Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Metacrock's Famous Gardener Parable

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Garden of the Gods




The point is to show the decision making process and what goes into belief or disbelief. Gardener parables are a tradition in philosophy of religion. I always think those like Flew's and Wisdom's are loaded against the believer.

The basic parabel, although in many versions, goes like this: two men see a garden. The state of the garden makes one suspect there is a gardener, the other suspects there is none. In some versions they steakout the palce, keep watch all night. They see no gardern and the believer decides he's invisable and the other decides he's non existenant. In Felw's version they put up electirc wires, search lights, dogs, all kinds of things. No sign of a gardener. The believer decideds he's oderless, colorless,invisable,intangeable and doesnt' do much. The sketic asks what's the difference in that and no gardener at all. Flew gives the moral: "the death fo a fine brash hypothesis comes through a million qualifications." Of course the real imiport of it all is that there is' no God no reason to think there's a God, and all the ratioanlizations believers go through to expalin away the lack of evidence are really just setting us up to ask "what's the difference in this God and no God at all?"

Antony Flew, in an exchange called “Theology and Falsification” (on reserve in the WVC library),



“Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘Some gardener must tend this plot.’ The other disagrees, ‘There is no gardener.’ So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.’ So they set up a barbed-wire fenced. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensitive to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.’ At last the Sceptic despairs, ‘but what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’”


Flew's point is about the verification principle. My argument has always been, and remains that he doesn't give the believer enough of a reason to believe. Real reasons that real people really have for believing are much stronger than that, even if they rare more personal.



Among the major gardener parables we find them by Hare, one by Wisdom, and maybe by Flew. I always thought that Hare's was more fair to the believer. IT does afford some reason why they would think there was a Gardener. But Wisdom's doesn't. So If it is loaded against the believer. In fact it makes his garden to all practical purposes seem unkempt which means it's irrational for them to even suppose there is a gardener.


My parable I wrote in 1999, while invovled on my original message board in protracted discussions with a skeptic named "Mutaleto." Now here's my parable:


Two men (or two women whatever) walking along see a garden out in the middle of nowhere. One finds a Tabaco pouch and observes that the garden is weeded and planted in rows. The other observes that the rows are not very stairght so it's really hard to tell, and that in many sections the weeds are overgrown. Observer A says "maybe someone planted this." B says "there's no data!


They scour the countryside and find no gardener. They camp out and wait and find no gardener. They examine all the plants carefully and find no trace of a gardener.


"B" goes home. "A" sits around and suddenly a man comes up, tells him he is the gardener and they talk about flowers for a long time. The man wont explain why the garden is so untended in sections and he wont explain why the rows are so uneven, but he assures "A" that he is the gardener and he does seem a prince of a fellow and knows all about flowers.


The next day "A" goes to B and says "there is a Gardener I met him." B says "three's no proof of that. IF there is a Gardener why didn't he explain his methods?" A says "I assume he has his reasons" B says "O, that old saw, all the gardener believers say that!"


The thing is A couldn't prove that he saw the gardener. The Gardener's presence wasn't detectable, he didn't alter the garden in any way that B could detect. He didn't' give An autographed picture, and let's also say that he didn't tell him where he lived and mysteriously vanished when A wasn't looking. But An is totally convinced that he did in fact see him. And the knowledge of gardening that was imparted to A did make him a superb gardener.


Now, is there really no reason for B to decide that no Gardner was seen? There is no logical proof that he was seen, but An is totally sincere Abu having seen him. Is it really so illogical to assume that A merely presupposed it? He cod have made it up or dreamed it, but is it really so illogical to think that he did actually see the gardener?


Now I think that, apart form believability of the witness, kicks it back into the realm of believability of the concepts and the sense that they make as concepts. The sense they make of the world. In other words, it offers one an opening into the inner logic in a way that wasn't there otherwise, but it doesn't demonstrate the truth claims in a logical argument.


Unless you are willing to believe that inner logic a parer can't have correspondence to the truth; but then what about the inner logic of your metaphysical assumptions? They have no inner logic, they are objective and proven right? But I think Kahn would suggest that even though scientific data is, but in as much as data must be interpreted and data does not give us metaphysical assumptions but is interpreted by them to the extent that science is culturally constructed, there is an inner logic to your metaphysical assumptions.


BE that as it may, the inner logic of belief can have openings across laminal space, into the shared world of unbeleif.Perhaps not the kind that force assent, but the kind that allow access. After that point the struggle becomes one of explaining the concepts and demonstrating the inner consistency.



That's what I wrote in 1999. Looking back at it I find some interesting aspects I didn't notice back then. Example: I did notice that the skeptic's prattles are always loaded against the believer, the believer never has a real reason to think there's a gardener. That's why I had the believer find a Tabasco pouch, and see some evidence of straight rows and weeded garden, although that was supposed to be debatable. But then I had the believer actually meet the gardener because I felt that this is more in keeping with my religious experience; If feel that I did meet God in sense, rather I experience God's presence. Of course my experience was nowhere near as direct as "A's" experience of the Gardener. I left it as a subjective difference in the experiences of the two dialogue partners because that's they the way I think things really are.

What I now realize is that both men were trying to see the existence of a gardener through the state of the garden. This is really like the argument from design. The atheist is actually committing the same fallacy as the apologist who makes the design argument; noting having an undesigned universe to compare it to. In terms of the parable I should have the believer meet the gardener first, that should be what starts off the discussion. B would say "your friend says this is his garden, but look how messy it is, no one tends this ground."

In terms of Flew's moral that the fine hypothesis is killed by a thousand qualifications, that's a nice pithy quote. I don't think it applies to God arguments. While one does find that arguing the God arguments often causes one to sharpen one's persecutive on the divine, the situation is hardly analogous.

The atheist's constant drum beat, the demand for proof, for verification, for something object that stacks up to scinece, is making the same kind of mistake about drawing conclusions from the world without a desinged world to compare to, that the apolgist is in using the design argument. Empirisicism is nothing more than an analysis of and conclusion from the state of the world. Beelief is more private than that. Believers make claims that impenged upon the real world, but our reasons for holding them are often private affaris that don't translate well into empiricial data. On the other hand, they are far stronger than Flew's neutoric believer who apparently is obssesed and has no decerable reason for belief.

But the best point I think that comes out of this mess is that the skeptic still looks to the shape of the world to que about his lack of belief. Sure, and the theodicy problem is nothing more than arraying against the existence of God based upon the state of the world, but rather than discussing design it discusses the state of pain and suffering in the world. So what these parables tell us is that the fine hypothesis God belief is always subjective and debatable, but the believer has his reasons.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should have B (the skeptic) meet the gardener too in the same manner as A, then the gardener "dissappears" when B isn't looking, just like with A. A conludes there's a gardener because he believes his experiences. B concludes there's not a gardener because 1) he doesn't trust his experience (prefering concrete and external evidence) and 2) the rows weren't "straight enough" (a value judgment), the weeds "shouldn't be there if there's a gardener tending it" (another value judgment) and so the skeptic B conlcudes he imagined it or it was a dream or an apparition resulting from a psychological state induced by brain chemistry, because there just wasn't any evidential "proof" it actually happened.

J.L. Hinman said...

that would be an interesting senerio. I am trying not to load too many of my own assuptions into it, but to reflect the neutrality of reality. but probably not possible to do that.