The Santa Delusion: Why 'Religion Is Useful' Is a Terrible Argument For Religion
Continued from previous page
And millions of children get upset when they discover that Santa isn't real. Letting go of Santa can be a distressing experience, one that people remember well into adulthood. (This isn't universally true -- I was actually excited to discover that Santa wasn't real, since I figured it out on my own and it made me feel clever and grown-up to have outwitted the grownups -- but it's certainly not uncommon.)
Would you therefore argue that we ought to believe in Santa?
Would you argue that, because belief in Santa makes children happy and better-behaved, we therefore ought to perpetuate it? Would you argue that, because relinquishing that belief can be upsetting, we ought to go to great lengths to protect children from discovering that Santa isn't real... not only during their childhoods, but throughout their adult lives? Would you attend Churches and Temples of Santa, and leave cookies and cocoa on their red-and-white-plush altars? Would you pity people who don't believe in Santa as being joyless and imprisoned in rationality... and would you chastise these a-Santa-ists as intolerant, bigoted proselytizers when they tried to persuade others that Santa isn't real?
Or would you, instead, think that people ought to grow up? Would you think that letting go of the belief in Santa (for those who grew up believing) is an essential part of becoming an adult? Would you think that we need to understand reality, so we know how to behave in it? Would you think that, in order to make good decisions and function effectively in the world, we need to have the most truthful understanding of it that we can muster... and that if the best evidence suggests that Santa isn't real, we ought to accept that conclusion? Would you look at this idea that it's okay to decide what's true about the world based on what we want to be true, and call it preposterous, laughable, appalling, absurd on the face of it?
And if you wouldn't argue that belief in Santa is valid simply because it's useful... why would you argue it about God?
Now. You might say that belief in God makes more sense than belief in Santa. You might say that, while we know Santa is a fictional character, the existence of God is, at the very least, an open question... and that therefore, belief in God is more defensible than belief in Santa.
But then you're back to arguing that God is real. Or at least plausible. You've abandoned the argument from utility (which you should, it's a terrible argument), and you've circled back around to debating whether God really exists, and whether good evidence supports that hypothesis.
And the whole freaking point of the argument from utility is that it abandons the case for God being real. The whole point is that it doesn't matter whether God is real... as long as belief in God makes people happy. So you don't get to shore up that argument by saying that God might be real after all. Not unless you're willing to make a pretty convincing case for God being real.
And if you had a convincing case for God being real... why on Earth would you be arguing that it doesn't matter whether he's real, as long as belief in him makes people happy? If you can make a better case for God than you can for Santa... then why aren't you making it? Why are you falling back on this patently absurd notion that grown-ups should believe whatever makes them feel good, regardless of whether that belief has any connection with reality?