R18-LogoOr more accurately, it’s not for children’s eyes. It’s not about sex, but rather another subject that parents often find difficult to discuss with their children, and I thought it best to warn you in my subject heading in case little eyes might be reading over your shoulder. You see, I don’t believe Santa Claus is real. I used to, for quite some time actually, but I no longer do. This post is to explain why, and I thought a warning in the heading would be the polite thing to do, thus possibly saving you from an uncomfortable conversation.

I ask myself why I believed in Him for as long as I did. It’s pretty obvious that no one with His supposed magical powers could possibly be real. I mean really … watching over everyone in the world, every second of the day and keeping tally with a “naughty and nice” list? That’s ridiculous. So why did I believe? The first and most obvious reason was that everyone told me He was real. My parents, my brothers and all my friends at school professed that He existed, and some even claimed to have seen Him. We are born with the inherent capacity to believe things repeated by our peers and people in authority and it’s generally beneficial. “Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t play on the railway tracks. Don’t stick the fork into the electrical outlet.” are all good things to take on board as we make our way through life. But as we mature we begin to question what we are told, especially when our own first hand experience shows unexpected results.

The second reason, somewhat related to the first, is The Good Book. People telling you something is true is one thing, but the written word can be potent and compelling. It’s so much easier to believe in a story written down and presented to you as the gospel truth, with a first hand account of this remarkable Man and his twelve … whadyacallit … reindeer. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is quite engaging, especially if you want it to be true, but examining the facts from a scientific perspective shows that the miracle of giving gifts to the whole world in one night is impossible. Without any corroborating evidence, such as another historical account from a verifiable third party, or any type of physical evidence (fingerprints, DNA, reindeer tracks, etc) this can be dismissed as nothing more than a fairy tale.

The third reason I, and I’m sure so many others believed in Kris Kringle is a bit harder to define, and therefore dispute. It is the general feeling of well being and joy that pervades society, especially around that special time of the year. The fact that people are so happy at Christmas seems like qualitative evidence that there is a Santa. This is actually a pretty childish argument, and while I thought that way when I was a child, when I became a man I put away childish things. The world is full of happy people who don’t believe in Santa Claus, the majority of them in cultures that don’t even recognise He exists. Asia, India and the Arab nations are in no way Santanical (hmm … I don’t think that’s a word that is going to catch on) and yet they have their own celebrations based on their beliefs, which give them their own joy. Happiness is obviously a state of mind that can be bought on by physical experience, rather than a gift from some magical being. And it also doesn’t belong solely to humans. Many of the ‘higher’ animals experience joy, as anyone that has played fetch with a dog can attest to. Dolphins and whales sing, dance and frolic for the fun of it, without any knowledge of Santa what so ever. It seems evident that rather than joy being a gift from an all powerful wizard, this is evidence of the evolution of the brain, with the animals closest to us in the chain sharing these common feelings.

This is similar to another argument given by believers; “Because people have a desire to do good (be on the ‘nice list’) there must be a Santa Claus.” The implication being that man is inherently good, even those that don’t believe in Santa, due to some hidden force or unconscious belief in Santa. This seems to be totally incompatible with two other ideas that they also hold as true; we all have 100% free will to do anything we wish; we are inherently ‘naughty’ due to the ‘naughtiness’ of our parents. Being driven to do good, whilst being inherently naughty, whilst having 100% free will is a trinity of contradictions. The far more simple explanation that people do good is because our brains have evolved to feel empathy. We treat our fellow man the way we ourselves would like to be treated and we help out those in need because we have an idea of what they are going through. And if our brains have evolved this function we should find it in other ‘higher’ animals that don’t have any understanding of Santa … and we do. One example from a quick google search; Rhesus monkeys, initially trained to retrieve food by pulling a chain, refused to pull the chain when they discovered it simultaneously shocked another monkey.

The final reason I believed in Santa, and really the most compelling, was the physical evidence. Christmas Eve I would put out oats for the reindeer and cookies for Santa before heading off to bed. The next morning would reveal that these treats had been consumed, and had been exchanged for presents. This was concrete evidence that Santa was real. What other explanation was there? That my parents, and the parents of every other child in the world, were part of a massive conspiracy to fool us? That would have seemed preposterous had it even occurred to me, but, and this gets down to the crux of things now that I know the truth … I wasn’t really looking for other explanations. I was happy enough living in my deluded state with the thought of the gifts I would receive at the end … of the year. In retrospect, of course it was simple slight of hand by the adults I trusted. Actually it probably doesn’t count as slight of hand if you wait for your audience to fall asleep before you make the switch. But once the illusion of Santa had been revealed and I knew the truth I was left with another question; Why did everyone lie to me?

Obviously the believers did, because they thought they were helping me. They thought it was important to share the message of the gifts I could receive if I just believed. But why the deliberate lies from the people that were fooling me? The first thought is for the power/control over me. The thought that Santa was always watching me from above, in the North Pole, was a way of keeping me in line and not necessarily a subtle one. “Keep this up and Santa won’t come to you!” was preached to me more times than I can count. The promise of ‘riches’ in the distant future is an adept method of controlling people in the here and now. But I think the real motivator to keep spreading this story, and the reason it persists after so many generations is money. Television is flooded with people telling you they alone have the one true Santa (appearing Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 10 and 2) asking you to visit their holy institution to confess to him your thoughts, wants and needs. And while you’re there, spirit emotionally buoyed by the hymnals playing over the loud speakers, you should tithe 10% of your yearly income on gifts for friends and family. Spread the message. Share the ‘good will’. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

My final thoughts on the matter are of a personal revelation that I have had. I have always been a happy and kind person with a belief that everything will turn out for the best, and have previously given Santa the credit for my personality and my state of mind. I always thought that it was a belief in Him that made me happy and gave me security in my life. But now I know absolutely that He is not real and cannot be affecting my life or looking out for me in any way. And I find that I have not changed. I still say, “Bless you.” to sneezing strangers that I pass (although I no longer say, “Kris bless you.”) and they invariably smile and reply with thanks. I took a piece of cake into a work colleague after I learned it was her birthday. I enjoy the same amount of pleasure in the company of my wife and children as I always have, and I look to the future with positive excitement. It was not Santa that made me the man I was, nor was it a belief in Santa. It turns out that I am the sum of my genetic material and the life experiences that have shaped me. This revelation, while not strictly related to my journey of understanding, serves as the full stop in the sentence ‘There is no Santa.’

 

6 Responses to This post is for Adults only.

  1. John Audette says:

    Fletch…

    Ah, the empirical side of life. Trained as a scientist I have an overly dominant left brain. It causes me to view the world in a rational, empirical way. Which is fine – as far as it goes. Even with my limited point of view, I can still see the richness and diversity of the emotional, non-empirical world, the one where the right brain does the heavy lifting.

    The empirical world is efficient – and dull. The creative world is messy – and fascinating. We get pluses and minuses from both sides: technological advances and A-bombs from the one; symphonies and holy wars from the other.

    The only thing that I know for sure is that, as a frail species, we know less than we don’t know.

    John

    • Shane Fletcher says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for taking the time to reply. My hope is that my posts will be the start of a dialogue rather than stand alone musings.

      You are probably right about the ratio of known and unknown, but the people that believe this are generally those looking at the world in an empirical way. Those with a religious bent are certain they know everything and the answer to any question is invariably ‘God’. People have been giving God(s) as the answer to anything that was inexplicable since the beginning of language. Even today there is no shortage of fundamentalists who blame the evils of society for any hurricane, tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster. The scientists are more than happy to say they don’t know the answers. That is how discoveries are made.

      I also disagree that science is dull, not that I think that was exactly what you were saying. You have said in the past that you lose interest in a start up once it’s running because the mystery is gone. But the fact that there are so many questions still to be answered in the way the universe works means we are a long way from losing the mystery. Still lots of fun to be had, IMO.

      Shane

  2. Shane, it is interesting to note that your decision to disbelieve in Santa wasn’t based on better thinking… just different thinking. Here is what you have done:
    Premise 1: Many phenomena and experiences are said to be explained by existence of Santa.
    Premise 2: These phenomena and experiences can be explained by other forces.
    Conclusion:There is no Santa.

    What?? How did you get there?

    I disbelieve in Santa. But not for the reasons that you give. They don’t get me there. You do mention in passing that there is “no evidence” and that such a magical being is “impossible.” This gets us a little closer, except you haven’t said why it is impossible. Which obviously is not obvious to many who believe in Santa.

    While we are at it, I would like to bring up an interesting topic that you may not have thought of in connection with this article; the existence of God. I know… what in the world makes me think of that? Lest you be tempted to use the same non-sequiter with God’s existence, I want to point out that it won’t work there either. I would be tempted to disbelieve if I had been lied to about stuff, but for the evidence of reason. If you are interested, II would enjoy explaining further what I mean by that. But here is a very condensed set of reasons, because who really wants to wade through a long comment by some random citizen.

    Premise 1: Everything that BEGINS to exist needs a cause. No credible scientist espouses spontaneous generation.
    Premise 2: The space/time universe began to exist. Do I need to argue this one?
    Conclusion: The space/time universe needs a cause. This cause must be other than the space/time universe because it cannot cause itself. We are left with an eternal (timeless), immaterial cause.

    Whatever that is, we call God. But let’s flesh it out just a little more, because we are still a bit far from the typical conception of theism. One more and I’ll stop for now.

    Premise 1: Information is always the product of intelligence. Ask Bill Gates about this one. It doesn’t just happen.
    Premise 2: The universe is filled with information-rich systems.
    Conclusion: The universe is the product of an intelligence. This we would call God.

    These very brief arguments are built on the laws of causality that are axiomatic to the scientist. When we understand the nature of cause and effect relationships, the big question that arises is where did the universe come from. We once thought it was eternal, it seems that few think so now. If it is not eternal, it is an effect. If it is an effect, it requires a cause. If you would like to ask me “what caused God. Please do this first; replace “space/time universe” with the word “God.” and make sure you can defend premise 2.

    God bless you, Shane.

  3. Shane Fletcher says:

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I guess I should clarify now, that this post was made as an analogy to my growing understanding that there is no evidence for God. Substitute God for Santa in the post above.

    “Premise 1: Many phenomena and experiences are said to be explained by existence of Santa.
    Premise 2: These phenomena and experiences can be explained by other forces.
    Conclusion:There is no Santa.”

    This is close to the point I was making but more accurate would be:

    Premise 1: I “witness” unusual phenomena that appear to break the natural laws and these are explained by the existence of Santa.
    Premise 2: I learn that these unusual phenomena do not actually break the natural laws and therefore do not need a supernatural explanation.
    Conclusion: There is no evidence to suggest a being with supernatural powers is real.

    I don’t say that Santa doesn’t exist. Just that I don’t believe he does because there is no evidence to give credence to that suggestion.

    Thanks for posting the two syllogisms. I will make a new post addressing the “Everything that Begins ..” point because it’s something I would like to address in greater detail. I have not heard of the information one before. Can you give me some examples of the information rich systems you are referring to? I will decide whether to respond here to that one or start a new post after I understand better what you are referring to.

    Cheers
    Shane

  4. Shane, I wish we were having this conversation in a dark paneled British pub. That’s the only place to do such conversations justice. But I nonetheless raise my glass… of water (alas, it is all they serve here) to you and will try to make the best of it.

    I did catch your thinly veiled allegory that Santa and God were synonymous. I was joining you in your innocent tone. Thanks for the follow up. I am hearing two things: a clarification to my summary of your case and a request for more information on my information argument.

    I’m afraid your syllogism still doesn’t work. Your conclusion isn’t warranted by your premises. Your experience of unusual phenomena (formerly explained by a “God of the gaps”) and your later conclusions about them are far from warranting that “there is no evidence…” A more accurate conclusion would be that you found the unusual phenomena to insufficient to warrant belief in God. Sorry if this seems like I am splitting hairs, but it is a very significant point: there may yet be evidence. I am hoping that the arguments I made will prove to be such for you. I have others, too, if you are interested.

    Thank you for asking for clarification on what I meant by information rich systems. Did you ever see the movie “Contact,” with Jodie Foster? In the movie, they describe the SETI (Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program: huge satellite dishes pointed into the air, listening to the galaxy. They are listening for evidence of intelligence. What would constitute evidence of intelligence? Well, according to the movie a set of prime number pulses from 2 to 101 would suffice for us to say that doesn’t just happen. This has intuitive strength. We think that someone “meant” to do that. When you pick up a book, you assume that it was written by an intelligent agent (such as it is, sometimes). When you buy software for your computer, you assume that it was designed by an intelligent agent. These are examples of information-rich objects. Wherever we look in our everyday world, we always see intelligent agency as the cause of information.

    It is therefore warranted for us to assume the same principles apply to the natural world. Here is what Carl Sagan said about the information in the human body, “bits of information in the encyclopedia of life-in the nucleus of each of our cells-if written out in, say English, would fill a thousand volumes. Every one of your hundred trillion cells contains a complete library of instructions on how to make every part of you.” [Carl Sagan, COSMOS, Ballantine Books, 1980, p. 227.]

    The human genome has been compared to software. It may be more aptly said to be software. This is much more impressive than the prime numbers scenario. I say, we have been “Contacted.” Another example of information-rich systems is… well everything else in the universe. According to Dr. Lloyd of MIT, “I tell them that it says everything in the universe is made of bits. Not chunks of stuff, but chunks of information – ones and zeros.” http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/14.03/play.html?pg=4

    If we are going to say that the information “software” of the universe is not the product of intelligence, we need to give a compelling reason why not when every other time we see information it is, without exception, the product of intelligence. Thanks for the interaction, Shane.

    • Shane Fletcher says:

      Hi Joshua,

      Good to know you got the point I was making. I thought it was obvious, but you were not the first that needed clarification so thought I should mention it.

      My last point should have read that I was unaware of any evidence, rather than there being no evidence. Sorry about that. Happy to hear about any evidence you would like to put forward. Always glad of a good discussion.

      I figured that DNA would be one of the information rich systems you were referring to, but I was interested of any others, because you said the universe was full of such repositories of information. If you meant the trillions and trillions of living things on earth, can we agree that all life uses DNA in the same way, so really it is just one example?

      I haven’t read the article yet, but I’m going to assume it is referring to the atoms that make molecules that make everything? I don’t see how that is the same as information, just because it is ordered in a specific way. Liquids of different densities will separate into discreet layers, but this ordering is not due to intelligence but the workings of the natural laws that govern the universe. Atoms combine and recombine because of these same laws. There is no intelligence behind this “information”.

      Thanks again for the conversation. This would be fun face to face in an English pub. But I would be drinking water there anyway. Never got a taste for alcohol myself. 🙂

      Shane

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