In my garage I have an imaginary dragon. It's not real. Its just imaginary. It's a dragon made entirely of the good thoughts and happy feelings of people who like to think there's a dragon out there, somewhere, watching over them. But dragons aren't real, and neither is the dragon in my garage.
I tell you this, and you tell me that the dragon isn't imaginary. You insist it's a real dragon that is really in my garage. So I take you to my garage to show you that it's only imaginary.
We both immediately notice that the dragon is visible. You tell me that you can see it, and ask if I can see it. I can see it. And it's interesting that I'm seeing the dragon, and certainly counts for something.
But why would I leap to the conclusion that because I'm seeing a dragon, it means there is a dragon in my garage? It's probably mechatronic. Perhaps I'm hallucinating? Perhaps it's a hologram or some other trick of light? Maybe there's an advanced alien species using science I don't understand to make it look like there's a dragon. Or maybe this is a purely natural phenomenon that I don't understand. There's no reason, just yet, to leap to the conclusion that this is a real dragon, especially when there are other possible explanations.
We both also notice that the dragon is roaring at us and making noise. We both hear it, and we report the same sounds at the same times.
But we can't conclude, just form this, that therefore there is a dragon roaring in my garage. It's likely just a recording of a dragon being played on speakers. It may be sounds from tectonic plates underground, or the planks of the house moving. We may just be hallucinating. Or maybe it's a race of powerful aliens trying to trick us into thinking that there is a dragon there. We can rule any of those things out, and a dragon is the least likely possibility. So there's no reason to jump to the dragon explanation just yet, especially when there are other possible explanations.
You approach the dragon, and stick out your hand, and you can actually touch it. The dragon is solid and tangible. I can touch it, too. This is certainly an interesting fact, that I can apparently touch the dragon, and it counts for something.
But I explain to you, just because I can touch the dragon doesn't mean there's a dragon there. It could just be mechatronics. It might be a tactile hallucination or some other trick on my senses. It might be advanced technology from an alien species halting my hand, or it might be some completely natural phenomenon that we don't understand yet making it seem like there is a dragon there. There's no reason, just yet, to leap to the conclusion that this is a real dragon, especially when there are other possible explanations.
You say, okay, maybe we can't trust our own senses. So you get some heat-vision goggles and we look through them, and sure enough, there's the heat-imprint of a dragon. And this is also interesting, and it counts for something.
But there's no reason to leap to the conclusion that just because we see the heat imprint of a dragon, that therefore there is a real dragon. It's more likely that this is a malfunction of the device in question, or some natural effect of heat convection patterns we don't understand, or powerful aliens just playing tricks on us. We can't rule any of these things out. It would be irrational at this point to conclude that there is a real dragon there in my garage, especially when there are other possible explanations.
The dragon, or at least the apparent appearance of a dragon, then breathes fire. And things in the blast actually burn, or melt, or catch fire. My own eyebrows get singed. And this is an interesting thing, and it counts for something. I'm certainly curious about this apparent blast of fire.
But I'm still not willing to accept your explanation for why it happened. You have to separate what happened from the explanation we give for it. And I don't think we can conclude it must have been a dragon.
It's much more likely that I'm hallucinating this, than that any such creature as a dragon exists, much less exists in my garage. It's possible we're seeing a purely natural phenomenon occurring that we don't yet understand (strange fires and lights happen all the time in nature), it's possible there's some gas leak in the garage that suddenly caught fire, or it's even possible that an advanced race of aliens is playing tricks on us. There's no way to conclude, resolutely, that what we're seeing is a dragon, especially when there are other possible explanations.
So you ask me, what would it take to convince me that the imaginary dragon in my garage is a real dragon? What level of evidence would I accept for the dragon?
And I respond that I don't know. I don't know what level of evidence I would accept. A dragon is an imaginary animal, and is the least likely explanation for my apparent observation of a dragon in my garage. I would rather believe in pretty much any other explanation before believing in a dragon.
Surely the dragon knows what evidence I would accept, and the dragon hasn't bothered giving me that evidence yet. It must not care.
Of course, it's possible the dragon does know the level of evidence I would accept, and that there is precisely zero evidence I would accept as proof of a dragon in my garage. Just because I don't know what evidence I would accept, doesn't mean that I would actually accept any evidence for the dragon's existence.
And so you have to ask me: What is the difference between a visible, audible, tangible, heat-radiating, fire-breathing imaginary dragon, and a real dragon sitting in your garage?
And so for atheists: what level of evidence would you accept for God? Because even when Christians offer admittedly hyperbolic, hypothetical scenarios like booming bass voices from the clouds calling out your name or people's decapitated heads reattaching to their necks, many atheist thinkers still say that it wouldn't convince you in the existence of the divine. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Matt Dillahunty, Michael Shermer, and others have all made public statements to this effect.
But how is that different from insisting the dragon in my garage is imaginary?