Friday, July 11, 2008
Willy Wonka and the Prophet Factory: A Tale of Poor Argumentation and Moral Inconsistency
Nearly everyone is familiar with the tale of Willy Wonka, the eccentric candy maker who invites children to his factory for a delicious tour. Yet few have heard of Mr. Wonka’s claim to prophethood. It seems that his plans were nearly foiled by his love of chocolate.
With his generous gifts of confectionary delights, Wonka managed to convince Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Augustus Gloop, and Mike Teevee that he is God’s last and greatest prophet. But good old Charlie Bucket remained unconvinced. “Mr. Wonka,” he said. “Can you give me some reason to believe that you’re a prophet?”
Charlie was puzzled. It didn’t make sense to him that tasty candy could be considered proof of prophethood. He tasted the Gobstoppers again and again, but he couldn't make sense of Wonka's argument.
One day Charlie went to confront Mr. Wonka about this poor argumentation, but the great candy maker was busy hanging a sign over his Wonka Bars. The sign read:
“THUS SAITH THE LORD: NO ONE SHALL EAT MORE THAN ONE CHOCOLATE BAR PER DAY.”
“Mr. Wonka,” said Charlie. “Could I ask you a question about the ‘evidence’ you gave me?”
“Of course, Charlie,” replied Wonka, gobbling up a delicious Wonka Bar. “Pardon me while I have my lunch.”
“Some people are convinced that Slugworth’s candy is tastier than yours. And I know that a few of the Oompa Loompas have apostatized because they don’t even like your candy. Do you really think that candy is the best way to determine divine truth?”
“But Mr. Wonka!” cried Charlie. “Didn’t you just put up a sign from God saying that no one is allowed to eat more than one chocolate bar per day?”
Wonka shot a suspicious look at Charlie before saying, “You’re in danger of being turned into an eternal blueberry, Charlie. Don’t question me! God will punish you. Besides, I was just about to put up my latest sign.” Here Wonka placed another sign under his original sign. The new sign read:
“BUT THIS RULE DOESN’T APPLY TO WONKA. HE GETS AS MANY CHOCOLATE BARS AS HE WANTS.”
Charlie walked away in horror. He hunted down Veruca and said, “Veruca, don’t you find it odd that Mr. Wonka tells us that we can only have one chocolate bar, while he himself gets as many as he wants?”
Then Charlie went to Violet. “Violet, don’t you think it’s odd that Mr. Wonka gets special chocolate privileges, when he’s the one putting up the signs from God?”
“I’ll chew you up and spit you out if you keep talking like that, Charlie!” she screamed. “You know that Mr. Wonka needs to get contracts with cocoa and sugar companies! They’re not going to trust him if they don’t see him eating chocolate constantly. So he needs to eat all that chocolate! That's why God gave him special permission.”
Unconvinced, Charlie went and found Augustus. “Listen, Augustus. I know that you believe Mr. Wonka is a prophet. But all he’s given us to show for it is his candy, and if you weren’t so obsessed with candy, I don’t think you’d find his argument compelling at all. And here we see him telling us to do one thing, while he does something completely different. Doesn’t this bother you at all?”
“Nope!” rejoined Augustus, and he buried his face in a bowl of syrup.
“Mike Teevee is smart,” thought Charlie. “He’ll listen if I talk to him.” Charlie found Mike and said, “Please tell me that I’m not the only one who sees that there’s something dreadfully wrong here, Mike. Thousands of people have claimed to be prophets. Mr. Wonka has the worst argument of all in his defense, and he doesn’t practice what he preaches.”
Mike threw the switch, and Charlie vanished! Then Mike saw Charlie’s molecules dancing near the ceiling. “Sorry, Charlie. In order to put you back together, I’d have to turn on the television. But you see, Mr. Wonka told me to destroy people who criticize him, so that’s what I’m doing. I have to, he’s our prophet. He said so himself. Now . . . where can I find those apostate Oompa Loompas?”
IT’S SAFE TO SAY THAT NO ONE READING THIS STORY WILL BE IMPRESSED BY MR. WONKA’S CLAIM TO PROPHETHOOD, OR BY THE PERPLEXING DEFENSE OFFERED BY HIS UNCRITICAL FOLLOWERS. YET HOW IS MUHAMMAD’S STORY ANY DIFFERENT? IF WE SWITCH WONKA BARS WITH WOMEN, WONKA’S SIGNS WITH SURAH 4:3 AND 33:50, AND THE ARGUMENT FROM GOOD CANDY WITH THE ARGUMENT FROM GOOD POETRY, WE HAVE A ROUGH SKETCH OF THE PROPHETIC CLAIM OF THE FOUNDER OF ISLAM. SADLY, MUHAMMAD’S FOLLOWERS, LIKE WONKA’S, ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO QUESTION HIM.