Jesus and Santa Claus

What is Christianity?  And how does Santa Claus help?Harriett Hall (the SkepDoc) wrote a clever story about two kids trying to figure out whether the tooth fairy really exists or not.  Inspired by that, and in keeping with the season, I’d like to imagine two kids arguing about Santa.

It was early December, and little Jerry had begun to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.  He made his case to his younger brother Kyle.

“I don’t think Santa is real.  I think it’s just Mom and Dad buying us presents,” Jerry said.

“Prove it,” Kyle said.

“Okay, why are there all those Santas on the street corners ringing for money?  How can Santa be at all those stores at once?”

“They’re not the real Santa, just his helpers,” Kyle said.  “And maybe they’re just testing us to see if we’ll still believe.  I’m going to believe, because if you don’t, you don’t get presents.”

“But I recognized one of them—it was the father of one of my friends.”

“Then those are just ordinary people imitating Santa, raising money for a good cause.  Anyway, I’ve seen Santa on TV at Thanksgiving—everyone has.”

Jerry sees that he’s not making any progress, so he gives up.  On Christmas afternoon, he’s alone with Kyle and tries again.  “Remember that video game that you told Mom about and then you forgot to tell Santa?” Jerry said.  “But you got it anyway.  Mom must’ve bought it and written on the package that it came from Santa.” 

“Mom just told Santa,” Kyle said. 

“But how can Santa get around the world in one night?”

“My friends all say that Santa is real.  Anyway, Santa has magic.  And the cookie plate we leave out for Santa always has just crumbs on Christmas morning.”

“With the Junior Detective kit that I got this morning, I dusted the cookie plate for fingerprints, and they were Mom’s.”

“Mom set out the plate, and Santa wears gloves.”

Jerry gives up for the year.  On Christmas afternoon the next year, he tries again.  “Lots of the older kids don’t believe in Santa.  They say that their presents only come from their parents.”

“Sure,” Kyle said.  “Santa only gives presents to those who still believe in him.”

“A few months ago, I was snooping in Dad’s sock drawer, and I found every letter we ever wrote to Santa.”

“Why not?  Santa didn’t need them anymore and each year just gives them to Mom and Dad for keepsakes.”

“The only fingerprints on our presents are Mom’s or Dad’s.” 

“Mom and Dad always get up early on Christmas.  They could’ve rearranged them.”

“Last week, I found all our presents hidden in a corner in the attic.”  Jerry pawed through some of the torn wrapping paper.  “I wrote my initials on the bottom of each package.  And look—here they are.  That proves that Santa didn’t bring them here last night.”

“I asked Mom, and she said that Santa is real.  Anyway, how do I know you didn’t write your initials on the wrapping paper this morning?”

Like little Kyle, if you’re determined to believe something, you can rationalize away any unwelcome evidence.  (By rationalize, I mean taking an idea as fact and then selecting or interpreting all relevant evidence to make it support that idea.)

It’s tempting to list the many ways Christians rationalize.  They rationalize away contradictions in the Bible, the oddity of a hidden God, or why so much bad happens to the people God loves.  They can find a dozen reasons why a particular prayer wasn’t answered, even though the Bible promises, “Ask and ye shall receive.”  But the Christian says that he’s simply defending the truth: “I’m not rationalizing; I’m right.”

In five minutes we can see flaws in others that we don’t see in ourselves in a lifetime.  Perhaps this episode with Jerry and Kyle will encourage us to see our own rationalizations.

I recently came across the Galileo Was Wrong; The Church Was Right blog.  That’s right, it argues for geocentrism, an earth-centered universe.  With a little work, even the nuttiest theory can be given a scholarly sheen, so imagine what a few thousand years of scholarly work can do to a religion.  Any Christian can point to centuries of scholarship to give a patina of credibility to their position (but, of course, so can Muslims, Hindus, and those in many other religions).

I can’t prove Santa doesn’t exist.  Nor can I disprove the existence of leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God.  The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception.

And Jesus is Santa Claus for adults.

Photo credit: Robot Nine

How Science Works (and How Christianity Thinks it Wins)

Christian apologists like to imagine that science's errors give them an advantageThis argument was made at the Creationism conference that I recently attended: science isn’t trustworthy because every time you turn around, it’s changing its mind.

  • The sun goes around the earth … no, wait a minute—it’s the other way around.
  • Here’s the fossil of an early human … no, hold on—that one’s a hoax.
  • Living things hold a special energy or force—an élan vital—that animates them … nope, that’s passé.
  • Every wave needs a medium, so space must be filled with “ether” for light to propagate through … oops, wrong again.

An early theory of the formation of the moon said that the fast-spinning early earth flung out the moon and that the big circular Pacific Ocean basin is where it came from.  The question of origin of the moon has been an active area of research, and the flung-out idea is just another discarded scientific theory—this was one of the areas of research that was lampooned at this conference.

The Creationist argues that when you turn from changeable Science to Christianity’s unchanging God and an unchanging Bible, you have something solid that you can trust.

Science does change, but let’s notice that the size of any change tends to decrease for a single theory.  When the door is first opened to a new field of inquiry—say by Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of single-celled organisms or Galileo’s use of the telescope—new theories based on insufficient evidence try to organize the chaos.  One theory might quickly supersede another, but as theories become better at explaining more, changes becomes smaller.  Here are some examples.

  • Geocentrism to heliocentrism was an enormous change for the model of the solar system.  Our understanding of the solar system continues to change (new theories about why Uranus is tipped on its side or reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, for example), but these are comparatively minor.
  • Evolution revolutionized biology, and the changes in biology today are merely refinements to this theory.
  • The intuitive flat earth model was replaced by a spherical earth, and the observation that it’s actually not spherical but slightly flattened at the poles is a small change.
  • Quantum physics continues to change, but new discoveries are not likely to say that matter is not made up of atoms, which are themselves not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Christians eager to paint the Bible as an unchanging rock in a sea of chaos don’t seem to understand that they point to science’s strength.  Science realizes that new discoveries may obsolete old theories, and every scientific statement is provisional.  And, remarkably, science is self-correcting.  It finds its own errors.

Science changes, and that’s its strength.  The Bible never changes, and that’s its weakness.

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