I’m tired of hearing amateur atheists say, “Would you expect me to believe there’s a tea pot orbiting around the earth? No. So why would you expect me to believe in God?” When atheists say things like this they’re alluding to”Russell’s Teapot”aka “The Celestial Teapot,” which is a quote from Bertrand Russel, which states:
“If I were to suggest that between the Earth 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.” – Bertrand Russell
Okay. So this quote correctly suggests that if you claim something absurd exists then it would be absurd for anyone to believe you outright. It also correctly points out how fallible humans can be, especially in large groups. When an idea becomes popular enough people tend to accept it as truth. Once an idea has been accepted as true people tend to reaffirm their beliefs to themselves and defend their beliefs against opposition. Psychologists call this cognitive bias, and everyone does it. Furthermore, once people latch onto a belief and define their reality by that belief they’ll tend to hold onto that belief even after they’ve been shown evidence disproving their belief. They make mind bending excuses and shut themselves off to reason to protect their reality even though doing this only twists their reality further. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance, and everyone does it. Organized religion is probably the best example of cognitive dissonance in human history. Countless lives have been wasted, destroyed and ended as a result of organized religion pushing preposterous falsities on society and refusing to amend their ways even after their position has been disproven by reasonable evidence.
Bertrand Russel was right about these points, but the quote has nothing to with the proving that God doesn’t exist or at least that the chances of God existing are so slim that one should reject the idea of God until God’s existence has been conclusively proven (which isn’t likely to ever happen).
But, since since the topic has been breached, let’s go ahead and analyze this common misinterpretation anyway. If/when an atheist says something like this: “Would you expect me to believe there’s a tea pot orbiting around the earth? No. So why would you expect me to believe in God?” I would say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The fact that I can’t find any floating tea pots or leprechauns or unicorns anywhere around where I live doesn’t conclusively prove that they don’t exist somewhere in the universe. In fact, scientific thought demands that I leave open the possibility that they exist. Anything less would be close minded. Does that mean then that I go about my life searching for and worrying about leprechauns and unicorns? No. I’m going to go about my life as normal, dealing with the realities of my life while keeping an open mind to the fact that new evidence may one day be presented to me which will change my perception of reality.
Having said that, it’s fair enough to have faith that there isn’t a teapot floating in the sky, but that really has nothing to do with whether or not God exists because the teapot is a stand-alone theoretical construct; God is not. I’ll explain what I mean by using an analogy of my own:
Suppose two men are standing in front of a fence. We’ll call them Mr. A and Mr. T. The fence is infinitely tall and stretches infinitely to their left. It ends a few meters to the right of where they’re standing. As they’re standing there a ball rolls out from behind the fence.
Mr. A turns to Mr. T and says, “What do you suppose set that ball in motion?”
Mr. T replies, “I don’t know. Maybe a person pushed it. Maybe the wind blew it.”
Mr. A replies, “Can you prove that there’s an invisible teapot in the sky?”
Mr. T replies, “No.”
Mr. A Replies, “Then a person couldn’t possibly have set that ball in motion. Therefore, the only logical solution is that the wind pushed the ball.”
Now, an inanimate force of nature may indeed have set the ball in motion, but arguing over the existence of a theoretical, invisible teapot has nothing to do with determining the cause of an actual, observable phenomenon. The only way to understand the cause of an observable phenomenon is by reverse engineering the cause and effect chain of events that led up to the event in question.
The universe exists. Something set it in motion. Somehow intelligent life materialized out of the inanimate matter the universe is made out of. If you can believe that intelligent life arose from inanimate matter, is it really any more of a stretch to suggest that inanimate matter arose from intelligent life? Yes and no, because both scenarios are equally absurd and seemingly impossible…and yet here we are.
At any rate, the point is that we don’t know why or how the universe or life exists. Until we can pull back the curtain of time and see what happened before the Big Bang we’ll probably never find empirical evidence for why the ball rolled out from behind the fence. Until we know that for sure we’ll never know what set the universe in motion and thus whether or not there was any conscious or otherwise logically operating catalyst.
There’s a lot here that professed atheists and agnostics can argue about, but one thing is certain: bickering about the existence of hypothetical celestial teapots or fairies that may or may not exist in the universe doesn’t address the question of how the universe was created and set in motion. Therefore, when you use Russell’s Teapot strictly as an argument against the existence of God you’re using a straw man argument.