Monday, December 08, 2008

Russell's Teapot and the Great Pumpkin objection

This links to an Russell's essay "Is there a God."

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics 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.

From Russell's essay "Is there a God."

The context here seems to be in establishing the burden of proof in debate about God. That debate, over the past few decades, has centered around Alvin Plantinga's controversial claim that belief in the existence of God can be properly basic, and in that context, the Teapot objection is known as the Great Pumpkin Objection. It is a strong, or as weak, as the Great Pumpkin objection to the proper basicality of theism.

This is a paper on the proper basicality debate.


3 comments:

Clayton said...

That seems quite right. (Of course, my saying this is just further evidence for your complete academic dishonesty...)

One Brow said...

Training in mathematics can offer an interesting perspective here. I agree that assuming God exists is in no way inferior to assuming He does not exist, in the same way assuming the Axiom of Choice is true is not inferior to assuming it is false. You have to make assumptions about the universe to discuss it, and as long as you are clear what those assumptions are and there is no contradiction among them, any beginning position is intellectually equivalent.

Steven Carr said...

What is a properly basic belief?

If somebody says '6 Million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. An all-loving god would not have allowed that to happen. Therefore, no all-loving god exists.', is that a properly basic belief?

If somebody says 'That flower is really pretty. Therefore a god created it', is that a properly basic belief?

Personal Testimony of William Lane Craig

Craig writes 'I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”'

Crying releases huge numbers of endorphins into the system.

A good cry often makes people feel a lot better.

Is a 'properly basic belief in God' one induced by looking at some stars after a really good cry?

If somebody in Dachau cried out to God in despair, and received no answer, would such a person have a 'properly basic belief' that there was no god to answer their cries?