Faith is commonly defined by nonbelievers as belief without evidence. In the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007). According to some atheists, the lack of evidence in favour of the existence of gods indicates a belief in such an entity is irrational. This argument is representative of evidentialism: the idea that conclusions are only rational (or justified) if supported by evidence. Understood, it is a theory that applies to all doxastic attitudes including belief, disbelief and suspension of judgment. With this point in mind, the question arises: if belief in gods can be deemed irrational on the ground of evidentialism, can atheism also be dismissed if it is not based on evidence? A number of atheists who reject theism on the basis of evidentialism argue their atheism does not need to be supported by evidence. Although they offer arguments in support of this position, the reasons provided ultimately fail to justify this double standard.
Across many subjects of debate, a popular counter-argument used to rebut the argument made by ones opponent is to point out that it contradicts some aspect of their personal identity. In other words, they find a contradiction between the way in which they characterize themselves and the proposition claimed by the arguer. For this reason, they counter that the proposition claimed by the arguer is untrue. (more…)
Atheism can be generally understood as the negation or denial of theism. There is therefore no necessity for the atheist to believe no gods exist—only to have reasons for denying their existence. Agnosticism on the other hand, neither asserts or denies the existence of divine beings. More precisely, it can be described as indecision or the suspension of judgment concerning the existence of gods. How then can agnostic atheism be understood?
Scottish philosopher Robert Flint (1838–1910) provides one of the earliest references to the increasingly popular concept in his 1887–1888 Croall Lecture on Agnosticism. Flint, though he dismisses the idea agnosticism is inherently atheistic, acknowledges it may be and often is combined with atheism. An agnostic, believing proof of gods existence to be an impossibility, is consequently also an atheist who does not believe in any gods. Flint draws the following distinction between dogmatic, critical and agnostic atheism:
Faith is most often portrayed by mainstream atheism to be an actively held belief when knowing its truth is uncertain. For example, prominent New Atheist thinker Richard Dawkins defines faith as “belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”1, while fellow Atheist Sam Harris defines faith similarly as “the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail […]”2. According to mainstream Atheists, when one professes their faith in a god or religion they are making two acknowledgements: firstly, that there is insufficient evidence to justify belief in the theological propositions they hold (that is, propositions that relate to the subject of theology e.g. that a god exists, that he offers enlightenment or salvation, etc.). Secondly, despite this uncertainty have continued to believe them to be true. Thus, it is concluded that faith is inherently irrational, as belief in propositions can only be rationally justified if there is sufficient evidence to support its truth. While it can be recognized that some religious adherents might describe their faith in such a fashion, it would be disingenuous to assert that all those who subscribe to some form of faith do so while holding that there is insufficient evidential justification for their beliefs. Nonbelievers who subscribe to such an outlook on faith also should consider whether such stipulations can be met on their part when taking into account other beliefs they typically hold to be true – namely the presumption of atheism and empiricism. (more…)