Lately, I’ve been thinking about atheism and faith. There seems to be a common sentiment that atheists don’t have faith, that they lack the ability to take something on faith.
Speaking only for myself, this is not true. I do have faith. I have a great deal of faith. It’s just that my faith is not in a higher power or some deity or another.
I have faith in the scientific method. I believe in a way of looking at the world that takes into account observable results and updates hypothesis and theories to accommodate them.
I have faith in the repeatability of experiments, and the learning that happens when one team of researchers attempts to replicate the results of another.
I have faith in a process that is willing to overturn centuries of accepted dogma when evidence is revealed that contradicts it.
I have faith in people of considerable intelligence, education and/or experience, and their ability to delve deeply into very complex topics and reveal underlying patterns and behaviors that can be tested, used and expanded upon by others.
I have to have faith in these things! The universe is too large and too complex for me (or any person) to question, test and validate first-hand every theory that has been proposed. Every time I step on an airplane, I show faith in the scientists and engineers who have contributed to its design and maintenance. Every time I take a medicine I’m exercising faith in the doctor who investigate diseases and the unknowns of the human body, and the teams that develop treatments for them.
It’s not a blind faith. I know there are scientists who knowingly submit flawed data. I know there are researchers who will let personal prejudices override cold, hard facts. But I have faith that those are the exception rather than the rule, and that over time such problems are identified and corrected.
I also accept that there are an extraordinary number of things about our existence that we don’t understand yet, don’t even have a theory about. I’m even willing to consider that there may be things that humans will never know. But I don’t have any need to ascribe supernatural explanations to the unknown. I’m content simply to say “We don’t know yet. Maybe we will someday.” I have faith that scientists, from the tinkerers in a garage to the folks in white lab coats, will continue to provide new answers and even newer questions.