Russell’s Teapot (repost from 2006)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Russell’s teapot was an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, to refute the idea that the onus lies somehow upon the sceptic to disprove the unfalsifiable claims of religion. In an article entitled Is There a God?, commissioned (but never published) by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell said the following:

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 his book A Devil’s Chaplain, Richard Dawkins developed the teapot theme a little further:

The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell’s teapot, religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don’t exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don’t stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don’t warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don’t kneecap those who put the tea in first.

Similar concepts to Russell’s teapot are the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

See also

11 thoughts on “Russell’s Teapot (repost from 2006)

  1. Teapots, spaghetti monsters, etc are all used to remind us that imagined, unseen, unseeable entities are imagined. But are they not all guilty of faulty analogy? They all seem to depend on:
    God is like a teapot, like a spaghetti monster etc.


  2. Well, belief in a God as an entity rather than a representation is fundamentally irrational. Therefore, an appropriate metaphor must also be equally ‘out there’. The fault, as I see it, isn’t so much a faulty analogy (after all, it’s a tough argument to rationally determine if the analogy is a proper comparison to something irrational) as it is unfair; what if the belief is based on God as a representation? Now the analogies fall well short of describing and criticizing the potential values or shortcomings of such beliefs in human affairs.


  3. As much as I’d prefer not to, I agree that they are faulty analogies. For starters, the teapot seems to me to be more of a concrete image than God. Furthermore, I don’t see anything analogous to the religious experience.

    The spaghetti monster seems self-evidently absurd and in effect all point.

    I think there is an acceptance among believers that they won’t necessarily see God but rather experience Him. That in itself seems to satisfy and transcend the mere need for a point.

    Whether or not the religious experience can be explained phenomenologically, it seems to describe something about being human.


  4. ~B said…
    Maybe I’m a bit denser than usual this am but what does uqgdnjlf mean?

    I was hoping that Perlo typed his word verification in the comment field by accident because I didn’t get that either.


  5. Faulty Analogy occurs when an analogy is proposed which either contains false comparisons, or leaves out important differences that make the analogy weak.
    A is like B.
    B has property P.
    Therefore, A has property P.
    (Where the analogy between A and B is weak.)
    I do not think the arguments are guilty of Faulty Analogy because they are epistemological arguments and not ontological arguments. That is, they are about how we come to know and not about what exists.

    And as I always say: uqgdnjlf!


  6. This is so close to what I experience here so often: If someone asks me whether I believe in God and I answer no, the immediate question is ‘why not’? It does not seem natural. The strategy is to ask back: why do you? In any case, I think it is always good to ask oneself why not, just because this idea of God is ever-present, so human.


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