Every time I turn around I see someone on twitter bandying about with some theist genius who insists that atheists “believe” or have “faith” in something, usually science. It’s bad enough when fundies do it, it makes me really crazy when fellow nones do it. After a discussion recently and a response on someone’s blog that never got published, I feel it’s time to get off dead center and write about it here. I feel it is a really important discussion for atheists to have. Here are some re-posted excerpts from my convo with @DigianOne and blog response.
My first reply:- @/DigianOne I’m not sure why you have this obsession with #atheist s using the words “faith” and “belief”. That’s typically a theist projection. When you (atheists) use those words it sets up a false equivalency between “having a view” or “accepting something as truth” and “belief”. The difference is how we arrive at our conclusions, our worldview. To believe something is to accept something as truth *without proof*. (No intellectual standard other than personal gullibility) Holding views as an atheist/agnostic should be a result of evaluating available knowledge and information, and testing for reliability, and passing rigorous peer review. This is the cornerstone of making rational decisions about claims of the supernatural and is a much higher and truthful intellectual standard. Atheists using belief doesn’t reduce hypocricy, it pollutes the conversation, and is dishonest at its core.
(Argh. Some of it is out of sequence, you get the general drift, hopefully)
Then the blog response:
Things we (possibly) agree on: This is an important topic for discussion for the atheist community. Words mean different things to different people. Whatever the motivation, world views should be continually tested in the marketplace of ideas. Theists and atheists should be able to peacefully live together and practice their beliefs/non beliefs in a society that provides both the environment to do so freely without one exercising control over the other. Where we diverge: The ideas; accomodationism, bridge building, why can’t we all get along by using believe or faith in our daily lexicon, and non overlapping magisteria (NOMA) are flawed approaches to the issue of coexistence between the atheist and christian community. As I mentioned in my tweets, and here, I’ll explain why. Science and faith both make claims about realities in the universe. The methods they use to prove these claims are in direct and permanent opposition to each other. In science, explanations *must* be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation inevitably must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, doesn’t depend on empirical evidence, is never modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and usually involves supernatural forces or entities. Attempts to meld science and religion or to use one to justify the other creates conflict and unnecessary confusion. In fact, cognitive dissonance plays a huge factor in how many “believers” who would reject an established scientific fact in favor of some aspect of their faith. Dostoevsky embodied this in his quote, “If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not the truth.” Many people have a deep emotional need to feel relevance and purpose to life beyond the explanations that naturalism brings to the table. Fear and insecurity provide the motivation and religion is the means by which faith is implemented. It *always* results in magical thinking, and has no basis in explainable reality. (It is further exploited by the unscrupulous to exert control over the diaspora, but that’s another conversation.) To reiterate, one does not build a bridge from science to religion by polluting the dialog with terms that are intended to confuse and blur important distinctions rather than illustrating the clear differences.