Thursday, December 11, 2008

Little Duck Big Sea

A long time ago I had a classroom teacher who introduced us to something called The Parable of the Invisible Gardener. It goes along these lines: two guys stumble across a garden flourishing in the wilderness. One of them is a skeptic and he just thinks it's a lucky find, while the other guy is a "believer" who attributes it to the "invisible gardener."

They devise all sorts of tests to capture evidence for the gardener and these all fail to provide any, but the believer is undeterred and continues to insist that there must obviously be some gardener tending the plot. James Randi, a magician and debunker, refers to such believers as "unsinkable rubber duckies" because their beliefs persist despite lack of evidence.

Without an observable corresponding phenomenon, what exactly is a "belief"?

4 comments:

Bo... said...

That's deep. Hmmmm.....I think I believe there is a Gardener....

wunelle said...

This mirrors the 747-blown-together-from-a-junkyard thing that mystics like to use as an analog for evolution (which is, of course, a false analogy, as Richard Dawkins's book "The Blind Watchmaker" details).

I guess I've come to think that belief per se is not a very useful concept. "Believers" often say belief when they mean (or perhaps feel) hope. Science teaches us that knowledge is provisional, and to reserve certainty for those few things which can be verified.

In most other cases (like your gardener case) we are well-served by saying "I don't know; let's see what we can learn."

Mariana said...

Believers always say "I know" when they mean "I believe".

Ruth said...

The 'believer' here seems to be a being that isn't very trustful of her/his abilities, doesn't find comfort in research. Just my impression.