Central to the 'argumentation' of New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is the claim that belief in God is no different than belief in the Tooth Fairy. The logic here is so sophmoric (and so embarrassing to clear-thinking atheists) that it seems silly to have to address it. But we live in a culture in which edgy sound bites and nonsense that panders to our self-centeredness seem to trump reason every time. So I guess it would be worthwhile to spell out what's wrong with this popular claim, for the sake of the few out there who still care about truth.
The central informal logical fallacy being committed here is the faulty analogy.* When one argues by analogy, he points to similarities between two things, and then argues that on the basis of those similarities, we ought to draw the same conclusion about the one that we have already drawn about the other.
There are ways in which, claim Dawkins and Hitchens, belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy are quite similar. And since we all realize that belief in the Tooth Fairy is silly, we ought to come to realize that belief in God is also silly.
Such an argument is deemed faulty (and fallacious) when the similarities between the two things are insignificant and unimportant relative to their differences. And such is clearly the case here.
What similarities are there between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy?
Well, first of all, there's the word 'belief.' But that can't be argued as a similarity, since that word apllies to everything we might discuss. That is, atheism shares the same thing, in that it is belief in no God.
To put it another way, every truth claim (every statement) is the expression of belief. And knowledge is a particular kind of belief, namely justified, true belief. And where no one ever argues that belief in the Tooth Fairy is either true or justified, there are millions throughout human history who have argued persuasively that belief in God is both justified and true. (Indeed, it is much more difficult to make a case for atheism as justified or true, and that is partly why that belief has always been a minority belief.)
Second, both God and the Tooth Fairy can't be seen. But here again, this similarity seems rather trivial. We take as justified, true belief, a host of beliefs about things that can't be seen. Scientists claim knowledge of such things as protons and electrons, quarks (and even Higgs' boson), and dark matter, none of which can be seen. So invisiblity is not a worthwhile criterion for accepting or rejecting the existence of something.
Perhaps what Dawkins and Hitchens have in mind is that both God and the Tooth Fairy are immaterial. But this is unsatisfactory as well. There exist a great number of things that are likewise immaterial, things such as thoughts, emotions, memories, desires, and yes, even minds and souls. And if the claim is made that these things do not exist or are in fact (somehow) material, that claim itself involves circular reasoning
(the conclusion can only be reached by first denying even the possibility of the existence of immaterial things, that is, by first adopting a naturalistic, materialistic worldview).
The list of possible, significant similarities (between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy) has dwindled to nearly nil. There remains one other possibility.
Perhaps the similarity that would make this analogy meaningful is that neither the existence of God nor the existence of the Tooth Fairy can be proved. Unfortunately, this idea also has a number of problems. In fact, so many are the problems with this claim, that they warrant a separate post.
For now, though, we have seen that there is no meaningful and significant similarity between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy (with the possible exception of the idea--to be addressed next--that the existence of each is similarly unprovable). It remains to examine the important and significant differences between the two things. We'll address those in the second post following, and will see that Dawkins' and Hitchens' claim here is a glaring and absurd example of the fallacy of the faulty analogy.
* It's also, of course, a straw-man argument, in which the God being argued against is not (as the claimants imply) the God of the Bible but a gross mischaracterization of that God, one that is easy to knock down.