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The blind men and the elephant: an argument for religious pluralism?

From Please Convince Me, a post by Aaron outlining 7 problems with the blind man and the elephant story.

Here’s the set up:

Maybe you’ve heard the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. In this parable, six blind men feel a different part of an elephant and come to different conclusions regarding what the elephant is actually like.

One blind man grabs the tusk and says, “An elephant is like a spear!” Another feels the trunk and concludes, “An elephant is like a snake!” The blind man hugging the leg thinks, “An elephant is like a tree!” The one holding the tail claims, “An elephant is like a rope!” Another feeling the ear believes, “An elephant is like a fan!” The last blind man leaning on the elephant’s side exclaims, “An elephant is like a wall!”

This parable is often used to illustrate a view known as religious pluralism. Like the blind men, no religion hasthe truth. Rather, all religions are true in that they accurately describe their personal experience and the spiritual reality they encounter, given various historical and cultural backgrounds.

There are various types of religious pluralism, but one way to define it is as follows: “the view that all religious roads – certainly all major or ethical ones – lead to God or to ultimate reality and salvation.”1 This idea is commonly reflected in such statements as “All religions basically teach the same thing” or “All roads lead to the top of the mountain.”

The elephant parable, while attractive to many, suffers from a number of problems.

And here’s one problem:

Problem #4: The parable commits the self-excepting fallacy.

The religious pluralist who tells this parable claims everyone is blind, except the religious pluralist himself! In other words, there is an objective perspective presented here. However, if all religious views are essentially blind, this would include the religious view of religious pluralism. But the religious pluralist conveniently exempts himself, having somehow escaped the spiritual blindness which has enveloped all other religious views and has come to see the truth of religious pluralism! In so doing, the religious pluralist claims to have the only objective perspective:

In fact, he wouldn’t know that the blind men were wrong unless he had an objective perspective of what was right! So if the person telling the parable can have an objective perspective, why can’t the blind men? They could – if the blind men suddenly could see, they too would realize that they were originally mistaken. That’s really an elephant in front of them and not a wall, fan, or rope. We too can see the truth in religion. Unfortunately, many of us who deny there’s truth in religion are not actually blind but only willfully blind. We may not want to admit that there’s truth in religion because that truth will convict us. But if we open our eyes and stop hiding behind the self-defeating nonsense that truth cannot be known, then we’ll be able to see the truth as well.5

5 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 49.

Read the whole thing!

UPDATE: Greg West of The Poached Egg tweets an announcement of his post on the same topic.

CRISIS: Obama administration files court papers against the Defense of Marriage Act

Story from the Associated Press. (H/T Breitbart)


The Obama administration filed court papers Monday claiming a federal marriage law discriminates against gays, even as government lawyers continue to defend the law.

[…]In the court papers, the administration urges the repeal of the law but says in the meantime, government lawyers will continue to defend it as a law on the books.

[…]”The administration believes the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and should be repealed,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, because it prevents equal rights and benefits.

The law, often called DOMA, denies federal recognition of gay marriage and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Obama has pledged to work to repeal the law.

I have written before about the real reasons why people oppose same-sex marriage: because it is bad for children and because it is bad for liberty. So, by extension, everyone who voted for Obama is (effectively) voting against the well-being of children and against liberty, especially religious liberty and freedom of speech. Obviously most of them don’t know what they are voting for, but that’s their own fault for not studying hard enough.

At this point, it may be worth recalling all the “Christians” who voted for the most pro-abortion President ever, and who have now voted for the most anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-child President ever.

2008 voting broken by religious groups
2008 voting broken by religious groups

(Click for larger image)

Part of the reason that I am disappointed with the church is because they never discuss anything related to the real world. Too much time is spent on inwardly-focused practices like singing. And then the “Bible-believing Christians” go out and vote for Democrat candidates who oppose authentic Christianity (and religious liberty itself). They seem do vote Democrat on the basis of vague feelings of compassion, which causes them to support big government social programs instead of individual charity.

I wonder if the pastors will finally learn their lesson when the state jails them for refusing to perform same-sex marriages or for citing the Bible? Or will they just compromise on moral issues tomorrow, the same way they compromise on intellectual rigor today? It was so easy to invent nice-sounding justifications for dismissing apologetics from the church. I am sure they will find it easy to justify same-sex marriage and abortion in time, in order to keep the pews filled. Just look at Rick Warren.

And I think the root of the problem is the unwillingness to talk about evidence for and against Christianity in the church, to show debates and to host public debates as well. If Christianity is not real, then people are not going to integrate their faith with the rest of their lives outside of church in the real world. And that real world includes the voting booth.

Note: I am angry. To my regular commenters, please cut me some slack. I went to church again on Sunday and it was fine. (Mostly useless, but not heretical). But right now, I am incensed at the spiritual malpractice that led to “Christians” voting for a thoroughly anti-Christian candidate for President.

Robert P. George explains why same-sex marriage is morally wrong

Famous Princeton University professor writing in the Wall Street Journal. (H/T ECM)

This is the best single article I’ve read on same-sex marriage.


If marriage is redefined, its connection to organic bodily union—and thus to procreation—will be undermined. It will increasingly be understood as an emotional union for the sake of adult satisfaction that is served by mutually agreeable sexual play. But there is no reason that primarily emotional unions like friendships should be permanent, exclusive, limited to two, or legally regulated at all. Thus, there will remain no principled basis for upholding marital norms like monogamy.

A veneer of sentiment may prevent these norms from collapsing—but only temporarily. The marriage culture, already wounded by widespread divorce, nonmarital cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing will fare no better than it has in those European societies that were in the vanguard of sexual “enlightenment.” And the primary victims of a weakened marriage culture are always children and those in the poorest, most vulnerable sectors of society.

Candid and clear-thinking advocates of redefining marriage recognize that doing so entails abandoning norms such as monogamy. In a 2006 statement entitled “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” over 300 lesbian, gay, and allied activists, educators, lawyers, and community organizers—including Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and prominent Yale, Columbia and Georgetown professors—call for legally recognizing multiple sex partner (“polyamorous”) relationships. Their logic is unassailable once the historic definition of marriage is overthrown.

You know, there’s no law that says that we could not strengthen marriage if we wanted to. Just saying. Children do better when conceived and raised in stable environments with a strong exclusive bond between two opposite-sex parents. Do we care about children’s welfare? If so, then we need strong marriages.

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.