is fear of nature that gives rise to religion. As science advances, more and more things are brought under human control. Nevertheless there remain things; all the large facts of our world; the sort of facts that are dealt with by astronomy that remain a mystery. Our powers are very limited. Especially in regards to preventing death. Religion is an attempt to overcome this. If the world is controlled by God, and God can be moved by prayer, we acquire a share in omnipotence.

The belief in God serves to humanize the world of nature, and to make men feel that physical forces are really their allies. In like manner immortality removes the terror from death. People who believe that when they die they will inherit eternal bliss may be expected to view death without horror, though, fortunately for medical men, this does not invariably happen. It does, however, soothe men’s fears somewhat even when it cannot allay them wholly. I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I do not shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation.

Nature vs Values

Nothing but harm can come from the confusion of the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of values. What we think good or bad has no relevance in the non-human world. Undoubtedly we are part of nature, which has produced our desires, our hopes and fears, we are subordinated to the outcome of natural laws, and their victims in the long run. Optimism and pessimism are philosophies that highlight a naïve humanism and nature is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy. All such philosophies spring from self-importance, and are best corrected by a little astronomy.

In the philosophy of value the situation is reversed. Nature is only a part of what we can imagine; everything is appraised by us, and there is no outside standard. We are the ultimate arbiters of value, and Nature is only a part. Thus in the realm of the world of values, Nature in itself is neutral, neither good nor bad, deserving of neither admiration nor censure. It is we who create and confer value. In this realm we are kings, and we debase our kingship if we bow down to Nature. It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature; not even for Nature personified as God.

The Good Life

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life.

In the Middle Ages, when pestilence appeared in a country, holy men advised the population to assemble in churches and pray for deliverance; the result was that the infection spread with extraordinary rapidity among the crowded masses of supplicants. This was an example of love without knowledge.

The late war afforded an example of knowledge without love. In each case, the result was death on a large scale. Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love.

If people are not intelligent, they will be content to believe what they have been told, and may do harm in spite of the most genuine benevolence. Medicine affords, perhaps, the best example of what I mean. An able physician is more useful to a patient than the most devoted friend, and progress in medical knowledge does more for the health of the community than ill-informed philanthropy.

Love

Love is an emotion which covers a variety of feelings; love moves between two poles: on one side, pure delight in contemplation; on the other, pure benevolence. Where inanimate objects are concerned, delight alone enters in; we cannot feel benevolence towards a landscape or a sonata.

Love plays a large part in our feelings towards human beings, some of whom have charm and some the reverse, when considered simply as objects of aesthetic contemplation. The opposite pole of love is pure benevolence. Men have sacrificed their lives to helping lepers; in such a case the love they felt cannot have had any element of aesthetic delight.

Benevolence

Benevolence describes the desire for another person’s welfare. I am speaking of an emotion, not a principle, and that I do not include in it any feeling of superiority such as is sometimes associated with the word. The word ‘sympathy’ expresses part of what I mean, but leaves out the element of activity.

Love at its fullest is an indissoluble combination of the two elements, delight and well-wishing. The pleasure of a parent in a beautiful and successful child combines both elements; so does sex-love at its best. But in sex-love benevolence will only exist where there is secure possession, since otherwise jealousy will destroy it, while perhaps actually increasing the delight in contemplation.


Delight without well-wishing may be cruel; well-wishing without delight easily tends to become cold and a little superior. A person who wishes to be loved wishes to be the object of a love containing both elements, except in cases of extreme weakness, such as infancy and severe illness. In these cases benevolence may be all that is desired.

Conversely, in cases of extreme strength, admiration is more desired than benevolence: this is the state of mind of potentates and famous beauties. We desire affection in order to escape from the feeling of loneliness, in order to be ‘understood’. This is a matter of sympathy, the person whose affection we seek must know in what our happiness consists; this belongs to the other element of the good life, namely knowledge.

The limits of Love and Benevolence

In a perfect world, every sentient being would be to every other the object of the fullest love, delight, benevolence and understanding inextricably blended. It does not follow that, in this actual world, we ought to attempt to have such feelings toward all the sentient beings whom we encounter. There are many in whom we cannot feel delight, because they are disgusting; if we were to do violence to our nature by trying to see beauties in them, we should merely blunt our susceptibilities to what we naturally find beautiful. Some saints, it is true, call lice ‘pearls of God’, but what these men delighted in is the opportunity of displaying sanctity. Benevolence is easier to extend widely, but even benevolence has its limits.


All descriptions of the good life here on earth we must assume a certain basis of animal vitality and animal instinct; without this, life becomes tame and uninteresting. Civilization should be something added to this, not substituted for it; the ascetic saint and the detached sage fail in this respect to be complete human beings. A small number of them may enrich a community; but a world composed of them would die of boredom.


Scientific Knowledge


Knowledge as an ingredient of the good life is not ethical knowledge, but scientific knowledge and knowledge of facts. Given an end to be achieved, it is a question for science to discover how to achieve it. All moral rules must be tested by examining whether they tend to realize ends that we desire not what we ought to desire. What we ‘ought’ to desire is merely a way of saying what someone else wishes us to desire.

Usually it is what parents, schoolmasters, policemen and judges want. Since all behaviour springs from desire, it is clear that ethical notions can have no importance except as they influence desire. The superfluity of morality and ethics is obvious in simple cases. Suppose, for instance, your child is ill. Love makes you wish to cure it, and science tells you how to do so. There is not an intermediate stage of ethical theory, your act springs directly from desire for an end, together with knowledge of means. This is equally true of all acts, whether good or bad. The ends differ, and the knowledge is more adequate in some cases than in others.


To alter desires is to establish a system of rewards and penalties and the question for the legislative moralist is: How shall this system of rewards and punishments be arranged? The whole effectiveness of any ethical argument lies in its scientific part, i.e. in the proof that one kind of conduct, rather than some other, is a means to an end which is widely desired. I do not mean that such conduct in life is ‘virtuous’ or that its opposite is ‘sinful’, for these are conceptions which seem to me to have no scientific justification.


Moral Rules


The practical need of morals arises from the conflict of desires, whether of different people or of the same person at different times, We think ill of people who are extravagant or reckless, even if they injure no one but themselves. Bentham supposed that the whole of morality could be derived from ‘enlightened self-interest’, and that a person who always acted with a view to his own maximum satisfaction in the long run would always act rightly. I cannot accept this view.

Tyrants have existed who derived exquisite pleasure from watching the infliction of torture; I cannot praise such men when prudence led them to spare their victims’ lives with a view to further sufferings another day.


Nevertheless, other things being equal, prudence is a part of the good life. Nevertheless, in spite of the importance of prudence, it is not the most interesting part of morals. Nor is it the part that raises intellectual problems, since it does not require an appeal to anything beyond self-interest. The part of morality that is not included in prudence is, in essence, analogous to law, or the rules of a club. It is a method of enabling men to live together in a community in spite of the possibility that their desires may conflict. But here two very different methods are possible.


Criminal Law


Criminal law aims for external harmony by attaching disagreeable consequences to acts which thwart other men’s desires in certain ways. This is also the method of social censure: to be thought ill of by one’s own society is a form of punishment, to avoid which most people avoid being known to transgress the code of their set. But there is another method, far more satisfactory when it succeeds. Two people between whom there is love succeed or fail together, but when two people hate each other the success of either is the failure of the other. If we were right in saying that the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge, it is clear that the moral code of any community must be examined in this light.


Moral codes have not always been faultless. The Aztecs considered it their painful duty to eat human flesh for fear the light of the sun should grow dim. They erred in their science; and perhaps they would have perceived the scientific error if they had had any love for the sacrifical victims. Some tribes immure girls in the dark from the age of ten to the age of seventeen, for fear the sun’s rays should render them pregnant. But surely our modern codes of morals contain nothing analogous to these savage practices? Surely we only forbid things which are really harmful, or at any rate so abominable that no decent person could defend them? I am not so sure.


Current Morality


Current morality is a curious blend of utilitarianism and superstition, but the superstitious part has the stronger hold, as is natural, since superstition is the origin of moral rules. Originally, certain acts were thought displeasing to the gods, and were forbidden by law because the divine wrath was apt to descend upon the community, not merely upon the guilty individuals. Hence arose the conception of sin, as that which is displeasing to God. No reason can be assigned as to why certain acts should be thus displeasing; it would be very difficult to say, for instance, why it was displeasing that the kid should be seethed in its mother’s milk. But it was known by Revelation that this was the case.

Sometimes the Divine commands have been curiously interpreted. For example, we are told not to work on Saturdays, and Protestants take this to mean that we are not to play on Sundays.
But the same sublime authority is attributed to the new prohibition as to the old. It is evident that a man with a scientific outlook on life cannot let himself be intimidated by texts of Scripture or by the teaching of the Church. He will not be content to say ‘such-and-such an act is sinful, and that ends the matter’. He will inquire whether it does any harm or whether, on the contrary, the belief that it is sinful does harm. And he will find that, especially in what concerns sex, our current morality contains a very great deal of which the origin is purely superstitious.


Superstition


Superstition, like that of the Aztecs, involves needless cruelty, and would be swept away if people were motivated by kindness. But the defenders of traditional morality are seldom people with warm hearts. One is tempted to think that they value morals as affording a legitimate outlet for their desire to inflict pain; the sinner is fair game, and therefore away with tolerance! Let us follow an ordinary human life from conception to the grave, and note the points where superstitious morals inflict preventable suffering.
~I begin with conception, If the parents are not married, the child has an undeserved stigma. If either of the parents has disease, the child is likely to inherit it. If too many children there will be poverty, under-feeding and overcrowding. Yet moralists reject education about contraception. A life of torture inflicted upon millions who if killed suddenly and then eaten, as the fate of the Aztecs’ victims, would endure less suffering than is inflicted upon an unwanted child.
~In early infancy, the poor child suffers from economic causes. When the well-to-do have children, they have the best doctors, nurses, diet, rest and exercise. Working-class children die for lack of them. Little is done by public authorities in the way of care of mothers. Cut the supply of milk to nursing mothers to save expense so public authorities can spend vast sums on paving rich residential districts where there is little traffic. They know that this decision condemns working-class children, yet the immense majority of ministers of religion, have pledged the forces of superstition throughout the world to the support of social injustice.
~In all stages of education the influence of superstition is disastrous. A certain percentage of children have the habit of thinking; one of the aims of education is to cure them of this habit. Inconvenient questions are met with ‘hush, hush’, or with punishment. Collective emotion is used to instill nationalistic beliefs. Capitalists, militarists, and ecclesiastics co-operate in education, because all depend for their power upon emotionalism and a lack of critical thinking in the population.
~At religious schools the matter is even worse. Clergymen condemn acts which do no harm and they condone acts which do great harm. They all condemn sexual relations between unmarried people who are fond of each other but not yet sure that they wish to live together all their lives while simultaneously condemning birth control. Yet none condemns the brutality of a husband who causes his wife to die of too frequent pregnancies.
~At puberty, all aspects of human sexual morality ought to be taught. Boys and girls should be taught that nothing can justify sexual intercourse unless there is mutual inclination. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church, which holds that, provided the parties are married and the man desires another child, sexual intercourse is justified however great may be the reluctance of the wife.


Sexual Education


Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other’s liberty; that nothing gives one human being rights over another, that jealousy and possessiveness kill love. They should be taught that to bring another human being into the world is a very serious matter, only to be undertaken when the child will have a reasonable prospect of health, good surroundings and parental care.


Most importantly they should be taught methods of birth control and about venereal diseases, so as to ensure that only healthy wanted children come into this world. The increase of human happiness to be expected from sex education on these lines is immeasurable. It should be recognized that, in the absence of children, sexual relations are a purely private matter, which does not concern either the State or the neighbours. Where there are children, it is a mistake to suppose that it is necessarily to their interest to make divorce very difficult. Habitual drunkenness, cruelty, insanity are grounds upon which divorce is necessary for the children’s sake quite as much as for the sake of the wife or husband.


If this is not done, many people who are acting in a way not contrary to the public interest are faced with the undeserved alternative of hypocrisy or obloquy. The Church does not mind hypocrisy, which is a flattering tribute to its power; but elsewhere it has come to be recognized as an evil which we ought not lightly to inflict.


Treatment of prisoners


The theological conception of ‘sin’ results in the view that criminals are ‘wicked’ and ‘deserve’ punishment is not one which a rational morality can support. Undoubtedly people do things society wishes to prevent, and does right in preventing. Murder is the plainest case. Obviously, if a community is to hold together we cannot allow people to kill each other whenever they feel an impulse to do so.


Of two methods which are equally effective in preventing murder, the one involving least harm to the murderer is to be preferred. Harm to the murderer may be necessary, but it is not a subject for rejoicing. The vindictive feeling called ‘moral indignation’ is merely a form of cruelty. Suffering to the criminal can never be justified by the notion of vindictive punishment.


The subject of Penal Reform is illustrative to suggest that we should treat the criminal as we treat a man suffering from plague. Each is a public danger, each must have his liberty curtailed until he has ceased to be a danger. But the man suffering from plague is an object of sympathy and commiseration, whereas the criminal is an object of execration. This is quite irrational. And it is because of this difference of attitude that our prisons are so much less successful in curing criminal tendencies than our hospitals are in curing disease.


Individual Salvation:


One of the defects of traditional religion is its individualism, and this defect belongs also to the morality associated with it. Christianity arose in the Roman Empire among populations, wholly destitute of political power, whose national States had been destroyed and merged into a vast impersonal aggregate. In these circumstances, they adopted the belief that an individual may be perfect in an imperfect world, and that the good life has nothing to do with this world.


By comparison Plato’s Republic described the good life as a whole community, not an individual; he did so in order to define justice, which is an essentially social conception. He was accustomed to citizenship of a republic, and political responsibility was something which he took for granted. With the loss of Greek freedom comes the rise of Stoicism, which is like Christianity, and unlike Plato, in having an individualistic conception of the good life.


The good life demands a multitude of social conditions, is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. The knowledge required can only exist where governments devote themselves to its discovery and diffusion. The important point is: The man who pretends to live independently is a conscious or unconscious parasite. The idea of individual salvation, with which the early Christians consoled themselves for their political subjection, becomes impossible as soon as we escape from a very narrow conception of the good life.


Social Salvation


In the orthodox Christian conception, the good life is the virtuous life, and virtue consists in obedience to the will of God, and the will of God is revealed to each individual through the voice of conscience.
The good life involves much more; a good education, friends, love, a sufficient income to keep him from want and grave anxiety, good health, and work which is not uninteresting. All these things, in varying degrees, depend upon the community, and are helped or hindered by political events. The good life must be lived in a good society, and is not fully possible otherwise.


Salvation is an individualistic act, the results of a catastrophic change and for that reason cannot serve for the definition of the good life. Thinking that misery, cruelty and degradation was due to tyrants or priests or capitalists or Germans, and that if these sources of evil were overthrown there would be a general change of heart and we should all live happy ever after. Holding that belief, you become willing to wage a ‘war to end wars’. The ultimate source of these hopes was the Christian doctrine of catastrophic conversion as the road to salvation.


There is no short cut to the good life. To build up the good life, we must build up intelligence, self-control and sympathy. This is a quantitative matter, a matter of gradual improvement, of early training, and educational experiment. Only impatience prompts the belief in the possibility of sudden improvement. The gradual improvement that is possible, and the methods by which it may be achieved, are a matter for science.


Ignorance and Fear


It is not necessary to dwell upon the harmfulness that springs from ignorance; more knowledge is all that is wanted, but the harmfulness that springs from bad desires is a more difficult matter. In the ordinary man there is a certain amount of active malevolence and pleasure in the misfortunes of others.


It is shown in a thousand ways; in the glee with which people repeat and believe scandal, in the unkind treatment of criminals, in the gusto of the clergy pointing out the duty of young men during the war. This active malevolence is the worst feature of human nature and the one which it is most necessary to change if the world is to grow happier.


Security


The rich fear that Bolsheviks will confiscate their investments; the poor fear that they will lose their job or their health. Everyone is engaged in the frantic pursuit of ‘security’ and imagines that this is to be achieved by keeping potential enemies in subjection. It is in moments of panic that cruelty becomes most widespread and most atrocious. Reactionaries everywhere appeal to fear: in England, to fear of Bolshevism; in France, to fear of Germany; in Germany, to fear of France. And the sole effect of their appeals is to increase the danger against which they wish to be protected.


It must, therefore, be one of the chief concerns of the scientific moralist to combat fear. This can be done in two ways: by increasing security, and by cultivating courage. I am speaking of fear as an irrational passion, not of the rational prevision of possible misfortune. When a theatre catches fire, the rational man foresees disaster just as clearly as the man stricken with panic.

Europe since 1914 has been like a panic-stricken audience in a theatre on fire; what is needed is calm authoritative directions as to how to escape without trampling each other to pieces in the process. The Victorian Age, for all its humbug, was a period of rapid progress, because men were dominated by hope rather than fear. If we are again to have progress, we must again be dominated by hope.


Courage


Courage must be democratized before it can make men humane. The suffragettes showed that they possessed as much courage as the bravest men; this demonstration was essential in winning them the vote. The Bolsheviks, who proclaim themselves the champions of the proletariat, are not lacking in courage, whatever else may be said of them; this is proved by their pre revolutionary record.


But courage in fighting is by no means the only form, nor perhaps even the most important. There is courage in facing poverty, courage in facing derision, courage in facing the hostility of one’s own herd. In these, the bravest soldiers are often lamentably deficient. And above all there is the courage to think calmly and rationally in the face of danger, and to control the impulse of panic fear or panic rage. When the qualities that now confer leadership have become universal, there will no longer be leaders and followers, and democracy will have been realized at last.


Malevolence; envy and disappointment


But fear is not the only source of malevolence; envy and disappointment. The envy of cripples and hunchbacks is proverbial as a source of malignity, but other misfortunes than theirs produce similar results. A man who has been thwarted sexually is apt to be full of envy; this generally takes the form of moral condemnation of the more fortunate. Much of the driving force of revolutionary movements is due to envy of the rich.

Jealousy is, of course, a special form of envy—envy of love. The old often envy the young; when they do, they are apt to treat them cruelly. There is, so far as I know, no way of dealing with envy except to make the lives of the envious happier and fuller, and to encourage in youth the idea of collective enterprises rather than competition. The worst forms of envy are in those who have not had a full life in the way of marriage, or children, or career. Such misfortunes could in most cases be avoided by better social institutions. Still, it must be admitted that a residuum of envy is likely to remain.


Where envy is unavoidable it must be used as a stimulus to one’s own efforts, not to the thwarting of the efforts of rivals. The possibilities of science in the way of increasing human happiness are not confined to diminishing those aspects of human nature which make for mutual defeat, and which we therefore call ‘bad’. There is probably no limit to what science can do in the way of increasing positive excellence.


Science and Health


Health has been greatly improved; in spite of the lamentations of those who idealize the past, we live longer and have fewer illnesses than any class or nation in the eighteenth century. With a little more application of the knowledge we already possess, we might be much healthier than we are.


Future discoveries are likely to accelerate this process enormously. So far, it has been physical science that has had most effect upon our lives, but in the future physiology and psychology are likely to be far more potent. When we have discovered how character depends upon physiological conditions, we shall be able, if we choose, to produce far more of the type of human being that we admire. Intelligence, artistic capacity, benevolence—all these things no doubt could be increased by science.


There seems scarcely any limit to what could be done in the way of producing a good world, if only men would use science wisely. I have expressed elsewhere my fears that men may not make a wise use of the power they derive from science. At present I am concerned with the good that men could do if they chose, not with the question whether they will choose rather to do harm.


Natural vs Unnatural


There is a certain attitude about the application of science to human life which I do not, in the last analysis, agree with it. It is the attitude of those who dread what is ‘unnatural’. Rousseau is, of course, the great protagonist of this view in Europe. In Asia, Lao-Tze has set it forth even more persuasively, and 2,400 years sooner. I think there is a mixture of truth and falsehood in the admiration of ‘nature’, which it is important to disentangle.


To begin with ‘natural’ roughly speaking is anything to which the speaker was accustomed in childhood. Lao-Tze objects to roads and carriages and boats, all of which were probably unknown in the village where he was born. Rousseau has got used to these things, and does not regard them as against nature. But he would no doubt have thundered against railways if he had lived to see them. Clothes and cooking are too ancient to be denounced by most of the apostles of nature, though they all object to new fashions in either.


Population control


Birth control is thought wicked by people who tolerate celibacy, because birth control is a new violation of nature as is celibacy albeit an ancient one. In all these ways those who preach ‘nature’ are inconsistent, and one is tempted to regard them as mere conservatives. Nevertheless, there is something to be said in their favour. Take for instance vitamins, the discovery of which has produced a revulsion in favour of ‘natural’ foods. It seems, however, that vitamins can be supplied by cod-liver oil and electric light, which are certainly not part of the ‘natural’ diet of a human being. This case illustrates that, in the absence of knowledge, unexpected harm may be done by a new departure from nature; but when the harm has come to be understood it can usually be remedied by some new artificiality.


There is more to be said for ‘nature’ in the realm of human desires. To force a life which thwarts their strongest impulses is both cruel and dangerous; in this sense, a life according to ‘nature’ is to be commended. Artificialities which gratify the desires of ordinary human beings are good, other things being equal. But there is nothing to be said for ways of life which are artificial in the sense of being imposed by authority or economic necessity.


On birth control the divines will say: it is wicked, in this matter, to apply science to the physical side of the problem; we must (they say) apply morals to the human side and practise abstinence. Apart from the fact that everyone, including the divines, knows that their advice will not be taken, why should it be wicked to solve the population question by adopting physical means for preventing conception?
No answer is forthcoming except one based upon antiquated dogmas. And clearly the violence to nature advocated by the divines is at least as great as that involved in birth control. The divines prefer a violence to human nature, which, when successfully practised, involves unhappiness, envy, a tendency to persecution, often madness.


Nature, even human nature, will cease more and more to be an absolute datum; more and more it will become what scientific manipulation has made it. Science can, if it chooses, enable our grandchildren to live the good life, by giving them knowledge, self-control and characters productive of harmony rather than strife. At present it is teaching our children to kill each other, because many men of science are willing to sacrifice the future of mankind to their own momentary prosperity. But this phase will pass when men have acquired the same domination over their own passions that they already have over the physical forces of the external world. Then at last we shall have won our freedom.


Reprinted in Why I am not a Christian, London: Allen &
Unwin; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957.)