The Subjective Essence of Atheism

It is common for atheists to proclaim that “there is no evidence for God’s existence” as if this was some objective truth about our reality.  Yet when someone says, “There is no evidence for God,” all they are really saying is “I don’t see any evidence for God.”  This follows from understanding that evidence is interpreted data and as such ultimately relies on subjectivity.   Evidence is conceived rather than sensed.  We cannot measure “evidence.”  We measure data and transform data into evidence with the act of thinking.  In other words, evidence comes into existence only when the mind interprets data that are sensed.  Given the existence of evidence depends on the subjective act of interpretation, it cannot escape its subjective aspect.  Now, this does not mean evidence is entirely subjective.  For its existence also depends on the data that are sensed.  Thus recognizing the subjective aspect of evidence does not commit us to some full-blown, post-modern denial of objective reality.  But it does mean that evidence is not some objective criterion that can decide an issue of dispute.  Disputes are only resolved when a) data exist to be interpreted as evidence AND b) all minds agree to interpret the data similarly.  We deceive ourselves if we treat evidence as an objective criterion.

This subjective element is also on clear display when the atheist is asked to clarify his requests for evidence by spelling out what type of data would qualify as evidence for God’s existence. I have found that most of the time, atheists will ignore or brush off this request.  But in the cases where they try to clarify their position, they will invariably adopt the god-of-the-gaps approach to reality. For example, as we have seen before, scientist Jerry Coyne explained what he needs:

if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City, as he supposedly did to the evangelist Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, and this apparition were convincingly documented, most scientists would fall on their knees with hosannas.

Coyne needs a Sign.

Yet there are many atheists who would not consider such a demonstration of divine power as evidence for God’s existence.  Both PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have said that they would not change their mind even if a 15 foot Jesus appeared before them and boomed, “I exist.”

Over at Richard Dawkin’s page, Steve Zara makes the point very clear:

There can be no evidence for God
[…]
More stridency? Like this – we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer.

PZ Myers applauds Zara

So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us.

So we have two schools of atheism: 1) The God-of-the-Gap school that demands signs and miracles and 2) The Closed-Minded school that spins elaborate rationalizations for their inability/unwillingness to change their minds. That there is such disagreement among the atheists is very significant.  Why?

We’re supposed to take people like Dawlins, Myers and Coyne seriously because they are scientists. How so? Because they, as scientists, are supposed to be experts at handling evidence. That’s their entire claim to authority. Take away that simple factor and suddenly there is no reason why anyone would have reason to elevate their opinions beyond those of anyone else.

Yet here we have two “experts” on evidence who cannot even agree on the most fundamental question about evidence – what would count as evidence. So what good is their expertise?

Ask yourself why in the world can’t scientists like Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne reach a basic consensus on this fundamental issue of evidence?  I can only think of one viable answer.  These scientists are incapable of reaching consensus about what would count as evidence precisely because the answer to that question is so deeply subjective.  And that takes us back to the third sentence of this post: evidence is interpreted data and as such ultimately relies on subjectivity.  By morphing the actual position (I personally don’t see any evidence for God) into the rhetorical stance (There is no evidence for God), the atheist is masquerading subjectivity as objectivity to serve their culture war objectives.  And the New Atheist leaders nurture and encourage this error through their constant misuse of science as an authority on this issue.

Look, the atheist is entitled to his opinion about God’s nonexistence.

But that’s all it is.

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13 Responses to The Subjective Essence of Atheism

  1. Spot on!

    I might add that the atheists’ claim of open-mindedness with respect to evidence is only for the sake of self-aggrandizement in juxtaposition with inept theists who avow their closed-mindedness. Well, at least the latter are not so inconsistent. Here’s what Richard had to say responding to the accusation that he was “just as much of a fundamentalist as those you criticize” in his bestseller:

    “Fundamentalists know what they believe and they know that nothing will change their minds. The quotation from Kurt Wise on [>] says it all: ‘ . . . if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.’ It is impossible to overstress the difference between such a passionate commitment to biblical fundamentals and the true scientist’s equally passionate commitment to evidence. The fundamentalist Kurt Wise proclaims that all the evidence in the universe would not change his mind. The true scientist, however passionately he may ‘believe’ in evolution, knows exactly what it would take to change his mind: Evidence. As J. B. S. Haldane said when asked what evidence might contradict evolution, ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.’ Let me coin my own opposite version of Kurt Wise’s manifesto: ‘If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution. It is for this reason and this reason alone that I argue for evolution with a passion that matches the passion of those who argue against it. My passion is based on evidence. Theirs, flying in the face of evidence as it does, is truly fundamentalist.’”

  2. Linuxgal says:

    When you get finished trying to explain why we don’t have evidence for God, get back to us when you get some.

  3. Michael says:

    If you read the blog entry, you’ll discover its not about explaining “why we don’t have evidence for God.”

  4. Kevin says:

    We have tons of evidence for God and countless reasons why atheism is the single most nonsensical worldview in existence.

  5. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    I think the argument of no evidence is a sincere argument by non-believers, and one of considerable merit. It doesn’t seem to be something one touches or feels and is based on a subjective understanding, whereas science – which seems to be something that involves measurement and replication – gives the impression of absolute objectivity. You can measure, weigh and record things in the natural world. God, not so much. That said, from my understanding of how the religion I’m most familiar with, Christianity, works, God is not seen as something to be measured, weighed, etc. And I think Christians, and perhaps Jews and Muslims would mostly see God that way. He can interact and reveal himself. Richard Swinburne, the philosopher and theologian was asked about thiis once, and he made a point about Christian moral awareness, which is that if God is always there, a central tenet of Christian faith – moral freedom – is violated. Who in the constant shadow of a transcendent being is going to act with full moral genuineness? It could be argued that doubt can and must enter into the picture. Christian thought seems to acknowledge this, although it is a sincere and serious argument that non-believers put forward, when they ask for evidence, particularly when you see just how much our lives depend upon the measurement of things. I know of a Catholic woman who says she sincerely believes in God. She told me this was reinforced in her after dying while giving birth and claiming to have watched as she was reanimated over the course of a minute and feeling a transcendent presence during the process. But I would venture that even she has moments of doubt. Doubt seems a normal thing in life. As someone with OCD, I can tell you doubt thumbs his nose at certitude all the time. I’ll doubt the weirdest things sometimes and require evidences that I did or didn’t do something. Maybe ardent materialists have doubts, too. Seems reasonable to me.

  6. C.J. Cameron says:

    Scientific evidences are quantifiable and volitionally repeatable observations accessible to all. Subjective evidences, on the other hand, may be singular, non-volitional, unrepeatable observations, but they remain evidences nonetheless.

  7. What the heck is wrong with you? If our senses cannot be believed, if we cannot ask for evidence of a god there is absolutely no point in anything, not even what you believe. Nothing can be true. least of all your claims which do not match with anything else we can experience. You’re not right in the head.

  8. Andrew says:

    I can see three different positions on this:
    (1) “I see no evidence for God’s existence”
    (2) “This would be necessary evidence for God’s existence, and I don’t observe it”
    (3) “Evidence for God cannot exist (i.e. is impossible)”

    #1 is discussed above

    #2 comes up in the post above. In practice, the examples above conflate necessary evidence with sufficient evidence. “I would accept evidence of God if …” might be true, but this is a claim to sufficiency. It takes a lot more effort to objectively demonstrate the absence of evidence that *must* be present if God exists.

    #3 is a philosophical claim rather than evidential. Russell skirts addressing this, but is actually arguing that any presenting evidence should be dismissed rather than that it is impossible. I’d be interested in seeing an argument for #3 that is not circular. (A common circular form is “I don’t see evidence of God => he/it doesn’t exist => no evidence can exist.”)

  9. mechanar says:

    New atheist mantras:

    1) There is no evidence for god!

    2) Belief is withouth evidence!

    3) ?

    4) Profit!

  10. mechanar says:

    Now a little more serious. What People are meaning when they say “there is no evidence for god!” They are saying “there is no DIRECT evidence for god” its true we dont have any ancient Tablets that have “This is my favorite planet signed god” written on them but what we DO have is tons and tons of examples that gives enough reason to ASSUME there is a god .

    -The soul/mind
    -Fine Tuning
    -Morality
    -Reason

    as michael has pointed out these Facts are open for interpretation but on a neutral basis these thing seem more to indicate a being that WANTS us do be here. A random meaningless Universe does not care if all of the above things exist or dont exist. Atheists always attack Theism for its philosophical Problems and that is true it DOES have Problems(The Problem of evil ist the best example). But It CAN explain it by saying god has a reason( now there is more to it but that would be to long to explain now) were on the other side atheism Can not explain anything! Were theism has Problems the same Problems when but against atheism are completely destroying it! For example if there is no real good and evil in the universe Then ALL decisions are meaningless as well, Killing someone or helping a grandmother over the street has the same value. Reason does not matter science does not matter. Atheism is killing atheism because you cant claim on the one hand Religion is wrong if your entire Premise rests on the idea that Nothing can be wrong!
    Things are not right or wrong in a meanigless universe things just ARE! Everything else is just your personal opinion that has as much value as everything else Nothing.

  11. @joesw0rld says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with Kevin. The atheist’s whole point is that there is no evidence, no reason to think gods exist. That everything theists claim about reality does not appear to be true. And that all the evidence points towards gods being entirely imaginary.

    Theists often claim to have evidence, but their arguments never stand up to investigation. A situation we’d expect to find, of course, if gods don’t exist, but not so much if they do.

    Mechanar lists some of the common arguments in his post;

    -The soul/mind
    -Fine Tuning
    -Morality
    -Reason

    Not one of these is solid, some are actually more supportive of the no-god position.

    UpStateIslandersFan makes a common excuse for the fact that gods appear imaginary;

    “God is not seen as something to be measured, weighed, etc.”

    (a characteristic God shares with things-that-dont-exist)

    But he goes on to say that God can interact with the world. As soon as God interacts with the world then this interaction can be studied, the method we would use for this study would be science. In fact the Bible is full of stories of God’s interactions, it seems we should really be seeing/studying more of him.

    In short, atheists think this; that things that exist tend to appear to exist. Things that do exist, but appear not to, are indistinguishable from nonexistent.

  12. Michael says:

    As soon as God interacts with the world then this interaction can be studied, the method we would use for this study would be science.

    This is such a nonsensical Gnu talking point. The resurrection is one event where all Christians agree God interacted with the world. And I’m still waiting for the first New Atheist to take me up on my challenge about this:

    If science is going to address a claim, science must be able to formulate that claim as a testable hypothesis. If you want science to pass judgment on the Resurrection, you need some type of scientific analysis to determine whether or not this miracle occurred. You need to formulate the resurrection belief as a testable hypothesis. So what is it? If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, what do you predict that we should be able to find in the lab or in the field?

    Or fill in the blank. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we should be able to detect ___________.

    Unless someone can answer this question and fill in that blank, any attempt to argue that science contradicts the Resurrection fails.

    Looking forward to your testable hypothesis, @joesw0rld.

  13. Kevin says:

    ,The atheist’s whole point is that there is no evidence, no reason to think gods exist

    Of course. And that is a point that I and every other Christian disagrees with (and every believer of every other religion, far as that goes). For there to be no evidence for God, we would literally have to believe for no reason whatsoever. We do have reasons – lots of them – so we have evidence. Your claim is therefore false, unless you define “evidence” in a very narrow manner that conveniently only allows naturalistic conclusions that you can accept.

    That everything theists claim about reality does not appear to be true.

    I was uncertain about your wording here, but I’m reading it as “Not everything theists claim about reality appears to be true.” Fair enough, but the same applies to atheists.

    “And that all the evidence points towards gods being entirely imaginary.”

    Christians disagree. You are welcome to explain how your interpretation of the evidence is superior to ours, of course, as well as explaining to us exactly what evidence would count as pointing toward a god.

    A situation we’d expect to find, of course, if gods don’t exist, but not so much if they do.

    I would agree, except that situation does not exist. Theistic arguments can and do stand up to scrutiny. I find it to be the only reasonable conclusion to come to based on the evidence.

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