A chapter in Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (1995) is titled “The Dragon in My Garage.” In the spirit of Sagan’s story, here is an imagined exchange between you and me about my unicorn.
Me: I have a unicorn in my garage!
You: Wow—let’s see!
Me: You don’t want to just take my word for it?
You: Of course not—I want to see.
(I open the garage door.)
Me: Okay, here you go.
You: Uh … this garage is empty.
Me: No … uh, he’s invisible.
You: Okay … can you make him make a sound?
Me: No—he’s silent, too.
You: Can we see food vanish as he eats it?
Me: Of course not—he’s magic. He doesn’t need food.
(You wander through the garage with your hands out in front.)
Me: What are you doing?
You: Trying to feel for it.
Me: Uh … no—he’s really small and he scampers away.
You: Can you hear him running? Like the sound of hooves on concrete?
Me: No—I told you he’s silent.You: Well, how about spreading flour on the floor so we can see the footprints.
Me: Nope. He can float. And I’m sure he would, because he doesn’t like to be detected.
You: Can we can catch him with a net and weigh him? Can we put a sheet over him so I can see him moving underneath? Could we spray paint and see it on his body?
Me: No—he’s … he’s noncorporeal. Yeah, that’s it. Noncorporeal.
Of course, by now you’ve lost interest in this “unicorn.” Still, you haven’t been able to falsify my claim. I win!
But no one would accept this conclusion. By slithering away from every possible test, this supernatural claim has no evidence in support of it. Any unicorn that has this little impact in the world is pretty much the same as no unicorn at all. We can’t prove it’s nonexistent, but it’s functionally nonexistent.
“You haven’t been able to falsify my claim” is true, but this is backwards reasoning. The proper conclusion is: There is no evidence to support this claim, so there’s no reason to accept this claim.
Isn’t this how Christians evaluate the miracle claims of other religions? Why not handle those of Christianity the same way?
Jesus is Santa Claus for adults
(seen on a bumper sticker)
Photo credit: Wikimedia