Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Purple Pachyderm Argument

Pachydermist: I believe there are purple space elephants living on the planet Pluto.*

Apachydermist: Um, OK, what evidence do you have for that belief?

Pachydermist: I have the ability to sense them directly. Whenever I feel a tingling in my left little toe, I know that these elephants exist. I call this my sensus elephantiasis, because everything sounds more impressive in Latin.

Apachydermist: And you feel this tingling...?

Pachydermist: All the time.

Apachydermist: Riiight....

Pachydermist: Well, can you prove that there aren't any purple Plutonian pachyderms?

Apachydermist: I know I'm going to regret this, but here goes. Let's start off with the easy stuff. There can't be any elephants living on Pluto, because Pluto has no air and elephants need air to breathe.

Pachydermist: Ah, but you don't understand. These are space elephants, they don't need air to breathe.

Apachydermist: Well, they wouldn't have anything to eat or drink on Pluto.

Pachydermist: Space elephants! Space elephants! They don't need any stinkin' food or water!

Apachydermist: OK, but look: if these things don't eat or drink or breathe air, and they're not related to Earth elephants by descent or ancestry (how would they have gotten to Pluto from Earth, or vice versa?) then they can't in any meaningful sense be elephants, can they? I mean, if these things are so utterly different from anything we know as an elephant, then there's no sense in calling them elephants.

Pachydermist: Ah, but these are the true, essential elephants. Our Earth elephants are but a pale shadow of their perfect pachydermic nature.

Apachydermist: And you learned all of this from a tingling in your toe?

Pachydermist: Yes, and through pure logic.

Apachydermist: Uh, right, logic. I knew I was going to regret this. Well, just to prove you wrong, I'm going to build a spaceship and travel to Pluto and search for these elephants.

Pachydermist: OK, sure, but it won't do any good.

Apachydermist: Huh? Why not?

Pachydermist: You see, these space elephants are invisible.

Apachydermist: Invisible? You said they were purple!

Pachydermist: Yes, but they are the essence of true purple. The color we know as purple on Earth....

Apachydermist:  ... is but a pale shadow, yeah OK I get it. But I'll make a huge cordon across the entire planet and corral the elephants...

Pachydermist: Sorry, they're not only invisible, they're intangible, too.

Apachydermist:  Intangible, too? What are they made out of?

Pachydermist: An immaterial substance.

Apachydermist:  Immaterial substance? It seems to me that translates as "immaterial material", or "substance which has no substance." I think I've finally found something we can agree on. Your pachyderms are oxymoronic!

Pachydermist: Actually, they're very smart. They have a level of intelligence compared to which human intelligence is just ....

Apachydermist:  (Exits stage left, shaking his head sadly.)

Very silly, I know. But these are the same arguments  theists use against atheists, as I will demonstrate over the next few posts. I don't know when I'll get to those posts, so in the meantime, you can try to guess whose arguments I'm thinking of. Have at it!

* Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet, but a dwarf planet is a planet, too, right? So no complaints about "Pluto is no longer a planet! Aaaugh!"