Does it take faith to be an atheist?

I can’t tell you how many times I’m ‘accused’ by a person of faith that my label of atheism somehow implies I must have faith in the idea to the same degree they do. I want to try and clear the air here, and explain why my belief in the non-existence of God is not a position of faith, but is simply the most rational interpretation of the available evidence.

Historically, I can admit atheism is fairly new to the scene. Most human beings who have ever lived have believed in a variety of gods that manifest their presence in the world around us. It’s why many cultures anthropomorphize just about everything they came in contact with. The Greeks had all kinds of stories that tied mythical creatures with every day phenomena. Even in that day and age, however, there were those who preferred natural explanations rather than supernatural ones. One such man, Eratosthenes, calculated the circumference of the Earth by observing shadows were of different lengths in different cities at the same time of day. From that simple observation he realized the earth was round, and his calculation remained the most accurate for another 2000 years.

My belief in the circumference of the Earth is not faith, since I can verify his findings myself quite easily. History has proved his method to be sound. Eratosthenes refused to be satisfied with the facile explanations of religion and set off to discover its secrets using his deductive powers. This is something that occurs naturally through the scientific method. We observe, try and make predictions, and test them to measure their accuracy. Each new discovery adds to our collective understanding of the universe, which has only improved since the Renaissance.

Science is not about faith, since unreasoning belief is the precise opposite of its fundamental principle; everything must be challenged, proven, and measured. A religious person has faith there is a God simply because he is told there is one. He may think the Bible text offers some proof as to his existence, but even these tomes offer nothing in the way of evidence. To the contrary; they often strongly conflict with our modern understanding of the natural world. Jonah living in a fish for 3 days, Joshua stopping the sun to extend an important battle, or Jesus raising the dead are all phenomena we know to be impossible. There is no reason to believe these stories are true, but the faithful see it as proof of the supernatural powers of their deity.

It’s not something I have to trust, since the information itself comes from a highly dubious source. There are no other references to these events anywhere in recorded history. Why would there be? You would be as likely to find evidence of Christian myths as you would ancient Greek ones. They are all simply stories meant to be interpreted as moral homilies. Nothing more.

I don’t believe in God because there is no compelling reason. Although it is true there are many things we have not discovered, believing in something because of a lack of evidence is not a rational position to have. Like every human being, there are certain things I have come to believe without fully studying the question myself. I know the pyramids exist, but I trust the information because I have multiple sources which confirm their authenticity. If I was ever to doubt these myself, I have the opportunity to find out. Science is the same: if you want to know why the sky is blue, you can find it out for yourself. No need to just trust that it’s true.

Faith is a type of trust, but for religious individuals, they place that trust in the hands of individuals who have highly sophisticated interpretations of mythology, not reality. These ‘experts’ are still trying to answer the question of whether or not God can make a rock so large even he can’t lift it. Rocket science, this ain’t.

This is why I find the label so insulting. I refuse to be put in the same mold as they are specifically because the information I trust is more than plucked from the imagination of some theologian’s head. I trust in science because it’s a trustworthy method of uncovering facts about the world around you. More importantly, I recognize our understanding of the natural world continues to improve, and yesterday’s discovery may be different from that of tomorrow. The picture of the universe is still incomplete, but what a picture it is!

If you wonder whether or not it takes faith to be an atheist, ask yourself if it takes faith to turn on the heating in your home, or to take antibiotics. If you can provide strong evidence proving the existence of your god beyond the pathetic examples you already have, then I’ll change my mind . Until then, I’ll stick with atheism. It’s just more sensible.

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Comments (5)

  • avatar

    Owen

    Having had to defend against this sort of attack a bit, and hating it, I have come to try this:
    If one day, above the earth, and appearing to all the people, (and somehow speaking universal tongue etc etc) there appeared a giant many-armed noseringed blue guy who announced his name was Alan and that he was the creator of the world and everything in it etc etc, this is how I would characterise what would go on

    The Hindus would declare (despite his protestations that his name was Alan) that it was Shiva or Krishna or one of the other pantheon and subsequently bow down, whilst gloating to the rest of the world that they were right and asking Alan to favour them above all other people

    All the other god-based religions (esp the monotheistic ones) would declare that this was a false god, probably some agent of the devil or the devil himself.

    Buddists etc – haven’t thought about this one – perhaps declare that he was in fact a soul which had reached nirvana?

    The Atheists, would or should say, ‘ok, here’s a whole new set of data to incorporate and explain, lets go about seeing if his claims stack up using a spot of science’ and further than that, if, in this suddenly changed universe, we work out that the science we have known to date is no longer an appropriate tool, we’ll chuck it out the window and try to come up with something else.

    In that sense, we are genuinely the faithless, but also because of that, have the only really open viewpoint.

    PS. I think the most stumped of all would be the wretched agnostics, as their claim that ‘one can never know or prove the existence or non-existence of god’ has just been squarely chucked out the window….

  • avatar

    Nick

    Cannot agree more!
    It is a pity that the word faith is used this way – i.e. “I want to believe in something that I have absolutely no proof in because it makes me feel better in some way”.
    Surely the word ‘faith’ should apply to a plausible future outcome. For instance “I have faith that Tom and Pete will sort out their differences and be friends again”. If I know Tom and Pete and also know that they have had a silly argument over something quite trivial, this is a perfectly fine statement.

  • avatar

    makarios

    It is used that way. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.”

    The evidence can be serveral things but bottom line is the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of the universe.

  • avatar

    Wendy

    “Does it Take Faith to be an Atheist?” — No. Atheism, by definition, is the lack thereof. Anyone who claims otherwise is downright fucked up and needs to learn how to use a dictionary.

  • avatar

    Nick

    I suggest you carefully re-read my post, makarios. I tried to make the distinction between the two meanings, but if I wasn’t clear I apologise.

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