A tale of two fleas

There’s an amusing little piece that has cropped up a few times in my Facebook feed now, which you can see here.

It’s sometimes best to try to demonstrate what goes through your mind when you read stuff like this, by tweaking the story just a little bit. So here’s my version:

Imagine a colony of fleas living inside a cave, the only home they have ever known. Two of them—let’s call them C and E—begin to scientifically investigate this world of theirs. By studying the processes going on in the cave, they discover all the basic laws of chemistry and physics—motion, gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and so on.

Everything they have learned can be proved by repeatable experiments, so they eventually agree on every conclusion. Finally a young flea asks them a fateful question: ‘How did this cave come about in the first place?’
C: ‘That’s obvious—it has been built at some time in the past by an intelligent designer.’
E: ‘Whaaat? I never heard you talk like that before. Oh, I know, you’re one of those religious cranks who believes in that book that’s been passed down from generation to generation, “How the Great Flea In The Sky Made Everything”, supposedly written by this designer. Don’t you know that our best Fleabrew scholars now agree that it is a bunch of myths written by pre-scientific nomadic desert fleas?’
C: ‘How do you account for the cave, then, without a maker?’
E: ‘Please don’t get me wrong—you can believe in a maker if you wish, but you have to realise we can’t teach that to young fleas in science classes. Obviously, the scientific processes and laws which we have been studying are and have been slowly and gradually eroding this cave from the rock around us.’
C: ‘You must be aware of some of the tremendous scientific difficulties with such an idea.’
E: ‘All scientific ideas have difficulties, and I’m working on these. But I’m open-minded enough to change my ideas on how this cave evolved as further research results come in.’
C: ‘Would you change your ideas on whether it evolved?’
E: ‘Only if I am presented with empirical evidence. The only alternative to evolution of this cave is its creation, and that would be a religious idea, not a scientific one. It would mean relying on a process (creation) which we can no longer observe, and a maker whom we cannot see. These are extraordinary claims, and will have to be backed up with extraordinary evidence. I’m surprised at a scientist like you holding to such mystical ideas.’
C: ‘Actually, it’s my science that’s helped me to conclude that there must be a maker. You must realize that you can’t run an experiment to prove your ideas either.’
E: ‘Now that’s unfair. [If I were the flea I’d have answered differently, but let’s roll with the words that have already been put into his mouth] You know how we’ve seen that the measurements of the furrow the stream flows in changed over time—it would take hundreds of millions of years for water to erode a cave the size of our world. But at least we can see something happening, and build on what we learn to recognise evidence left behind by processes that took place long ago.’
C: ‘Your philosophy seems to stop you from even considering the possibility that there really is a cave-maker.’
E: ‘Not as much as your religions stops you from considering the possibility that the cave was formed by natural processes.’
C: ‘If there were a cave-maker, would you expect to be able to study the (past) processes of cave-making, or the maker? Actually, I think the idea that there was a maker is much more scientifically valid than yours.’
E: ‘That is because you are a moron What do you mean?’
C: ‘Well, the things we observe happening in the cave fit better with the idea that it was once made and is now wearing out. Do you remember that second law of thermodynamics we discovered?
E: (mutters) Yes, the one you lot constantly misuse to try to make your ideas look clever.
C: Overall, everything in this cave is wearing out, running down. None of the scientific processes that we have studied has the ability to make this cave.
E: I disagree…
C: (ignoring E) I think this is very good evidence for creation. And this evidence is consistent with the book that claims to be the Great Flea’s holy book, so it makes good sense to believe what it says.
‘Another important evidence for creation is the organization of the components of this cave—that is, the relationship between its parts. You see, a slope has no natural tendency to line up with a drip to lead the water to the pool we need for drinking from—when these three parts work together, they are all obeying the laws of science—no mysterious processes are at work.
‘Yet everything we know about them forces us to the conclusion that they must have had that order, that relationship, that purpose if you like [E shudders at this point, but says nothing because he realises it would be useless to try to reason with someone who approaches science from a foregone conclusion, looking to line up what they see with what they already believe] imposed upon them from outside originally. This is positive evidence for creation. You yourself recognize evidence for creation—if you see a beautiful painting, say a Van Fleagh, you recognize it as the result of creative intelligence. You know this because you know that canvas and oils have no natural tendency to come together in that way. You recognize creation although you may never see the creator or the act of creation.’
E: ‘I can see the point you’re making, but I think you’re wrong.’

At this, E decides to try one last time and launches into a long, thorough explanation of why he doesn’t accept the Great Flea hypothesis as the best offered explanation, why there are alternative explanations which fit observations but don’t require a belief in a supernatural flea with magical powers.

C asks E why he is angry with the Great Flea, what other Great Fleaistians have done to hurt him and cause him to deny the Great Flea, tells him he simply denies the Great Flea because he doesn’t want to submit to the requirements of the Great Flea from the Great Flea’s holy book, then says he’ll pray for E, and scuttles off.

The End.

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