Pharyngula

Doors

Here’s an entirely hypothetical scenario.

You’re in a room with two exits, marked Door A and Door B. By each is a guardian, Guardian A and Guardian B. You need to go through one of the doors.

Door A is light and flimsy, easy to open—just turn the knob and you’re through it. Reasonably enough, before charging through, you ask Guardian A what’s on the other side.

“Joy and delight, an eternal life of perfect happiness, an end to doors and constant traveling…and all you have to do is turn that little knob, and believe.”

That sounds too good to be true, so you ask him how he knows, and whether he has been through the door.

“No, not yet, I can only go once my tour of duty here is done. But I dream of it every night, and I can also tell you that almost everyone who has come here has gone through Door A.”

You want confirmation, so you turn to Guardian B and ask if that’s true.

“Yes,” he says, “most people do go through Door A. I don’t know if it’s true about what’s on the other side, though.”

Door B is rather imposing: it’s a huge steel block, bristling with locks and complicated gadgets. It looks like it’s going to take a lot of time and cleverness and strength to get it open. It’s so intimidating, you’re not even sure that you’ll be able to figure out how to open it. You ask Guardian B if it’s as difficult as it looks.

“Oh, man, yes…it’s hard. At least it was when I was your age—now I’ve had so much practice at it that I can go through this door easily, all the time. I’m afraid I can’t just open it for you, though. I can give you suggestions and hints, but you really do have to do all the work yourself. It’s a kind of admissions test to see if you’ll be able to cope on the other side.”

This is not entirely encouraging, and you hope there’s something as good as joy and delight beyond the door, so you ask what’s over there.

“Knowledge,” says Guardian B. “Hard work. Interesting ideas. And doors—many more doors, each one harder than the next, and no end to them in sight. Clever people, all working together to open more doors. It’s a whole world, a good but complicated place.”

Guardian A screams, “HE LIES! There’s a tiger on the other side that will kill and eat you. I think it’s on fire, too. And worst of all, if you go through Door B, you’ll never get to experience the beautiful life behind Door A. Guardian B is evil, and he wants you to suffer!”

Guardian B just rolls his eyes. He’s heard this before.

“Look, kid, Guardian A means well, but he doesn’t know anything. I’ve told you the truth about what’s behind my door; maybe ol’ A is right about what’s behind his door, but all I’ve ever seen when someone opens Door A is a dark room beyond. You get to make the choice, at least so far—A and his friends want to seal off my door to ‘protect’ all the travelers who come through here.”

Your choice. What door do you go through?

Comments

  1. #1 homun
    October 25, 2006

    The obvious winner comment (though several made me laugh aloud): Luciano on mythology. As in, you have religion to thank for your parables.

    Which comes around to my problem with all the pro-Dawkins atheism stuff. OK: I believe that there is no God, no entity both extraphysical and interventionist, now or at any past moment. And I believe that the persistent belief in such a creature says something about human nature, and perhaps even something about the biology or physics that leads to that nature.

    Still, it is simply not true that the language and instincts that come from “hard” science are the exclusively best way for our puny minds to understand the incredibly complex field of human nature, or any of a number of other incredibly complex fields. Yes, a sentence like “The voltage built up by electrons carried by raindrops created an ionized path over which it discharged” is more useful than “Zeus is angry”, though both are incredible simplifications; but to extend that to “Humans tend to present a given response if it has previously produced a pleasurable result after the same stimulus” being more useful than 2 Samuel 14:17: “Then thine handmaid said, The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good from bad: therefore the LORD thy God will be with thee.” is not justifiable. A lot of religion is obvious bunk, and even the large majority of religious folk tacitly admit this (though they get mad when you rudely rub their face in it). But to assume that just because there isn’t a God, any other sentence with “God” in it is useless, is stupid. After all, concepts like “I” or “the Nazca plate” are more or less slippery around the edges too, and yet useful topics for discussion.

  2. #2 homun
    October 25, 2006

    Oh, and taking the controversial position Dawkins does is kinda offensive. Which is fine, maybe there’s something behind that door and somebody had to open it and whoever did was gonna get screamed at, but that shouldn’t insulate him from the legitimate criticism. Which is in a nutshell: why do people tend to like religion so much is an appropriate angle for psychological, sociological, neurological research, and such research should assume atheism for the sake of argument, but it clearly should NOT assume that religion is useless and stupid.

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