Responding to the parable of the blind men and the elephant

This article on Stand to Reason is worth reading again and again until you get it! We live in a postmodern world, where people believe that religion is a matter of personal preference. Young people especially assert that no knowledge of God is possible, and that we are all grasping at straws when it comes to knowing God and making sense of morality.

First, let’s take a look at the parable:

In the children’s book, The Blind Men and the Elephant, Lillian Quigley retells the ancient fable of six blind men who visit the palace of the Rajah and encounter an elephant for the first time.  As each touches the animal with his hands, he announces his discoveries.

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant.  “How smooth!  An elephant is like a wall.”  The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant.  “How round!  An elephant is like a snake.”  The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant.  “How sharp!  An elephant is like a spear.”  The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant.  “How tall!  An elephant is like a tree.”  The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant.  “How wide!  An elephant is like a fan.”  The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant.  “How thin!  An elephant is like a rope.”

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one.  The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony.  “The elephant is a big animal,” he said.  “Each man touched only one part.  You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”

Enlightened by the Rajah’s wisdom, the blind men reached agreement.  “Each one of us knows only a part.  To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together.”

And then Greg explains why this is a problem for Christianity:

The religious application holds that every faith represents just one part of a larger truth about God.  Each has only a piece of the truth, ultimately leading to God by different routes.  Advocates of Eastern religions are fond of using the parable in this way.

The second application is used by skeptics who hold that cultural biases have so seriously blinded us that we can never know the true nature of things.  This view, de rigueur in the university, is called post-modernism.

This skepticism holds for all areas of truth, including the rational, the religious, and the moral.  In Folkways, a classic presentation of cultural relativism, anthropologist William Graham Sumner argues that morality is not objective in any sense.  “Every attempt to win an outside standpoint from which to reduce the whole to an absolute philosophy of truth and right, based on an unalterable principle, is delusion,” he states.

Sumner is making a very strong assertion about knowledge.  He says that all claims to know objective truth are false because each of us is imprisoned in his own culture, incapable of seeing beyond the limits of his own biases.  Sumner concludes, therefore, that truth is relative to culture and that no objective standard exists.

I want everyone reading who doesn’t know how to respond to this challenge to click through to STR’s web site, read the correct response, and then explain it to your spouse, children and/or pet(s). (If Dennis Prager can lecture geese in Ohio, then you can explain the blind men and the elephant to your pet(s)) The important thing is that you feel comfortable explaining it to other people.

You learn these things by reading, and then by trying to explain what you’ve learned to people around you – especially to the people who don’t agree with you. So, go to work, and leave a comment about your experience below!

One last thing. Christians – I forbid you to argue using parallels, analogies or parables like this. (I’m looking at you, my Catholic readers!) When you argue for your view, don’t use these whacky stories. Jesus used miracles to prove his statements. But you can’t perform miracles. So you can argue using the miracles in nature, and the miracle of the resurrection from history. Find your evidence here, and see it applied in debates here.

5 thoughts on “Responding to the parable of the blind men and the elephant”

  1. Great reminder. I had lunch with our Assoc. Pastor today and the elephant illustration came up in passing. He quickly pointed out one of the flaws: The storyteller claims to have knowledge of the big picture . . . but where is his evidence?

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  2. Jesus mostly performed miracles on people who believed Him. He did not perform miracles to make believe!!! In fact, He even refused to perform miracles for people who deliberately asked for it to make them believe!!

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    1. Hey Shalini,

      When I am speaking about performing miracles in order to prove his claims for onlookers, I am thinking specifically about healing the paralytic as a means of proving his claim to be able to forgive sins.

      Secondly, I am thinking that you are referring to the wicked and adulterous generation episode where Jesus refused to provide a sign. But what do you make of the rest of the passage where he says that he will not give them any sign, except for the sign of Jonah. What do thing he means by “the sign of Jonah”?

      I agree with you that he did not perform miracles ON DEMAND, though. But he did do them if he wanted to prove his credentials, and he did want to provide signs for unbelievers.

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  3. That’s a rhetoric question, isn’t it? Anyway, by “sign of Jonah” or “miracle of Jonah”, Jesus clearly meant His resurrection on the 3rd day. Of course, that is the biggest sign for us to really know and believe that He indeed is the promised messiah. But even that I see it more as a source of salvation than a proof.

    As for the healing of paralytic, I agree, He did prove His authority to forgive sins but you know how it starts? Jesus says the man’s sins are forgiven when He sees how much faith they had. Even there belief did play a part.

    I am not disagreeing that Christ performed miracles to prove that He really had God’s authority but mostly only when He really saw faith or when he took pity on them.

    Jesus made ‘statements’ as you put it and performed miracles but his followers despite being with Him, hearing Him, seeing Him perform miracles, they left Him when they thought His preachings were too hard to digest. Even His words and His miracles weren’t enough for people who did not believe!! They couldn’t really believe they could eat His flesh and blood, ’cause they couldn’t see how that possible. Yet, He said only people who eat His flesh and drink His blood would live. Now how will you convince that to people who don’t have the faith?

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