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

  1. Hilarious, you have not addressed the substantial challenges on the previous thread yet you are content to just move on as if you are actually accomplishing something.

    Not going to work my friend. You can add as many new topics that you wish but until you take care of your unfinished business of actually demonstrating that your basic premises’s are not illogical, not self refuting , not incoherent and seriously flawed this new thread is just a tempest in a teapot.

    When can we expect you to provide us with the empirical evidence that demonstrates your position that only that which can b e empirically verified is evidence? You know empirical stuff like its mass, what is it made of, what’s its form, empirical stuff, dare I say scientific evidence which you hold in such high regard?

    When can I expect an answer regarding absolutes? In your world view are there absolutes or are there absolutely no absolutes?

    quit moving the goal posts it does nothing but diminish your credibility and casts doubt on your intellectual integrity.

    • Hilarious, you have not addressed the substantial challenges on the previous thread yet you are content to just move on as if you are actually accomplishing something.

      On this blog, I control the horizontal and I control the vertical. I respond to comments when my schedule allows it. Deal with it.

    • “When can we expect you to provide us with the empirical evidence that demonstrates your position that only that which can b e empirically verified is evidence?”

      Forgive me for jumping into the middle of a previous conversation, but what else do you propose should be used as evidence? Am I misunderstanding what you are writing? It looks like you are complaining that Bob is only accepting facts that are possible to verify. What is the alternative? To just make up guesses and assume it is true?

      • … Or maybe to trust our religious experiences until we have further lights. Or to trust our philosophical reasoning, even when no fact backs it up. Or to accept the testimony of holy people.

        • Teapot:

          I’m not sure where you’re coming from. Yes, people take all the routes you’ve mentioned. Do you approve?

        • I partly approve. They may, thereby, grasp some truths beyond the scope of science. But in some instances, they are just deluded.

          I think Jesus, Buddha, Socrates and Confucius are about the only religious geniuses which may deserve to be heard (and their followers, to a lesser extent).

        • I’ve never had any religious experience, so that one is out for me.

          I don’t want to trust holy people until I have a way to tell the difference between them being correct, being delusional, and being liars. How do you know the 4 you mentioned aren’t just insane for example?

          Philosophy might have something, but with no facts to back it up I’d be weary

        • To Hausdorff,

          Maybe you never had any religious experience, but for those who did, it is ground for belief. Unless we have other evidence suggesting that the religious experience is an illusion (as in the case of psychotics).

          Besides, there is no evidence that the prophets I mentioned were insane. Eccentric, yes, but not insane. On the contrary, they seemed to be healthier than their surroundings. Jesus may have been a bit unrealistic, but he was far from insane. He used his religious insights to help his neighbor and to challenge Jewish customs that ran counter to human dignity. As far as I know, Confucius was the very opposite of a madman. He was a respected teacher.

          Good philosophy is grounded in experience, but not of the same kind as scientific experience.

        • Teapot:

          Unless we have other evidence suggesting that the religious experience is an illusion (as in the case of psychotics).

          We already know that people can have religious experiences that are misidentified. That is the default bin for claims of religious experience. After much study to show that this wasn’t just wishful thinking or a curious (but unimportant) dream or a hypnogogic experience or any other plausible natural experience do we hypothesize that this was supernatural.

          Besides, there is no evidence that the prophets I mentioned were insane.

          Nor is there evidence that Dorothy was insane. Nevertheless, we don’t accept the story of her trip to Oz.

      • “Maybe you never had any religious experience, but for those who did, it is ground for belief. Unless we have other evidence suggesting that the religious experience is an illusion”

        It sounds like you are saying you believe what you want to believe unless you are confronted with strong evidence to the contrary. Also, I’m not sure what counts as a religious experience, do you have an example.

        As far as those guys being insane, that was really just a possibility I was throwing out there, but how do you determine whether they are “religious geniuses” vs something else. What if they were just really smart guys (not divine in any way) who were trying to change the world for example.

        “Good philosophy is grounded in experience, but not of the same kind as scientific experience.”

        now this I find interesting. I’m curious what the differences in these kinds of experiences are.

    • Yes indeed. Sounds like Bob has decided to pull out of his hat all the fantastic beings so that we may at last understand how stupid God belief is.

  2. Haus”
    “.Forgive me for jumping into the middle of a previous conversation, but what else do you propose should be used as evidence? Am I misunderstanding what you are writing? It looks like you are complaining that Bob is only accepting facts that are possible to verify. What is the alternative? To just make up guesses and assume it is true?..”

    Are you saying everything you know is by empirical evidence?

    • Yes, I think everything I know is based on evidence. Either evidence I have gathered myself, or evidence someone else has gathered that I have learned about.

      If there is another path to knowledge I’d love to hear what it is.

  3. How do you scientifically and empirically prove the definition of “moral’ ?
    Where did you empiricaly obsereve “Moral” Do you have it in a jar in your refrigerator? Does your proffesor at the college have “Moral” on his desk sitting next to the “Laws of Logic”

    • How do you scientifically and empirically prove the definition of “moral’ ?

      You look for the consensus in dictionaries.

      The definitions of words is arbitrary.

      Where did you empiricaly obsereve “Moral”

      You’ve dodged the question that has been put to you several times: what do you propose besides empirical evidence for discovering the truth about reality? If I’m overlooking something, I’d be happy to be reminded of it.

      While we’re talking about dictionaries, look up abstract vs. concrete nouns. Abstract nouns are like courage and morality (no physical properties), and concrete nouns are like house and tree (with physical properties). No one here denies that both categories exist.

  4. I had to do some catching up. Why would Bob S. previous post have the argument exchange between Bob and Eiko be in the mibble of the blog. Mixed out of the chronology of the dates? Like it is hidden? I read the arguments. Eiko’s did nothing rude or wrong. In Fact Bob was the name caller. And Eiko’s kept to the issue just asking Bob to explain how evolution makes matter non matter? And Eiko’s agument of the objective unicorn and the other unicorn’s said it all. Looks to me Bob met his match and Bob’s arguments were reduced to absurdity. And Bob used might is right and banned him . How sad and his 3 readers will see this.

    • Looks to me Bob met his match and Bob’s arguments were reduced to absurdity.

      Not quite. Despite my encouragement, he refused to engage in the discussion. Perhaps answering questions himself is beneath his dignity. I don’t know, but he had plenty of opportunity to participate. As far as I could tell, his game was to field a nonstop barrage of questions with no interest in actually learning something. My guess was that he hoped to entrap me in some fallacy.

      Honest debate is great, but I have no time to play games.

  5. Bob said:

    “As far as I could tell, his game was to field a nonstop barrage of questions with no interest in actually learning something. My guess was that he hoped to entrap me in some fallacy. ”

    That is a bold face lie.

    Eiko did not hit you with a barrage of questions. He asked you four questions.
    1. Empirically demonstrate that only that which can be empirically verified is evidence.
    2. How does one get an ought from an is?
    3. How does the process of evolution working only on matter make non matter (immaterial things?)
    4. If there were absolutely no absolutes.

    His goal was not to trap you but to get you to realize you are smuggling in metaphysics disguised as science.

    You could not answer any of his questions and you kept trying ( unsuccessfully ) to divert him.. So you wet your diapers and banned him.
    And I ask you too ban me . As ” I am Done.”

    • That is a bold face lie.

      Perhaps you meant “bald-faced lie.”

      You could not answer any of his questions and you kept trying ( unsuccessfully ) to divert him.

      Wrong again. I answered his questions, but engaging in discussion was not his goal. Working with my answers, trying to understand them better, simply didn’t happen despite many opportunities. His agenda (as yours sometimes appears to be) was to demean and keep the “you haven’t answered my questions” ball in play as long as possible.

      If he actually came with an honest desire to provoke as necessary but also learn something, he sure disguised it well. Refusing to answer questions himself, setting himself up as Lord High Executioner, didn’t endear him to me. The day is simply too short to put up with that kind of BS, and he didn’t respond to my encouragement to play nice.

      And I ask you too ban me . As ” I am Done.”

      OK, thanks for playing.

  6. Pingback: New Religion: Pastafarianism: Austrian driver allowed ‘pastafarian’ headgear photo « Talesfromthelou's Blog

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