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Talk:Russell's teapot

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What underlying assumption are you talking about, Phillip? What you've got here makes no sense, it's like you're just trying to throw the word fallacious around... Neveruse513 15:09, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

A sweeping claim of "makes no sense" is not helpful. The article specifies the assumption. Philip J. Raymentdiscuss 15:18, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
How is it implied that the books are not credible? Neveruse513 15:31, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
By Russell's mocking tone. Phil's point, and it is a good one, is that if ancient texts etc are telling you something, you have to ask why they are saying it. There are no ancient texts about celestial teapots because the assertion is ludicrous - it was chosen because it was ludicrous. However, there actually are ancient texts about God - lots of them, in every culture under the sun: why do you think that might be?--CPalmer 16:01, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
Russell is saying the opposite of what Phil is trying to assert. Actually, I find it hilarious, because Russell is actually saying "If...those "ancient books" were written by someone who could be aware of the teapot, such as an ancient astronaut or other being who placed the teapot in that location, then there is nothing absurd in believing that the teapot is there." There are ancient texts about lots of Gods: why do you think that might be?Neveruse513 16:07, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I thought Russell was saying that you shouldn't believe things unquestioningly. He doesn't say that you should reject his holy teapot, only that you should 'hesitate' to believe in it. Well, I agree with that. Perhaps we should put it in the article.--CPalmer 16:10, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I follow Dante in thinking that God's appearance changes depending on the person observing Him, so no wonder there are lots of different gods in old writings.--CPalmer 16:12, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
"only that you should 'hesitate' to believe in it". Absolutely not. Exactly the opposite. He's saying "hesitation...would...entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist".
Russell is saying that if the books were credible, it would be foolish not to believe them. Nowhere is it implied that the books are not credible.
I cannot fathom what issue Phillip takes with the statement that the burden of proof does not lie upon the skeptic to disprove unfalsifiable claims, which is precisely the gist of Russell's teapot. Neveruse513 16:16, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
He's using irony when he says that hesitation would necessitate psychiatric attention (or the Inquisition).--CPalmer 16:19, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I think you're reading too much into it. If it was widely believed and taught that the teapot existed (i.e. the books are credible), it would be strange not to believe it. Is that true? Neveruse513 16:22, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I know that Phillip agrees, because he believes that "If...those "ancient books" were written by someone who could be aware of the teapot...then there is nothing absurd in believing that the teapot is there." That's exactly what Russell is saying, which is why I find this so bizarre. Neveruse513 16:25, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I have actually tried to disbelieve those ancient books before I was 8. I know how difficult it is to question the existence of teapot. Yes the hesitition will entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist.--Monkeyman 16:23, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
Uh-oh. If nothing changes, we're going to have to agree to disagree, because I think Russell is definitely using irony. He wants the reader to say "Psychiatric help for not believing in a teapot? Why, that is absurd! But... hey, hang on a minute, religion is just like the teapot! Religion is absurd!"
But of course we know that religion is not like the teapot: the analogy is flawed, as Philip has explained.--CPalmer 16:27, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
So do you agree or disagree that that the burden of proof lies upon the skeptic to disprove unfalsifiable claims? Neveruse513 16:32, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
I didn't think that was the question. As far as I'm concerned, the question is whether Bertrand Russell's analogy is flawed or not. I think it is. I've got to go now though, so have a good Easter!--CPalmer 16:36, 9 April 2009 (UTC)
(EC) If your Bible made mention of the teapot, would you believe it? Would you challenge me to disprove it? Would you try to prove it? Or would you simply take it on faith? (You have a good Easter too!) Neveruse513 16:37, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

This, of course, reminds me of Carl Sagan's dragon. Sterile 22:22, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

No, Neveruse513, Russell is not saying that there's nothing absurd in believing the teapot is there. His argument is:

  • If someone claimed without any evidence that there was a teapot there, we'd reject the idea.
  • Yet people claim similar things based on ancient books, and we consider those that hesitate to accept those claims absurd.
  • But it's not absurd to question those claims. (In a later unquoted part of his essay, he says, "I cannot, therefore, think it presumptuous to doubt something which has long been held to be true,")

Russell is clearly claiming, as the introduction of the article says, that the burden of proof is on the believer rather than the sceptic. What's all this about "disproving unfalsifiable claims"? If it's unfalsifiable, you can't disprove it. Neveruse513 is sort of right in claiming that Russell's point is that the burden of proof is on the believer, not the sceptic. But he argues this by treating the believer's claim as absurd and without basis, and this is the fallacious part. If someone really did put a teapot there, the claim is not absurd, and if there's good reason to believe that someone put the teapot there, the claim is not without basis.

I've got to rush off now, but I'll reinstate a modified version of the rebuttal when I get back.

Philip J. Raymentdiscuss 23:05, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

If someone really did put a teapot there, the claim is not absurd- Does this claim apply to all religions or just one religion?--Monkeyman 04:02, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
You are correct to point out that if there are good reasons to believe in the existence of a celestial teapot then it reasonable to hold such a belief. Russell's point (which he spells out in the sentences immediately after the end of the quote) is that the fact that a belief is widely held is not, in itself, a good reason to conclude that that belief is true. If this point is taken out of context and treated as an independent argument for atheism -- a trap that Dawkins fell into -- then your rebuttal is justified. However if taken in the context of the essay as a whole then Russell's purpose is clear: He has by this point in the essay rejected several arguments for theism, so is not to be deterred from continued scepticism by an appeal to popular opinion. This point is unaltered if "were affirmed in ancient books" is struck out. DavidR 14:08, 12 April 2009 (UTC)
I see your point, but disagree. First, you are correct that Russell has discussed and rejected several arguments. But it is not popular opinion per see that he now argues against. It's the matter of who the onus is on to prove their point. In arguing this point, then says that popular opinion is not reason to put the onus on the sceptic. But he supports this by listing several reasons why the popular opinion is popular, in order to show that it's popular for no good reason. And one of them is the "ancient books" argument. Yes, if you leave that out, you still have popular opinion argument, but that argument has then lost its foundation—the only one of his three popularity reasons that has any substance. So if there "are good reasons" to believe in the teapot, then his "popular opinion" argument—based on the lack of good reason—is shown to be hollow. Philip J. Raymentdiscuss 15:55, 12 April 2009 (UTC)


The reason why I see his argument as fallacious is as follows: He introduces his example as an argument about who has the burden of proof. The burden of proof needs to be determined with reference to the situation where we don't have any evidence yet, and then we can ask ourselves, what kind of evidence would it take for us to accept or reject the idea. So, the best example to determine the burden of proof, would be a situation where we currently lack evidence either way. Instead, he introduces a situation where we have clear evidence the claim is false (based on our understanding of the laws of nature and the history of space travel). But his example is a complete red herring, because (1) the proper scenario to consider, to determine the question of burden of proof, is one where we don't have evidence, not one where we do, and (2) there is clear evidence, which everyone knows, against the existence of his teapot; the same is not true for God. Maratrean 11:29, 2 July 2011 (UTC)

so if I found a book that said that Zeus and Hera had a big fight and Zeus threw the teapot out the window and it sailed into space then the teapot becomes a real orbiting teapot ? and which God, since there are old books that tell of Zeus, Odin, Shiva, Osiris, Bathomet etc. Hamster 17:53, 2 July 2011 (UTC)
Just because something is written in a book doesn't mean it is automatically true. You'd have to evaluate the book to determine how likely it is that its contents are accurate.
Which God? Well, a God, any God really. I would define "God" as "a being, external to the universe, who created it". Now, some of the Pagan deities you mention might not fit my definition of "God", because they aren't claimed to exist outside the universe, and aren't claimed to have created the universe as a whole, only bits of it. In any case, I think the first question is "Is there a God?", and then later we can ask "Which God is there?" (or, equivalently, "Which religious tradition's understanding of God is the correct one?"). But here you've already moved on to the second question, and I don't see how that is relevant to how we answer the first. Maratrean 22:37, 2 July 2011 (UTC)
This appears to be yet another example of wilful ignorance, given that this fact was very recently pointed out to Hamster. Philip J. Raymentdiscuss 05:07, 3 July 2011 (UTC)
fact ? thats such a slippery thing Hamster 05:39, 3 July 2011 (UTC)
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