Russell’s Teapot

I’ve been dealing with someone lately who is using the argument of Bertrand Russell’s teapot.

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

Russell is right in one regards. To say that the assertion cannot be disproved does not mean that all are obliged to accept it and it is presumptions on human reason to doubt it. The problem is that this is a fallacy of leaping from a small minor to a huge major in which the only thing he is saying they have in common is that they cannot be falsified.

The problem with the teapot idea is that no one does take it seriously. Suppose that teapot is out there floating. I would just think “Well this is a bizarre universe we live in.” (Actually, come to think of it, it might show the design argument well if we could show that the teapot had not been designed by humans and accidentally somehow released into the atmosphere and just got locked in an orbit.) It’s nothing I’d change my life over though.

God is not like the teapot though. What moral doctrines do we base on the teapot? None. What epistemological ramifications do we have based on the teapot? None. What creative power are we ascribing to the teapot? None. What revelatory nature are we describing the teapot as the efficient cause of? None. What aesthetic value are we basing on the teapot? None.

It’s also assuming that both ideas are nonsense. None of us would probably think there really is such a teapot. We’re supposed to think on the same lines that there is no God. However, serious theists, whom Russell would have been wanting to convince, would not say that there is no evidence for the existence of God.

Now I’m of the position that it’s not necessary for me to give arguments for the existence of God, but I have several and I love to give them. Also, suppose that I gave all my arguments and an atheist managed to disprove each and every one of them. Has he necessarily disproved my conclusion that God exists? Not at all. He’s merely shown I believed for stupid reasons. The atheist must put forward his positive case as well that God does not exist. It is quite humorous to eliminate theism because it can’t be defended and then have no defense for your own view.

Russell had a point to make and in a sense, it was a valid point. I would not want a blind faith either. The differences are huge between a teapot and God though and that needs to be realized. If the teapot does or doesn’t exist, few worldviews are seriously affected. If God doesn’t exist though, then our worldviews are definitely affected.

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