Archived blog post

To take on another McGrath comment

Posted by Ben on Sunday, March 04, 2007 | Permalink

A point from Alister McGrath:

"Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood?"

A counterpoint from me:

Very few (thank fuck). But the point is unexpectedly interesting, because yes, fair enough, people do start believing in god when they're adults; certainly a significant number compared to those that suddenly start thinking St. Nick pops down their chimney once a year. But there might be a variation of 'evolution is cleverer than you are' going on here, something along the lines of 'society is more perceptive than you are'. Because, certainly here in the UK, people that take up the faith in adulthood are often referred to in a disparaging manner as 'born again'. We roll our eyes and shake our head, say that he/she has 'caught religion' and suchlike. It seems to me that there's an implicit recognition that constantly believing from one's youth into adulthood is forgivable, but that to fall for it when you're grown up? Well, you really should know better.

Comments [ hide comments ]
I don't know the context of Dawkins' analogy but he may have simply meant it metaphorically that humanity should outgrow superstition in the way a child outgrows its beliefs in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Ed, 04.03.2007, 5:12pm #
Aye, you're probably right (can't remember the context myself and I'm too lazy to go grab the book from upstairs!) I think a few commenters over at RDF pointed out that McGrath was missing the point somewhat, which is what made it only unexpectedly interesting.
Ben, 04.03.2007, 5:27pm #
Yep, that's it, they have been infected with a variation of the poinsonous, blackmailing meme called "religion"
G. Tingey, 08.03.2007, 9:46am #
Always nice to see how our freethinking brethren across the pond attack these issues.

I would contend that McGrath was not missing the point, but merely misunderstands the difference or similarities between the belief in God and the belief in Santa Claus.

If adults were continued to be promised rewards (and threatened with punishment) from Santa Claus beyond the age of 8, then it would provide motive for believing in adulthood. However, this does not happen. In addition, the story of Santa Claus is rather haphazard and the consequences of one's actions are rather trivial when compared to the elaborate story and promises of eternal damnation put together in the story of God. I mean, Santa Claus's books are 20 pages long, at most, with pictures! Holy books? an entirely different story. However, the story, as Dawkins alludes to, doesn't make it any more believable, it simply addresses different, and heavier, issues.

In short, the story of God is meant for adults while the story of Santa Claus is only meant for children. This is why nobody begins believing in Santa Claus as an adult.
Cannizzaro, 23.03.2007, 1:27am #
Children are eventually told by their parents (authority figure)that Santa doesn't really exist. They can prove to them that Santa doesn't exist; the parent does the gift giving. No one, for centuries, has told adults that God isn't real, and even if they do, the existence of god cannot be proven or disproven by logical means.
JGJ, 28.03.2007, 8:12pm #
Ah, but you CAn do it the other way around:

"No god is detectable"

Unless and until this proposition is disproven (by detecting "god") then the default postion is to ignore all the imaginary friends.

I notice that when I try this one on believers, they get all exited, and say "It doesn't work that way!"
To which the response is, always: "Well, in what way DOES it work, then?"

Follwed by a load of incoherent babbling, or a loss of temper, followed by the usual religious threats (see Pope Ratfink for a recent example of that sort of thing)
G. Tingey, 30.03.2007, 4:25pm #
I know this is a week old, but it is this phenomenon which caused me to reject Christianity. These adult believers illustrate the one reason religions exist- People need answers. If you were to study these new believers, I'm very certain that just before they began believing, their lives were relatively rough. Maybe they were battling addiction, poverty, or maybe they were running a Fortune 500 company but their lives were "missing something." So they find the answer in religion. It's the same reason church attendance goes up when the economy turns down. People can't cope with their lives, so they want an alternative. Needing that alternative is all right in my book, just don't try to force me to. That's where all the problems come from(but you knew that already).
Russell, 08.04.2007, 3:29pm #
I do think religion is bullshit, however I do think there is a higher power that can be called many things, including god. It's just that, unfortunately, religion has given God a bad name. To think about a 'first cause' or what made something from nothing during the big bang, and you can easily see what I mean by God. The big problem is: To argue against or for God we first have to agree on a definition. If we rule religion out, that's a great start. No organization could be further from the truth.
David Holmes, 16.04.2007, 5:02pm #
The religious rely on having a woolly and nebulous 'definition' of god though - that way they can avoid getting nailed down (ho ho) by infidels such as us. They rely on it being like a wet bar of soap in that the closer you grab it, the faster it shoots out of your hands and lands somewhere else.
El Serpiente, 03.06.2007, 8:47pm #
great site btw :-)
El Serpiente, 03.06.2007, 8:48pm #

New comments disabled due to spam