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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Invisible Gardener In The Jungle



John Wisdom writes gives us a parable in his article “Gods,” where he writes,

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?"

The purpose of this parable is to show that even if God were to exist, that a God as described by the theist (or at least Wisdom’s and the common skeptical understanding of it) would be indistinguishable from no God at all. So why not simply accept Occam’s razor and believe that there is no God at all rather than believe in an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive one?

The problem with all of this is that the analogy is not, well, analogous to what theists in general and Christians in specific say that God’s activity in the world is like. Let us alter the analogy to make it more analogous.

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many blue flowers and many weeds. When they looked more closely at the garden they found that it was actually extremely well tilled, that flowers not indigenous to the jungle had been planted there – all of them blue. They found an intricately designed watering system whereby the foreign plants would be kept alive and without it they not only would die off, but they never would have been able to be planted in the first place. Along with these flowers they find genetically engineered plants that were found to have extremely specific medicinal applications or other plants that were needed to absorb the natural acidity found in the jungle soil that would otherwise kill off these other flowers. 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 Skeptic 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?" And yet later in that day the skeptic comes down with a very severe illness unknown to either explorer. He is sick for several days and it looks as though he is going to die. Suddenly one morning, they both awaken to a man from tribe X in the jungle standing above them. The tribesman states that the gardener of the forest had directed him to come to garden and tell the men that he found there that all he has to do is drink tea made from a red flower in the garden because the gardener put it there the night before for the dying explorer. They look and find that where all of the flowers had previously been blue, there was now a small patch of red flowers. Later in the day, a man from tribe Y comes and tells the explorers the same thing (even though the tribes have no knowledge that other even exists). At dusk 5 more villagers from previously unknown villages, all unknown to each other, come and tell him the same message about the gardener. After drinking the tea the explorer recovers.”

Now, what should the skeptic think? That it is all coincidence at that there just must be a natural explanation for it all because there is no direct empirical evidence of the gardener? Or is it possible that indirect evidence, in the form of design, fine tuning, information, and varied independent experience can count as evidence?

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