The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Addressing Russell’s Teapot

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with falsehood
for the good or evil side.

With each choice God speaking to us,
offers each the bloom or blight
Then the man or nation chooses
for the darkness or the light.”

-James R. Lowell

When it comes to matters of faith and religion, there is a prevailing tendency among skeptics to deny that belief is a choice. At some point, most of us have probably heard something along the lines of, “Christianity sounds nice and all, but I’m just not able to believe it,” or perhaps, “I’ll believe it if you can prove it.”

Unfortunately, this attitude is dangerously flawed.

It’s flawed because the idea that belief requires proof is completely inconsistent with the meaning of faith.

It’s dangerous because it provides people with a spiritual and intellectual “out”. They reason: “If Christianity can’t be empirically proven, then I can’t be held responsible for not believing. God – if he exists – should have given me some proof.” In response to this, a quote from Tozer and a verse from John immediately come to mind.

“We rest in what God is. I believe that this alone is true faith. Any faith that must be supported by the evidence of the senses is not real faith.” -A.W. Tozer

“Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” –John 20:29 (NIV)

Skeptics commonly cite Russell’s Teapot as a justification for rejecting the existence of the God of the Bible. This well-known analogy is often used to place upon Christians the burden of proof for God’s existence – despite the Christian’s insistence that the need for proof (in a scientific sense) goes entirely against the point. The argument is stated as follows:

“I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.” –Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Of course, the problem with this reasoning should be immediately obvious to the fair-minded person. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a china teapot exists in orbit between Earth and Mars, and in fact there are many very good reasons to doubt the existence of such a teapot. To make this same assertion about the Christian God requires that one willfully ignore not only the well-reasoned philosophical arguments for God’s existence, but also the overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence supporting many of the central claims and events of the Bible.

It’s one thing to debate these arguments for God head-on, but quite another to simply dismiss them outright or pretend that they don’t exist. And even if the skeptic ultimately finds the evidence for God to be insufficient, it must still be conceded that this is not the same as having no evidence at all (as is the case for the teapot). Thus, Russell’s analogy is fatally flawed (along with more modern parodies like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn).

Keep reading: in my next post, I further explore the role of “choice” in faith.

Related Articles

Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal (J.W. Wartick)

If God wanted us to believe in him, why doesn’t he give us more evidence? (Wintery Knight)

Russell’s Teapot: Does it Hold Water? (Maverick Philosopher)

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8 thoughts on “The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Addressing Russell’s Teapot

  1. I’m a scientist and a relatively new believer. In my opinion, there is plenty of evidence for belief in God’s existence, but, like you say, evidence is beside the point. It is in taking a small step of faith toward Him, leaving the door of possibility open just a crack, or even suspending disbelief for one crucial moment, that God is waiting and watching for. Once that “choice” is made, God gives personalized evidence, testifies of Himself, makes Himself known, provides proof of Himself, to that individual through His Holy Spirit, if that individual is paying attention at all. That’s the beginning of the very real spiritual rebirth and transformation that He performs in us and requires of us.
    And besides, isn’t the heaviest burden of DISPROOF on the backs of the unbelievers? Notice that Russell’s final lame word about God is limited to “unlikely”?

    Great post, Matt. Keep up the good work!

    • “Once that “choice” is made, God gives personalized evidence, testifies of Himself, makes Himself known, provides proof of Himself, to that individual through His Holy Spirit, if that individual is paying attention at all. That’s the beginning of the very real spiritual rebirth and transformation that He performs in us and requires of us.”

      Well said!

  2. Pingback: The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Puddleglum’s Speech | Well Spent Journey

  3. Enjoyed reading and thinking about it.

    Of course, the following involves believing, in order to accept it . God put eternity in our hearts and an awareness of Him. And with that, freewill to believe God, or not. The truth of that is that it is true whether we believe it or not. The finding out of that truth – is through faith. (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 1:18-25). I look at Deuteronomy 4, where God is warning the people who saw the fire and heard the voice from the mountain – to e careful not to attribute these things to gods instead of Jehovah. Even seeing sometimes doesn’t qualify our hearts and thoughts. And, I love Ezekiel 18, where God tells Israel – all souls are His and that the choice is indeed up to the individual. I mean, how many people exhibit that kind of willingness? And this is God (the Creator, the Almighty) who gives that inalienable (your Schaeffer post) rights.

    • “God put eternity in our hearts and an awareness of Him. And with that, freewill to believe God, or not.”

      Agreed! Great point.

  4. Pingback: Alister McGrath on the Demand for Proof | Well Spent Journey

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