What is a Faitheist?

By an ironic turn, atheist biologist Jerry Coyne’s blog contest to find a one word moniker for atheists and agnostics who are “accomodationist” towards religion has landed on a “winning term” that actually describes Jerry Coyne himself—and his enhusiastic followers—far better than any accomodationist: faitheist.

A faitheist, to Coyne’s way of thinking, is a person who actually takes people of faith seriously (as opposed to encountering them with dumbfounded incomprehension, mockery, and general avoidance). For Jerry Coyne, authentic atheist expression would seem to require rhetorical confidence, aggression, and dismissiveness (perhaps akin in tone to that of Rush Limbaugh or Ayn Rand). A faitheist, in other words, waters down confidence atheism.

But you can now see where this is going, can’t you? For confidence absent conclusive evidence is the very signature of one with faith. “Faitheist” is thus actually the perfect moniker for Jerry Coyne and his followers. What better way to describe atheist confidence in excess of the facts than faitheism, for the fact is that it takes a lot of faith to be a confident atheist.

Albert Camus, for example, was not a confident atheist. He was just a sensible, down to earth non-believer, reluctant to express epistemic certitude where it was not warranted. Camus was an atheist, in short, with intellectual integrity. Here’s Camus, for example, speaking to a gathering of Dominican Friars in 1948:

I wish to declare also that, not feeling that I possess any absolute truth or any message, I shall never start from the supposition that Christian truth is illusory, but merely from the fact that I could not accept it.

Wow. The very tone of Camus’s statement—it’s modesty in the face of uncertainties—would today brand Camus by some contemporary atheists as no real atheist at all—but a “faitheist”—a closet believer. It illustrates clearly, I think, just how low the neo-atheists—or Jerry Coyne “faitheists”—have sunk.

Ironic, isn’t it?  

Quote source: Resistence, Rebellion, and Death, an anthology of essays by Albert Camus (1960, p. 67-68)

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to What is a Faitheist?

  1. fche626 says:

    A very interesting post :) thanks

  2. santitafarella says:

    fche626:

    Thank you!

    —Santi

  3. Grad Student says:

    The overconfident and dismissive rhetoric of Coyne is admittedly off putting. However, I wouldn’t describe Coyne’s position as entirely faith based. He is mostly concerned with (and mocks) other’s belief in miraculous events that actually occurred “out there” in the world: special creation, reincarnation, etcetera. I don’t think his position (disbelief) on these propositions is faith based. What is faith based is his disbelief in a deist type of divinity.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Grad Student:

    I agree with you. Coyne’s “faith based” atheism has to do with his faith in the strictest sort of naturalism as a global explanation for all phenomena in the universe. He may be right, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t reaching beyond empiricism (as are we all, whatever position we take with regard to the ultimate).

    —Santi

  5. Mark Loader says:

    I hate it when facts that aren’t fact are quoted, the article says “for the fact is that it takes a lot of faith to be a confident atheist”

    Faith is an absolute belief in something that has no proof, no evidence, nothing, “it is because I say it is”, to say that you have to have faith to not believe in something, when there is no proof to say that it does exist is ridiculous.

    • santitafarella says:

      Mark,

      Perhaps I missed it. What is your evidence that the material universe has just always existed (or came into existence out of nothing whatsoever)?

      On what do you base your confidence that one of these two things must be true? And where, in your estimation, did the laws of physics come from?

      —Santi

  6. Mark Loader says:

    Faith
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    For other uses, see Faith (disambiguation).
    Mino da Fiesole, Faith.

    Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth or trustworthiness of a person, concept or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof.

  7. Mark Loader says:

    But wait, there’s more, I like number 4 the best, “not based on reason:
    World English Dictionary
    faith (feɪθ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

    — n
    1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence
    2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
    3. Christianity trust in God and in his actions and promises
    4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason
    5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc
    6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs
    7. allegiance or loyalty, as to a person or cause (esp in the phrases keep faith , break faith )
    8. bad faith insincerity or dishonesty
    9. good faith honesty or sincerity, as of intention in business (esp in the phrase in good faith )

  8. Then I guess that he needs to take that same stand for all things for which their is no evidence. Couldn’t he reword it as:

    I wish to declare also that, not feeling that I possess any absolute truth or any message, I shall never start from the supposition that ANYTHING is illusory, but merely from the fact that I could not accept it.

    You see the problem here, right?

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