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Old 16th March 2020, 10:02 AM   #342
Penultimate Amazing
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Join Date: Sep 2011
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
It's not an analogy against anything.
Against a particular object, no. Although there is an object at the center of the analogy, eviscerating the dragon is not the objective.

It's an illustration of the inherent silliness of making any untestable claim.
I would go even farther than that. If you read the whole chapter, it focuses on the process that starts with making a claim and then continues by applying ad hoc reasoning to dodge every specific attempt to falsify the claim. So the challenge is: I have a dragon in my garage; falsify the claim. The other party proposes tests based on collecting evidence and drawing inferences. The proponent simply parries each one with a new ad hoc claim -- ad hoc because the reasoning is based on what has to be the case to avoid falsification, not what might logically follow from the essence of the "prime mover," or what has documentary or empirical proof.

So the moral is not just, "Don't make untestable claims." It's, "Don't make ongoing untestability the goal of your intellectual process."

You wouldn't believe in a dragon you can't test.
Specifically I wouldn't believe in a dragon that has been progressively and speculatively defined almost exclusively in terms of how to avoid any proposal to test it. That's what Sagan is saying to me. The notion of using a dragon instead of some "neutral" object could be considered immaterial, but see below. The point is to show that the existence of the object is held up by a line of ad hoc reasoning obviously motivated by an ongoing desire to believe in its existence regardless of reasonable observation or inference.

Even other believers in dragons would lose you after a while. One of the proposed tests is to detect heat from the dragon's breath. The proponent says, "Maybe the dragon's breath is exactly the same as ambient temperature." The suggestion is that failure to detect the heat would no longer be dispositive. But at that point, some believers will have to point out that breathing fire is a very common, if not necessary, trait of dragons. Proposing isothermic breath is not only ad hoc, but contrary to established belief. This is where you show that you're thinking purely in terms of how to avoid falsification, not in terms of what dragons are. And the point Sagan arrives at at the end of the chapter is that this exercise, if carried to its ultimate conclusion, provides something that is veridically nonexistent.

We're hung up on the comparative silliness of dragons and gods because that's where our OP wants us to be. He's poisoning the well so that he doesn't have to look at the structural equivalence of the argument the analogy presents. Atheists will probably see the proposals as equally silly. Someone else might not, citing the "emotional" prima facie predisposition that favors gods and jumps on the rhetoric against ridiculing theistic beliefs. But the whole point of the analogy is that these emotional prima facie concerns blind the god-believers to the paucity of their reasoning. They think that since a theistic belief is acceptable on some grounds, it should also have some acceptance on logical and philosophical grounds. In order to illustrate why this is not the case, the object in question must be chosen so as to avoid prima facie acceptability. It doesn't have to be "silly" per se, but it helps if it is because that ensures the desired analysis will not be polluted by facial-plausibility intruders.
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