Does Atheism Require Faith?
by David Glass
In discussions about belief in God, there is a lot of confusion about the word ‘faith’. Atheists sometimes take faith to mean belief without evidence; Christians reject this notion of faith because biblical faith is never ‘blind’. Rather confusingly, though, sometimes you’ll hear Christians say that it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in God. Of course, what they mean is that atheism requires a blind, uncritical belief, but setting this issue aside, does the atheist need to have faith in a similar way to the Christian?
Faith in the Christian perspective is trust in a person. This can be expressed in terms of the difference between belief that and belief in. Belief that there is a God does not constitute faith in the Christian sense: someone can believe that there is a God without believing in God. It is this belief or trust in God that constitutes faith. Atheists believe that there is no God, but they have nothing corresponding to faith. That’s the whole point – they think there is no God for them to believe in. So atheism doesn’t require faith.
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But is there still some sense in which atheism requires faith? Doesn’t everyone have to take some things on faith? Don’t atheists, for example, have to take it on faith that reason and evidence are reliable ways to get at truth, that we can trust our senses, that the universe is intelligible, etc.? There’s a problems with this, though. What does it mean to take something on faith in this context? It looks like it means believing something for which you have no evidence. Now, it might well be true that atheists have beliefs like that (as does everyone else), but the point is that this isn’t anything like faith in the Christian sense.
Sometimes Christians will claim that atheism is a kind of faith, by which they mean that it is like a religion. After all, aren’t atheists committed to certain beliefs about the universe, about humans, about what happens when we die, etc.? Indeed, aren’t some forms of atheism just as dogmatic as any (other) religion?
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