Atheist apologist John Loftus just posted the following on his blog Debunking Christianity, with the title “Technically Speaking We Cannot Prove or Disprove the Existence of Trolls, Fairies or Elves”:
My first impression of this argument: how silly; my second impression: how utterly silly.
The argument presupposes the premise we are only entitled to believe in the existence of beings whose existence we can in someway demonstrate or prove. Just as we cannot prove “the existence of trolls, fairies or elves,” and therefore should not believe in their existence; so we cannot prove the existence of a transcendent Creator and therefore should not believe in his existence. As one who loves The Lord of the Rings and the fairy tales of George MacDonald, I am reluctant to concede that elves, fairies, trolls, dragons, balrogs, and Istari have never enjoyed, or do not presently enjoy, objective existence … but I won’t push the matter. After all, we all know that the elves sailed away to the Undying Lands on the last ships and therefore are not to be found within the circles of the world. Perhaps sometime in the future explorers will come upon the ruins of Imladris or Gondolin, at which point I will not so humbly jump up and cry, “Aha! Told you so!” But until that day, I will grudgingly acknowledge that elves and balrogs are inventions of humanity’s mythological imagination.
But anyone who puts the Transcendent Creator into the category of mythological beings simply has no idea what “God” means in the Christian theological and spiritual tradition. Not for nothing did St Maximus the Confessor speak of God as beyond being: “For since it is indispensable for us to recognize the difference, in truth, between God and creatures, the affirmation of what is above being must be the negation of all in the things that are, just as the affirmation of existing things must be a negation of what is above being” (Quoted in Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, p. 89). God is not a finite object within the universe. His existence can be neither proven nor disproven by any method scientists might devise. The universe might not have been, and if it had never been, God’s divine existence would not have been diminished one whit, just as his existence did not gain one whit by creating the universe. This is the whole transcendent point of the dogma of the creatio ex nihilo. One might forgive a college freshman for not understanding what classical Christian theologians signify by the word “God”; but an atheist philosopher like Loftus should know better.
David B. Hart accurately states the matter:
To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is not something poised over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense he is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. …
Yet the most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God—especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side—is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact. …
At a trivial level, one sees the confusion in some of the more shopworn witticism of popular atheism: “I believe neither in God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden,” for instance, or “All people are atheists in regard to Zeus, Wotan, and most other gods; I simply disbelieve in one god more.” … Beliefs regarding fairies are beliefs about a certain kind of object that may or may not exist within the world, and such beliefs have much the same sort of intentional shape and rational content as beliefs regarding one’s neighbors over the hill or whether there are such things as black swans. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all. Fairies and gods, if they exist, occupy something of the same conceptual space as organic cells, photons, and the force of gravity, and so the sciences might perhaps have something to say about them, if a proper medium for investigating them could be found. … God, by contrast, is the infinite actuality that makes it possible for either photons or (possibly) fairies to exist, and so can be “investigated” only, on the one hand, by acts of logical deduction and induction and conjecture or, on the other, by contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences. Belief or disbelief in fairies or gods could never be validated by philosophical arguments made from first principle; the existence or nonexistence of Zeus is not a matter that can be intelligibly discussed in the categories of modal logic or metaphysics, any more than the existence of tree frogs could be; if he is there at all, one must go on an expedition to find him.
The question of God, by contrast, is one that can and must be pursued in terms of the absolute and the contingent, the necessary and the fortuitous, potency and act, possibility and impossibility, being and nonbeing, transcendence and immanence. … Evidence for or against the reality of God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us. (The Experience of God, pp. 30, 32, 33-34)
I honestly do not know how to respond to the silly charge that believing in God is epistemologically equivalent to believing in elves. Galadriel is not pleased.