I recently engaged some atheists concerning their claims about how they see the God of Christians. One claim an atheist author made was that the Christian god is simply one of the imagination. This god exists because Christian believe this god’s existence. The actual statement is, “they [gods] exist because you make them exist” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014/10/24/god-does-exist-2). The author goes on to state,
You were likely taught from your youngest days to believe in this entity, and some of you have spent a lifetime cultivating a way of thinking about and perceiving a world which includes this Being in the midst of it. You were taught to listen to the thoughts and feelings in your own head and consider that some of them may very well be this Person communicating with you, telling you things you should know. You’ve spent many years reading a text which you were told represents the right way to think about this person, and if you’ve had as long as I had, you were able to internalize its vocabulary and its thought forms until they became second nature to you. In short, you do experience this person as if he were a real person, and it won’t do you any good for me to stand here and tell you he does not exist. That’s simply incorrect. He exists because you make him exist.”
In other words, God is not a matter of epistemology, belief system, or even reality, but simply of one’s imagination. I posed a challenge to this claim (and a claim it is) that it is no more than the logical fallacy called a straw man or even a false attribution. It is also an epistemological one for the one making the claim. Let us examine the claim from these perspectives.
First, let us look at the logical fallacy. A straw man argument is positing a position to someone that the person does not hold. The person doing this sets up what is known as a straw man, that is, a false position. Then the person making the claim begins either attacking the straw man or making statements about it rather than addressing the real position the other person actually holds. Another logical fallacy could also be applied to this type of claim called false attribution. A false attribution is falsely attributing a position to another the other person does not hold or one that is irrelevant or biased to support one’s claim. In neither case does the one making the claim present an argument on the merit. That is, the claimant fails to address the other person’s position at all through evidence or reasoning. All this atheist could do is make the claim and use a work of fiction to support it without any further support other than repetition of the premise: it is all in the mind or imagination.
After a brief interchange when I brought up this atheist’s straw man, he replied with other logical fallacies:
1. That I missed his intent, which was “to explain to other atheists something they may not be getting about believers.”
2. That his experience as a former Christian and seminary graduate supported his claim
The first argument simply affirmed the false attribution logical fallacy or a lie by continuing to attribute a false position to Christians. The second argument was another logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.” Appeal to authority is an attempt to sidetrack the discussion from the claim through appealing either to another authority (“So and so says…”) or oneself as an authority rather than address an argument that supports the claim (or an argument on the merits). That is neither one supports a person’s claim. One is using what is false while the other sidetracks from a claim by going elsewhere.
I then addressed the claim altogether with another argument: “If God did not exist, people would not have any thought of the existence of God.” They could not imagine God or even think or discuss any kind of divinity. The first atheist dropped out of the discussion while a few others entered it. One atheist tried to counter this by claiming that we imagine certain fictional science fiction characters, and they do not exist: i.e., Superman, Buck Rodgers, etc. Fiction writers create fictitious characters from what they know in the material created order. To refer to them by name is simply an action of assigning a name to things that exist. Fiction writers know about human beings or other types of beings within the created order. They then dress them up in a certain garb or identity and name them. This action does not address what one does not know or the non-existence of something or God.
For example, God asked Adam to name the animals. If animals were not of the material world, Adam would not have the foggiest idea about animals. Nothing could come to mind. Their existence and the knowledge of that existence comes before naming them. Some may ask, “What about the unicorn?” The unicorn is a horse with a horn. Horses exists, and animals with horns exists. People see what is in existence, integrate these existing things, and assign a name to it in the same way Adam did. The atheists in the discussion continued to bring up these examples with different other fictional characters, claiming that they did not exist except in the imagination. However, regardless how many examples one gives, the same argument applies. These fictional characters are representations of what already exists.
That returns us to the original claim – if God did not exist, no thought of divinity apart from the created material world could be imagined or entertained in our thoughts. Furthermore, atheists could not even make the claim that God does not exist. If He did not exist, why do they continue to make the claim that He does not exist? It is a claim without meaning. They would not be making any claim at all, because they could not entertain what does not exist in their thoughts. All their claims about the non-existence of God amounts to no more than a personal attack on those who hold that God exists. Nothing more.
Atheism is actually a theology that requires faith as much as Christian theology also requires faith. All of us must have faith whether that faith is in humanity (humanism), other religions (pluralism), or any other kind of -ism in the world. Too many unseen elements exist in the material world and beyond it to simply rely on empiricism or related approaches. Our finiteness prohibits us from an all out claim or disclaim of God. Atheists must believe God (or gods as they put it) does not exist. They cannot provide evidence from the material world or anything beyond finite knowledge to make a claim of the non-existence of God. Inasmuch as atheists make claims for the non-existence of God, no scientific method can prove such non-existence or even offer evidence at the very least. They must accept such non-existence on faith that their theology of no God is feasible.
Consequently, atheism offers no more than a comparative faith. It is far less tenable to believe in the non-existence of something than in the claim of what exists. It is also more difficult to develop a theology around non-existence than existence. I would rather place my faith in the God of the Bible than in faith in a non-existence of the Divine. The biblical God gives far more substance and evidence, for it has the backing of history and creation. These will be explored in future posts.