Atheists vs. Christians: Disproving the Wrong God

Written by Wes Walker on May 4, 2014

RZIM posted a thoughtful piece, originally written by the skeptic Oliver Burkeman, raising some important points to remember when Christians and Atheists interact.

Both sides have a tendency to disprove claims the other side hasn’t been making, which does nothing to move the conversation forward. Burkeman gives a helpful reminder to people on his own side, as well as ours and I am grateful to him for the insight and wisdom of his advice.

Both sides, before diving into this debate, ought to get their basic understanding straight about what we really mean when we say “God”. He recommends a book to help us sort this out.

In today’s environment of soundbites, gotcha quotes and polemic attacks, he reminds us that some of atheism’s more popular arguments (*cough* Dawkins *cough*) are actually engaging a hypothetical abstraction that in no way conforms to what believers mean when they refer to God.  Disproving that abstraction is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. For example “who created God” is a facile question. If created, he would not meet the most basic Christian definition of “god”.  Quoting the RZIM article:

In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one less god than theists do, though it makes a funny line in a Tim Minchin song, is just a category error. Monotheism’s God isn’t like one of the Greek gods, except that he happens to have no god friends. It’s an utterly different kind of concept.

In other words, the target of a good deal of these attacks (and defenses) is a god that traditional Christians and theists of all stripes don’t believe in. Rather than waste time attacking or defending a straw god, Burkeman recommends that we at least come to a point of mutual understanding on what believers mean when they invoke “God.” It is my sincere hope that those of us with a vested interest in this question–believer and skeptic alike– will take his advice, and that this discussion will take on a more constructive tone.