Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Atheism as "Faith"

One of the argumentative maneuverings religious believers attempt to ploy on Atheists is the argument that Atheism is, in itself, a belief system – that Atheists have “faith” that there are no gods. It is a clearly specious position; first, one cannot hold a belief in a negative, a “Not”, position; and secondly, the definition of “faith” is acceptance without proof. Atheists say there is no proof... were convincing proof of god(s) to exist, there would be no Atheists! Considering Atheism a form of faith is like considering baldness a type of hair style.

Interestingly, this week one of our Secular Society members will debate a professional theologian and debater on this subject at the local university Socratic Club forum.
The OSU Socratic Club will sponsor a debate on the topic, "Do Atheists Have Faith?" on Monday, November 15, at 7 p.m., in Gilfillan Auditorium on the OSU campus.

It is a common assertion in conversations between secularists and religious believers that religion is a matter of “faith,” which is devoid of any cognitive content and therefore, in the eyes of many secularists, of little or no truth value. Michael Gurney will argue that faith is commonly found among secularists and religious believers alike because everyone, including atheists, has a faith of some kind. Martin Erwig of OSU will argue that those who hold a secularist view reject faith claims altogether and base their views on science, rationalism, and human autonomy.
The theologian has his work cut out for him for this debate. For one thing, with an estimated 15% to 20% of the US population claiming no religious affiliation or belief in any deities, one might ask where are all the Atheist “churches”? Religions have built testaments to their belief over history in the form of huge edifices of architecture, works of art and music – nothing even remotely approaching this magnitude of devotional display exists for Atheists. That is… until now!

Thanks to Steve Martin; I give you the first in history Atheist Hymn:


Elisabeth said...

This is just so wonderful- the absence of songs like the absence of belief in the atheist's world is well worth celebrating.

Gorilla Bananas said...

But the absence of proof is not proof of absence. Denying the existence of God is a different position from saying there is no proof of God's existence.

DJan said...

Leave it to Steve Martin to find a song for atheists. Wonderful post, Robert, and I am so appreciative of your take on things and your ability to share it. Thank you.

PeterDeMan said...

Since the label "liberal" has been twisted and distorted in the modern lexicon to imply Kool-aid drinking, unpatriotic weenie, I adopted the far more appropriate term of "Progressive." I did similar with the term Atheist, which has become synonymous in limited minds with people of low moral character. For quite a while now I just say I'm a "non-theist." It's interesting to see the blank stares when I say that as most religious people don't even know what a theist is. One man wrote he had to look it up. On the rare occasion someone asks what it means I just tell them I'm not superstitious. That will usually do the trick. Of course I usually follow that with "no offense meant," which is not entirely true, but it mollifies muddled minds.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Elizabeth Thank you for singing such praises.

Bananas The absence of proof is precisely that. It is impossible to prove absence... Atheists don't claim that god does not exist, they say the claims that he DOES are baseless and without evidence. You can't prove a negative, that something doesn't exist. The burden of proof is on the one's making the claim.

This video clarifies the problem facing believers.

DJan Thanks for your support; there are many of us, but like cats, we tend not to arrange ourselves in congregations.

Peter I wrestled with this terminology for a while... I have decided like many to take back the word Atheist and work toward clearing the misconceptions. As you say, Non-theist confuses people; better to try to correct the misconceptions held about Atheists where we can.

Artist and Geek said...

Some of the most accomplished scientists were atheist/non-theist.
Arthur C. Clarke called science the new religion.
I wonder whether we'll ever have proof either way and if so, do we need it?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Artist I would not call science a religion, it is a process for knowing about the natural world.

As to whether we need it (belief in a supernatural god, I assume) that is choice individuals need to make for themselves. I've made my decision.

secret agent woman said...

Quaker Meetings, which include many non-theists, also don't have songs. Hmmm.

But, you should no about this list:

kara said...

i'm not atheist...i'm apathetic! and probably much happier than everyone else as a result.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent Didn't know about that song list. Thanks for the tip, I'll pass that on.

Kara That's probably a good thing, 'cause if you were a believer than that would make you "pathetic".

The Mother said...

I think some of the Tim Minchin repertoire is close to an atheist hymnal. But I like this one, too.

Stinkypaw said...

One can have faith (as in complete trust or confidence or a firm belief, esp. without logical proof) that something isn't there, no? Or does faith has to be a belief in God or religious doctrines? No matter what, if we all let people believe (or not) what they want things might be better... might being a key word here.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dr. Mom There are any number of songs that disparage god, religion and other such beliefs. That one could actually title them Atheist Hymns is not clearly the case.

StinkyPaw There is a distinction between "faith" and "trust". Trust is built on observation, experience - for example, the fact that our spouse has not cheated on us, and their behavior builds confidence in their fidelity.

"Faith" is blind acceptance. People sometimes claim that religion is dangerous, but it is faith, not religion that is dangerous. Faith in secular leaders, for example, who lie to us, unquestioned allegiance to a person, belief or dogma.

It is dangerous to let people simply believe what they want to believe without question. People should be given the opportunity to evaluate, examine, question and challenge what they are prone to believe. "Trust" requires something of us, "faith" requires nothing.

Rain said...

I am not an atheist but not a believer which, since we have to have labels in this world, makes me an agnostic. There are so many things I cannot explain by labels or logic and so I just let it be and call it mystery.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain Many people are uncomfortable with the label of "Atheist", but really it is a simple two part word that means "without god". I called myself an agnostic for a long time and finally acknowledged my Atheism earlier this year.

The things that are relegated to the the category of "mystery" are falling quickly to the wayside. In the last decade people like Hawkings and Krause and others have come to an understanding of what was going on before the Big Bang, which most of consider the beginning of our universe. Hawkings latest book shows that no longer need a god to explain the universe.

I accept what we don't know and work toward someday knowing, and I consider all mysteries as temporary absences of knowledge.

Mary Witzl said...

That really is a marvelous song.

Occasionally I have a dream in which I am about to receive all the secrets of the universe. Then I wake up and feel such disappointment -- and relief.

John Myste said...

I am an agnostic / atheist in the truest since. No god I have ever heard of exists.

However, I have debated other atheists before because of their faith. There are different kinds of atheists. Some say that because the Christian God does not exist, there is no higher power and they are certain. Only faith could convince them that human's are the greatest power in the universe. It even takes faith to be sure that humans seeded the earth through evolution. I tend to have that faith, but I am not sure, and cannot be.

I can state with confidence that there is no omnipotent or omniscient being. I cannot state that there is not something considerably more advanced that humans and I acknowledge that intelligent design could theoretically explain the earth as we know it. That designer would not be capable of miracles or anything super natural and I have no reason to believe it exists. Only faith can convince one of that.

John Myste said...


There are several sites that have had long debates on who is a liberal and who is a progressive.

I am a proud card-carrying liberal, only without my card. I cannot figure out where they are issued. I stand firmly on the left, though, and that is what it means to me. I am a progressive also, but then aren't we all?