In describing hard rationalism, Loftus cites Norman Hanson who asserts that “if looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of God, then looking and not finding does not constitute grounds for denying the existence of goblins…unicorns, mermaids, Loch Ness monsters, Hobbits”. (p. 48)
This is a standard attempt by non-theists to equivocate the existence of God with the existence of any mysterious thing. The argument is usually formalized via the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Probably the most notable version of this argument is The Dragon in My Garage as explained by Carl Sagan. The non-theist believes that Christians commit a double standard when they invent God in their heads yet, don’t believe in any other mythical beings. If Christians reject fairies and Santa Claus, they should reject God as well because there is no more proof of God’s existence than these other beings.
The most practical response to this analogy is the evidential observation that millions of millions of people for centuries have believed that they commune with God. The same is not the case with the IPU, the FSM or dragons in garages (at least not from people who aren’t mocking Christianity). While this doesn’t serve as any sort of proof of God’s existence, it does show that Hanson’s statement does not reflect the reality of our spiritual experience. Hence, his equating God with any other mythical beast is invalid. Many, many people evidentially know God but the same can’t be said of the IPU.
Aside from the evidential response, another obvious difference is that theists believe God’s existence is logically necessary whereas secular myths are contingent. This aspect opens up a whole discussion on the ontological explanation for God’s existence whereas such an explanation wouldn’t even be applicable to the IPU or the Lost Island of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers.
An aspect of great difference between belief in God and belief in myths is that while Christians do believe in God who, on the surface, seems ethereal, that belief is grounded in the reality of Jesus Christ’s ministry. The apostles could produce Jesus on demand. Sagan cannot produce his dragon on demand. No one can produce the IPU on demand. Of course, the Christian skeptic is going to object to the historical veracity of the Bible but, the existence of the historical Jesus of Nazareth is all but universally accepted among historical experts which preempts the objection that the biblical account is false. Even the scholars of the renewed Second Quest for the historical Jesus acknowledge the existence of Jesus and those scholars are about as critical of Christianity as academia gets. Whether or not the historical Jesus was divine (the Christ) is the same issue as the existence of God especially since Jesus claimed to be the very same God in this discussion.
One interesting perspective on this discussion comes from atheist-turned-deist Anthony Flew (who reiterated his sanity several times). He formerly outlined a parable now titled “death by a thousand qualifications”. Basically, it’s similar to Sagan’s dragon scenario where Christians make excuses for why there isn’t more empirical proof of God’s existence. There are several problems with his analogy the first of which is that not all explanations for God’s existence operate on the methodology in his tale. Some work inductively, some work deductively, some work evidentially. Second, what’s wrong with qualification? Is there some limit to the number of times something can be qualified? What about the quality of the qualification? It is true that there is an element of this type of methodology that resembles an endless rhetoric like Zeno’s Achilles and the tortoise paradox but, this process of qualification underscores a problem committed by many non-theists such as Loftus. The qualifications theists usually provide are actually responses to non-theist requests for scientific, empirical proof of something that is neither scientific nor natural. In Sagan’s story, the dragon owner is providing a wonderful illustration of the difficulty in testing something supernatural with the tools of naturalism. Flew’s narrative shows how God’s existence resembles gravity. We don’t see it but, we see it’s effects. We know it’s there even if it seems illusory. Non-theists will point out that Christians make the case that God does intervene via miracles in the natural domain but, there is no known mechanism for testing the miraculous. While they are in the natural domain, they are basically a supernatural intrusion on that domain which leads the investigation back to the aforementioned effect.
In the end, we intuitively know there is something wrong with the analogies of the IPU or FSM to God. Myths like the ones listed by Loftus via Hanson were pretty obviously invented. Even if they had a kernel of truth to them, they usually held some very particular meaning to a particular group of people. On the other hand, people from all over the world have seen various evidences for God. It is possible that influential people have invented the idea or guided people to the idea but, that still doesn’t explain the divine metaphysical reality that people experience on a daily basis. Naturally, the non-theist will say that God is nothing more than a spiritual placebo and that is what constitutes the divine experience just mentioned. There may be some truth to that but, it can’t possibly canvas the evidential interactions, the historical Jesus and the logical/intellectual cases that can also be made.