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Anthro Agnosticism Analogy [Aug. 9th, 2003|10:07 pm]
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]
[Current Music |Billy Joel - Piano Man]

A nice little piece by Carl Sagan that I just stumbled upon. This is a short excerpt from "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark", slightly reformatted and trimmed.

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose 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 floates 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, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

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.

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 a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. 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."

I hadn't seen this piece before but I really like it. It's a very effective analogy and bears remarkable resemblance to my own religious views. I am not here to try to disprove the dragon's presence, but I'm certainly not convinced until it has been proven conclusively. As such, the dragon has thus far been very elusive indeed.

From: chrissawyer
2003-08-09 10:43 pm (UTC)
That's really neat.
Yep, that's about where my view on God is.

And if there is a God, but he takes such pains not to involve himself (or herself) with us, obviously he dosn't want anything to do with us. So we shouldn't worry about him. :)

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[User Picture]From: bluerain
2003-08-10 12:27 am (UTC)
As such, the dragon has thus far been very elusive indeed.

It's as elusive as Robert Denby.
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2003-08-10 10:42 am (UTC)
That's it! The dragon was fitted with a DNA stabilizer, allowing him to both become invisible and rematerialize...
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[User Picture]From: kinkyturtle
2003-08-10 01:11 am (UTC)
Interesting that Carl Sagan chose a dragon as his example; change "garage" to "spirit" and you're talking about draconic Otherkin. :} In fact, this well describes my reaction to Otherkin beliefs: it's something that sounds crazy to me, but as long as you're aware you have a human body, and you can function as a member of society, I'd say you don't "need help", and it doesn't bother me if you call yourself a dragon. (Heck, most of my friends call themselves foxes, tigers, otters, etc. I'm happy to play along!) I've even made friends with some dragons, including kaijima and baxil.

And yeah, I'm the same way on more mainstream religion. I don't believe in a god, but I also don't believe in generating unnecessary annoyance and frustration by endlessly arguing about it.
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[User Picture]From: kinkyturtle
2003-08-10 01:53 am (UTC)
Movie plot, maybe!

"Coming this summer: KT & Kai! The wacky misadventures of a turtle and a dragon who keep bumping into each other for no reason at all. One's empirical! The other's spiritual! Can they find the diamonds and the deed to Old Mrs. Johnson's farm before Darth Vader and Dracula show up to wreak havoc on the good citizens of Oconomowoc? Of course not! Don't be silly. But see it anyway! And don't forget to consume popcorn and Coke!"
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[User Picture]From: kinkyturtle
2003-08-10 02:24 am (UTC)
No no no, not Wachowski, Wazowski! Mike Wazowski. You see him snorkel past the credits!

And then the inflatable dragon walks into a Pizza Planet, orders a pizza flavored with odd blue four-limbed ants, and then gets kidnapped by Al, the greedy toy barn owner, to scare kids with so their screams will waken Princess Fiona so she can help return a human child to its father during the Ice Age, and then this fat superhero who can't fit into his pants anymore comes along, and...

...uh... then the turtle goes to bed because he's obviously been up too late.
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2003-08-10 10:36 am (UTC)
I agree with your comments.

Really, it doesn't bother me what other people choose to believe, particularly if they find it inspirational. What does bother me is when they (not you, obviously) attempt to make universal assertions (i.e. preach) based on their unverifiable personal beliefs.

Beyond that, I think that everyone should be free to follow their personal beliefs.

"All you can say about a man who says that he's really a poached egg is that he is in the minority." - James Burke
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