There’s not a single open, outspoken atheist out there who has not had some desperate jeebot tell us that atheism requires more faith than God. Just this morning I tripped over this tweet:
It’s one of the more amusing things believers say, because in such a simple statement there are so many errors.
The first of which, is the assumption that atheists assert there is no god. Many religious people think an atheist is someone who claims to know, with absolute certainty, that there is no God. Even when you try to explain to them that no, that’s not the case, they refuse to hear you… because of course, they know you better than you know you, amirite?
What they are, of course, talking about, is a strong atheist, or a gnostic atheist. In the words of one my favourite thinkers, Sam Harris, Let’s unpack this a little bit :
Atheism deals with belief. A theist is a believer in God. An Atheist is someone who does not believe in God.
Gnosticism deals with knowledge. A gnostic is someone who claims to know, and can prove in some way, the thing they are gnostic about. An agnostic is someone who says there is no way to know, based on the readily available evidence at present.
Therefore, a gnostic atheist, is someone who claims to know there is no God, and that it can be proven in some way. Most atheists are not gnostic atheists. Most fall under the label, agnostic atheist.
Richard Dawkins wrote, in the God Delusion, about a spectrum with 7 milestones, and on each end is the opposing idea of absolute certainty. It looks like this:
Strong Theist – I know with absolute certainty that God exists.
De-Facto Theist – There is no way to prove God’s existence, but I strongly believe in him.
Weak Theist – I am unsure he exists, but I feel good about believing in God.
Pure Agnostic – It’s just as probable that there is no God, as it is probable there is one.
Weak Atheist – I am unsure God exists, and I stick with my skepticism.
De-Facto Atheist – There is no way to be sure, but the likelihood of a God existing is slim.
Strong Atheist – I know with absolute certainty that there is no God.
The majority of atheists – yes, even the outspoken ones – fall under number 6. We are not absolutely certain there is no God. Which begs the question, how can you have faith, and not be certain at the same time?
The next error, in the attempt to apply faith to atheism, is that it fails to take into account the definition of atheism, which can be worded in several different ways:
A lack of belief in God.
Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings.
The rejection of belief in the existence of deities based on insufficient evidence.
All 3 of these definitions are based in uncertainty, and the third even implies that given good evidence, an atheist would accept that a god or gods exist.
Now we know that the easiest way to explain what an atheist is, is someone who does not believe in a god or gods. So, to apply the term faith to it, means we must apply the term faith to anyone who lacks a belief in anything.
Does it require faith to lack a belief in unicorns? Does it require faith to lack a belief in el chupacabra? Does it require faith to lack a belief in vampires? No. It doesn’t. So, why would it require faith to lack a belief in God?
Finally, what most Christians fail to remember (likely because they don’t read the Bible quite as much as atheists do) is that the Bible itself backs up this definition of atheists, and states quite clearly that we do, in fact, lack faith.
From 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2:
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.
And of course, the definition of faith, from the Bible is, from Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Even the Bible associates faith, with having certainty. In fact, followers of the Bible are so certain in their convictions, that they live by and obey what they believe to be the word of God. Why the fuck would you do that, if you had no certainty?
Finally, when you hear an atheist say that there is no God, it rarely is said with certainty. Most atheists are willing to accept that there is no way to know for sure, and yet they will still say that there is no God. Sometimes, it’s in the heat of an argument or passing by a street preacher, or maybe even talking to a friend who wants them to attend church. The reason for this, is because in practical terms, terms that apply to everyday life, there is no reason to go around recognizing all that cannot be proven or disproven.
We don’t casually say there might be werewolves, or there may be an abominable snowman. We say there is no such thing, because within the realm of what is practical, there isn’t. We don’t need to leave space in our day to day conversations for that which can’t possibly be disproven. We simply dismiss that which has no evidence, and go the fuck on about our day.
What this means, is that while an atheist may casually say that God does not exist, given good evidence that God does exist, he would change his mind.
I asked a theist on Twitter last night, “What, if anything, would change your mind about the existence of God?” The conversation went on for a good few hours and I asked him several times, but he refused to answer. He didn’t want to answer, because the answer is nothing. Nothing would change his mind about the existence of God, while for me, the answer to that is simply evidence.
Have you been told your atheism requires faith? How did you respond? Let me know in the comments.