Except his straw man is so teeny-tiny, because of the naturalism it is based upon, that one feels great pity for George for erecting it in the first place.
Smith tells the reader, “I shall use the term ‘god” generally to designate any supernatural or transcendent being, and when I claim not to believe in a god, I mean that I do not believe in anything ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ the natural, knowable universe.”
In other words, unless he, as well as all atheists, cannot measure the supernatural or transcendent by naturalistic means, then George is not going to believe it, because it just cannot exist by his standard of knowing anything.
He then goes on to cite two well-known, but very poor, “Christian” examples to make his case, along with a few unknowns, who he thinks are irrational, yet representative of Christian thought: Liberal theologians Paul Tillich and John A. T. Robinson.
His effort is tantamount to someone citing The Watchtower or Book of Mormon as representative of Christian thought, and then criticizing those sources because they just do not fit the person’s preconceived notions of what he believes is Christian.
Smith’s whole schtick is to try and convince the reader that the only means by which to judge reality is through naturalistic means. And just what would that entail?
It means that unless Smith can see something with his own two eyes, taste something with his tongue, smell something with his nose, feel something with his body, or hear something with his ears, then that something—in this case the supernatural, transcendent, God—cannot be known.
And if something cannot be known, then it does not exist in the natural realm. It is irrational to even speak of such a non-entity, since there is nothing intelligible by which a person can relate to even have a discussion. Smith wrote,
“Supernatural” tells us what a god is not—that it is not part of the natural universe—but it does not tell us what a god is. What identifiable characteristics does a god possess? In other words, how will we recognize a god if we run across one? To state that a god is supernatural does not provide us with an answer.
He later continues, “The belief that god is basically unknowable is the most important epistemological element of theistic belief.”
The problem with Smith’s argument is that it is such a monumental straw man, that if it ever caught fire, it would burn for days.First of all, to say that God is supernatural or transcendent is not to say something negative about Him, but something that is positively characteristic of Him, although not exclusively so. What does that mean?God infinitely exists above the fallen natural condition of all humans, but remains immanently present and aware of all that goes on in the natural world. It is why the Psalmist would write,
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there (Ps. 139:7-8).
Such as statement, though, is not an endorsement of pantheism. Pantheism teaches that all things are of the same essence as God. Rocks, trees, your car, et cetera.The Bible makes it clear that God is distinct from His creation. God created all things, but God is not all things.Second, just because God is “supernatural” does not mean that He is unknowable. That is the old deistic heresy, which basically says that God created all things and then walked away and let the universe do its own thing; God cannot be known since He has removed Himself from the scene.Well, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—or Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate—is not the God of Deism. How do we know this? Because as the writer to the Hebrews put it,
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Heb. 1:1-2).
In other words, God is knowable simply because He has revealed Himself; He has spoken to humans “in many portions (lit. “many times”) and in many ways,” but especially through the person of Jesus.And when one adds the advent of the Holy Spirit, who impressed upon certain holy men from God to write down His message, then we have additional testimony of just who God is, what He is like, and what He expects from those who He has created (Jn. 14:26; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).God is knowable!Finally, to answer Smith’s question about how would one recognize a god, if one came across those claiming to be Him, is simply to compare what they say with what God has revealed.God has made it clear that He is it; there are no other gods besides Him.
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me” (Isa. 44:6).”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1, 14).
Therefore, that in itself ought to tell the person that whomever is a liar to be claiming to be God. Moreover, Jesus said to beware of those who would come along claiming to be him as well (Matt. 24:5, 23). They were to be considered “false prophets.”The whole point is, God has provided explicit, concrete, objective data as to who He is and what He is like, as a “supernatural,” “transcendent,” knowable person and being, and atheists like George H. Smith do not have a leg to stand on, especially when they prop up straw man arguments to claim otherwise.The question becomes, why ignore the data or the “evidence,” if you will? Is that not what the atheist is constantly clamoring for: the “evidence”?God has said. Is it His fault that the atheist refuses to listen?But, then again, teeny-tiny men made of straw are so much more appealing and firm than is the infinite God of the universe’s self-revelation, is it not?