Friday, September 29, 2006

Footprints in the Flour

I have been on a reading kick lately, and it’s been rewarding. I’m currently reading “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, a book which I’ve highlighted beyond all reason. I’d like to share an extended section of the book, which serves to illuminate my argument about the dearth of evidence supporting the God contention.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.”

Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle – but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, except she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stock.”

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative – merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons- to say nothing of invisible ones – you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you they have dragons in their garages – but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I’d rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all…

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself: On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such “evidence” – no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it – is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

In this section of the book, Sagan literally is talking about alleged alien abductions and alleged run-ins with holy visions. However, it’s equally applicable to the God question.

I have not closed my mind to God’s existence; I am open to new scientific data. However, at this point in time, with the evidence currently available, I must reject the God hypothesis, just as the character in Sagan’s story was forced to reject the garage dragon hypothesis.

In terms of testable, hard, scientific evidence, there’s no more evidence for God than there is for an invisible dragon in my own garage. As a matter of pure fact, I’m agnostic on both issues. I simply don’t know for sure. However, in practical terms, the deafening dearth of hard evidence in support of either claim makes both claims dubious at best.

In other words, I’m waiting for God to make footprints in the flour.


Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

Well said.

2:18 AM EDT  
Blogger Doctorboogaloo said...

Believers were either born without the ability to think critically, had it beaten out of them, or found it too difficult to do the math.
For the rest of us, it is like debating an answering machine. There's no one home.

10:43 PM EDT  
Blogger breakerslion said...

What doctorboogaloo said.

The thing you might be missing is the question, "What's the difference between an invisible dragon that leaves no impression on the physical Universe and breathes heatless fire and none at all?" The assertion of such a non-entity actually supports the theory of its non-existence. Even if such a thing existed in a dimension that was completely discrete from our four, what difference would it make to my existence if it could not impinge in any way? Of course, if you are a faith-based believer, then every time a ladder falls off your garage wall, the dragon did it. Never mind the possibility that it was hung improperly; there's no longer any proof for that!

11:21 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I try not to have a huge opinion on religion because people don;'t like it, but I agree with what doctorboogaloo and breakerslion said. That sounds like a cool book actually.

12:14 PM EDT  
Blogger pgc1981 said...


Just a couple of questions.
1. Is this a recent post, because it's at the bottom of your site?
2. Where did the classic big bible story post come from? I've been here awhile now and have commented on alot of you posts and I've never seen that one. Have you been changing your site? It seems like some posts are missing.

"I have not closed my mind to God’s existence; I am open to new scientific data. However, at this point in time, with the evidence currently available, I must reject the God hypothesis, just as the character in Sagan’s story was forced to reject the garage dragon hypothesis."

To me Jolly this seems like a step back from your staunch atheistic view. Especially the, 'I have not closed my mind to the existence of God' statement.’ I thought you said before and have said that you completely reject God? I'm asking because I'm having a mixed feeling on this post and I'm trying to get more details from you. I can say this and I've in some ways said it before in earlier posts to you. Your mind is going to follow your dominant thoughts. If your dominant thought is that God doesn’t exist and evolution is true and science has all the answers and can prove everything, than your mind is going to follow those thoughts. You will start to seek the information that will prove you to be right and I have already said this to you in the “Christianity: Unvarnished and unequivocal” post. This is what I said and I still agree.
“One thing I see with your story is that you were searching and began to question things and began to look only in all the places that would lead you to where you are today. You didn't put your trust in God, you put it in man. You began to question His existence and found truth were truth was offered to you, that being school and science. I believe most scientists to be non believers as a whole. I believe this because they too didn't put their trust in God, they only looked for truth somewhere else”
If I could add something to that I would add that you also put your trust in science. As true as evolution sounds and as hunky dory that science makes everything sound it’s completely opposite of God. And I ask this, who is opposite of God? The answer, satan is opposite of God. I like this verse:
John 10:10 – this is Jesus speaking
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Definition of Thief – someone who takes something that does not belong to them.
Jesus is saying the thief is satan, they is anyone who calls of His name. Jesus gives, He does not take away, satan takes away. Jesus blesses, satan kills. Jesus gives us life to the fullest and eternal happy life, satan destroys lives and condemns evil eternity. Maybe people should try blaming satan sometime for the bad things that happen in one’s life and not blaming God because as Jesus said in John 10:10 the thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy. Evolution is the opposite of God’s creation. Evolution destroys the thought that God created everything, thus the thief is taking or destroying what is not his. We have only two thoughts of origins of life 1. God 2. Evolution. If that’s all we have one must be right, it’s up to you which way you choose to let your dominant thoughts guide you. Never put your trust in man for man can only let you down, therefore put your trust in God because God will never let you down.

“In terms of testable, hard, scientific evidence, there’s no more evidence for God than there is for an invisible dragon in my own garage. As a matter of pure fact, I’m agnostic on both issues. I simply don’t know for sure. However, in practical terms, the deafening dearth of hard evidence in support of either claim makes both claims dubious at best.”

The testable, hard, scientific evidence, you just haven’t looked hard enough. Like I said your mind follows your dominant thoughts. The Bible which you have rejected to be false, is the best evidence, you have to read it with an open mind towards God. Answers in genesis is a good place that deals numerously about all scientific evidence. Seek and you will find.

In terms of Agnostic what exactly do you mean because there are 4 different definitions for agnostic.

1. person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience
2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
3. of or pertaining to agnostics or agnosticism
4. asserting the uncertainty of all claims to knowledge.

What do you mean by ‘I simply don’t know for sure’?

“In other words, I’m waiting for God to make footprints in the flour.”

What exactly do you mean by this? Are you waiting for God to prove Himself to you in order for you to believe? Once you open your mind to His existence He does miraculous things, I know because I’ve experienced it. As I told you before in my walk, I questioned Him and with time He revealed Himself to me in ways I never thought of. One good example is your blog site here. Believe it or not your blog site has helped strengthen my faith. I’ve read things I’ve never read before, both in the Bible and on the internet. It brought a problem I had in my life to the light and has began to go away. It strengthened my faith in God and His creation, He has showed me things I’ve never imagined before, I’ve felt things I’ve never felt before, He has brought a peace to my life that I’ve never completely had before. Jesus said blessed are those who cannot see, yet have believed John 24:29

Matthew 7:7-8
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you. For anyone who asks receive; he who seeks finds; and him who knocks; the door will be opened.

It all boils down to choice, what people choose do is what is going to happen. God gave us the choice to follow Him, He didn’t say you have to follow Him. You must choose to follow Him, He will not make you

Romans 10:8-11
But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you will confess and are saved. The scripture says “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

12:52 AM EST  

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