Belief in Santa vs. Belief in God
It is the Christmas season and in this season, we as Christians are due to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the redemptive work that He has done for all who believe in Him. In this season, we are also sure to see atheists and skeptics taking jabs at the Christian faith, leveling charges about belief in God, the Virgin Birth, the idea of a mythical Jesus, the “paganism” of Christmas, and many other related issues.
One jab that seems to make its way around each year is the assertion that belief in God is to be equated with belief in Santa Claus. This is often done by attempting to draw some similarities between Santa and God or the act of believing in Santa and the act of believing in God and then drawing conclusions from these comparisons.
Here is a picture I commonly see come across social media:
At its foundation, this line of argumentation is purely rhetorical. I would argue that there is no true substantive argument here, it is merely an attempt to relegate a belief in God to a rudimentary belief system comparable to a child’s belief in Santa Claus. This fits into a larger rhetorical narrative that views belief in God as an outdated, even primitive, way of understanding the world that is no longer needed in the age of scientific and technological advancement. It is often reasoned that because we have “grown up” as a society in the past 300 years, then we must also begin to “grow up” and stop holding “childish” beliefs. From a rhetorical standpoint, it can be very persuasive for someone who is not well studied in this area, especially Christians and those disinterested in religion and God. In a time in our society where one’s perceived identity is so highly prized and prioritized, people are not keen on having their perceived identity associated with identities that are not considered favorable. No one wants to be seen as childish or acting in a childish manner and some would rather abandon their faith altogether than be seen as childish or immature to others.
Reductionist presentations like the one in the picture above can make believing in God seem childish, unsophisticated, even unintelligent (as is explicitly stated in the above chart). Nobody has any interest in appearing this way and thus rather than pressing the logic of this picture, they are quickly willing to reject the idea of believing in God. This is especially true for those that are disinterested in all things God and religion. This is simple enough and has enough rhetorical influence to persuade someone to continue in their disinterest and even reject the idea of God as something worth pursuing. This is why I feel like I need to engage critically with simple arguments like these. Though they are ultimately empty and no serious philosopher of religion engages with these arguments, they have tremendous rhetorical weight which means they can penetrate deeper into the beliefs of the world than the strong logical arguments from Graham Oppy ever will.
To refute this assertion, that God and Santa are identical, I will be formulating a basic argument on behalf of this meme and addressing the argument’s assertions and I will also provide counter-examples to the conclusion.
Addressing the argument
So if I were to attempt to form this in some form of argument so that I can engage with it, I would write it as follows:
Let x be the subset of properties instantiated to Santa and God in the list from the meme.
Santa has the properties contained in X.
God has the properties contained in X.
Two beings that share the same properties are identical.
Therefore, God and Santa are identical.
This to me seems to be the argument that the post is attempting to make, whereas God and Santa are to be thought of as closely synonymous, if not identical.
There are many significant issues that completely eradicate this line of argumentation, however, I will simply be addressing two of them.
Rejecting premise two: God does not have the properties contained in X.
Now it would be easy to reject nearly all of the properties on the structure of the assertions alone, as many of them are worded in a mocking tone and are not structured to be clear and articulate assertions about God. I could reject this argument on the simple assertion that God does not have a beard because God is incorporeal and does not have a body or a face with a beard on it. The trivial predications that are included in the list are “never returns calls”, “long white beard”, “keeps a list of who’s naughty of nice”, etc. However, I would like to address the three that are most rhetorically influential
Theism is not intellectual
“Not believed in by intelligent adults”
This line of reasoning was always powerful for me when I was an atheist. For whatever reason, I was captivated by the idea that religion was for the simple, and those that were intelligent, especially scientists, simply did not engage in religion because it was intellectually beneath them. When I became a Christian and began to explore Christianity deeper, I was anticipating seeing people really stretch information to make God seem reasonable and I was anticipating seeing a lot of manipulation and avoidance of science going on to persuade people to believe in God. However, I was simply dumbfounded by the intellectual rigor of some Christian thinkers, both historically, and in the present day. Listening to thinkers like C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinbourne, Stephen Meyer, and many others quickly helped me to realize that theism could not be seen as an unintelligent belief. Thus the counter-example would be that there are in fact many intelligent adults who do in fact believe in the existence of God based on rational examination and reflection.
Theism is not unintelligible or rational
“Makes sense in any way”
This assertion really doesn’t have any backing and it is unclear in what they mean by God “does not make sense in any way.” However, I will assume that they mean that belief in God is irrational or unintelligible. There have been accounts of God put together by philosophers of religion detailing a coherent model of God that address the objections to God’s existence without needing to posit some abstract metaphysical claims to make it cohere. The individual who created this may have assumptions that there are a large range of arguments against the existence of God, however, time has shown that most of these arguments can be answered sufficiently. For me, belief in God made better sense of the world than did naturalism on a number of key issues such as consciousness, morality, purpose, teleology, etc.
Theism is not evidential
“Has evidence for existence”
This assertion likely starts with a presupposition of scientism, or at the very least methodological naturalism, both of which begin with the idea that metaphysical claims about God can not be known or they can not be tested and this drives the way in which we seek to understand the truth about our world. These views disallow the use of the laws of logic and argumentation to provide evidence for the existence of God. It creates a circular logic whereas God can be considered “disproven” when the naturalistic evidence that does not have the capability to examine a supernatural Being will be the only evidence taken into consideration. A rough analogy would be that I am going to look to prove the existence of Gelada monkeys (only found in Ethiopia), however, I am only going to look in America. When I don’t find them in America, I will then conclude that they do not exist. However, it is clear that the logic here is poor. The same can be said about examining the evidence for God. If you are only willing to examine the truth claim that God exists through an exploration of the natural world, you will not find physical evidence of God, again because He is incorporeal, and you also do not have rational justification to claim that God does not exist, especially since God is, by definition, supernatural.
However, if you are willing to expand truth-seeking outside of the confines of naturalism and empiricism to explore the evidence for the existence of God you will be immediately immersed into a rich field where many are attempting to develop and provide logical existence for God, many of which are formed using the conclusions that can be found in scientific reflection. This includes arguments from consciousness, arguments from design, arguments from cosmology, arguments from morality, and many other argument types. Though not without detractors and counter-arguments, this field demonstrates the conversation regarding evidence for the existence of God is vast, considerable, and very much alive.
Addressing the False Equivalency Fallacy
In analyzing this line of argumentation, there is a significant fallacy that is contained within that when drawn out will help to exemplify the weakness of the argument. This will also help to show the power and influence of rhetoric in the world on what we consider true or false.
The false equivalency fallacy is contained within this argument and pointing out the fallacy allows us to easily reject premise four. This fallacy occurs when you attempt to make two things identical through false reasoning. To understand how this applies for this argument, we must quickly discuss the difference between essential and accidental properties. An essential property is a property of some object that is required for the object to be identified as it is. For example, an essential property of a human is that it is being an organism that is born. An accidental property is a property of some object that could be changed with the object and it would still remain the object. For example, my age is merely accidental to my being a human. I am still a human even when I am 50.
To draw an equivalency between God and Santa, you would need to articulate their sharing of essential properties, in which Santa would need to have the same essential properties of God. Otherwise, you commit the fallacy of false equivalency. Looking through the list, there are only two essential properties of God, being all-knowing and omnipresent, that God would hypothetically share with Santa. However, to maintain the assertion of equivalency, they would need to capture all of God’s essential properties and there are significant differences in essential properties between God and Santa. I will list just a few of them below.
God is the metaphysical ground for all that exists.
God is a necessary being.
God is eternal.
God is maximally great in all of His attributes.
God is self-existent
I could go on with other essential attributes, but I would just be belaboring the point. The fact is that there are significant essential properties that God has that Santa does not have that eliminate the possibility of true equivalency being drawn between them.
To parallel an argument to demonstrate the fallacy of false equivalency in this argument, I will take the argument above and reformulate it.
Apples are juicy, red, roughly circular, have a stem, and are a fruit.
Tomatoes are juicy, red, roughly circular, have a stem, and are a fruit.
Two beings that share the same properties are identical.
Therefore, apples and tomatoes are identical.
It can be seen fairly decisively that this argument is invalid based of this fallacy and it can not be considered meaningful until more appropriate equivalency is demonstrated.
So, what is my point in all of this? If the argument is so poor, why spend all of this time even engaging with it? I return to my earlier point that even though it can be shown pretty quickly how illogical it is, it still maintains tremendous rhetorical power. My aim is to pull back this rhetorical power and diffuse its influence and one of the most impactful ways to do that is to demonstrate the irrationality contained within it. I love my family and friends and I do not want them to be swept up by this rhetorical non-sense on something as important as believing in God. I would hate to know that someone I knew didn’t believe in God because they thought it was similar to believing in Santa Claus. I want to pull back these hurdles and stumbling blocks that people have to a relationship with God because I had some of these same baseless stumbling blocks. All the while, I pray that God will use this to bring people closer to Himself and to open up hearts and minds. My hope is that by getting rid of the trivial stuff that stands in the way that more people will pursue God and fill the longing in their hearts that can only be filled by Him through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
If you have questions, concerns, or other topics you would like me to write on, you can reach me at enduoministries.org