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A Letter to (Some) Atheists

Santa-vs_-God

(please note: I did not create this chart so I am not responsible for misspellings!)

Dear atheist,

As I am sure you know, I am not an atheist. I am a Christian and I am very committed to my Christian faith. (I just thought I should over-communicate here to begin with!)

I have something I want to talk about. And my purpose here is not necessarily to convert you. So please keep reading.

Before anything else, please understand that I do empathize with your beliefs (or lack thereof). So many of you, I know, have long wanted to believe in God, but simply could not convince yourself that he exists. Many of you did not grow up atheists, but became so after a fairly significant battle, both intellectual and emotional. I know and believe that the Bible says “the fool has said in his heart there is no God,” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1) but I think in the context, it is not really talking about philosophical atheism, but the depravity that all people share deep in their heart. We have all said “in our heart” that there is no God, so we have all been fools. That is the point of the passage and Paul picks up on this in Romans 3. Nevertheless, I understand how one’s mind might choose the “there is no God route.” After all, he has seemed absent enough from my life so many times when I so desperately needed him. It might have been very easy for my mind to conclude he is not there (or, at the very least, that he does not care about me). I don’t have time to recount all the times when I have been at the door of your home. I have even taken a ride in that nice porch swing you have out there. So I understand why someone like yourself might lack a belief in God.

If I have your ear, I want to talk to you about something. In fact, I think I can help you become better atheists!

Here is the deal: I continue to hear this rather odd comparison that just does not make much sense. It is between belief in God and a belief in Santa Claus. Sometimes it is not the big guy, but the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Bigfoot. I would encourage you to stop using such examples. I know it has sound bite value for many, but it is quite silly and makes you look as if only your heart is saying there is no God, with no imput from your mind. Why? Because, if you were being intellectually honest, you would see that there is really no comparison between such things and what Christians mean when they say they believe in God.

You see, the term “God” must first be understood philosophically. Philosophically speaking, “God” is simply a handle for the “greatest conceivable being.” Let me be more Thomistic or Aristotelian: “God” simply means ou kinoúmenon kineî, “the unmoved mover.” There is no need to attach any proper names to him at this point. I am just trying to get across that “God” is first a philosophical concept that solves that age old question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” with something other than, “I don’t know” or “nothing is responsible for everything.” Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and even Zeus are in a whole different semantic domain. But more importantly, belief in their existence is completely unwarranted.

You may think that I am doing a bit of question begging here, but that brings me to part two: If you believe that the warrant for the existence of an “Unmoved Mover” (whatever you call “it”) is on par with the warrant for Santa Claus and the like, then you have really just checked out of the discussion altogether on an intellectual level, haven’t you? The better atheist would readily admit that there is warrant for belief in God, just not sufficient warrant to compel them to believe. That would be intellectually honest. Anything else is simply not intellectual, but it is very emotional. It makes me suspect that you are saying in your heart there is no God, but not really with your head (which is fine, but it necessitates a whole different discussion doesn’t it?).

Think of it this way (and this is not an argument, just a way to think of it to gain some perspective): if belief in God was on par with belief in Santa, then why would there be people who hold positions in seminaries and universities all over the world who not only believe in God, but spend their lives making (what they believe to be) rational defenses for such a belief? Can you imagine if there were “apologists” for Santa going around debating those who don’t believe in Santa? After all, what kind of case could they possibly make? Now, of course, you may think that the case for God is not too strong, but you don’t really believe that there is no warrant at all for believing in God. Yet we all agree that there is no warrant at all for believing in Santa. All I am saying is that you must admit there is something more to the “God” thing than there is to the Tooth Fairy thing!

So (and I know that this does not apply to the best of you), can we do away with the Santa/God comparison? It is not becoming of the best in atheism, even if it does have emotional value.

 

51 Responses to “A Letter to (Some) Atheists”

  1. I’m so glad I came across your blog. I couldn’t agree more with you. Your thoughts are exactly what I try to convey in my book “Why I Believe in God” and on my blog entries. Thank you for your words.

  2. I agree, of course, that it’s not the best that atheism has to offer. But if I can play devil’s advocate for a minute, I think there’s more to be said for it than you’re giving credit for. First of all, when people compare God to Santa Claus, they are primarily comparing the “figure” of God to the “figure” of Santa Claus, as a supernatural being who has many stories and legends told about him, not as a philosophical concept of an unmoved mover (which, in many philosophical formulations doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Christian God anyway). Second, one of the primary differences between adults believing in God and children believing in Santa Claus is that with Santa, the people propagating the belief know it to be false, which is not the case with religion (usually). And, contrary to your last point, adults play the apologist for Santa Claus all the time. Many times they don’t break down at the first sign of skepticism on the part of their children and try to get them to believe a little longer by invoking various kinds of magical explanations. Moreover, you could see Santa as a kind of explanation for a phenomenon, namely, how the presents get under the tree. But of course, all the child has to do is sneak out of bed to observe his/her parents doing the deed to discover the true explanation. Such methods of confirmation/disconfirmation are not so easy to come by when it comes to God. Just some things to think about.

  3. Dan, what adults play apologist for Santa in a parallel way to those who are apologists for God? Parants dont actually believe in Santa? Again, it is taking one aspect and substituting it for the whole. It is not only not apples and oranges, it’s apples and rocks. One we can eat, one we cannot.

    The only time it is legitimately comparable, I suppose, is when indoctrination is the issue. But then atheism (and any other belief or non-belief) also is comparable. I have a neighbor whose son has been indoctrinated to keep from believing in anything.

  4. Also, one cannot separate a “figure” for ones attributes. God’s essential attributes include ascetic and simplicity. Without these, it is not God we are talking about, just someone or something that we happen to believe in and honor in some exaggerated way. It is then that the Santa God comparison takes shape. But, again, once we go in such a direction, we can compare Santa to a belief in any dignified figure in history (say, Napolian). Then, the evidence becomes purely historical without the concept of philosophical or ontological necessity. And STILL, if we did that the comparison is only as good as the arguments, so it would remain emotional rather than intellectual.

    Make sense?

  5. If we keep it on an adult level (ignore the fact that adults like to trick children into believing in Santa), it’s pretty easy to see that no adults really believe in Santa, and many adults really do believe in God.

    If you ignore the tricks we play on children, the idea of Santa is story NO sane adults believe to be true, but the idea of God is a story SOME sane adults believe to be true (whether or not it really is), and some don’t.

    If we remove adult intellect and limit belief in Jesus to merely “child-like faith”, then the comparison between God and Santa Claus holds (as they both have a certain sweetness and naivete to them). But Intellect can be added to the story of Jesus, and it remains believable. Intellect cannot be added to the story of Santa to make it any more believable.

    Finally, nobody ever died for Santa.

  6. As a note, you’ve been linked over on r/DebateReligion.

    “You see, the term “God” must be understood philosophically first.”

    This is a standard tactic. This simply isn’t what you mean by “god”. That’s the deist god, not the Christian god. When talking to atheists, believers will pull back, and talk about the “unmoved mover” and the “ground of all being” and so on. And then they’ll go to their congregations and talk about what they actually believe, which involves an all-powerful invisible person and his magical child. Santa is not in a different semantic domain from the god you actually believe in.

    “The better atheist would readily admit that there is warrant for belief in God, just not sufficient warrant to compel them to believe.”

    This is simply not true. You are assuming that there is some warrant for belief in any entity other than empirical evidence for that entity. This has not been demonstrated. I reject Santa, the Christian god, and the Unmoved Mover because they all lack the same warrant for belief: evidential support. You seem to want atheists to accept your argument because, in so doing, they would admit that belief in god is warranted. I admit no such thing, and I do not feel I am compromising my intellectual honesty thereby. Indeed, were I to admit such a thing, it would be intellectually dishonest to subsequently say that your belief in god is incorrect, as that would be inconsistent with your belief being warranted.

    “Now, of course, you may think that the case for God is not too strong, but you don’t really believe that there is no warrant at all for believing in God.”

    Yes, I do. You can’t believe we really believe that, but we do.

  7. Mike O,

    Whereas on the other hand, the real St. Nicholas punched the deacon Arius over the importance of God dying for us. {g}

    (It’s probably been done before already, but that reminds me I’ve been wanting to write up a comparison of the development of the myth of Santa Claus to proposed sceptical theories of the “Christ Myth”.)

    JRP

  8. Dan: “But of course, all the child has to do is sneak out of bed to observe his/her parents doing the deed to discover the true explanation.”

    -R: But that doesn’t cover the situation where the child doesn’t believe in Santa (though his parents are trying to get him to), but then *sees* Santa with his own eyes and excitedly tells his parents about it Christmas morning! Yet the parents *did not* commit subterfuge by hiring a Santa, and their house was secure.

    Soooo, the question becomes, how did the kid (my nephew) see Santa with his own eyes??

    -Rusty (Disclosure: I an an atheist, I’ve been perusing this site for a couple of years now, and I have a lot of thoughts regarding this thread, but the short answer is: No, we will not do away with the Santa/God comparison, because it has it’s purpose, and it goes beyond the rhetorical simplicity of it.)

  9. That chart is full of errors. Here is my version Common Traits

  10. @Matthew, It’s interesting to watch people miss the point.

    The point, as I saw it wasn’t that atheists should acknowledge that there is evidence for God. The point was that they should acknowledge that there are SOME PEOPLE who see evidence for God (evidence you reject – I’ll grant you that), but there are NO PEOPLE see evidence for Santa Clause.

    I think the point is that atheists would better serve their cause if they didn’t equate all Christians to naive children or intentionally simplistic adults. It’s insulting and it makes Christians not want to take you seriously. You would better serve your cause if you acknowledged that it is possible to come to a different conclusion than you did, and not be a simpleton. People actually do believe in God -that doesn’t mean you do or should or are being intellectually dishonest if you acknowledge that people believe in God even though you don’t.

    Am I being intellectually dishonest when I say I understand why you don’t believe in God, but I do?

  11. “The point was that they should acknowledge that there are SOME PEOPLE who see evidence for God (evidence you reject – I’ll grant you that), but there are NO PEOPLE see evidence for Santa Clause.”

    That some people believe in god and no (rational adult) people believe in Santa is irrelevant to whether or not the two are similar types of claims. This is merely an argument from popularity. As Anatole France put it, “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

    “I think the point is that atheists would better serve their cause if they didn’t equate all Christians to naive children or intentionally simplistic adults.”

    If that’s the point of the letter, then apparently Mr. Patton missed the point of the comparison to Santa. It’s not to dismiss Christians as simplistic or childish people, it’s to demonstrate that they hold beliefs which have no better support than things which they dismiss as obviously false, simplistic, and childish. I recommend you read the classic “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” It serves as a defense of Santa’s existence shockingly similar to that Mr. Patton puts forward with his “philosophically understood” god. That he doesn’t like it when we point out the similarities, and that you think it’s not an effective tactic (which I think you’re wrong about), changes the validity of the comparison not one jot.

    “Am I being intellectually dishonest when I say I understand why you don’t believe in God, but I do?”

    Probably not. But then, you may well be wrong about why I’m an atheist. If you did, you probably wouldn’t think that “People actually do believe in god” is an argument that would have any relevance to me. I know that lots of people are theists. They’re wrong.

    • Matthew,

      People can draw clever similarities between anything (as was shown in the remade graphic comparing atheism to Santa posted here in the comments). Of course we can all smile and laugh and even see some interesting parallels. But it is not unlike the Christ being a dying and rising god on par with the secret myth religions. It simply makes it look as if the only argument that atheists can have is by emotionally grabbing sound-bite cartoons and hope they stick.

      Now, I know that atheism can do better than this. I can do better than this against God. Compared to those who use such cartoons and guilt by association arguments (which this is not even good enough to qualify for this fallacy!), I am a better atheist than them. I am just trying to encourage those who think such comparisons are valid to think a bit more deeply and, thereby, reengage in an important discussion at a profitable level.

      We all need to learn to engage in the best-of, representing those that we disagree with with deep insight and charity. Otherwise, we are just preaching to the choir, but to those who know better, we look foolish. I have done the same, so don’t feel bad. But just consider that this Santa/God comparison provides no substance, deals with no arguments, and presents nothing but childish manipulative thinking to a very important debate.

  12. Matthew, you are wrong about a lot of things, too (we all are). Does that mean your beliefs are on par with a cartoon? I don’t think so, it just means you’re intelligent but wrong.

    “As Anatole France put it, “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.””

    And I say if fifty million people don’t believe a true thing, it is still a true thing.

    There is no “proof” that there is a god. I know that. But that has no bearing on whether or not there is a god. If there is, I’m right, in spite of your inability to see it. And if there isn’t, you’re right, in spite of my ability to see it.

    I know lots of people that are atheists. *I think* they’re wrong.

    • And to say that there is no “proof” that there is a God, can be incredibly misleading these days. Certainly there is plenty of evidence that people find compelling, historic, scientific, experiential, and emotional. We can certainly prove God exists if by this we mean provide enough evidence that warrants belief. In the real world, that is about all we can do with anything—provide a sufficiency in probability. If this were not the case, we could never prove any event of the past actually took place. The rub lies not in whether there is evidence, but whether one person will find such evidence subjectively compelling thereby binding his conscious to belief. This is where the act of the will comes in and the debate becomes theological rather than evidential.

  13. and how do you italicize?

  14. Matthew, you are wrong about a lot of things, too (we all are). Does that mean your beliefs are on par with a cartoon? I don’t think so, it just means you’re intelligent but wrong.

    Quite true. But if there is something about which I am wrong, and someone happens to know the right answer, I want them to tell me. I want to be less wrong. And I have no problem with them doing so by showing my beliefs to be ridiculous; it may sting a bit, but that’s what’s needed sometimes. You’d be surprised how effective laughter can be, if you’ve grown up taking something very seriously and then suddenly you encounter someone who finds it laughable.

    There is no “proof” that there is a god. I know that. But that has no bearing on whether or not there is a god.

    Well, now we’re getting into epistemology. Yes, if a given proposition is true, it’s true whether or not I am aware of it. But that doesn’t mean I am justified to believe it in the absence of any evidence. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, my inability to invalidate your hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.

    And critically, there is no particular reason why I should be respectful of a given belief simply because a large number of people hold it. This letter falls into the category of “Shut up, that’s why” arguments, attempting simply to get atheists to stop saying what they’re saying.

    Oh, and italics are done with the HTML italics tags. Which, thinking about it, is why I went back in and added the blockquote tags.

  15. The interesting thing is, you have to see things from the other person’s perspective. To me, there is plenty of compelling evidence for the existance of God, even OUR version of God which is Jesus. Proof enough for me, anyway. But to the Atheist, the evidence is apparently not very compelling. If there was proof, they would believe it (from their perspective). It’s similar to believing in a godless evolution – there’s LOTS of evidence, but I still don’t find it compelling. So is there “proof?” Would we let atheists get away with talking about the “proof” of evolution? I wouldn’t. Heck, even they call it a theory – a theory they find extremely convincing, but a theory nonetheless. So neither to I require them to accept my compelling evidence as “proof.”

  16. I heartily agree with #16 and #17. The word “prove” has been thrown at Christians a lot and if we cannot show indisputable proof that God exists then He must not exist or at least that would justify agnosticism. This is an unreasonable demand especially when the backbone of atheism has no such requirement. There is no such thing as “settled science”. All science is provisional and subject to change based on new data.

  17. CMP, et. al.: And to say that there is no “proof” that there is a God, can be incredibly misleading these days.

    Quite true, just as many discussions for and against “proof” are misleading, many discussions about “theories” are. For example, Mike says

    Heck, even they call it a theory – a theory they find extremely convincing, but a theory nonetheless

    while teleologist says

    There is no such thing as “settled science”. All science is provisional and subject to change based on new data.

    The problem, Mike, with your quote is that there is a difference in meaning that is often not conveyed between what an average person means by “theory” and what the scientists means. Evolutionary theory is, after all, on par with the germ theory of disease (however much I can argue that latter is wrong).

    The problem with your point, teleologist, is that though in principle all science is provisional and subject to change, there is a tremendous amount of it that requires either willful ignorance or stubborn obtuseness not to recognize the depth of real knowledge that we have. (cf again the germ theory of disease)

    Neither of the above points are meant as attacks, fyi. And this post is getting to its limit. :-(

    -Rusty

  18. @minusRusty, willful ignorance or stubborn obtuseness not to recognize the depth of real knowledge that we have.

    First let me just say that I don’t think that the overwhelming majority of Christians willfully ignore any scientific knowledge. You have completely missed my point in both the comment and the illustration. I was merely pointing out the atheist’s intellectual hypocrisy demanding different standards of proofs based on their own metaphysical belief. There are 2 forms to this hypocrisy. In its simpler form, atheists like Hitchens claims that there is no evidence for God therefore it can be dismissed. However, he offers no evidence for atheism but that is not dismissed. The more complicated form of this hypocrisy involves what an atheist would consider as proof for God. According to Dawkins even miracles would only be highly improbable events. Others have said that any entity that can manipulate and violate the laws of physics as we know it are only tricks from a time traveler or space aliens. Or the ability to create matter and energy from nowhere and organized into some form. While atheists would demand such extraordinary evidence from Christians yet they expect relatively nothing for their belief in atheism. Do atheists demand the observable evidence of a self-existent singularity that created all matter and energy or evidence for dark matter and energy, branes. Christians are ridiculed for demanding a video tape of macroevolution which I don’t think we ever demanded. And Christians are accused of being anti-science because we demand some empirical evidence for macroevolution? I am not even talking about the entire nested hierarchy of phylogeny but an empirical evidence from a prokaryote to eukaryote would be nice. So while the atheist’s demand from Christianity is unreasonably unrealistic what they require for their own belief is inferential at best. All I am suggesting is maybe a little less atheist intellectual hypocrisy

  19. I’m confused, we’re talking about Santa, right? ;)

    The fact that we’re having this discussion at all is making the original point of the article, IMO. It’s not about who’s right and wrong, it’s about intelligent people on both sides who have somehow managed to come to drastically different conclusions. So let’s not belittle each other (equate God to Santa).

    I’m just sayin … ;)

  20. tele: First let me just say that I don’t think that the overwhelming majority of Christians willfully ignore any scientific knowledge.

    Depends on the subject. From my experience online and IRL, very, very few who reject evolution, for example, can give a realistic description of natural selection. Through polls, a very significant minority (at least) of Christians reject the 4.5 billion-year-old age of the earth, and don’t understand either relative dating techniques of geology or absolute dating techniques.

    The analogy is to someone who rejects the germ theory of disease –which I hope we all would agree is a sound theory– without really understanding the basics of germ theory.

    All I am suggesting is maybe a little less atheist intellectual hypocrisy

    Okay, I understand. But you ask:

    Do atheists demand the observable evidence of a self-existent singularity that created all matter and energy or evidence for dark matter and energy, branes.

    And yes, by and large, we do. That’s why generally we support continued scientific investigation of these subjects, *and* that these theories not be accepted just because they are put forward by experts and then let the investigation stop.

    -Rusty *really dislikes the character limits and other forum posting rules in discussions of this kind.*

  21. Mike O: I’m confused, we’re talking about Santa, right?

    I’m still waiting for someone to provide some explanations as to how my nephew saw Santa…

    -Rusty

  22. @mRusty, very, very few who reject evolution, for example, can give a realistic description of natural selection

    A misunderstanding or lack there of is not necessarily willful ignorance. Are you really trying to tell me that those who accept Darwinian evolution and a 4.5by old earth actually understand natural selection and dating methodologies more than those that don’t? I don’t think that is true for non-specialists, where both atheists and Christians are equally unknowledgeable about these sciences. And as far as the YEC specialists such as those in AiG I think they fully understand dating methods, they just tend to focus on the anomalies and negative arguments. But that is not willful ignorance of knowledge. And this brings me back to my point of a double standard from atheists. No one is suggesting that we should stop any scientific investigation. Atheists have full faith even in the face of (imo) gaping holes of evidence to support a self-existent, random, purposeless and meaningless universe. Even when they know most of these gaps will never be answered in their lifetime yet they have faith that there is no God. However, they have this double standard for Christians that every question must be answered to their satisfaction before they would entertain the existence of God? If there is willful intellectual ignorance it is on the atheists side and not the Christians.

  23. tele: Are you really trying to tell me that those who accept Darwinian evolution and a 4.5by old earth actually understand natural selection and dating methodologies more than those that don’t?

    As a general rule for people who debate the issue online and IRL, by and large, yes.

    I don’t think that is true for non-specialists, where both atheists and Christians are equally unknowledgeable about these sciences.

    In my experience following this for over 30 years now, the non-specialist atheists have been far more knowledgable about it than the non-specialist Christians.

    Atheists have full faith even in the face of (imo) gaping holes of evidence to support a self-existent, random, purposeless and meaningless universe.

    (previously) Christians are ridiculed for demanding a video tape of macroevolution …. [but, e.g.,] empirical evidence from a prokaryote to eukaryote would be nice.

    So based on your points above, do you:
    (A) Accept the theory of natural selection?
    (B) Accept the common ancestry of humans with chimps (and gorillas)?

    If no to (A), can you yourself describe the process of natural selection? (Please do so.)

    If no to (B), then how would you be able to determine whether any given empirical evidence from prokyrote to eukyrote would be acceptable or not?

    -Rusty

  24. @mRusty, I would love to debate the finer points of Darwinian evolution with you on my blog, but I am not going to hijack this thread and this blog into a scientific debate on Darwinism. What you need to answer is the charge of intellectual hypocrisy from atheists to demand Christians for irrefutable proof that God exist when atheists themselves cannot provide such proofs.

  25. As mortals we always find out there is more to our “discoveries” later down the road in time. Our minds are still limited thousands of years later. What is “deep” debate on darwin? The theroy is based on evolving. We would have physically evolved into something by now.

  26. tele: I would love to debate the finer points of Darwinian evolution with you on my blog, but I am not going to hijack this thread and this blog into a scientific debate on Darwinism.

    It wasn’t about debating the “finer points” of evolution. It was about having someone who denies evolution as being able to give an accurate explanation of natural selection.

    What you need to answer is the charge of intellectual hypocrisy from atheists to demand Christians for irrefutable proof that God exist when atheists themselves cannot provide such proofs.

    Well, that’s still off-topic from the original post of not using Santa as a comparison to God; so you get to set the direction of the discussion? Nope.

    But nevertheless, I’ll address it quickly: Making a claim and rejecting that claim are not equivalent positions. So equivalent “proofs” are not what’s in play. Hence, there isn’t any intellectual hypocrisy involved.

    Sorry, CMP, but this is why analogies like your original post come into play: The idea that claiming Big Foot exists and rejecting the notion (in spite of the *ahem* evidence *cough*) both require equivalent “proofs” is absurd. It’s one of the reasons why in the American legal system someone has to be “proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”, as opposed to having to be proven innocent.

    Still, is no one going to posit any explanations to my nephew’s eye-witness testimony to Santa? Is that not more relevant to the original post?

    -Rusty

  27. Ok, well, I think this has probably run its course.

    I won’t be around for about a week, so, … later, all!

    -Rusty

  28. Nevertheless, I understand how one’s mind might choose the “there is no God route.” After all, he has seemed absent enough from my life so many times when I so desperately needed him.

    Followed by this, not 10 seconds later:

    Philosophically speaking, “God” is simply a handle for the “greatest conceivable being.”

    Mr. Patton, I’m afraid Mr. Prorok has just nailed you on this. No one has any idea what it feels like to “sense the presence of the Aristotelian first mover in their life when they really need him.” And along with this little bait-and-switch of Philosophergod for Biblegod goes the entire thesis of your post.

    I am quite happy to state that Aristotelian metaphysics, though erroneous, are much more intellectually respectable than belief in Santa Claus. But this must be a two way street. Are you prepared to admit that this business about talking snakes and walking on water are, in comparison to Aristotle, substantially more similar to belief in Santa Claus?

    • Stair,

      You must understand that this post has no intensions of arguing for any specific brand of theism. Many people follow a classical approach to the issue of warrant. This means that we are simply trying to meet on the most common ground before moving anywhere else. Therefore, all I am arguing for is the illegitimacy of comparing Santa Clausism to theism. If I can get you to understand how silly (and anti-intellectual) it is to compare Santa to belief in God in general then we can certain move on from there.

  29. Every other unbeliever you’ve ever debated makes observations which you decline to address and questions you simply haven’t the time to answer?

    What conclusions do you think you should draw from this?

  30. But the chart you posted at the beginning, as well as your comments about feeling or failing to feel God’s presence etc. absolutely do betray your intentions to defend a specific kind of god. “Belief in god in general” doesn’t entail anything about omniscience or answering prayers or demanding cookie tithes, but that is precisely what is being talked about — by you.

    And this is precisely what people are picking up on and pointing out. The bait and switch maneuver apologetics makes when someone points out specific absurdities: the retreat to the general.

    I can’t help but notice that you declined to address my challenge, which as you can plainly see is not a request to defend any specific god, only for you to agree with me that, on the spectrum of absurdity from 1 to 10, with Santa Claus being a 10 and Philosophergod being any number N lower than 10 you care to name, belief in Biblegod is higher than N. For precisely the reasons alluded to in the chart. And this is true not only because of the purely formal truth that specific hypotheses are less a priori likely than general hypotheses, but also because the specific traits of Biblegod do indeed share a number of traits in common with Santa Claus.

    As the chart so helpfully reminds us.

  31. I agree with Greg-in-parentheses that Philosophergod is indeed a kind of idolatry, a betrayal of Biblegod.

    I only wish more apologists were more honest about this.

    This really rather proves my point, viz., that Christian apologists are being disingenuous when they deny their Santa Claus God three times before the cock crows. “Oh, you mean Jesus? Never heard of him! When I go to church and tithe 10% of my income, I only have in mind Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover…”

    If I were a Christian again, I would drive the apologists out of the temple like money-changers for making a mockery of the sacred.

  32. Stair, I read about 1/10 comments on this blog. Never time. So I still have not read the original challenge.

    However, right now, you can trust me to know that this philosophical necessity we call “God” is all I am talking about, however you have interpreted my OP. So, can we at least say that believing in God is not like believing in Santa?

    If one were to establish the warrant (at least to some degree) for believing in God, they could move to the next step and begin to evaluate who (if any) have the right God. Then I would talk about the resurrection of Christ as evidence that Christ is the representation of that God. Then we would move to Trinity, inspiration, and judgement. The last thing I would care to bring up is whether talking snakes, animals 2X2, or how God answers prayer is legitimate. Don’t get me wrong, these do need to be talked about. But to deal with the last (non-essential issues) first and then make silly comparisons to Santa based only on these is either ignorant or manipulative. I figure, for most, it is both.

  33. However, right now, you can trust me to know that this philosophical necessity we call “God” is all I am talking about, however you have interpreted my OP. So, can we at least say that believing in God is not like believing in Santa?”

    I have already said that believing in Philosophergod is not like believing in Santa.

    I have also pointed out, through the expedient of quoting your own words, in this very post, that you are not just talking about a “philosophical necessity”. You are talking about a personal savior whose presence is capable of being felt or not felt, needed or not needed.

    I might also point out that the chart — again, one that you selected for your post — is clearly talking about Biblegod, not Philosophergod. Aristotle’s prime mover is not generally thought of as bearded, or tithe-demanding, or pruriently spying on children. Biblegod is.

    And wouldn’t you know it, so is Santa!

    So I ask again: do you agree that on the spectrum of absurdity from 1 to 10, with Santa Claus being a 10 and Philosophergod being any number N lower than 10 you care to name, belief in Biblegod is higher than N?

  34. I agree with Dan and more so with Matthew: Santa and Lord Russell’s celestial tea pot are akin to Being Itself in that all three base themselves on special pleading. Why can we not find that tea pot? It is invisible and does not follow the laws of Nature as attributes like God’s. No, it does not have to have other ones.
    We naturalists have found that supernaturalists use misinterpretations of evidence in place of evidence. And they put their old garbage -arguments- into new cans- reformulated one, achieving the same failure.
    We ignostics/igtheists/ theological non-cognitivists find that His attributes contradict each other and are incoherent.I find that as we remove each referent as Creator and so forth, He again is incoherent,. [Google:] the teleonomic [mechanistic, causal] argument alone eviscerates all arguments having intent.
    Fr. Meslier’s the problem of Heaven supports the logical and Rowe’s the evidential arguments from evil, and eviscerates all defenses and theodicies.
    Theodore Drange’s and John L.Schellenberg’s arguments eviscerate theist arguments.
    Hans Reichenbach’s argument from Existence alone eviscerates all cosmological arguments, As Existence is all, no transcendent being can possibly exist.
    Transcendence contradicts omnipresence, so He could not exist.
    The list goes on!
    Being a fallibilist, I Fr. Griggs rest in my Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism. I have several monikers.

  35. No special pleading. I include all philosophically monotheistic beliefs here. No need to argue for Yahweh right now. One thing at a time.

  36. Michael is presenting a philosophical argument for the existence of God. Full stop. Forcing him to argue something different is a red herring.

    It would seem the atheists who have commented can’t get that. Their thinking seems to be “Michael is a Christian, he is arguing for the existence of God, therefore he is arguing for the existence of the Christian God.”

    He isn’t. It is clear he isn’t. Stevie Wonder could see that he isn’t.

    Michael, you don’t have time to address each comment. I simply wouldn’t have the patience.

  37. John borrowed from Heraclitus when explaining who Jesus is.

  38. Yea, in content. John took a well known Greek concept of the day (the Logos) and showed how it paralleled the person of Christ. He did this to accommodate his immediate audience so they would have a referent from natural revelation that was linked to the special revelation in Christ and subsequently Scripture.

    Paul, would have most certainly had to reference beliefs of non-Christians, and non-Jews for that matter, in order for those at Mars Hill to understand the message he was bringing. Granted, Paul was deeply vexed by the grossly pagan culture, but with grace and kindness, he managed to convey the truth of Christ to these people by reasoning with them.

    Further down the road, Augustine borrowed from Plato in order to explain God’s transcendence. He appealed to Plato’s concept of “the forms” and “a reality that exists elsewhere” in order to argue for transcendence. Calvin appealed to Plato’s “five organs” as well in his Institutes (Institutes Chapter 15 section 6). And Calvin by the way did not discourage philosophical pursuits, quite the contrary.

    Appealing to natural revelation is not an unorthodox Christian method. That is all Michael has done here.

  39. Furthermore, Greg, you are coming off as exceedingly accusatory. I have to be honest, when people have that approach they are the last people I would end up saying “hey that ass is right”.

    I am immediately suspect of those bringing heavy accusations to the brethren subsequently they lose credibility as a source of correction.

    There are far too many other people out there in the Christian world that are at least charitable in their corrections of others. That speaks to godly character thus I am more willing to take what they say seriously.

  40. I think Greg’s point is not that you cannot use natural or general revelation to move an argument toward the specific revelation of the Gospel of Christ, but that it should be an argument for the Gospel of Christ. I believe his complaint to simply be that the argument in question does not advance the Gospel of Christ, but rather a theological position away from atheism and towards God, but somewhere in the middle.

    While I have objected to things Greg has said in other blog posts, I highly respect the integrity of his methods. He is relentless in arguing for Christ, not just for a concept that God could exist or that a god exists, but rather that THE GOD exists.

    He uses a wide variety of methods to argue this point, including natural, general, and logical revelation. It truly has shifted the way I have thought about some things. While I do not always agree with the tone he takes in posts, he does make valid and concrete points.

    I like Mr. Patton a great deal and have found a great many of the resources on this website to be useful. And I appreciate the wide range of things that he is trying to do here, so it can seem to not be as focused in any one area as we would like. That being said, if we disagree with a method of Michael’s, we should exhort him to improve his method, point him to Scripture, and encourage a shift toward that goal. I have not usually found that badgering, condemnation, or flippancy to be the best methods.

    Hope that all makes sense. Thanks for the hard work in attempting to bridge gaps Michael. Greg, thanks for the unfailing prescription to the truth of the Gospel.

  41. Greg, I assure you, your time would be better spent elsewhere than “coming back to deal with me”. There is no audience to be had here.

    Chad, I don’t take exception to arguing solely for the God of the Bible (I lean heavily towards presuppositionalism above other approaches, myself). However I am not going to get all bent out of shape if someone simply wishes to argue for the existence of “a God” on a philosophical level. Considering they are speaking with someone that doesn’t even acknowledge the Bible as being legitimate, I think it valid and in no way compromises biblical principle.

    Suggesting that it does violate biblical principle is ultimately accusing a fellow believer of sinful behavior. Which in this case is completely asinine.

    I do think both approaches are valid depending upon the circumstance. Yet I tend to opt to argue at the basest level – the presuppositions of all involved, but again if someone that is more evidential in their approach is defending the truth, my goodness I am not going to jump on them for offering up sound arguments for it.

    Someone arguing strictly for the God of the Bible, and proclaiming the Gospel, but being a complete ass while doing are much more problematic than the person using the Socratic method with a scoffer.

    The Gospel itself is offensive enough (as it very well should be). Let the Gospel offend people, not the silly, unnecessarily crass manner of the person proclaiming it.

  42. Some people actually like my style! Anyway, neurological defects sure don’t help posing!
    I side with science that nature has no boss and so, no directed outcomes. Leucippus’ necessity, including randomness, has no plans to improve living things. They just work, benefitting but without trying to do so!
    The pre-Socratics are right in their overall thoughts, just wrong as to details.
    So, ti’s superstitious to find intent behind natural forces, and so, theism = reduced animism.
    Gee, so, this is easier to read!

  43. Reading my comment again just now, I find no fractured English, just people who won’t take the time to examine something complex.
    The problem of Heaven trumps all defenses and theodicies.
    God has incoherent and contradictory properties, so , He cannot exist anymore than a square circle or married bachelor can.
    Drange finds that were there God, He’d have had only one set of scriptures, easily comprehended instead of speaking with the forked tongue of thousands of opaque scriptures. Schellenberg finds that He is so hidden, that no difference exists betwixt that and non-existence exists.
    By the way, we have no duty to worship anyway and would owe Him nothing, whilst He faces that one -way street of having to had put us into a better situation as the problem of Heaven notes. That problem is that neither theists nor putative God are consistent in having horrors on Earth and paradise in Heaven by prattling that why, free will and soul-making trump the horrors when no, consistency requires the same free will and a guarantee not to do wrong in both places, and that’s no hobgoblin of little minds! And with His foreknowledge of our reacting to the tests, He already would know the outcomes without our ever enduring them!
    Is God then the Supreme Robot in not being able to do wrong? Oh, special pleading against that cannot instantiate Him.
    The greater good and the unknown reason arguments fail utterly as they reflect the argument from ignorance! Poor Alvin Plantinga!
    Special pleading and begging the question also intrudes upon cosmological and teleological argument that theists exclude Him from the queries what made and what designed Him. Definition as the necessary being fails with the ontological argument.
    William Sahakian accuses us of the fallacy of multiple questions in querying what made Him but again that special pleads and begs the question that He is different from contingent beings.
    And Dwight’s arguments trump theism. Later…

  44. Getting back to the original topic, the point of the Santa Claus Argument is not to refute theism as a whole, but to show how Christians disbelieve in other figures for the same reason Atheists and others disbelieve in the Christian God. Santa Claus is used not because he is a perfect allegory, but because his mythos is simple and well understood in the western world. Perhaps a better example would be Brahma, the Unmoved Mover of Hinduism. Christians have no problem denying the existence of Brahma and other deities because they see no evidence to support it. The over 800 million Hindus in the world feel the same about Yahweh. In the eyes of an Atheist, this is pure hypocrisy. The Santa Claus Argument is not to simply ridicule, it is intended to expose that hypocrisy.

  45. As for the larger philosophical argument, the trouble with the Unmoved Mover interpretation is that it really doesn’t answer that fundemental question you presented “Why is there something instead of nothing?”. It simply pushes it back a level. Instead of “Why is there a universe instead of nothing?” it becomes “Why is there God instead of nothing?”. If nothing created God and He is allowed to simply exist then why can’t the same be said of the universe? There is no reason that the Unmoved Mover has to be God and not the universe itself or something else entirely. Now that does not mean that God doesn’t exist, but it isn’t evidence for his existence either.

    • Or really. One has to understand the philosophical side of things. This is why God has necessary existence in transcendence. To demand and explanation for the existence of God, brings it back to an immenant conversation about cause and effect that only has relavance if transcendence is denied to said subject. This is why God is called the necessary being.

      Concerning other religions and their Unmoved Mover: no Christian would deny the necessity of their Unmoved Mover. In fact, we would say that their arguements (philosophically speaking) are perfectly valid and compelling. In this sense, we have common ground just as many would attempt to create with atheists. Even Hawkings multiple universe gets at the heart of this. It shows that he sees the necessity of a necessary being. He just obscures it in the name “alternate universe”. But all he is really doing is arguing for transcendence. Of course there is a ways to go to identify this necessary being with necessary existence, but at least we see the folly in comparing a belief in God to a belief in Santa. All people, when being philosophically rational see the need for an unmoved mover, we just don’t agree on WHO it is. What it ministry be though is easy enough to get to.

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