This week I have been covering common objections to Theism (especially Christianity) that I hear often from atheists. I received a kind note yesterday from a friend who is agnostic who said that he’d like more info on why I believe what I believe and less about atheists’ arguments. His point was well taken, so I’ll began a new thread of posts next week.
Today, however, I am writing to the many of you who are Christians who struggle with the arguments made by atheists against our beliefs and the evidence that supports them. This article is a little more in depth but if you can get this, you will really have something good to chat about with your atheist friends.
You’ve heard it before that believing in God is the same as believing in Unicorns, Fairies, Santa Claus and the like. Atheists will use these characters in one of two ways usually: 1) They will show the absurdity of believing in imaginary creatures and use that as an analogy for believing in God, or 2) They will ask you if you believe in Unicorns, Fairies, and Santa Claus and when you say, “no” they will try and turn the tables on you and say, “see, now you show me your evidence for not believing in those things.” Or like my twitter friend BOB asked me yesterday, “I now [will] ask you for evidence [of the] millions of things [that] don’t exist. Can I start listing things so you can disprove them?”
Another very popular argument was born in Stephen F. Robert’s statement made to Theists in 1995 (later popularized by Richard Dawkins) that, “I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
This is a common misunderstanding and conflation of 1st and 2nd order questions. Listen up. This will help you.
A first order question explores the “what” of God. This is the general idea of a being that is God. Alvin Plantinga explained this idea of God as something “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.”
Homer’s grand gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus were rejected by Xenophanes and Plato on the basis that there can only be ONE being that is GOD.
It is impossible to have two beings (or more) that possess an infinite degree of greatness. It is a metaphysical impossibility. A universe with two or more omnipotent, or supreme, or infinite beings is absolutely impossible.
A second order question explores the “who” of God. This is the possible conceptions of God.
So this means that a Theist rejects all other conceptions of God without being an “atheist” about Thor, Odin etc. because what makes a person a Theist is not the “who” of God but the “what” of God. Rejecting the Thor and Odin “who” type conceptions of god goes hand in hand with the positive accepting of the Theist “what” type of God. I’m not merely disbelieving in the others. I’m believing in One that eliminates the others altogether. It’s like killing a thousand birds with one stone.
So the difference between me and you (theist and atheist) is not the conceptions of God (who is the being God), but the concept of God (what is a being that is God). The Christian God is outside of time, without matter, and is not confined by the material universe. Since unicorns, fairies, santa claus, Thor, Odin, Wotan, Zeus, Ashara… are within time, composed of matter and confined by the universe, you can see how believing in them is not the same as believing in our God.