Will atheists and theists ever overcome our different approaches when it comes to seeking the truth? One of us is searching for answers without making any assumptions while the other claims to have found truth based almost entirely on assumptions. Finding common ground is ridiculous at best.
If god is real then every obstacle to that truth can be solved by an all-powerful god. God can do anything, and a god without limits always fits. How convenient. And as long as we are willing to say that god’s existence is possible then we can never offer a sufficient argument to that. But far too often in these debates the concept of “god the known creator” gets confused with “god the unknown creator.”
And those are two very different things.
Atheists reject sources such as the Bible easily. We consider religion to be man-made solutions to understanding the world around us. Proving what other men said and believed a long time ago is not evidence of god. This is a challenge for theists, but one they regularly rise to address. Christians, for example, are required to leave the pages of the Bible behind and still make a case for intelligent design.
Atheists see any concept of intelligent design by a known or unknown being as unlikely. Since we started out with no assumptions, we are light years away from a situation where we can examine a realistic god concept. We would have to find a trace of it first. And, since we also make no assumptions about the character of such a being, where would we even begin?
Theists do not feel restricted by such things. Of course he would be all-powerful and all-knowing. He must be good. He must care about each one of us and have a plan for our eternal existence.
But without the Bible…. why?
Let’s say I somehow manage to create a few tiny creatures whose physical bodies appear incapable of seeing or hearing the way we do. Maybe they can never see or hear me, but I am still able to physically impact their environment. Maybe they can even feel my presence. Soon they multiply into billions. They live, they die. I have no doubt they make up wild stories about me…. but what do they really think of me? I can only watch. I don‘t know their individual stories or their thoughts. Maybe I get bored and walk away. Maybe they are just one of many experiments.
Such a scenario isn’t likely, and there certainly is no evidence of a god like this. But it should inspire some of us to ask the question: If I am so sure that god is the only possible explanation for existence, what else could god be? And it should be asked before one attempts to defend god outside the confines of scripture.
Even if intelligent design makes sense, maybe it doesn’t matter if we worship our creator. Maybe the human race needed to make sense of the world from the beginning, and we needed something bigger than us. Something that understood our pain, gave us hope, and offered a better life. But a god like that has never made itself known to us in a practical way. So, are any of our versions of god the most obvious answer to who or what god is?
Which is more important to the theist: being right about the existence of god, or being right about the existence of their expectations for god?
When Christian apologists go beyond the Bible and present a case for the unknown god, the assumption of all-knowing and all-powerful is lost. Even if a creator exists (or existed) there is no evidence of his character or intentions, let alone evidence that his existence fills in any knowledge gaps. Can he offer eternal life? Does he know us? Love us? Does it mean anything to us at all?
We know nothing.
Which brings us right back to the beginning. Most theists will immediately return to the safety of their sacred book and its narrow definitions. Some will still believe in god, but decide they know nothing at all about it. And others will abandon the concept entirely. If you are like me, you have made each of these choices at one time or another.
Maybe atheists don’t believe intelligent design is realistic. And maybe theists believe that intelligent design is the only explanation that makes sense. Fine. But what if theists could find the ability to let go of their assumptions about who or what god is? When theists make a case for god beyond their specific theology, that has to be where they start from.
And when believers find themselves in that place where god is real but undefinable, atheists and theists finding common ground is suddenly no longer a ridiculous concept. We may have different theories, but we are finally problem-solving the same way. Because the conflict has never been over the existence of god. It has always been over how we fill in the blanks with what we hope god might be.