I am recently testing an assertion that I have concluded namely that atheism is a faith based position just like theism is a faith based position.

The reason I arrived at this conclusion is that theists have no proof that God actually exists. It's purely a matter of faith. Yes, there maybe strong implicit proof that God exists in their opinion (scriptures, history, etc) but there is no concrete proof of God's existence. In my view, atheists also suffer from the same problem of providing a proof of their position. Specifically that they cannot prove that God is non-existent.

The typical rebuttal I get is that the burden of proof is on the theists. But I view this as a cop out and they hide behind the wall of burden of proof which is just a bias in the debate.

Given the above, I claim that both atheism and theism are positions based on faith. Would it be incorrect to claim that?

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    Replace 'God' with 'Teapot in orbit around earth'. On who is the burden of proof now?
    – Scrontch
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 16:50
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    @Scrontch Russell's Teapot is known to be a bad analogy. There is no reason to believe that a teapot orbits Earth: there is no historical claim that there ever was such a teapot. And that is only 1 problem with the analogy. It does not work.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:11
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    @Aaron Why do either of those objections not apply to theism? We have no reason based on evidence or reasoning to think any god exists; that's the definition of "belief", after all. And the age of a claim has no relevance to its truth, otherwise the truth would be that the Earth is a hemisphere resting on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle, since Hinduism as a religion predates other major world religions.
    – Graham
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:33
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    @Aaron Not at all far from the truth. No-one has found reproducible evidence of the existence of a god, and that's simple fact, otherwise there would be no "faith". As for the reasoning side, there are many which attempt that. Most start with the a priori assumption and argue backwards. Some (CS Lewis, for example) are even brave enough to start from nothing and argue forwards. But none do it without a self-referential step which basically says either "this god exists because I believe it does" or "this god exists because I believe its non-existence to be unacceptable to me".
    – Graham
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:49
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    You could easily go for a variant on Russell's Teapot that asserts the existence of aliens outside the visible universe (from Earth's perspective) who communicate with Earth by directly altering the sight/hearing of specific individuals to allow conversation, but stopped doing so 2000 years ago. Sure, it could be entirely true, and we just don't have the physics to understand how it could happen. But the default position (which all of you presumably held before you read this) is a lack of belief; it's impossible to prove it happened, so you won't believe it unless strong evidence arises. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 19:55

27 Answers 27


We must draw a distinction between atheism and agnosticism. Atheism is not believing in the existence of a God (or Gods), regardless of whether conclusive evidence is available, while agnosticism is the view that conclusive evidence for whether a God or Gods exists cannot exist1. There can be an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an agnostic theist, or a gnostic theist.

You seem to be claiming that because we cannot have conclusive proof that God does not exist, therefore atheists are operating out of a purely faith-based position. Here's the thing: most atheists are agnostic. They accept that we can never know for sure that God does not exist, but they think it is more likely for the default state (no God) to be true in the light of insufficient evidence by theists2. There is nothing wrong with this.

For more about the distinction between atheism and agnosticism, see The Difference Between Atheists and Agnostics by ThoughtCo and the entry on Atheism and Agnsoticism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

1This is a common definition, but it is not the only one. For example, one can define a gnostic as someone who is certain that they know a God does or does not exist, but not 100% certain. (See the comments by Konrad Rudolph for a discussion on this matter.)

2While agnostic atheists do not have beliefs based on blind faith, it is also true that the majority of gnostic atheists do not have beliefs based on blind faith either. (This is not true for all gnostic atheists, however.) This is because gnostic atheists might have logical arguments which completely, in their view, debunk the very concept of a God (or Gods). An example might be someone who thinks that the concept of omnipotence is self-contradictory.

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    @CramerTV why would we remove BOTH because one of them is wrong? That's like removing the consideration that the earth could be spherical because the earth cannot be both spherical and flat at the same time.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 22:18
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    "most atheists are agnostic" - this is probably true. However, most atheists who spend a lot of time arguing on Internet forums are gnostic, and just as impervious to logic as the most fanatical religious fundamentalists. This small but very loud faction might create the image what was assumed by the OP.
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 7:16
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    It’s quite annoying that this false-dichotomy answer with its straw man definition has succeeded in luring so many people in. In reality most gnostics aren’t 100% certain — definitely not on the atheism side, but neither on the theism side. Richard Dawkins, pretty much the archetype of the annoying, gnostic atheist nowadays, repeatedly asserts that he isn’t 100% certain. — And consequently, a gnostic atheist isn’t at all a position based in blind faith, contrary to what this answer implies. Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 10:42
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    @YiFan Virtually nobody, himself included, would describe Dawkins as an agnostic. He’s a gnostic atheist through and through. You’re right that we’re using different definitions. But I’m saying that your definitions are a straw man (a) that nobody really uses, and (b) which therefore aren’t useful. Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 11:09
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    @YiFan A gnostic is somebody who is convinced. But convinced doesn’t imply in any way a 100% certainty. I’m convinced I didn’t leave my oven on when I left the house. I’m certain enough not to go back, even though the oven, if left on, would destroy all my possessions. But am I 100% sure? Of course not! More than 99% though. Either way, there’s doubt left, and enough evidence could convince me of the contrary. Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 11:16

No, atheism is not a faith based position. This has been debunked time and time again and there are numerous resources on the internet that cover this error in logic. If theism claims the existance of a god, an atheist is one who is not convinced of that claim and rejects it.

An atheist has no responsibility to disprove the claim that god does exist because the atheist is not asserting anything. The burden of proof is on the person trying to convince another with their claim. Claims require support and the theist made the claim so the theist must support it. Not having faith in something, is not faith. Much like not having a hobby is not a hobby, and not exercising is not a form of exercise.

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    If resources are that abundant, your answer could be greatly improved by including some.
    – Michael W.
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 16:08
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    "If an atheist claims the existence of no god, a theist is one who is not convinced of that claim and rejects it." - that sword cuts both ways.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 16:24
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    @WernerCD see the first answer. Most atheists do not claim the existence of no god, they simply reject the positive claim that theists make. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 16:29
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    @WernerCD "If an ateapotist claims the non-existence of Russell's teapot, a teapotist is one who is not convinced." The burden of proof now lies on you to disprove the teapot? Using this as a reversible statement requires you to take an agnostic stance on any non-verifiable claim I can imagine: geese control the weather from their weather control station inside the Sun, the fabric of space-time looks plaid when viewed from the outside, my mother is the reincarnation of the time traveler Steve Irwin. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 18:01
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    @TemporalWolf Its a difference between making an affirmative statement and saying the other side has not provided sufficient evidence. If an athiest says "There is no god" that is an affirmative statement and as the one making the claim the burden of proof is on them. If an athiest makes the much weaker statement that "Theists have failed to provide adequate evidence for God" then the burden is plainly on the theists. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 18:58

The only requirement of meeting the definition of "atheist" is that you do not have belief in any god(s). Computers, rocks, and newborn babies are all, by definition, atheists; because they do not believe in any god(s), notwithstanding that they do not understand what is meant by "god", nor that they have never even thought about the question, nor that they do not even have the cognitive capacity to consider the question.

No faith is required to not subscribe to a faith-based belief, because having faith is not a default attribute of anything, human or otherwise. It is simply not part of the definition of being an atheist that you must have some kind of belief one way or the other on whether there is one or more god(s).

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    I think this is just a redefinition of the word atheist. I think there might be a difference between someone who thinks there is no god, versus someone/something who/that hasn't considered the matter.
    – Cullub
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:22
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    The word you're looking for is 'Agnostic'. An Agnostic isn't sure whether there's a god or not. An atheist is one that's sure there isn't one.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:41
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    @Kevin this argument always suffers the vague definitions. Atheism also includes agnosticism quite often, though the claim is only working for strong atheism.. Also, the position is ill-defined overall, because deities in general are ill-defined. So, there cannot be a proper theist stance, either.
    – Chieron
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 21:37
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    @Chronocidal apart from you're wrong. A moment of searching and you'll find "ἄθεος" (note your incorrect spelling) means "without god" not "against gods". It used to be used to donate christians as they had rejected the greek/roman gods; and it was an executable offence. As for the redefining of the label, I think the church has the strongest motivation to change the label because they can use it to convince people that atheists must have faith that there is no god... and as such use it to build a strawman.
    – UKMonkey
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 13:47
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    @Chronocidal It's a red herring anyway. You're assuming that atheists decided to call themselves atheists because they understand the word as "one who actively denies the gods". That assumption need evidence. The definition of "atheism" you like to use has no bearing on the matter whatsoever if you don't provide the connection between the meaning and the people using the definition. At best, you're laughing like "Ha, you keep using that word, but you don't really know what it means!" Changing definitions cause confusion; but what you're doing is outright misdirection.
    – Luaan
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:08

Both positions, the theist and the atheist made a claim: The theist claimed the existence of god, the atheist claimed the non-existence of god. History shows: Neither of them could prove his claim.

Having learned the lesson, today’s atheists make a weaker claim: The traditional god-concept - god being omnipotent, omniscient, all-good - is inconsistent. The concept leads to the problem of theodicy.

Hence atheists consider the existence of god a hypothesis. They claim that this hypothesis creates more problems than solves existing problems. Therefore atheists dismiss this hypothesis. They know: A world-model without a god-concept is less complicated but leaves open fundamental questions due to lack of reliable answers.

IMO that’s not faith but heuristics.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 8:15
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    Well, coming from a largely atheist country, I'd say it's even simpler - when a theist comes to an atheist and asks him if he believes in a god, he'll hear "Not really, why would I?". Any claims that atheists make are always in response to theists; without theists, there's no claims. Few people claim that the flying spaghetti monster doesn't exist, because the default is still "unless there's a good reason to believe the flying spaghetti monster exists, why even bother with the cognitive load?". We automatically disbelieve all possible concepts - it's belief that takes "effort".
    – Luaan
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:12
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    "the atheist claimed the non-existence of god" what utter nonsense! Why is this "answer" so highly upvoted?
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:28
  • @Luaan: "Not really, why would I?" is not what I expect from an athiest and I would grant that that position is not faith based. The kind of athiest that is faith based would be more like "No way man".
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 20:16
  • +! But this says nothing about whether God exists. It merely places limits on how He is to be defined.
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 13:32

Alvin Plantinga, a Christian philosopher, presents a similar question regarding an extreme form of atheism that he calls "naturalism". Rather than asking whether the atheism of naturalism is faith-based, he asks whether naturalism might be a "religion" (page 311):

Now it is not clear that naturalism, as it stands, is a religion; there is enough vagueness around the edges of the concept of religion for it to be unclear whether naturalism does or doesn't belong there. But naturalism does serve one of the main functions of a religion: it offers a master narrative, it answers deep and important human questions. Immanuel Kant identified three great human questions: Is there such a person as God? Do we human beings have significant freedom? And can we human beings expect life after death? Naturalism gives answers to these questions: there is no God, there is no immortality, and the case for genuine freedom is at best dicey. Naturalism tells us what reality is ultimately like, where we fit into the universe, how we are related to other creatures, and how it happens that we came to be. Naturalism is therefore in competition with the great theistic religions: even if it is not itself a religion, it plays one of the main roles of a religion.

If being faith-based means to believe in a master narrative that answers Kant's questions, that atheism might be considered, using Plantinga's argument, a quasi-faith-based or a quasi-religion. However, not all atheists need be labeled as believing in naturalism or any other master narrative.

There also may be good reasons not to link atheism in general, or even the atheism of naturalism, too closely with religion. In Where the Conflict Really Lies Plantinga wants to show that traditional theistic religions have at most a superficial conflict with science while naturalism has a deep conflict with science through his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. He would likely want naturalism to stand apart from traditional religions when making such a critique of it and not consider it as a religion.

Here is the question:

Given the above, I claim that both atheism and theism are positions based on faith. Would it be incorrect to claim that?

If the atheism being considered presents a master narrative in competition with theistic religions it could be considered a quasi-religion because of that narrative. Not all atheists have such a narrative nor believe in naturalism. Some atheists may be simply indifferent to such narratives.

Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism. OUP USA.

  • Naturalism seems to do more than just provide different answers to the three questions; it disputes that the theistic line of inquiry into the issues is capable of finding the truth of the matter - so it could, in some sense, ultimately rest on some sort of faith without being theistic. With regard to the EAAN, Jerry Fodor appears to have a particularly straightforward response.
    – sdenham
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 5:34

Defining Atheism

"Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning 'without god(s)'". (Wikipedia Contributors)

"Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as 'a belief that there is no God.' Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as 'there is no God' betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read 'there are no gods.'... The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods." (American Atheists) "This encompasses both those who believe that God does not exist and those who, while not necessarily disbelieving, do not possess a belief in God’s existence either." (Stephen Bullivant 2011)

"If you look up ‘atheism’ in [some dictionaries], you will find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly, many people understand ‘atheism’ in this way. Yet this is not what the term means if one considers it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek ‘a’ means ‘without’ or ‘not,’ and ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ From this standpoint, an atheist is someone without a belief in God; he or she need not be someone who believes that God does not exist." (Micheal Martin 1990)

"The broader, and more common, understanding of atheism among atheists is quite simply 'not believing in any gods.' No claims or denials are made - an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called 'weak' or 'implicit' atheism. Most good, complete dictionaries readily support this." (Austin Cline 2018)

Burden of Proof

"Claiming that atheists 'can not prove that God does not exist' often relies upon the misunderstanding that atheists claim 'God does not exist' and should prove this. In reality, atheists merely fail to accept the theists' claim 'God exists' and, hence, the initial burden of proof lies with the believer. If the believer is unable to provide good reason to accept the existence of their god, it is unreasonable to expect the atheist to construct a disproof of it - or even care much about the claim in the first place." (Austin Cline 2017)

There are gnostic and agnostic atheists. The Burden of proof would only lie on gnostic atheists specifically to prove that a god does not exist. This was addressed in a previous answer in this thread by the user YiFan. However, some atheists may hold a gnostic standpoint on the existence of some gods, for example, those who are characterized as omnipotent and omniscient because these characteristics would be logically paradoxical or contradictory in some way. See God paradoxes on wikipedia and Gods’ Contradictory Characteristics.

Is Atheism Based on Faith?

Atheism is not faith-based because it does not make claims to have faith in. For example, someone, such as a young infant, who has never heard of the notion of a god is an atheist that hasn’t placed faith in anything regarding the existence of a god or gods. Atheism is a default position.

Atheism and Naturalism

Atheism and Naturalism are independent of one another however many people who are atheistic are also naturalists. Methodological naturalism makes no claims about whether god(s) exist. Philosophical metaphysical naturalism on the other hand does make claims regarding the existence of god(s). A person can have faith (a great trust and/or confidence) in the methods and/or ideologies of naturalism.

In "God: The Failed Hypothesis—How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist," Victor J. Stenger offers this scientific argument against the existence of God:

  1. Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.
  2. Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.
  3. Look for such evidence with an open mind.
  4. If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.
  5. If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist.

This is basically how science would disprove the existence of any alleged entity. If God existed, there should be concrete evidence of His existence—not [blind] faith [in the religious sense], but tangible, measurable, consistent evidence that can be predicted and tested using the scientific method. If we fail to find that evidence, then God cannot exist as defined.

Of course, nothing in science is proven or disproven beyond a shadow of any possible doubt. In science, everything is provisional. Being provisional is not a weakness or a sign that a conclusion is weak. Being provisional is a smart, pragmatic tactic because we can never be sure what we'll come across when we round the next corner. This lack of absolute certainty is a window through which many religious theists try to slip their god, but that's not a valid move...

In order to prove impact on the universe, there must be measurable and testable events that could best or only be explained by whatever this "God" is we are hypothesizing. Believers must be able to present a model of the universe in which some god is "either required, productive, or useful."

This is obviously not the case. Many believers work hard trying to find a way to introduce their god into scientific explanations, but none have succeeded. No believer has been able to demonstrate, or even strongly suggest, that there are any events in the universe that require a supernatural being to explain.

Instead, these constantly failing attempts end up reinforcing the impression that there is no "there" there—nothing for "gods" to do, no role for them to play, and no reason to give them a second thought. So far, everyone who has tried to scientifically prove that God exists has failed. While it's technically true that this doesn't mean that no one ever will succeed, it is also true that in every other situation where such failures are so consistent, we don't acknowledge rational or even serious reasons to bother believing. (Austin Cline 2018)

Defining Theism

Theism is broadly defined as a belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities. The term theism derives from the Greek theos or theoi meaning "god". The term theism was first used by Ralph Cudworth (1617–1688). In Cudworth's definition, they are "strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things".(Wikipedia Contributors)

Is Theism Faith-Based?

-Faith as Belief Without Evidence

The first religious sense of faith is a type of belief, specifically belief without clear evidence or knowledge. Christians using the term to describe their beliefs should be using it in the same way as Paul: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." [Hebrews 11:1] This is the sort of faith Christians often rely upon when confronted with evidence or arguments that would disprove their religious beliefs.

This sort of faith is problematic because if a person really does believe something without evidence, even weak evidence, then they have formed a belief about the state of the world independent of information about the world. Beliefs are supposed to be mental representations about the way the world is but this means beliefs should be dependent upon what we learn about the world; beliefs shouldn't be independent of what we learn about the world.

If a person believes something is true in this sense of "faith," their belief has become separated from facts and reality. Just as evidence plays no role in producing the belief, evidence, reason, and logic can't disprove the belief. A belief that is not dependent on reality also can't be refuted by reality. Perhaps this is part of how it helps people endure the seemingly unendurable in the context of tragedy or suffering. It's also arguably why it's so easy for faith to become a motivation for committing unspeakable crimes.

-Faith as Confidence or Trust

The second religious sense of faith is the act of placing trust in someone. It may involve no more than having faith in the words and teachings of religious leaders or it may be faith that God will fulfill promises described in scripture. This sort of faith is arguably more important than the first, but it's one which both theists and atheists tend to ignore in favor of the first. This is a problem because so much of what believers say about faith only makes sense in the context of this sense. For one thing, faith is treated as a moral duty, but it's incoherent to treat any belief as a "moral duty." In contrast, having faith in a person who deserves it is a legitimate moral duty while denying faith to someone is an insult. Having faith in a person is a statement of confidence and trust while refusing to have faith is a statement of distrust. Faith is thus the most important Christian virtue not because believing that God exists is so important, but rather because trusting God is so important. It's not mere belief in the existence of God which takes a person to heaven, but trust in God (and Jesus).

Closely connected to this is the treatment of atheists as immoral merely for being atheists. It is taken for granted that atheists actually know that God exists because everyone knows this — the evidence is unambiguous and everyone is without excuse — so one has "faith" that God will be honorable, not that God exists. This is why atheists are so immoral: they are lying about what they believe and in the process are denying that God deserves our trust, allegiance, and loyalty. (Austin Cline 2017)

There are different ways you can attribute faith as illustrated in the above citation, but I think what matters in the context of this question is whether not a person can be without faith in the presence of their belief. Under the most lenient definition faith which is: a "great trust or confidence in something or someone" and the most lenient definition of belief which is: "a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing" our definition of theism would read: Theism is broadly defined as the state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in the existence of a Supreme Being or deities. Because faith can be defined as "great trust or confidence in something or someone" a theist can indeed be without faith. These theists would be considered agnostic theists. A theist with great trust or confidence that there is a god can also be agnostic so long as they don't believe to know with 100% certainty that a god exists.

Theism is not the same as a religious faith; theism is simply belief in some sort of god while religious faith is a religious belief system which incorporates or revolves around the belief in a god. For example, monotheism is a type of theism while Christianity is a religious faith based around monotheism. (Austin Cline 2017)

  • I thnk you'll find that atheism is not the default position. Human beings have an instinct or intuition that leads them to believe is an all powerful being of some sort, perhaps Wordsworth's 'spirit that rolls through all things', while atheism is highly unnatural and in earlier times quite unusual. .
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 13:34
  • @PeterJ I think it's more likely to be the case that Human beings along with other animals are likely to be superstitious due to a perceived benefit that may be received from engaging in certain behaviors as experimentally shown in what's called a Skinner Box. Many people perceive religion to benefit them in some way such as giving people a sense of belonging, purpose, community, comfort, motivation, ect.. Many parents introduce their kids to religion at a young age but that child more than likely didn't believe in a god as soon they could talk let alone understand it.
    – user37181
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 4:34
  • Yes, this would be a common view and for some believers in theism and atheism no doubt it is correct. Yet this is not to say that their intuition is misleading. Religion provides us with all the best arguments for and against God. Atheism is a rejection of theism, not a rejection of religion. I was suggesting it is not clear that atheism is the default position not making an argument for atheism or theism, both of which I would reject.
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 12:25

The atheist position(s)

The most reasonable atheist position is the following position. They might say

"People say that some supernatural being exists, and they call this 'God.' Until they provide sufficient evidence for this claim, I choose not to accept the claim."

This position is often called weak atheism (contrasted with strong atheism), negative atheism (contrasted with positive atheism), or agnostic atheism (contrasted with gnostic atheism).

Weak/negative/agnostic atheism rejects the claim that a god exists because the claim is not sufficiently substantiated. Whereas strong/positive/gnostic atheism asserts the positive claim that god either does not exist or is unlikely to exist.

The burden of proof, skepticism, faith, and conclusive proof

In the case of weak atheism, the burden of proof truly is on the theist, and the atheist does not hold a faith-based position. This is not a "cop out" or "bias," it's just logical that this would have to be the case.

Most people accept this logic for other extraordinary claims. They typically don't believe in other gods such as Zeus or Thor, and to not accept these polytheistic claims isn't generally considered faith.

If I said that I had a gigantic firebreathing dragon in my basement, you wouldn't believe it unless I provided good evidence for it. Of course, if I simply said "I have a dog at home," you most likely would believe me. But that's because you have massive amounts of prior experience and evidence of people owning dogs that it seems totally reasonable and justified for you to believe me. If I said I owned a rocket-launcher at home, you might or might not believe me. This claim is a bit more "out there." It's certainly less common than owning a dog. You might be quite skeptical, but if I argued well I could possibly convince you that I had a rocketlauncher. I could also show you it, and you would be immediately convinced.

Also, if you accepted any claim without sufficient evidence, you would necessarily come to accept contradictory claims. People claim things all the time, and sometimes those claims come into conflict.

You say that "My assertion is that neither position can provide conclusive proof. Therefore both are on faith." However, this puts you in a (very unreasonable, in my opinion) position that everything is faith. This is not how science or epistemology works. In science, nothing is ever conclusively proven, it is rather somewhere on the spectrum of weakly substantiated by evidence to extremely well-substantiated by evidence. Scientific models are not "true", but are rather models that approximately explain some underlying reality. Newton's laws are not "true", but they are a very good approximation of reality. That I claim this is a good approximation is neither based on "faith" or "conclusively proven," but is rather a claim that is extremely well-substantiated by evidence. In fact, some models are even better than Newton's laws--the model championed by Einstein.

The (weak) atheist position is not that the god claim hasn't been "conclusively proven," but rather that it hasn't been sufficiently substantiated to justify accepting it. Therefore, they remain skeptical of this claim. They don't accept the claim until it is sufficiently substantiated by evidence.

Atheists as people

While the position held above can describe the word 'atheism,' in reality atheists are people. People who hold multiple beliefs, have behaviors, lifestyles, attitudes, and so on. There will also be trends among these. For example, while it isn't logically necessary to be an atheist, in reality atheists might be statistically more likely to believe in an earth older than 20,000 years old. They also might be more likely to be more socially liberal, which you may or may not find reasonable. Atheists in the United States are more likely to think that abortion is acceptable. You may or may not find this position reasonable. Perhaps you think they justify murdering helpless babies.

Atheists are also more likely to view religion as a bad thing, just as another example. Logically, there is nothing stopping religion from being a net social positive, even if god didn't exist. If they claim that religion is a bad thing, then this is an affirmative position and should be argued on its merits. Some atheists might argue more strongly that religion is a net negative (see e.g Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or Matt Dillahunty), whereas other atheists are more keen to argue that religion also has substantial social benefits (see e.g Jonathan Haidt or David Sloan Wilson).

I'm an atheist, but there are many beliefs that are more (statistically) commonly held by atheists (than, say, Christians in the United States) that I find (1) morally indefensible, and (2) scientifically and logically unreasonable. Yet I still hold the weak atheist position as described in the former sections, even though I might find a certain subsection of atheists as people to be generally unreasonable in other respects. Of course, there are also things that are more common among theists that I find unreasonable.

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    This is a good answer. I'm rather a theist than an atheist, but you soundly explained a logically reasonable position without making blanket statements or "obvious" assumptions. +10 if I could.
    – Cullub
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:31
  • "However, this puts you in a (very unreasonable, in my opinion) position that everything is faith." I think this is the key point. My understanding is that Theists would be fine with that assessment. I think the argument goes: trust in science just collapses into nihilism with a little prodding, unless you have faith in the underlying epistemological philosophy.
    – lazarusL
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 18:59
  • @lazarusL As an agnostic theist I would at least personally agree any understanding of "truth" or "rules" in the universe requires faith. However I don't see science as there to "prove the truth" rather it is there to construct models which through observation are shown to generally match real outcomes. It would be faith to say these models are fundamentally "true" but I would accept the claim that these models match the observations made so far, and so are reasonable models of normal future behavior also.
    – Vality
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 18:47
  • Consequently, I would accept the claim that models which do not include a God or gods fit the observations of the observer and thus are reasonable models to predict future outcomes. But I do not consider this to make any assertion on if theism is true or real, merely that a model without it has matched observations thus far. Going any further to say this makes a claim or statement on the existence (or non existence) of a God or gods is indeed faith.
    – Vality
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 18:49
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    @Vality Most importantly, science also clearly says what would violate those assumptions. If the Sun didn't come out one day, in contradiction of what our theories say, the theories would need to change. If experiments stopped being repeatable (outside of the usual complexities of making a reliable experiment in the first place), we wouldn't keep saying "keep your faith in science" - we'd say "oops, seems like some of our assumptions were wrong". This isn't even a prediction - it already happened in the past, many times. Theists usually see this as a weakness, unfortunately.
    – Luaan
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:18

The crux of the matter is neatly hidden within the definition of the word faith. Mind you, both Cambridge Dictionary and Oxford Dictionary say that the main meaning is:

Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

‘this restores one's faith in politicians’ [...]


great trust or confidence in something or someone:

She has no faith in modern medicine. [...]

As you can see faith is a thing that can change on the spot. But many people define faith as something fundamental and unchangeable, that cannot be impacted by such trivial action as observing the world outside. Thus a 'loaded term' complicates the discussion. Let's resolve it by naming the latter thing an axiom (unchangeable) and the former a belief (very much changeable).

If you assume axioms, you can base proofs of them. These proofs expand your knowledge about the world created by the axioms. The proofs don't depend on observations of the world, but on observations of the axioms. This is your current worldview, as your question mentioned words 'proof' and 'proving' about six times.

On the other hand, beliefs don't enable proofs. This is scary. One day you believe electrons are small chunks of matter, tomorrow some irritating publication appears about how an electron was observed to interfere with itself and you have no authority to banish these outrageous observations. Then they build a bunch of stupid transistors and they somehow work and beautify our lives, although nobody proven that beforehand.

If someone says a belief is true or proven, they probably mean it has been used to predict a lot of outcomes and mostly suceeded. They don't probably mean that the belief is infalsifiable in principle or that it is induced from infalsifiable axioms.

Atheism is a belief. (Overwhelmingly; marginally, it can be based on axioms if something goes terribly wrong.)

Theism is overwhelmingly based on axioms. No major religion says "If this book doesn't work too well in practice and you see other theories working better - then by all means use them! Absolved! Amen!".


Answers so far have considered evidence, proof and strength of argument. There's another point to consider though - utility. What is the purpose of these claims?

If the theist considered their god(s) to be a non-participant in the world and any hypothetical afterlife, then it would not matter whether the god(s) existed or not. The debate simply wouldn't exist. A debate only exists because theists claim knowledge about their god(s)' interaction with the world and/or actions in the afterlife; and thereafter knowledge of what must be done to ensure people gain the favour of the god(s) for this.

This leads us to the Atheist's Wager, which proves that regardless of the existence or non-existence of any god(s), the best outcome in both the temporal and spiritual domains is to live your life as if no god exists, and live a good life as defined by humanist philosophy. Not only that, but it also provides the best outcome for other people, and hence is the best moral position. This is proven by simple logic, without the need for evidence of the truth of either case.

Having proven that humanist philosophy is the highest moral standard and the best outcome in all cases, it's then necessary to question why we should care whether the god (s) exist or not. This is the crux of where the theist's case falls down. When the existence or non-existence of god (s) is seen as a key question for how to live your life, of course it's important. But take that away, and the theist's whole argument is no more relevant than a 5-year-old trying to get their parent to answer whether they think a ninja could beat a dinosaur.

Of course having an opinion on the subject is based on faith. But being willing to argue on the subject is based on either being irrational or having too much free time. As such, the fact the theist even cares about it invalidates their argument.

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    These assumptions require more than simple logic, they require faith that some kind or moral system exists (in this case humanism). Else I ask why is any one outcome better than any other without some underlying belief of what is good (which essentially becomes faith)? Why is humanism "best" if there is nothing judging best in an absolute sense? Why is it better for humans to not suffer than it is for them to suffer short of some kind of belief system?
    – Vality
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 18:54
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    @Vality You're completely right that this requires a non-theist moral system such as humanism. That doesn't require faith though, because you can demonstrate the existence of the moral system. And in contrast to theist morality, a humanist moral system is derived from first principles which do attempt judge what's best in an absolute sense, on a scale of benefit or harm to others, without any reference to faith or need for a god as arbitrator.
    – Graham
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 19:03
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    @Vality Of course not everything breaks down to an obvious "best", at which point it becomes a matter for debate. But if this is the case, both sides of a debate can see it's up for debate. We can prove that it's unprovable, basically. :) At that point it becomes possible for both sides to collaboratively find a solution which they can compromise on, because they know a perfect solution is not possible.
    – Graham
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 19:08
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    Fair point. I suspect I overstepped my position. I suppose the point I was making is I feel these "First Principles" of accepting that benefit and harm to others as good and bad, is in essence (at least in my own thought process) a form of belief that benefit is good and harm is bad. I believe the humanist moral system exists, merely that its axioms that human benefit is good and human harm is bad, is in fact a belief / faith / whatever you want to call it in the sense there is no place to prove it from. Any logical proposition starts with an axiom which in the end could be called belief.
    – Vality
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 19:08
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    @Vality We have to start from some kind of axiom like that, sure. If you want to call that belief, I can live with that. :) It's a much more basic "belief" than belief in a god and the truth of a theist rulebook though, and starting from that basis forces us to genuinely think about what's right and wrong.
    – Graham
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 19:15

It's very simple. Theism is belief in deity. Atheism is lack of belief in deity.

Neither position comments upon the ontological status of deity.

Atheists and theists, however, may hold any variety of opinions or beliefs.


Not being a philosopher, I prefer the viewpoint based on the scientific method (Karl Popper, I believe?): you can never prove the truth of a theory by experiments - but a single experiment can disprove a theory. Based on this principle, I'd say that Atheism is a stronger theory than Theism (and I do know I am committing violence on the idea of faith): a scientific theory makes testable predictions - a Theistic theory would presumably state something like '...God is/does/will do ....', and you can then test your prediction; to my knowledge, there has never been a positive, unambiguous, reproduceble result, so IOW, Theism fails in its predictions. Atheism states the opposite: There is no God, and there has never been any exeriment that has produced a contradiction.

This is admittedly not proof that Atheism is right - it is simply not scientific to claim absolute truth - but I'd say Atheism stands stronger than Theism.

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    The question is whether atheism and theism are both faith based. If atheism is dependent on scientific theory and scientific theories are not absolute truth does that make atheism faith based just like theism? Regardless, welcome to Philosophy! Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 14:08
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    @FrankHubeny - define faith, please :-) No, but seriously, isn't faith meant to be something about the belief in absolute truth, which has been revealed to the believer? Science is the opposite: the acceptance that there is no absolute truth other than what can be deduced with formal logic from a set of axioms, and even in that case, the absolute truth is only that what is deduced follows from the axioms; logic offers no opinion on whether the axioms are true - it only says 'if the axioms are true, then the conclusions are true'
    – j4nd3r53n
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 16:20
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    @FrankHubeny, I think the claim goes like this. Since atheism is a well-tested theory and theism has failed to produce any predictions that were born out by experiments, it must be that theism is not a scientific claim and must retreat to being faith-based. Theism is a scientific claim and thus has no need to retreat to faith.
    – hkBst
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 8:25

While I think atheism fits into the categories of being a worldview and even a religion (though it stands apart from the others in that category, just as anarchism can be considered political even though many anarchists oppose any form of political system), this doesn't necessarily mean that it is faith based.

The essence of faith is a confidence or ability to trust in the present and future because of past reliability. I trust in my chair to not collapse because it's held me up thousands of times before. I have faith in my spouse and family to support me because they've been there for me in difficult times before. I don't have faith in my government to make good decisions for the betterment of my nation because they've shown themselves to be lily-livered and self serving.

It's easy to see how theistic religions are faith based. Many have scriptures which tell a history of their god or gods being trustworthy. Many teach an ethical system which they believe is shown repeatedly to lead to human flourishing. Many encourage their people to share with their communities how their god or gods have supported them through difficult times. Religious people have faith when their past experience of the divine leads them to trust the divine for the future.

I'm having a hard time thinking of how atheism could be faith based in this way. While many atheists may trust in their own self-fortitude in difficult times, this is not the same as trusting in their atheism, and of course many theists also trust in their self-fortitude. Many atheists may have confidence that their moral system will continue to lead to good outcomes but again that's not the same as trusting their atheistic beliefs. So although most atheists may still be people of faith (in the sense that we all trust many things), they don't have faith in their atheism itself.

(See also my answer to the parallel question on theism which also shows that many theists do not live faith-based lives.)


The typical rebuttal I get is that the burden of proof is on the theists. But I view this as a cop out and they hide behind the wall of burden of proof which is just a bias in the debate.

I'm not sure what is being asserted here, that 'burden of proof' is always just an expression of bias, or only when talking about God? It is often used in informal logic, and is easily understood.

If someone says, “I saw a green alien from outer space,” you properly should ask for some proof. If the person responds with no more than something like, “Prove I didn’t,” then they are not accepting their burden of proof and are improperly trying to place it on your shoulders.

I suppose most people would grant you that God is significantly different from green aliens or pixies.

But isn't that only because we can go some way to proving the positive claim that God exists, and not pixies? Whether or not the theist can actually shift the burden of proof onto the atheist.

  • i didn't see any answers which explained why the burden of proof is an illegitimate concept here... anyone?
    – user35983
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 13:31
  • The assignment of the burden of proof is irrelevant. Even if the atheist made claim here (which would rightly give him a burden of proof), the theist still has his own proof to give. My inability to prove my position does not count as evidence in favor of yours. a theist can not shift his burden of proof to an atheist; the best he can do is share the burden
    – ThisIsMe
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:28
  • There is no point in talking about assigning the burden of proof at this level. The problem is hard enough that the different stacks have diverged.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 20:06
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    I feel that you got the difference between a god and green aliens the wrong way round. We can go some way to disproving that green aliens exist, but gods somehow manage to resist disproof even if they are nowhere to be found. If there were green aliens near enough to affect us, it would be easy enough to prove their existence. This does not work for a god, unless you consider lightning proof of Thor.
    – hkBst
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 8:21

There's a few pieces to this. The first is that the burden of proof is just a structure for debate purposes. It can mean several things. For instance, in virtually all cases, the burden of proof is on the person making an assertion. In this light, claims of theism and atheism are going to be on par. However, there's a bias to deal with here, which comes to light if we don't have an agreement on which side is making an assertion. If I put the strictest theist and the strictest atheist in a cage together, and started taking bets, I would not easily be able to argue who is the one making the claim.

However, there is a situation where we do actually legitimately need the burden of proof. There are many cases where the negative cannot be proven. Many questions in the negative form refuse proof. This is the basis of Russel's Teapot in orbit around Jupiter. Proving its non-existence is truly beyond our resources. One would need to meticulously study the space around Jupiter for a long time to prove it isn't there. However, should someone want to prove it is there, they merely need to provide us its ephemeris, and we can go search for it.

This does not mean burden of proof is always on the positive statement. I can say "There are no integers between 5 and 8, inclusive, which has an integer square root." I just made a negative statement, but very importantly I made a statement on a domain which could be exhaustively searched. We can check 5, 6, 7, and 8 and conclude none of them have an integer square root.

Contrast this with the famous "The real part of every non-trivial zero of the Riemann zeta function is 1/2." In this case, the domain is the entire real number line, and nobody has found a way to exhaustively search it. If someone asserted there existed a zero with a real part that wasn't 1/2, it would be easy for everyone to check it. Asserting that no such number exists is hard.

But it's not impossible. The trick is that the rule "the burden of proof is to prove existence" can be sidestepped, and many theists do. The first thing to do is get you to agree that something exists. "The universe" is typically a good one to start from. From there one can look at what must be true because the universe exists, and try to argue that its existence implies that an entity in a class like God must exist.

And therein lies what I think is the most common back and forth of the theist/atheist argument. There's a difference between "God exists" and "There exists an entity with these properties, and we will call it God." In the former, the burden of proof quite clearly must fall on the theist, but in the latter its a much more nuanced question. All of the good debates on the topic I have seen have quickly shifted to the latter argument and stayed there.

  • In general, I like this approach, but going from "the universe exists" to "there exists an entity with these properties" requires additional premises, which carry a burden of justification just like any other. Atheists are not in a corresponding position, as someone has to take a theist position before anyone can disagree with it. Furthermore, theists cannot legitimately get around the burden of justification by adopting a motte-and-bailey strategy... Whether there are useful discussions to be had by agreeing to suspend the burden of proof is another matter.
    – A Raybould
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 10:38
  • @ARaybould Since writing this, I've learned more about math and proof theories. This answer assumes a variant of atheism sometimes called "hard atheism" which asserts that God does not exist. The mathematical assumption here is known as the Closed World Assumption (CWA), which asserts that if something is not proven true, it is false. Contrast this with the Open World Assumption (OWA) which asserts that something is false only if proven false. This is more in line with "soft atheism" or "agnosticism." Under OWA thinking, asserting something false requires proof that it is false.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 15:30
  • Russel's Teapot and such are all CWA concepts, and they deal with the thorny question of "which statements are false until proven true." Obviously if X and not(X) are both not proven, they can't both be false! And I do think that the most upvoted answer captures this, albeit with less mathematical phrasing.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 15:33
  • It's too bad Elon Musk didn't put a teapot in the trunk of his Tesla roadster when SpaceX launched it into solar orbit... or maybe he did! WRT OWA, one concern I would have in adopting it here is that it would seem to endorse this exchange: T: "There is a God who created the world." A: "How do you know?" T: "Prove me wrong!" I don't know if it is acceptable in philosophy or theology, but personally, I do not have any patience for that sort of thing. As far as I can tell, We don't have to choose between OWA or CWA, we can simply acknowledge our knowledge is incomplete.
    – A Raybould
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 22:27
  • Also, while an unwise or incautious atheist might reply, in the above exchange, "Not so - God cannot exist", and thereby snatch back the burden of proof, the theist is still on the hook, IMHO, for justifying the premises needed to go from "the universe exists" to whatever specific claims he is making, to any more cautious atheist (or agnostic) who questions those premises. In other words, the existence of "hard" atheists does not absolve theists of the burden of showing justification (proof is asking too much) whenever they assert anything specific about deities.
    – A Raybould
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 22:29

In my view, atheists also suffer from the same problem of providing a proof of their position. Specifically that they cannot prove that God is non-existent.

Given the above, I claim that both atheism and theism are positions based on faith. Would it be incorrect to claim that?

Yes. If you apply this consistently, you will conclude that every conclusion is faith based. So you will either have to accept that all knowledge is faith based or use special pleading to single out atheism.

Let's try doing this same thing with any claim other than the claim that an undetectable God exists everywhere, say the claim that undetectable cats exist everywhere.

Suppose someone searches a small room for cats and doesn't find any. They conclude that there are no cats in that small room. Is this conclusion faith based? Stop and think about this for a moment. If this conclusion is faith based, what conclusion isn't?

But to conclude that there are no cats in a small room just because a search doesn't find any, we must definitively reject the claim that there are undetectable cats everywhere. But how can we prove that there aren't undetectable cats everywhere? We can't.

So either all positions are faith based because we cannot take that position without disproving all of the infinite number of imaginable ways we could be wrong or you will have to use special pleading to single out atheism for this treatment. If we can't reject the claim that there is an undetectable god everywhere without faith, we can't reject the claim that there are undetectable cats everywhere without faith. Thus, my belief that there isn't a cat under my desk and your belief that there isn't a cat on your head is faith based.

Can that possibly be right? I hope you don't think so.

If you want to argue that all knowledge is faith based, that's fine. But be honest about it and don't pretend that this is something special about atheism or issues involving theism.

  • I think you hit it on the head here. Most of the answers here miss the difference between a belief and a 'faith-based' belief and get bogged down in whether you are making a claim or not. A little different from your cat example: say someone is trying to tell me that snorting cocoa powder will make me a super-genius. I don't believe it. I have no direct evidence that it won't so my rejection of the claim is a belief. But calling that belief 'faith-based' is absurd.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 20:19
  • @JimmyJames I'm making a much stronger argument though that if you wish to be consistent in your reasoning, you must accept theistic claims as definitively known to be false, just as you do with the "there are undetectable cats everywhere" claim. That is, I'm making the argument that strong/critical atheism isn't faith based and that agnostic atheism is special pleading. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 21:54
  • I'm not completely sure I follow that reasoning. For example, there are many (serious) claims that perhaps we live in one universe that is part of a collection of many (perhaps infinite) universes. Based on the standard definition of 'universe' there is no way to detect other universes because they would then become part of our own. So such universes, if they exist, are undetectable. Are you saying I must then accept that it's definitely false that they exist? Wouldn't that reasoning lead to the (wrong) conclusion that germs don't exist prior to the invention of the microscope?
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 15:09
  • @JimmyJames That a method of reasoning can lead to wrong conclusions doesn't mean there's anything wrong with that method of reasoning. We frequently have to reach conclusions with limited information. At one time, it was perfectly reasonable to conclude that the Earth was flat because it looked flat and all our experience suggested that the only way something could look flat is if it was flat. As my answer explains, to arbitrarily hold some claims to a higher bar is unjustified special pleading. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 17:42
  • "That a method of reasoning can lead to wrong conclusions doesn't mean there's anything wrong with that method of reasoning." I find that to a be a questionable assertion but setting that aside, I don't believe that it's required to affirm that any given proposition must be confirmed or denied. We can simply say the answer is unknowable/unprovable. For example, time is generally considered to be continuous but there's no way to measure time below a discrete increment. At this point it is neither provable or disprovable.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 18:11

Theism without faith

Theism needn't be faith-based. Natural theology seeks to prove the existence of God, or of a God, on the basis of purely rational argument. The cosmological argument, however one may rate its validity, is an example of this. As is the argument from design. These arguments, whatever else they may be, are precisely not based on faith. They are meant to be intelligible and cogent whatever one's attitude, positive or negative or doubtful, to religion.

Atheism without faith

As for atheism, it is a common theme that God cannot exist, not because the concept of God is in good order and merely lacks cogent evidence, but because the concept of God is incoherent - that it is internally inconsistent. A popular example of this approach is the argument that the existence of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God is inconsistent with the existence of suffering. Since as omnipotent God could prevent suffering, how does God's omnibenevolence allow it to happen ?

Whatever one thinks of this argument, it is hardly faith-based. It can and does occur to people of all religious persuasions and none.


The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (1982), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-824682-X. (The title contains a dash of asperity.)


First things first... Faith (in the most prosaic sense of the word) is intrinsic to human nature. We all have to believe that an assortment of things are true, because without such belief we cannot establish a consistent worldview — a systematic model of our environment — and the world becomes terrifyingly random. Imagine having the thought in your head that gravity might shut off unpredictably, sending us flying off into the air at any given moment. Could you even walk to the store under that threat?

Of course, faith comes with different levels of justification. Very few people in the world fear that gravity might suddenly shut off, because no one can point at or remember a time when gravity did shut off, and we have moment-by-moment confirmation of its existence. This is the basis of scientific reasoning (using that term broadly). We compare our beliefs about the world with what we actually see happen in the world. Where our faith aligns with our experience we do not give it a second thought; where our faith conflicts with our experience, we question our faith and find some way to rectify our beliefs so that we can fit that experience into our models. Of course, not everyone rectifies their beliefs in the same way. One person might be cynical about it while another is optimistic; one might cling to this aspect of belief and discard a second, while another might cling to the second aspect and discard the first; someone else might reject the experience entirely for a variety of reasons... Experience in this regard can be a great leveler to the extent that it forces people to accept a common framework for airing their disagreements. But experience is by no means a cure-all for the problems of belief.

In this regard, and again using the most prosaic sense of the term 'faith,' atheism is faith-based. They have a clear and specific naturalistic worldview — one that precludes the existence of a god — and they hold it to be true with minimal justification. Note that when I say minimal justification here I am not denying the power and efficacy of science. I'm merely suggesting that while scientific accomplishments do much to promote a 'naturalistic' worldview, they do little to contradict any claims about any god. Most atheist arguments boil down to an assertion that the universe works quite well all on its own, so that any concept of a god is superfluous, and that they as atheists choose not to believe in superfluous entities. But that 'choosing not to believe' is effectively an atheist credo that has at best tangential justification.

That being said, it's worth noting that atheists define faith in a stringent fashion that precludes the application of the term 'faith' to atheist belief structures. As a rule, atheists consider faith to be synonymous with blind faith, and then vigorously deny any form of religious, subjective, or metaphysical experience so that religion cannot encroach on the realm of justified belief. It is a bit of social politics that infuses the discourse and makes discussion of the topic difficult, and in the worst cases borders on a cultish adherence to a naturalistic doctrine. Challenging atheists on this point is counterproductive. Moderate atheists will shrug their shoulders at it, thinking it's merely a matter of rhetoric; dogmatic atheists will become incensed at any suggestion that they have a dogma. Politics is in many ways the death of philosophy...


I am afraid that you are playing a trivial word game based on the ambiguities in the words faith and atheist.

An unwillingness to have faith in x is not the same as having faith in not x. There are countless things I don't have faith in simply because I have never thought of them before.

Even when an unwillingness to believe in x is equivalent to believing not x, you would not, in everyday speech, always consider the latter to be faith in not x. For example, supposed you had seen something that made you convinced that today's winning lottery number would be 9876543. If I failed to share your faith in the idea, ordinarily my position would not be described as a faith, and if you want to argue that it is, then what you are doing is simply stretching the meaning of the label 'faith'.

As for the burden of proof in matters such as this, it usually lies with the person who wishes to assert something that is not obviously plausible in order to gain support for the assertion. In physics, for example, new theories are rigorously tested, often at huge cost and effort, before they are widely accepted. Why should your religious views be any different?

  • We need a big machine designed to detect particles of God. Who is going to pay for all that? Remember what happened to Michelson...
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 17:47
  • @ScottRowe that is a suggestion of unparalleled ingenuity and originality. This might sound a bit Heath-Robinson, but my immediate thought is perhaps a scoop net of the sort used to remove leaves and other annoying contaminants from swimming pools, with a small hole cut into it, through which the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner might be attached. After swiping the net through the air a few times, surely any traces of God would then be found in the hoover bag. Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:34
  • @ScottRowe I know, I know, it is almost too brilliant for words. The main downside is that I suppose you would have to use a new hoover bag and cut it open afterwards, which would seem a bit of a waste. Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:36
  • "God of the vacs" ha ha
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:44

From the point of view of cognitive science, you are right. Being convinced/believing that something is true and intellectually knowing/having proof that something is true are two cognitively/neurologically distinct states. So believing in the statement "there is a god" is not different from believing the statement "there is no god", neurologically the two beliefs share the same mechanisms.

So if your position is that faith is defined by the cognitive state of having a belief in something/being convinced that something is true, then your conclusion is correct. However, as you can see in the other answers, you can choose a different definition, and then the conclusion is not necessarily correct.

You can also start from the assumption that having a proof for something and believing in it are the same (which is common in folk understanding of the mind's workings), which will also lead to a different conclusion. While this assumption is empirically known to be incorrect, most people with whom you discuss this question will implicitly use it, so they will not readily follow arguments which violate it, and may be completely dismissive if you start with explicitly stating/trying to prove to them that it is untrue (yes, I realize that's ironic).

Some literature you might want to consider would be On being certain by Robert Burton (cognitive science, popular-science level), The Neural Basis of Human Belief Systems (cognitive science, highly specialized literature, make sure you can follow it before spending money on it) and most of Damasio's work, if you want something from the philosophical side. I guess Descartes' error might be the most relevant one.


Premise is : Atheism and Theism are both faith based positions. And, the question is Would it be incorrect to claim that both atheism and theism are positions based on faith?

The problem with us, ie., Humans is that we create complex theories, and try at length to solve them.

Let me put it in a simple manner.

There are some fruits hanging from the branch of a tree. Everyone is observing them, but not dare enough to near them. A very few people mustered enough courage and tasted them and said "Very sweet".

Now, what should others do? They should also muster courage, taste them and EXPERIENCE the taste.


  • if some of them start questioning - will it be juicy ? will it be sweet or sour? will it satiate my hunger? and so on,
  • and if remaining people start answering in a different manner in support of the people, who tasted the fruits, but without tasting by themselves,

what can the persons already tasted or the fruits do? Nothing. The complex saga will go on.

If a scientist in Chemistry says that certain properties of a particular element, can be observed only in certain Laboratory conditions, what should be the response of a novice to the Chemistry?

Should he just believe the Scientist? If so, why?


Should he start arguing that what Scientist said is incorrect and that the Scientist made that statement while he was undergoing hallucination? If so, why?

In my opinion, both ways are incorrect. The correct method is that the interested persons should also test the element in that particular Laboratory conditions, verify and ascertain whether the Scientist's statement is correct.

In the case of the God also the interested persons, whether they believe or reject, should follow the methods prescribed by a Sage, who attained higher levels of SPIRITUALITY, and EXPERIENCE that levels for themselves.

EXPERIENCE cannot be explained with arguments, in my view.


"We are all atheists, some of us just go one god further." Richard Dawkins

As has been pointed out, historical texts are not sufficient proof for belief in a deity. If it were, there would still be worshippers of Greek and Egyptian gods, since records of those predate Muslim and Christian texts (probably Jewish ones as well, but I can't recall).

The difference between the faith of a theist and belief of an atheist rests in what happens when the individual is presented with overwhelming, conclusive evidence that contradicts their belief.

My conjecture is that most atheists would become theists if they were presented with clear evidence of the existence of god. I am not talking about philosophical evidence, the ontological argument or the like. Hard, physical proof that could be verified by science (measured, recorded, etc).

In contrast, a committed theist should be unwilling to change their opinion when presented with evidence for the non-existence of god. They would claim that their faith does not require evidence.

I would contend that for many people the belief in the god does require evidence. This is one reason that we are seeing an increase self-reported atheism around the world 1, especially in countries with high levels of secondary and post-secondary education.2 .

  • I had a new thought. If you saw the evidence and concluded the god you saw was unworthy would you teach the next generation that god exists?
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 16:27
  • 2
    @Joshua, I absolutely would. Any entity with the powers we associate with a god, especially an unworthy one, could present a significant risk to us. We would need to know that it exists but not necessarily venerate it. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 16:37

This depends on what you mean by "atheism" - and what I see here is that people on both sides tend to disingenuously equivocate on the meaning of the term.

There is the idea that "atheism is simply a lack of a belief in deities". In this case, it cannot be a "faith-based" position because it is not a position, but the absence of one. This, of course, is what many atheists will tell you.

However, the problem with that idea is that those who attempt to argue the notion that "atheism is a faith-based position" are also catching on to something in how that many self-professed "atheists" go about things, and that is that there generally tends to be a rather conspicuous ideology that crystallizes around this supposed mere "lack" of belief which tends to come to what amounts to a triad of scientism as epistemology, materialism and physicalism as ontology, and secular humanism as life philosophy / ethics. And that it is this triad which, I believe, the "atheists are faithers" arguers are trying to point at with their arguments. But I suspect most don't have the necessary vocab to articulate that this is what they're really after.

And yes, I would say that triad could be argued to constitute a "religion" or "faith" of a sorts - at least if you don't require a formal clergy or otherwise as necessary in making something a "religion".


Logically, no. But practically, theism doesn't require faith if the Creator was witnessed. Records and millennia more history than the alternatives suggest a Creator was witnessed.

  • 1
    Records suggest all sorts of things that we know now, are not true. Like a terra-centric cosmology. Or even a helio-centric cosmology. Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 23:17
  • @robertbristow-johnson: With 7 dimensions, helio and geocentric theories can co-exist, side by side, without conflict. Can one be said to be true and the other false? No.
    – Marxos
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 0:47
  • This isn't Facebook, so I can't do a "sad" emoji. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 1:46
  • @robertbristow-johnson: you don't need a sad emoji, if you yield to the greater logic.
    – Marxos
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 2:21
  • 1
    And, BTW, I am a Theist, and among theists, I am a Christian, and among Christians, I am a Mennonite. I believe in God and I think I have good reasons to believe in God. I consider the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to have value, but in no terms are inerrant. But there is some truth lurking in there. But just because a copy of the bible says something (like asserting God's existence) does not mean I accept it as true. Both atheists and hard-core conservative Christians will take issue with that position and that's fine by me. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 1:01

Word God must be understood before denying or accepting its existence. There is a Christian God , Islamic God , Hindu God , God of thunder and lightning, God of Creation , God of preservation, God of destruction, God of Oceans , God of Fire , God of Wind , God of Earth , God of Space , God of science , God of Forest , God of Love , God of justice etc…

Question is which God are you denying or accepting? Since we are asking for public evidence , this means we are asking for God of masses. Inspite of so many years of God denial , Christian Gods , Islamic Gods , Hindu Gods have persisted. Not only has God persisted , the followers are prepared to lay down their lives for Him. What does it suggests ? It suggests that followers are having personal experience of God. They are having evidence in favour of God. It is just that they are unable to prove it in public. To me it appears that time is not right for the God of masses to manifest.

Atheists are denying the possibility of personal God experience which feeds the faith. Therefore both Atheist and Theist are faith based. Atheist believe that personal evidence of God is insufficient. Theist believe that God exists with or without evidence.

  • Many people have thrown themselves from a height because they believed they could fly. They laid down their lives for this belief. Sadly, they were just incorrect. A recurring delusion is evidence only that humans tend to have delusions. There are whole catalogs of them. The surprising thing is that we are able to discover anything truthy at all.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:01

Yes. It would be incorrect. The burden of proof is on the proposer. See Russell's Teapot. Moreover, atheism is not a religion. It is simply an absence of belief. It is a rational position.

  • Atheism is not a religion. That's for sure. But, for some atheists, it is a belief system. Just as believing there is no teapot in orbit is a belief (and a very reasonable and justified belief, in my opinion). And a system of beliefs based on the same axioms is, itself, a belief system. Russell's Teapot is no ace-in-the-whole for either atheism, materialism, or naturalism. Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 23:15
  • Atheism is not a belief system. I do not appreciate flippant comments.
    – Meanach
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:12
  • Atheism is a belief system. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. And "flippant" is in the eye of the beholder. Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:43
  • OK prove it. Btw, have you ever considered posting an answer to the question? I find your tone condescending and disrespectful. That is flippancy.
    – Meanach
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 18:54
  • Well, I already put out a very brief definition of a belief system. Google says a belief system is "a set of principles or tenets which together form the basis of a religion, philosophy, or moral code." There are other dictionary definitions. Atheism is no religion, but it is a philosophy. And, while both atheism and skepticism are both epistemological approaches, they are not the same. Skepticism is not specifically about God or the absence of God. - - - Proposing that there is no evidence of God or no basis for belief in God is, itself, a proposal and has a burden of proof. Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 19:11

Alas for I found no answers worthy to upvote; so I will answer.

Nobody is disputing that "God exists" is faith based. That's a good place to start.

It occurs to me the measure of faith required to be atheist is about the same as the measure of the difficulty of proof that "God is irrelevant' would be.

Theorem: either the universe is infinite in a way that allows all possibilities to occur or our own existence must pass through the odds or something enough like God exists to bypass the odds.

There are certain mathematical problems with the infinite mass universe, and the infinite time universe is ruled out, so now it comes down to measuring the odds.

First problem: the laws of physics are fine-tuned to allow life to exist. We can't measure that so in fairness, let us just set it at 1.

Second problem: We must have a planet suitable for sustaining our own life. It was once thought that almost any planet would do, but this is selection bias of the worst kind. In fact I have a long table that tries to put odds at each of more than fifty independent criteria that all must be true, and is loose enough to allow a moon orbiting a gas giant in the life zone to work (but moving Jupiter would not). The combined result is 1 in 10^99 but you get to try once for every star in the universe.

Third: life must become naturally. Whether this is easy or hard depends on evidence selection. We can't do it in the lab, but early Earth history says it appeared more than once, but there are not two completely independent genetic codes but only one and variants. We may note that we can widen the life becomes gate a bit if we're willing to tighten the planetary requirements, but this adds a square to the planetary requirements as we now require two suitable planets so it's not worth it.

Forth: life must be come intelligent. Odds calculation is too hard.

I have never encountered anybody who thinks he really knows all the evidence to these (though many who tried to argue them all while possessing real knowledge of none and clearly did not investigate to any significant degree), but holding but one of these without having actually investigated the evidence results in having a faith-based position.

If you want a way out, it's certainly possible for someone to fool himself into thinking he has diligently considered them all while having actually not done so, but that doesn't change the nature of the position.


In my experience theists tend to be people who just 'know in their hearts' that some god exists. For them, evidence is either unnecessary or not even conceptually recognised. This default position is challenged when an agnostic or atheist demands that person 'prove' themselves or supply the required evidence, something they don't understand.

However, the debate is avoiding the real issue. The theist in that position is almost always incapable of describing what that deity actually is. There is almost always just an abstract notion of morality manifested as some invisible overarching power. This concept ultimately matches many atheist positions of our lives being to some extent deterministic or at least emergent as part of larger patterns.

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