Russell's teapot

Bertrand Russell tried to disprove Christianity by saying that there there was a large revolving teapot moving between Earth and Mars, but it is too small to be seen by our telescopes and thus no one can prove or disprove it’s existence. He said that this concept only sounds stupid because it has not existed for thousands of years. How can I refute this idea?

Christianity as with the person of Jesus, is itself historically verifiable and scientifically proven. However, what i’m sure you’re speaking of is the supernatural aspects of religion. For this indeed it is a matter of faith. And as the saying goes: “For those with faith no explanation is needed, for those without faith no explanation is possible.”

Bertrand Russell have been a gifted mathematician, but he was a third-rate philosopher. There is evidence for both God’s existence and that Jesus Christ is the unique God-Man. Russell’s teapot does nothing to address this evidence. It merely dismisses it out of hand, which isn’t anything more than Russell saying, “I don’t believe in God because I’m an atheist. I’m an atheist; therefore, I don’t believe in God.”

IOW, Russell’s “argument” is nonsense, and nonsense is self-refuting.

– Mark L. Chance.

Russull was a world-class philosopher who offered a poor argument here. If he were an idiot, his argument would influence no one. It’s precisely because he was an intelligent man that many think this an intelligent response to the claim God exists. (The more common expression now is “flying spaghetti monster” but it’s based on Russell’s teapot.)


Well for one, how does he know if its too small to see it? Did it tell him? :smiley: The position is pretty ridiculous and pressing anyone on their belief in such a thing quickly breaks down. Christianity never claimed God is hanging out in space relaxing on a planet too small to see.

IMO alot of the argument gets into proper justification and warrant for belief. Alvin Plantinga has done alot of work in this area. Some philosophers as of late (JL Mackie for instance) have tried to resurrect this idea that believing in God is not logical and therefore should be discarded. But Plantinga in a very respectable way shows that this is not the case (he was the president of the American Philosophers Association back in the 80’s BTW) and Christians have a logical right to believe on God.

Heres a link to one of his more popular books on warrant for belief:

And everywhere. Russell never once advanced anything approaching a cogent argument against Christianity. He, like Richard Dawkins, is a philosophical hack trading on his public reputation for being a “smart fellow” in order to preach to the choir.

Read Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and the only sensible response is to wonder why anyone is an atheist at all.

– Mark L. Chance.

Well put. I have had a similar version put to me by an atheist acquaintance: why not believe that there are invisible trolls living in your cookie jar, since you’re OK with believing in God though there’s no more evidence for the trolls than for God? Of course, as someone has already noted, there IS evidence for the existence of God. Nor does belief in invisible trolls appear to satisfy the innermost longings of the soul as does belief in God…and so on.

Aside from noting that…

  1. There is evidence that God exists.
  2. There is evidence that Jesus Christ is the unique God-Man.

…one can also specifically address this ludicrous claim:

Take the most outrageous claim of Christian doctrine: That the eternal, omnipotent Lord and Creator of the universe became a Jewish baby. Did it take “thousands of years” for this to become believable?

No, it didn’t.

In point of fact, it was believed decades before the end of the first century A.D. by an increasingly large number of people, many (if not most) of whom were Jews themselves, the people in the Roman Empire least likely to believe the Incarnation could be true. In just less than four centuries (hardly “thousands of years”), Christianity was not only believed throughout the Roman Empire, but had become the dominant and official religion of the Empire.

– Mark L. Chance.

Short answer: “The pure in heart shall see God” - why should God be expected to make Himself known to men who deny that He exists, lead less than moral lives, & promote atheism ?

To require God - the Holy One, the God Whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain - to do such a thing, is breathtaking. God is not ours to command - He is sovereign, an absolute ruler; not a constitutional monarch. He is to be adored, & loved, & feared - not held to account.

  1. God is not an object in the universe - God is God. He cannot be reduced to being nothing more than an object in the universe He has created; because to be created, is to have an origin - & God is without origin; He is not a creature.

3.There is no comparison between God, & His creatures: He & they are so utterly different, that the difference can be bridged only from His side - never from ours. IOW, God is transcendent, immense, & infinite; not a tame lion we can lead about as we please, but a God of infinite majesty, great & terrible. So terrible, that “heaven and earth fled away” before Him, as the Book of Revelation says. He is too much for mere creatures to endure - which is why the seraphim in Isaiah 6 “veil their faces” in His Presence: they cannot look upon Him - He is far too Holy.

  1. God is not a body. The objection seem to assume that God is a body, that is, that God is material. God cannot be material, because that would mean that God is a creature. ##

He doesn’t even get his facts right - the prophets were pouring scorn on idolatry 2500 centuries ago; & idolatry is as witless now as it was then. So time does not always make stupidity any less stupid.

He said that this concept only sounds stupid because it has not existed for thousands of years.

Ergo, astrology does not sound stupid. :rolleyes:

One of the most bigoted, closed minded Pharisees - Saint Paul - converted in about three miutes, not thousands of years.

“scientifically proven”? Show that Christianity is “scientifically proven”. Better yet, show something in science that is “scientifically proven”?

I exist.

Proof enough?:smiley:

No, you haven’t “scientifically” proven it. For all I know, you could be an AI. I can’t scientifically prove that I exist; all I have are perceptions, and they are not directly based with reality, but rather a subject perceptions. I cannot prove that my feelings or thoughts exist with empiricism, but I know they exist because they are a part of me.

But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my “green” exists, and my “sweet” exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory.

I think some of you are misunderstanding what Russell was saying here. He was not using that to disprove God by that analogy.

What he was doing is illustrating the philosophical problem of trying to disprove existence of something supposedly beyond reach (or beyond testability).

If anything, he was saying you can’t disprove the existence of God just as you can’t even disprove the existence of the celestial teapot.

Russell felt he could only defend agnosticism philosophically and not strong atheism. But more casually, it was his opinion that God did not exist.

Well now we have a real problem.
How can anything be proven if you cannot trust your senses?

Anyway, the banks and credit card companies are pretty sure I exist as well. They all want money from me.
And when I rear ended that one guy, I wished I didn’t exist, but it I do, and I’m still here…and my car insurance company (they are convinced as well) eventually let my insurance rates go back down.

Agreed. But he is an excellent expositor on the attributes of his philosophy of matter. And his true excellence is in his mathematical philosophy as resting on process-statements (meta-statements), and his many achievements in the field of logic and history of philosophy.

Russell is a first-rate philosopher of logic and history.
He is a terrible theologian and moral philosopher.

How this relates to the question asked: Take the challenge seriously. If we want to say that Christianity means something, we must be able to either establish it empirically, as a probable thing, and/or argue a way of reaching at Christianity that is not empirical.

Ultimately, it rests on faith, but there is a lot to lead one to faith.

As that wonderful quote or yours by Pascal says.


Assuming this is an accurate characterization, it is still based on a fallacy. Christianity doesn’t say God is “beyond reach.” In fact, Christianity says the opposite, that God is very much within reach, especially due to the Incarnation.

Doing so requires the other party approach the argument with genuine openness and intellectual honesty. IME, finding an intellectually honest atheist is about as easy as finding hen’s teeth.

Blaise Pascal is a man for our times. See here, for example.

– Mark L. Chance.

I mean not directly or immediately testable.

We can’t summon God for a grand demonstration because he supposedly does not want to, and that makes God sufficiently “beyond reach.” A similar problem exists in trying to prove or disprove the existence of advanced space aliens. They may not want to communicate.

Frankly, intellectually honest atheists may be rare. And so are intellectually honest theists. I find people’s attitudes on both sides are thick with prejudice and chauvinism. (IME)

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