Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not for all the tea in China can anyone prove...

Philosopher Bertrand Russell was born on this day in 1872.

Russell coined an analogy about a Celestial Teapot. It was in answer to those who said that the burden of proof lies upon the sceptic to disprove unfalsifiable claims of religions.

Russell wrote:

"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."

Today's ghost word: crackteapot, n. One who believes steadfastly in the existence of something despite evidence that is flimsy as a teabag.

For more about Russell, visit Today in Cynic's Almanac

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