Bertrand’s teapot

Personally, I'm inclined to think a teapot God would be accompanied by an unusual capsicum halve...

Personally, I'm inclined to think a teapot God would be accompanied by an unusual capsicum halve...

Agnostics and believers alike tend to argue that there’s no way of proving god’s existence or lack of existence. That’s true enough, in the absence of deductive reasoning that would argue against their being a god. But why can’t we use reason to argue against this celestial dictator called God? I’ll save that discussion for later, but right now I’d like to bring to your attention, Russell Bertrand’s teapot analogy where he compares the notion of the existence of god to a harmless teapot. He wrote (back in the early 20th century):

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.

Logically, I think this analogy works. Dawkins agrees:

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.

What do you think? Is the celestial teapot analogy a good one?

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5 Responses to Bertrand’s teapot

  1. Brian says:

    I’ve got a teapot in my kitchen.

    Unfortunately I’ve also got a coffee pot.

    Recently the two of them took umbrage with each other, the teapot rallying the cruet set, the mustard pot and the H.P. saucebottle to its cause and decalring the coffee pot non-existent, whilst, for its own part, the coffee pot ammassed an army of cutlery and tupperware, stating that the tea pot was a false idol and placing a fatwah on its spout.

    This morning I awoke to a scene of crockery carnage. The entire contents of the kitchen had been destroyed and the cupboards were hanging off the wall.

    Having disposed of the rubble, I decided that a simpler, more modern-thinking non-denominational, aetheist bottle of pop would suffice in future. Unfortunately earlier I heard chants of ‘It’s the Real Thing’ coming from the fridge. I suspect the ice-cubes are mounting a Darwinist fight back.

  2. […] small for our telescopes to see. Because of this we cannot prove it’s non-existence however this does not then mean that it does exist. In fact it’s existence is so unlikely and illogical that it can only be taken to be […]

  3. bwinwnbwi says:

    Bertrand’s teapot analogy is reasonable, but, in this case, it get’s in the way of understanding how/why God exists.

    The Observer–Gods Open Footprint Chapter 3

    Determinism and “not quite determinism” describes the physical event side of God’s footprint. This footprint, however, is linked to an observer. You might say its observers all the way down, but the observer I am talking about here possesses human intelligence. A product of the aesthetic continuum and the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self, intelligence can be traced back to its source in the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. Intelligence (rationality) did not pop into existence phoenix like however; rather, it evolved. One might expect then that the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self concept is related to disparate concepts spread out across unrelated disciplines. Perhaps, for instance, the concept of the implied not-me-self speaks to the issue of the derivation of a true theorem in number theory that is its own negation, a negation that, in turn, implies the existence of higher dimensional numbers (Gödel), or, perhaps the not-me-self has something to say about the origin of natural numbers, which, according to one mathematician, can be found in “the mind’s ability to image a thing in a thing” (Dedekind). From a functional perspective, these mathematical concepts have a close kinship with the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. In philosophy too, the “identity inference” implied by Descartes,’ “I think (doubt), therefore I am,” is obviously impregnated with the not-me-self concept. And further, in Sartre’s definition of consciousness: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being its being implies a being other than itself,” the not-me-self is not only revealed, it is defined. And again, in psychology, every time the subject is identified as “coming to be,” or “under construction” the not-me-self shows up. In fact, Piaget’s concept of “self” is defined as “the center of functional activity.” And, again in Sociology, where Thom focuses his studies on the “the overcoming of the primitive ambivalence or opposition between the modes of difference and no difference, and, in a like manner, where Simmel focuses his studies on “man as both the fixing of boundaries and the reaching out across these boundaries—the language of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self is front and center. And lastly, in the physics of the quantum particles, where the collapse of the wave function is observer generated, here we are not only witnessing the language of the not-me-self, we are witnessing (with each collapse of the wave function), all the dots that shape God’s footprint, i.e., confirmation of the God footprint theory.

    Two excellent observers peered into the abyss and saw God. Both described God differently, but, when these descriptions are passed through the prism of God’s footprint, it becomes clear that both observers were describing one and the same God.

    “The mind and the world are opposites, and vision arises where they meet. When the mind doesn’t stir inside, the world doesn’t arise outside. When the world and the mind are both transparent, this is true vision. And such understanding is true understanding.” Bodhidharma

    “That you need God more than anything, you know at all times in your heart. But don’t you know also that God needs you–in the fullness of his eternity, you? How would man exist if God did not need him, and how would you exist? You need God in order to be, and God needs you for that which is the meaning of your life.” Martin Buber

    We are the being that is being what is not, while not being what is because we are free to be conscious of everything else. Bogged down with this baggage, though, we cannot be surprised to find the human psyche in a constant struggle with existential issues, unsatisfied desires, and questions! This burden, if indeed it is a burden, is not insignificant; without this baggage there would be no questions,—and without questions there would be no God; there would be no comprehensibility of the universe!

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