I agree with VJack over at Atheist Revolution. And yet, in the interests of evangelical realism, I’m going to disagree with him. Slightly.
To insist that faith is required for one to reject claims about my neighbor’s gnome, unicorns, fairies, Santa Claus, Odin, angels, or gods misses the mark completely. The individual who refuses to accept such claims need not offer any sort of claim of his or her own. All he or she is doing is pointing out that the evidentiary burden has not been met.
It’s a good post, and I recommend that you drop by and have a look at the whole thing. He’s arguing that “an atheist’s faith” is like the variety of apple you have when you don’t have an apple (as one commenter at another good blog phrased it). But my recent discussion with the Manawatu Christian Apologetics Society leads me to believe that there’s a better answer.
As I told Mr. Admin at the MCAS, I have an evidence-based faith, which is to say a warranted faith. If we step outside of the religious arena for a moment, and look at the topic of faith and trust, we’ll see that there are two kinds: warranted (good) faith, and unwarranted (bad) faith. If you’ve sat down on enough chairs, and they’ve held you up, you trust that the next chair, which you’ve never sat in before, will also support you. Your faith is based on real-world experience, and on the principle that the truth is consistent with itself. Your faith is warranted, because it corresponds to real-world truth, and is consistent with it.
On the other hand, sometimes people put their trust in things that don’t have a solid, evidence-based warrant. Sometimes, in fact, people put their faith in promises people make when the evidence suggests that the promise will not, in fact, be kept. This is bad faith, unwarranted faith, the kind of faith that deceives and disappoints you. Truth is consistent with itself, and this self-consistency is an important factor to consider when deciding what we should, or should not, put our faith in. When we base our faith on well-documented and well-verified evidence, we have a solid and reliable basis for our faith, and can reasonably call it a warranted and justified faith. And conversely when we believe things for which there is no evidence, when we put our faith in things for which a substantial body of evidence should exist, and doesn’t, then that’s poor faith, unwarranted faith. It is, in fact, gullibility dressed up as faith.
It should be clear that, if the atheist and the Christian both have faith, it’s not the same kind of faith: the atheist’s evidence-based faith is well justified and warranted, whereas the Christian takes it as a point of spiritual pride that he “walks by faith, not by sight”–that is, he holds his faith in higher regard precisely because it is not supported by evidence. This is gullibility masquerading as faith. It’s not a sound inference based on repeated real-world verification, it’s a disdain for the principle of consistency with real-world truth, and pride in the spiritual “coup” one has accomplished by willfully putting his faith in the unrealistic and inconsistent things men say about God.
Atheists have denied for ages that they’ve got faith. Maybe it’s time they responded instead by educating the general public about the difference between evidence-based faith, and mere gullibility.