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Thread: How Do Christians View Russell's Teapot?

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    How Do Christians View Russell's Teapot?

    I am interested to know how Christians view an argument like Bertrand Russell's Teapot:

    Russell's teapot, sometimes called the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot, is an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) to illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion. Russell wrote that if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. Russell's teapot is still referred to in discussions concerning the existence of God.
    Russell's argument

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

    Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. 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.[1]

    In 1958, Russell elaborated on the analogy as a reason for his own atheism:

    I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.[2]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    How can any random claim about teapots or The Flying Spaghetti Monster be immediately discarded as nonsensical when the equally unproven (and unprovable) claim of the existence of God is to treated like a great religious mystery and be protected under 'religious rights and tolerance'?

    I am sincerely interested in knowing how Christians relate to this question.

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    I'm not a Christian but I figure at least some Christians would say something along the lines of "you can't prove love exists either" and then that they are able to sense the existence of God in a similar way they can tell they are in love. Now obviously that makes it into a subjective thing, neither party can move beyond "yes it is" "no it isn't" at that point. Even if they discovered the brain releases X chemical when a believer thinks of God, they could just say that God's presence is reflected in the material while the disbeliever would say it proves it's just a biochemical reaction. It's a stalemate at that point.
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    You know, a real Christian would not bother to answer this question.

    Titus 3:9
    But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the Law. For they are unprofitable and vain.

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    We had recently a theism / proof of god debate elsewhere.

    Actually there are several ways to proof the existence of God. But they also not without problems. The logical / empirical proofs would actually be similar to once being used for the existence of natural or physical laws. Just far more complex and difficult to explain. There is also one distinctive epistemological mark of claims in religion and that is part of the body of knowledge of religion stems from revelation as distinguished from sensual experience, logic or convention.

    As a reply to Russels claim I would use another analogy.
    Imagine a person with normal eyesight and blind person are in a debate. The seeing person tells the blind person about visual images, the blind person says that's nonsense, you are making this up. On whom is the burden of proof? How do you proof the existence of visual images to the blind person?

    Flying spaghetti monsters and teapots are actually nothing else then red herrings. The burden of proof isn't really different from a theist then an atheist, who also would have to proof his postulate that God does NOT exist. Agnostics are in a bit more convenient position. Because they just don't know.
    "And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring;..." Plato Politeia

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    Most of my life i've had an aversion against Christianity which had much to do with the way in which God, Jesus, angels, etc. were presented to me as being undeniable truths, without ever backing this up with proof of their existence.

    In recent years i've become aware that bickering about if God is real or not will never result in anything and most of all it is besides the point. I have relatives who draw strength and hope from believing in something, either the Christian God or the spiritual world. Even i myself am convinced more and more that there is a higher world/dimension with beings that in our current society would be described as supernatural/spirits/gods. I can imagine that if i would be totally convinced by this, i wouldn't feel the need to have any hard proof for this, since i would know from within that it is all real to me.

    In that light, i can imagine why Christians present their viewpoints as the truth, since it is their truth. And in a way, everything we experience is in our own head, our own reality.

    For myself, i am convinced that Christianity is not the true path. But i cannot back this up by hard proof, just as Christians cannot do this for their point of view.
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    Although the question is directed to Christians, I'd still like to give an answer myself.

    Russell's argument is a strawman, it's as simple as that.

    Russell's teapot, sometimes called the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot, is an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) to illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion.
    It says "specifically in the case of religion", but religion doesn't claim to be scientific so this argument doesn't apply to religion. Comparing the concept of God (or any divine concept) to a material object (the teapot) shows a lack of understanding of theological ideas. Russell either willingly ignores or hasn't read anything theology or even philosophy has to say about God. The comparison would only be valid if Christians would view God literally as some old man with a beard sitting on a cloud, which no sincere Christian does. The only person I can think of who would have to defend his position against this argument is Democritus of Abdera, the Atomist who thought that even the Gods were material beings hanging around somewhere in the universe. Others need not bother to defend temselves against Russell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ablutive View Post
    I'm not a Christian but I figure at least some Christians would say something along the lines of "you can't prove love exists either" and then that they are able to sense the existence of God in a similar way they can tell they are in love. Now obviously that makes it into a subjective thing, neither party can move beyond "yes it is" "no it isn't" at that point. Even if they discovered the brain releases X chemical when a believer thinks of God, they could just say that God's presence is reflected in the material while the disbeliever would say it proves it's just a biochemical reaction. It's a stalemate at that point.
    Yes, but what your hypothetical Christians are doing here is retreating into a poetical allegory for something that can adequately be explained without involving anything metaphysical.

    That God is unprovable and therefore essentially a groundless claim precisely like Russell's Teapot and The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a fundamental flaw of religion, even if you sugarcoat this fact in cute poetry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bernhard View Post
    Although the question is directed to Christians, I'd still like to give an answer myself.

    Russell's argument is a strawman, it's as simple as that.
    No it is not.



    It says "specifically in the case of religion", but religion doesn't claim to be scientific so this argument doesn't apply to religion. Comparing the concept of God (or any divine concept) to a material object (the teapot) shows a lack of understanding of theological ideas. Russell either willingly ignores or hasn't read anything theology or even philosophy has to say about God. The comparison would only be valid if Christians would view God literally as some old man with a beard sitting on a cloud, which no sincere Christian does. The only person I can think of who would have to defend his position against this argument is Democritus of Abdera, the Atomist who thought that even the Gods were material beings hanging around somewhere in the universe. Others need not bother to defend temselves against Russell.
    Then, the religious can't claim a rational atheist has the burden of proof that God doesn't exist. That was what the analogy was to illustrate.

    If they are not material, surely they don't exist as anything but a concept, a thought... and not a reality?

    Russell's argument is that the burden of proof is on the religious. The only usual answers are 'the burden of proof is on you' or 'god is not real' written in a long winded way. If God or gods exist, nobody knows anything about them because there is no proof of them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sehnsucht View Post
    If they are not material, surely they don't exist as anything but a concept, a thought... and not a reality?
    Our life and our reality is completely ruled and dominated by concepts and thoughts. Concepts and thoughts are what inspire us and make our decisions... It is even what we may sacrifice ourselves for. After all, the only thing we can really be sure exists, is our own mind... There can't exist a worldview only based upon "objective", scientific empiricism, completely detached from all subjective contexts.
    "Man evolved in cooperating groups united by common cultural and genetic ties, and it is only in such a setting that the individual can feel truly free, and truly protected. Men cannot live happily alone and without values or any sense of identity…" - Alain de Benoist
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    There is a reason solipsism is used as a reductio ad absurdum.

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