Do Atheists Have Faith?

This question is an attempt by theists to associate Atheism with their own beliefs – to put Atheism on the same playing field as theism. This allows the public to see them as equal. It is an attempt to justify theism through mutual acceptance – that by arguing for Atheism and granting that there is Atheistic faith – that their faith is equally justified. If faith in Atheism is justified then theism is also justified in their faith.

Unfortunately, the argument holds no merit – even if the public falls for it.

Faith is belief in something without evidence or contrary to the evidence. Do you believe in unicorns even though the evidence is largely conclusive that they do not exist? To believe in unicorns it takes faith. Faith is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence (American Heritage Dictionary, 2003).

Religious faith is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. No matter how much the theist protests – they cannot prove their gods exist – they have no evidence and there is a lot of contradictory evidence, in both the physical and philosophical realms.

There is another definition for faith and it is the one more commonly used by people when they are talking about “Atheists have to have faith.” Faith is also the confident belief in the value or trustworthiness of a person or thing.

In this sense, it is correct that as an Atheist I have faith. I have faith that my car will start each morning when I go to work. I have faith that my loved ones will continue to love me and give me their support. I have faith that my children will grow up to be responsible and moral human beings. I have faith that humanity will ultimately overcome the evils of this world and that basic human rights will triumph over oppression.

Follow the evidence no matter where it takes you.

There is also another form of faith; faith in our regular patters. For example, we have faith that the Sun will come up each morning. While experience certainly almost guarantees this, which is to say that a major catastrophe does not stop it from happening. We have faith that this catastrophe will not occur and that the dawn will continue to occur every morning as it always has.

Another good example of this faith lies in a basic science experiment. Attach a five-pound weight to a string (one strong enough to hold the five pounds). Tie the string to a banister or other tall item that will allow a full pendulum swing. Once you have tied the string and the weight you now have a working pendulum.

Grab the weight and walk back from its center of gravity until the weight touches your nose with a taught line. Place the weight at the very tip of your nose and let go of it. Watch the pendulum fall back toward its center of gravity and then watch as inertia swings it beyond that point. Now the process reverses and the pendulum starts to swing back toward you. It is getting closer and closer to bashing your nose in and forcing you to get a tissue to wipe away the blood.

My faith in the laws of nature is what keeps me steadfast as the pendulum swings back toward my nose. The laws of nature dictate that the momentum of the pendulum will not bring it beyond the drop-off point. The pendulum will return to a point equal to or less than where I dropped it. The pendulum will not bash my nose but stop just short – only to return to its center of gravity and continue the cycle.

My instincts are to jump out of the way of this five-pound weight as it barrels toward my easily pained nose. My instincts tell me that a punch in the nose will be painful and that my eyes will water. My faith in the laws of nature must override my instincts to flinch. My faith in the laws of nature keep my feet steady as the pendulum returns to within millimeters of my nose (exactly where I let it drop) before it starts back toward its center of gravity. (Thanks to Dr. Richard Dawkins for this example of faith in natural laws. Dr. Dawkins performed this task at a lecture at Berkeley that I attended.)

Do not get me wrong; I am sure there are Atheists out there that believe in things that are contrary to the evidence or with no evidence at all. Examples of these would include alien abductions, ESP, aromatherapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, and others. Atheists might believe in this stuff because Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings – it says nothing about lacking a belief in everything that has no supporting evidence.

Regardless of any sharing of the word faith (not the same definition), it does nothing to help the argument of the theist. We are both human beings, but that does not justify one argument over the other. The theist must still show that belief in a god is justified – and faith (by the first definition) fails to do that in any way.

No one is saying that faith is inherently evil or completely “bad.” What we are saying is that faith alone cannot justify a belief in anything. While it may give someone a ‘warm fuzzy’ to talk about his or her faith, it does not provide anything concrete to the argument.

Do not tell me you have faith – show me something tangible.

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