Parable of the Invisible Gardener
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The Parable of the Invisible Gardener is a tale told by John Wisdom. It was later developed in the university debate by Antony Flew, who made a few changes such as changing the gardeners to explorers. It is often used to illustrate the perceived differences between assertions based on faith and assertions based on scientific evidence, and the problems associated with unfalsifiable beliefs. The main point of the parable is that religious believers do not allow anybody to "falsify" their assertions, instead they simply change their beliefs to suit the questioner. This is why for Flew religious believers cause God to "Die the death of a thousand qualifications". The tale runs as follows:
"Two people return to their long neglected garden and find, among the weeds, that a few of the old plants are surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other, 'It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these weeds.' The other disagrees and an argument ensues. They pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. The believer wonders if there is an invisible gardener, so they patrol with bloodhounds but the bloodhounds never give a cry. Yet the believer remains unconvinced, and insists that the gardener is invisible, has no scent and gives no sound. The skeptic doesn't agree, and asks how a so-called invisible, intangible, elusive gardener differs from an imaginary gardener, or even no gardener at all."
In the later additions of Flew, there is the addition of infra-red, and cameras and the garden/clearing is surrounded by an electric fence. The gardener therefore must not only be invisible, but intangible.
- John Wisdom as quoted by Peter Wenz, Abortion Rights as Religious Freedom, 1992, p. 168.
- Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1944-5, reprinted as Chap. X of Antony Flew, ed., Essays in Logic and Language, First Series (Blackwell, 1951), and in Wisdom's own Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Blackwell, 1953).
- Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Blackwell, 1953)
- Philosophy of Religion (Pojman, 1998)