Saturday, December 18, 2010

Guest Blogger

Today's blog entry is the work of my gracious husband.  I wanted to share this with my full circle of friends and coleagues.    I have nothing more the add David says it beautifully.  Nothing except Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

"The Santa Claus Argument"

by David Corliss on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 9:22am
It's that time of year again, so I wanted to post this again for any new friends. I expect some folks will have seen this one before. A couple of points first -

* It's philosophical argument with religious content. Not your cup of tea? You might want to move on.
* It is completely in earnest. This is not analogy, allegory or anything else other than what it claims to be. When I say Santa is real, I mean it. Read on to see what I really  mean by this.

The Santa Claus Argument
(Santa Claus and the Ontological Status of Universals)

A long time ago, many people believed that only material things could exist. The Greek Philosopher Plato taught a principle called Realism: All things that are real exist somehow as physical things, even if we can not directly perceive them. In the Middle Ages, Saint Anselm was a follower Plato who wrote that grace, salvation, and a good nature are physical substances. If we do not receive these substances from God, then we do not have these gifts. His student, Peter Abelard, had a hard time with this and they argued a lot. Other people thought Anselm’s ideas were pretty strange and went completely the other way: goodness and grace are just labels for groups of things such as forgiveness, mercy, and kindness. Both sides agreed that either things existed  materially or they did not exist. They lost a lot of things in the middle, but the most important thing they lost was Santa Claus.

Anselm, the disciple of Plato and apostle of Realism, says that Santa Claus is an old man making toys at the North Pole, or there is no Santa Claus.

The Nominalists, strict followers of Aristotle, say that this is fantasy: there is no such thing, and no amount of saying so and believing will make any difference. Santa Claus is just a name in a Fairy Tale, a label we put on a group of ideas like charity, peace, and good will toward all. Santa Claus is just a name, without any reality in our world and bereft of both dignity and power.

You and I, my friends, know better: both the Realists and the Nominalists are wrong. We may not expect to see reindeer fly any time soon, but we understand the quiet power and palpable reality of Santa.

Abelard gives us the key to understanding this seeming paradox: Ideas are real. Concepts of the mind and spirit fully exist, even without physical substance. The strict realists and nominalists would have us choose between being madmen or being Scrooge. We who have seen the dawn of christian love in our lives and in the hearts of those we have touched know that courtesy, honor, purity of spirit, and gentleness of hand and heart are not just names: they are active, potent forces that we are using to reshape the world around us, just as they remake ourselves in their own image. Santa Claus is not a fairy tale, a funny story we tell our children that they dismiss when they are older. Santa is real, and as our children grow, we teach them what this really means: that the strong must care for the weak and not dominate them. The wealthy must help care for the poor, giving them opportunities instead of pity, leaving them with both their lives and their dignity intact. Charity is not unnecessary and it is not an obligation: it is a joy! Kindness and good will and all of the very best gifts we have to give come like a thief in the night, in secret, doing good for others and by others because we care for them, not because of some material benefit for ourselves. Teaching our children and ourselves Santa Claus' full meaning is far more difficult than reciting Clement Moore's poem.

David J. Corliss
Wayne State University / Physics and Astronomy
December 23, 1993