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The Alleged Faith of Atheists

By Carolyn Hyppolite ~

If you have ever been in argument with a theist, you have experienced two frustrating moments. I know what you’re thinking—just two?

Well, at least. Here you are doing your atheist thing, pointing out the self-contradictory nature of the Christian God, arguing that no fossil in the record has ever been discovered in the wrong strata, demonstrating that the resurrection accounts in The Bible are conflicting, etc. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You are certain that you have nailed it and now any moment your interlocutor will admit the error of his ways.

But that’s not what happened. Your faith in reason was not able to move this mountain. Instead, the theist asserts that she has faith. She believes in these things. God has spoken to her heart, QED.

Suddenly you find yourself separated by a seemingly unbridgeable chasm. There is no reasoning with “I have faith.” What do you do when someone admits that she chooses to believe regardless of the evidence?

Sometimes, your conversation takes an even more disappointing turn. The theists looks at you, dead in the eye and informs you that you have faith too—you believe there’s no God, you believe in Darwin, you believe the experts who write history books, etc.

What a sad state of affairs, the theist has not only placed himself on an island on non-reason but banished you to a separate and equally inaccessible island. You have your beliefs, I have mine, and there’s apparently nothing to be done to bridge this gap—nothing we can appeal to bring us to a common understanding.

Perhaps, she suggests, you can pray and God will reveal himself and speak to your heart the way he has spoken to her. Beyond that human reasoning and dialogue is of no value. All there is faith. Worst yet, in this sea of confusion, this cloud of unknowns and unknowables, he might add, “belief in God comforts me and I choose it.”

This move is strange to me for two reasons. First, Christians are supposed to believe in truth. They follow a man who allegedly said, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” Their fiery preachers opine about how they don’t care if this is offensive to Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus. The truth is the truth. Embrace it or face the fires of Hell.

Yet, how quickly this is jettisoned when they are confronted with a fact that seems to contradict their worldview but which they are unwilling to take the time to investigate. You suggest they read Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True? And instead they say, I have my faith.

The theists looks at you, dead in the eye and informs you that you have faith too—you believe there’s no God, you believe in Darwin, you believe the experts who write history books, etc.
The other strange part is how this argument undermines itself, and in fact disparages the very thing that the theist holds up as the supreme of all virtue. At best, it is a claim to equality before an atheist who seems to have gotten too big for his breaches. It is essentially saying, “You think you’re better than me. You think your beliefs are based on facts. Listen, you and I are no different. We both just choose to believe what we prefer. It’s just that I prefer Jesus and you prefer to sin.

In fact, much of the ways that this case is made insults the religious proponents who make them. You have probably heard statements, like “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” or “I don’t have enough faith to believe in evolution.”

However, isn’t having faith a laudable attribute and thus, wouldn’t having more of it be a virtue? I can’t imagine myself uttering the statement, “I just don’t have enough skepticism to be a Christian.” Or “I am just not enough of an empiricist to be a Christian.” Since I consider these virtues, it would never occur to me to use it in a pejorative fashion. It would be like saying someone is too beautiful, too intelligent, or too industrious.

All that insult really says is that I may believe in the improbable and/or the unsubstantiated to a certain degree, but you Mrs. Atheist excel at believing without evidence or when a proposition defies the bounds of reason. You believe in natural selection? Well, great is your faith!

This only makes me wonder if the theist subconsciously thinks that there is something inadequate about her world view.