Religious Faith Makes Claims That Cannot Be Tested

Church chapel winter

Faith refers to a particular kind of belief, a belief that lacks sufficient evidence to support it. To say that I have faith that my car will start tomorrow morning is misleading because I need no faith to hold such a belief. I have evidence to support such a prediction (i.e., considerable experience with my car starting previously, a basic understanding of how engines work, etc.).

Similarly, if I tell you that the ball I am about to throw in the air will fall to the ground, you'd be correct to point out that this belief is not rooted in faith. Faith refers to a belief which is held in the absence of sufficient evidence to justify it. If we had sufficient evidence, we wouldn't need faith.

Suppose I show you an ordinary coin and tell you that I have faith that I can flip this coin 20 consecutive times and that it will land on "heads" every single one of the 20 flips. If we assume that this is not a trick coin, we could say that my belief requires faith. When the first of my flips comes up "tails," it is clear that my claim is wrong. If I were to deny this reality and persist in my faith regarding coin flipping, you would rightly regard me as delusional (at least in the lay sense).

Now consider religious faith. Most faith-based claims made by religion are those that cannot easily be empirically tested. They cannot be shown to be true or false. Of course, there are exceptions. Recall the "prophets" who said that the world would end at the start of 2000 (or again in 2011). When the world did not end as they predicted, some of their followers simply clung to faith that they'd be right "next time."

How is this different from my coin-flip example? It is different because the bulk of religious faith is designed so that its claims can never be tested (e.g., the existence of an afterlife). As science has exposed the falsehood of many religious claims, believers have retreated into their shell of artificial reality and are far less likely to offer testable claims. They have decided that the continued existence of their beliefs is more important than having an accurate view of reality. Thus, they have erected a system in which it is almost impossible for them to discover that their faith has been misplaced all along.

An early version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2006. It was revised and expanded in 2020.

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