FAQ articles on this site are collections of questions or arguments that I have seen various people use in regard to the article topic. Many of the questions and accusations shown in these FAQ articles are close paraphrases of the argument I have seen used, not always the exact wording they used, since the question/claim needs to stand alone outside of the flow of the original conversation in which it was originally said, as well as to correct spelling. However I try to keep the wording close to the original. Also, since my purpose is to address people’s actual concerns and arguments, I have no intention to misrepresent any arguments. If you think I have misrepresented or misunderstood a particular arguments, or perhaps think it requires a note about context, then please make a note in the comments, contact us on our Facebook page, or email us using the contact form on this website. Also, note that of course people who do not share my views on this topic do not necessarily all share the same views as each other either. My responses here are simply in regard to these arguments themselves. This FAQ looks at questions and arguments regarding religious notions of faith. I will be adding to it periodically.
“In Christian theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds.”
“Faith doesn’t mean ‘belief without evidence’! Faith is a term from the Bible which means ‘belief built upon knowledge’.”
(There are at least two versions of this questions because even the Christians who think that faith does not mean “belief without evidence” do not agree on what “faith” means)
That may have been the original use of the word faith (although stories like that of Doubting Thomas seem to suggest otherwise), but not all Christians think alike. There are different connotations and meanings for many words. “Faith” is one of them.
“Faith” can mean trust or hope in general, or among religious people it has multiple distinct connotations as well.
The reason this new definition took hold is specifically because Christians began demonstrating that non-evidence way of fallacious thinking in their actual arguments and beliefs. Even influential Christian leaders like Martin Luther and some other theologians even said things like “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has” which would contradict what you say is the “correct” theological definition.
So when atheists use faith as an antonym for logic, we are referring to the trend of irrationality and presupposition we see dominating Christianity and its apologetics. But if you personally use the term “faith” a different way than you see us use it, then describe yor view and we will try to address your views in accordance with your terminology.
Remember that atheists who debate religion tend to speak with many different people with different beliefs and different ways of speaking, in order to discuss religious topics with them.
So when we refer to faith as “belief without sufficient evidence”, or “contrary to the position of greater evidence”, that is not something we made up. Many Christians actually use the word “faith” to mean believing a god exists without logical reason. They just think that it is just as capable or better for attaining truthful knowledge. Then our debate with them surrounds the issues of why we don’t think that is the case.
If you have a problem with this use of the word faith then please take it up with your fellow Christians.
You believe in aliens even though there isn't any evidence for them!
First, I do not claim to be 100% sure that other life exists in the universe, or to know what form of life exists or how advanced it might be. I just find it extremely likely that some forms of life exist on other planets.
Second, evidence for other life in the universe (including advanced life and technologies) includes us, the human species. We are 100% proof that life exists in the universe, and since we have no reason to believe that our planet is solely unique in being able to support life, it is quite likely that other life arose elsewhere too.
But we have no evidence or basis to believe in any form of life that would match any common definition of a god or gods. With alien life forms, we are just speaking about other potential organisms – more of something we already know exist.
Can you prove that you love your wife?
A lot of people think this argument is brilliant at first, thinking that it proves that anything people feel is true is objectively true. It initially may seem genius to some people because, like many Theist arguments, it’s so fundamentally flawed that we are initially just baffled by its strange reasoning. But it backfires on the Theist for these reasons:
1) We don’t need absolute proof from believers. We just need sufficient evidence to indicate that a god exists. So the analogy to love does not work because one can indeed show strong evidence that they love their wife.
2) You can even provide quite scientific evidence of love in the modern age by analyzing electrical activity in certain regions of the brain and what chemicals are released when exposed to stimuli pertaining to a certain person, like their photo.
3) God vs Love are different types of concepts. A deity is an alleged being in some form existing outside of a single individual’s brain activity, while love for one’s wife is an emotion in one individual’s brain. We can plainly show that a person’s wife exists, and that is a more comparable analogy.
4) As atheists, we don’t deny that the existence of people’s love for God or that they feel like they experienced God. We fully accept that most of them are telling the truth because of how they act on those feelings. Rather, the issue is whether those feelings yield accurate conclusions about external reality or if they are misinterpretations of phenomena combined with cultural bias.
“You don’t believe in God because you have a hard heart! A hard heart will never understand God’s word or let the holy spirit in!”
Some Christians say this a lot, and they often do so in place of a logical argument to defend a point or question raised against their views. The problem with it is two-fold:
First, when used to defend against a logical argument, it’s a fallacy. It simply accuses the other person of bias without providing a rebuttal that addresses the point that was made.
Second, it has no objective basis. It can be used just as easily against Christians by pointing out that Muslims think that everyone else, including Christians, don’t believe in the Quran because they have “hard hearts”. Without any objective basis to make the assertion, it is meaningless and has no value to honest discussion.
You're not being open-minded!
1) Disbelieving something does not equate to being close-minded. In fact it is close-minded to believe things without sufficient reason and to assume an answer instead of considering the possible alternatives and logical conclusion of the evidence against it. Being open minded is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean to think uncritically, irrationally, or be gullible, or be dishonest about what the evidence indicates is most likely to be true.
2) I could easily say back to you “you’re not being open-minded” and so the accusation would get us nowhere. It is usually a pointless statement that people use to accuse others of bias, yet without explanation, in order to sway them to your side without having to win them over by legitimate, rational means. When your best argument is to accuse others of being close-minded then that means you probably don’t have sufficient reasons to support your belief.
Religion is bad and will make people stupid, but faith does the opposite!
(context: Religious believers trying to defend religious belief by arguing that it is different from religion)
That is a very strange and confused statement if by “faith” you mean belief without sufficient evidence (i.e. presumption). Religion is the set of practices and beliefs that result from faith. It is a directed connected concept, not an opposite one. Faith is what produces that dogma and all the problems we accuse religion of causing. It’s nonsensical to say they are different. Faith is simply the way of thinking that defines dogma and religion.
And if by “faith” you mean “trust” in a god that you claim to believe in for other – logical – reasons, then what is the effect of that faith? If there is no presumption then how is that different from secularism? And if there is presumption, such as in what you believe God has told the world, then that is still religion and dogma.
“You think that whoever doesn’t share your evidence-based worldview believes in nonsense. That’s a harsh and close-minded remark.”
(This is a summarized version of comments made to David G. McAfee)
Evidence or lack thereof is what indicates whether something makes sense or not, respectively. The definition of sense being used in this situation is “A reasonable or comprehensible rationale”; and of course rationale means “A set of reasons or a logical basis for a course of action or a particular belief”.
For a set of reasons to be a logical basis for belief, and for something to be considered likely to be true, those reasons must be grounded in evidence. And we believe this because that approach has demonstrably proven to be more reliable than any other. This concept is understood in every aspect of our lives other than religion which is exempted despite having no demonstrable justification for such an exemption. Additionally, some religious ideas aren’t even coherent or intelligible.
So if your beliefs are not based on evidence, then yes, those particular beliefs are nonsense: “Spoken or written words that have no meaning or make no sense” (alt. “words or ideas that are foolish or untrue”).
God reveals himself to those who first open their heart and ask him in!
That statement proves something profound: It means that you chose the belief first.
By your own description, that would mean your belief is a presumption, not a view concluded from evidence. By using your method, people of all religions think they have proof that their beliefs have been “revealed” to them. But since the method is presumptive and begins with its conclusion, they in fact chose the beliefs themselves – either intentionally or due to the influence of their culture.
“I know God is real and that he is good, because he has made good things happen in my life.”
(This is a common argument that believers make, however the wording of this claim has been made concise for use in this FAQ)
1) That logic would also mean that any evil in the world (or “lack of goodness” if you prefer that phrasing) would demonstrate that God was sadistic or apathetic (i.e. not all-benevolent).
2) How do you know God did those things? Are they things that could not have happened without a god? If you actually analyze what lead to those good things, can you logically justify claiming that any of it must have come from a god? Why would you expect them to not have been able to happen? And do you accept that someone can benefit from believing something and gaining feelings of confidence or positivity that lead to success, regardless of whether their belief is actually true?
3) Even if you assume the good things in your life came from a sentient being, how can you trust that as proof that the being is good? Doesn’t a liar, a con man, a politician, or a dictator reward you and bring you blessings to “prove” he is on your side and gain your trust, so that he may ultimately control you or ruin you?
You can't scientifically test the existence of God!
Alt. “No one can prove God is real because God is incomprehensible.”
That’s a rather odd defense, because if you can’t “scientifically test” for the existence of God, or you define God with the property of being “incomprehensible”, then you are admitting that you cannot claim to have any evidence that such a being exists at all. A god either is comprehensible and can be observed or analyzed in objective ways, or else it is totally out of objective analysis and no one has any basis for believing it at all.
Is an atheist's lack of divine experience more valid than a believer's divine experience?
No, what a person believes does not affect the validity of a piece of information they present as evidence. But what is key to understand is that experience is not necessarily an accurate perception of reality, and that to more reliably interpret a piece of information and what it indicates, we need to consider the total available body of other information as well, such as information regarding the brain’s functionality, other believer’s experiences, and so on. Taking into account the full range of information helps put each individual piece into a fuller context and thus helps us draw more accurate conclusions from it.
If you claim Jesus may have never existed then we might as well say that the American Civil War or Holocaust never happened either!
We know things like certain wars and the Holocaust happened because there is a massive supply of mutually corroborating independent sources among a variety of types of evidence. Part of this evidence includes the fact that in the modern day we all experience the results of the events which is explained best, by far, by the American Civil War and the Holocaust having occurred.
But the biblical accounts could be written up regardless of whether the events happened or not and we would have no way to confirm them. What we know happened is just that some people wrote stories about a character named Jesus and those stories had a huge effect on people. But whether the events described in those stories ever occurred is a different matter, since the stories could have been entirely made up beyond the names of a few cities and public figures, and the stories would have had the exact same effect on history. And we actually have good reason to believe that many, if not all, of the events they describe did not occur due to contrary evidence.
Note: I obviously do not explain here what all the particular evidence is that I am referring to. What I am responding to in this answer is the general reasoning behind why we believe in the ACW and the Holocaust but not the gospel stories.