Word of the Day: Russell’s Teapot

does god exist?A couple posts ago, we talked about unicorns.  There are other things that we pretty much know don’t exist.  Some of these were deliberately invented—for example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, sacred to Pastafarians worldwide, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the new church of Kopimism.

But before those was Bertrand Russell’s teapot.

Bertrand Russell proposed the idea of a teapot orbiting the sun between the Earth and Mars in 1952.  The teapot is too small to detect with any instrument, so it’s impossible to prove this claim wrong.

Russell pushes the teapot contention to the limit:

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.

How valid is the comparison of God with an orbiting teapot?  We know that there are teapots, and we know how to put things into solar orbits.  It’s just technology, and an orbiting teapot violates no scientific laws.  But the God hypothesis is far bolder because it demands a new category, that of supernatural beings.  They may exist, but science acknowledges no examples.

Is there such a teapot?  Maybe, but why live as if there is?  We can’t invalidate the teapot hypothesis, but that’s not the same as proving it true or even showing that it’s worthy of consideration.

We don’t give equal time to the orbiting teapot hypothesis, so why give equal time to similar claims that are equally poorly evidenced, like God?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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4 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Russell’s Teapot

  1. Since there is probably some old time evidence, I wonder if proof for the existence of Thor might have been easier for believers to understand?

  2. Pingback: Word of the Day: Russell’s Teapot | Galileo Unchained « Secularity

  3. Bob, aren’t these theist arguments rather than deist? A deist doesn’t buy the idea that a god (now in absentia) care about human affairs.
    1.make deist arguments (for example, the existence of morality or design demands a deity to create it)
    2.argue that this deity is the Christian god rather than the god of some other religion.

    Just need to clarify. Thanx!

    • As I understand it (could be wrong), deist arguments are ones like the design argument, the first mover, the transcendental, the moral, and so on. That is, some evidence of design or intelligence behind things but no reason to suspect that that god cares about us. This god just winds up the clock and walks away.

      When we move to the caring part and imagine a god or gods that interact with us frequently (“It must be Yahweh,” for example), now we’ve moved into theistic arguments.

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