Tired Christian claim #1: atheism is a religion
I thought I might slowly start making a list of tired claims Christians perpetually make about us atheists. Think of it as a huge FAQ that helps you answer some annoying claims people make about atheism without actually understanding it.
First off, you might have heard this gem floating around; atheism is some kind of religion, since not believing in god is a type of faith. For instance, if I claim life arose from non-life, my inability to absolutely prove this statement is comparable to the belief that an all powerful being willed it into existence.
What is so interesting about this tired Christian claim is it essentially compares all beliefs to a religion; if I believe the Earth revolves around the sun but have never witnessed this event, I am apparently accepting this based entirely on faith.
It sounds almost plausible; after all, not all of us have studied evolution, but most of us would agree it’s nevertheless true. Is this a type of faith? Faith is a misleading word. We tend to confuse the word with belief, even though the two are not necessarily equal. Faith can more easily be understood if we think of the word ‘trust’. Christians trust that their God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and OmniBenevolent. They may trust this for multiple reasons. Most grow up being told this is true by people in authority, and many also come to trust that the Bible is the infallible word of God. This type of trust does not require anything more than willful surrender of one’s critical faculties, even in the face of glaring contradictory or improbable elements (like a virgin birth, or a resurrection).
Strangely enough, I have never met a Christian who thought there was any real evidence that contradicted them. Once a person commits to a rigid way of thinking (like the belief the Bible is infallible), they will find whatever evidence, no matter how flimsy, to support their predetermined conclusions. This is called ‘confirmation bias’. No matter how strong your evidence may be their claims are untrue, it will either be ignored or attacked. How many Christians ignore the fact human beings share 96% of our DNA with chimpanzees, or outright claim such testing fails to prove we share a common ancestor? They would rather believe God designed us to be different from other animals; that we are special somehow. As far as they are concerned, they know the truth, and it is we who are blind.
Now as an atheist I too trust information given to me by people of authority. The difference, of course, lies in the methodology of how such information is gathered, and the degree of scrutiny I can apply to it. Yes, I trust evolution is true, but unlike most of the improvable claims of religion, scientific theories are constantly being revised. Any individual is free to analyze and even disprove them. Science is a process of refinement; our understanding of the universe is strengthened because scientific theories are corroborative efforts made by independent thinkers. We have been able to uncover many of the secrets of nature from the simple process of observation, hypothesis, and testing. As you can see, this is not a process that involves dogma. Over time, even the most cherished theories will collapse if they are shown to be incomplete or wrong.
For the most part, the vast majority of us do not blindly trust others without at least some proof. If I’m trying to sell you a flying car, you’ll no doubt want to take it for a test drive before buying it. We rarely take anyone’s ‘word’ for it, because we know blindly trusting others is a bad idea. Trust has to be earned, not given. The same should be true about what we believe, and who we chose to believe. If the methods of arriving at a conclusion are shrouded in mystery (the whole God in the gap argument comes to mind), we haven’t gained any real knowledge, and we would be wise not to blindly trust any belief that demands the surrender of our critical faculties. Being an atheist doesn’t require me to believe in anything without evidence. Can any Christian truly make the same claim?
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