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Addendum 2: I swear it's accidental

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  • Troff
    In the course of my semi-regular reading this morning, I came across this little piece of
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 30, 2006
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      In the course of my semi-regular reading this morning, I came across this little piece of articleness by "Ebonmuse".

      It makes a different central point, but it also seems to address every vital matter in the last debate... even that of the potential consequences to children. If anything, it's almost diametric; where JJ and I discussed the the consequences of breaking down fantasy/myth (such as the Santa story) with critical-thinking skills; and I pointed out that such things led to people believing certain things... well, this article takes the reverse path - pointing out that people believe certain things provably wrong, and illustrates the parallels with the Santa story.

      The symmetry... the symmetry...

      Anybody insane enough to be wanting a recap (or for members of the general public reading this...), the sorry tale which birthed this particular posting of mine began so...
      Posting 1, Posting 2, Posting 3, Posting 4, Posting 5, Posting 6, Posting 7...

      I've spent most of the day with point and counterpoint having at it in the back of my head... oh, not the points in the article - but the points discussing whether I should post this here or not.

      Enough with the past history; on with the current and future history.

      Reasons to not post:
      • People here may be getting heartily sick of this debate - and I apologise if that's so (but how was I to know?).
      • Those of us who subscribe to a faith may think I'm aiming this at them - and I swear I'm not. I value the readership I have here.

      Reasons to post:
      • There may be someone who does find this interesting (and yet, hasn't responded, I know a couple of people are away); after all, it is an interesting point of the philosophy of the world around us.
      • Somebody else may actually respond with points we both missed (and there must be some, because I really don't believe that either my opponent or I have all the facts or sense to have covered the entire topic).
      • The article's author writes to make a detailed point of something over which I glossed in a few paragraphs, and yet is the key reason I hold to this point.
      • It touches on points my opponent (?) made; and indeed, makes responses I should've made, answering both the debate and the personal insult (but this, at least, doesn't address the personal examples I'dve given).
      • It even references the very same 1897 Sun editorial to which we'd been referred.
      • I've never muzzled anybody here... and bedamned if I don't extend the same courtesy to myself by allowing myself to be muzzled here.

      In retrospect, I shouldn'tve been surprised to find this article; after all, it is the season indeed. How did I come across this article? It's on my list of RSS feeds I go through every few weeks or so. To those of us here with a contemporary religious faith, I offer apologies again and my promise I don't mean to mock you; the source of this article is a website called "Daylight Atheism" (so really, no points for guessing the general thrust of the article).

      I'd also suggest reading the commentary below the article (on the original-source page). Oh, sure, the opinions there will be biased in favour of the position I take (hello, what do you expect from a site called "Daylight Atheism"?)... but the points are still valid. I'm pretty certain that some of the posts are echoed across the world; and some are relevant to our discussion. See, specifically, the post by Ellen, the post by Rebecca and the post by Snail as exemplary.

      Therefore... on to the article in question.

      <article source="http://www.daylightatheism.org/2006/12/popular-delusions-v.html">
      Popular Delusions V: Santa Claus

      I write the Popular Delusions series to critically investigate widely believed pseudosciences and superstitions. And while the topic of my latest entry in this series may seem odd, I think it fits - for after all, are there not tens of millions around the globe who are taught to believe in Santa Claus or other seasonal gift-givers? There are many pseudosciences believed by adults that do not command such a wide following.

      The figure of Santa Claus is uniquely paradoxical for atheists. On the one hand, this teaching is used to accustom very young children to unquestioning supernatural beliefs. On the other hand, we do eventually disillusion children about the reality of this figure, and is this not a valuable lesson about rational skepticism and the inadvisability of putting total trust in authority figures? Is it not possible that getting children to realize the truth on their own is a more potent lesson in skepticism than if we told them the truth from the beginning?

      What I find remarkable is that many of the very same arguments which apologists use to defend God's existence are also used to defend Santa Claus' existence to children, or can be used with almost no modification. In the latter case, however, there comes a point where all admit the fallacy of these arguments, while in the former case their use persists into adulthood.

      For example, take the way we deal with the argument from divine hiddenness as applied to Christmas. We tell children that Santa only comes after they have fallen asleep, so they cannot see him with their own eyes, just as apologists for religion say that God works in mysterious ways not perceptible to human beings. And just as the existence of presents under the tree on Christmas morning is held up to children as evidence of Santa's existence, so the occasional instance of apparently answered prayers is proclaimed to be evidence that there is a god who cares about us.

      Or consider the way Santa Claus is used as an inducement to good behavior. We warn children that they must behave during the year if they want to receive presents (and that they are under supernatural scrutiny all this time), and that children who misbehave or throw tantrums will get lumps of coal or some other undesirable object. In much the same way, religious preachers warn people that they must behave if they want to achieve salvation, or else they will be damned; and many people regard this teaching as a necessary inducement to morality, the only thing that will keep society in check. However, when children eventually become enlightened as to the non-existence of Santa Claus, we do not fear that they will suddenly become uncontrollable.

      Third, consider the argument from desire. Many religious apologists argue that every human desire has an object that satisfies it, and that humanity's widespread belief in and worship of God is best explained by assuming that there is a deity who is the proper object of that belief. But the very same argument is applicable to Santa Claus! After all, there is a truly remarkable array of Christmas gift-giving figures, from cultures from all over the world, who bring gifts to children during the holidays. If the argument from widespread desire is convincing evidence of God's existence, it should also be convincing evidence of Santa's existence. How could so many different traditions have gotten started unless there was a real being to which they all refer?

      Even the way more guileful theologians defend their religion finds parallels in Santa belief. Take the mall Santas we send our children to see so that they can tell him their Christmas wish list. Children who believe that the person they are meeting is the real Santa are usually allowed to continue in this belief. However, when slightly more skeptical children wonder how Santa could be in so many different malls, parents often explain to them that these men are not the real Santa, but just Santa's "helpers" who report back to him later. This is uncannily similar to the way in which more "sophisticated" theologians blast atheists for supposedly buying into the overly literal, anthropomorphic fundamentalist conception of God as a being. These learned men explain that the vision of Jehovah as a bearded figure in the clouds is hopelessly simplistic, and in reality, God is pure meaning, or pure love, or some other reified concept vague enough to evade clear definition that would render it susceptible to attack. (Notwithstanding this, these theologians continue to pray, to invoke God's blessing and talk about God's will, to participate in church rituals like communion, to profess belief in miracles, and otherwise act in ways that only make sense under the "overly literal" conception of God they supposedly do not believe in.)

      But the strongest and clearest parallel can be found in the emotional argument for belief in Santa Claus. It is widely assumed that belief in this figure fills children's lives with a sense of magic and wonder, and that without Santa Claus, childhood would be gloomy, meaningless, and bereft of the uplifting power of faith. This viewpoint is summed up in one of the season's most famous epistles, the 1897 editorial Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus:

      Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

      These very arguments are used later in life, to adults, to defend belief in God: without such belief, we are told, the world would be bleak, meaningless, adrift without purpose. And yet, we do not consider the inevitable disillusionment of children about Santa to shatter their world or withdraw all beauty and meaning from life. On the contrary, we expect that as children grow up, they will find more abiding sources of meaningfulness, deeper and more powerful than faith built on illusions. Yet many otherwise perfectly sensible, rational people somehow fail to grasp this lesson when it comes to God and religion. Though they concede that those illusions are childhood fancies that can safely be surrendered, they persist in believing that these ones really are necessary, and that we must cling to them or admit life is purposeless.


    • Troff
      ... Whoops. Sorry, people. The above links aren t working, Yahoo somehow resolved the links incorrectly, making them relative instead of absolute as I d
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 30, 2006
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        --- In troff2k@yahoogroups.com, "Troff" <p.petroff@...> wrote:

        > Anybody insane enough to be wanting a recap (or for members of the
        > general public reading this...), the sorry tale which birthed this
        > particular posting of mine began so...
        > Posting 1 <message/1390> , Posting 2 <message/1395> , Posting 3
        > <message/1397> , Posting 4 <message/1398> , Posting 5 <message/1400> ,
        > Posting 6 <message/1401> , Posting 7 <message/1402> ...

        Whoops. Sorry, people. The above links aren't working, Yahoo somehow
        resolved the links incorrectly, making them relative instead of absolute
        as I'd originally posted them (and I don't trust it to do it again, so
        I'll text-post those links). The corrected links are:

        Posting 1 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1390>
        Posting 2 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1395>
        Posting 3 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1397>
        Posting 4 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1398>
        Posting 5 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1400>
        Posting 6 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1401>
        Posting 7 <http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/troff2k/message/1402>
        and now, Posting 8

        (and this one here would be #8a, I suppose).
        Sorry again all. As you were.
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