"Suppose scientific evidence was uncovered that proves conclusively
that Santa Claus does exist," I suggested. "Would you be willing to
look at that evidence or not?" Jon stated categorically that the
proposition was so absurd that he would not consider it. "Of course
there is no Santa Claus," he said, “and no amount of evidence could
ever convince me otherwise." "So what you are saying," I suggested, "Is
that there is no room in your mind-set for something you have already
discarded, no matter how strong the evidence might be. You also have
formulated your own concept of what Santa Claus is, and you have
discarded the myth without considering whether there is a better
understanding that a rational person could believe in and accept." The
fact is that Murray and many others have done the same thing with the
existence of God!
Over the years we have had
numerous debates and public discussions with atheists and atheist
spokespersons. One of my favorite discussions was a radio debate I had
with Jon Garth Murray, Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s oldest son. Jon and I
had known each other for a long time, and we knew what would probably
develop in the course of the evening. We were both somewhat frustrated
by the lady who was the emcee who had her own agenda and really would
not allow us to develop our own format. Early in the discussion Jon
made the statement that he did not believe in God for the same reason
he did not believe in Santa Claus. This is an old argument that
atheists have used for many years, but I thought I might shake things
up a little by posing a question about evidence.
There was a famous editorial in a New York newspaper in 1897 that
included the well-known line, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
Francis Church, who wrote the editorial in response to an
eight-year-old girl’s question, pointed out that belief in Santa Claus
involves more than childhood fantasies. We have Christmas carols that
talk about the wonder of Christmas and ask why we cannot
have the Christmas spirit all year. The image on
the cover of this issue of our journal is just fun, but the notion of a
personality that embodies the spirit of the holiday season is real.
Let us be very clear, God and Santa Claus are not the same thing.
Certainly the existence of God is supported by a different kind of
evidence and brings a need for a different response from us as
responsible humans. The point being made is that many people in our
culture have created their own concept of God and have discarded it
because the image is unworkable. They want a God who holds up puppies,
smiles all the time, gives wonderful gifts, makes no
demands, and has no expectations. They want a God who is
only there when they want Him to be there and can be ignored in our
daily walk of life. The notion that we serve Him instead of Him giving
to us is not considered. The idea that we have a purpose in our
existence is discarded. The belief that our purpose involves the real
world with all of life’s pain and loss is rejected, because it demands
commitment and a particular way of living life.
No, God is not equal to Santa Claus, He is so superior to the man in
the red suit that the two notions should not be entertained together,
but how people approach the two is revealing and has lessons for all of
This is how Alister McGrath responded to
the charge by Richard Dawkins that believing in God is like believing
in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
Like many of Dawkins’s analogies, this has been constructed with a
specific agenda in mind—in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet
the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began
to believe in Santa Claus in adult-hood? Or who found belief in the
Tooth Fairy consoling in old age? l believed in Santa Claus until I was
about five (though, not unaware of the benefits it brought, I allowed
my parents to think I took it seriously until rather later). I did not
believe in God until I started going to university. Those who use this
infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in
later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of
regression, perversion or degeneration. A good recent example is
provided by Antony Flew (born 1923), the noted atheist philosopher who
started to believe in God in his eighties.
Alister McGrath in The Dawkins
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Does God Exist?, NovDec09.