Readers of this blog know that I have an interest in Antony Flew, having even had the honor of corresponded with him. Click here for a list of posts I’ve written regarding Dr. Flew. The short story below may be understood better by some if you read this particular post of mine where I discuss the Flew-Wisdom parable.
In order to better get a sense of my overall picture of things, you might (after reading the story below) want to read my short story titled, to your surprise no doubt, “Mother Teresa Goes to Heaven.”
Antony Flew Goes to Heaven
When the man opened his eyes the first thing he beheld was a garden. It was the assault on his being that alerted him to this fact. His sensory scouts went out and scoured his surroundings and came back with the report- first from the nostrils: here were delicate scents of flowers and dirt; and then the eyes: there were well ordered paths with ivy crawling up rocky walls; now touch: he realized he was lying on his back with blades of grass tickling his ear and when he flexed his fingers into the earth there was that soft moistness you always associated with good soil; the ears came announcing: birds here, birds there, birds everywhere, and somewhere yet unspotted a fountain, detected by alternating gurgles and tinkling; taste came back disappointed, as it had nothing yet to disclose.
It was comforted soon enough. The man sat up and saw at once the hanging branches of a fruit-laden tree. While feeling no pangs of hunger he knew he was famished. He stood up and strode with purpose to the tree and helped himself liberally. In his subconscious a fear flickered that he may be plucking his lunch from Augustine’s orchard. He set the fear aside and ate his fill.
He returned to the patch of soft grass that he had been lying when he had first awoken. There seemed nothing else to do. So he sat. It was the cool of the day and he was content enough to enjoy the tender breeze that played on his cheeks. That breeze, the man couldn’t help but think, seemed to be made just for him each and every time. It was the cool of the day, and suddenly the man knew that he was not alone.
“Alo there!” called out a man from one of the previously surveyed walking paths.
Our man stood up startled. Even as he knew the man had no ill intentions towards him he could not help feel a little awkward. He struggled to put it into words. It would not have surprised him if that very moment this man declared he was Augustine after all, come upon a trespasser. And he was the one trespassing. Even Augustine’s welcoming cry assured him that he was there invited would not displace the awkward feeling that he had imposed himself somewhere he didn’t belong. That is about how he felt as the man drew closer.
“Happy to meet you,” declared the new man to the old man. “May I have your name?”
“Tony, I think. I have a little trouble with names…” Tony was sheepish.
“No worries, dear sir,” the man comforted him. In respect for Tony’s nervousness, the man halted his approach about ten feet off. He was wearing a beige button down shirt with dirt stains on it and his hands were stuffed into loose fitting blue jeans that were likewise stained. There the hands remained, safe. There was no chance that the man could get his hands out of those pockets and around Tony’s neck without Tony having a chance to protect himself. So Tony reasoned, and so apparently the man deduced.
“I’m sorry that I’ve trespassed in your garden, sir. To be honest I don’t quite know how I’ve gotten here. I have some recollection of falling into a deep sleep- where I do not recall- and when I opened my eyes, I was here,” Tony apologized.
“You needn’t be so concerned about it,” the man smiled. “After all,” said he, “what makes you think this is a garden at all, let alone one that is mine?”
“Oh well, that is an interesting question, now that you ask it!” Tony smiled.
“And how do you answer it?” the man smiled back.
“I suppose I leapt to a conclusion, didn’t I?” Tony began thinking aloud.
“In what way?” the man coaxed.
“Well, this brick wall here with ivy all the way up. I suppose if one allows that there is enough time and enough opportunity it is inevitable that the forces of nature will churn out a rock wall, somewhere.”
“And the fountain over yonder?” the man inquired, cocking his head in the direction of the previously undetected fountain.
Tony turned his gaze in that direction. Indeed, about thirty yards away, largely tucked away behind a bend in the path but visible when the breeze pushed aside the large leaves that concealed it, was a fountain. The breeze seemed to rise up for the task and Tony had a good look at it. A perfectly round and very large basin held what Tony knew without knowing why he knew was the fiercest cherubim he’d ever seen. Water poured out of an elegant vase that the angel was holding and fell into the basin. Where it went after that, Tony couldn’t tell.
“I suppose that settles it, then,” said Tony.
“Settled it how?” the man asked.
“Obviously an artifact and something outside the natural order. We must be in a garden,” Tony reasoned.
“But what about your latent assumption a moment ago? Why shouldn’t the forces of nature be as likely to finally spit out an angelic water fountain as a vertical wall with interlocking rocks?” the man probed.
“Alright, but then we must account for the many walking paths and the fruit trees and all of the flowers so obviously arranged…”
“Surely none of these can be more difficult for nature to achieve, given enough time, then the fountain?” the man winked.
“Well, now. Given enough time. I suppose the presumption ought to be that purposeless forces could have done all this…” That is what Tony said, but he was not convinced.
“You don’t sound very confident,” the man asked, his eyes twinkling.
“Well, you make a good point and one that more or less I’ve adhered to in my life. But a fountain? And you dismissed the walking paths quick enough but did you see the flower boxes that border them?”
“But given enough time…”
“Yes, of course. Given enough time, what we might at first glance declare as obviously designed, we can just as well conclude that it is only apparently designed.”
But Tony was still uncertain. He couldn’t put his finger on what was troubling him. He began to wonder too if it were a trap: here he had found himself in this lovely man’s lovely garden and the man was trying to trick him into saying something insulting in order to justify expulsion.
The man intervened.
“What if,” the man suggested, “we supposed that there was a gardener? That might help cinch it, no?”
“Well, yes, of course. If there was a gardener, indeed, that should change things quite a bit.”
“Then let us sit down here in the grass and wait and see if one comes upon us,” the man proposed.
Tony sat down and watched out of the corner of his eye as the man sat down, too. The man seemed very much at ease with the situation. He was leaning back, with his arms splayed out behind him and his palms flush to the earth to support him. His legs were extended and the feet clicked together rhythmically.
They waited some more.
“How long shall we wait?” asked the man.
“Well, I don’t know. Perhaps the gardener is out of town or away on business,” Tony submitted.
“That is a charitable possibility. I thought perhaps you were going to propose that maybe he was invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive,” the man rejoined with a soft laugh.
“If it weren’t for the wall, the walking path, and the fountain, perhaps I would be forced into such a scenario…”
“So it would seem,” said the man, “that Strato does not have the strength to supplant common intuition.”
Tony reluctantly agreed, “So it would seem.”
“Haven’t you a wonder where that intuition comes from and how it can be trusted?” the man ventured.
“I do, and have. I doubt that ‘common intuition,’ as you call it, can be put at the same level as rigorous investigation,” Tony mused.
“Yet if I am not mistaken, you are here submitting quickly and easily to that intuition and it is standing in the way of investigation. Perhaps the inference you are drawing should not be faulted simply because it comes easily and effortlessly?”
“That is a funny way of putting it, but I can’t find a way to object. It has always been my goal, as a matter of personal integrity, to follow the evidence, wherever it goes. You’re right. This inference came easily enough. I suppose one might say that mine is an argument from incredulity- an inability to see how, practically speaking, something as exquisite as that-” and here Tony broke off momentarily to throw a glance at the glorious yet menacing cherubim as if to make sure it had not moved, “- fountain could come about no matter how much time was allotted. But to be honest, it would seem that the alternative would be an argument from credulity. That is, the very opposite of skepticism. You’d practically have to be a sucker to buy the line that these things came about by accident.”
“But surely you concede it is very much a logical possibility that blind natural forces operating without purpose could have created such a thing?” the man pressed.
“Yes, of course. That is what I’m saying, I think. It is a logical possibility, but logical possibilities do not trump evidence in hand.”
“That seems to be at variance with your previous position… the notion that one ought to bring a presumption of a certain sort to the table. Perhaps the correct presumption is to make no presumption one way or the other and wait for the evidence?”
Tony nodded. “That strikes me as eminently reasonable at this juncture in my life.”
The two fell into silence. At one point, they had been still for so long that the birds which had been flittering about in the treetops alighted on the grass in front of them en masse. Then regrettably Tony twitched and they flew off. The cool of the day seemed to go on and on, with no end. As sentries they silently sat, waiting for the gardener that Tony knew existed somewhere. The existence of the gardener was suddenly important to him. His existence was justification of more than an argument but seemed also to prove his sanity- to himself. There seemed something positively insane, or insanity-breeding, about this idea that there was some real category labeled, ‘The Apparently Designed.’
“If only the Gardener would just come and tell us everything directly!” Tony finally blurted out.
The man chuckled, bemused.
“I don’t see what is so funny about the proposition. If the Gardener stood before us now he could explain it all. Isn’t that quite an obvious solution to this conundrum?” Tony lashed out in frustration.
The man, reading the discontent in Tony’s voice, explained why he chuckled, “I was laughing ever so gently, my friend, because I was quite certain that you were quite convinced that revelatory systems were suspect. But here you are telling me that when all the presumptions and evidence are put on the table, the thing that would ultimately settle it all is for the Maker of the Garden to announce himself.”
Tony was stung by the analysis. It was true and he knew it was true. Perhaps it was the freshness of the air or the vigor derived from his fruity feast of before, but he felt inside himself the strength to come to terms with being so exposed.
Without waiting for Tony to say anything further, the man continued, “If we are willing to be so charitable to allow that the Gardener could be out on business or may have some perfectly good reason for why he cannot directly appear at this moment, maybe we could begin by at least being open to hearing out those who have in times past declared that they come bearing a message from the Gardener?”
Tony nodded, but offered a small protest, “Yes, but it would still be ideal for the Gardener to present himself.”
“And as you consider all of those revelatory systems of the past, how many of them do you recall declared that the Gardener had done just that?”
“Just one, of course. But I was not being philosophical. I was being pragmatic and practical: if only the Gardener would present himself right now, everything would be cleared up,” Tony clarified.
“Yes, if only.”
“At any rate, he’s done a first rate job with this bit of earth. He might find it a bit silly (once we find him) that we demand he give an account of just how he has so constructed this little paradise. I’d be content right now just to have the opportunity to commend him personally,” Tony sighed.
“What if I told you that I could take you to meet him?” the man asked, suddenly putting his hands in his lap as though poised for action. Indeed, upon asking the question the man suddenly leapt to his feet.
“I should think you ought to have said a long while back that you knew him,” Tony scowled, taking a stubborn tone.
“Come,” said the man.
But Tony, his head turned away from the man, was resolute: “I don’t wander about with strangers. Come to think of it, I don’t think you’ve even given me your name. I know I said I’d have trouble remembering it anyway, but it still seems a little rude not to have offered it.”
“I don’t think you’ll forget this name,” the man declared in a jovial yet solemn tenor.
Tony, still sitting, turned to look at the man more intently. The man was standing just a few feet away, his hand outstretched, offering to help Tony to his feet. Nothing seemed familiar about the man but he noticed right away that trees, flowers, and light could be seen through the man’s hands on account of the large holes that were in them about where the palm met the wrist. A jolt went through Tony at that moment. It was a realization, to be sure, and yet that wasn’t all of it. His army was being called to surrender, right there in the plush and gentle woods. Would he be treated well as a prisoner of war? Couldn’t he fight on? Could he suffer defeat? Was there any point in retreat?
Still he sat, stewing in his warring sentiments. Still the man stood with his wounded hands outstretched.
“Dearest Tony,” the Gardener tenderly inquired, “Will you? Will you really? Will you really follow the Evidence wherever He leads?”