Russell's teapot, sometimes called the Celestial Teapot, was an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), intended to refute the idea that the burden of proof lies upon the sceptic to disprove unfalsifiable claims of religions. In an article entitled "Is There a God?"[1] commissioned (but never published) by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell wrote:[2]

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.

Russell's teapot analogy is still used in the debate over religious belief. Richard Dawkins used it in his 2003 book A Devil's Chaplain,[3]

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.

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Comment by Jesse on March 10, 2009 at 8:10pm
Hell, i'm just pleased to find people who like tea anymore. Very interesting analogy, i find perhaps fault with Dawkins here, stretching a point doesn't always serve a point in the best way....
Comment by AtypicalAtheist on March 11, 2009 at 1:29am
I totally agree that atheists need to be more upfront and aggressive in their tactics against religion. Obviously treating the people who hold religious beliefs with respect, but at the same time doing more to treat religion as it is: A damaging and harmful belief system which has killed literally millions of people in the world and ruined the lives of countless many more. A system that, if taken literally, holds back intellectual advancement in certain areas today. A system that pollutes the minds of countless youngsters.
If atheists don't treat religion as it is, then things will change too slowly if at all. Even though Atheism is growing, this is more due to religious apathy than actual intellectual advancement and choosing of atheism.
Comment by Richard Hall on March 11, 2009 at 9:15pm
Yeah, I think things like the teapot analogy and the flying spaghetti monster are fantastic ways of refuting the burden of proof argument.

Also, @AtypicalAtheist, I agree that we need to be more willing to blaspheme, but it's worth remembering that religious people tend to get violent, so make sure you can run faster than them, or make sure they're not packing explosives before you get going.


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