Thursday, May 24, 2007

A parable

Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article "Gods." 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 fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well'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, insensible, 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?"

Antony Flew, in his book Reason and Responsibility (1968):

And to conclude, ...

"Why should you mind being wrong if someone can show you that you are?"
AJ (Freddie) Ayer

1 comment:

VallyP said...

I suppose it depends on what you're told you are wrong about. When it comes down to something as fundamental as moral or religious beliefs, it can be devastating (if you are so inclined), but if it's about..say...the colour of your neighbour's car (just for instance), then that should be neither here nor there. Loss of face perhaps but no more.