No faith, no presuppositions

Since the Bill Nye debate with Ken Ham, we are yet again confronted with the idea that atheists have faith too. Ham loves to trot out this tired old argument that our faith is in the “religion” of naturalism, and his followers happily parrot it at us whenever they can. Of course, all Ham has is tired old arguments. It’s not like there’s anything new coming from the Bible. It is funny though that essentially what Ham is trying to do is to drag science down to the level of his religion so we’re on equal footing, then it’s just a matter of opinion or interpretation right?

This is what they have to resort to when all their arguments have failed and all available evidence is against them. Ham attacks reality itself, redefines words, and classifies as religion a position that involves reliance on reason and evidence and excludes things we cannot demonstrate to be correct. This is quite a strange usage of the word “religion”, and sometimes I think people like Ham do it just to annoy us. Trusting in what can be observed, tested, and/or demonstrated is what rational beings should be doing, but to Ham that’s a wild idea.

Presuppositionalism is related to this, and others like Matt Slick like to try to use it to claim that atheists presuppose their god doesn’t exist. We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) and we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Atheists have no faith and no presuppositions, (or at least shouldn’t). We all start off as blank slates. As babies we have no knowledge or understanding, just instinct. As we start to gain understanding of the world in which we find ourselves, we are presented with claims. “That burner is hot.” “If you knock that cup over the water will spill.” We test some of these claims, observe the evidence, and confirm they are correct. We find that there are trustworthy sources of reliable information, like our parents. It is not their authority that makes them trustworthy; if they provided us with bad information that lead to unreliable results, we would not see them as reliable sources of information.

So at some point we are presented with the god claim. Here’s how that exchange should go:

“Some god exists.”

“Cool, what reliable evidence is there for that?”

“Um…..”

“Okay, movin’ on.”

No presupposition involved. The claim was evaluated and rejected based on lack of evidence. Of course some bad evidence may be presented in place of “Um…..”, but that shouldn’t change the result.

We build knowledge of the universe around us built on previous knowledge, experience, and observation, including those of others. We build trustworthy sources of information, even when we may not fully understand some of the information presented.

I’m a trustworthy source of information for my kids because I’ve told them a lot of things they have confirmed to be correct. If I tell them something like “if you run out in front of a car it may hit you”, they don’t need to test that. Based on previous experience, they know they can trust me because I have demonstrated that I am a reliable source of information. Even if they don’t fully understand what being hit by a car means, they still trust what I tell them. Likewise, we know we can trust the scientific community based on previous experience that the scientific community has provided us with accurate information based on empirical evidence that we could also test or observe to verify. Even if we don’t fully understand what’s presented, we can still trust based on previous experience.

I don’t fully understand nuclear physics, but I understand that it works. I can see that it works. We have nuclear reactors and weapons and the like. I can understand the very basics and I could go to school for a long time to learn how to fully understand it, but I don’t want or need to because there are scientists who do understand and apply it. Based on their scientific credibility, I can see they are reliable sources of information even if it’s a field I don’t fully understand.

Do I understand evolution? Well I have a good grasp of the overall theory. Do I fully understand every part of it? No, that’s essentially impossible as it covers many different sciences including genetics, biology, anthropology, physics, paleontology, and many more. Are there scientists who do understand their parts of it who have demonstrated they are reliable sources of information? Yes, there are scientists in every field related to evolution who spend entire careers working on their small part of their particular field. We can trust based on previous experience.

Evolution is the best model for the evidence that we have. It is supported by all available evidence and contradicted by none. If there is ever reason to reject it and support another model, that will be based on evidence, and it will be scientists doing actual scientific work who will discover it. It won’t be discovered by intellectual vandals like Ken Ham trying to just tear down the hard fought discoveries of modern science, thinking that will prop up their failed ideas.

So again: no faith, no presuppositions. Can creationists and apologists stop saying it now? Yeah I know… no.

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3 thoughts on “No faith, no presuppositions

  1. I have been confronted by the ‘atheists have faith’ argument. This is in part of a confusion of the two uses of the word. I have faith, for example, that if I look both ways before I cross a street I will not be hit by a car. This is different from the religious use of the word, where it is connected with the supernatural. My ‘faith’ in looking both ways is totally a ‘natural’ use of the term.

  2. Thanks for your comment Gary, and I see what you’re saying, but I’m going to have to disagree. That’s trust based on previous observation and experience. If there were suddenly a bunch of reports of people looking both ways, crossing the street, and then being hit by cars that came out of nowhere, then observation would tell you that looking both ways is not a reliable method for not getting hit by cars.

    The difference is so radically different from the religious use that I think it’s important to just not use the same word.

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