The Tentative Apologist
7/16/09 at 10:53 AM 0 Comments

If you believe in God, should you believe in Santa Claus too?

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Well I must say, I had a great time reading the comments, critiques and insults that came in after my last post with its modest attempt to define "atheism". In particular, many self-described atheists took umbrage to my claim that atheism is denial of the proposition that God exists. (Apparently my smarmy attitude was also ripe for verbal assault.) 

One of my most spirited opponents drew comparisons between belief in God and unicorns as he/she asked: "do you believe in unicorns? Can you disprove the existence of unicorns?" The idea, presumably, is that belief in unicorns and God are equivalent. Thus, if belief in unicorns is irrational then so is belief in God (bad news for the theist). And if disbelief in unicorns is the rational position for the average person on the street then so is disbelief in God (good news for the atheist). 

This is an important comparison to consider, but in doing so I am going to switch from unicorns to Santa Claus since the latter (being a concrete individual rather than a type of thing) is a closer parallel to God. So the question: is belief in Santa Claus like belief in God?

First, let's begin to address the question in the manner of Thomas Aquinas, by giving our opponent as fair a shake as possible: 

So here we go. Picture yourself a manager at Walmart interviewing a potential employee to work in the warehouse. "Alfred" seems to be a well-adjusted intelligent twenty-five year old who has solid work experience and references, Thus you are inclined to hire him. Then you notice his Rolex watch and you offer a compliment. "Nice watch Alfred."

"Thanks," he replies, "Santa gave it to me." You pause, wait for the punchline, and then slowly, with growing trepidation, you realize that he is deathly serious.

You swallow nervously as Alfred watches you intently. "Santa?" you ask in a futile attempt to sound nonchalant. A bead of sweat rolls down your brow.

"Yes," Alfred replies. "I was very good last year. Santa loves me, and he watches everything we do. So you can trust me Mr. Manager."

Okay, would you hire Alfred even after he confessed belief in Santa Claus? At the very least wouldn't you be at least be less inclined to hire him in light of that belief? You might concede Alfred's point that believing Santa is watching over him will make him more likely to be honest and hard working. But would that potential positive byproduct of his belief be sufficient to allay your concerns?

With that in mind, let's replay the last exchange:

"Nice watch Alfred."

"Thanks. The Lord provided it as an answer to prayer."

Many people would view the invocation of God as much less threatening or epistemologically questionable than invocation of Santa Claus. Indeed, many would be positively encouraged to hear the invocation of God. But if it appears irrational to ascribe the acquisition of the watch to Santa Claus, why is it not equally irrational to ascribe it to God? In short, what makes the Christian any more rational than Alfred?

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