In one his speeches given in May 2012, Peter Boghossian defines atheists:
The overwhelming majority of atheists don’t claim there is no god. They just claim there is not sufficient evidence to warrant belief in God.
Yet multiple atheists activists do indeed claim there is no god. So it’s not clear if Boghossian is telling the truth or is simply expressing a common talking point. Let’s be charitable and assume the former. This would mean such atheists really need to come to grips with what this means. If it is true “they just claim there is not sufficient evidence to warrant belief in God,” then they need to be honest with themselves and others and acknowledge their atheism is a personal, subjective opinion.
Take evidence. While many mistakenly think evidence is equivalent to objective reality, it is not. Data, detected by our senses, represent objective reality. Once the data are sensed, they can then be transformed into evidence by the mind. It is the brain which interprets the data and assigns meaning to that data. And one form of meaning that can be assigned is to interpret the data as evidence. But the data does not become evidence without the input from the mind, which relies on other beliefs, experiences, memories, and assumptions to convert the data into evidence. So evidence is a brain-dependent phenomenon. And this is what nicely explains the empirical fact that evidence rarely generates consensus. Even among the atheists themselves, there is no consensus on what data would count as evidence for God. Those of us who have asked atheists what type of evidence they need know that the answer you get is dependent on the atheist. In other words, what is considered evidence is a matter of taste.
But Boghossian makes it worse.
He adds the qualification that this evidence must be “sufficient to warrant belief.” And just who gets to speak for the entire human race in telling us all what is and is not “sufficient?” Is there a sufficiency-o-meter that can be used to objectively detected “sufficiency?” Or do you need some type of [wink, wink] ‘special training’ that enables your brain to stop function as a brain and instead work like a computer? Clearly, what is sufficient is a matter of taste. If you are a closed-minded skeptic whose atheism is tied to a political agenda, subtle clues for God’s existence will be far from sufficient. You will demand, and need, some type of super-sensational demonstration of A Gap that cannot possibly be explained by natural causes. And that’s why so many atheists embrace God-of-the-gap reasoning. But who has ever demonstrated that the closed-minded atheist notion of “sufficiency” (= Need A GAP) is the One True Way of approaching reality?
Boghossian then continues his talk, making a claim that helps to confirm my point. He said:
For example, in Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion, he gives a 1-7 scale, with 1 being absolute belief and 7 being absolute disbelief. And Dawkins, who many consider to be the most strident of all, only puts himself at a 6.
Well….he did. But Dawkins has since changed his mind. According to Wikipedia:
In print, Dawkins self-identified as a ‘6’, though when interviewed by Bill Maher and later by Anthony Kenny, he suggested ‘6.9’ to be more accurate.
So how did Dawkins get from a 6 to a 6.9? Was there some new measurements taken between the publication of his book and 2012? If so, he has never mentioned it. In fact, Dawkins have never made any effort to explain his change in outlook. He simply changed his mind on the spur of the moment.One day he was a 6, the next day he is a 6.9. Kind of like being in the mood for pizza one day, then getting tired of pizza the next day.
That Dawkins can change his score so significantly without ever feeling the need to outline the data behind the change in score tells us clearly this is a subjective opinion.
Atheists don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant belief in God. Fine. Whatever floats their boat. But they need to start being honest about their atheism. When speaking in public, they need to begin qualifying their beliefs by simply noting that it is their opinion that there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief in God. Of course, if someone is dishonestly trying to portray their subjective views as objective reality, they will resist such clarification.
[slightly modified version of post originally listed on Oct 8, 2013]