Thursday, 15 March 2012

Russell's Teapot

As philosophers go, Bertrand Russell is well known to us.  He was one of the most notable and outspoken atheists of the 20th century.  If you have not had the chance to read his essay "Why I am not a Christian" then I recommend that you take the time to read it soon.  In some ways it feels like a condensed version of 'The God Delusion'.

One of the interesting concepts that Russell brought to the attention of the public was the idea of a supernatural teapot.

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. 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 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's teapot - image from here
Naturally, since Russell first suggested the idea, it has been extrapolated to the concept of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) which was last manifested in Austria as you might see at that link.


Hilary said...

An irrational argument as there is no reason to suppose that there is a teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars...however, there is reason to suppose that our Universe has been created by an intelligence far beyond our own, and such a belief is consistent with all we know and continue to discover about every aspect of science, every aspect of human nature, every aspect of spirituality. It would be quite fun to think that there is an orbiting teapot, and even to suppose that it is filled with Yorkshire tea which is clearly the best brew around, but it is not merely a nice idea, or a bit of fun, to hold with there being a Creator of all things as the truth of such can be seen, is a rational conclusion, in making sense of Life the Universe and Everything :)

Caleb O said...

Russell's point is you can't use the fact that a hypothesis can't be disproved as evidence for that hypothesis or as justification for belief in that hypothesis. And this is clearly correct. It's not an argument against the existence of God, teapots, whatever hence Russell should be open to a person using other sound reasons to justify their beliefs.

quedula said...

Hilary, there is reason to be mystified about aspects of existence but what reason is there to invent "an intelligence far beyond our own" to explain them? What does it profit to postulate one mystery to "explain" another?

Derby Sceptic said...

There is no reason to suppose the universe was created by an intelligence beyond our own and certainly this is not consistent with every aspect of science, as an example take the evidence for the age of the universe and of the Earth, as well as the clear evidence for the evolution of species rather than simply having been made "as is"
I agree on the Yorkshire tea but suspect it is a misnomer as I have not seen the plantations there.

Andreas said...

I think that is sort of the point of the argument. You note how there is a reason to believe in the Creator (though I would disagree) that gives you the opportunity to present affirming evidence for the existance of God. You do not require atheists to present evidence that suggests God does not exist, you merely require us to disprove your arguments.
Russells Teapot is not necessarily an argument against God, it is an argument against how some people debate for God.

Andreas said...

Although I now regret not having read the other comments, you guys know there is a reply button yes?

Plasma Engineer said...

No need to regret it Andreas. You summarised it nicely.

Of course Russell's teapot is a parody, and I agree that we have no reason to believe in a creator (with a capital C or not).

As for the reply button, it seems to be quite a new feature in Blogger. I hadn't even spotted it myself and I appreciate you mentioning it.

derpy said...

i love the thing that made the things that made the things for which there is no known maker, and that causes and directs the events that we can't otherwise explain, and that doesn't need to have been made, and is the one thing from which you can ask for things that no human can give, and without whom we can't be fully happy, and is unlimited by all the laws of physics, and never began and will never finish, and is invisible but actually everywhere at once, and who is so perfect that even if he killed millions of people including babies he'd still be perfect, and who is so powerful and magical he could even make a virgin pregnant if he wanted to! *breath* he's so amazing =w=

Lau Andy said...

If you like drinking tea, or if you are interested of collecting. Maybe our Yixing Teapots will meet you demand. We have hundre styles of for your choice. The design, price are perfect! Worth you owning!