atheism a faith position? – the “mystery” move
One of the thoughts lying behind the often-made claim that “atheism is a faith position” is that there is a great mystery about life, the universe and everything.
Why, for example, is there something, rather than nothing?
Personally, I haven’t a clue (we’ll maybe I have – but let’s put that off to another day).
Noting this mystery, the theist/agnostic may then argue like this:
Either (i) the atheist refuses to recognize this question. But this is just a “faith in science” position – it just assumes the only legitimate questions are questions science can settle. Bang – the scientific atheist’s position is a “faith position” too!
Or (ii) the atheist admits they haven’t a clue how to answer the question. But once the atheist admits they are in the dark how to answer it, they must admit there’s no more reason to suppose God didn’t create the universe than there is to suppose He did.
So you see? Theism and atheism are equally (un)reasonable!
This is a popular, but bad argument. Atheists often admit that they have no idea why the universe exists. They can admit there are questions it may be impossible for science to answer, and that this may be one of them (Dawkins does, in fact).
But actually, to admit there’s a mystery about why the universe exists is not to concede theism is just as sensible as atheism. To see why, consider an analogy.
Sherlock Holmes is having a bad day. There’s been a terrible murder. There are hundreds of suspects. And he just can’t figure out who dunnit.
However, while Holmes can’t say who the culprit is, he is quite sure that certain people are innocent. The butler, in particular, has a cast-iron alibi. So Holmes is rightly confident the butler didn’t do it, despite the fact that he doesn’t know who did.
In the same way, an atheist can admit that there is a mystery about why the universe exists, and that they are utterly baffled by it, while nevertheless insisting that there’s overwhelming evidence that, whoever or whatever created it (if anything) it certainly wasn’t the all-powerful, all-good God of Christian theology.
They can be as sure of that as they can be that it is not the creation of an all-powerful, all-evil God. For there is, in both cases, little evidence for and overwhelming evidence against (too much suffering, in the case of the good God; too much good in the case of the evil God) (see my God of Eth, for more on the evil God hypothesis).
Don’t make the mistake of supposing that, because there’s a deep mystery about why there is anything at all, that puts theism and atheism on an equally rational/irrational footing. It doesn’t.
[P.S. Of course theists and agnostics can always try to deal with the evidence against and absence of evidence for an all-powerful all-good God by saying, well, that’s not quite what I mean by “God”. See e.g. Mark Vernon’s response to this blog here.
I suggest that any God worthy of worship is indeed pretty decisively ruled out on the available evidence (BTW Mark, don’t make the mistake of thinking I’ll only accept empirical evidence (which you imply in your blog) – I will happily consider any evidence/argument you have to offer]
[P.P.S Of course I have not actually given a very sophisticated argument for atheism as yet. I admit that. I am merely pointing out the shortcomings of a certain sort of popular argument for atheism being a “faith position”. There are more sophisticated arguments, of course.)