I saw a link posted on Twitter the other day that highlighted something I see all too often regarding faith and atheism. The link was to an opinion piece in the Nipawin Journal, titled “How much faith does it take to be an atheist?.” The short article was written by Pastor Ken Graham of the First Baptist Church in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.
It’s actually quite common to see someone who practices one religion or another make the claim that it takes much more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe in their god. I’ve never understood this idea, since atheism by definition is the lack of faith in a deity. Let’s take a look at what Pastor Graham has to say about the matter.
Pastor Graham does come right out at the beginning to mention that it is one thing for him to write his opinion on a subject, and quite another to write about the opinions of others. I thank him for this, as it seems apparent to me that he truly does have a rather skewed idea of what atheism is. My own ideas about religions faith are certainly skewed as well, as I’ve never personally experienced it.
Science Isn’t Certain!
I heard a spokesman for NASA giving an interview some time back and when asked about the size of the cosmos, without hesitation he quoted a figure, as if it was a proven fact. The interviewer responded by asking if there could be any possibility of a mistake in his quote. He shrugged and stated that he could be out by a billion miles or more in his estimation. The reporter then asked if NASA might also be out when it comes to the age of the cosmos. Again he replied they could certainly be out by a billion years in their estimation of time. Further prodding brought an admission that no one knows for sure how life began; the different theories must simply be accepted by faith.
I don’t know the specifics regarding this interview, but a couple elements stand out for me.
Firstly: The origins of biological life are not related to the age and size of our Universe. These are completely different subjects which are researched by distinctly separate groups of scientists and researchers. The conflation of cosmology, cosmogony, abiogenesis and biological evolution seems to be very consistent among some who profess religious faith. I ascribe this to their lack of understanding regarding science in general. The reporter asking those questions appears to share this ignorance with many others.
These distinctions are simple facts. To continue to misrepresent such things after having them fully explained is an example of willful ignorance. I have no respect for anyone who continues such ignorance after having been educated about the facts. This is a common tactic of people like Ken Ham who wish to exploit the ignorance of others for their own gain. Ken’s not ignorant of the facts; he’s simply a reprehensible liar.
Secondly: Why would Pastor Graham think that scientific theories are accepted on faith, when the truth is actually quite the opposite? The numbers given for the age and size of our Universe were not arrived at by simply guessing. No credible scientist has ever fixed the age of the Universe at a certain point and declared that it must forever be held as fact. That’s not how science works.
Pastor Graham’s Faith
As I see it, if my choices are to accept the existence of God by faith or accept, by faith that no God exists; that everything has happened by chance, I find it easier to believe in God.
I admit that I was quite confused when I read that paragraph. What does the observable age and size of our Universe have to do with the existence of a god? Who is saying that “everything has happened by chance?”
The most accurate measurements so far put the age of our Universe at about 13.72±0.12 billion years. The size of the observable universe is the volume of a sphere with a radius of about 46 billion light years. That’s the limit to our observations so far. It’s not a number that is set in stone anywhere. The actual volume of our Universe may be infinite. We don’t know yet.
We Don’t Know
That’s right. I said it, and I’ll say it again: We don’t know. There are a great many things we don’t know. Why do some people see this admission as a shortcoming of science? Science does not automatically provide all the answers to every question about our Universe. Science provides a method which we can use to gain a greater understanding of the world we live in. To date, this has been the single reliable method of increasing this understanding.
The Bible actually speaks to this. For those who choose by faith to believe, it is life; for those who refuse to believe it is foolishness.
The words in the Christian Bible (no matter which of the many versions) are irrelevant. The holy texts of other religions make the same claims, but in favor of their particular deity. Such ideas are completely meaningless, except as a study in sociology or comparative mythology.
Any honest inquirer of knowledge realizes that the more we learn the more we realize how little we know for sure. Atheists, for the most part are running from God. They deny Him because, if they admit His existence they will have to deal with Him and their own short comings.
I guess that puts scientists among the most honest of inquirers of knowledge. Science makes claims about what we can determine to the best of our current abilities. This does not in any way say that we know for sure. One hundred percent certainty is not the explicit goal of science, as it’s an unachievable goal in all but mathematics (as far as I’m concerned).
Running from God? How could I be running from something that I don’t think exists? I think, perhaps, that Pastor Graham is also under the impression that to be an atheist is to claim that a god does not exist. While this is sometimes the case, it is rarely the case. Atheists claim that they do not believe in a deity or deities. This is not the same as claiming that said deity or deities do not exist. [I’m still working on my post about atheism/agnosticism/theism/gnosticism. I promise it’ll be ready one of these days!]
What shortcomings would I have to deal with if I were to come to believe in the Christian God? Would I have to renounce my acceptance and love for family and friends who happen to be homosexual? Is that a shortcoming? Would I have to deal with the psychological anguish of not being able to do work on the Sabbath Day? I get the impression that the good Pastor thinks that my biggest shortcoming is the fact that I don’t believe in his God™.
Those who believe in God are, at least, willing to admit their own short comings and seek a better way; His way and, by faith, proceed to discover God and His will for their lives.
Does Pastor Graham think that no one but Christians are able to recognize and admit to their own shortcomings? I’m not perfect. I’ve never made the claim to be perfect, and I find the sanity highly suspect of anyone who would make such a claim. I also find the self-righteousness of Pastor Grahams claim to knowledge about the shortcomings of others to be quite abhorrent.
To run from God, to decide to deny Him in spite of millennia of evidence as to His existence and, to fight against anyone, who chooses to accept Him, is an exercise in futility. In the last two thousand years many have come and gone, now forgotten, who claimed there is no God, and yet God still exists and the Psalms declare He laughs at their foolishness.
I did not “decide” to not believe in the Pastor’s God™. Quite simply; I’ve never been presented with evidence which would cause me to think that any god exists. Evidence? The world has been waiting for this evidence for many hundreds of years. I think, perhaps, that the good Pastor is quite mistaken about the meaning of the word ‘evidence.’ [Here’s a hint: The words in your Bible™ are not evidence.] Who is fighting against anyone who chooses to accept that your idea of God is the One True Faith™? I’ll tell you who: Other religions. Atheists and secularists fight against the imposition of any religion and its tenets as rule of law over any who don’t wish it.
Those past two thousand years have seen many of various faiths come and go, also now forgotten. Once again I must stress that this type of statement is meaningless. The “Lots of people believe it, so it must be true!” argument is old and tired. Please don’t beat that dead horse any more. God™ “still exists?” Where is the evidence? The scientific community has been waiting for it for hundreds of years. Please, Pastor, enlighten us so that we can all become true believers, convinced by the indisputable evidence which you will present to us.
That last part really gets me: “…and yet God still exists and the Psalms declare He laughs at their foolishness.” Is this some strange attempt to make me feel foolish for not believing in the Pastor’s kind and loving God™? I don’t think Pastor Graham would have done well in the advertising business.
To answer the question “How much faith does it take to be an atheist?” I know for sure that it requires more faith than I have. “For me, to live is Christ” best describes where my faith rests.
Pastor Graham has convinced me that he lacks a fundamental understanding of certain terms used in the English language. Among these are ‘faith’ and ‘atheist.’ What the hell is “For me, to live is Christ” supposed to mean in the first place? It seems to fit in with a lot of the rhetoric I see from people with a great deal of faith and and very little understanding of reality: More empty platitudes with no meaning whatsoever.