Putting Bertrand Russell's Teapot Back into the Trash Where it Belongs

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by Trader666, Sep 18, 2010.

  1. Putting Bertrand Russell's Teapot Back into the Trash Where it Belongs
    Why you can't draw a conclusion about the origin of the universe from a flawed analogy about a fictional teapot written by an atheist with an agenda

    Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot analogy was part of an article that was commissioned but not published. I will show why it should be rejected again and put back into the trash.

    Russell used his teapot analogy to make an unexceptional point about the burden of proof in an unnecessarily derisive way. But what makes the analogy flawed is its implication that a belief in God is epistemically on par with believing in a celestial teapot, simply because nobody can disprove either assertion. Which is nonsense as I will show.

    Some will object and say the analogy implies no such thing. So I will first show that it does and then prove why the implication is logically flawed.

    I. What the analogy implies.

    In an article titled "Is There a God?" commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell wrote:

    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 an 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.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot

    Russell clearly equated belief in his celestial teapot with the belief in God on the sole basis that both are claims that nobody can disprove. And based on that "parity," his burden of proof point was made by juxtaposing the reasons behind those beliefs.

    In a broader context, Russell used the teapot analogy in his article to support his contention that believing in God is not reasonable. The analogy appears in the second to last paragraph and the first sentence of the next and final paragraph is: "My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true." Which also gives a glimpse of how Russell personally felt about religion, which may have something to do with why he was not at his objective best when he wrote it.

    If you're still not convinced, In his 2003 book, A Devil's Chaplain, [Richard] Dawkins presents the teapot as a reductio ad absurdum of this position: if agnosticism demands giving equal respect to the belief and disbelief in a supreme being, then it must also give equal respect to belief in an orbiting teapot, since the existence of an orbiting teapot is just as plausible scientifically as the existence of a supreme being.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot#Contemporary_usage
    One can only jump to the conclusion that the existence of an orbiting teapot and a supreme being are "just as plausible scientifically" from the teapot analogy by jumping to the conclusion that it's because nobody can disprove either claim.

    II. Proof of the logical flaw.

    Now that we've seen that Russell's analogy does imply that believing in God is epistemically on par with believing in a celestial teapot because nobody can disprove either assertion, I will prove that the implication is logically flawed.

    Let's assume that because nobody can disprove either assertion, the two claims ARE epistemically on par. Nobody can disprove the assertion that there is no God either, therefore belief in God is epistemically on par with belief in no God. And with EVERY other belief that nobody can disprove. Which of course is absurd.

    And the reason is, all things that nobody can disprove at any given point in time are NOT ultimately equally unfalsifiable. And even if they were, that does not necessarily make them equally plausible because that would ignore the content of the claims. Belief in the celestial teapot may be epistemically on par with belief in the flying spaghetti monster, but not necessarily with ALL other beliefs that nobody can disprove.

    Two quick examples to show this: At the time Russell wrote his teapot analogy, nobody was able to disprove a belief in "the conjecture for all n" case of Fermat's Last Theorem, which was finally proven in the 1990s. Did that basis alone make that belief in 1952 epistemically on par with believing in a celestial teapot? Of course not. Would Dawkins say that Russell's analogy makes the existence of an orbiting teapot "just as plausible scientifically" as the existence of a cure for cancer we haven't yet discovered? I doubt it. So let's put Bertrand Russell's teapot back into the trash where it belongs.
     
  2. +1
     
  3. Ahhh ... The philosopher-traders on ET back on the job again.
     
  4. stu

    stu

    [​IMG]
     
  5. Is the burden of proof required to be beyond a reasonable doubt? Does the teapot not exist, before it's proved to exist? Or vice-versa. The entire teapot argument is buffoonery, evidence of 'God' is in the eye of the beholder.

    A teapot is a concrete object, it has mass, casts a shadow, and can be used as a conveyance for tea. The 'Holy Spirit' is a bit more elusive. Ironically, religion evolves, while atheists are stuck on stupid.
     
  6. stu

    stu

    'God'
    'Holy Spirit'

    .... mere tempests in a ...

    Teapot