The meme that atheism requires as much or more faith than the belief in a god is considerably easy to debunk.
Its popularity among Christians demonstrates that they often know very little about what atheists think and haven’t taken the time to find it out for themselves.
Instead they take at face value what professional Christian apologists assert about atheists and parrot back those ideas with even less sophistication than their original authors, which is no mean feat.
Atheists lack a belief in a god or gods – it’s as simple as that. Here’s a test to figure out if you are an atheist: Do you believe in a god or gods? If you gave any answer other than yes, including “I don’t know,” then you’re an atheist. If you answered yes, then you’re a theist.
Whether you’re agnostic or Gnostic is a question of knowledge, not belief. But that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
Faith is properly defined as believing in something for which there is insufficient evidence.
It takes faith to believe in god(s), fairies, unicorns, Bigfoot, etc., because there has never been persuasive evidence presented that support such beliefs. Faith is not required to lack belief in a god or gods in the same way that faith is not required to lack belief in Bigfoot.
Atheists do not claim that matter or the universe arose out of nothing. Atheists generally say that we don’t know where matter came from, and we don’t know why there is something rather than nothing. There are many plausible hypotheses but no definitive theories at this point.
Maybe one day we will know – or maybe we won’t. But we don’t know now.
Theists are in the exact same state of ignorance. They don’t know either, but the difference is that they make up an explanation: God.
It is nothing more than a made up explanation, and they have no reason to suppose it’s true other than because it provides them with a sense of comfort and purpose.
Asserting that “God did it” with regard to the origin of the universe is a completely useless explanation. Unless one can know something about this “God” – how he created everything, why he created it, what he’s likely to do next and who or what created him – it’s actually a lack of an explanation.
Unfortunately, if history is any indication, most theists will likely not be open to the real explanation when and if science is able to provide one. The placeholder of “God” prevents investigation into the real explanation. Theists have faith that “God” is the explanation and that no other is possible.
Atheists are content to say, “We don’t know, for now anyway.” It should be quite obvious that saying “we don’t know” requires no faith.
The motivation for making the argument that atheism requires faith is clear: to create a false equivalency between science and religion.
Whether religious people like it or not, the backing of science, logic and reason gives a great deal of credibility to an argument. It’s difficult to dispute scientific evidence with religious dogma because it effectively forces one to choose between science and faith.
If you can convince someone that science is based on faith, just like religion is, the choice is no longer between faith and science. Rather, it becomes the choice between two different faith-based positions. That kind of choice is easy for someone of faith, since they’ll simply stick with the one that they already hold dear.
At first, it may seem ironic that some theists would discredit science by claiming it to be silliness, just like their own beliefs.
But to the silly, I guess, the silly you know will always be preferable to the silly you don’t.
I hope I’ve made it clear that atheism requires no faith and that the best answer to the question “Where did everything come from?” is, first and foremost, “We don’t know. And neither do you.”
If you’d like to learn more about atheism straight from the source, please consider attending a future University of Winnipeg Atheist Students’Association meeting or event. You can find us on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/uwasa.
Robert McGregor is an alumnus of the University of Winnipeg and a member of the University of Winnipeg Atheist Students’ Association.
Published in Volume 65, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 25, 2010)