Why God Is Not Like Santa Claus: Three reasons common atheist arguments against God fail spectacularly

by Andy Bannister

In recent years, atheism has enjoyed something of a resurgence, especially with the rise of the so-called “New Atheism.” The term was first coined in 2006 to describe the group of media-savvy atheists — men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens — whose books attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular have sold by the truckload.

Yet despite its popularity, much of contemporary atheism thrives on poor arguments and cheap sound bites, making claims that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. Like a cheaply made cardigan, they’re full of loose threads that quickly unravel if you tug at them.

Let me illustrate with an example from New Atheism’s founding father, Richard Dawkins, whose books have sold millions of copies. Dawkins thinks religion isn’t merely wrong, but insane, and that those who believe in God are quite literally deluded. Faith in God is as crazy as belief in — well, let’s allow Dawkins to speak for himself:

A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father’s eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs, she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell, she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father’s consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. (A Devil’s Chaplain, p. 151)

As the father of a three year old, I can partly understand the concern about Thomas the Tank Engine, as I have heard enough stories of the loveable locomotive to last me from here to eternity and back again. Still, I digress. It’s particularly the comparison that Dawkins makes between God, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy that I find most intriguing. It’s a theme he returns to time and time again:

Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three. (Third Way Magazine, June 2003, p. 5)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard variations of this argument, and perhaps you’ve faced it too: well-meaning friends or colleagues politely suggesting that your basic problem is that you just need to grow up. Should Christians be worried? Not really, because whilst “God Is Like Santa Claus” may make a great bumper sticker, it’s a disastrously bad argument. Let me show you three reasons why…

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