Atheism is based on faith
Apologists often claim that atheism is based on faith — that is, not believing in a god requires just as much faith, if not more, than belief. Norman Geisler expressed this argument in the title of his book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.
- "To be a [sic] Atheist one would have to be omniscient, knowing all things, having a perfect knowledge of the universe, to say they absolutely know God does not exist. For one to do this they would have to personally inspected all places in the present known universe and in all time, having explored everywhere seen and unseen. "
- "Atheism is a faith in that which has not been proved."
- The definition of "Atheist" in the argument above is an overly broad straw man: an atheist is one who either lacks positive belief in a god or who believes that no gods exist, not one who claims to know absolutely that no gods exist (see Atheist vs. agnostic).
- While a person would need perfect knowledge of the universe to be absolutely certain that no gods exist, such knowledge is not required for disbelief. And, in fact, individual theists disbelieve all kinds of claims (that various mythical beings exist, or that Earth is being regularly visited by aliens from space) without having complete knowledge even of the relevant subject areas.
- The use of the word "faith" is often an attempt to mislead based on the equivocation fallacy. As the article on faith discusses, the two primary meanings of the word are: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. One may reasonably claim that certain forms of atheism are based on "faith" using the first definition. However, the way this claim is often made implies that the second definition is being used, which is usually incorrect.
- Disbelief based on lack of evidence does not require faith. In fact, disbelief does not require evidence of any kind. Someone who has never heard of the concept of "gods" would not believe in them. Under the broader definition of atheism, they would be an atheist and yet not have faith that no gods exist. Similarly, someone who has been given evidence and simply finds it lacking (the classic narrower definition of atheist) would also not be relying on faith for his or her lack of belief.
- It is quite possible to obtain evidence discouraging belief in the existence of specific gods (i.e., "evidence-based atheism"). For example, if the god is defined sufficiently well, one may examine the definition for logical contradications. If the god is not logically consistent, then disbelief is justified. If a god is invoked to explain a certain phenomenon, then that explanation can be compared to the best scientific explanation of the same phenomenon. If science leads to a better explanation or a deeper understanding of the mechanisms involved, then why is belief in the god necessary?
- The argument equates non-belief in a proposition due to a complete lack of evidence and good reasons to suppose otherwise to the psychological leap of faith needed to believe such a proposition.
- Theists tend to treat belief in their particular god as the default position, and they will often back this up with some variation of the argument from design. But since theists make a positive claim of their god's existence, they have the burden of proof. In fact, their claim is quite extraordinary (e.g., a being that can create whole universes), so their burden of proof is all the greater for that.
- There is often an unspoken premise in this kind of argument that being an atheist is dangerous and therefore should not be entered into lightly. This is a classic appeal to emotion. (Not to mention the ironic implication that faith is not a good reason to disbelieve something; if that's true, then why should faith be a good reason to believe something?)
- Theists commonly consider faith to be a virtue. It seems odd, then, that they would criticize atheism for being based on faith. Moreover, the argument implies that the more faith a proposition needs, the less one should accept it as true, a position that many counter-apologists would welcome.
- Tu quoque! This argument attempts to defend faith-based religious claims by insisting that the atheist position falls into the same category. It also often serves as a non sequitur, and tends to derail the discussion about the merits of positive god claims.
- Theists often backslide and have trouble maintaining faith in their god. Atheists occasionally convert to theism, but do not tend to slip into various god-beliefs due to the "strain" required to maintain no belief in any gods. If atheism were an identity based on faith, one might expect atheists to share the same difficulties the religious have in maintaining their faith.