As I discuss the evidence for the existence of God with various people, I occasionally run across a skeptic who somehow believes that she is making a case against God’s existence by countering every Christian contention for God’s existence by arguing that the same argument makes an equally strong case for the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (or its even more absurd relative, the Flying Spaghetti Monster). By this method, the skeptic concludes that she has shown that the Christian arguments for God’s existence to be nonsense because they can be used to support these chimeras.
Rather than split time between the absurd Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) and the even more absurd Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), I will focus my attention on the IPU. So, the first question becomes what is the IPU and where did it come from? According to the website invisiblepinkunicorn.com (which I take to be the definitive word on the IPU):
The Invisible Pink Unicorn (blessed be her holy hooves) is a fictional female deity in the form of a unicorn. The goddess was invented at the usenet discussion group alt.atheism as an alternative to other parody deities like Church of the SubGenius "J.R. Bob Dobbs" or Eris of the Discordianism. Quoting from the alt.atheism FAQ:
Like most Goddesses, she's invisible and highly unlikely to exist. However, there is much argument as to her exact colour, her shape and size, and other properties of her nonexistence. She burns with anger against theists, and allegedly grinds them beneath her holy hooves.
The "believers" famous sayings about faith in the invisible pink unicorn is that, like other religions, it is founded in science and faith. Science - that states that she must be invisible, since we cannot see her. Faith - because we know in our heart that the invisible pink unicorn exists. This is of course a parody of the theological reasoning of other religions.
The use of the IPU in a discussion about God might go something like this: when a Christian states that God is immortal and invisible, the IPU-skeptic argues by reflecting back that the IPU is also immortal and invisible. The Christian then asks on what basis the skeptic believes that and the skeptic cites some allegedly holy book. The Christian then says something like, “But you don’t really believe that.” The skeptic assures the Christian that he does believe it and that if the Christian is free to believe in his god then the skeptic can believe in the IPU.
So, how might a Christian respond when confronted by the IPU? The Christian could take the claim seriously and try to show what is intrinsically obvious: the entire idea of an invisible pink unicorn is ridiculous. For example, our own Richard Deem, author of the God and Science website, has written a nice article arguing from science that it is scientifically impossible for a thing to be both pink and invisible (which is obvious) and scientifically extremely unlikely for any living creature to be truly invisible (leading him to take a “strong aunicornist stance”). But despite their alleged allegiance to science, it is my experience that this type of argument makes little impact on the skeptic largely because the skeptics know that the entire argument is not about proving the existence of an IPU. Rather, the whole argument about the IPU is a farce and an intentional one. The skeptic is wedded to the idea that by substituting the IPU for God in any Christian argument, they have proven the Christian argument wrong.
When someone uses the low-level tactic of the IPU, they have stopped engaging in legitimate discussion – they are appealing to flippancy. C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters describes flippancy as the lowest form of humor and the type of humor that is farthest from the joy that God desires. According to the devil Screwtape in Letter XI, the flippant person makes fun of things like virtue (or God) by assuming that a joke has been made and having others laugh along with the supposed joke.
Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.
The IPU is a flippant approach to discussions about Christianity. It attempts to make a joke out of God by comparing him falsely to an invisible pink unicorn, and all of the flippant-minded atheists laugh thinking that something really funny or clever is being said. But merely parroting what the Christian says is neither clever nor persuasive. It is not a logical refutation of the Christian argument because logic is not involved in the argument. It does nothing to advance but only hinders discussion. Thus, when a skeptic plays the IPU card, productive discussion has ended.
So, what is a Christian to do? It seems to me that the Christian should simply call the skeptic out by identifying his rhetoric for what it is. The way to do this is to point out the obvious: the skeptic does not and cannot really believe in the IPU (or the FSM or whatever other invented creature they will next fabricate) whereas Christians actually believe in God and have valid arguments to prove it. The skeptic, if he remains true to the tactic used by the skeptics with whom I have argued, will insist that he does believe in the IPU. (They do that to maintain their argument that there is no difference between arguing for God and arguing for the IPU.)
The Christian should then point to the Invisible Pink Unicorn website and the quote that I have set forth above which represents an atheist admission that the IPU is nothing more than a parody of Christian arguments. The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so as a rhetorical tactic, nothing more.
At this point, the smart skeptic should abandon the argument. But history shows that many skeptics would not qualify as smart, so some may continue to attempt to counter this. They may say that the IPU website is a fraud. They may point to websites that are written by other skeptics that say that Christianity is a fraud (which are easily distinguishable or which, at least, move the argument onto a different ground). They may simply continue to contend against the evidence that the IPU exist. No matter what the course taken by the IPU skeptic (other than giving up on the argument), there is one avenue left for the Christian.
The Christian should respond to something like the following: “It is apparent to me that you are being terribly dishonest. I have shown you that the IPU is nothing more than a rhetorical device, but you are continuing to try to tell me that the IPU exists. I can only conclude from this that you are not interested in the truth. Thus, I am going to end this conversation. If you want to really discuss God’s existence honestly, let me know and I will happily engage you. But I have no desire to continue to discuss this with you if you are going to lie to me.”
It isn't pretty. It isn't a logical argument. It’s a straight shaming of the individual in a nice way. But the truth is that if a skeptic is insistent that the IPU is somehow equivalent to God or that it somehow represents a legitimate argument that God doesn't exist, the skeptic is either dishonest or incredibly ill-informed.