The Invisible Gardener

Under this post, an atheist writes,

I suspect that any entity capable of creating universes is pretty much unknowable and incomprehensible. I’m certainly not going to say that such an entity can’t or doesn’t exist, but as to the details, to steal a line from Darwin, a dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.

I was reminded of a parable Anthony Flew liked to cite during his atheist days (who died renouncing his atheism, btw) about the invisible gardener.

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.’ 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. 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, 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?’

That led me to an essay by John Frame on God and Biblical Language and his comments therein upon the concept of falsification. I appreciate his masterful parable in response,

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away: “There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle,” he said; “this must be some trick. Someone is trying to discredit our previous findings.” They pitch camp. Every day the gardener arrives, tends the plot. Soon the plot is bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. “He’s only doing it because we’re here-to fool us into thinking this is a royal garden.” The gardener takes them to a royal palace, introduces the explorers to a score of officials who verify the gardener’s status. Then the sceptic tries a last resort: “Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It’s still a hoax!” Finally the believer despairs: “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage, as you call it, differ from a real gardener?”

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58 thoughts on “The Invisible Gardener

  1. Sye, To summarize your response, you've confused knowledge and absolute certainty. Feyman writes, ”People are terrified — how can you live and not know?"Sye's replies, "Do you know that?"If you are asking how I know that people are terrified of not knowing, I would say that this conclusion is based on observation of the behavior of believers. In this context, we're talking about Christian believers, but it's an observation that applies to other believers as well. It's fear that prompts believers to provide answers such as "Is it any wonder why Scripture calls those who deny God “fools?” It's fear that leads believers to smash down doubt and attack those who question. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of eternal torture, fear and more fear. I'm old enough to have been wrong about thousands of things. This is led me to conclude that Feynman has a point when he says that it's "more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong."In the end, it's ok to say "I don't know". I don't think that this mean that we can't know anything at all. However, I think it might be a good idea to avoid filling in an answer simply because we are afraid of not knowing. I have found that when a response is motivated by fear, the the response or answer produced is likely to be wrong.You know, Sye, you could be wrong, too. If it happens that you are wrong, how could you tell?

  2. Just to make it clear, both of the two paragraphs posted with the 7:40am time stamp are quotes from Richard Feynman. I put quotes around both paragraphs, but didn't put Feynman's name after each of the paragraphs. Both paragraphs should be credited to Feynman.

  3. ”To summarize your response, you've confused knowledge and absolute certainty.”Are you certain of that? If so, how are you certain of that? If you know it, how do you know it if you could be wrong?”If you are asking how I know that people are terrified of not knowing, I would say that this conclusion is based on observation of the behavior of believers. In this context, we're talking about Christian believers, but it's an observation that applies to other believers as well.”The point, of course, is that Richard (yes I knew you were quoting him) is making a knowledge claim about not knowing. And here, you are making a knowledge claim based on observations, but the question that obviously follows is: “How do you know that your senses, memory and reasoning are giving you valid information regarding those observations?”It's fear that prompts believers to provide answers such as "Is it any wonder why Scripture calls those who deny God “fools?”Do you know this Bernd? If so, how do you know this? (and you also contradict the quote).”It's fear that leads believers to smash down doubt and attack those who question. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of eternal torture, fear and more fear.”Again, do you know this? If so, you refute yourself. ”I'm old enough to have been wrong about thousands of things.”Can you be wrong about THAT?”This is led me to conclude that Feynman has a point when he says that it's "more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong."Which, as I pointed out, is self-refuting as it is KNOWLEDGE CLAIM.”In the end, it's ok to say "I don't know".Do you know this? If so, how?”I don't think that this mean that we can't know anything at all.”Perhaps this would be a good point to tell us what you DO know and how you are able to know it?”However, I think it might be a good idea to avoid filling in an answer simply because we are afraid of not knowing. I have found that when a response is motivated by fear, the the response or answer produced is likely to be wrong.”But again, this is something that according to the quote, you cannot know, and you refute yourself.”You know, Sye, you could be wrong, too. If it happens that you are wrong, how could you tell?”Do you know that I could be wrong Bernd? If so, how do you know this? Surely you are not suggesting that God could not reveal some things to us such that we can be certain of them? If so, how are you certain of that?

  4. Short answer to your questions: You continue to confuse or conflate absolute certainty with knowledge. I know the same way that my dog knows. I know by observation via our senses, by reasoning, by memory, by building models of the world, by hypothesis testing, etc. Can't say it's guaranteed to be valid, and as Feynman says, the easiest person to fool is oneself. However, it's what we have to work with, and most of the time, it seems to work out reasonably well. At least, it works a lot better than metaphysical sophistry. You crave absolutes, and fear their absence, but I don't. So, again, Sye, you could be wrong, too. If it happens that you are wrong, how could you tell? Say, for example, you are wrong when you say that Item X is revelation of or from God. How would you know? Say that there was no global flood. What evidence would you accept as disproving the flood hypothesis?

  5. ”What difference does it make if it's purposeful or not? There's nothing that I can do. Only God can open eyes, so it's up to God, right?”It’s up to God to open your eyes Bernd but I’m not sure that he doesn’t allow you the free will to prevent them from completely opening right now. IOW, I don’t know how old you are Bernd, but let’s say for argument sake, that you’re 30, and that you are going to live to be 80. I have no doubt that if you are one of the Elect that you will be saved before you take your last breath at 80, but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t be allowed to spend the next 50 years rebelling against God in the meantime. What difference does this make since you will still get to heaven? Well, for starters, you will have missed out on a life of glorifying God by enjoying a relationship with him. Plus, the bible does talk about rewards in heaven, and your rebellion will limit those rewards. Others may want to add to this.Also, I couldn’t help but notice this comment in your response to Sye:“You crave absolutes, and fear their absence, but I don't.”Does it even dawn on you that just within those 10 words, where you are apparently trying to show how much absolutes don’t matter to you, you make three absolute statements? Kind of self-refuting, wouldn’t you say?

  6. "It’s up to God to open your eyes Bernd….I have no doubt that if you are one of the Elect that you will be saved before you take your last breath at 80"Well, there you go then. No reason why I shouldn't just sit back and wait. It's out of my hands. "For starters, you will have missed out on a life of glorifying God by enjoying a relationship with him."I'll have missed out on 50 years out of an eternity? That would seem to me to be a very trivial loss. "Plus, the bible does talk about rewards in heaven, and your rebellion will limit those rewards. Others may want to add to this.""Limits" in heaven? Can you describe the various levels of heaven or explain the reward system? Isn't heaven simply heavenly? You know, it's always struck me as odd that there are so few details about heaven in the Bible. It's almost as if it didn't actually exist, except in the vague imaginings of humans. Does it make sense that the thoughts that occur to flawed and limited humans out during an infinitesimally short period of time would affect what is to happen to us for an eternity? "Does it even dawn on you that just within those 10 words, where you are apparently trying to show how much absolutes don’t matter to you, you make three absolute statements? Kind of self-refuting, wouldn’t you say?Ok, if you prefer, I'll put it this way…“You seem to crave absolutes, and appear to fear their absence, but I don't think that I have similar needs. Of course, I could be wrong."Better? Works just as well for me either way.

  7. "No reason why I shouldn't just sit back and wait"Yeah, that’s pretty much covered in Romans 1 and it’s summed up with, “they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”“Limits" in heaven? Can you describe the various levels of heaven or explain…"I mentioned rewards and you switched to levels, either way, if you are ever really interested in the issue, I’d start with 2 Corinthians 12:2 and Revelation 22:12. IOW, the answers are out there if you really want to find them.“I'll have missed out on 50 years out of an eternity? That would seem to me to be a very trivial loss."Yeah, why experience the pleasure of an all powerful God now when you can put it off as long as possible. lol"Does it make sense that the thoughts that occur to flawed and limited humans out during an infinitesimally short period of time would affect what is to happen to us for an eternity?"Seriously? This is confusing to you? You must be aware that if you don’t pass an Airport inspection, that only last a few minutes, that it will keep you off of a flight that could last for many hours. Is it really that hard to understand how a perfect Being can’t spend eternity with beings full of sin because they missed their chance to get rid of that sin?These are pretty basic things Bernd, (David, whoever) and the fact that you purposefully make them difficult not only shows that you are not sincerely looking for the truth but are really just here to argue for argument sake… which is exactly what I said many posts ago. I wish for your sake that you hadn't proved me right.You’ve got the last word.

  8. I wasn't trying to make things "purposefully difficult". I just don't think that Sunday school answers work very well, at least not for me. I understand that they work for you, but I genuinely find them lacking. To each his own. What if you're wrong? How could you tell?

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