I'm thinking about a thought experiment to highlight the difference between religious faith and scientific inquiry. I just wanted to post it here for feedback.

Say there's a blind man in an observation room furnished like a normal living room. We are observers who have placed all of the objects in the room and can observe clearly what goes on. We send the man in the room with no instructions other than to follow natural curiosity. Placed on a table in the room, there is a braille tablet saying "There is a cat in the room. Don't stop looking for the cat and don't let anyone deny that the cat is in the room or we're going to burn you alive. Those who continue looking for the cat will be rewarded."

He might reject the threat out of hand, but let's say he accepts the threat. If he is a good philosopher/scientist, he might do a good battery of tests and experiments (sit quietly and listen, walk around looking for the cat, place objects in the room to fall over if a cat walks by...). If all searches fail to find the cat, it becomes less and less reasonable to believe the cat is there, or he may conclude that our definition of 'cat' is somehow skewed. By the time he comes to this conclusion, he may have trashed the room in a frantic search for the cat.

The situation takes on a new dimension if two other blind men enter the room. Those new participants might engage in the same search. All, having found no indication, might conclude that there is in fact no cat in the room. But one might rise up verbally or physically against the others for denying and thus putting all of them in danger, according to the words on the tablet.

One might have a literal view that there is a live, living, breathing cat of the standard definition that has simply not presented itself, or that if anything, the punishment will befall any not of that viewpoint. A liberal view might conclude that there is a cat in a picture on the wall or a dead cat stuffed in an inaccessible location like the metal base of a lampshade. And that accepting that possibility is sufficient to avoid repercussions.

Those views would be unscientific in that they place one piece of evidence (the tablet) or influence (the tablet's threat) above all other evidence.

The scientific view can only be that there is, for all practical purposes, no cat in the room, at least not by any standard definition. Further that redefining the message's meaning from 'cat' to 'picture of cat' or 'dead cat' or 'idea of a cat' would be the same as falsifying the braille message.

Any thoughts?


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Hey, atheism is serious business.
I see the point with stating "or we'll burn you alive," but it makes the analogy almost too close. If I were using this to convince a believer, or a believer on the fence, I might say something like "or we'll kill the cat."

One possible loophole: A clever person, after not finding any cat, may argue that the cat is right there in the braille tablet, in the word "cat." That raises a whole other question as to if the cat is ostensibly a physical cat or ostensibly a linguistic construction, but that's kind of an interesting argument; it'd be a category mistake to confuse the linguistic construction with a physical entity, no matter how strongly that linguistic construction shapes the blind person's thought. The point is not to lose the plot and forget that it's first and foremost a linguistic construction.


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