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The "atheism is a faith position too" competition

Yes, it's the old mantra, "atheism is a faith position too".

In “On a Mission”, Education Guardian, Tues May 8th, Joanna Moorhead quotes head teacher Terry Boatwright (head of a religious school) as saying "Even people who don't believe in God have a faith - they have faith that God doesn't exist. People say: How dare you push your faith at young people? But a head who doesn't believe is still a head with faith."

So that's why it's ok for Boatwright to "push" his faith at kids.

Jeez, "atheism is a faith position too" has really entered the zeitgeist. It seems to crop up almost weekly in the press now. Where's it coming from? See here, here and here for earlier discussion.

The idea that science is also based on "faith" seems to be behind a lot of it (Juliana recently suggested this, I note). I think we should discuss that shortly...

Who can find the most irritating, sinister or downright funny use of this ever-popular myth? I'll send the winner a signed (if desired) paperback copy of The War For Children's Minds (published July).


Larry Hamelin said…
Here's a similar one (everyone has a God) from one of your colleagues, a philosophy professor. I'd put this in the "most irritating" category.

You DO have a god...

Note: the Deacon intends to wipe out his blog on 20 May, deleting all the posts.
Austin Cline said…
Oh, where to begin...

How about the entire book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist"?

That was a book so bad, that I couldn't even bring myself to review it. I've reviewed a number of books written by Christians and I try to be as fair as humanly possible. I expect to disagree with their arguments and to find fault in their ideas, but to make up for this I also try to find places where they have something interesting to say and something worth thinking about. I also do the opposite with books I enjoy: I try to find possible flaws or problems, just to ensure that I'm being reasonably fair.

This was, I think, the only book where all that went out the window. I actually felt worse for reading it and feared that the sum total of my knowledge would decline if I read too much. The fairest thing I can say about it is that it's a waste of paper and that trees died needlessly in the quest to publish it. To cite just one example from early on:

"The term "university" is actually a composite of the words "unity" and "diversity." When one attends a university, he is supposed to be guided in the quest to find unity in diversity - namely, how all the diverse fields of knowledge (the arts, philosophy, the physical sciences, mathematics, etc.) fit together to provide a unified picture of life."

This is just so wrong, it hurts to read it. Did they actually use a dictionary which claimed this? Then they choose their references poorly. Did they simply assume it's true without checking? I doubt this is the only instance of doing this. Do they know better, but chose to say something knowingly untrue because it served their agenda? Everything they say has to be questioned, in that case. I can't think of any reason behind the claim that doesn't reflect very, very poorly on them personally and on their writings generally.

Then there is the claim from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor that "public" atheism isn't merely a faith position, but an intolerant faith position.

The above-referenced post from Deacon also gets a vote from me...
Ophelia Benson said…
Pfffffff - yeah, that Deacon one is very irritating. 'Whatever you take as your ultimate concern, whatever you're existentially invested in and passionate about, is your god' therefore everybody is a theist - and Humpty Dumpty is his prophet.
Anonymous said…
Your talk of Boatwright pushing his religion on the children neglects to mention that it is their religion too and that he is fulfilling the terms of his contract to the parents by doing his best to sustain the ethos that they prefer. Surely you wouldn't prevent him from doing that?

Is he correct in stating that Atheism is a faith position? I don't think so and it might be interesting to tease out why seeing as the philosopher in chief is too bent on denunciation to bother. Most mainstream Christian theologians hold that the existence of God is not provable in the way that a scientific thesis is. If one could prove its/his/hers existence then all belief would require was a certain amount of intelligence to follow the argument. That is not the case though some atheists would say that theists have failed that intelligence test. It is from this position that some theists move to say that if I hold that the existence of God is not provable even though I believe; your unbelief in, and a fortiori unprovability of, the existence of God has a sort of congruence in it to my position. Does that make any sense? Only rhetorical.

In fact for the atheist the God question does not come up, it is not, in the Jamesian sense, a living option.
Anonymous said…
I actually like it when they trot out this nonsense. From there, it's an easy checkmate.

For instance:

"Oh, it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a theist?"

"Well, isn't it interesting that you would *accuse* me of using faith. Clearly you disagree with my position, yet you think I use faith to arrive at it. So you obviously know that there is something *wrong* with faith, and that faith *does not actually work* as a means of distinguishing what is true from what is not. Your accusation reveals that you agree with this."

What is faith, except willing yourself to believe something to a degree of certainty which exceeds what is warranted by the evidence? And why is doing *that* a good idea? Clearly, it is a terrible idea. It is inherently dishonest to willfully attempt to be more certain about something than you have good reasons to be. Faith is inherently dishonest."

"So, while I think you're mistaken in your assertion that atheism is a faith position, at least we can agree that faith is something bad, and something to be eliminated from ones thought process, right?"

Then you can go on establishing that atheism is not a faith position in the usual way.

Not that any of the above will change any the minds of any faith-heads, but what the hell. Worth a shot.
Anonymous said…

It's not mine, but it's funny and it's one way to counter the irrational idea of atheism being a faith.

Atheism has SCIENCE based behind it: and SCIENCE describes our physical universe. Science can be actually demonstrated and observed. Religious people have no way scientifically or logically to prove God. (No, tunnel vision and near-death euphoria is scientifically explanable. Ever tried Space Monkey?)

The only way that atheism is as irrational as theism is that if the physical universe's existence is as irrational as God.

Obviously, it's more rational to believe that you see is what you get, rather than believing what you speculate is beyond our universe is what you get.

Jeez. I thought this myth was dead a long time ago. Stephen Law already took several shots at this, as well as several other people. (Including me now)

I hate it when the media picks the most shocking news, even if it's complete bullcrap. The media doesn't really care of course, they just want more buyers. CURSE YOU MEDIA! CUUUUURSE YOOOOOU!
Andrew Norman said…
Bertrand Russell's "Is Science Superstitious?" (collected in Sceptical Essays) might be a good place to start on the faith/religion/science/reason/philosophy question. It's an interesting essay - Russell was a good deal more complex than some of his later admirers.

There's also the question of whether public secularism (which is really what the Cardinal objects to) is necessarily atheistic. I think there are good reasons why devoutly religious people might want a rigorously secular public domain (we can't accommodate everyone's conflicting religious prejudices, and as a Catholic should know better than most, if one set of prejudices is going to be selected for public approval, it might not be yours).
Anonymous said…
After the growling and raving has died down, I would suggest that there is a very simple answer to those people who make the "atheism-is-a-faith" claim.

Either they are too stupid to have thought it through, or they are too idle to have investigated the matter properly (thus distinguishing between ignorance which is cureable, and stupidity, which isn't), or ...
They are deliberately lying.

Far too many of them are lying, and they need to be challenged on this one, as often and as loudly as possible.
They are deliberately lying.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

If atheism is a faith, they legitimise their own unfounded beliefs by claiming that all have some sort of belief. This is then used as the basis for the claim that atheism is in itself a belief system when in fact it's nothing of the sort.

Atheism is nothing more than skepticism. It is the absence of belief in any sort of outrageous claim which can't be supported with evidence. This is the distinction that has to be repeated.

It's the old "Rabbit Season / Duck Season" gag. The conversation then proceeds thusly:

"There are invisible pink unicorns living in caves under Australia."
"That's preposterous!"
"There are. I know it."
"There aren't any unicorns!."
"Yes there are. I have an IPJ book which explains them."
"That's not proof!"
"Yes it is."
"Prove they exist without the book."
"Prove they don't exist!"
"No, you prove they do exist and you're not just making this up."
"No, you prove to me that they don't exist!"
"I don't have to prove they don't exist! It simply makes no sense! If you want to just make stuff up and expect me... to... believe..."
### BLAM! ###
"Thhhhathh's different, withe guy!"

No, it isn't.
jeremy said…
I particularly loved a certain "Bad Squirrel"'s reply on Yahoo Answers to the irretrievably stupid contention that being an atheist takes more faith than being a Christian:

"If atheism "requires more faith" than theism, can we get twice the federal faith-based initiative money?"

Some responders bought in (so to speak) immediately:
"I'm buying a solid gold cellphone"
"Bad Squirrel, I have faith in you, and therefore I will tithe 10% of my nut earning to your treehouse"

Ah, but we atheists were set right as usual by a creationist (evidently mistaking his computer screen for a mirror) who blurted out the simple yet decisive rejoinder: "You ain't that smart"

[P.S. Some other questions from the same page:

Did Cain murder Abel because he was warped by violent video games played on an Apple?

What would you rather come from: generations of incest or evolution from primates?

My evangelical neighbor keeps trashing Mormons and JWs, was I wrong to call him a sects offender?]
Anonymous said…
Michael Reidy wrote:

"Most mainstream Christian theologians hold that the existence of God is not provable in the way that a scientific thesis is. If one could prove its/his/hers existence then all belief would require was a certain amount of intelligence to follow the argument."

It is a basic dogma of the Catholic Church that "the Existence of God can be proved by means of causality". (see My extremely limited understanding is that no one has figured out what this proof is but that Catholics are obliged to believe in its existence.
Larry Hamelin said…
Paul: I've been told that the Catholic dogma about the provability of God's existence was established to shut up the smart-ass Jesuits.
Anonymous said…
Hi Paul,
Looking at the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) I see "Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of 'converging and convincing arguments', which allow us to attain certainty about the truth."

The devil is in the single quotes. Suffice to say that there are no proofs that are faith neutral which was my point.
Stephen Law said…
Gosh they are rolling in.

Austin - I have ordered "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist". Could be a winner....

But the deacon is also a strong contender.

I guess I should allow a week or two for entries. Judges' decision will be final, of course.
Larry Hamelin said…
Here's another nice one.

Atheism is not good. It's a long rant, so I've excerpted some highlights:

t[T]e most basic presupposition of [Christopher Hitchens'] article [God Is Not Great] is that all religions fall into the same category, except, of course, his own idol of naturalism. ...

[Hitchens'] nonsense is a vain attempt to place his own beliefs on higher ground than others despite the fact that ALL worldviews are based on faith in something... atheists cannot even validate the very logic and reason that they constantly put their faith in... In a purely natural world, reason itself is unreasonable, and logic illogical. ...

[D]oes atheism always “distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason”, as Hitchens claims? What about the issue of origins? Does not abiogenesis both contradict science and outrage reason? [um, no.—TBB]
Anonymous said…

What you have quoted works only up to a point. There are no proofs in natural sciences . So to say, as you do, that "Most mainstream Christian theologians hold that the existence of God is not provable in the way that a scientific thesis is" is not valid. Nor is the Catholic Church's phrase about "in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences" valid.

I am happy to allow some terminological latitude to both of you in the use of the word "proof". I accept that you and the Church do not mean the same thing by it. However the Church's misuse of the term does not mean your use is correct.

What you are both referring to, I think, is the notion that a person can be led by Reason to belief in God.
Anonymous said…
I don't have any examples close to hand, but the "arguments" already offered are so good (or rather, so bad) that I concede the contest. I find your framing of this argument somewhat odd though (having just gone and read the prior posts from Feb/March). This entire line of argument hinges on equivocating wildly about the meaning of the term "faith," but I haven't seen you take the obvious path and work on a clear definition. That was my approach when I tackled the whole "atheism is just another religion" nonsense.
James James said…
The worst book I have read all year is "Beyond Science" by John Polkinghorne. It's almost unreadable and devoid of argument, but touches on this.
James James said…
The Blind Faith of Atheism

Faith In Atheism
Larry Hamelin said…
cagliost: The first is slightly less annoying; the author actually attempts to argue his case, and Olson's arguments are, if hardly compelling, better than usual.

Fackerell's article is, of course, a dead loss: We're not absolutely certain that no god exists, therefore god exists. Good grief! Had I not seen the point so often argued on Infidels, I would refuse to believe that anyone could hold such an obviously stupid position.
Larry Hamelin said…
Do we have a winner?
Kublai7777 said…
It's ironic amidst all this talk that "Atheism is a faith position too" that its detractors don't argue the point but just disparage it. Such people ought to take a course in philosophy especially epistemology. The discussion will be subsequently more constructive.

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