Bertrand Russell’s “Teapot” Argument

By Wayne Jackson

With the appearance of an irritating rash of new books promoting atheism, arguments fly back and forth for the anti-God and pro-God positions. Some cases for God’s existence are not argued legitimately. Christians cannot afford to make bogus arguments to the embarrassment of the cause of Christ. Atheists will pick up these “broken swords” and whack us over the head with them.

Occasionally a demand by sincere believers is this: “You cannot prove God does not exist.” This statement involves a logical fallacy — the challenge to prove a universal negative. Logically, one cannot prove a universal negative; in order to do so he would have to be everywhere, and know everything — which is an impossibility.

Bertrand Russell, the British atheist, once ridiculed this form of argumentation by calling it the “celestial teapot argument.” In response to the quip, “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist,” Russell in essence said, “neither can one disprove the idea that there is a teapot orbiting the sun.” He can’t. But the question is: is there any evidence for such?

Atheism, by definition, is itself negative — from the negative prefix, a (no) and theos (God). It is a baseless assertion without the support of logical argumentation.

But atheists themselves are not immune to making illogical arguments. They believe that life, at the beginning, spontaneously generated itself. When asked for evidence of this thesis, an atheist might say: “Prove to me it didn’t happen that way.” No one could; that’s the sort of negative that cannot be subjected to testing. The issue is: show me the evidence that life “jump-started” itself.

The Christian does not challenge: “Prove to me that God does not exist.” Rather, the legitimate approach is this. Here is the evidence for God’s existence. If my case is valid, one is logically driven (by default) to the conclusion that there is compelling evidence for God’s existence. In legal jargon, this is called a prima facie case; if there is nothing to refute it, it reasonably may be accepted as true, and atheism — its opposite — fails.

(1) All known evidence indicates that matter is incapable of creating itself. The first law of thermodynamics states that “matter” is neither being created nor destroyed; it only changes from one form to another. There is not a shred of evidence that any material object has ever created itself.

(2) All evidence suggests that matter is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics states that as matter undergoes transformation, there is a negative effect, a running-down process. This implies a commencement point (just as a wound-up clock implies a starting time). Since matter is incapable of creating itself (and yet it exists), and since it had a commencement point, logic suggests it had a non-material cause.

(3) All evidence indicates that inorganic matter is incapable of generating life. But since life exists, a reasonable deduction is: there must be an explanation for life that is extraneous to, and independent of, the material.

(4) All evidence indicates that no strictly material object has moral sensitivity, i.e., a conviction of right versus wrong. In view of this, it is a reasonable conclusion that mankind’s moral sensitivity is to be found in a moral source beyond the material.

(5) All evidence indicates that objects characterized by design have been produced by an intelligent designer. The universe, earth’s environment, molecules, cells, biological organisms, etc., reflect design. They thus point to an intelligent Designer.

Atheism has nothing to compare with this line of positive argumentation. All it can say is, “I deny, I deny!” It is the “religion” of negativism. As a Texan might express it, “They are all hat and no cattle.”

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.