I Have a Dragon in my Garage

I recently read this…

The Dragon In My Garage

by Carl Sagan

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

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. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so. The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility. Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons — to say nothing about invisible ones — you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I’d rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such “evidence” — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

 

I Actually agree here. Why, as Christians are we offended that someone chooses not to believe as we do. This is in some way a rejection of us and what we believe, but it is not personal. They simply need more than we can show. I used to be them. I used to not believe, and could not see the “Dragon” either. I do now, and perhaps because I used to be a non believer, I am not offended by those who don’t believe. I am offended when they choose to attack me, but non belief, well that does not offend me at all.

 

Yes, I have a dragon in my garage, you cannot see it, cannot physically prove it, but it is there nonetheless. You do not have to believe it, lets just agree together thateither you know something I don’t, or I know something you don’t, and leave it at that. I will leave you alone, and you can leave me alone. I won’t attack you, you won’t attack me…if only.

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One Response to I Have a Dragon in my Garage

  1. Ben Nasmith says:

    This is very interesting. I’ve wondered about this problem quite a bit over the past couple years. It seems like the “hiddenness of God” (I mean, dragons) is a major obstacle for many people. Why is God hidden? How can we be rational in our belief with so little evidence? I’ve been reading two schools of thought on this.

    First, philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues in his Warranted Christian Belief that it simply isn’t true that warranted beliefs require evidence. Many (if not most) beliefs are what he calls “properly basic”. They are not based on evidence at all. One is simply justified in believing a properly basic belief until such a time as it is defeated by some compelling evidence. Some examples of basic beliefs include belief in the existence of the past (i.e. that the world is older than five minutes), the existence of other minds (that you’re not just in my dream), the reality of the external world (that I’m not really in the Matrix), etc. These beliefs are commonplace and do not gain their warrant from evidence. So the question is, “Is belief in dragons properly basic?” There’s a great short paper in Nous by Plantinga entitled “Is belief in God properly basic”(1981) that I can send you if you’d like. (I found it online at Briercrest library).

    Second, philosopher Paul Moser argues in his The Evidence for God, that we should not expect God’s evidence to be static—i.e. open to scientific investigation by dispassionate observers. God will reveal himself for a purpose. As such, the evidence for God will be dynamic—it will vary with the best interests of each individual in mind. This means that we should expect the evidence to be morally and existentially challenging. Those unwilling to be challenged will truly not receive the evidence (perhaps in order to prevent further hardening of their hearts). Moser writes “it is naïve, if not arrogant, for us humans to approach the question of whether God exists as if we were naturally in an appropriate moral and cognitive position to handle it aright”(263). So the relevant difference between God and the dragon (for Moser) is that God is a being worthy of worship who will do whatever is required in the best interests of his enemies. He will reveal himself in support of his purpose towards humans. This will inevitably involve hiding himself at times in response to the individual moral condition.

    All the best Dave. Sorry I didn’t “just leave it at that”.

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