Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m going to start linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.
Today’s archive treasure: Blind Men and Elephants: Religion, Science, and Understanding Big Complicated Things. The tl;dr: Some religious believers use the fable of the blind men and the elephant (the blind men touching different parts of an elephant and arguing about what it really is) to explain why different religions believe different things… the idea being that God is too vast and complicated for anyone to understand completely, and different people just perceive different parts of him. But if that were true, then why can’t the blind people compare notes and come to a more complete and accurate understanding of the elephant? We do that in science — why can’t we do that in religion? The answer: Because in science, the elephant is really there. In religion, it’s not.
A nifty pull quote:
Here’s the thing. In some versions of the elephant fable, the blind men groping the elephant just fall to hopeless arguing with no resolution. In other versions, a wise man explains to them what’s really going on. And that does make it a good metaphor for religion. Either people trust what someone else tells them is true, or they squabble endlessly and even fall to blows, with no means of resolving their disagreements.
But here’s the interesting thing:
I have never seen a version of the fable in which the blind men start explaining to one another why they think the elephant is what they think it is. I have never seen a version where the blind men say, “Hey, come over here! Follow my voice, and check this out — this is why I think it’s a snake!” (Or a tree trunk, or a rope, or whatever.)
And yet, that’s exactly how science works.
Yes, of course, if God existed, he would be immense and complex and difficult to perceive and understand.
And what — the physical universe isn’t?