(I am aware this question is not a philosophy question per se, but there are possibly many people here who are likely to be familiar with Bertrand Russell's writings.)

Bertrand Russell's daughter, Katharine Tait, wrote a biography of him, titled My Father, Bertrand Russell.

She suggests that he mocked Christians for considering humanity important (pp.183-184):

In his many anti-Christian writings, my father attacked over and over again the cowardice of religious people who could not face life without the comfort of their irrational beliefs. He recommended instead "the stark joy" to be found in "the unflinching perception of our true place in the world," the same proud passion I had offered my Harvard friend in our discussion in the library. Christians were mocked for imagining that man is important in the vast scheme of the universe, even the high point of all creation---and yet my father thought man and his preservation the most important thing in the world, and he lived in hopes of a better life to come. He was by temperament a profoundly religious man, the sort of passionate moralist who would have been a saint in a more believing age.

Are there examples in Russell's writings of this?

  • 3
    I can't steer you to readings, but it seems to me you are misreading the quote. Russell was knowledgeable about modern physics, cosmology, and biology and by those standards could not place man at the pinnacle of all creation. But he was undoubtedly a fervent humanist who regarded humankind as, for him, of supreme importance. The quote itself seems wholly at odds with your headline. You might read Russell's short work "Why I am not a Christian." Dec 19, 2020 at 16:01
  • @Nelson Rather than attempting to read the quote one way or another, I am trying to learn the facts about the matter.
    – blackened
    Dec 19, 2020 at 16:06
  • Yeah, I think you want to read "Why I am not a Christian". As I recall it's a fairly easy read (for a Russell work, that is).
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 20, 2020 at 1:24
  • users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 20, 2020 at 1:25
  • 2
    @blackened I think the best answer would be that Russell though it absurd that man is important to the Universe. That is different from saying that man is important to man. Feb 28 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


Yes, he did. Consider the opening of his short story The Theologian’s Nightmare:

The eminent theologian Dr. Thaddeus dreamt that he died and pursued his course toward heaven. His studies had prepared him and he had no difficulty in finding the way. He knocked at the door of heaven, and was met with a closer scrutiny than he expected. "I ask admission," he said, "because I was a good man and devoted my life to the glory of God." "Man?" said the janitor, "What is that? And how could such a funny creature as you do anything to promote the glory of God?" Dr. Thaddeus was astonished. "You surely cannot be ignorant of man. You must be aware that man is the supreme work of the Creator." "As to that," said the janitor, "I am sorry to hurt your feelings, but what you're saying is news to me. I doubt if anybody up here has ever heard of this thing you call 'man.' However, since you seem distressed, you shall have a chance of consulting our librarian."

I won’t spoil the ending, but the story is only three pages long and worth reading in full in order to answer your question.

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