The Elephant, the Blind Men, and the Faulty Analogy

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Have you ever heard the analogy that, like three blind men feeling the same elephant, all religions describe the same truth? Here are some tips for responding to this and other faulty analogies.

“An elephant is a thin, flexible cylinder with two slimy nostrils,” said a certain blind man, feeling an elephant’s trunk.

“No, no,” objected a second blind man as he wrapped his hands around the elephant’s foot. “Anyone could tell that an elephant is a thick, heavy cylinder with several toenails.”

“Obviously, neither of you are correct,” remarked a third blind man, flapping the elephant’s ear. “An elephant is merely a thin, membranous disk.”

Just like the three men were really feeling the same elephant, different religions might seem to disagree, but they’re really describing the same God.

Right?

Let’s think about it.

Answering Faulty Analogies

Analogies are memorable comparisons between two things.

To see how we can respond to this and other arguments by analogy, let’s take a step back and examine how analogies work. Analogies, of course, are memorable comparisons between two things. Punchy and powerful, analogies can be incredibly helpful for explaining abstract concepts. Jesus Himself used analogies all the time, comparing the kingdom of heaven to everything from a pearl merchant1 to a mustard seed2 to yeast.3

As compelling as analogies may be, remember they can only illustrate. Analogies can never prove anything.

Because of their ability to explain, describe, and simplify, analogies often make arguments more persuasive. But as compelling as analogies may be, remember they can only illustrate. Analogies can never prove anything. And if an analogy is being leveraged to argue against a biblical teaching, you know that argument will fall apart on some level. We have abundant reasons to trust that God’s Word is true, meaning anything which contradicts Scripture will ultimately not stand to reason. So, if you encounter an analogy which seems to attack a Biblical worldview, you know it’s going to have some weakness.

The key to identifying that weakness is to look for an important difference between the items the analogy compares. An argument by analogy is only as strong as the analogy itself, so if you show the analogy is faulty, you’ve shown the argument is faulty. Sometimes, once you’ve identified an analogy’s weakness, you can also turn the analogy around to promote a biblical perspective. To do so, it’s often helpful to bring the argument back to an underlying big-picture concept, like what truth is and where it comes from.

The Elephant in the Room

Let’s try applying these techniques to answer the elephant analogy. First, ask, “What is an important difference between the two things being compared?” In this case, different parts of an elephant are being compared to different religions, which are ultimately made up of belief statements. The comparison suggests that just like we can discuss different body parts when describing the same elephant, people can use different religious statements to describe the same realities about God and the universe he has created.

Now, we know that different body parts can coexist on the same elephant. But can different—and extremely contradictory—religious statements about the nature of God, the universe, and human souls really coexist as truth within the same reality? Not if reality is logical. The fact that different body parts can coexist on one elephant, but contradictory statements cannot logically coexist in one reality is a major difference between the things being compared.

Try turning the analogy around to enforce a biblical perspective.

Now that we’ve identified this weakness, let’s try turning the analogy around to enforce a biblical perspective. To do so, we can start by looking for a big picture question behind the analogy. In this case, an important underlying question is, “How do we know the truth?”

Specifically, how would anyone talking about the three blind men know that they were all feeling the same elephant? That person would have to have open eyes. So, is anyone who claims that all religions are equal the only person who can see the grand scheme of reality, observing the form of truth which all other humans are merely groping to discover? Such a person would be God. And interestingly, God has revealed reality to us through his Word. Ultimately, this is an example of how by bringing an argument back to a big-picture concept, we can point people to the true Creator in gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

For more on how to think critically about any faith-challenging message, stay tuned for future blog articles and my new video series, CT (Critical Thinking) Scan, available now on the AiG Canada YouTube channel and the AiG Canada Facebook page.

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 13:45
  2. Matthew 13:31
  3. Matthew 13:33

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