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Why Believing in God isn’t Like Believing in Santa

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It feels like this article shouldn’t have to be written, and yet it’s not uncommon to hear people say “Believing in God is like believing i the tooth fairy or Santa”, “There are no more evidences for God than what there are for Santa” or “Believing in an all-knowing, magic Santa is ridiculous, so is belief in an all-knowing, supernatural God.” The idea is basically that since Santa doesn’t exist, God doesn’t exist, because they are too similar.

This doesn’t work, for many reasons:

1. Adults believe in God

Shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. While basically only kids believe that Santa exists due to their parents telling them so, the majority of the world’s adult population believe in some sort of Deity. Now, some atheists would say that’s because God-believers are like kids who just believe what someone else told them without checking for evidence, but that’s not just insulting but false; while nobody “converts” to belief in Santa Claus as an adult, several atheists have become theists (like C.S. Lewis, Greg Boyd, Anthony Flew) after examining arguments at hind evidence. Which brings us to point number 2:

2. There are Arguments for God’s Existence

What are the arguments for Santa’s existence? None, as far as I’m concerned, since no adult believes in him and children base their belief on trust in their parents’ lies rather than on arguments. In contrast, there are good arguments for the existence of God, like various cosmological arguments, the moral argument and the argument from fine-tuning, presented below. Santa isn’t needed as an explanation for anything, while the existence and complexity of the universe and objective morals need a cause outside time and space that is powerful and good – God.

3. God Reveals Himself and Performs Miracles

While some do believe in God because they’re parents brought them up like that, many have received or reinforced their faith when they witness miracles and hear the voice of God. Most people who become Christian in China, Nepal and India today do so because they have witnessed a miracle. God has spoken to me and has done miracles in my life. In contrast, Santa doesn’t do stuff like this, and nobody is claiming that he does other than in fairy tales.

To sum it up, God and Santa Claus aren’t comparable, even if some atheists wish that they were. This argument is basically like saying “Well there are no evidences for the existence of human rights just like there are no evidences for Santa, so believers in human rights are like babies who believe in Santa, ha ha!” As I wrote about recently in another post, inexplicable miracles do happen a lot, showing that God does exist and intervene in our universe.

So how about praising the very existing God this holiday season and teach our kids about Him rather than lying about Santa?

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14 Comments

  1. stevekimes says:

    You make some good points here. Certainly I haven’t met an atheist that has seriously studied modern miracles, they usually dismiss them out of hand.

    However, the “proofs” for God I find constantly dissatisfying. Most of them boil down to, “I bet you can’t think of something else besides God that explains THIS-” (insert amazing fact or premise that we haven’t yet figured out.) Eventually human imagination and discovery renders every one of these arguments to be silly.

    God is a person, and so proof of God must be like proof of a person, a personality. I believe my friend Bill exists because I’ve met him, he calls me on the phone and he gave me a Christmas present. I can tell you what he looks like. You can deny that my friend exists because you have never seen him, but in my mind that’s pretty silly.

    In the end, I believe, those of us who know that God exists and follow Jesus, we do so because we have experienced God. Not because someone proved him to us.

    • Hello Steve! Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you that we need to experience and know God. As William Lane Craig says, it is the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit that convinces a person about God, rather than philosophical arguments.

      However, the arguments presented above makes God more reasonable, logical and necessary (and they make Him different from Santa Claus). And they don’t fall into the ”God of the gaps” fallacy. When my ancestors argued that Thor caused thunder because they didn’t understood how it worked, that was a ”god of the gaps”, as is someone who today would say that we don’t know exactly how black holes works and therefore God must do it.

      To say that the origin and complexity of the universe and the existence of objective morals are something that future science will explain is taking it too far, however, because they cannot be empirically measured: those are metaphysical and philosophical issues that have been discussed for thousands of years. Take the moral argument for example: objective morals cannot exist in a world without God, then all moral values are subjective and culturally binding, and hence there are no reasons to accuse anyone for being ”evil” or ”immoral” because they’re just acting upon their own subjective moral viewpoint. But most people, including atheists, agree that objective morals exist, that there are things that are inherently wrong no matter what the person who commits the deeds thinks. This means that a good, moral God must exist as an objective reference point.

      Or take Leibniz’ cosmological argument: the reason that a contingent universe exists rather than nothing is due to the existence of a necessary being that doesn’t need a cause. This must be either an abstract objects like numbers or a god, and since abstract object cannot cause anything, God exists. As I explained in my blog post about it – https://holyspiritactivism.com/2015/05/26/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing/ – why something exists rather than nothing is the most fundamental existential question, and it can never have a scientific answer due to the limitations of the scientific methods. It must have a philosophical or religious answer.

      One could perhaps argue that the fine-tuning of the universe is some form of God of the gaps, but as I’ve explained in my blog bost about that – https://holyspiritactivism.com/2015/05/04/the-fine-tuning-of-the-universe-and-the-existence-of-god/ – there is an important difference between arguing for the fine-tuning or complexity of a thing inside the universe, and the universe itself. The latter have no scientific explanation, only metaphysical, like the existence of God or multiverses (which then are contingent and thus fall under Leibniz’ argument).

      WLC has on his part explained why neither the cosmological argument or the fine-tuning belong to the God-of-the-gaps category here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-of-the-gaps

      Blessings!

  2. Mike says:

    Hey =) Just to clarify some points you’re making, atheists do not necessarily “wish” that santa claus and God are comparable, we simply state that there is insufficient evidence to propose the existance of either. It’s a common misconception that atheists are somehow hostile, the reason being we reject something that is a large part of the lives of others. The hostility is projected onto us by those who fear their religion is threatened. Trust me, we’re not only just unconvinced, but whole heartedly so.

    You also say “kids believe in santa because their parents say he exists”. That is the main reason people are religious as well, otherwise you wouldn’t find certain religions dominating certain regions, so that’s a weak point. Indoctrination is a real thing, I certainly was affected by that myself as I grew up in a religious household.

    Anyway, I’m not gonna write too much… but I leave you with an argument I call the problem of personal investment: a fact that is true is true regardless of how it affects someone, or how much time someone has believed it to be true, or how it fits a persons wishes etc. We should agree so far. In other words, if God exists, he should do so even if I am totally unconvinced, or if you are convinced.
    Having established that, we should be able to leave ourselves out of the equation completely when discussing the probability of gods existance.
    Therefore, we should establish the true level of personal investment in the idea, so that we can dismiss it completely before we move on to what “God” is and means to a person. This could include “I feel him strongly”, “all my friends are religious”, “I’m in a church and it’s a huge part of my life”, “I can’t imagine a world without god” etc.

    Applying this train of thought to something like the sun, it would soon be apparent that it exists regardless of my personal investment, and it would be easy to prove.

    When we’ve removed the personal investment out of the equation, we’re left with arguments like those you posted below. However, is your imagination strong enough that you can imagine what it’s like to have no prior conviction or knowledge of “god”, no personal investment in the idea, and looking at those arguments THEN? I say that your imagination is most definitely that strong, if you dare to do so.
    And if you take that step, it will be very, very easy to find counter arguments to those arguments.

    So, it’s not easy, but if you really want to find the truth, remove yourself from the equation completely. Good luck.

    • Hello Mike!

      Just to clarify; I did write *some* atheists, thinking of people I have personally encountered. I don’t claim all or even most atheists argue like this. Furthermore, I don’t deny that several are religious or pseudo-religious due to convincing of their parents, but the difference between belief in Santa and belief in God is that basically everyone stops believing that Santa exists when they grow up, while most who believe in God are adults and many adults are converted to theism when they think about life philosophically or when they encounter Him through, prophecy, signs and wonders.

      Having believed in atheism myself, I gave my life to God because I realized that the existence of my life and the universe must imply an uncaused Creator, and because He revealed Himself to me through visions of Jesus. But of course, as you say, He exists no matter if I experience Him or not, just like the sun would exist even if nobody saw it for some reason.

      The philosophical arguments above that deals with cosmology and morals are not bound to personal investment. Miracles and prophecy are, but not in ways very dissimilar to our senses or empirical experience.

      Blessings!

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for the reply. Your answer is fair enough, and if you believe in God based on personal experiences that’s fine by me, even though I obviously consider evidence based reasoning to be more sound than faith based.
        I’d like to just quickly point out that no one “believes” in atheism. I don’t know if that was an unintended mistake on your part, but in case it wasn’t; atheism is an absense of belief in a god or gods. So it’s quite litterally the opposite of a belief. Now, I know some religious people think the answer to the God question is that it’s a 50/50 chance, and that you’d therefore have to put your “faith” in one of the answers. Well, that’s simply a false assertion and one that can be easily refuted. But I’ll give you the benefit of doubt and say you don’t think that. If you do, feel free to elaborate on why you think so.
        /Mike

        • Hello again 🙂

          A quick response to your latter remark: atheism is absense of belief in deities, yes, but it’s not absense of belief. A complete absense of belief when it comes to religious questions makes on agnostic, not atheist. Similarly, a complete absense of belief or conviction when it comes to political issues does not make one an anarchist, that wants to abolish the state and all political activity, but rather apolitical, who has no opinion on the matter.

          Blessings!

          • Mike says:

            It’s a bit of a mystery to me why I often come across theists who speak so confidently about definitions of atheism and agnosticism when it’s both easy to look up and also seemingly pointless as it’s non debatable. Is it to argue atheism is a religion? I sure hope not, that would be ridiculous.
            Anyway, the Oxford dictionary defines atheism as a disbelief of lack of belief in Gods. So it’s the absense of a belief in a deity.
            http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/atheism

            Furthermore, the oxford dictionary defines agnostic as one who believes that nothing is known or can be known of a deity.
            http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/agnostic

            In other words, it is possible to be both atheist and agnostic (lack of belief in god and believe it’s inpossible to know either way), atheist and gnostic (lack of belief and tjink it can be proven that a god doesn’t exist), theist and agnostic (belief in God and believe it cannot be known either way), theist and gnostic (belief in God and think it can be known and proven to exist). This is the reason those words exists.

            Anyone who is reasonable is an agnostic. People who claim that Gods existance can be proven either way are unreasonable and demonstrably so. That is not to say that it’s unreasonable to make assumptions based on observation, but that is where there is room for debate.

            I hope that clears things up. I’m not naive enough that I think I can change peoples beliefs on some blog, but let’s not argue over definitions when it’s so easy to just look it up.

          • Hello again, Mike!

            Maybe we’re misscommunicating here: I don’t question that atheism is “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods” as the Oxford dictionary says, what I’m questioning is you statement above that nobody believes in atheism. Atheists do believe in atheism, even though they don’t believe in God or gods. Similarly, an anarchist doesn’t believe in the political system and the ideologies that supports it, but s/he still believes in anarchism.

            This is why atheism still is a belief, a worldview, even though it is not a belief in a Deity. Furthermore, to say that reasonable people only are agnostics is incorrect and a bit offensive. No Christian is agnostic, not so much because all agree on the “proofs” but because we know that God can be known. Hardly anyone in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America) are agnostic. In fact, agnosticism is irrational in that it claims that a god can exists without revealing itself to anyone.

            Blessings!

          • Mike says:

            I get what you’re saying about anarchists, and I can see your reasoning. You’re comparing religions to political parties and anarchy as being absolute freedom from government, similar to how atheism is a “freedom” from religion. And it’s reasonable to say that one can be a believer in anarchy.
            However, the two are not comparible as anarchy is very clearly an ideology, which atheism is not. Atheism is not even a philosophy, it’s nothing more than the absense of belief in a deity. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but “atheism is not a belief in the same way that not collecting stamps isn’t a hobby”. Here’s an article that describes it quite well:
            http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/p/AtheismReligion.htm

            I ask of you to try thinking about this objectively, and if you still think it’s a belief, would you mind elaborating on why you find that important? There are many theists who recognize atheism as a lack of belief (and rightly so), my father for example (who’s a priest). There is no reason to insist atheism is a belief.

            And no, no reasonable person is gnostic when it comes to theism. Personal conviction is pointless as proof as it cannot be used to demonstrate a fact, it’s equally silly for you to say you know God exists as it is for me to say that I know he doesn’t. It’s very apparent to me that he doesn’t, but you would never accept my personal convition as proof in the same way that I can’t accept your belief, no matter how strong, as proof. Even you have a standard of evidence that is much higher than that when it comes to exactly everything else. If someone says to you that they can fly, you ask that they show you. If someone says they can read your mind, you ask what you’re thinking about to test them. If you tell me that you Know a God exists, I ask that you demonatrate it to me. And if you can’t do that, then it’s up to me to believe you mich in the same way that I would believe someone can fly. And if they can’t show me, then I’m not going to believe them.
            So yes, it’s unreasonable to say you’re not agnostic. And no, not all theists are gnostic. My father is a priest and he would never claim to know. I grew up in the midst of religion and out of every christian I know, I can not remember anyone saying the Know God exists.

  3. stevekimes says:

    Hi Michel 🙂

    I would say that the moral argument is exactly the same argument of “God of the gaps.” Neurology is finding morality in our brains, and neurologists are finding reasons for human morality without God. While you and I would say that God gives us morality and places it in our minds, others could just as easily say that inserting God in morality is simply unnecessary.

    As for Leibniz’ argument, he rightly argues for a first cause, as did Aristotle, but that first cause doesn’t necessitate a being with a personality.

    What you are giving are reasons why God might exist, but they are not proofs that God must exist. It is enough for us to have these reasons, and then to allow our experience fill in the gaps.

    • Hello again brother 🙂

      I think you have misunderstood the moral argument: it’s not about the origin of moral values or why human perceive morality, it is about how objective morals can exist rather than subjective morals. If God does not exist then all morals that we perceive and explain by neuroscience is subjective, and nothing is really good or evil since there is no objective point of reference. As Dawkins wrote, there’s “no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

      Now the problem for the atheist then is that objective morals do exist, since we judge others behavior based not on their personal morals but on an objective reference point of what is “good” or “just”. Dawkins himself has been twittering about the horrible morals of islamist fundamentalists, and he has accused God as He’s depicted in the Old Testament for being immoral. Now, that’s self-contradictory – how can something be evil if there is no evil, but just pitiless indifference?

      This is why the moral argument really isn’t about why we’re experiencing morals or how morality originates within our brains, but how atheism should view objective morals as something impossible even though it exists.

      Blessings

      • stevekimes says:

        But the source of objective values is the brain. We, as humans, agree on a set of values because that is how our brains work. We can look at morality as an objective value on which we can argue because we all have human brains. On the other hand, don’t ask my cat to get involved in this same argument, because she has a different set of values.

        Almost all atheists argue from morality. But atheists like Sam Harris argue that objective moral values come from our brains and society, not from God. I find Harris’ arguments against religion to be petty, but the scientific basis for objective morality is sound.

        I would also recommend that you not use Dawkins as your go-to guy for atheism. He’s a good scientist, but a horrible philosopher, and is often self-contradictory. I think that Harris and Hitchens are better spokespeople for the “atheist evangelists”. Or Sarte.

        • But that begs the question: which brain is the source of objective morality? Suppose that there were only two people in the world: Jesus and Hitler. They would obviously have completely different moral values, one would like to kill the other and so on. Now, even if you go back to our world and say that the majority’s moral opinions are what should be counted as “objective”, they’re still subjective on a grander scale and they change. At least here in Sweden we have had a huge shift in moral values during the last century, and I think you Americans have experienced that as well.

          Harris defends some kind of utilitarianism where he says that morality is based on improving the well-being of conscious creatures, and says that science proves this. While science is able to measure well being, Harris’ error is that he presupposes that this is objectively moral. But one can as easily claim that it is well-being for Chinese people that should guide morality, or suffering of conscious creatures. Harris’ inclusion of non-human species in his definition shows that it is culturally bound and neither universal nor in and of itself (as a statement from Harris) objectively true.

          I think it’s important to make a disctintion between our consciousness and objective morality. Most people have some sort of common understanding of basic morality, and we God-believers would say that God has given us that while an atheist may say that brain and culture has done it. Objective morality, on the other hand, is independent of any single human brain and is the reference point and standard for what is right and wrong. That, I think, needs God to exist.

  4. stevekimes says:

    The problem with God or “science” or whatever else being an “objective morality” is that no one can agree which objective morality they are talking about. There is Jesus on the one side and we have the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Muslims by Christians in Bosnia on the other– both motivated by “God”. Certainly the crusades were encouraged by religious fervor. Those who study the Bible have different ideas of what “biblical morality” is because there are different moralities presented in the Bible.

    I think you and I agree that Jesus, not a “god” or religious ideal is our basis for true morality. And Jesus just so “happens” to agree with what neuroscience is finding in our brains, that much of our morality is based on consciousness. Jesus is directing that, so that we might accomplish what is best in this world. Frankly, most Christians have no idea what Jesus’ idea of morality is, nor do they really care. Because they already have their balance between love and judging, and that without Jesus.

    I just don’t see God as a basis for morality. Jesus, yes. God, the Bible, religion, etc, no.

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

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