I'm feeling contrarian today, so just for the hell of it...
The Case for Elves
I am going to argue that the existence of "Elves" (they could also be called "kami," "nature-spirits," "faeries," or "gods and goddesses"), defined as invisible intelligent, social beings of unusual but limited powers, abilities, and nature, is plausible. That in fact, they are far more likely to exist
than an omnimax monotheistic deity. For the purposes of this post, I am going to refer to these alleged beings as "Elves" even though different cultures use different terms for alleged beings of similar description.Immunity From the Standard Problems of Mono-Theology
Elves are immune to the usual fatal counter-arguments against monotheistic theology. Theodicy:
Not a problem. Given that Elves are plural, and presumably at least as volitional as humans, we would anticipate that they fall along a spectrum of ethical virtue and vice as we do, that they would not all universally and perfectly adhere to some particular set of moral values. Absent a claim that they are infallibly omnibenevolent and omnipotent, the existence of evil does not contradict the claim that Elves exist. As mentioned in the article cited in the OP, Elves are "known" to be mischievous--as are "faeries" (the Celtic version), and kami (Japan).Nature of the Cosmos:
Elves and other "nature-spirits" are usually (AFAIK) viewed as immanent in the natural world, usually valuing wild nature or at least certain "sacred sites." They are not necessarily its creators, nor are they providers of putatively infallible revelations about its origin and nature, so the Cosmos shown to us by science (very large, very old, and not at all "about us") does not contradict the claim of the existence of Elves.Paradoxes of "Omni-" Attributes:
Elves are not claimed to be omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Thus, the fact that these "attributes" are mutually incompatible (e.g. how can an entity that knows all of its own actions and thoughts possess "free will" or change its mind, and if it can't, how is it "omnipotent?") have no effect on the hypothesis that Elves exist.Differing "Theologies" Are Consistent With the Existence of Elves:
One claim that monotheisms all share is that there is "One True God." Since this OTG is an omnimax, and "he" is said to want humans to have the "right" beliefs (e.g. that "he" is, in fact, the One True God, that all others are false, that some particular clade of priests and theologians and/or a holy book has all the right answers), it follows that if such a god existed and communicates with its followers, that the followers would converge on a single "right" theology. Thus, atheists can easily point to the many thousands of sects and denominations (many of which claim that they
are the true version and all the others are Vile Heretics) as evidence against the existence of an omnimax "One True God."
Elves, on the other hand, are plural and at least some of them are said to be mischievous. The existence of multiple, incompatible versions of "One True" religions are almost a prediction of the Elf Hypothesis. Given that monotheists are almost always hostile to Elves (literally demonizing
them, building churches on their holy sites, etc.), what better prank could mischievous "spirits" play than to turn the notion of "One True" theology against itself? Polytheistic religions are compatible with the Elf Hypothesis--indeed, they're something we would expect to see if the EH is valid.The Social Nature of the "Divine:"
"Deities" of whatever shape, including the monotheistic ones, are almost always portrayed as social. They talk with humans, write books, have social needs (e.g. status/worship), and so on. One of the core claims of monotheism is that "God" is metaphysically solitary. Prior to the creation of angels, humans, etc., "God" "was" (if temporal terminology applies here) alone, with no other entities to talk to. Even after their creation, "God" is still the only one of "his" kind. Social skills (ability to talk, faculties of empathy and love) and needs (needs for love, status, authority, sexual relationships, etc.) are properties of social beings.
The assertion that a being who is metaphysically
alone is also a social being, complete with inherently social properties like male gender (what does "he" do with "his" dick if atheaism--There Is No Goddess--is true?) presents a paradox. How could "he" have created language when, in "his" original state, there was no such thing as "someone else" to talk to? The very concept
of language (or of "someone else") would not exist. Elves, being plural, are automatically not subject to this criticism. The existence of Elf languages, social relations, and so on follows automatically from a description of their purported nature.The Plausibility of Elves:
According to our current best understanding, more than eighty percent
of all the matter in the Cosmos is so-called "Dark Matter." "Dark Matter" isn't actually dark, otherwise we could see it when it got between us and something bright. Rather, "Dark Matter" is invisible
--it does not interact with light on any currently observable level. We can detect its presence by its gravitational effects on visible matter.
In accordance with the principle of parsimony, scientists are currently seeking a single "candidate" for DM. This is a sensible procedure, since it prevents us from making unnecessarily complex hypotheses, so that we would only add new "types" of DM as needed to explain observed phenomena. However, parsimony is only procedural: the Cosmos is not required to play along. Consider the state of physics in the late 19th Century. Through the experiments of chemistry and physics, scientists had succeeded in "breaking down" matter into a set of atomic "elements" (the Periodic Table), then discovered that the numerous different types of "atoms" were all composed of three "sub-atomic" particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. From this, parsimony would lead one to anticipate that with a little more work those three could be broken down into a single fundamental constituent, such as vortices in the luminiferous ether. However, the Cosmos had a big surprise up its sleeve. As physicists built progressively more powerful "atom-smashers," the number of "fundamental particles" started to multiply
, so that now we have mapped out a "zoo" of over two hundred.
So, if we hypothesize that the invisible "Dark Matter" that constitutes ~84% of all matter in the Cosmos is at least
as diverse in nature and interactive complexity (interactions between different DM "particles") as the ~16% of visible matter we are composed of, it is plausible that interactive systems up to and including life forms and ecosystems could be composed of invisible DM. If there could be such a thing as DM life, and some of that life could be intelligent, such life could also presumably develop technology of some sort. It is therefore plausible that intelligent DM life could find some way to discover, and interact with, humans.
While none of these possibilities is backed with strong evidence, they show that the basic requirements for claims about the existence of Elves could be met without needing to invoke "the supernatural." "The supernatural" as commonly imagined is self-contradictory ("We know all about it, but it's unknowable! It can't ever be detected even in principle, but we're absolutely certain that it's there and that it votes Republican!"), but the Elf Hypothesis isn't vulnerable to this problem.Elves, "God," and Anticipated Consequences:
As Eliezar Yudkowsky of Less Wrong puts it, beliefs should "pay their freight in anticipated consequences." That is, if we want to assert that X is true, we should be able to specify some anticipated consequences of X (which are less likely to occur if X is not true than if it is), so that we have something to look for when it comes to testing the validity of X. Vast tracts of monotheistic theology are all about trying to evade having any anticipated consequences of the existence of an omnimax "God." Explanations of why "God" doesn't
heal amputees (or do anything else, for that matter), or why "he," with "his" omnimax attributes, is no more intelligent, imaginative, or capable than human theologians when it comes to figuring out how to make a Cosmos containing beings with freedom of choice, yet without evil, or why "he" does not provide an indisputable revelation of "him"self when "people believing the right things about 'him'" is supposed to be so important to "him," etc., etc., and so forth, abound
throughout the theological corpus.
What about Elves? If there is such a thing as an invisible component of reality that is intelligent or contains intelligence, and that this component of reality is or can be perceptible to humans in some way or other and/or under certain circumstances, we should anticipate that people living in different times and different places without contact with one another would nonetheless perceive the same reality. IOW, if you took an ancient Egyptian, a Neandertal, an Australian aborigine, and a pre-Columbian Mayan priest, and showed them Mt. Fuji, then someone else asked them to describe what they saw, there would be enough correspondence between their descriptions that the second person could tell they'd seen the same thing (a mountain, but not a mandolin) even if they could not tell which mountain.
In like manner, if there is an "invisible reality" that is composed primarily of a particular One True God who is very particular about what "he" wants humans to believe about "him," we would anticipate that people claiming to experience "invisible reality" would come back with perceptions consistent with the One True Theology. This is self-evidently not the case, even within each of the main monotheistic religions.
On the other hand, if the "invisible reality" is populated by multiple intelligent beings, diversity in the names, personalities, ethical values, etc. of "spirits" would be exactly what we would expect to find. Since Elves are often described as having concern for the natural world and/or particular "sacred" areas thereof, we would anticipate that people from other cultures who encountered the same beings but called them something else ("faeries," "Wee Folk," "kami" "nature-spirits" "gods and goddesses" etc.) would still describe them in similar ways as the Icelanders do. It turns out that claims of encounters with multiple "spirit beings" that value nature and/or "sacred" sites is very common if not ubiquitous among the various animist, shamanistic, and polytheistic religions and "spiritual" teachings around the world. It is also fairly common for such "spirits" to manifest mischievous personalities--the Elves as described in the OP, "Trickster gods" like Coyote and Loki, the Faeries of Celtic lore, the Kitsune of Japan, etc..
While reductionist/materialist explanations (that do not include Elves as real intelligent beings) are possible and arguably more probable (i.e., if the "Elves" are delusional constructs, they're constructs of the same neurological-psychological structure: the human brain, which is the source of the common traits), the combination of diversity (of names, values, etc.) and common traits (plurality, value of nature/"sacred" sites, the presence of mischief) is consistent with the Elf Hypothesis, but inconsistent with the claims of monotheism. Testing the Elf Hypothesis:
The Elf Hypothesis is not unambiguously testable the way a hypothesis about something in the inanimate natural world (say, Higgs bosons) is. For one thing, the natural world doesn't play tricks or lie or have motivations or any desires of its own regarding the outcome of the test.
If Elves exist, and they have intentions toward human behavior (they want us to respect nature and/or their "sacred" sites, and/or they want to pull pranks on us, or have relationships of various kinds on occasion), it is arguable that they (or at least some of them) would want us to believe,
but not know
, they exist. That way, they could get significant numbers of people to act on the premise of their existence (respect nature) without triggering the attention of human military-industrial complexes. Since they are not inherently omnipotent and invulnerable, it would make sense for them not to land on the White House lawn: humans are dangerous
, especially equipped with toys like lasers and nuclear weapons.
If this sounds like the kind of dodgy avoidance of testing that the monotheistic religions engage in, that's because it might well be. On the other hand, this is at least a plausible reason for "hiddenness" given the nature of Elves, which does not apply to an omnimax, invulnerable One, True God. Even if the Elves are considerably more powerful than humans are, they could arguably keep their distance from us for the same reason humans usually avoid loitering around hornets' nests.
Even if Elves aren't deliberately hiding, they still "manifest" (if the claims of people who say they experience the presence of such entities are valid) at times and places of their own--rather than scientists'--choosing. For that matter, doing science with intelligent beings as subjects is notoriously difficult even when the beings in question are plain old humans. This is why disciplines like psychology, economics, and politics are not able to produce bodies of undisputed, repeatedly demonstrable data the way "hard" sciences like astronomy and biology can. Another example is the distortion in the results of psychological studies
that results from using "WEIRD" (Western, Educated [people from] Industial, Rich, Developed [countries]) people (i.e., college students) as volunteer subjects.A Proposed Test:
There is, perhaps, a way to test the Elf Hypothesis, or at least find out if "Elf-like" beings exist. People who use certain psychedelic substances, such as Dimethyl Triptomene (DMT) and Ayahuasca often claim to encounter intelligent non-human beings, and even visit their worlds. These worlds are said to be internally self-consistent (i.e., not changing and flowing in a dream-like way), and they seem to "go about their business" (i.e., exist) independently of the human experiencer. See DMT: The Spirit Molecule
by Rick Strassman and The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience
by Benny Shanon for more information on these reports. Here is a full-length documentary on YouTube about DMT: The Spriti Molecule
1. Assemble a group of psychologically healthy
individuals, preferably from a number of different cultures and backgrounds.
2. Isolate them from one another, so that they cannot share stories, etc..
3. Provide them with a short list of simple questions to ask entities they encounter. "What is your name? What is your name for your species? What do you call your world?" There should be only a few questions that are easily memorized. The experience of these psychedelics is universally reported to be incredibly profound and strange, so we want it to be as easy as possible for the experiencers to remember that they've got questions to ask and what the questions are.
4. Have the experiencers write down or record their experiences, including any answers given to the questions.
5. Send transcripts of the experience records to analysts who are not involved with the experiencers or the physicians and/or psychologists presiding over the administration of the psychedelics. The names of the experiencers should be replaced with numbers or alphanumeric codes, with the correlation between experiencer name and code kept secret from the analysts. The codes could be correlated by national origin, age, and so on, so that analysts--perhaps another separate team--could check the results for correlation by experiencer nationality, culture, gender, etc. vs. correlations that cross those boundaries.
6. Have the analysts arrange the data according to similarities and differences. I.e., if multiple experiencers report "beings" giving the same species or world-name, this should show up as a data point, in contrast with different names given.
7. Repeat the experiment, adding other questions.
Hopefully, a testing protocol along these lines would eventually start yielding a pattern of results indicating the presence of a consistent "world," consistent details about the "beings," and so forth--or the absence thereof. Imagine the reverse--aliens on alien psychedelics somehow randomly appearing to humans (we're
the "trip!") trying to figure out if Earth is a real world or some delusion they're having. Their experiencers would report some similarities (such as in the shape of humans--unless they're also encountering dolphins, etc.!), but also differences. The "beings" they encounter would speak different languages, and call the planet, the species, and the culture they inhabit different things in those languages, have different beliefs they'd want to share, and so on.
But eventually, experiences would start to cross-map. Multiple alien experiencers would "come back" with reports about a place called "America," others with a place called "Russia" or "China," and so on. The experimenters could modify the question lists accordingly, i.e., ask the "beings" they encounter "Is there a place called 'China' on your world?" and so forth. Eventually, the alien experimenters would start to realize that Earth and humans represent a consistent, real world inhabited by beings of a species not their own.
Hopefully, our experimenters could do the same if there is a real "Elf-like" world being experienced by people using DMT and Ayahuasca--or demonstrate that there is no
consistency because it's (most likely to be) "all in the head" of the experiencer.Conclusion:
The Elf Hypothesis is far more plausible than any of the Abrahamic monotheisms, and is at least potentially testable scientifically.