Atheists often criticise Christians for claiming undue certainty in their beliefs. Religious fervour can indeed carry doubtful propositions too far, force-fitting matters that properly belong in the realm of faith into the realm of knowledge.
Such over-reaching zeal is not peculiar to religious people, however. The human mind seems to be hard-wired with a craving for certainty. In fact, atheism might be accounted for more than any other position by the human need for certainty. The religious zealot, passionate for his faith and traditions, finds his counterpoint in the atheistic iconoclast.
Atheism offers two kinds of certainty. Firstly, atheists are usually content to limit themselves to belief in those things that are within the reach of the sciences. The atheist places his trust in that which is demonstrable and falsifiable – a limited sphere, but one of maximal certainty.
The second kind of certainty is less obvious. Belief lies between ignorance and knowledge. It is more certain than ignorance, but less so than genuine knowledge. By definition, then, atheism is able to pour doubt upon belief. Doubt is not very hard to achieve, after all. Atheism itself claims only to be a negation, rather than having positive statements that might be similarly open to direct criticism. So, for the atheist, all other belief systems yield themselves to criticism and doubt from which his own system is nearly exempt. Being certain of the comparative doubtfulness of every other belief system is a feeling very much like confirmation of one’s own beliefs.
So atheism achieves a level of certainty by reclassifying faith as superstition. Indeed, those of us who are Christians have to come to terms with uncertainties that need to be bridged by faith. But on the other hand, one wonders whether sacrificing all of the risky, untidy, magnificent promises of scripture at the altar of such a certainty is really worth it?