Analogy of the Black Box

THE CAVEAT: By definition, an analogy is imperfect. The whole notion behind teaching by analogy is to make or explain a point while keeping complications and distractions to a minimum, to clarify sometimes intangible ideas, to use something knowable to discuss things otherwise abstract or unknowable, and to simplify for the sake of understanding often broad or unwieldy topics through the use of comparison.

The Analogy of the Black Box is simple and basic. It seeks to compare the unknown contents of a seamless and impenetrable black box with the attributes often claimed for God. If it is impossible to ever look inside the box, if it is impervious to x-ray and other scientific analysis, then no one can truthfully describe the thing contained within, or if there is anything inside at all. Any claims made that do describe the box's inner contents are therefore complete and utter fabrications, products of the imagination, speculative or wishful-thinking, with no basis in reality.

Seamless & Impenetrable Black Box

The Analogy of the Black Box

Imagine that a black box is discovered, a one-foot square cube that has no detectable seams along any of its edges and no apparent way to look inside. The source of the box is a complete mystery and what it may contain even more mysterious.

In order to learn more about the box—and what it might possibly contain—it is taken to the local University and examined by a team of scientists. To their dismay, the scientists quickly learn the box is completely impervious to scientific analysis. Nothing, it seems, can penetrate its surfaces, neither x-rays nor fluoroscopy nor sonograms. They bombard it with radioactive scans to see if they might get a shadowy profile of whatever the box might contain, but this too proves futile. More scientists are called in from around the world, and even though they spend a million man-hours and utilize every technological advance at their disposal, no one can crack the box. Even with all their effort, they are unable to say whether the box even contains anything at all or if it is solid all the way through. They agree the only thing they can say about the 'thing' inside the box—if there is a 'thing' at all—is that it is completely and utterly unknowable.

Every few years, as technology advances, a new team of scientists make an attempt at looking inside the box, but they too must eventually admit defeat. No one, they conclude, can know whatever's inside the box. Any suggestion as to what might be inside the box is purely speculative and without any basis in reality.

A few more years pass, and suddenly there is a flurry of activity. Five different people come forward all claiming to 'know' what's inside the box. Since none of them came by this information scientifically or empirically—no one used their five senses or any tools to determine the contents of the box—the scientific community immediately considers these claims delusive and impossible, although the rest of the world decides to wait and see.

At a press conference, the first claimant explains he had a dream and in his dream the 'thing inside the box' revealed itself to him. He describes the thing as a glowing red sphere with a thousand eyes that can see into the past, present, and future simultaneously. The thing, he explains, is well-disposed and compassionate and wants only to award 'universal knowledge' to all those willing to surrender themselves to it.

At another press conference, the second claimant calls the first claimant's assertions the "despicable words of Satan" because she has the "real" answer as to what the box contains. As proof she holds up an English translation of a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of an ancient manuscript that no one knows who really wrote. Using this book, she turns to several chapters and verses that seem to describe the attributes of something living inside a box. When pressed by reporters as to why she can trust the veracity of this ancient manuscript, she quotes directly from the manuscript as her proof: "You have no need to doubt the words of this book because these words are all perfect, true, and good." When a reporter complains that this is just circular reasoning and not really proof at all, she quotes from the book finding verses that berate the "foolish wisdom of this world." According to her book, an ancient tribe was in daily communication with the 'thing inside the box'—a pyramid-shaped creature with three eyes all working in unison. Using human 'prophets' as its mouthpieces, the 'thing inside the box' was able to make known all the rules and regulations it required of this tribe. She has no reason to doubt anything these 'prophets' said because, as her book goes on to explain, they were all "inspired by Spirit of the Lord."

Halfway around the world, a third claimant holds his own press conference. He too has a copy of an ancient manuscript that he consults to determine the nature of the 'thing is inside the box', although his book is completely different book than what the second claimant is using. Like her, he too can quote from his book to 'prove' his book's validity and veracity, thereby contending that only the words inside his book are "perfect, true, and good." In fact, by selectively quoting from his book, he is able to argue that the 'thing inside the box' demands that all those who don't recognize his book as the ultimate authority are proving themselves nothing less than demons in disguise and therefore candidates for bloody annihilation. "The thing inside the box," he explains, "is a donut-shaped eye composed entirely of gold, as the blessed Prophet has revealed." It seems this third claimant's book was composed by a lone prophet who is said to have had divine communication with the 'thing inside the box'.

Not far from where the third claimant was holding his press conference, a fourth claimant was going from city to city spreading the "good news" of his conversion. It seems he was walking to work one day when the 'thing inside the box' temporarily blinded him and began speaking directly to him in a voice only he could understand. With the thing's voice thundering inside his head, this fourth claimant not only learned the nature of the 'thing inside the box' but was also taught the requirements it expected of all mankind. The fourth claimant didn't have to talk to anybody to discover this, or read anything, or do any other type of research, because the voice of the 'thing inside the box' was by itself telling him everything he needed to know. According to the fourth claimant, the 'thing inside the box' is perfect and just, composed entirely of love, and wants nothing more than to love and protect all of mankind forever—but only if mankind loves it first. If mankind doesn't love first then all bets are off—the 'thing inside the box' will torture the loveless unbelievers for all eternity. "Such," beamed the fourth claimant, choking with tears, "is the power of the thing's righteous love!"

A fifth claimant had very little to say about the 'thing inside the box' except that it wasn't an entity at all but actually a portal to another universe. "That's what caused the Big Bang," she explained. "Someone in the previous universe finally got the damn box open and everything sucked right into it starting the whole shebang all over again. It's a cyclical black hole, man, folding inward on itself. Eternal recurrence. Every few billion years or so someone figures out how to open the box and whooooosh, we start all over again! " When asked if she had any proof of this, the fifth claimant used a lot of scientific double-talk and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo then produced charts and graphics and reams of mathematical equations before admitting she had no 'real' proof at all. "But what else could it be? I mean, think about it? It makes perfect sense!"

In time, more and more claimants came forward, each fleshing out the nature and attributes and character of the 'thing inside the box'. Pretty soon there were thousands of claimaints each offering a different version. Like the first five, none of these claimants had any proof of what was actually inside the box, because no one had ever opened the box. It couldn't be opened. No one could know what was inside. Everything any of them claimed or quoted or argued—whether taken from dreams and visions or books and theories—was never based on anything inside the box, on anything real, on anything proven or touched or measured or observed.

In short, anything that anybody said concerning the nature and attributes or like and dislikes or rules and regulations of the 'thing inside the box' was pure and total nonsense. It was all made up. Unless one could actually examine the 'thing inside the box' any words used to describe it would remain complete fabrications. In which case, such talk is meaningless. The words are meaningless. They are not based on anything knowable.

I repeat —

When it comes to describing the nature and attributes and character of that which cannot been known, the words used to make these descriptions are by necessity empty and meaningless. Why? Because they are nothing more than words pointing back-and-forth to abstract words.

And words pointing back-and-forth to abstract words do not a reality make.

So now's as good a time as any to ask the question —

Without relying on words, what do you really know?

What do you really know about God?
What do you really know about the Soul?
What do you really know about Death?

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Copyright © 2007 by Craig Lee Duckett. All rights reserved
LAST UPDATED: May 19, 2006
May 19, 2006