Santa Claus argument

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Atheists sometimes equate belief in God with belief in Santa Claus — both, they say, are childish beliefs that should be abandoned in adulthood, if not earlier. Theists usually reply that their God is far more subtle and sophisticated than a jolly red-dressed man flying around on a sled, so the beliefs aren't comparable. But aren't they?

Why do we reject the Santa Hypothesis? There are two key possible reasons. One might be that we caught our father filling the Christmas stockings, not Santa. A little reflection reveals that all of Santa's miracles — every stocking ever filled, every sled tracking by NORAD, every old man in a red suit inviting a child to sit on his lap — all are lies and deceit.

It is this reasoning that the theists usually object to — their "Santa" is more subtle. He doesn't actually put money and candy in people's socks, you know. No, he only did that once, a long time ago — and you can't prove that he didn't, now can you?

Well no, but that does not make it true, or even plausible. The theists' stealthy, hidden Santa has been reduced to intervening only when no one is looking and can only be seen if you squint and look sideways (or perhaps just close your eyes and wish). This is absurd. The only kind of God left here with any intellectual honesty is that of the Deist; positing a "hidden" god still lurking in the cracks of our knowledge is just too embarrassing. This God then, at least is left unharmed by the Santa argument. Right? Wrong.

There is a second reason why we reject the Santa Hypothesis. Long before we conduct double-blind experiments to monitor the filling of stockings, we would reject the hypothesis out of hand because it doesn't fit into how we know the universe works. In the real-world, jolly old men don't run hidden industrial toy-making complexes at the North Pole, they can't deliver presents to millions of homes in one night, and reindeer don't fly.

The same can be said about God. We know something about intelligent agents: they require minds; and minds require brains — physical brains in physical heads, on physical bodies, forged by evolution through the ages. A non-physical mind that hasn't been subject to evolution and yet possesses superhuman intelligence and incontrovertible will — a personal, loving God that can hear silent prayers, understand our suffering, and know our every action and intent — all of this ignores everything we know about actual minds in the real world. The universe is simply not personal; it follows the laws of physics in a strictly impersonal manner. The universe doesn't revolve around us, nor does it care about our fate. Things just don't work that way. It's childish to believe otherwise.

Is it possible that Santa exists? Sure, it's possible. Perhaps one day intrepid reporting and careful scientific observation will demonstrate that something approximating the popular conception of Santa actually exists. Until that day, believing in Santa — even one hidden from our current understanding — is absurd. Similarly, believing that there is a God — even one hidden from our current understanding — is just as absurd. Adults should believe that existence works like science says it does: things that exist manifest in the physical world and can be discovered by scientific investigation. Flights of fancy that do not obey known laws of physics and biology should be left to children.

External links

Adapted from an original article at the Atheism Wiki.

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