The Oatmeal’s cat in a dark room


853-black-cat-1The Oatmeal, a fairly popular web comic, put out this recent analogy about philosophy, religion, and science. Here are some things to note.
1. The anaology doesn’t explain anything. As with many expressions of humor or wit, The Oatmeal’s message is implicit. In the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers of science and language undertook the projects of logical positivism and verificationism to try to make sense of non-empirical statements. If we take The Oatmeal’s comic under this rubric, at best we might interpret it as emotive. The Oatmeal seems to be saying, “Yeah, science, that thing. I love it! It gives me that feeling like when you find something you’ve been looking for. And those other things, boo on them.” That’s a quaint sentiment.
2. Science is a branch of philosophy. What we today call science is both a certain practical way of knowing and a body of knowledge. During the later stages of the Enlightenment, what was called “natural philosophy” became known as natural science, and then later, just science. However, philsophy, metaphysics, and theology have at various times claimed and often do exhibit what we’d call “scientific” rigor. Science is not owned by physicalists, materialists, or fanboys of scientism.
3. The flashlight doesn’t shine on itself. Empiricists commit themselves to sense data to understand the world. Of course, they can’t just use sense data. They rely on many presuppositions that aren’t empirically justified. For example, mathematical truths, the constancy of the laws of nature, the truth that the world exists for more than five minutes at a time, etc. The very tools that let you know what function a flashlight has, have confidence that it is good at what it does, and tell you what to do with the cat once you’ve found it, are sciences like philosophy, metaphysics, and theology.
4. Being in dark rooms with cats isn’t like our everyday, ordinary experience. Nonetheless, philosophers often use the analogy of a room to achieve greater understanding the world. Consider Serle’s Chinese Room thought experiment. More recently, cold case homicide detective and Christian Apologist J. Warner Wallace has used such an analogy in his book, God’s Crime Scene. He lays out a case as to how there is a divine intervener outside the room of our universe.

Photo credit: Nebojsa Mladjenovic via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

5 Responses to The Oatmeal’s cat in a dark room

  1. Catdoom says:

    Retarded

  2. I like how you did not defend theology, not even a byte of it.

    That’s fine. For the most part of it, the analogy of Metaphysics and theology in the cartoon are spot on.

    However, I agree with you with regards to Philosophy based on facts.

    • Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says that facts, like telescopes and gentlemen’s wigs, were a seventeenth-century invention. What is a fact is subject to the framework being used to classify it. Theologies have their own sets of coherent and correspondent facts, just as philosophies and sciences do.

  3. Sam says:

    Certainly the analogies oversimplify things, but I think the point is indeed that those are all philosophies. We’re always in the world looking for something; it’s just that some ways are generally more logical.

  4. Thomas Sample says:

    Never go full retard

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