Challenge: The Blind Men and the Elephant

Posted: October 4, 2011 by Amy Hall in Truth Matters, Weekly Challenge

Here’s one you’re sure to encounter:

Religion is like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They each only felt a part of the elephant, so they all had different views of what the elephant was like. In the end, as a passing man revealed to them, “Each in his own way was partly right, but none was entirely right. What they were all wrong about was the thought that they were each entirely right and the others entirely wrong.” If people could just get this, we’d have a lot fewer people arguing about religion!

Here’s a video of the parable. How would you respond to this? Let us know, and then we’ll hear from Alan on Thursday.

  1. First, this story is simply an illustration, not an argument. It only gives you a picture of the view the person is trying to express, not an argument for it.

    Second, this illustration doesn’t espouse relativism, because it IS an elephant and the elephant IS there. That’s an objective fact, we just don’t know the whole.

    Third, I’d want to ask the person telling the story “Who are you in this story?” Is he one of the blind men? If so, then how does he know this is true? He’s just as blind as the rest of us! Is he the sighted man? If so, how did he get there? How did he rise above our blindness and get an objective view of reality? Why is it that he knows the whole truth and no one else does? It’s more likely that this person is just as “blind” as we are.

    Third, in the Christian worldview, Jesus is the sighted man that comes and tells us what the elephant truly is. This illustration may actually be a good parable for Christianity!

    • Sam Harper says:

      What Kyle said. Also, different religions explicitly contradict each other, so they can’t be merely parts of a larger whole. Christians insist that Jesus is the son of God. Muslims insist that God can have no son. They can’t both be right, not even partly. God either has a son or he doesn’t.

      • Adrian Urias says:

        I think the analogy is supposed to, in part, tackle the problem of contradictions. So to raise it again, the contradictions problem that is, is to lose some of the point of the analogy. God either has a Son or he doesn’t, but the analogy is supposed to illuminate exactly how contrary or contradictory propositions can both be true. Not to rain on your parade or anything dude. When I read more sophisticated defenses by people like Hick, the give these kind of analogies as a response to the charge that contrary propositions cannot both be true.

        ““it is evident as a matter of logic that, since [the great world religions] disagree, not more than one of them can be true”. -Bertrand Russell. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have an ally in Mr. Russell lol

    • I’ve been taking a two week break from apologetics, now I’m back. Hello again, everyone!

  2. bobby says:

    im not sure i really understand this argument, but i’ll try anyway of course i agree not all religions are correct but they can be all wrong (including the atheist).

    thats all i really hae to say about this. its a strange arguement

    • It’s saying we can’t claim that any one viewpoint is right, we all have different pieces of the truth. It’s a parable one might tell against religious exclusivity, saying that only one religion is the correct one.

    • Bert Dill says:

      It’s a matter of the difference between contradictory statements (one of which must be true and the other false) and contrary statements (which means that both cannot be true, but both could be false). Theism and atheism are contradictory by their very nature. Hinduism and Calvinism cannot both be true, but it is conceivable that both could be false if some other thought system is true. The blind men are not muttering contradictory statements, nor are they muttering contrary statements. The problem of the story, as many have pointed out, is that the narrator assumes a superior position, assuming that he sees all of the elephant, when in fact he perceives only one aspect–visual. Is the visual all there is to reality? Is it really superior to the tactile? Who knows the elephant better, the one who sees or the one who embraces?

  3. KARL 105 7 says:

    Very nice story, I think I might even tell it to my kids before bed tonight. But how does that suffice for an argument?

  4. Whoever tells this story is in effect claiming to have the insight that he claims nobody has. Why should anybody believe that? What makes the story teller any less blind that the subjects of the story? Really, the story teller is just illustrating what he speculates God is like, only more arrogantly — imagining he has a superior view of things — thinking he is entirely right and the others wrong…

    Furthermore, In the case of Christianity, the “Elephant” Himself has revealed who He is and what He is like.

  5. So, this is a “parable” that is trotted out whenever someone wants to counter a claim of religious exclusivity. It says, no YOU’RE wrong, you only have a piece of the truth, just like everyone else, who also only have pieces of the truth.

    But the parable conveniently doesn’t take into account (as Sam says) the various mutually exclusive and contradictory claims of the “pieces of the truth.”

    But in these last days our “Elephant” has spoken to us by his Son…He is the radiance of the glory of the “Elephant” and the exact imprint of his nature…

    If we’ve seen the Son, we’ve seen the Elephant. We’re not blind.

  6. sondancer says:

    We can ALL be wrong but we can’t ALL be right! Our faith in Jesus is not an “I like chocolate ice cream and you like strawberry ice cream” issue. Our faith in Jesus is a “penicillin” issue. If you are dying of a disease you are not going to cure if with whatever feels good to you. You are going to cure it by taking the right medicine for the disease. Our salvation is not up to our choosing, it’s life or death. If you are dying, no one cares what kind of ice cream you like, you need something that will save you not something that just tastes good for the moment. The “elephant” argument is the same analogy. This idea that people are following whatever religions they “like” or “feel good” to them based on their limited knowledge. It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling the elephants foot or face, at the end of the day I’m dying and am in desperate need of salvation. I better be down right sure the antidote I’m taking is the right one- I sure don’t want to be eating ice cream when what I need is penicillin.

  7. Whoever is making this challenge is telling this story from the point of someone who can see all of the blind men and the elephant so he would have to know what is actually going on compared to the 6 blind men only knowing a part. I’d like to ask this challenger what religion really is, since he appears to know that religion is actually like.

  8. Mike Thps says:

    The blind men are unbelievers
    Jesus is the one that see’s
    The elephant is the God of the Bible and all the truths of Christianity.

    I actually like this parable 🙂