The following quote is attributed to Bertrand Russell:

Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.

The reference for the quote is:

Bertrand Russell, quoted in Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 17. It can also be found in the book The Meaning of Life by philosopher Hugh S. Moorhead.

Since the reference wasn't more specific it make me wonder how authentic it is. I checked a couple sources on Internet Archive using "God" as the keyword without finding it:

Is there a source for the quote?

"Atheism Quotes" Retrieved on July 27, 2019 from All About Philosophy at https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/atheism-quotes-faq.htm

2 Answers 2


With further searching I found the answer in Hugh S. Moorhead's The Meaning of Life, page 164-165.

The quote comes from a letter to Hugh Moorhead from Bertrand Russell on January 10, 1952. Moorhead had sent various authors, including Russell, a copy of one of their books asking them to autograph the book with an answer to the question: What is the meaning or purpose of life?

Here is the text of the handwritten letter from Russell assuming I made out the handwriting correctly.

Thank you for your letter. I enclose the Leibniz, but I have not written in anything about "The meaning or purpose of life". Unless you assume a God the question is meaningless, & like Laplace "je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse".

I was thinking Russell might have written more on this topic when I began my search for the source of the quote. Now I realize from the full quote that he likely did not.

Moorhead, H. S. The meaning of life. (1988) Chicago Review Press. Retrieved on July 27, 2019, from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/meaningoflife00hugh/page/164


FYI Russell made similar point in his reply to a letter from a Father Lundmark in 1960, who asked "What is the purpose of man's existence?" See the book Dear Bertrand Russell, p. 95:

"I do not think man's existence has any purpose. Purposes can only be assigned to sentient beings and, therefore, one who does not believe in God can only recognize the individual purposes of separate men and animals."

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