The Conclusive Teapot in Space

teapot space

Bertrand Russell  proposed the concept of a teapot in space, somewhere between the Earth and Mars.

 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. [1]

The unpleasant dilemma is that an unobservable teapot can neither be proved nor disproved.  I can go about shouting from the rooftops “There’s a teapot floating in space,” and no one can prove me wrong.  If all I do is go about shouting, I could be considered a lunatic.  But shouting is not all I shall do.  

Scenario 1: A Teapot Floats in Space

I propose that I can conclude a teapot floats in space without observing a teapot in space, as long as I have two other things.  The first thing would be a diary I happen upon.  On the last written page of the diary, in beautiful cursive, I find written:

“I love my tea set almost as much as I love my grandson.  He is a bright, gifted man, and I always told him he could be anything he wanted to be.  Often I would tell him this over a cup of tea.   I suppose he believed me.  He’s an astronaut, and he’s about to board the space station.  My tea set is also special and dear to my heart.  It has a hand-painted rose on the teapot and on each of the cups.  It is my dying wish to see both dreams realized, that my grandson should always be remembered, if only my tea set were sent traveling through space.”

Of course, having only the written account could be babbling nonsense if taken by itself.  There is one more item to satisfy my conclusion.  Supposing I lift my telescope and spot a rose-printed teacup floating just beyond the orbit of the space station.  Now I have a second item (the cup) to confirm the first (the diary), to assume a teapot in space without ever seeing a teapot in space.  Assuming the 2 things, I now have a reason to scour the heavens for a rose-print teapot, and should I one day spot it, I will not be the least bit surprised.

Now I begin to wonder why this was never publicized before my observation.  I would love to get my name in the headlines as the one who first observed the teacup from Earth, but wouldn’t NASA or the news be weeks ahead of me?  I begin to formulate a theory on the release of the tea set.  Mack, the grandson, knew of his grandmother’s dying wish and made it his own living wish.  Noone else in NASA would understand.  He would sneak the tea set inside his space pack, sacrificing room for his own nutrition and medication.  After he was aboard the space station, and as soon as he was given a task outside the station, he would release the tea set.  The teapot and most of the cups must have been flung out farther, beyond the reach of my telescope.  Perhaps one cup hung behind, suspended along a lower orbit.  Then Mack would simply wait for the discovery to be made, for his grandmother’s dream to be immortalized.

God is like the grandmother’s teapot.  He made his wish known, His desire for us to be made in His image, in His written Word.  He even went so far as to become one of us and demonstrate that this was literally His dying wish.  Truly we bear a similar imprint.  In the Bible we find wisdom, logic, passion, compassion, and all the invisible qualities that we see both in ourselves and in God.   God’s spirit, like tea from a teapot, is poured into the vessel of man.  Denying God is denying a greater capacity for a greater relationship.

Scenario 2: The Teapot Rests in the Expected Place

What of others who cannot see the teapot?  And would they really find it in orbit around the sun between Earth and Mars?  We could attempt a mathematical formula based on masses and gravitational forces within the solar system to determine the placement of a teapot’s orbital path.  Or we could use a simpler mathematical solution, sets and probability.  The set proposed is the set of all objects orbiting the sun, which we will call set S for sun.  We can easily place planets and comets into this set.  The teapot, however, is at a low probability of being in this set.  We know this, not simply because of our lack of finding a teapot orbiting the sun, but rather because we find teapots somewhere else.  The other set includes all objects found in the dining room, set D.  Since we expect to find a teapot here with a much higher probability than anywhere else, we can safely assume the teapot exists in set D rather than in set S.  In other words, I could point a telescope out the dining room window and never see a teapot until I take my eye out of the telescope and look within the room.

So now we have a different scenario to consider.  Let’s assume the diary is a fraud and I hallucinated the teacup.  Considering our sets S and D, the first question to ask becomes, why limit the placement of the teapot?  We will easily find one if we look in the dining room, won’t we?  If, however, an egotistical dictator determined that the warm feeling of tea threatened the loyalty of his subjects, and if he banned tea or any related objects from ever touching his territory, then a citizen of such a country might never even consider finding a teapot sitting exactly where it belongs, in the dining room.  The same could be said of God.  Characteristically, He is a spirit.  He belongs in a set of immaterial things, which includes ideas and principles and so on.  We could look into every physical atom and never see His existence until we look into the immaterial realm. We would hardly find Him if we lived in some communist country.  Nonetheless, as it has happened in history, even the banning of religion cannot remove the desire to find the same Spirit that gives all of us life.

1. Russell, Bertrand. “Is There a God? [1952]” (PDF). The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 11: Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68. Routledge. pp. 547–548. Retrieved 1 December 2013


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