I was having trouble getting to sleep the other night. This is a rare occasion, because I normally drop off quickly. But when my brain is active, sometimes sleep eludes me. I had been reading John Loftus’s book before bed, so the subject of Christianity, God, belief, etc. was racing through my mind. For some reason the common analogy between belief in Santa Claus and belief in God popped in and I got to thinking about just how good an analogy it was. We atheists use it often, but sometime I used to think it wasn’t quite apt, because we all know there’s no Santa Claus, but what about God? That question isn’t settled yet, at least for many people. I’ve used the argument before: It’s just as rational to believe in the existence of Santa Claus as it is to believe in the existence of God, or any god for that matter. Why? Because there’s just as much evidence for God as there is for good old St. Nick. In other words, none.
But then I started thinking like the child I once was. Maybe at that point I started drifting off. From a child’s point of view, it seemed to me that night (the same night, by the way that I decided it might be fun to try my hand at blogging, so maybe I’m just crazy) that actually, there is more evidence for Santa Claus than there is for God!
As an adult, I know that’s not true. But as a child, it’s just the opposite. Think about it.
You’re 6 years old, and Santa is just as real to you as your dog, Spike, who sleeps next to your bed (or Fluffy, for all you cat lovers, who sleeps near your face). Why do you think that? Well, for the past 5 years, your parents have told you that Santa will bring you lots of presents if you’re a good little boy or girl. And he did! Those toy trucks, and the Lincoln Logs (am I showing my age?) and the Barbie dolls appeared magically on Christmas morning under the tree. Your parents were right. Cold, hard physical evidence in your toy box. But there’s more.
Those cookies and milk you left out on the fireplace hearth? The cookies are gone, and the milk’s been drunk. And you’ve actually seen the bearded wonder! At the mall, your mom put you on his lap, and you told him what you wanted. You didn’t get everything you asked for, but a lot of it. What more proof do you need? There are also testimonials from just about every other child that you know. Everyone on the playground has experienced the same evidence you did, so you’re not dreaming. The evidence is widespread. Even on TV. He’s everywhere. From a child’s perspective a belief in Santa Claus is certainly rational. You won’t know what that means until you’re older, but it’s still true.
Now compare it to God. Do I need to point out that there is nowhere near the quantity of evidence for God as there was for Santa? Have all your neighbors and friends seen him? Does everyone you know receive everything, or even most of, or for that matter even some of what they ask for from God? Does he make appearances around the country, or on TV? Is there any physical evidence that’s he’s been around lately? I mean, beside that toasted cheese sandwich? Do I hear a resounding NO?
It’s only when you take Santa out of his element, among believers (the children), that the evidence for him tends to dissipate, much like when you take God out of his element, among his believers (the faithful), that evidence for him tends to dissipate. Sure, the faithful have all kinds of rationalizations for his existence, from revelation, to dreams, to “a feeling of closeness when looking at a rainbow” but none of that is evidence, it’s anecdote. A toy box full of toys is better evidence than that. I can pull out my train set and show you that I got it from Santa. At least the toy box isn’t dependent upon a subjective description of the evidence.
The sad thing is that when we were children, we actually figured it all out, mainly by ourselves. It was our first exposure to skepticism. Certain things started to not make sense. Like Santa’s beard didn’t look right at the mall, or there was more than one of him. And then there’s that whole chimney thing. We started asking questions, comparing notes, until it got to the point that logic and reason won the day, and our parents had to admit it wasn’t true.
Too bad we didn’t take that lesson to church.