In our discussions we often hear the cry, “The skeptic has as much faith as the Christian.” Or “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” Or “You have faith in science.” These are conflations of the word “faith.”
First of all, on a personal note, this seems a bit like the theist is thinking faith is a bad thing. As if they have been besmirched by the implication of having faith, and must equally tarnish the other person. Have we reverted back to our childhood playgrounds?
“You have elephant ears!”
“Oh, yeah? You have an elephant nose!”
“You believe by faith!”
“Oh yeah? Well, you believe by faith, too!”
The only thing missing is the “Nyah, Nyah, Nyah.”
More importantly, however—why would the Christian so lightly give away this precious commodity? Why would they flippantly treat faith as something one could easily obtain at the local store and the skeptic happened to drop some in their shopping bag?
Think of the strength within the Christian concept of Faith. It can heal. Matt. 8:10-12, 9:22. James 5:15. It forgives sins. Matt 9:2. It can move mountains. Matt. 17:20. It can throw the mountain into the sea. Matt. 21:21. It is the conduit for salvation. Eph. 2:8.
The famous faith chapter of Hebrews 11 lists such iconic Jewish heroes as Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Moses. David. Is this the company we keep when you declare we have the same “faith”? Do we, likewise, have the power to miraculously heal when you say we have “faith” in science?
When you say I have to have more faith to be an atheist, are you anticipating God will be saying, “Well done, you good and faithful servant”?
Of course not! What the Christian means by the term “faith” when referring to a skeptic is a determination based upon incomplete data. The Christian feels accused of making a determination about what their God is like, or what is inspired, or how God could be moral, or what God feels about this, or what God feels about that on incomplete data.
They have a series of books written in dead languages, and with mistakes introduced in copies. They have “gut feelings.” They have philosophistry and apologetics. Yet, in the end, the data is incomplete, and they must make a leap of determination. It is this “faith” the Christian is comparing to skeptics.
In the same way, our data is incomplete regarding natural abiogenesis. The same way the Christian has no data the Jewish leaders would have confronted the disciples about the resurrection of Jesus, we have no data as to the exact chemical nature of the earth at the time of abiogenesis occurred. We each must engage in some form of speculation.
It is here the concept of “faith” is being utilized.
Yet, if you think about it, we don’t have complete data on anything. We all must engage in some determination of conclusion without complete data. I presume the next minute will be much like this one. True, despite the fact there is not a cloud in the sky, it is possible an instantaneous typhoon will come about in the next 30 seconds, completely covering the sun.
Even though it is 77 degrees and August in Michigan, the temperature may suddenly drop, and it will be snowing by 3 p.m. this afternoon. All I can do is rely upon my past experience, my observation, information obtained from observing what others report, and come to the conclusion it will not be typhooning in the next minute. It will not be snowing this afternoon.
Obviously, there is a range of how much we can observe and then speculate. While I can be pretty accurate regarding the weather in the next minute, it is harder for the next week. Or next month. Or a year from now.
Simply using the term “faith” to mean a conclusion on incomplete data is not the same “faith” from one thing to another. It is very little “faith” to believe (due to the amount of data) the next minute of weather will be very similar to this minute. It takes a great deal more to believe we secretly landed on the moon in 1842, and have been keeping the knowledge of trans-warp engines from the ordinary people…
It is insufficient to claim the “faith” to believe one thing is the same “faith” to believe another—the observable data is different in each situation. Part of the confusion of this discussion is to treat “faith” as being all parts equal. It is not.
When I am told, “You have as much faith as I do” the first question that should be asked is “faith in…what?” How much data has been utilized to come to the conclusion? How much is available? And the most important question of all—if more data comes to light, are you willing to change your conclusion in order to explain the data?
One of the most frustrating aspects of this discussion, is having it with someone who does not have all the data, yet will stick with their conclusion regardless of even the possibility there is new data out there. Look, I don’t expect you know Greek. I don’t expect you to know every possible argument, every available text, and all the data we have at this point in time. But if you don’t have it, will you recognize that the “faith” you have may be different than the “faith” others have who do have more data, and reached different conclusions?