There has been a lot of debate against my recent articles that stems from a common mistake made by atheists. 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.
Many of you who are Christians may struggle with the arguments made by atheists against our beliefs. You’ve heard it before that believing in God is the same as believing in Unicorns, Fairies, Santa Claus and the like. An opponent challenged me to prove that God wasn’t just another one of these superstitious characters.
Atheists will use these superstitious 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.”
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 for our purposes explores the “what” of God. In other words, what is the general idea of a being that is God? An answer from Alvin Plantinga explains that this idea of God is 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.”
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.
Now, a second-order question explores types or the “who” of God. The answer can be many possible conceptions of God.
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” or type of God but the “what” or nature of God. Rejecting the Thor and Odin “who” type conceptions of god goes hand in hand with the positive acceptance of the Theist “what” type of God. I’m not just 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 when you ask me to show that God is not a superstition or ask me to prove that Thor isn’t God, you are conflating the “what” is God and the “who” is God questions. The Christian God is outside of time, without matter, and is not confined by the material universe. Unicorns, fairies, Santa Claus, Thor, Odin, Wotan, Zeus, Ashara… are technically still possible in a logical sense, but since they are within time, composed of matter and confined by the universe, they are inferior.
Finally, most people who reject God are rejecting a figure that I would reject also. The “what” of God is often times assumed, as if we Christians believe in a Family Guy type god who sits on a cloud, wears a white toga, and smites people. If we can get on the same page about what God is, a lot of these common questions will answer themselves or just not be applicable.