God & Flying Teapots: A Socratic Dialogue

This is the second conversation between Sarah  and Brad. Read their first one here.image83

Brad: Sarah. Hey. It’s Brad.

Sarah: Oh, hey Brad. It’s nice to see you in a different shirt today. Green Lantern?

Brad: Yes! DC fan?

Sarah: Yes, actually. Although the film they did with Ryan Reynolds was enough to make me throw up and convert to Marvel. Awful movie.

Brad: Agreed! Speaking of converting, where’s all your Bible study friends?

Sarah: We meet on Saturday mornings.

Brad: I’m fearful that one day I’ll walk in here and they’ll douse me with Holy Water or something.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s a Catholic thing. We’re not Catholic. The most you should expect from us is a sympathetic look and a “I’ll pray for you.”

Brad: Oh dear! Well, the coffee’s so good here, I’m not sure even that could scare me away. Speaking of coffee; I need one. Mind if I join you?

Sarah: Sure.

Brad: Can I get you anything?

Sarah: Sure, thanks. A Chai Latte?

Brad: You got it.

Brad: There you go. I enjoyed our discussion last week.

Sarah: Yeah, me too.

Brad: It got me thinking about who has the burden of proof and all that. Have you heard of Russell’s teapot?

Sarah: I’m vaguely familiar with it; refresh my memory.

Brad: He basically said, suppose I believed that there was a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

Sarah: Okay…

Brad: Well, let’s pretend I do think that. Sarah, there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

Sarah: I should have got an extra shot of espresso.

Brad: Please don’t mock my faith, Sarah.

Sarah: Ha! Okay, I’ll play along. What reason do you have to think that there is a teapot orbiting the sun.

Brad: Hold on a minute! Are you telling me that you don’t believe in this teapot? That you’re an a-teapotist?

Sarah: I mean, I guess it’s possible? But no. Unless you can give me a good reason to think it’s true, I don’t believe in your orbiting teapot.

Brad: Would you be willing to say there is no such teapot?

Sarah: Yes.

Brad: Ah, so you must have reasons for thinking the teapot doesn’t exist. You are, after all, making a positive claim there Sarah. You’re saying there is no such teapot. You see, last week you told me I couldn’t be an atheist, couldn’t say there was no God, unless I had a reason . . .

Sarah: I didn’t say you couldn’t deny the existence of God without a reason. I said if you’re to justify your position to me then you need to give me a reason for your position.

Brad: And yet here you are doing the same thing about the teapot. You say it doesn’t exist and yet you have no justification for that.

Sarah: Continue.

Brad: Well, for me, God is like that. He’s a superfluous hypothesis. Look, I’m not here to insult you. I like you! You’re more thoughtful than most Christians I meet, but your God seems as ridiculous to me as my teapot seems to you.

Sarah: But wait a minute, Brad. You seem to be saying, to claim that a thing exists, soley because there’s no reason to think it doesn’t, is not a good reason to think that it does. Right?

Brad: I think that’s what I said, but that was a mouthful; let me try. I’m saying, if I genuinely believed in this teapot, and my only reason for thinking that it exists is that no one could disprove it, that would be a bad reason for thinking the teapot exists. You follow?

Sarah: I follow. And I see the flaw in your argument. Two points: First, Christians—at least thoughtful ones—don’t believe in God because “you can’t prove me wrong.” They have reasons for thinking that God exists. And secondly, I do have a reason to think that this teapot doesn’t exist. I don’t deny it simply because of a lack of evidence. I deny it because I think there’s good evidence against it! I think we have good evidence that no such piece of china has been launched into space by us. . . .

Brad: . . . Maybe it was put there by aliens.

Sarah: Okay, it’s plausible. But I mean, it’s silly. It’s silly to think that a life form intelligent enough to create a teapot would think it worth their time to launch that teapot into our solar system. I mean, why bother?

Brad: Maybe it’s an alien probe, transmitting data back to their planet. Maybe they plan an attack and need to know what they’re up against!

Sarah: Wait, the teapot is a probe? Or there’s a probe inside the teapot?

Brad: … Don’t look now but there’s a table of teens behind you with the queerest look on their faces.

Sarah: Ha! I suppose it’s not everyday you hear “probe” and “teapot” in the same sentence.

Brad: Hahaha.

Sarah: Look, if you had said to me, “do you think it’s possible there is an alien probe orbiting the earth right now, too small be detected by any human telescope, which is transmitting data to a far off planet?” I would have said, I don’t know. This, I think, shows that the reason I deny your teapot but accept the possibility of the alien probe, isn’t because of its implausibility but because it’s silly.*

Brad: Fair enough. I think your God is silly. Again, not trying to be argumentative, just being honest.

Sarah: I know, and I appreciate that. But I gave a reason to think your teapot is silly. Now it’s your turn. Why is God silly?

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* I got this implausibility/silly distinction from Trent Horn’s fantastic book, Answering Atheism.

12 thoughts on “God & Flying Teapots: A Socratic Dialogue

  1. So am I! I must say, though, that you forgot to make “Sarah:” in bold font a couple of times. Not a big deal; it just made it tricky to follow for a few moments. Keep ’em comin’!

  2. I absolutely enjoy this series! Please, keep it up. 🙂

    I also have thought about that point Brad made in the first part of this dialogue: how God seems horrible in the Old Testament, but wonderful now. How would you explain this?

    Thanks so much and God bless!
    Rana

  3. That’s a good post and a good blog. I’m happy to have discovered this site.
    I also think your posts about various issues and your own life example (as far as I’ve got to know it) speak volumes about the value of Christianity.

  4. I’ll second (or should it be sixth?!) that this is a great series. However I think you need to have Brad step it up a notch or three, he’s not defending atheism very well. I like your silly/implausible argument, but no thoughtful atheist would claim that the idea of God is silly in the sense of Russell’s teapot. The teapot analogy is intended to get believers to examine their belief, I don’t think Russell meant it as a serious argument against God’s existence. I think Brad has reasons for his atheism, lets hear them! I’d also like to hear Sarah’s reasons for her belief.

    For example I like Occam’s razor: I agree with Brad that God is a superfluous hypothesis and further that there are simpler explanations for the reasons I’ve heard for God’s existence. Finally, I agree with many atheists’ point that postulating God begs the question of God’s own origin, for which I’ve yet to hear a good answer. I’d like to see this discussed by Sarah and Brad.

    Patrick

  5. Hi

    “I didn’t say you couldn’t deny the existence of God without a reason. I said if you’re to justify your position to me then you need to give me a reason for your position.”

    The teapot also makes me feel good and it speaks to me. This is the same as one of the believers arguments as a ‘reason’, why they believe in their God. Or are they all at a sudden not able to recognize their own argument anymore? But the problem with that – as with their God – is, that any feeling has no influence on if something is actually true or not. So, Sarah should provide the independent verification, that her claims are really the truth and should not dance around and appeal to feelings or twist logic.
    That shows me, that this ‘Sarah’ character in the story is just gullible or that she was forced to believe in that during her childhood.

    Regards,
    Robert Heinrich

    1. ‘The teapot also makes me feel good and it speaks to me.’

      Really?

      Or are you just arguing a point?

      The problem is that, for Christians, God is actually real. However, if you find anyone who claims to genuinely believe in that orbiting teapot, do you actually believe them and trust that they have actual reasons?

      And do you find that that teapot has a vast number of followers who claim to have a personal relationship (spiritually) with the teapot, that this has occurred consistently over millennia, inspired many of the wondrous developments of humanity – especially since the destruction of Rome (go, read a proper history!) – and continues to do so even in the face of repeated attempts to deny its existence (generally using the same rehashed arguments again and again…)?

      So let us blast this straw teapot with a cosmic ray of rooting your argument in reality and accuracy:-)

      And maybe ‘Sarah’ is neither ‘gullible’, nor ‘forced to believe’ (both rather presumptuous!) and actually has something that you do not. But could have should conclusions stop jumping up to meet you!

      1. “And do you find that that teapot has a vast number of followers who claim to have a personal relationship (spiritually) with the teapot, that this has occurred consistently over millennia, inspired many of the wondrous developments of humanity – especially since the destruction of Rome (go, read a proper history!) – and continues to do so even in the face of repeated attempts to deny its existence (generally using the same rehashed arguments again and again…)?”

        I did not know that the number of followers or their alleged spiritual connection decides on whether a belief is objectively true or not. A common mistake. I also want to remind you that eastern countries like China or India had high cultures for millenia as well and got quite something done. Even without a christian majority.

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