On Russell’s Teapot

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.

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 intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. 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.

It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history. Practically all the beliefs of savages are absurd. In early civilizations there may be as much as one percent for which there is something to be said. In our own day…. But at this point I must be careful.

We all know that there are absurd beliefs in Soviet Russia. If we are Protestants, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Catholics. If we are Catholics, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Protestants. If we are Conservatives, we are amazed by the superstitions to be found in the Labour Party. If we are Socialists, we are aghast at the credulity of Conservatives.

I do not know, dear reader, what your beliefs may be, but whatever they may be, you must concede that nine-tenths of the beliefs of nine-tenths of mankind are totally irrational. The beliefs in question are, of course, those which you do not hold. I cannot, therefore, think it presumptuous to doubt something which has long been held to be true, especially when this opinion has only prevailed in certain geographical regions, as is the case with all theological opinions.”

– Bertrand Russel

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Mercurial [Noun.]

  1. Volatile; erratic; unstable; flighty; fickle or changeable in temperament.
  2. Lively; clever; sprightly; animated; quick-witted. ‘I have a mercurial wit.’
  3. Having characteristics attributed to the Shakespeare character Mercutio, such as volatile, erratic, unstable, and shrewdness.
  4. Of, or pertaining to the element mercury; containing mercury; caused by the action of mercury or quicksilver.
  5. Having characteristics attributed to the Roman god Mercury, such as swiftness, eloquence, shrewdness, and thievishness.
  6. In Roman mythology, of or pertaining to the Roman god Mercury.
  7. In astronomy, of or pertaining to the planet Mercury; under the supposed astrological influence of the planet Mercury.

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