Equating belief in God with belief in Santa seems to be popular among many atheists who have grown up in religious families but later abandoned their “childish” belief in God in the same way they gave up their belief in Santa Claus. It’s so obvious that God is something you only believe in as a child but then later give up when you mature and become a rational, reasoning individual right? I mean, come on…you believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God who created the universe and interacts with human beings? That’s worse than Santa Claus! For those who are sarcastically challenged, that last bit might have had a tinge of sarcasm. On a serious note, are they the same? Are we justified in giving up belief in God the same way we give up belief in Santa Claus?
Why is it that we lose our belief in Santa Claus? Rewind to Christmas when you were 5 years old. You wake up and find loads of gifts wrapped in tacky Christmas fashion under the tree while your parents wake groggily and reluctantly to partake in the lovely, holiday atmosphere at, what is to them, an obscenely early hour in the morning. You open gift after gift and you revel in the joys of nerf-guns, toy cars, video games, etc. and then out of the corner of your eye, you notice something strange in one of the gift packages. A receipt from Wal-Mart. What on earth is this receipt doing here? These presents were hand-made by Santa’s elves at the North Pole! Surely they didn’t have to rush to Wal-Mart for a last minute shopping run! Something seems fishy here!
And from that point on, you began to have your doubts about Santa. Maybe it was really your parents who bought the gifts all along? Finally, a year or two later, the class know-it-all bursts your bubble of fantasy and confirms the doubts that have been eating you up on the inside. Santa is not real. After the initial pain of this traumatic moment in your childhood, you begin to realize that the idea of Santa is actually quite absurd. One man who lives in the North Pole with his army of toy-manufacturing minions who work all year-round and are never recognized for their efforts (they should look into a union?) knows whether or not you’ve been acting good all year seems highly improbably…and slightly creepy. He then individually delivers a gift or a lump of coal to 2 billion children in a 12 hour time period whilst keeping up his strength by consuming cookies, mince pies (and yet he manages to fit down chimneys!), milk, and brandy (he’s never been caught for DUI, either)?
Santa Claus is really improbable given the evidence that we have about the laws of nature and the limits of human (and reindeer) ability. Satellite images of the North Pole have not shown us this bearded, rotund individual or his workshop. We are justified, then, in abandoning our belief in Santa Claus because of new evidence that is made available to us. Now, if atheists want to to do the same with God, they need to show why God is improbable. The atheist who abandons belief in God just as he/she abandons belief in Santa Claus needs to have positive evidence for why that decision was made. What reasons are there for God’s existence being improbable?
We are only justified in leaving one theory “A” in favor of another theory “B” if we find that “A” is lacking and/or we have better evidence for “B”. We are justified in leaving the Santa theory in exchange for the non-Santa theory in light of what we know about nature, physics, satellite imaging, etc. The non-Santa theory holds up to scrutiny better than the Santa theory does, thus we are compelled to accept the idea that our parents, rather than Santa, are the ones behind our Christmas gifts. Atheists are only justified in rejecting the God-theory if they have evidence for an alternative, competing theory that better explains the evidence that exists in the form of the external world.
Although it’s a popular way of looking at things, the idea that God and Santa Claus are similar and thus can both be discarded into the over-active imagination bin is really silly and cannot be defended unless one has good reasons for why God’s existence is improbable. The same standards that are used to discount Santa should be employed in any attempt to discount God.
Now what are we going to do with all these mince pies?