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Ask An Atheist: Does it Take Faith to be an Atheist?


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Ask An Atheist: Does it Take Faith to be an Atheist?

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By Jim Downard

Would you say that, in a way, it takes ‘faith’ to be an atheist? Why or why not?

Not only does it not require “faith” to be an atheist, that aspect should play no role whatsoever in being an atheist, if by faith one means belief in a notion without (or worse, in spite of) evidence.

If one works through the various arguments favoring the assorted gods (and there are and have been a lot of gods people have and/or continue to believe in over the millennia of history) they all lack good evidential grounding.  Oh yes, there are tales of miracles, and of answered prayers, but those show up in many faiths, and they can’t all be right. 

Most of the argument then turns on the enthusiastic fan fiction, from apologetics to theology, but that too has problems at the evidential level, which is where the atheistic option becomes not merely the easiest one to take, but the only viable one based on the evidence (or rather, lack of it). 

History of Belief

We know that whatever gods particular people believe in, most people on earth don’t now nor ever have believed in them. Why so? Because the arguments for any individual one have quite clearly failed to gain traction among them, evangelical spreading of the faith by sword or missionaries notwithstanding. So the potential non-believer has only to look at the inadequacy of each of the god(s)’ arguments to land where Bertrand Russell did a century ago (and where I did on my own as a youngster): either one of the mutually contradictory faiths are true, or none of them are.  More than one cannot be true simultaneously. 

The simplest option is none. That would explain why there are so many diverging faiths, as people desiring there to be one map onto one or another (largely based on where they grew up, adopting that local faith as the “true” one). The history of religion is thus a matter of sociology and psychology, not a record of persistently accurate interactions between the hypothetical deities and humans (and what were any of the gods doing a hundred thousand years ago–we were around then, but where were they?). 

Now of course any actual gods could easily supply new evidence of their existence, but all those gods that don’t exist will continue to be at a permanent disadvantage on that front.  No one familiar with the history of our species (and the various gods they have imagined over that time) should find that circumstance at all surprising. 

No faith is required for any of this analysis.

Jim Downard
Jim Downard
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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