Everyone’s a skeptic (and the problem with atheist faith)

“Atheists have blind faith.” This non starter persists in the world of pseudo intellectual (and hypo intellectual) thought. Its position assumes it begins the race at the finish line and allows for no reasonable or rational discussion. “Atheists have faith, therefore any counterarguments are merely evidence of their blind faith.” This idea doesn’t make any sense, but furthermore, this statement completely belittles actual religious faith.

The reality is this: even religious people are skeptics.

Atheism and blind faith

I’m not going to get into how skepticism is the complete absence of faith. That should be self-evident. But let’s take the position of the devil’s advocate for a moment and — for the sake of this discussion — assume that atheists indeed have blind faith. What they have faith in is uncertain, but let’s assume it’s something. It might be science (that’s a trendy accusation amongst some believers). This has the unfortunate effect of undermining religious faith because it places them both on a plane of mediocracy.

Atheists are generally skeptical by nature (but by no means all of us). We look to science for guidance towards knowledge, but we are equally as skeptical about the findings of science as we are the findings of religion. We need to peruse the methodology and perhaps recreate experiments before we are satisfied that an experiment has provided us with an adequate correlation. Even then we are open to considering contradictory findings in the future.

If this is faith in science, then faith in god must resemble the same. But it doesn’t. We can stop playing devil’s advocate for a moment and consider how if this were faith, then atheists also have faith in their hairdressers because they have a demonstrated track record of providing decent hair cuts. Our assumption that they will continue to do so meets this religious threshold for faith. Religious people who make this claim belittle faith so much that they necessarily have faith in practically everything. What does faith even mean anymore? It means absolutely nothing if this is the way they wish to look at faith.

I’d assume “faith” is an important word to religious people. It encapsulates the very essence of religion. I’d also assume they’d like to keep this word sacrosanct. If this is true, I might advise against lobbing it at people who, by definition, have the complete opposite of faith. To use it so liberally makes “faith” lose all meaning.

Skepticism in practice is not always a good idea

In the real (read: non academic) world essentially all people are more pragmatic about issues of utter importance. Without doing this we might face severe consequences. I’d like to use the example of landing oneself in triage with an illness.

Imagine that you have a severe and mysterious disease. The symptoms are very telling: Without immediate medical treatment, you’ll probably die. (Pretend you’re a patient on House, M.D.). At this point in time, it’s not a good idea to put on your skeptic hat and start demanding evidence to support the doctor’s claims (his or her diagnosis). Instead you accept that this doctor has been sufficiently educated and knows what he or she is doing when they send you for surgery or inject you with medicine. You also accept that you might be wrong, or even worse, the doctor might be wrong and you’ll die. But it’s better to trust the doctor than to refuse treatment on the off chance that the treatment will kill you. It’s not faith; it’s pragmatism. In other words no one has faith in their doctors; we accept that they can probably treat us better than we can treat ourselves.

Religious people are skeptics too

But this uncertainty we feel during matters of life and death is called skepticism. Even if the odds are in our favor, that 1% uncertainty is enough to give us anxiety. Even religious people understand that going to the hospital with a medical emergency is no guarantee that they’ll survive. The major divide, however, between this kind of skepticism and religious skepticism is as follows: being pragmatic about medical issues — even in the face of our skepticism — is necessary to mitigate the threat to our existential security. Being skeptical about religious ideas in no way diminishes our existential security.

In non-life threatening areas everyone — including religious people — employs skepticism when watching the pundits on television. We use it in the jury box. We use it when a friend brings a smelly dish to work, claiming it tastes like heaven and offers us a sample. We use it when shopping for a used car or even a new car. Religious people reading this might be skeptical about their skepticism.

Furthermore — and I don’t really have to state this — religious people are probably skeptical about other religions.

So what?

While this argument may on the outside resemble the same fallacious argument made above about atheists having faith, I would counter that it’s quite the opposite. Skepticism is a tool, not a belief. We use this tool in many places, and we attempt to leave it aside when our lives are at stake. We use it when a new movie comes out to rave reviews or when a trendy new restaurant opens downtown. We use it to help verify whether or not the movie is any good or if the food is as good as they say it is. Everyone does this, not just atheists. Atheists and agnostics, however, use this tool in a more universal sense. We don’t accept religious claims just because a religious person makes them. That’s where faith comes in, something we lack. To bring this all together: Skepticism is the foundational tool that leads us to the most powerful tool we have — the scientific method, a tool enjoyed by many an atheist and believer alike.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
This entry was posted in Atheism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Everyone’s a skeptic (and the problem with atheist faith)

  1. Pingback: Everyone's a skeptic (and the problem with atheist faith) | Christians Anonymous

  2. charles says:

    I really like this post. “Skepticism is a tool, not a belief.” You did a great job explaining how we all use this excellent tool, and when it isn’t the right tool.

    The Christian view seems to be that we do have a disease – sin. And God can cure us. The problem is that the doctor is invisible. All we have are hospitals on every corner with people claiming that there really is a doctor, but every time anyone really takes the claim seriously, they can’t find him. Giving up and admitting there is no doctor is not an act of faith. It is coming to terms with reality.

  3. Words mean things in spite of the continuous effort by atheists to the contrary.

    Faith means the belief in that which cannot be proven.

    Can atheism be proven?

    No it can’t.

    Therefore atheism is a 100% faith-based belief.

    On the other hand, the existence of God is self-evident and can be proven and has been proven by science.

    So not only is atheism a 100% faith-based belief but it is also a belief that requires the rejection of science and reason.

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