18 October 2014

Does Santa Claus exist?

I remember once when I was in a fairly heated debate with a Christian apologist, and when I made some comment regarding evidence, he retorted that I needed justify my belief in "evidentialism". It was one of those moments where my first thought was "are you f**king kidding me", even though I knew my response needed to be somewhat more measured. You'd never walk into a courtroom and declare that evidence need not be taken seriously until the prosecution establishes the validity of evidentialism or some kind of verificationism. And, as someone once said, if you told a Christian their spouse was having an affair, they'd certainly expect you to present some evidence; but tell them that God became his own father through a virgin birth and sacrificed himself to himself to save humans from his own punishment, and they seem to require no evidence at all.

Looking back on my debates with various apologists, a persistent source of frustration was that any conversation about evidence inevitably went down the rabbit hole of convoluted and obscure epistemological frameworks and their justification, like whether "testimony" can be considered a "properly basic belief" (it can't). There's a vast gulf between the way academic theologians (and the wannabes) think about everyday concepts and the way they think about God.

There's a book that illustrates how deeply convoluted this kind of thinking can be, and it's called Does Santa Exist? by Eric Kaplan. Think it's an open and shut case? Well, it's not — at least not from a philosophical point of view. Answering the question in any manner requires us to have some assumptions about epistemology and ontology, and we quickly find that arriving at what might seem like an intuitive answer is more complicated than it may first appear.

Whenever an apologist type rattles off the obscure philosophical justifications for their beliefs, I like to remind them that a simple litmus test is to simply substitute any other arbitrary belief for their religious one, then attempt to justify it using the same framework. Think a complex, philosophically nuanced case for the existence of Santa cannot be constructed from virtually identical epistemological frameworks as those used to 'prove' the existence of God? It can, and Kaplan — though the book isn't about God — gives us some clues as to why.

Kaplan makes use of some pretty clever marketing, with a choose-your-own-adventure style series of YouTube videos. So what do you think? Does Santa exist?




p.s. — Remember my last post? This is me not blogging. 




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