Ho, ho, how ridiculous: Atheism and Santa

By Jeff Laird

The Santa Claus argument, simply phrased, says, "I don't believe in God for the same reasons I don't believe in Santa Claus". The first thing to note is intent. Most atheists use it as a joke, to bait Christians into angry responses. It's popular with less sophisticated thinkers only because it's tricky to respond to. That difficulty is not due to any particular merit, but because it's several fallacious claims combined using a common theme, and answering it requires handling each faulty premise.

Typical "reasons" for the Santa argument include: We have no direct evidence supporting the existence of Santa, nor God, therefore belief in the two are equivalent. Any evidence that contradicts them can be excused away by appealing to magic or miracles. Both are myths that parents indoctrinate their children into, for the purpose of controlling behavior, before the children can rationally decide such issues for themselves. Once people grow up and learn to think for themselves, they'll reject Santa, and should reject God as well.

The simplest, most comprehensive response is that people don't disbelieve in Santa due to a lack of positive evidence; they disbelieve due to overwhelming, direct, negative evidence. Further, many rational, educated people have come to believe in God as a result of rational investigation, a claim that's obviously not true for Santa. The two aren't even remotely comparable in terms of reason, importance, or evidence, and suggesting otherwise is irrational. None of the specific criticisms used are valid, and a reasonable look at each shows why:

First, Santa Claus has always been known as a work of fiction. Adults have never seriously believed in Santa's existence, but many people have died for professing their belief in God. It's historically undeniable that people who knew and talked to Jesus Christ were willing to die rather than give up their belief that He was God. They weren't motivated to change behaviors, but to save souls!

That parents teach these ideas to children is irrelevant. Most atheists come to their non—belief when they're inexperienced at rational discourse; either as young teens, or when faced with a more experienced adult in college. Their non—belief is just as likely an irrational response as other people's belief is. More importantly, are many intelligent, educated adults who came to faith, or had their faith strengthened as they learned more about reason, evidence, science, and so forth. No one starts believing in Santa as an adult.

Logical and philosophical arguments suggest God's existence. Scientific evidence reveals an intended design in nature. Historical evidence proves beyond any doubt that Jesus' disciples believed He was raised from the dead. Manuscript evidence proves the Bible to be a precise source, and that it was accurately preserved from the originals. People personally experience God's influence in their lives. In short, there is ample evidence for God. Those touting the Santa Claus argument don't accept this evidence, of course, but many people – including former atheists – do. So that is simply a statement of personal opinion, not facts. Even those who reject the evidence can't rightly the evidence doesn't exist.

Related to evidence is the question of explanatory power. Presents under the tree and sightings at the mall are better explained without Santa. In fact, it can be proven beyond all doubt that these are not caused by Santa: we have incontrovertible proof that these are caused by parents and hired impostors, respectively. Atheism, on the other hand, can't come close to replacing God for necessary questions such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or the existence of morality. Atheism conveniently explains all of these the same way: purposeless luck. God's explanatory power is extremely strong, whereas both atheism and Santa have a hard time explaining anything.

A similar point can be made about miracles. Atheists claim the origin of the universe, the fine—tuning of the universe, the origins of life, the development of life, and the appearance of design are all just big, amazing, coincidences. These are one—time, un—repeatable, amazing, and uniquely curious events…but they happened for no reason and with no purpose at all. In other words, no explanation needed – they just happened! Atheism has a bad habit of retreating to "luck" as a catch—all explanation for any evidence they don't like. That's not much different than a parent avoiding a child's questions about Santa by appealing to "magic". Further, Christians believe that miracles demonstrate God, whereas Santa's magic hides him.

There are lines of evidence and reasoning which atheists and theists disagree over, and come to different conclusions on. Both sides have reasonable points to be made. Unfortunately, arrogance is an underlying factor in most uses of the Santa Claus argument. It allows the atheist to pose as a sage, rational, mature thinker, while painting anyone who believes in God as immature, uneducated, and gullible. Clearly, that's an unreasonable assessment of both sides. Fittingly, belief in the Santa Claus argument is a lot like belief in an actual Santa Claus: both are signs of a person who needs to "grow up", so to speak.

The one legitimate point related to the Santa Claus argument is this: Christian parents who teach their children that Santa exists are setting up a conflict in those children when they get older. It's perfectly reasonable for a child to ask: "if Santa was just made up, how do I know God wasn't made up, too?" The Santa Claus argument is rooted in exploiting that very conflict, one that is remembered well into adulthood. That's not to say Santa is necessarily taboo for Christian parenting. And yet, it undermines a child's concept of faith to learn their parents purposefully told them things they knew weren't true.

Image credit: hyperion327; Some rights reserved


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Published 12-03-13