Russell's Teapot

So Bertrand Russell is a smart guy, but I really think this argument is a bit silly:
"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."
The reasoning is deceptively simple...but there's a major omission in Russell's logic.

Let me put it in layman's terms: The existence of a universe demands a frickin' explanation.

Why does that matter? Atheism, scientism, physicalism, and their other variants are at a complete loss (in my opinion) to explain the universe's existence. As Martin Rees, a renowned physicist (and agnostic), said, "The preeminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations of physics, and actualized them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science..." It is entirely more reasonable to believe a teapot created the universe than to believe the universe created itself. Furthermore, I can think of no candidate more apt for creating the universe than a timeless, omnipotent being.

Unfortunately, Russell's unavailable for comments.


SFRedSpot said...

You say, "The existence of a universe demands a frickin' explanation." I'm not so sure it does.

We certainly demand an explanation for the existence of a universe, but that it exists does not in itself. The challenge here is that many of us psychologically need it to exist for a reason in order to give meaning to our lives. But it seems just as plausible to me that the existence just is. It may well just be a "When life gives you lemons..." situation.

Of course, now I'm backing off on my frequent quip that there's a reason for everything.

Speaker for the Dead said...

I don't think the universe needs an explanation because of a psychological need to find meaning. I think that because the idea that a temporal entity such as the universe (which is really an amalgamation of subatomic particles) could generate itself is completely irrational. How could something that operates within time create itself?

In essence, what you're saying is that the universe itself is God, something quite separate from physicalism and other similar worldviews.

Notice that you never apply that logic to anything but the universe (exemplified by your quip). You never see a bird and say, "Oh, I think it just is." So why would the amalgamation of a bunch of subatomic particles be any different?

This is where classical theology comes in. Aquinas' hypothesis that God is infinitely simple is very important.

MedicineMan said...


I think you're right that the universe "demands" an explanation in the sense that everything caused has to have a cause. People don't accept the idea that a raindrop falls without some causation, but some folks want to say that very thing about the entire galaxy.

Most of the non-explanation, non-causation

Speaker for the Dead said...

I think the main point about the theory that the universe caused itself is that it requires (or should require, with any intellectual honesty) MUCH more faith than almost any other worldview.