Premise 1: That which is imaginary is not real.
Premise 2: If something is not real, it does not actually exist.
Premise 3: If the god of Christianity is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
Premise 4: The god of Christianity is imaginary.
Conclusion: Therefore, the god of Christianity is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
Are all premises true? Is it a sound case? I think not.
I recall, of all things, a John Stossel special I saw years ago called “The Power of Belief.” In it, Stossel explored the suggestibility of individuals disposed to confusing the imaginary with reality. I was delighted to find that portions of this documentary are accessible on YouTube (see here).
In the initial installment of the program (at the link provided), you will see an experiment conducted on several groups of children and a large enclosed cardboard box. The kids play in the room with the large cardboard box and eventually the kids inquire on the contents of the box. The children are told that it is empty and invited to look in the box to see for themselves that it is in fact empty. After the box is closed back up, the children are told a story about a hungry fox which lives inside the box. They understand that they’re supposed to pretend that there’s a fox in the box, and they play along with the story. Then the adult excuses herself from the room for a few moments, leaving the children in the room by themselves. After a short while, their curiosity about the box grows and they start to wonder if in fact there’s something in the box that they had earlier seen to be empty.
Compare the experiment Stossel describes with Point 6 in my blog The Imaginative Nature of Christian Theism:Soon the children begin to think they are hearing the fox in the box. Then they worry about it. Some get closer to the box to listen, but are afraid to open it. Some of the children in the experiment were confident that there was no fox in the box, but “most kids,” says Stossel,aren’t sure. This is what happens in test after test. Almost every child begins to believe that the animal they helped create, might be real. Even when the researcher explains again that there was no fox in the box, most children believe it was there… Sometimes when we form beliefs, those beliefs persist against logic or evidence to the contrary. When I talked to kids later, many were convinced that the fox was in there.Stossel says “magical thinking is fine for kids, but another thing when adults do it,” but quickly cautions that “we’re not talking mainstream religion here.” But why not? I’m guessing that Stossel didn’t want to alienate the mainstream religionists in his audience, even though the point he makes indubitably applies to their worldview.
6. In Christianity, the bible requires adherents to have child-like faith, and a prominent feature of child psychology is an active imagination. I have already pointed this out in my blog With Minds of Children, which I published in December 2005. In that posting I quoted several relevant statements from the bible and from Christian apologist John Frame. For instance, Matthew 18:3-4 states:Similarly, Mark 10:15 states:Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.In such passages the New Testament clearly and explicitly makes it a defining requirement for the believer to be “as a little child.” A child is a person who is only beginning to learn about reality, and has no self-consciously understood worldview per se. His time is not spent tending to life’s needs, for these are typically taken care of by parents. Instead, he spends a great deal of his time in play, where fantasy is often the dominant mental counterpart to physical activity, whether it is role playing, playing with dolls, toy automobiles, arts and crafts, etc. In this way a child can be distinguished from an adult in the role his imagination plays in his mental life. As is clear from the statements quoted above, the New Testament makes it clear that this childlike mentality is the ideal persona demanded of the believer.
And while it should be obvious that this evidence is indeed relevant to any inquiry into the whether or not the Christian god is imaginary, Prayson dismisses it out of hand as “irrelevant” and proceeds to ignore it along with the rest of the points I raised on behalf of my case.Touching on this, presuppositional apologist John Frame tells us thatThe passage which Frame cites, Luke 18:16, puts the following words into Jesus’ mouth:Scripture never rebukes childlike faith; indeed, Jesus makes such faith a model to be followed by adults (Luke 18:16). One who requires proof may be doing it out of ungodly arrogance, or he may thereby be admitting that he has not lived in a godly environment and has taken counsel from fools. God’s norm for us is that we live and raise our children in such a way that proof will be unnecessary. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 66)
"Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."To say that the bible “never rebukes childlike faith,” or that “Jesus makes such faith a model to be followed by adults,” actually understates the position clearly expressed in the bible. The bible requires childlike faith; it is not simply a “model” to which adults are expected to conform. But Frame does make a good point: the bible requires that believers “just believe” what it tells them, and not to require proof. Also, the believer is to surround himself with other believers, all of whom are to be encouraging each other to sustain their belief in a shared fantasy, which is the essence of the “godly environment” Frame has in mind here. Proof is the stuff of reason, but since the biblical worldview is incompatible with reason, it is not surprising to see Christian authorities urging believers to “raise… children in such a way that proof will be unnecessary.” The active mind of a rational thinker is to be discouraged through shame and guilt; believers are expected to believe on the power of authoritative say so, period. This simply opens the door to the imagination as the only alternative to reason available to the believer, for in the final analysis there is no other alternative to reason. Notions like “divine revelation,” the “sensus divinitatus,” “faith,” etc., are merely euphemisms for what is in reality merely a reliance on the imagination.
I can recall playing as a child in a sandbox built into a corner of the hay-barn. From the hay-barn I would go through the cow-barn to the house. Built into the hay- barn too, but with doors opening into the cow-barn, was a bed for the working-man. How badly I wanted permission to sleep in that bed for a night! Permission was finally given. Freud was still utterly unknown to me, but I had heard about ghosts and "forerunners of death." That night I heard the cows jingle their chains. I knew there were cows and that they did a lot of jingling with their chains, but after a while I was not quite certain that it was only the cows that made all the noises I heard. Wasn't there someone walking down the aisle back of the cows, and wasn't he approaching my bed? Already I had been taught to say my evening prayers. Some of the words of that prayer were to this effect: "Lord, convert me, that I may be converted." Unmindful of the paradox, I prayed that prayer that night as I had never prayed before.
At one point, while defending the literalist Christian view, Cole stated (1:05:25):In responses to this, Carr pointed out (1:06:55):Now the evidence that he is God does not depend entirely on the resurrection. Many other things as well. I think I also want to bring in personal experience. I said earlier on that I’ve been a Christian from the age of twelve. And I’m just aware of God being there in the person of Christ in all sorts of different situations, speaking to me by his spirit through the word of God. There was one particular experience when I was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me in the church I was serving, asking whether we would make him Lord of that church... I wouldn’t say anything about that for 24 hours, it was too personal, too close.
Canon Michael again says he had an experience of the risen Christ. Now that wasn’t a bodily experience. So Conan Michael is disproving the bodily resurrection with his very own experiences.Carr's point here is extremely significant. Many believers today claim to have experienced the "real Jesus," allegedly sensing Jesus standing right beside them even though we would not see this Jesus figure with them if we were to look at them. Cole himself claims to have had this kind of experience where he "was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me." Of course, Cole is not claiming that Jesus was beside him in a physical body, bloody wounds and all, that anyone could see and come up to touch, as the gospel of John has Doubting Thomas do. The point here is that the believer does not need Jesus to be in a physical body in order to claim to have a personal encounter with him. This certainly casts 1 Cor. 15:3-11 in a new light.
Christians would probably agree that premise [sic] 1-3 are true, but 4 is false.
If we let that which is imaginary is not real = that which does not actually exist outside any given person’s mind, then I suppose the argument is valid; therefore, assuming, for the sake of argument, that Premise 4 is true, the conclusion is true.
But it is odd that the yet-to-actually-exist-outside-my-mind DVD cabinet that I shall soon build in my living room does actually exist in my mind right now and that my mind is part of that which actually exists right now. Let us allow that some outside observer observes me walking down the Home Depot lumber aisle. Now there I am, he sees me. He infers that I have a mind like he does, and he asks me, “Hey, what do you have in your mind to build?”
And I answer, providing further evidence that indeed I do have a mind, “A DVD cabinet.”
“Sweet!” He says.
“And it’s all laid out in my mind as well as in the blueprint I made from the actually existent image I have of it in my mind right now,” I say.
“Sweet!” he says again. “So the DVD cabinet actually exists in your mind, and I see that you actually exist in existence, so the DVD cabinet actually exists in existence, that is to say, its real as it actually exists in your mind.”
“Sweet!” I say. [sic]
Showing that anyone can imagine supernatural beings, and that followers learn about their gods in written stories, and believe them by faith, and the “failure of religious philosophy to provide the mind with a sound metaphysical theory which securely and reliably allows the adherent to distinguish between reality and imagination” et cetera, even if true, does not show that Christian God is imaginary.
Point 3 of my case states the following:10. We learn about “the supernatural” only from other human beings, never from “the supernatural” itself. This is the case even in stories in which a human being is said to have come in direct contact with “the supernatural,” such as Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. This is a story which comes to us from other human beings. We do not learn about the Christian god, for instance, from the Christian god itself materializing before us and telling us about itself. We have no alternative but to learn about it from sources which are indistinguishable from sources which humans are known to have produced. Of course, believers are tacitly encouraged to profess personal encounters with the supernatural, which is what we find in cases like that of Canon Michael Cole, who claimed that Jesus was standing in his immediate presence (though apparently no one else present noticed even Jesus standing there beside him!). Human beings are the primary source of our “knowledge” of “the supernatural,” and when they point to other sources as testimony or evidence of “the supernatural,” they are never direct contacts with the supernatural which we can ourselves enjoy, but rather claims of religious experience and therefore secondhand or further removed from our own experience, and we are expected to accept these claims as if they were true, on another human being’s say so. How does one reliably distinguish what we are being asked to believe from a concoction of someone else’s imagination? Sadly, believers give us no objective compass on such questions.
Adherents learn details about their god from written stories (which puts the Christian god, for example, in the same camp as characters in texts which are known to be fictional). Written stories give the human mind an opportunity to develop vivid imaginations and fantasies. The dominant function of allegory in religious literature is to provide the imagination with the fundamental material to work with in developing lifelike as well as larger-than-life psychological replicas of heroes, villains, events, and cosmic personalities portrayed in religious literature while allowing for a strong element of personal relevance. The Christian believer, for instance, reads about his god in the Old and New Testaments. In these sources, which are dubbed revelatory communication directly from the god he reads about in their pages, the believer finds stories which provide often vivid narratives which the believer personalizes in his imagination of them and accepts as truthful, historical accounts. To quell any nagging doubts about the historical authenticity of the content of these accounts, believers may absorb himself in extra-biblical literature which presumes their truthfulness, or at any rate seeks in one way or another to establish it. Such efforts overlook the fact that what has actually happened is that the believer has read a set of stories and has installed them in his imagination as if they were in fact true before the question of their truth has been critically examined.
If [the] Christian God exists, then it does not matter if anyone can imagine supernatural beings or that Christians learn about this God from written stories and accept them by faith et cetera, because what matters is not the epistemological status of subjects(i.e. Christian) but the ontological status of an object (i.e. God). It is here where Bethrick, thus, does not offer justification to think that premise 4 is true.
- What exactly is the theist saying exists?
- Is what he calls “God” a thing that is supposed to exist independent of the believer’s conscious activity?
- If so, does he claim to have direct awareness of what he is calling “God”?
- If he does claim this, can he identify the means by which he has this direct awareness so that those he wants to convince can perchance make use of the same means to have direct awareness of what he is talking about?
- If he does not claim this, does he claim to have inferred his god’s existence by reference to something he is directly aware of?
- If so, what is that something that he is directly aware of, and how did he infer his god’s existence from it?
- Etc., etc., etc.
In response to this, Prayson states:Ultimately, there is a single question that any atheist who encounters a pushy apologist need pose. And that question is:When I imagine your god, how is what I am imagining not imaginary?Since we have no alternative to imagining the Christian god when believers tell us about it, this question is most appropriate, especially since we’re expected to believe that it is real. If theists think we have an alternative to imagining their god, what is that alternative, and how is it different from imagination.
I think, even before answering Bethrick’s atheist question, a pushy apologist could simply turn the table around, and reduce the atheist’s question to absurdity with a counter question:When I imagine there is no god, how is what I am imagining not imaginary?So, a pushy apologist could contend, since we have no alternative to imagining no god when an atheist tell us about it, this question is also most appropriate, especially since we’re expected to believe that it is real that god does not exist.
Bethrick confuses the verb imagine with its adjective (imagined/ing) thus fails to see that a person could imagine something that is not necessarily imaginary. Imagine as a verb is simply forming a mental image or concept of, while as an adjective is believing something unreal exists.
Example I can imagine how my wife would react if I forget our wedding anniversary. Does this follow that her reaction, if I forget our anniversary is imaginary? I do not think so, since if I forget our anniversary, I will bear her full anger, which is real and far from imaginary.
I believe, a pushy apologist could reply: “I want you to imagine(forming mental concept of) my God and I will give you a case to think it is warranted to believe that that God does exist. This, my friend, is why what you are going to imagine is not imaginary but real.” With that a pushy apologist may begin to offer a positive case to show that a belief in God is rationally acceptable position thus not imaginary.
Question: What case would you offer for or against the notion that Christian’s God is imaginary?
By Dawson Bethrick