Radio debate between Copleston and Russell 1948

The Cosmological argument with Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell

Copleston put forward his argument which concentrates simply on contingency.

  • 1 There are things in the universe which are contingent – that is there was a time when they did not exist eg you and me.
  • 2 Everything in the world is like this. Nothing in the world contains within itself the reason for its own existence ie nothing is self explanatory.
  • 3 The cause of everything must be outside of the world.
  • 4 This cause must contain within itself the reason for its own existence.It must be a necessary being.
  • 5 This being is God.

    Bertrand Russell

    Bertrand Russell

Frederick Copleston

Frederick Copleston

In 1948 there was a famous radio debate between Fr Frederick Copleston SJ and the agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Russell refused to accept the idea of necessary beings. Beings that exist and cannot be thought not to exist.

He replied “…what I am saying is that the concept of cause is not applicable to the total.” Just because each human has a mother does not mean that the whole human race has a mother. He thought that the universe was just a brute fact and needed no explanation for its existence – “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.”

At the end of the discussion there was a sort of stalemate because Russell felt that Copleston was importing the idea of God into the argument, under his claim that there had to be a necessary being which was the cause of the universe.

Russell was unmoved over his point that there are no such things as necessary beings.

Listen to a recording of this debate

Read a transcript of what was said

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