Bertrandd Russell's China Teapot

**In 1952 the philosopher Bertrand Russell said this:

“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.”

In 1958 Russell said this.

“I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.”

This, Russell wants us to believe, is a reasonable rationale for rejecting the existence of God.**

What say you?

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
…Stephen F Roberts

In other words, lack of evidence. (Before anyone jumps in, ancient writs of impossible events does not count as “evidence”.)

What say you?

This is a poor attempt to level the playing field seeing as there are a plethora of arguments/reasons for the existence of God. They may not all be successful, but there are at least several the people can rationally hold to as successful, even if they are not 100% conclusive. The same cannot be said for the teapot as it has no evidence going for it and cannot be falsified in any way.

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
…Stephen F Roberts

I hope atheists don’t end up making me associate them with redefining words (in this case, “atheism,” though “nothing” is also popular).

In other words, lack of evidence. (Before anyone jumps in, ancient writs of impossible events does not count as “evidence”.)

Aren’t impossible events by definition unable to count as evidence?

Not being able to disprove what probably may not exist doesn’t make it existent.
If we were unable to disprove the physical existence of some possible made up idea about a supernatural invisible monster somewhere in the space, it doesn’t make this monster existent, disproving what is negative?
If someone says that this thing “exists” they have to prove it, otherwise we can to believe in all possible monsters, teapots, or gods, that’s why it’s called faith.

I would agree that one should not believe in the existence of God simply because one cannot disprove it. But to say that the only reasons given for the existence of the Christian God are that it has been “affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school” is just false. And even if every ounce of philosophy about the Christian God were completely false, it would still be far more rigorous and plausible than any philosophy (if any exists) seriously arguing for the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. Plato and Aristotle realized that whatever gods existed would have to be quite unlike those of the poets.

Here’s the problem, though: in order to defend the reasonableness of Russell’s argument,you need to explain why the absence of physical evidence to prove the existence of a physical object is logically equivalent to the lack of physical evidence to prove the existence of a being that is not part of the physical order. The latter is an unreasonable demand…

If we were unable to disprove the physical existence of some possible made up idea about a supernatural invisible monster somewhere in the space, it doesn’t make this monster existent, disproving what is negative?

Wrong question: trying to disprove the physical existence of a non-physical (not ‘invisible’, which implies physicality, but non-physical) being is logically inconsistent.

In any case, the set of all conceivable non-physical beings is necessarily larger than the set of all actual non-physical beings. Asserting that there is a being in the former does not create any logical implication about the assertion of a different being in the latter. :wink:

If someone says that this thing “exists” they have to prove it, otherwise we can to believe in all possible monsters, teapots, or gods, that’s why it’s called faith.

What standard of proof are you asserting that must be met?

Having a slight knowledge of philosophy, what I find is that modern beliefs are based on philsophies that are much less believable than the existence of God.

"I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla."

This part of Russell’s argument seems to me particularly weak. Russell may with impunity mock the gods of Olympus and Valhalla. Who is going to take offense? But the God of Abraham is still taken very seriously by a rather large portion of humanity. Putting the God of Christians in the same burial plot with the gods of Olympus and Valhalla seems not only juvenile, but decidedly premature. :wink:

One is not required to convince anyone that God exists. It would be nice if we could. But for our reasons for belief to be valid, it is not required that all or most people accept them. Besides, the heart has its own reasons. Who are we to snigger at reports of Divine Inervention in the souls of some or many? Who are we to snigger at private revelation by the Divine by way of confirming their belief? And indeed, is there any believer out there who has not experienced these interior confirmations at some time or another?

Linus2nd

They should be and they are by rational people. The thing is that for believers nothing is “impossible”. They say: “with God everything is possible”. When I mentioned “impossible events”, I meant any and all of those events, which are denied by our current level of knowledge and understanding of the physical reality. (Walking on water, reversing entropy IOW resurrection, feeding a crowd with one piece of fish, expelling “demons”, talking about angels… ad nauseam). That sort of “trifles”.


Not quite. God is supposed to have been intermingling with us (Genesis), he is supposed to have been taking a human form (Jesus) and he supposed to constantly “fiddling” with reality - to maintain it. Also supposed to perform “miracles”, interfering with the “natural” state of affairs.

Your objection would be correct, if you did not believe that there is a constant interaction between God and our reality - this is called the interface problem. So it is perfectly reasonable to demand physical evidence - which is of course, never forthcoming.

Certainly, since there is not one example of an “actual non-physical being”.


Just because many people believe in something and take that belief seriously does not lend any credibility to the belief itself. And the actual, objective evidence for either one of these beings is exactly the same: “none”.

From what you’ve posted thus far he hasn’t said anything that I can identify as “mock[ing] the gods.”

Your objection would be correct, if you did not believe that there is a constant interaction between God and our reality - this is called the interface problem. So it is perfectly reasonable to demand physical evidence - which is of course, never forthcoming.

This is attempting to apply current standards for physical evidence (physical thing interacting with another physical thing) to a completely different situation (something non-physical interacting with something physical). It takes no stretch of the mind to think that different methodologies apply to each situation (if a methodology can even be applied to the second one at all). Yes we think God interacts with the physical world. However, I don’t know of many people who say that God reacts with the world in the same way that parts of the world interact with other parts. That is the assumption of the naturalist, so unless they would like to give a general notion of how we ought to expect to see evidence of the non-physical interacting with the physical, I don’t think it a reasonable expectation to demand physical evidence.

**Thinking

From what you’ve posted thus far he hasn’t said anything that I can identify as “mock[ing] the gods.”**

There are different ways to mock. You can mock someone who exists by identifying and aping a certain trait. Or you can mock someone who is supposed to exist by dismissing the notion of his existence. One mocks Thor and Zeus with impunity by saying they no longer exist, and therefore are not relevant. And one mocks Christ by comparing him with other gods who are easily dismissed.as non-existent. This is all the more a stupid kind of mocking when you consider that Christ is still arguably the central figure in human history.

**Bagheera

Just because many people believe in something and take that belief seriously does not lend any credibility to the belief itself. And the actual, objective evidence for either one of these beings is exactly the same: “none”.**

You are right in that the number of person who believe something is not by itself absolute proof that the something is true.

You are wrong to dismiss as irrelevant that so many people should believe in their hearts something to be true.

The Jeffersonian principle that the majority (even when you think they are wrong) should be listened to rather than dismissed is clearly relevant here.

and the funny thing is one of the definitions of impossible does not mean “impossible” :shrug:

God bless

That’s new, I’ve never encountered some one saying that they no longer exists.

If some one expresses this with sincerity do you still consider that mocking?

That is not assumed, nor it is exploited in the argument. It is enough that one part of the interaction happens in the physical realm.

This is not part of the assumptions. How is that interaction initiated by the “non-physical” agent is not important. It can be full “magic”, for all we care. But, since the interaction partially happens within the physical world, it can be “caught red-handed” at the interface level. That is why this is called the “interface problem”.

My proposition is more serious than that. I say that the number of people, who honestly believe anything from the very bottom of their “heart” does not even count as the **flimsiest **kind of evidence (let alone any kind of “proof”).

So you think that the millions of New Agers, who honestly believe their propositions, or the many millions of Muslims, who fervently believe that Allah personally dictated the Koran to Mohammed, or the many millions of children, who honestly believe the Santa Claus story, should be taken seriously, just because all of then are very honest, and all of them fervently believe what they profess?

We have been listening to you for hundreds and thousands of years, and none of the “evidence” you can bring up is objective and can be verified independently.

**Thinking

If some one expresses this with sincerity do you still consider that mocking? **

One cannot mock sincerely?

**Bagheera

My proposition is more serious than that. I say that the number of people, who honestly believe anything from the very bottom of their “heart” does not even count as the flimsiest kind of evidence (let alone any kind of “proof”).**

That is a typical atheist argument, that there are no reasons the heart knows that the head does not also know.

**So you think that the millions of New Agers, who honestly believe their propositions, or the many millions of Muslims, who fervently believe that Allah personally dictated the Koran to Mohammed, or the many millions of children, who honestly believe the Santa Claus story, should be taken seriously, just because all of then are very honest, and all of them fervently believe what they profess? **

I take them all very seriously, especially the children who honestly believe in Santa Claus. :thumbsup:

**We have been listening to you for hundreds and thousands of years, and none of the “evidence” you can bring up is objective and can be verified independently. **

That would only be a good argument is you believe that God should be visible through a telescope! :rolleyes:

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