The Santa Claus analogy – too complicated for Alister McGrath
I have not yet read Christian apologist Alister McGrath’s book The Dawkins Delusion so I will defer discussion on that front until I have. My grief today with Dawkins’ biggest critic is over his misunderstanding of a simple analogy that he has made on more than one occasion.
This article was published on the Daily Mail website on the 9th February this year. Allow me to draw your attention to two running paragraphs:
“For instance, 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?
Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy. Dawkins, of course, would just respond that people such as this are senile or mad, but that is not logical argument. Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.”
Straw Man argument alert! McGrath has missed the point of this analogy by a country mile. Dawkins isn’t saying people should just “grow out of it”. He’s pointing out that there is no more evidence to support the existence of God than there is to support the existence of Santa Claus (or the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny etc). The idea of an adult believing in Santa Claus is an absurd notion, but that’s exactly the point. It’s easy to say, subjectively that for an adult to believe in Santa Claus is ridiculous but for the same adult to believe in God is just fine and dandy. What we feel is irrelevant. There is no more objective evidence for one than the other. At what point a child stops believing in Santa Claus or an adult begins to believe in God have absolutely nothing to do with anything. McGrath should congratulate himself for skillfully refuting an argument that neither Dawkins, nor anyone else actually made.
I wouldn’t mind, but this is not the first time McGrath has done this. Consider this extract from a lecture McGrath gave:
“This is a schoolboy argument that has accidentally found its way into a grown-up discussion. It is as amateurish as it is unconvincing. There is no serious empirical evidence that people regard God, Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy as being in the same category. I stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when I was about six years old. After being an atheist for some years, I discovered God when I was eighteen, and have never regarded this as some kind of infantile regression. As I noticed while researching The Twilight of Atheism, a large number of people come to believe in God in later life – when they are `grown up’.”
How people categorize their beliefs is irrelevant. All that matters is the evidence which supports them, and both have none.
It is my intention to (begrudgingly, but for the greater good) purchase a copy of The Dawkins Delusion and post an article on it. I sincerely hope he has something of a higher standard than this garbage to offer in response to Dawkins’ masterpiece.