One hardly needs direction in upsetting an atheist. Our hackles are easily raised for we are, if nothing else, a fiery bunch; proud of our thirst to understand and passionate about our revelations rationally gained. But few things lift our figurative feathers—or is it hair?—as fast as claiming that it takes faith to be an atheist. Until recently, I held the opinion that disbelievers are overly sensitive when it comes to the f word, which is why I started my Burden Of Proof argument by making this very claim. Atheists have faith in science I said, surveying common ground and attempting to engage the theist. I borrowed a general definition for faith: having complete trust or confidence in someone or something, and I argued that the evaluation of the reasons why we invest in said faith is what is important. It sounded like a reasonable approach to me. In principal, I think it is good way to think about things, but practically—as my readers rightfully pointed out—there is a problem with attaching the weighty word faith to an atheist’s beliefs.
My mind naturally conjures up the image of a Christian when I think of a theist; I am, after all, an ex-wife of Jesus. So, let me approach faith from Christianity’s point of view and start with their most cited definition:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen — Hebrews 11:1
Plainly said, faith is the conviction that what I hope to be true is true; it is being confident in what I cannot see (i.e. something that is unbelievable, or without proof). Where does this conviction come from, how can I get it?
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you — Romans 12:3
Okay, so God gives every one of us a measure of faith. That’s good to know, but why have it, what good does faith do?
So the Lord said, `If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you… — Luke 17:6
So Jesus answered and said to them, `Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done… — Matthew 21:21
That’s great! How can I grow my faith to accomplish these wonders?
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God — Romans 10:17
Read the bible, listen to men of God. Check. Is there anything else I should know?
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him — Hebrew 11:6
In the words of the sublime Eddie Izzard, “Cake or death!? Err, cake please.”
Faith then, is the God-given superpower to believe the unbelievable. And when this power is mastered—achievable only by absorbing strength from a magical book—the hero gains the ability to do the impossible. It has the added benefit of immortal rewards from a delighted deity, but on the other hand, villains are born when a corrupted hero fails to master this superpower. This religious faith is to celebrate credulity and to view reason with suspicion and fear. I like to imagine that the creators—of this self-sustaining machine—danced the Funky Chicken to celebrate their cleverness. Consider the contrast between the theist and atheist’s expectations. An atheist’s “faith” can only ever be defined as earned trust, and trust is earned when the trustee has proven to be reliable. As regulation—lest our trust be misplaced—we require and demand supporting evidence and intellectual honesty.
No matter how faith is defined or in what context it is used, it is doomed to be tainted by the theist’s deep-rooted understanding of their faith. We might be able to agree on a general definition, but we can never agree on how to judge the reasons behind it. Do you have good reasons for your faith? Yes, says the atheist. Science has earned my trust; there is physical evidence to prove it is worthy. Yes, says the theist. God has earned my trust; my personal conviction is evidence that he is worthy. These two sentiments are polar opposites. It is the age old battle between Faith and Reason. Therefore, to say that an atheist has faith in science is to encourage a grand misunderstanding on the part of the theist. And I shall do it no longer.
Let me end with an observation. The modern theist cultivates their faith not only despite the lack of evidence, but in spite of evidence to the contrary. They have matured from schoolboy sports drop-out to Olympic gold medallist. Superpower, indeed.