Dr John Frame: The Parable of the Invisible Gardener Part 3

Things to know:

– Falsification (in Flew’s case) is the idea that a proposition or statement is meaningful only if there is a method that could falsify the statement. The statement doesn’t need to be false, but there must be a hypothetical situation in which the statement could be proved false. For instance, ‘the cat is on the mat’ can be falsified by the cat not being on the mat. In contrast ‘sky blue rich tea’ has no method of falsification because it is nonsense.
– Verification is the idea that a proposition or statement is only meaningful if there is a method that could verify the statement. For instance, you can verify ‘the cat is on the mat’ by seeing that the cat is on the mat.
– For a proposition to be meaningful for Flew and Frame, it has to make a difference to our lives. For instance, if we hold the proposition that ‘the cat is on the mat,’ we act differently than if the cat wasn’t on the mat. Flew identifies this difference via falsification.
– Flew maintains that religious language is meaningless because it cannot be falsified. It makes no difference.

Who is John Frame?

Born in 1939, Dr. John Frame is a professor of systemic theology at RTS Orlando. In 1974, he published a paper called ‘God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence’ in John Montgomery’s God’s Inerrant Word. In it, he challenged Flew’s assertion that religious language is meaningless because a belief in God makes no difference to a religious believers life. Instead, he argues that religious language is meaningful despite their resistance to falsification. They are convictions which underpin how we view the world.

What do Flew and Frame agree on?

Frame and Flew agree that there are some odd characteristics to religious language which make its propositions unique. Frame believes that these do rightly make them resistant to falsification:

-In ordinary language, we only suggest a probability. When we say the cat is on the mat, we can accept that there may be a chance that the cat is not on the mat. We could be hallucinating, or maybe it was a dog. In contrast, religious language conveys a sense of certainty. When it is claimed that God exists, the person doesn’t believe that there’s a possibility that he may not. They are certain he does exist.
-Religious language is tightly connected to morality. In some cases, when a person states they believe in God, this leads to beliefs in how a person should act. For instance, believing in God may lead to believing that sex before marriage is wrong.

Why does morality lead to Frame challenging Flew?

Because religious statements are connected to morality and hence to a change in behavior, it cannot be argued that religious language makes no difference. A person may not steal only because of their belief in God. If they didn’t believe in God, they would steal. This is therefore a change directly linked to religious language. It disproves Flew’s claim that religious language makes no difference and is meaningless. In fact, it makes religious language verifiable.

What is the problem with Frame holding that religious language is verifiable but resists falsification?

These two acknowledgements seem to be in contradiction. On the one hand, Frame acknowledges that religious language can be verified due to it changing people’s behavior. However, he agrees with Flew that religious language resists falsification. These seem to be two contradictory positions. How can they be resolved?

What does John Frame argue religious propositions are?

Religious propositions are convictions or basic commitments. This in fact makes religious language ordinary as convictions occur throughout all language. Everyone has convictions. These are used to interpret the world. For instance, most people have a commitment that there is an external world or that killing in cold blood is wrong. There is no evidence that can be presented that would change these commitments. They are unfalsifiable. This makes religious language appear less odd.

How does Frame use the idea of convictions to resolve the apparent contradiction?

Frame explains that the reason for the apparent contradiction is that the arguments which verify our convictions are circular. There is evidence that supports our conviction. The misery and sorrow of those who have lost a loved one through homicide will use this as evidence that killing in cold-blood is wrong. However, the reason why this evidence is compelling to us is because we have a basic commitment that means this evidence has weight. If we had a commitment that killing is ok because it gave us what we want, then the sorrow of a family wouldn’t hold any weight. The evidence of us receiving money for someone else’s death would be far more compelling.

How does Frame apply his argument to the Parable of the Invisible Gardener?

John Frame adapts the story of the Invisible Gardener as follows:

Two explorers walk though a jungle and come across a clearing. A man is working there, claiming that he is the royal gardener. One of the men says this can’t be as it goes against all his findings. The two explorers camp in the clearing. Every day the man comes and tends the garden. Several other people come to the clearing and say that the man is indeed the gardener. However, the man still refuses to acknowledge that the man is a gardener. His fellow explorer asks him, “What is the difference between this gardener and an actual gardener?” 

‘God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence’ John Frame

How does Frame use the adapted Parable of the Invisible Gardener to argue against Flew?

Frame illustrates that Flew has a basic conviction as well: that God does not exist. To him, the evidence of the religious believer is not compelling because of this basic conviction. However, it also goes the other way. The evidence for Flew’s non-belief isn’t compelling to the religious believer because of their commitment to their belief in God. Therefore, Flew cannot conclude that religious language can be demonstrated to be meaningless and makes no difference.

Revision Questions:

  1. What do Frame and Flew agree on?
  2. Why does morality lead to disagreement between the two?
  3. What is Frame’s attitude to the falsification and verification of religious language?
  4. Why may Frame’s position appear contradictory?
  5. How does Frame resolve this contradiction?
  6. What does Frame believe religious propositions to be?
  7. How does Frame change the Parable of the Invisible Gardener?
  8. How does he use the new parable to criticise Flew?

Further Thought

  1. Do you agree that the link between religious language and morality makes religious language a) meaningful b) verifiable?
  2. Do you think religious language is ordinary or odd?
  3. Do you think Frame successfully deals with the contradiction effectively?
  4. Can circular arguments be justified within philosophy? Or are they always a sign of bad reasoning?
  5. Do you think Frame is successful in challenging Flew?
  6. Can Flew’s argument be justified through more than just circular reasoning. Is there something Frame has missed?
  7. Are there any consequences of Frame’s argument that make you uncomfortable?

Help us keep philosophy accessible for all.

Choose an amount

£1.00
£5.00
£10.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Thank you! Because of this, we can continue publishing our absurd philosophy.

Donate

Bibliography

Dr. John M. Frame | Reformed Theological Seminary (rts.edu)

https://thelittleredblog.typepad.com/blog/2020/06/the-invisible-bartender.html

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Joy of Not Knowing: A 4 Star Review

~Includes affiliate links~

Education today is incredibly problematic. In a statistically driven system, the focus of schools is no longer on learning but on training children to pass exams. This is done through mindless repetition and most lessons being structured like a test. Most schools are desperately trying to improve their standings in leader boards due to receiving inadequate funding. However, it has put significant strain on members of staff, teachers and children. With mental health services drastically underfunded, it has led to a crisis; the World Health Organisation found that 10-20% of children have mental health conditions. This is not ok and something needs to change.

Marcelo Staricoff (former headteacher and now a school tutor in education at the University of Sussex) in his book The Joy Of Not Knowing puts forward a fantastic solution to these problems. From the ‘Flying High’ research project, he developed an innovative new method of teaching based on philosophy. The book aims to provide a guide for primary teachers on how to further their students’ learning.  He gave me a free copy of his book to review.

Staricoff identifies that learning can only occur when a child doesn’t know something. Because of this, his book focuses on how to get children to be comfortable with handling the unknown (hence the title of the book, the Joy of Not Knowing™ or JONK™). He sees learning as a pit, where children come to terms with the fact they won’t always know the answer to a question. It is then the job of the teacher to provide the child with the methods on how to get to the correct answer, not to provide it for them.

This aim is superb and can have significant impact on a child’s mental health. Instead of framing the child’s lack of knowledge as a failing, it becomes a challenge. The child becomes curious about the topic and explores it. This leads to a richer understanding than if the child was merely looking for an answer. Furthermore, it better prepares children for when they leave education. It is an important aim of Staricoff’s to instil dispositions within children that make them lifetime learners. If using this approach, school no longer becomes a memorising task. It becomes a foundation for children that can be applied to whatever challenges they face.

The genius of this book lies in the recognition of the role that philosophy can play in the education of children. Most people see it today as irrelevant to their lives (ironic, as philosophy is the study of living.) However, Staricoff demonstrates why philosophy is the most vital subject a child could learn. As acknowledged previously, the point of the book is to make children comfortable with the concept of not knowing. This is key to philosophical discourse as philosophy is about tackling questions we may never know the answer to. However, it develops a deeper understanding of the world around us. Hence, using philosophy as an example of how to learn can lead to the better understanding of other subjects.

Furthermore, he notes the important role philosophy plays in motivating children to learn a subject. While teaching the children a maths lesson, Staricoff changed the learning objective from ‘Can we know the properties of 2D shapes? to the Philosophical question of ‘Do 2-D shapes exist?’ He noticed a significant increase in interest from the children. With the greater interest, the children developed a richer knowledge of the subject. In a small gesture, Staricoff highlighted the real difference philosophy can make.

The greatest complaint heard about philosophy is that it cannot be practically implemented. Staricoff demonstrates that this is not the case by providing practical activities of how such a stance can be implemented in the classroom. This can be demonstrated in my favourite part of the book – the philosophy chapter (no surprises here). I could not stop smiling while reading the Why Books’. One of the children at the Infant School where Staricoff was the Headteacher at, asked Staricoff if they could have special books to write down the philosophical questions they came up with after their philosophy lessons. The idea took off in the school. They would take their books home to discuss it with parents and jot down their conclusions. At the start of the school day they would jot down the ideas that came into their heads. To know how motivated children were by their why books and their philosophy lessons fills me with joy and is a clear example of Staricoff’s cleverness with his practical implementation of philosophy.   

There was only one thing that I didn’t like within the book and that was the discussion questions. These are aimed at teachers in to make them discuss how they can implement the JONK system within their teaching. I felt that these overstepped the line of a handbook and went more into the teacher training aspect. I feel it is better to keep these separate to the book but maybe offer training courses alongside the book if teachers were seeking more help within its implementation.

Something I would like Staricoff to consider in the future would be to include what aspects of the project proved challenging. This book prescribes drastic changes to the school environment. While these are definitely for the better, it cannot have implemented without a hiccup. It would have been nice for the book to discuss these challenges as an example for teachers who would have been facing their own challenges.

Help us keep philosophy accessible to all.

Choose an amount

£1.00
£5.00
£10.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Thank you! Because of you, we can keep producing our quality, absurd philosophy.

Donate

1000 Twitter Followers: Where have we been in 3 years?

 

A few weeks ago, I managed to hit over 1,000 twitter followers for this blog. For some people, that won’t sound like many. However, my mind was blown. I remember starting this blog in my bedroom while studying my A-Levels. At the time, I struggled to get 50 people on twitter to follow the blog and the biggest fan of my blog was my philosophy teacher. Now, while my old philosophy teacher is still the biggest fan of the blog, it is now bigger than I could ever have imagined. So, in celebration of this milestone, I have decided to celebrate the only way I know how… by writing an essay on where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.

Can you cry underwater?

You can definitely tell that I was an A-Level student while I was writing this. The amount of information I was trying to fit into this post was a lot, ranging from empiricism to the problem of analogies to the problem of other minds. Something I have learnt over the years is definitely to focus on one issue instead of many.

However, I was quite proud of my younger self for this blog. Defining crying as an internal, emotional reaction and then using an analogy to apply this to other people was a very creative solution.  Unusual solutions to problems was a foundation to this blog which I want to carry forward with me.

Ethics of Mental Health on Youtube

This was a piece I wrote in response to a YouTube video by JackMaate, who delved into issues such as whether mental health is subjective.

The writing of this is still clunky but is an improvement from my first blog post. I also had no sense of paragraphing.

I realised at this point that trying to write 2000-word blog posts was not what I wanted to do. I would become bogged down in trying to capture the entire picture which was often huge and complex. I wanted to find a way to make writing blog posts more manageable.

Despite these issues, I am proud of this article. I still maintain that we should not be the judges of whether someone has mental health problems. Our initial reaction to someone saying they have a disorder should never be whether they are telling the truth. Instead, it should be a position of support. If someone is lying, it is on them morally. We are not the judge and jury in this case.

However, I would like to acknowledge that subjectivity is a stronger argument (not necessarily a correct one, though) in philosophy than I have given it credit for.  This is the focus of my dissertation currently and hopefully will lead to some posts once I’m done. However, what will not be compromised is my commitment to developing an understanding of mental health which empowers and helps those who have them.

Writing about philosophy and YouTube is something I would like to do more of. It is an ethical micro-society with its own code, accelerating movements such as cancel culture and questioning morals around capitalist norms. I find it fascinating so they’re will be more on this blog about the philosophy of YouTube. If anyone knows of any books written on this, please comment below.

Love Island: Is Watching It Ethically Wrong

This is one of the articles that I challenge myself over. It could be seen as a defence of Love Island in general. However, I don’t think it is.

The year after writing this, I boycotted Love Island and still have to this day. It seemed hypocritical to me that Jeremy Kyle was cancelled immediately after a suicide, but Love Island is still allowed to continue despite three suicides being correlated to the show. It came down to a question of what show was popular instead of what was the morally right thing to do. Even if it is not cancelled, Love Island definitely needs to consider whether it is worth it and what support they are offering their contestants.

With that being said, the overall point still remains. It is naïve to believe that through the censorship of culture we can solve the issues of society. It merely reveals the problem, and it is through discussion that we can truly engage with the it. Censorship is not a solution. If anything, it’s a hindrance.

What is Philosophy?

I love this post. At the time of writing it, I was going around universities, looking at BA Philosophy and History Programmes. At the majority of the philosophy introductions, the lecturer would try and define philosophy. This amused me. By asking what philosophy is, we had already answered our question.

I felt this post was also true to the origins of the blog. There is nothing more absurd than questioning what you take for granted. It made my mind think in an unusual, unconventional way that could not be questioned as philosophical thinking.

Furthermore, the conclusion to this blog is one of the few that I still stand behind fully.

The Invisible Gardener Series

This is where the current blog is at. I want to move forward with the idea of series, which allows me to focus in depth in topics, but 750 words at a time. The whole concept of parables and philosophical thought experiments fascinates me and I’m enjoying taking a deep dive into what we can learn from them in terms of philosophy.

What’s Next?

It has come to my attention recently that the majority of philosophers are white men. While their philosophy should not be discounted because they are white and male, there is wider philosophy that needs to be explored. We live in a modern age of diversity. To truly appreciate life we need to understand the philosophy of the different cultures around us. This is why I am committed to increasing blog posts around the LGBTQ+ community, BAME people, women, those with disabilities and people with long term physical and mental health conditions.

~o~

I would like to take the opportunity to say than you to everyone who has read this blog, particularly if you were here from the start. This is to many more years of philosophical absurdity!

Help us keep philosophy accessible to all.

Choose an amount

£1.00
£5.00
£10.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Thank you! Because of you, we can keep providing quality, absurd content.

Donate

After Dinner Conversations: A Review

Within the world, there seems to be a disparity around philosophy. Part of philosophy is a study of how we live and die. It infiltrates every part of our lives, from how we choose to interact with others to the way our governments are run.  For this reason, everyone should be well versed in it. However, the study of philosophy is restricted to a few. The reasons for this are vast, varying from elitism in academia to the complexity of philosophical writings. In particular, philosophy can be seen as becoming separated from the issues it was initially made to address.

How is this problem being solved? By philosophy slowly being interwoven into culture. For instance, films, books and easily accessible blogs. These explain complex ideas in bite-sized chunks.

This is where After Dinner Conversations and their literary anthology comes in. After Dinner specialises in creating media, ranging from podcasts to short stories that explore philosophical ideas.  I had the pleasure of receiving a free copy of their season one anthology in return for writing a review. I was not disappointed.

The anthology has a series of short stories written by different people on a variety of themes, from free will and God to prejudices around society. At the end of each story, there is a series of questions aimed at encouraging people to discuss the problems involved.

The writing style varies a fair amount but is mostly high quality, with new worlds being created that still scrutinise the norms within our society. I personally fell in love with The Rainbow People of the Glittering Glade by David Schultz.  Styled as a 1800s colonial-esque explorer diary entry, it uses the ingenious metaphor of people turning into statues to explore what free will looks like when we believe in God. In it, all those who do not believe in certain values are turned to stone. It digs deep to ask: if we are punished for choosing the option that goes against society, is that really a choice? Also, do we only prioritise certain values to make ourselves better than other people? This beautiful, well-written multi-layered story will have you thinking for hours.

A place where this could thrive in particular is within schools as a way of getting students to engage with philosophical or societal issues. Full PSHE, RE and English literature lessons could be planned around this anthology easily. The content is accessible to students, but challenges the way they think about the world. It mixes imagination with reality in perfect harmony, leaving an opportunity open to inspire their own creative writing to examine their beliefs.

However, the anthology at points does contain some mature content, so would do best with young adults or teenagers over 16. It is possible though for teachers to select the stories that do not contain sensitive issues to be used with younger audiences. Something for After Dinner Conversations to think about is whether they could create different anthologies aimed at specific age ranges or provide age ratings on the pieces. This would benefit their audience better and possibly widen it. The anthology does deal successfully with sensitive topics, but it is something for them to be aware of.

Overall, I was blown away by this anthology. It’s the right mixture of taking someone through a new adventure while challenging our norms.

~o~

You can purchase a copy of the anthology here.

After Dinner Conversations also do a monthly magazine which you can purchase here. By using the code “Dinner” you can get your first month free.

The Invisible Gardener: Part 2 Flew (Famous Philosophical Thought Experiments 1)

If you missed part one on the creation of the Parable of the Invisible Gardener by John Wisdom and the problems of subjectivity in gaining knowledge, you can get it here.

~o~

Flew objected to Wisdom’s parable because he didn’t believe it was an accurate comparison to how we argue for the existence of God. He didn’t believe that arguments for God’s existence and arguments for his non-existence carried equal validity. It was this mistake which gave the impression of subjectivity. Flew believed that one side would always present better evidence. In order to demonstrate this objection, Flew created his own version of the Parable of the Invisible Gardener in Theory and Falsification:


Two explorers are in a jungle and they stumble across some weeds and flowers. One man argues that there must be a gardener. They set up camp and wait for the gardener to appear. No such gardener appears. The man still maintains that there is a gardener, its just the gardener is invisible. They put up an electric fence and patrol the boundaries with blood hounds. The electric fence isn’t triggered and the blood hounds don’t pick up a scent. The man still maintains that there is a gardener but they are invisible, scentless and do not trigger electric fences. Eventually the companion of the man asks whether there is any difference between the gardener the man believes to exist and an imaginary gardener. 


What Flew attempts to highlight here is that some people hold beliefs that they will not let go, even when evidence is presented against their beliefs. By doing this, their beliefs become meaningless, to the extent that they may as well be imaginary. Therefore, in order for a belief or a proposition to be meaningful, there must be a situation or a qualification where it would be shown to be false.


This theory is known as Falsification, an idea held in the Philosophy of  Religious Language and the Philosophy of Science. In terms of language, it means propositions cannot be meaningful unless there is a qualification that would disprove them. For instance, I may hold it true that a table in my house is red. This is a meaningful statement because there is a qualification which would falsify this statement. If I looked at the table and saw it wasn’t red, the statement would be proved false and I would no longer hold on to the belief that the table is red. However if seeing a blue table didn’t make me no longer believe the table was red,  my belief and the proposition would be meaningless as nothing would be able to falsify it. 


Flew believes this is what happens with religious believers. They have no criteria of evidence that would cause them not to believe in God. They move about what they believe in to fit the new evidence being presented. Eventually, what they believe in has no meaning and dies “a death of a thousand qualifications”. The God they believe in is no different to an imaginary one. 


Evidence that supports this idea is the various reactions to the “God of Gaps” argument. When we didn’t understand science as well as we do know,  religious believers claimed that things we didn’t understand were caused by God. It was clear from this that God existed. This included such things as the cause of illness and why the sun rises every morning. However, as our scientific knowledge developed, it’s explanations replaced those explanations based on God. Pasteur developed germ theory in the 1860s which explained illness in terms of micro-organisms. The sun rises every morning because the Earth rotates around it. However, every time new science developed, religious believers claimed God still exists and could explain what we couldn’t explain, he just had less explanatory power than they had assumed previously. However, as science explains more and more God loses more explanatory power. Soon, there will be no difference between the believers God and an imaginary God. For Flew,  Their lack of ability to give up their belief in God in the face of evidence means their belief is unfalsifiable. It makes their claims meaningless. 


In Flew eyes, he manages to avoid the subjectivity that Wisdom highlights. There are ways we can justify one set of evidence over another by using falsification. If Flew is correct, we can still use empirical evidence to gain knowledge which is correct. However, he does this at the expense of religious believers. If religious believers want to avoid subjectivism without giving up their belief in God, what are they suppose to do?

~o~

The third and final part of The Invisible Gardener series will be evaluating both versions of the Parable and seeing what can be taken away from it. 

 
 
%d bloggers like this: