Sunday, October 01, 2006


The Startling, Psychedelic (But Non-Hallucinogenic) Origin of Ray’s Purple Elephant


It started with a comment by noted skeptic Martin Gardner.

Gardner is considered one of the founding fathers of modern skepticism. His most famous book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, takes a few good jabs at people who hold irrational beliefs. He criticizes others for believing in what can’t be proven by the scientific method.

But then I read that he believed in God. He admitted that there was no reason to believe in a Supreme Being, that was no logical or scientific proof, but he found it reassuring. He invoked the term “fideism.”

My dictionary defines fideism as “exclusive reliance in religious matters upon faith, with consequent rejection of appeals to science or philosophy.” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.)

During an interview published in The Skeptical Inquirer, Gardner said: “Shortly before he died, Carl Sagan wrote to say he had reread my Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener and was it fair to say that I believed in God solely because it made me ‘feel good.’ I replied that this was exactly right, though the emotion was deeper than the way one feels good after three drinks. It is a way of escaping from a deep-seated despair.” (A Mind at Play - An Interview with Martin Gardner By Kendrick Frazier; SI March/April 1998.)

So if it feels good, it’s OK to believe in it? Couldn’t the same rationalization be used by people who believe in astrology, miracles, ESP, and other targets of Gardner’s debunking? Wasn’t Gardner just engaging in philosophical acrobatics to justify his own nutty idealism?

I was thinking about this contradiction when reading a comic book version of a Conan the Barbarian short story, “The Tower of the Elephant.” Then it struck me. If Gardner could attack other people’s belief systems, saying that there was no evidence for any reality behind such systems, while at the same time having an “irrational” belief in a godlike being that made him feel good – well, I could do the same thing.

So there’s this invisible god-presence in the shape of a purple elephant that I consult from time to time. He’s a supreme being of truth who spans across all dimensions and multiverses, but can still fit into my small apartment when He makes an appearance. My Purple Elephant.

Now how can He be invisible and purple at the same time?

It’s all about fideism, pal.


2 comments:

Dustin said...

Ah, I now understand. Does he bear any relation to the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Ray said...

Dustin:

Please. There is no comparison. FSM is a joke. After all, who wants to worship an edible god? (Well, besides those consumers of Jesus who believe in transubstantiation.)

Best,

Ray