“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage” by Carl Sagan
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.” And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.
Now there’s a glaring fallacy in this failed analogy. Mr. Sagan plainly states that “if there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?”. In other words, “If my dragon cannot be put in a test tube, it doesn’t exist.” ( i.e. naturalism is the only way to knowledge). That’s pretty much the whole point of the analogy.
My question for Mr. Sagan is this:
“Can the logic you’re using in your argument be put in a test tube?”
Obviously the answer is “no”. Then how is Sagan justified in saying that naturalism is the only true theory of knowledge? If logic is not a viable way of reasoning, then why should we trust Sagan’s logic? In fact, why trust anybody’s logic? If our brains are just recombinations of matter, why believe that our thoughts and ideas are accurate? Why trust your perception of the world? Why trust science? If our senses have no intrinsic truth value, then we can’t have confidence in anything about the natural world. From this we must conclude that naturalism leaves us in a hopeless vacuum of knowledge. It’s a sad place when we can’t know anything for sure.
So, when Sagan says,”What’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?” simply say, “What’s the difference between a blind, nihilistic, epistemological belief that spits reasonless contradictions and no epistemological theory at all? There isn’t one!”.