I don’t know who coined the phrase, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” but I would like to suggest that Christians stop repeating it. People use this phrase because they find the claims of atheism to be far-fetched and hard to believe. Which, of course, I understand. However, I would like to point out several problems with this phrase.
What Atheists Believe
Everyone has a belief system, including atheists. At the center of their belief system is typically a materialistic philosophy. Materialism is the “theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality.” In other words, atheists typically believe the material or physical world is all that exists. They believe there is sufficient evidence to reject the idea of a non-material world in which beings like God, angels, and the devil exist.
Obviously, because I am a Christian, I think there are many flaws in both the assumptions and conclusions of atheism. For instance, science seems to support biogenesis, the idea that life comes from preexisting life rather than springing spontaneously from non-living matter. This seems problematic for atheists. Biogenesis suggests that the universe, prior to the existence of life, would be incapable of ever producing life on its own.
However, although we have only ever observed life coming from preexisting life, Christians must also admit that we have only ever observed life coming from organic life. Scientists have never documented a non-material being (i.e. God) creating organic life. So, the atheist believes the first living organism somehow sprang from non-living matter. But the Christian believes a non-material God created the first living organism. Neither of these positions can be proven by science.
Obviously, I find the Christian position to be far more convincing than the atheist position. But it would be intellectually dishonest for me to pretend my position can be proven scientifically anymore than their position. Both the Christian and the atheist have come to conclusions that cannot be absolutely proven by science.
What is Faith
Obviously, the phrase, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” is a tongue-in-cheek way of insulting our atheist neighbors. The phrase implies, the amount of faith a person has is inversely proportional to the amount of scientific evidence they have to support their beliefs. In other words, the more proof one has the less faith required.
However, the word, “faith” does NOT mean, believing in something without proof. Faith is not about the absence, or shortage, of proof. That is simply not how the Bible uses the word “faith.” And when Christians talk about faith that way, they are actually undermining the Christian faith.
The Greek word for faith is, “pistis.” It is about commitment, loyalty, and allegiance. A Christian’s faith is not in a philosophical idea, not even in the philosophical ideas of creationism or theism. Our faith should be in God. He is the one to whom we owe our loyalty, commitment, and allegiance.
Hebrews 11:1 is often used to define faith, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” On the surface, this verse may seem to support the idea that faith is believing without solid evidence. However, in context, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the author is not even referring to belief in God’s existence. He is saying, faith is being committed to God based on the assurance and conviction that God will eventually do what we hope for, what we have not yet seen.
In other words, faith is acting in the present based on the assurance and conviction that God will keep his promises in the future.
Object of Faith, Not Amount of Faith
It could be argued that the typical atheist does have a type of faith. However, the atheist’s faith is in science, in themselves, in some philosophy, or in something else, rather than in a divine being. Everyone has faith in something.
For instance, an atheist might be committed and loyal to something like the scientific method, believing science essentially has all the answers to life’s questions. They likely acknowledge that science has not yet provided all the answers. However, they have faith that science will eventually explain all the things it has not yet explained.
I need to add, this is not to say Christians should reject science. Of course not! Science and Christianity are not at odds. But we should recognize the limitations of science. Since we do not hold to a materialistic worldview, we believe there is more to reality than what can be observed and tested. We subscribe to the concept of a heavenly (non-material) realm, in which God has always been active.
When a person’s “faith” is in science or philosophy, that person has given that field of study their loyalty and allegiance. They have “assurance” and “conviction” that the object of their faith will eventually deliver the answers (the salvation) for which they hope. Christians, on the other hand, should have faith in God.
Therefore, the difference between the Christian and the atheist’s “faith” is not in the amount of faith, but in the object of faith. It isn’t that an atheist has more or less faith than a Christian. It is that a Christian has faith in the triune God and an atheist has faith in something else.
Conclusion: Please Have More Faith than an Atheist
When people say, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” they are not only insulting their neighbor, they are unintentionally insulting themselves. If faith is acting in the present based on the conviction that God will keep his promises in the future, every Christian should desire to have as much faith as possible. We should strive to be completely loyal and committed to God.
It may be true that some atheists have more faith in their field of study than some Christians have in God. However, we should not be proud or joke about that fact. We should be ashamed if anyone has more faith in something than we do in God.
Having faith in Jesus means presenting “your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). It means losing your life for his sake and the sake of the gospel (Mark 8:35). If we see that others are more committed to their worldview, philosophy, or field of study than we are to the person of Jesus Christ, then we need to repent and recommit ourselves to him.
I love you and God loves you,