In the year 2018 the debate “What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism? (Frank Turek vs. Michael Shermer)” took place. Frank presented his case for the existence of God as the best explanation for some facts about reality, such as the origin and fine-tuned of the universe and the objective moral values and duties. One of Shermer’s arguments to demonstrate the deficiency of the hypothesis of God was to present the famous analogy of “The Dragon in The Garage”, used for the first time by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World.
This is the original analogy:
Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely, you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
Shermer’s version has some variants to ridicule Frank’s stance on the existence of God as an explanation of the origin of the universe, the objective moral values, and duties and the fine-tuning of the universe. The main objective of Shermer is to prove that the existence of God is impossible to refute in the same way that theists can’t refute the existence of the dragon in the garage. But is this a good argument? Not really. Let me explain why.
The first thing that Shermer wants us to believe using Sagan’s analogy is that the properties of God that the theists attribute to him are mere gratuitous affirmations without any evidence. Here Shermer has in mind the revealed theology, those attributes that we know that God possesses through his word revealed to us. But in the debate with Frank one does not affirm the attributes of God as in the case of the dragon in the garage. And although it is not necessary, let me compare the fire-breathing dragon and God with their respective attributes.
The case for the Fire-Breathing Dragon in The Garage
Invisibility. This attribute is granted without any evidence.
Floating in the air. Neither is inferred based on any evidence.
Cold Fire. Like the previous ones, there is no argument to attribute this property to the dragon; moreover, the property is self-contradictory.
Immateriality. Zero arguments, and like cold fire-breathing, this is a contradictory property of a dragon. For a dragon to be a dragon, it must have a body with certain essential properties of a dragon, it can’t be incorporeal.
The case for God
Transcendent, personal cause, beginningless, uncaused, timeless, non-spatial, immaterial, extremely powerful. These attributes are required given the nature of a cause that transcends the universe and through the cosmological kalam argument.
Designer and extremely intelligent. These attributes are inferred by the fine-tuning argument of the universe.
Perfectly good whose nature is the standard of goodness and whose mandates constitute our moral duties. And this last attribute is concluded through the moral argument.
As we can see, the fire-breathing dragon is completely deficient in comparison to God.
Shermer also qualifies the hypothesis of God as a fallacy of the special pleading, but we have seen with this comparison that this is not the case. No serious apologist in a debate intends to refute the objections against the arguments in favor of the existence of God affirming that the atheist can’t understand the properties of God as the best explanation to some facts of reality.
Another important point is that Shermer also uses the dragon in the garage as a parody of God as an explanation to the following facts about reality: the absolute origin of the universe, fine-tuning, and the foundation for objective moral values and duties. But his parody fails miserably for two reasons: the first is, as we have already seen, that some of the attributes that the fire-breathing dragon possesses are self-contradictory, more than enough reason to determine that such a dragon is impossible to exist. Second, for the sake of argument, I will be very kind in modifying the dragon by removing all its contradictory properties and adding the property of omnipotence. Can the dragon be the transcendent cause of the origin of the universe being that it has enough power to bring the universe to exist? ¡Of course not! An essential property of the dragon is that it has to be material/corporeal/physical, without that property it would cease to be a dragon. But if our version of the omnipotent dragon is corporeal, if it is a physical being, then it can’t be the cause of the origin of the universe, because one of the properties that the transcendent cause must have is to be immaterial, it can’t be material because matter arrives at existence with the origin of the universe. The same goes to be the foundation of the objective moral values and duties, our dragon can’t be eternal, it had to come to exist together with the universe, therefore, it is contingent, and no contingent being can be the foundation for the objectivity of morality.
We have seen that the analogy of the fire-breathing dragon in the garage as presented by Michael Shermer as an argument against the hypothesis of God is deficient for four reasons:
- Thanks to the contradictory properties of the dragon in the garage, we can affirm that its existence is impossible.
- The properties of God are inferred using deductive arguments, which does not happen with the fire-breathing dragon.
- Defend the properties of the dragon in the way Shermer presented, surely it is to commit the fallacy of special pleading, but it is not in the case of God.
Even if we were to grant the Dragon possible existence by removing its contradictory properties, it would fail to be the transcendent cause of the absolute origin of the universe.
Recommended resources related to the topic:
God’s Crime Scene: The Case for God’s Existence from the Appearance of Design (mp4 Download Set) by J. Warner Wallace
Jairo Izquierdo is an author and Community Manager for the Christian organization Cross Examined. He studies philosophy and theology, his current focus of study being classical logic, epistemology and molinism. He is co-founder of Filósofo Cristiano and editor at World View Media. Jairo resides in Puebla, Mexico and is an active member of Cristo es la Respuesta Church.