My 5-year-old son loves learning how the world works. Last week, he took an interest in a picture of a reindeer in one of my National Geographic magazines. I could see the wheels turning in his head as he asked, “Mommy, how can reindeer fly?”
He was, of course, thinking of Santa’s reindeer. I had no idea what to say. I wasn’t ready to tell him the big secret, especially with his 3-year-old sister nearby.
I stammered, “Umm, well, I’m not sure. Normal reindeer don’t fly. It’s only Santa’s reindeer. They’re special.” Cough, cough.
Nathan’s look told me he knew something was fishy, but he went on playing without further questions.
My heart hurt as I realized my twins are at the age when they’ll soon outgrow a belief in all the fun childhood things that don’t actually exist – things like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy. At some point, we all come to the realization that reindeer can’t fly, bunnies can’t deliver baskets to houses and there isn’t an invisible realm of fairies interested in our teeth. We discover these cherished ideas simply don’t match reality.
Unfortunately, there’s one more idea that many people believe we should outgrow because it doesn’t match reality: God.
Is Believing in God Childish?
When my friend’s son was in 2nd grade, a classmate asked him, “Do you still believe in that God thing?”
The implication, of course, was that believing in God is childish; that it’s something kids should outgrow the way they outgrow a belief in Santa. I can imagine that the question cut my friend’s son to the core. What child wants to think they’ve been snowed into believing another childhood story?
It’s not just playground bullies suggesting that God is an idea for kids. It’s a common claim by atheists. Sigmund Freud said belief in God is a childish fantasy. Albert Einstein called it a childish superstition. Bertrand Russell compared it with believing that a celestial teapot was orbiting the earth.
Childish beliefs are those that are abandoned as soon as we become capable of evidence-based thinking.
The reason so many atheists claim that a belief in God is childish is that they claim there is no evidence for God; anyone who continues to believe in something when there is no evidence for it is following a child-like thinking pattern.
It’s important for our kids to confidently understand why their faith in God has nothing to do with their former belief in childhood stories: There are no good reasons to believe in Santa, but there are very good reasons to believe in God.
Why Believing in God is Different from Believing in Santa
If Santa existed, he would show up in the living room of every child in the world each Christmas. We could visit the North Pole to see toy factories and elves. At least someone would witness him flying through the sky. We see none of this, so there are no good reasons to believe in Santa.
What kind of evidence would we expect to see if there really is a God? Exactly the kind of evidence we do see:
- The existence of the universe. Science shows the universe had a beginning, and we know that anything that began to exist was caused to exist by something else. The universe must have been caused by something immaterial, timeless, spaceless, able to choose to create, enormously powerful, intelligent and uncaused itself. That sure sounds like God. (Read my full explanation of the cosmological argument for God’s existence here.)
- The complex information in DNA. It’s estimated that each cell’s DNA contains about 2,000,000 pages of information. Every known example of complex, meaningful information in our world came from an intelligent source. It’s reasonable to conclude that the information in our bodies came from an intelligent source as well (e.g., God). (Read my explanation of biological design here.)
- The “fine-tuning” of the universe. The many physical constants of nature (things like the strength of gravity) have extraordinarily precise values. If they were just a little different, life couldn’t exist anywhere in the universe. Our earth in particular is perfectly suited for us to exist. Again, this precision is evidence of an intelligent designer (e.g., God).
- The existence of objective morality. People almost universally acknowledge that many things are wrong regardless of opinion – for example, stealing or torturing someone for fun. This is called “objective morality.” The existence of objective morality is best explained by the existence of a moral law giver (e.g., God). (Read my explanation of the moral argument for God’s existence here.)
Many adults come to believe that God exists based on this evidence from the natural world. Have you ever seen an adult come to believe in Santa based on evidence? No. Believing in Santa is childish. Believing in God is not.
Discussion Questions for Your Kids
- Why do kids believe in things like Santa and the Easter Bunny but adults do not? (Discuss how kids will believe almost anything they’re told, whether there is good reason to or not.)
- Some people think believing in God is childish – like believing in Santa. Why do you think they would say that? (Discuss how they assume there is no evidence for God, like how there is no evidence for Santa.)
- Do you think believing in God is like believing in Santa? Why or why not? (Have them offer reasoning in their own words. Then take the opportunity to talk about the evidence for God’s existence discussed above.)