Flying Teapot v. God: The Negative Proof


800pxTouched_by_His_Noodly_AppendageThe worst argument that‘a believer in god can use is the negative proof i.e. when she says “can you prove god doesn’t exist?”- the answer to this is that the onus is on the one asserting a belief to positively prove that to which they assert. We are familiar with this concept in other areas of our society. If we are unfortunate enough to be charged with a crime how unjust would it be if you were told that the prosecutor was not going to adduce any evidence that you committed the crime but you have to prove that you did not break the law?

If this argument is brought to its natural conclusion it can enter into the realm of absolute absurdity. The mere fact that a proposition cannot be disproved does not render it true. This is known as an argument form ignorance which is a logical fallacy- X cannot be proved false therefore it is true. There are innumerable things that you do not believe in that cannot be shown do not exist. Bertrand Russell deals with this question delightfully in his essay “Is There a God?

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. 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.[1]

There are infinite things that are things that cannot be disproved but we do not therefore accept that they are true. In fact taking this position belies all methodology that has advanced our understanding of our Universe. Russell’s teapot is the foundation for numerous incarnations of gods which have arisen to highlight the lunacy of this logic: Invisible Pink Unicorn, flying spaghetti monster. Religious people also try to use this logical fallacy when they say that “You are assuming god is false because we cannot prove he exists” I am not 100% sure that god doesn’t exist–no one is this is an epistemological problem; can we ever be 100% sure about anything?

By using evidence I can explain with greater quality the nature of our universe. The 14th centaury logician William Ockham provides a method of logical reasoning known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’ in which he states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Therefore where evidence explains our universe this implies that where there is no evidence to the contrary this solution is valid.

[1] Russell, B., “The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell” Slater, J. G. and P. Köllner Eds. (McMaster University ed G. Allen & Unwin, 1983)



Filed under atheist, bible, creationism, god, philosophy, religion

6 responses to “Flying Teapot v. God: The Negative Proof

  1. Great post, very well dealt with. It is remarkable the “prove god doesn’t exist” is still used by theists, as it is so easily dismissed, as are others. I fear we will be continuing to dismiss such arguments for years to come!

  2. calin

    :))) you guys are doing a good job of making yourself smiling .
    just because some people have the courage to say to u that god exist , and they are using this question ” can u prove that doesnt ? ” only because they don’t know him personaly maybe , the same like u , that doesn’t give u a plus argument in the face of a believer …
    when u gona meet a real believer u wont get questioned this …
    u can find milions of this type of position just so that u could find a way to prove that u are right and that ‘ they ‘(believers) are wrong , but the thing is that u said that u cant be 100 % sure of anything … but i can be 100 % sure of something , that God exist …
    a big difference betwen people … always will be 2 types of believeres : the ones that believe in something , but never 100 % … and the others with believe 100 % …
    u have a nice job , but i dont thing its gone last long …
    an about the post : the guy u make the original it was on the same way like u guys … so u can be famous to …
    all the best

  3. Huh? I’m sorry, I don’t understand a word of that! Was that supposed to be an argument against Russell? Or are you arguing that just because you believe 100 per cent “that God exist”, that is sufficient evidence that there is in fact a God? Are you, or are you not, taking us for complete idiots?

  4. MT

    Its also a fallacy to assert that something does not exist because there is no evidence for it. For example, if someone commits a murder but the police are unable to find any evidence the murderer may escape punishment, but he is still guilty.

    So, its impossible to prove god doesnt exist using this type of argument. On the other hand, particular religions – such as Christianity make specific claims that may be testable. If you can show these claims to be wrong then obviously the religion is a pile of crap. These claims include God created woamn from a mans rib, god created the universe, there was a giant flood that killed everything except what was on Noahs ark, and so on.

  5. dandi1144

    Of course you very handily and conveniently omit the full description of the argument from ignorance: because a premise cannot be proven false, the premise must be true; or that, because a premise cannot be proven true, the premise must be false. As MT replies, the proof/disproof must come through other means.

  6. JohnnyH

    It’s not because someone is a 100% shure that god exists, that he realy does exist.
    It’s not because 99,99 % of the Americans believe that he excist, he realy does!

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