Atheistic faith: an oxymoron? 2 views

I wrote this piece a little while ago but at around the same time, coincidentally,  David Glass at Saints and Skeptics was writing about the same topic. Whilst we share some common ground, we do see aspects of this differently. So, my take on this is below and Davids article is at http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/does-atheism-require-faith/  Hope you enjoy reading both views, and please add your own in the comments below.

 

One of the common arguments put forward by atheists is the notion that atheism is not a faith. Richard Dawkins categorizes faith as “…..blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence[1] Since he believes atheism to be rational and evidence based, it can’t be a faith based on his own definition. You’ll note I said his definition because his definition is not one that’s ever been used throughout history. The English word Faith is derived from the latin Fides. A quick perusal of the dictionary of this word, gives us this:

noun [mass noun] a person’s honesty and sincerity of intention:

he went to great lengths to establish his liberal bona fides

[treated as plural] informal documentary evidence showing that a person is what they claim to be; credentials: he set about checking Loretta’s bona fides [2]

We trust people because we know them, have experience of them, have evidence that they can be trusted. Take God out of it and replace it with anyone you trust and the idea of this kind of evidence based faith seems perfectly logical. We trust people we know, our experience of them is our evidence. If they do something that violates that trust, then we lose faith in them; you just need to look at the banking situation and with politicians to see that in action.  Not all faith is evidence based however, it’s called blind faith but the Bible does not call us to have a blind faith. The above is in the context of faith in someone and in terms of Christianity, that’s exactly what we mean. The Greek word for faith used in the New testament is Pistis; and it carries the same meanings as fides:

Belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same fidelity, faithfulness the character of one who can be relied on [3]

The more knowledge we have, the more evidence we have, the more our confidence grows. That’s the same whether we are talking about the trustworthiness of a person or the accuracy of a scientific conclusion. So Christianity is very much evidence based faith.

Lets come back to the other premise that atheism is not a faith. The argument, as I understand it, is that because atheism is belief in a negative it is not a faith. Based on what I have laid out above it certainly isn’t a faith, atheism states that God does not exist and therefore there is nothing to trust and put your faith in. Faith in someone is not the only kind of faith though. I mentioned scientific conclusions earlier. This is not a faith in someone but a faith that the conclusion is sufficiently supported by evidence. This by extension means they believe the evidence for other conclusions does not stand up. Also, you need to believe that the universe is rationally intelligible to even do science. Another glance at the dictionary shows some similarities between faith and belief;

Faith

noun [mass noun]

1 – complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians

2 – strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof: bereaved people who have shown supreme faith

[count noun] a particular religion:the Christian faith

[count noun] a strongly held belief: men with strong political faiths [4]

 

Belief

noun

1 – an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof: his belief in extraterrestrial life [with clause]

a belief that climate can be modified beneficially something one accepts as true or real;

a firmly held opinion:we’re prepared to fight for our beliefs [mass noun]: contrary to popular belief existing safety regulations were adequate

a religious conviction:

Christian beliefs [mass noun] :

the medieval system of fervent religious belief

2 – (belief in) trust, faith, or confidence in (someone or something): a belief in democratic politics [5]

So faith requires belief and vice versa, and the two are very interchangeable. Atheism believes there is no God, it is a belief system and therefore would seem to involve faith. Being a belief in a nothing does not negate or change that. The Christian faith is different in that it is a belief in a person as I’ve detailed above, but the two have pretty identical statements at their core; the existence or non-existence of God. Christians believe there is a God, atheists believe there is no God. Both believe they have sufficient evidence to support their belief. The only way to avoid any belief/faith is to support each piece of evidence with supporting evidence and verification that it holds up, then that needs to be supported and verified and so on and so on infinitely. You just come to a halt, but atheism does not suggest going to these limits. The only other way out of it for an atheist is to say that atheism is just a stance on a deity. If you take that road, atheism then can say nothing about anything other than that.

Both atheists and Christians say they have enough evidence, this in itself is faith; indeed so is the statement that we need evidence; can you show that you have to evidence to support your view?. As a friend put it after a long convoluted discussion on Facebook about faith;

Then what we both have is faith in the statement ‘Evidence is a reliable way to determine if something is probably true’ That would be the faith that your Christianity and my atheism both rests on. We just disagree on the evidence

Many, including me, would argue the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of Christ, but its a good starting point to have a discussion. So in short, it seems atheism and Christianity are both faiths, it just the what that differs.

 

References:

[1] McGrath, Alistair. Has Science Eliminated God: Richard Dawkins and the Meaning of Life. [Available at: http/www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/cis/mcgrath/lecture.html]

[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/bona-fides?q=fides

[3] http/www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/pistis.html

[4] http/oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/faith?q=faith

[5] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/belief?q=belief

First published 4th June 2013

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One thought on “Atheistic faith: an oxymoron? 2 views

  1. […] it’s not a faith that is universally applicable. As I have argued elsewhere (here, here and here), the Christian faith has evidence to support it and is based on evidence. As Paul Davies has […]

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