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Main topics. Basic information. Handling change. Confusing terms. End of the World? Seasonal events. His grandmother brought him up as a Unitarian, which meant that "eternal punishment and the literal truth of the Bible were not inculcated", as he puts it in his autobiography.
Like his free-thinking parents, Russell was impressed by John Stuart Mill's utilitarian philosophy, which he first encountered as a teenager. But his critique of Christianity was also due to the fierce intellectual integrity with which he confronted every issue he found worthy of reflection. At the age of 14 Russell began to question the tenets of Christian faith — including free will, personal immortality, and the existence of God — and by the age of 18 he had rejected them all. However, the same intellectual integrity that made Russell unable to accept religious beliefs also prevented him from embracing atheism.
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Rather like the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, Russell maintained a sceptical attitude to metaphysical questions. He explains this position very clearly in a essay on his agnosticism , where he states that, "it is impossible, or at least impossible at the present time, to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. However, from a practical point of view Russell admits that agnosticism can come very close to atheism, for many agnostics claim that the existence of God is so improbable that it is not worth serious consideration.
In his lecture Why I Am Not A Christian Russell describes God's existence as "a large and serious question", and he rejects some of the classical theistic arguments — the first cause argument, the design argument and the moral argument. He does not here consider the ontological argument, but in his famous radio debate with the Jesuit philosopher Frederick Copleston he argues that the concept of a necessarily existent being, which is central to the ontological argument, is nonsensical.
The lecture also criticises the character of Jesus presented in the gospel narratives. The agnostic wishes to know, what has Jesus said, and why does that make him the authority regarding the supernatural? But difficult as it is, these scholars have begun to converge on some important issues, and this convergence is such as to cast doubt on the veracity of the New Testament authors. For a layman with little formal education, Huxley demonstrates a surprisingly informed knowledge not only of the New Testament but also of the Biblical criticism of his time.
These criticisms, Huxley argues, provide reason enough why the agnostic is unable to give assent to the authority Wace claims for Jesus Christ. The more fundamental reason to doubt the claims of Christianity is that even if the reports in the Gospels were those of eye witnesses, this still would not justify belief in their testimony, because these eyewitnesses were themselves credulous, and believed in the existence of spirits and demons and the occurrence of miracles, and just because of this the witnesses ought to be discredited. Huxley uses this story to make several points.
The first of these is to say that belief in evil spirits and demonical possession is the remnant of a once-universal superstition that has justified the persecution of thousands of men, woman, and children throughout history for example, as witches. To attribute the same belief to Jesus casts grave doubt on his authority regarding knowledge of the spiritual world. Secondly, Huxley uses the story to drive more liberal Christians, who tend to see the story as a myth, into a dilemma: Either one says that Jesus did believe in demons, in which case Jesus is discredited as an authority about the unseen world; or, if one edits out the story as just part of the first century worldview of the authors, then one is confronted with their untrustworthiness.
But it is the third point that is most crucial for Huxley. His Messianic work is to cast out Satan and his co-hosts. We find this view in the Church Fathers, the confessions creeds of the churches, and even in the Protestant theologians Calvin and Luther.
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Against the narratives the issue is probability, or lack of it. But in the case of unseen spirits the matter is as follows. Ecclesiasticism says: the demonology of the Gospels is an essential part of that account of the spiritual world, the truth of which it declares to be certified by Jesus; whereas agnosticism as I judge it says: there is no good evidence for believing in a demonic spiritual world, and much reason for doubting it.
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