Wednesday, 23 September 2009

ANU Debate - Do Athesits have faith?

Today there was a debate between the Amazing Atheists (they don't have a website) and FOCUS. The topic was "Do Atheist have faith?". The whole set up was hard to hear as it was held outside and they were not allowed microphones. To make things more annoying some other group across the square had some one talking down their own megaphone.

Faith was defined as a certainty in something. Atheism was defined by the Christian group as being a denial of God and agnosticism was defined as being unsure of god's existence. The atheist group defined both atheist and agnostic the same thing, because over time through the general everyday use of the language these two words mean the same thing. From that point on, both teams were almost talking past each other.

It was hard to hear but from what I gathered the Christian group held up reason but not as the ultimate source of truth. They argued that both the Christian and atheist look at the same evidence and interpret them different. Once that has been done they then make a decision and commit to that. At that point they both have faith.

The atheist group (perhaps better called the agnostic group) denied this and said that would like to believe there is a god but there is not enough evidence so who really knows? The said that atheists have beliefs but not faith. I liked how they drew a distinction between belief and faith but not between atheism and agnosticism.

I spoke to someone earlier about this topic and they agreed that atheists do not have faith. The bible defines faith in Hebrews as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Taken as this definition of faith clearly an agnostic doesn't have it, and I am not sure if an atheist has hope in what they believe. Both teams have beliefs, the atheist group today said that, but with this definition of faith, then maybe they just don't.

There were some good questions from the crowd. The first speaker for the atheists was the most passionate in question time and I think the organiser of the debate. I spoke to him afterwards and thanked him for hosting the event. Tomorrow they are running a ball outside and handing out free ice cream and condoms. (I think they might have too high of an expectation for the night). They run meetings at 5pm on Wednesdays and as it tuns out every second Wednesday afternoon I have time to kill, so I might pop round and see them (I gave then no guarantees). I think a showing of collision might be in order when it comes out.


  1. I love these sorts of debates; totally pointless unless FOCUS is trying to give off the idea they're open-minded without actually *being* open-minded. Why else let each side pick different topics to argue? Not going in with an agreed definition is at best sloppy, and at worst, deliberately designed to produce the sort of debate that will be decided on style over substance.

    The word 'faith', in the English language, is a homophone for a few very different meanings (like 'free' as in gratis, and 'free' as in freedom). Look at -- it would be relatively accurate that atheists have faith there is no god; by meaning 1. Not by 2,3,4,5 & 6. "Confident belief in the truth" (and not complete confidence, but close enough, in the same order as faith in gravity; at least in the majority of cases, atheism is based on the scientific). If you let both sides pick the topic of debate, and they're *different* topics...

    You can have a debate on different meanings, but it ends up being kind of pointless. Can you imagine an argument over wether or not 'free' is bad, when I'm arguing that it would send shopkeepers out of business and you're arguing that we shouldn't keep slaves? Seems a bit unfair if you can open with *this man is pro-slavery*, when I open with economics.

  2. (I'm not actually saying that was the intent; just that that's pretty much the exact way you run a debate when you want to ensure you can't possibly lose.)