Russell's teapot

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was a British Mathematician, logician and philosopher who made major contributions to in particular philosophy. He became Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1908, when he was 36.

Russell's teapot

Russell's teapot is a philosophical argument Russell uses to demonstrate how the burden of proof for a scientific claim lies with the person expressing the claim. In a commissioned but never published article Russell writes in 1952:

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.

Russell clearly refers to religion here. He compares the passing on of the belief in the teapot to the passing on of religious beliefs, which, just like the teapot, aren't justified. The deity isn't proven to exist, just like the teapot isn't.

I mentioned scientific claims. The adjective is important. Scientific propositions are falsifiable, that's the basis of science. Any scientific theory must allow room for evidence against it. The faith in absolute certainty makes any discussion impossible; we then would have the tyranny of religion.

But if you can be proven wrong that means you never can prove with absolute certainty that you're right. My 100% certain claim wouldn't be falsifiable anymore.
Here religion has a problem. Religion must claim absolute certainty; it has no choice. You can't fully believe if there are doubts about the proposition in the first place. That means religion doesn't meet the requirements to be called science, i.e. be falsifiable. Ever.

And this is where science and religion part. Religion has no place in science; science is built on factual evidence, not what a person believes to be true. Likewise religion is never scientific; you can never get the required amount of evidence to reach the "absolutes" level of confidence.

On this site both science and religion will be discussed. Not as the two sides of one medal, for that they are too incompatible, too much opposites of one another.