Do you have enough faith to be an atheist?

Do you have enough faith to be an atheist?

It wasn’t meant as a trick question. It just came up in conversation. I was talking with a lifelong friend who has started attending an Alpha Course. Like many in our modern, secular world he is open to the possibility that there might be a God but doesn’t see that there is enough evidence. Having faith in a God seems a step beyond reason, a leap in the dark. He is an atheist because he doesn’t think he can have the kind of faith that he sees in believing Christians …

So … you don’t have enough faith to believe in God — but you do have enough faith to be an atheist?

… I asked him. Meaning what?

Atheism is a faith with a set of beliefs

Is atheism really some kind of faith? Yes. Like any other faith it’s possible to identify atheism’s central beliefs. Granted there is some variance across atheist believers – like any other religion. And depending on who you talk to, some atheist believers are even “fundamentalists”, intolerant to any other worldview, and evangelistic in spreading their own beliefs — again like other religions. Here is what we could say is their basic creed:*

  • The universe exists by chance
  • Everything can be discovered by science
  • Humans are the ultimate judge of all things – there is no final moral reckoning
  • Any value or purpose of life can be worked out from the wisdom of mankind
  • Nothing exists beyond this life – there is no ultimate source of trust in the universe
  • There is no purpose or meaning to the universe (And it’s a silly question to ask anyway — see below)
  • Human ideals are progress, tolerance, and individualism

The universe and chance

….. that looks like a belief system to me. But not only that, secular atheism is pretty exclusive in its beliefs:

Atheism is a faith that claims there is only one kind of truth

If it’s not scientific it doesn’t count

The idea that we must answer all questions about our universe and our being by science alone is widespread. There’s even a name for it “Scientism” – which roughly means that all questions must be answered by scientific method, all truth must be amenable to science. Now science certainly is an excellent tool for understanding our world but it cannot answer a lot of questions we as humans have, like say … Why is there a universe at all? … What is the value of a human being? Richard Dawkins says these are “silly questions”, which is a cheap shot at saying there’s something wrong with you if you ask them.

Let’s look at another faith – the one that believes in God.

This faith takes on board not just science that emerges empirically from a lab, but ALL the evidence. As well as science, this faith takes on board historical evidence for the life of Jesus Christ and the reliability of the Bible (evidence which is a mile high compared with many historical events). This faith considers the facts of an empty tomb and the witness of early disciples who were transformed into starting a worldwide movement called the church. This faith takes seriously the notion that our universe is incredibly “fine‐tuned” for life to an almost incomprehensible extent.  And this faith takes into account peoples’ experiences over 2,000 years — people who convincingly claim their lives have been changed. This faith understands that there are other kinds of evidence and other kinds of truth besides scientific … there is spiritual, ethical and moral truth, there is experiential truth, truth as allegory and metaphor. There is literature, history, philosophy…. There is not just science.

Scientism in any case is self‐defeating. Saying “it’s not scientific so ignore it” … is itself not scientific. There is no scientific theory that says “all answers must come from science”,  no experiment that can prove “science must be your only worldview”. Surely the way to approach all questions is to say, I want to find out the truth – even if that that truth lies outside my narrow comfort‐zone.

Atheism and Christianity

Atheism is a faith that doesn’t add up

John Lenox, Professor and Christian at Oxford points out something else: if your brain is the result of mindless, unguided processes – why would you even trust it?

To be sure, atheism is a belief system in many ways like any other. Yet when you say that to atheists it touches a raw nerve as I have found – but great discussions can result!**

Prof John Lenox again:

Atheists like to say that Christianity is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark; I suggest that atheism is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the light

I don’t have enough faith to believe that the universe is some kind of gigantic car‐crash, a colossal accident that just happened to come about. I don’t have enough faith to believe that there was a big bang followed by an ordered world. It’s a step beyond reason, a leap in the dark. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

This blog was published by Premier Christianity and attracted a lengthy comment threads as did a reply post by atheist Cory Markum.

Next in our series The Atheism Thread: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist
*List mainly derived from Mission Under Scrutiny, Andrew Kirk
** See for example extended comment threads on a previous blog and also here.New Atheism

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Cathy Buntin
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Cathy Buntin

Hi Chris thanks for this that is a really interesting concept I have never thought that Atheism is a faith. I really enjoyed this article thanks for sharing

Sunil Raheja
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Great insights Chris! As you rightly point out atheism is itself based on faith — that there is no meaning or purpose to the world and everything is a matter of chance. But if I am going to say that I don’t want to say that I have no meaning or purpose either — instinctively i want my life to matter. Also it is tautological — if there are no absolutes how can I make an absolute statement that there are no absolutes? The real issue seems to be I don’t want there to be a God, and there are… Read more »

APK
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APK

Not sure I will remember all your points but really good summary of what exactly atheists believe (even though they say they don’t believe!)

mart
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mart

One of the best yet! Excellent! Many thanks .….. typo …“fairy take”

Ron Hyde
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Ron Hyde

Hi Chris Just read the Atheists Faith blog. really good and certainly made me think. Some really good points I will use next time I get in a debate with an atheist!

Agshin Jafarov
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Atheism is like faith and has many attributes of a faith but it is also different from the faith as traditionally understood. I have the first hand experience of some of the features that make it very much similar to a faith. In the Soviet Union atheism or naturalistic worldview blended in with atheism and scientism was systematically enforced through educational system. When I was growing up, there was a time when simply talking about God or taking religion seriously would make people laugh at you.
So yes, atheism is kind of a faith.

Illum
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Illum

Well, the fact that some atheists – the people – might accept some things on faith doesn’t mean that atheism is a position of faith. Atheism – the definition of the actual ism – is that one doesn’t believe any gods exist. That doesn’t have anything to do with faith. Faith is a possible reason for believing something as true; not a reason for not believing something as true. Faith is implied to be belief about something. I freely grant you that some atheists – the people (!!) – might possibly accept some of those things. And possibly on faith… Read more »

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[…] I didn’t and I don’t have enough faith to believe that incredibly implausible scenarios happen in sequence, by accident. I don’t have enough faith to believe that things appear and start by themselves. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. […]

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[…] to beliefs which are clearly a result of their atheism. We covered many of these in the recent post Do you have enough faith to be an atheist? In fact Andy shows that not only is atheism a belief system – a faith – it is a core part of an […]

De Ha
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De Ha

It wasn’t meant as a trick question. It just came up in conversation. I was talking with a lifelong friend who has started attending an Alpha Course. Like many in our modern, secular world he is open to the possibility that there might be a God but doesn’t see that there is enough evidence. Having faith in a God seems a step beyond reason, a leap in the dark. He is an atheist because he doesn’t think he can have the kind of faith that he sees in believing Christians … So … you don’t have enough faith to believe… Read more »

Paul Hobson
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Paul Hobson

As someone who came to faith 10 years ago I’ve concentrated much of my reading since then on deepening my understanding of the Christian faith, and how to better live it out. It’s been valuable to understand a little more the varied thinking of people who do not believe in God/a God. Thanks for writing the blog and inviting comments.

Matthew
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Matthew

I’ve found that Christians love to equivocate on the term “faith.” Biblical faith is not merely something like, “oh, I have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow” or “I have faith my car will start.” Biblical, religious faith is belief even when there is no strong evidence or reasons to support your beliefs. Some typical examples of this kind of faith, which are highly praised by “God,” come from Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter): Abraham went out of his country (by faith) not even knowing where he was going, and Sarah was past childbearing age, but… Read more »

David Snell
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David Snell

Hi Matthew
For me there are 4 understandings in the word ‘faith’ mentioned in scripture Hebrews 11 being one.There is also ‘the faith’ which Christians are a part of.
To reject a Creator God and settle for a 30000000000000000000000000 (at least) chance of creation just happening requires a decision ‚a decision based probably on other peoples ideas.

De Ha
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De Ha

Scientism” is a Theist strawman where you accuse those who believe in Science of taking a completely unscientific attitude towards Science.

It’s like accusing feminists of kidnapping women and chaining them to office cubicles. It’s A rediculous exaggeration that completely defeats the point.

Gary M
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Gary M

I believe that traditional/conservative Christianity can be proven false in just five minutes by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system): 1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus 2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy 3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstition‐based claims: 1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three‐day‐brain‐dead corpse. Persons who experience… Read more »

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[…] This article was written for the Unbelievable and published by Premier Christianity Looking for more? Try Do you have enough faith to be an atheist? […]