• Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #4: Definition of Faith’

    scott-m-sullivanSo far, Scott M. Sullivan has posted videos warning against “atheist fundamentalists,” talking about the importance of “learning logic,” and then warning people from actually using logic… or what he calls, “Scientism.”  In this fourth episode of Scott M. Sullivan’s video series on how to argue with an atheist, Sullivan again warns his viewers — this time to “Watch out for a false definition of faith.”


    I love a good argument by re-definition.  Sullivan says that atheists will define faith as “by definition believing in things without evidence.” This is correct in that many atheists (myself included) have defined faith in this way. But Sullivan doesn’t think this is the correct definition and he tells his viewers that they don’t have to accept this definition.

    Okay, let’s change the definition then so that we are not arguing past each other. What definition does Sullivan suggest?

    “Faith is a divine virtue by which we believe those things God has revealed.”

    Let’s examine this definition a moment before I go into what the Bible says the definition of faith is. Sullivan’s definition basically contains two parts. The first part is that faith is a divine virtue. This is basically saying that faith is a good thing by definition. But whether something is good or not cannot be based on its definition, but on its merits. That would be like saying that “lying is a vice in which people tell falsehoods.” Sure, lying is usually a vice, but it seemed to have worked out for Anne Frank. It isn’t a vice merely by definition. It is a usually a vice based on its merits or lack of merit in this case. My point is that we can’t define something as good and then claim that it is good by definition alone. Context matters.

    If we take that part out of Sullivan’s definition, we are left with the view that faith is “believing those things God has revealed.” Okay, now we are getting somewhere. Where is the evidence for the things God has revealed? Here, many Christians will assert that the entire world is the evidence God has revealed. But where is the evidence that God did it? How do we know God has revealed something and not that the Devil is the revealer? Maybe the Devil has revealed something and claimed that God revealed it. More likely however, science reveals how the world actually is based on observation through the scientific method. For example, God didn’t reveal that the Earth revolves around the sun; science did. If we left it up to religion, people today would still believe on faith alone that the Earth is the center of the universe and that everything revolves around us. This is after all what God has revealed.

    My point is that there is no evidence for what “God has revealed.” In other words, faith is believing what God has revealed based on no evidence. So is the atheist definition of faith really that much of a strawman? I think it just cuts to the chase.

    Still, Sullivan was quite adamant that Christians not accept this definition even though his own definition is basically the exact same thing except that he asserted it to be positive without regard for its merits.

    The Bible also has a definition for this term. Perhaps we should look at what God has revealed the definition of faith to be. According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, it is the belief in things hoped for, but without evidence. So again the atheist definition seems to match up pretty accurately with what the Bible says. No matter how Sullivan wants to run away from it, faith involves a belief and a lack of evidence.

    Still, Sullivan insists that there is evidence for God’s revelations. He claims that we know what God reveals based on prophecies and miracles. Interestingly enough, he gives no concrete examples of prophecies and miracles he would accept. As it turns out, many Jewish scholars reject the Christian prophecy argument. Christians often claim there is some vague prophecy that Jesus fulfilled, but it is questionable that a prophecy was made to begin with and even more questionable that it was actually fulfilled.

    As for miracles, it seems that they don’t really happen on camera for some reason. Plus, they don’t seem to be all that miraculous. They might just be improbable, but we don’t see amputees miraculously growing back their limbs in seconds… or at all. Instead we see people’s cancer going into remission (which can happen without divine aid) or we see the image of Jesus miraculously appearing on someone’s toast. Yet there are millions of starving children in Ethiopia and God has yet to miraculously send them manna from Heaven. Just say’n, someone’s priorities are in need of redefinition.

    Check out the rest of this series:
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #1’ – “Atheist Fundamentalist”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #2’ – “Learn Logic”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #3’ – “Scientism”

    Category: AtheismBeliefFaithfeaturedScott M. Sullivan

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

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