In the couple of years since I have left the Christian faith, more than one Christian has told me, “Your atheism is based on faith just as much as Christianity is.”
What my religious friends mean is that I have no more evidence for atheism than they have for Christianity. Therefore, I must be using faith to make up the difference between “I think so” and “I know so”.
It’s true that faith is a way to bridge the gap between hope and certainty. In Hebrews 11:1, The Bible defines faith:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
In other words, someone who has faith is sure of something without having all the evidence that a more skeptical person would require. He has “assurance about what we do not see.” To the faithful, this is a good thing; an atheist thinks it is unwise.
We all know the story of the disciple, Thomas. He was told that Jesus had risen from the dead, but he wouldn’t believe it on someone’s say-so. He had to see for himself. Once he did see, he believed, but that was second-best. At the climax of the story, Jesus tells him,
Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Christians admire faith and have made “doubting Thomas” an epithet. Atheists say Thomas’ demand for evidence was not only reasonable, but prudent.
“Whatever,” you may say. “But isn’t it still a faith-based position to say that God does not exist? After all, we’re talking about atheists, not agnostics. Atheists can’t prove there is no God, can they?”
Here in America, these conversations take place in a cultural context where God means the God of the Bible: Jehovah. Christians and atheists cheerfully agree that other gods (the Norse gods, the Greek gods, the Muslim god, etc.) do not exist. The issue is Jehovah.
So what about Jehovah? Can atheists prove he does not exist?
Some think they can, but I’d like to look at the issue from a different angle in this post. Thinking people, whether atheist or Christian, ponder the same set of questions about God. Why does God allow so many innocent people to suffer? Why don’t I see heavenly power in my own life or the life of my friends? Why didn’t God grant my prayer? And so on.
Christians are able to maintain faith in spite of those questions. In the face of suffering, they have faith that it’s all part of God’s plan. In the seeming absence of divine power to overcome besetting sins, they have faith that it’s only their lack of faith that is holding them back.When their prayers are not granted, they have faith that God has something better in mind, or is refining them through trials.
Atheists don’t have that faith. Their honest assessment is that the evidence points away from the God of the Bible, so they conclude that he does not exist. In many cases, they would like to have faith, but they just can’t.
Atheism is not a faith; it’s a lack of faith. It really is as simple as that.