Proof of Mr. Tickle

July 14, 2015 • 8:00 am

Sophisticated Theologians™ try to pretend otherwise, but a lot of the “evidence” for God is just like this:



And while we’re on the topic of graphic depictions of religious logic (an oxymoron if ever there was one), here’s an old chestnut that I just love, for it sums up in four crudely-drawn panels one of the prime (non)arguments for God. In fact, after my talk in Aspen one questioner asserted the argument in the last panel:


h/t: John W.

52 thoughts on “Proof of Mr. Tickle

    1. Per Wikipedia:

      “Mr. Tickle’s story begins with him in bed and making himself breakfast without getting up because of his “extraordinarily long arms”. He then decides that it is a tickling sort of day and so goes around town tickling people – a teacher, a policeman, a greengrocer, a child, a station guard, a pilot, a doctor, a butcher and a postman. The book ends with a warning that Mr. Tickle could be lurking around your doorway, waiting to tickle you or your children.”

      That’s just creepy.

      1. Naaaaah, Mr. Tickle is great! It was my son’s favorite book when he was maybe 18 months old. Ya can’t just cheat and go to Wiki – ya gotta read the original source- LOL ( or Mr. Tickle’s gonna getcha:-)

      2. I think a bunch of the Mr. Men books have the same basic plot structure. Mr. Nervous also has him starting off in bed, then having breakfast, then going out for a walk, and it ends with him coming home for the day, and some comment about how its bad to be nervous about everything.

        So, maybe not ‘creepy’ so much as cookie-cutter. Which is perfectly fine for some kids books, as kids often like repetition (AIUI it helps them learn).

        1. Repetition is important for ‘lil ones. But oh, it is tiresome to have to read Goodnite Moon over and over again.

      3. Mr. Tickle was my favourite of all those characters when I was a child. Mr. Tickle rocks!

  1. Well, if we were to judge by the internal consistency and extent of the documentation, we would have to conclude that Harry Potter, Rincewind, and Sauron are more credible than God. 😉

  2. “I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!”
    – Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

  3. Proof is not what we demand. Any little form of evidence would be good but who has a lifetime to spend waiting.

    1. Oh, they give evidence all the time: bad evidence. If “any little form of evidence” will make you happy, then “the Bible says the Bible is true” is the itsy bitsy teeny weenie morsel which satisfies.

      Since it obviously doesn’t, then I think we should stop saying atheists want evidence, any evidence at all. They’ve got buckets. The dispute is over what counts — and what doesn’t.

      1. Well then, we could say the same about proof. Who’s definition of proof should we use?

        If faith is all that counts then there is no dispute. Evidence and proof mean nothing and isn’t that the problem.

        1. The problem is distinguishing between good evidence and bad evidence. That’s really where the first focus of the whole debate lies: defining what we mean by evidence and proof.

          It’s the rare believer who rests their belief on faith alone. Legitimate Fideists will admit that it makes much more sense to be an atheist — that the case for atheism is strong and convincing, the case for God weak and unpersuasive. Those generally aren’t the theists who ever bring up or even want to talk about evidence or proof in the first place because they’re happy to let you or anybody set the definitions.

          1. I go along with the idea that “evidence,” in the sense it is most valuable, is that data/experience which allows us to decide between competing theories or hypotheses.

            So “evidence” is data that are predicted on one hypothesis and not the alternative hypotheses, or that is made most coherent by a theory or hypothesis, over alternatives.

            (And if there aren’t two or more competing positive hypotheses, the null hypothesis is always there as the baseline from which to distinguish any positive hypothesis).

            The concept is otherwise, in any other sense, of little use. I could claim I created the moon. But then so could everyone else. The mere fact the existence of the moon is data consistent with my claim can’t be taken as “evidence” for the claim, given everyone else could claim they created the moon and all claims would be equally consistent with the existence of the moon.

            If evidence is not the data that distinguishes one claim/hypothesis/theory from another, then we have arbitrariness and chaos. (And it’s also why “God Did It” type explanations never have “evidence” in their favor, insofar as any data can be made consistent with that claim and hence it can’t be distinguished from other hypotheses, null or otherwise).

      2. Reminds me of one of the best Lionel Hutz quotes from The Simpsons:

        Judge: Mr. Hutz w’ve been in here for four hours. Do you have any evidence at all?

        Hutz: Well, Your Honor. We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are *kinds* of evidence.

      3. We can’t even judge if it’s good or bad evidence, since they do not have an actual hypothesis that we can try to attach their presented evidence to.

        They have evidence for the hypothesis they don’t like, not the hypothesis they think – or pretend – they have.

  4. Yes, a fearsome argument indeed.

    From what I can tell the “can you prove it’s not true” argument doesn’t come from the more robust set of apologetics designed to convince the unconvinced. Instead, it’s part of the more modern, wimpy, leave-me-alone version of the defenses-of-the-faith, the ones which usually boil down to “I’m ALLOWED to believe what I WANT.” With a generous dash of “Anything is Possible” on the side, of course.

    Because wanting God is the right and righteous path to God, this isn’t supposed to trigger any worries re confirmation bias or anything. And because believing in “possibilities” makes you open and wise, you’re not going to be concerned that this is very weak tea indeed.

    1. With a generous dash of “Anything is Possible” on the side, of course.

      Isn’t that the argument that should end with people flying out of 10th floor windows, unsure if the snake venom or the acceleration at the bottom will have greater effect?

    2. The first rule of religious argumentation seems to be that anything science cannot conclusively establish as false may be claimed as true if it a) supports the claimant’s religious belief, or b) makes the claimant feel good.

  5. I would argue the cartoons do us a disservice. Science does not deal in “proof”. And if we use the scientific method to assess the validity of a hypothesis, then this just misleads people about the nature of evidence and “proof”.

    1. What’s the difference between proof and evidence? Both words have the same translation in Dutch (‘bewijs’).

      1. ‘Proof’ in English typically means something like “an indisputable or definitive argument.” When mathematicians show some conclusion derives from a set of axioms and rules, that is called a proof.

        “Evidence” refers to the physical or historical bits and things you use in support of some conclusion. However in English, it is perfectly sensible to make the statement “I have evidence for that, but not proof of it.” That would mean you have some supporting objects or documents for your conclusion, but you can’t definitively say your conclusion must be right.

        Of course, English also includes Sastra’s more tastier meaning too.

        1. Thanks for that. I think I understand it now. Science does not deal in proof because we should always leave room for doubt.

            1. The Dutch word is ‘bewijs’, from the verb ‘bewijzen’ (to prove). But ‘evidence’ is also ‘bewijs’. Circumstantial evidence and direct evidence are translated respectively as ‘indirect bewijs’ and ‘direct bewijs’.

              It’s a bit annoying, but germanic languages are full of this. Dutch (and German) don’t have separate words for debt and guilt. The Dutch and German word for both guilt and debt is ‘schuld’. This is also the reason why the Germans and the Dutch insist on the Greeks to pay back their debt, even when it’s obvious they never will. In our language (and thinking), debt is related to guilt. It’s not just a financial mistake to default on debt, it’s deeply immoral as well. These problems with Greece are not just economic, they’re moral problems too.

              1. In Dutch you also have “proef” meaning test (or taste), and pronounced very similarly to the English “proof”. And in English “proof” can also mean “test”, as in “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. So the proof is the test that proves the concept true (or not), as well as the result of that test.

                Unsurprisingly both “proef” and “proof” have the same etymology (from Latin via Old French).

              2. In Dutch you also have “proef”, meaning test and pronounced almost the same as “proof”. The English “proof” can also mean a test, as in “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. So the “proof” is both the test to determine if the concept is true (or not) and the result of that test.

                Unsurprisingly, both “proof” and “proef” have the same etymology, from Latin via Old French.

                (PS I think I accidentally entered an anonymous comment. Apologies to Prof CC and readers if this leads to double posting).

          1. Yes. Also because proof (in English) typically implies you have some sort of deductive reasoning backing up your conclusion; in contrast, science is mostly inductive.

      2. What that suggests to me is that ‘bewijs’ is not an exact translation of either ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’.

        This is quite common when translating from one language to another – words are rarely exact equivalents and their meanings can vary with the context.


    2. Some of this terminological confusion may be the fault of The Law where “proof” and “evidence” are sometimes synonymous, as in the phrase “offer of proof,” and sometimes not, as in the phrase “burden of proof.”

        1. Oh, I made a mistake. Himmler, like Goering would have been eligible since, in that department,he had something simmler

  6. Thank you! A book is just a form of communication. I mostly use Darwin’s book as an example. “On the origin of species” was written to communicate the evidence (finches) to us, the book itself is not proof of evolution by natural selection. The ‘evidence’ that religious books show to their audience is rather poor and unconvincing in comparison.

    It’s just so embarrassing when the religious don’t even know how a book functions.

  7. You have shown a representation of His Gigglitude? We the Ticklish are not laughing. Prepare for death, Infidel.

  8. I don’t know about Mr. Tickle, but I used to have a Mr. Messy t-shirt, which was (and is) all-too-much a self-description. I bought it while an undergraduate at McGill at the campus bookstore (!).

  9. “You cant prove that I don’t” could also read: “You cant prove that I don’t, and I am going to blow you up if you don’t start believing that I do!”

  10. I agree with that comic; the appropriate response to religious logic is baffled consternation. “WTF” indeed.

  11. There are contingent beings and necessary beings. Yahweh created our Universe but he isn’t necessary. His dad is the necessary being, he outsourced creation to Yahweh. You can’t prove he didn’t. Q.E.D.

Leave a Reply