If I had a buck for every time someone told me it takes more faith to be an atheist, I’d have more cash than Mother Teresa's stolen. I’m not really sure what leads theists to believe it’s a clever thing to say, because really, it’s more self-deprecating than anything.
As my biology teacher once said, let’s dissect this shit.
First, we have to define faith. If we accept (bear with me, here) the Biblical meaning, faith is,
the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
I define faith as belief in that for which there is no evidence. I define it as such because if you have evidence for a claim, you know it. No need for faith. The one thing separating faith from knowledge is evidence.
The statement, “it takes more faith to be an atheist”, insinuates there is something wrong with faith while at the same time, it makes some wildly false presumptions about atheists.
Those who hold a belief in god often try to sell faith as a virtue; as a positive trait in those who have it. To this end, being critical of any faith a person may have seems counterproductive. Criticizing atheists for “having faith” completely undermines any attempt to paint faith as a good thing.
If they insist on saying this anyway, and they insist it takes more faith to be an atheist, it must be presumed atheists have faith in something. So, what is it that the theist who utters this thinks we have faith in?
There are, comically, a metric ton of answers to that, from “atheists believe something came from nothing,” and “atheists believe one species can turn into another,” to “atheists claim there is no god.”
The problem here is that none of these statements apply to atheism. Since atheism deals solely with the belief in god, none of these statements come near addressing anything to do with atheism. Even the third, “atheists claim there is no god” is false. There are plenty of atheists who identify as agnostic atheists. We lack a belief in god but don’t claim to know there is not one.
Atheists only have one thing in common: we lack a belief in god. Everything else is unrelated to atheism. Whether it be how we think the universe began, or how we think humans came to be; whether it’s a general skeptical attitude or an assertion there is no god, these are all things that fall under other titles. Skepticism, Gnosticism, abiogenesis, etc.
For me, as it is for many atheists, it’s easy to dismiss absurd claims – we don’t need to know there is no god to not believe in one. We just recognize it as a wildly absurd claim for which no demonstrable evidence exists. As the late, great Hitch once said,
What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. – Christopher Hitchens:
It is the very same ease with which a Christian can dismiss the Hindu gods, that atheists can dismiss the Christian god. It is with the same ease a Muslim can dismiss the power of Zeus, that atheists can dismiss the divinity of Allah or Mohammed as a prophet.
It doesn’t take faith to say you don’t believe in talking dogs. There is no faith required to lack a belief in the Ogopogo. There is no need for faith to doubt the stories of the Chupacabra. We don’t need faith to doubt these things, because these things all lack evidence. There is none, beyond personal experience and perhaps a doctored photo or two, for any of these claims and so they don’t require any serious contemplation. When and if demonstrable evidence for these things surface, that will change.
Saying that it takes more faith to be an atheist is just another attempt to flip the burden of proof. It is, in fact, the theist who has faith, as we know. The theist asserts there is a god – a positive claim – and therefore, the burden of proof rests on their shoulders. Attributing faith to the atheist means the atheist is making claims, and thus, the burden of proof shifts to us.
Unfortunately for the theist, it doesn’t work, because an atheist makes no claims at all about god. We simply respond to the god claim with, “I don’t believe you, please prove it.”
Here are two ways I counter this argument:
The first, is to ask, “What beliefs do I have faith in?” and refute them one by one as the theist asserts them.
The second way I respond I believe I originally read on the Iron Chariots wiki: I immediately follow up the statement, “it takes more faith to be an atheist”, with the question, “If my beliefs are based on faith, does that mean you doubt them?” If they answer yes, they’ve pretty much admitted their own beliefs are worthy of doubt. If they answer no, then they’ve admitted they don’t doubt your beliefs as an atheist. It’s a catch-22 for the theist, and perhaps one day they’ll figure that one out.
How do you counter the argument that it takes more faith to be an atheist? Let me know in the comments.