Is Atheism based on Faith?

One of the most heard arguments that theists use against atheists is that atheism is based on Faith just as much as theism is. Or sometimes they try to show that atheists have faith in many things and that therefore faith cannot be considered as something bad. Since atheists have faith, what's so bad about the theist having faith in his god? But do atheists base their lives upon Faith? Is Atheism just another Faith?

In order to be able to answer this questions I will have to define two distinct notions, 'Faith' and 'Belief'. My definitions may differ from the common usages of these words, which are many, but I need to define them so that they have one and only one meaning.

Is Reason, upon which all good conclusions must be based, compatible with either of these notions? Can a belief be reasonable? Can Faith be reasonable? To give an answer to these questions we must first look to the two kinds of statements that exist.

These are Analytic Statements and Synthetic Statements.

Analytic statements are those which can be said to be true or false by reason alone. For example: "A triangle has four sides", is an analytical statement, and it is false because it is against the definition of a triangle. Also analytic is "There is an infinite number of prime numbers". This is true, although it is a lot harder to prove. However, reason alone can do it. No additional sensory information is needed.

There cannot be any discussion about the truth-value of a analytic statement. Either it is true, it is false or one cannot prove either of those possibilities. One cannot differ in opinion when looking at a analytic statement.

Synthetic statements are those that are not analytic. Synthetic statements cannot be answered by reason alone, in addition one needs evidence given by the senses. "An apple always falls to the ground" is synthetic; I can try to prove this by empirical evidence, but I can find no mathematical proof of it. It is impossible to prove any synthetic statement with 100% evidence. Therefore, in the case of synthetic statements, we can do two things: believe them, disbelieve them or suspend judgement.

How are we to decide what to do? Well, we look at the evidence for and against the statement. If the evidence for it outweighs that against it we decide to believe it, if the evidence against outweighs that for it we decide to disbelieve it, and if these evidences hang in the balance we suspend our judgement. In the latter case we may try to get more evidence so we can make a true decision.

Obviously, in the case of synthetic statements, one can differ in opinion. The importance of pieces of evidence cannot be objectively measured. Still, two people looking at a synthetic statement through the 'Eyes of Reason' will most often agree, and when they disagree they will admit that the evidence is not really convincing.

Note that reason does not dictate that we disbelieve everything that doesn't have 100% proof, for by disbelieving a statement A, you believe the contradictory of A (made by saying: "It is false that A"). A person therefore always believes exactly as many things as he disbelieves.

We have seen that if we want to determine the truth-value of synthetic statements we can never get 100% proof. There always remains some doubt, which is why we can never say that we have found the complete and ultimate truth. 'Belief' is thus an essential part of any discussion of a synthetic statement, and Reason dictates that we use Belief. However, 'Belief' can also be abused, and in that case we speak about 'Faith'.

Faith is believing a statement that has more evidence against it than for it. Since we established in the above that when using Reason, evidence should be weighed, and the statement with more evidence should be believed, it is clear that Faith is against Reason. If Reason tells us to believe A, it is called 'Faith' to believe 'It is false that A', and vice versa.

A belief based on Faith is not necessarily false; since we can never know for certain if a synthetic statement is true or false we can never know for sure if a faith is false. But, whether it is false or right, the fact remains that the one who holds the belief based on Faith has no good reason for holding this belief. The fact that he might be right does not justify his ignoring of Reason. His belief is a mere assumption, and cannot be used as a way to describe reality. As Abraham Lincoln put it:

Now that we have seen that it is reasonable to use Belief, but unreasonable to use Faith, as defined by me, we go on to find if our daily lives, Atheism or Theism are based on Faith.

The arguments used to tell us that we have faith in our daily lives often run along the lines of: "You have Faith that the building you are in will not collapse." or "You have Faith that there will be a new day tomorrow." A single glance at those arguments shows us that they do not describe Faith but reasonable beliefs, and that the isomorphism with a statement like "I have Faith that Jehovah exists" is only apparent and not real. We are talking about two distinct and different meanings of the word 'faith', and this argument crumbles into nothingness. The belief that a building will not collapse is incomparable to the faith that a god exists.

And Atheism and Theism? It goes too far here to tell why I think that Reason dictates us to believe "There is no god", but the least we can see is that either Atheism or Theism is based on Faith. They cannot both be based on it, for only one of two contradictory statements can have the majority of evidence against it. Thus, if someone says that Theism is based on Faith, he must also say that Atheism is not based on Faith; or in at least on of the two cases he (probably unconsciously) uses a disguised 'Belief'. A theist claiming that Atheism is based on Faith and is therefore not more reasonable that Theism, which is supposedly also based on Faith, is using Faith in a wrong way; he is not making a legitimate argument. If he wants to state that Atheism is based on Faith, rather than on Belief, he must make his case why Atheism has the majority of evidence against it, and Theism the majority of evidence for it. Otherwise his statement is unjustifiable. His argument means nothing.

Thus we can conclude that we do not use Faith in our daily lives, at least not necessarily, and that one who says that Atheism is based on Faith in order to show that Atheism is not a reasonable position, is in fact only rephrasing what he wants to prove. He has not shown anything, and must still make his case.

Victor Gijsbers