How To Annoy An Atheist: A Correction Of Sorts

How To Annoy An Atheist: A Correction Of Sorts

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.


31 responses »

  1. Pingback: How To Annoy An Atheist: A Correction Of Sorts « myatheistlife

  2. If you’d like another view of Christian faith, I might recommend Mitch Stokes’ book, “A Shot of Faith to the Head.” It’s an excellent introduction to what might be termed “Reformed Epistemology”. It offers a differing definition (“Faith is belief by way of testimony”–which we all exercise to some degree) and plenty of philosophical justification for it. He also goes on into an argument for the fact that even our belief, our trust in evidence, your senses, science, etc. is ultimately an act of faith in testimony.

  3. I enjoyed your post. At first I was like, “wait, I’m not easily annoyed as an atheist”. After a little thinking- never mind. I’m fairly irascible. I find one of the biggest roadblocks to communication with theists (aside from the impermeability of the bubble they live in) is the definition of terms we both use but have different connotations depending on which side of the conversation you are. Another being attribution/characterization of facts, I.E. the athiest Karl Marx, Pol Pot, etc.

  4. Probably what annoys me most is the assumption that I’m going to be converted by lies, Bible/Koran quotes, intellectual dishonesty and smugly bigoted condescension. The problem for theists is that this seems to cover just about all their sophistry.

    • Sorry, RR, this comment sat in Spam for some reason..

      Yes, it is annoying when theists assume these things. But, of course, from their “enlightened” state, that’s not how they see it. Plight of the contrarian.

  5. Great post.
    I myself have stopped using the word ‘faith’ in my everyday life, I don’t believe it serves any purpose. I trust science, I know there are scientists who have the ability to achieve greatness, in time if not now.
    I even have a chuckle when I hear Bon Jovi sing ‘Keep the Faith’ 🙂 But now im just being silly…

  6. Christians are always trying to capitalize on the ambiguity of language in these types of discussions. It’s so disingenuous, or worse, they are so beyond literal that they can’t even notice the nuanced (sometimes not so nuanced) distinction that the same word could have several meanings. I think it comes from the religious god-like thinking that language has a “real” component to it in some objective Platonic sense, like big “T” Truth, or Justice or Morality. There’s always a single, objective, correct answer, it’s all black and white.

    Yes, I get annoyed by it too, can you tell? 😉

  7. Hey there, was just seeing what the people who like my ramblings write about and I came across you’re site…can I ask, why are you an atheist? Is it because science does not fit with theism in your mind (whether it is through a particular religion or not)?
    And, concerning faith, which one might say manifests itself in the form of ‘belief’, and atheism – is it not true that to be an atheist a person must believe that finding evidence of God’s existence is indeed possible for humans to accomplish? If we cannot do this, then we have no hope of ever finding any proof of God’s existence, even if it exists. And a second belief an atheist must hold is that we would have proven God’s existence by now, which we cannot know. Just bear in mind that the intellect of humans may not be as superior as we would like to think it is…we are slightly evolved monkeys after all, right? haha

    • Hey sageandonions13,

      Thanks for the comment. Boy, there’s a lot to cover here. First, it’s useful to clarify some things before I go into why *I’m* an atheist: Bear with me.

      1) One *can* be an *atheist* without saying, “I believe there is not a God” (This is done by evaluating claims of God, and rejecting them). Atheists can, of course, claim that there is no God–most atheist do, myself included–but it’s not necessary.

      2) One *cannot* be a *theist* without saying, “I believe there is a God”.

      3) If you claim that there is a God, or if you claim that there is not a God–and you want other people to accept your claim or if your actions require justification–you must demonstrate why your claim is worthy of belief.

      4) There is no responsibility *at all* on disbelievers of a claim–be it theistic or atheistic–to prove that the claim is false, in order to reject it. Useful, yes; necessary, no. “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” – Christopher Hitchens

      So why am I an atheist, then?

      I reject all claims of God. There are many reasons for this. My background is Christian–I was a born-again Christian for about 7 years. The start for me, was the the fact that Christianity made me terribly unhappy, despite my sincerest efforts. And that seems suspicious.

      The most compelling evidence for Christianity is subjective experience (the conviction that is faith that drives belief), and that didn’t work for me. Also subjective experiences are fickle things, considering our emotional complexity. The bible, the other proof, is very suspect. It’s ambiguous, contradictory, and contains some really bad ideas. The way the bible was written and compiled seems completely backward and is also very suspect, if God intended it to be effective. Considering God’s motivation for creation–to have a relationship with humans–it makes no sense to communicate so poorly.

      There are some fantastical things in the bible, like the flood. The claims of how it occurred is if not outright impossible, extremely unlikely. There is no mention of Jesus in the first century, in any historical documents. It is impossible to prove Jesus existed without the bible. Why hide the proof?

      One can go on… Note, no science was used here–just reason and common sense. The evidence is just too flimsy to accept.

      I can similarly discount the ridiculous claims in the Torah. In fact, I only need to look at the actions of Muslims, and I need no more information to reject the claim of their God. So I can go on and reject the claims of all faiths, without using science. It just doesn’t make any sense. A complex being that could create the universe will be able to communicate his purpose and plan better.

      Now, if we start using science, it becomes more interesting. Science does start explaining the way things are that make it compelling to believe. We can use science to disprove that the earth is 6000 years old. We can use it to disprove the flood in the bible. We can use it to explain where humans came from. We can explain why our emotions and subjective experiences cannot be trusted. We can explain our psychology. We can use it to explain why it’s our human nature to believe in Gods. We can use it to explain where our motility comes from. We can use it to investigate how our universe started. Science explains our current state of affairs so compellingly that it is just unreasonable to not accept it as true.

      So yes, I think science and religion is incompatible for the most part. As science discovers more, religion keeps evolving and changing it’s tune to make it all work. That also casts doubt on religion for me.

      Can science discover God, as you asked? Well, if the God is an intervening one, like the Christian God, it means that the God is interacting with our reality, and that should be discoverable; there should be some evidence that can be obtained. For example, if we can observe an amputee regrowing an arm, that might be compelling evidence. Or if God aligned the stars to spell, “Accept Jesus, he is my son”, that could be compelling too. Why doesn’t God do something like this? Why be so evasive. What possible reason can God have to avoid physical detection? Will it compromise his relationship with people, who accept him through physical proof, so much that he chooses to hide? I can’t accept that, considering the steaks involved (heaven and hell). For what reason will God require of use to believe in him without good reason?

      Fortunately, we don’t have to disprove or prove God. We can make assessments based on likelihood. And the idea of a being so complex to create the universe is very unlikely indeed. Even more so if the creator is a personal God that is interested in humans to the extent that he cares what we eat and who we sleep with.

      Science is getting closer to understanding how the universe started. Not close, but closer. And everything science has ever discovered, has always ended up not being God. So I submit that we know enough to make a compelling claim, “There is no God.” Do we know this for certain? No. But we don’t need to. There is compelling justification for the belief.

      There can of course be God that is non-intervening, and science might indeed not be able to discover such a God. But this again seems implausible. Using a complex being, who requires explication itself, to explain how a complex universe could exist, is a slippery slope. But if the God is non-intervening, we don’t really care, do we.

      At least most atheists don’t claim absolute knowledge. Theist claim to know the mind of God. They know it so well, that they are unwilling to change their minds. Atheists accept that they don’t know everything, and that they might need to adjust their views, if they are proved wrong. This seems the nobler position to take in my opinion.

      In conclusion, I reject the claims of God; they are not compelling enough to believe. I judge these claims using reason, common sense and science. That’s what makes me an atheist.

      Furthermore, I believe there is not a God, because science suggests that this is unlikely. But I reserve the right to change my mind if it proves that we didn’t know as much as we thought and evidence is discovered. That makes me an atheist twice over.

      PS, it best to say that monkeys and humans share a common ancestor, instead of saying that we evolved from monkeys 😉

      In hindsight, I should have just written a post, and not just vomited this reply in a comment.

      Anyhew, I hope it answered some of your questions.

  8. “Atheists have faith in science”.

    Oops—not all atheists have faith in science. This one doesn’t—science is as fickle and dogmatically doctrinal as any religion (fashionable, too). Yesterday’s ‘scientific fact’ is often today’s big giggle, some of the greatest names of the scientific past turn in retrospect into jesters.

    You were a nun? Good heavens …

    • A generalisation, but not a completely undeserved one. Most atheists, at least of the “new” variety, do trust in science. Of course, it is not necessary to trust in science, to be an atheist. You do not even have to be a rational thinker.

      I disagree with your assessment of science. But I’m not going to go into that here. I’ll just say, that your criticism of science is in fact it’s primary strength, and why it can be trusted.

      Nun!? I missed something. What did I say, where?

      • Science put men on the moon—and even better. got ’em back again. To a degree it works.

        I like generalisations …

      • You called yourself an “ex-wife of Jesus”. I don’t know for sure because I’m Jewish, but I’ve heard that nuns wear a ring to show that they’re married to Jesus.

  9. First of all, I love your style of writing … I got hooked by “Part III – why I remain an atheist?” – of course, truthfully, my first thought was “what happened to the I friend knew?”, especially since you’ve appeared to be quite a fiery Christian hey! Reading Part I and II cleared that up.
    I don’t actually want to enter the debate, I’m not an expert in apologetics and I’ve never been interested in hammering my believes into someone else. What really intrigued me, probably because I am a Christian AND a scientist, was your definition of “faith”. I love asking questions and pursuing the answers (even the difficult ones), and I believe people should be encouraged to question. Let me tell you, God had quite a lot of answering to do, but He’s never let me down on that and I’m still intrigued.
    Like I said, I don’t want to enter into a debate, I just want to share my definition of “faith” with you (nice Christianese there nè!), especially since I believe you would enjoy a thought-provoking idea. You don’t have to buy it, I just want to show it to you. When I first came across it, a lot fell into place for me … especially that Hebrews 11:1 that seems to bug you so, and rightfully so.

    “Faith” is NOT “believe” or “hope”.
    Faith: Faith is the sensory capacity of my spirit to discern what God is busy doing. Literally like the “eyes” and “ears” of my spirit.
    Of course if God created us for relationship with Him, He would have enabled us to communicate with Him, to see and hear Him … else prayer would just be a wish list. Since God is a Spirit being, it does make sense that it would be in my own spirit facet that I am enabled to communicate with Him. With my “faith” capacity, I can see what God is doing and I have the option of following and joining in.

    A teacher of mine described it a lot better than I can, if you are interested (from a scientific enquiring mindset) :
    ” … Faith
    Hebrews 11:1 is widely accepted as our best New Testament definition of faith.
    Now faith is [the] assurance [or, substance] of [things] being hoped for [or, being confidently expected], [the] confident assurance [or, proof] of things not seen (ALT).

    We need to be aware that the Western approach to definitions differs from that of Asian, Oriental & Middle-Eastern cultures. For Westerners, empirical definitions are the way of describing things – they need to answer the questions ‘what does it look like, feel like, taste like?’ etc. Things like colour, texture, structure and characteristics that facilitate the object’s replication feature strongly in Western definitions.

    For the Middle-East, definitions are primarily functional. They answer questions such as ‘what does it do, what is it used for?’ etc. Coming from a Middle-Eastern mindset, Hebrews 11:1 as a definition of faith is drawing our attention not to the empirical nature of faith (what it IS) but to its functional nature (what it DOES).

    There is then a more accurate way of translating this verse from a ‘functional definition’ point of view:
    ‘Faith gives substance to the things we hope for (which have not yet become manifest in physical reality, but are real in eternity), provides evidence or proof for the things we cannot see (with our physical senses)’.

    From this perspective, Hebrews 11, Romans 4 and James 2 are absolutely consistent with each other – all are concerned with the functional aspect of faith. As far as the empirical aspect of faith is concerned (what is it?), Hebrews 11 and the other Scriptures are fully in agreement – faith is the capacity to perceive. Like an eye or ear, a sensory organ that gives the body the capacity to perceive life and activity in a physical environment, so faith is the sensory organ of a man’s spirit that gives him the capacity to perceive ‘eternal realities’ and ‘timeless truth’.

    When Scripture describes the righteous as those who live ‘by faith’ (Romans 1:17 – more accurately, ‘from out of faith’, or ‘in response to faith’ – living & acting in response to that which the sensory capacity of faith has caused the believer to perceive), it confirms this perspective. Hebrews 11:2 then has a beautiful ambiguity underlying its construction – the elders who ‘received a good report’ were able to perceive God’s good word, experience His good work, and respond to it; and, as a result of their obedience in faith they were a living testimony of the eternal realities they experienced; and were well spoken of by those who followed in their footsteps.

    What follows in Hebrews 11 is a description of faith in action, the lineage of people who used the ‘capacity’ of faith to hear God’s word on their circumstances, see His plans for the transformation of their lives and the lives of those around them. Faith, the sensory capacity of the spiritual nature of man, empowers him to receive (obtain) revelation (v2) and to testify to that revelation. It facilitates an understanding of God’s activities that is not limited to the ‘empirical data’ (v3), that which can be verified by the physical senses.

    Then follows a description of their way of responding – obedience and patient persistence. The phrase ‘from faith to faith’ (Romans 1:17) refers to this process – perceiving by means of the sensory capacity called ‘faith’ and acting upon that perception … responding ‘in faith’, doing what needs to be done, acting according to the revelation received by ‘faith’.
    Hebrews 12 challenges us to pursue the faith-based lifestyle of the sons of God, describing Christ’s faith in facing the challenge of the cross. “

    • Hey Vicky!

      A debate I shall avoid then;) Haha. Oh, how far the fiery have fallen, ey?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your definition of faith is eloquent, and if I may say, apologist worthy. Very interesting. It does however, strengthen my resolve to avoid using *faith* in the context of an atheist’s beliefs.

      I appreciate your complement about my writing, thank you. This blog started half as an exercise to practice writing while a plan my novel.

      • There are some beliefs that could be called faith which don’t concern religion (at least not directly), such as:

        * human rights
        * free will
        * an objective reality going forward through time
        * arithmetic

  10. Pingback: OWIRAA {D}: Faith | Amber Restorative's

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