SmartLX www

Faith means that one takes something for which there is no evidence, and accepts it anyway.

Atheism takes something specific for which there is no evidence, and rejects it. That’s darn close to the opposite of faith.

I suppose the response to that is that belief in total absence is a positive position to take, and requires either evidence or faith. I don’t think that’s true, because I don’t declare beyond all doubt that there are no gods. I just don’t accept any given god because there’s no evidence for any of them, and am left with no gods at all. That requires a complete lack of leaps of faith.

Posted: November 13th 2007

See all questions answered by SmartLX

Russell Blackford www

Atheists and theists agree about some things — e.g., about the existence of the ordinary world that we all experience every day. That takes no great faith.

Actually, there are certain positions — those of radical epistemological scepticism — that cast doubt on whether we can even know that! After all, radical sceptics might say, we might be dreaming all the time, or something similar; we might be brains in a vat being stimulated by alien neuroscientists; or we might be being deceived systematically by an evil, powerful demon. None of those possibilities can be totally ruled out.

Still, it doesn’t take much faith to accept that the world is much as it appears and to get by without being radical sceptics.

Once we discount radical epistemological scepticism, we can use our reason to inquire into the nature of the world around us. Reason works with evidence, which usually just means experience and observation.

We do this all the time, often in mundane ways. If I hear a certain noise in the next room as I’m typing this, I’ll think it’s probably the telephone, based on past experience, and I can easily check. This sort of evidence-based reasoning doesn’t take any special leap of faith.

The more difficult part is when we build up knowledge of things that are not directly observable, as with scientific theories about sub-atomic entities or events that are now in the past, but even here we can move carefully, step by step, not accepting hypotheses as true until they’re well-confirmed by evidence, and even then keeping an open mind: some of what we think we know from science will surely be overturned by further evidence. (But a point does come when some scientific claims are well-established, with huge amounts of evidence all pointing in the same direction.)

Science has developed effective, widely-agreed methods for investigating the world and evaluating theoretical claims as and when they are made. It is unwilling to accept claims that can’t be tested by further evidence — ideally by replicable experiments, though that is not always possible.

No matter where they come from or what human languages they speak, scientists are able to use the same methodologies, and they do converge on agreement about which theories stand up to testing, which must be rejected, and which need more refinement or further testing. The methods of science are rigorous and can be difficult, but they are just an extension of ordinary observation and reasoning. Once again, using them doesn’t require any special leaps of faith.

Where religious ideas require faith in a way that ordinary reasoning does not — and science does not either — is that they ask us to go far beyond what evidence we have. They typically ask us to accept claims about supernatural beings or phenomena that either can’t be tested or actually go against the evidence. That does require a leap of faith.

Atheists don’t usually deny the possibility that a powerful, supernatural intelligence exists and created the world, for example, but they consider it very unlikely. They rank its probability as low.

This isn’t something they believe on faith, it’s just that such claims go so far beyond the evidence. Atheists see no reason to accept any such claims: at best, it’s getting way ahead of ourselves. (That’s leaving aside any actual inconsistencies with the available evidence, not to mention the internal tensions and inconsistencies in many religious claims.)

In short, believing in supernatural beings and phenomena requires an extra step beyond just accepting the observed world and the processes of scientific inquiry. It requires faith in a sense that atheism simply doesn’t.

Posted: June 6th 2007

See all questions answered by Russell Blackford

bitbutter www

One situation in which this claim is made is when a creationist wants to demonstrate that the most rational conclusion about the origin of the world is that God created it.

Creationists take the position that evidence of god is all around and the atheist perversely ignores it all. The fact of life having begun on earth and the complexity of living things are commonly cited as examples of this evidence. Atheism in the face of such evidence is seen as requiring more faith than theism—which creationists like Ray Comfort try to demonstrate is supported by reason.

Most atheists would reply that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is by far the best model we have to explain the complexity of life, and that while we don’t know for sure how life began there is no shortage of plausible theories that don’t require a divine spark.

Posted: June 3rd 2007

See all questions answered by bitbutter


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum