Atheism as Subjective Opinion

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[3] and later by Anthony Kenny,[4] 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]

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27 Responses to Atheism as Subjective Opinion

  1. I’m not sure I understand your contention, here. Those of us who, as Boghossian describes, claim that the evidence is not strong enough to warrant belief are referring expressly to our own personal understanding, and not to any objective claim about reality. Indeed, that seems like the entire point of differentiating ourselves from those atheists who make the positive assertion that God does not exist, which is a claim about objective reality.

    We are not saying that God doesn’t exist. We’re simply saying that we don’t believe you when you claim God does exist.

  2. grodrigues says:

    “Those of us who, as Boghossian describes, claim that the evidence is not strong enough to warrant belief are referring expressly to our own personal understanding, and not to any objective claim about reality. Indeed, that seems like the entire point of differentiating ourselves from those atheists who make the positive assertion that God does not exist, which is a claim about objective reality.”

    Atheists cannot even agree on what atheism consists of…

  3. TFBW says:

    @Boxing Pythagoras: if you’re saying that the sufficiency of evidence (or not) is a subjective matter, then this article classifies you as honest. If there’s a beef, it’s with the dishonest, such as the prominent New Atheist mouthpieces who insist that evidence and reason are the sole province of the non-religious. Take Boghossian, for example: he wants belief in God classified as a psychological disorder. Could he possibly poison the well of rational argument on the subject more thoroughly?

  4. Bob in Maryland says:

    Boghossian reminds me of nothing so much as the artificially intelligent bomb in the 1974 movie Dark Star, which (who?) refuses to follow a command to disarm itself, because it cannot prove to itself that the command is not “false data”. Well… you can see just where that might be headed!

  5. Regual Llegna says:

    Boxing Pythagoras says:
    “I’m not sure I understand your contention, here. Those of us who, as Boghossian describes, claim that the evidence is not strong enough to warrant belief are referring expressly to our own personal understanding, and not to any objective claim about reality. Indeed, that seems like the entire point of differentiating ourselves from those atheists who make the positive assertion that God does not exist, which is a claim about objective reality.

    We are not saying that God doesn’t exist. We’re simply saying that we don’t believe you when you claim God does exist.”

    How do you explain the “So how did Dawkins get from a 6 to a 6.9? ” question, e become more “atheist” for no reason at all?

    Oh and that last line: “We are not saying that God doesn’t exist. We’re simply saying that we don’t believe you when you claim God does exist.”

    First: Who give you the right to talk in the name of other people with atheist stance? many atheists often says: “atheists don’t have dogma, community, group/s, rules, organiation/s, etc… of any kind” (sometimes they go of tangent and imply drone like mentality of “all atheist like them”), why you show hipocresy towards this “atheist truth”?

    Second: “We’re simply saying that we don’t believe…” phrase that don’t say anything about what do you not believe. This is the kind of rethoric that is used to label not only religious belief in god but any belief about anything as “delusional” by gnu atheist fans. How do you know what other people don’t believe, in details? “…when you claim God does exist.” tell that to the “March for SCIENCE tm” guys and the Atheism+ SJWs that embrace Islam and muslims as equal in every way to they (one-side equality) to the point that they invite “…non-religious, non-christian, muslim to the March of SCEINCE tm”, i will give you a hint: THEY ARE EFECTIVELY THE MAYORITY OF THE MINORITY WORLDWIDE GROUP WITH ATHEISTS STANCE, minus buddhists. And what about me (a deist), i don’t claim that go exist, not because i don’t believe, but because i personally will never help anyone who does not deserve to be helped, i don’t live of, for, and by pity and i don’t give free info for free (like the evangelists and the preaching the “good news”).

    You don’t believe, FINE BY ME, but don’t expect to live in a 60% people with belief in God and later want to “democratily” complain about what the mayority of people want to do with their lifes, and since you use God with a capital letter that means that you mean the Christian God, so what type of god you believe that exist? the states and goverments, money and banks, scientists and the sceintific “consensus” community, politicians and their enablers, celebrity and the celebrity status, aliens and knowledge, etc,… if you need to give absolute power to anyone that is not you, who or what will be? Maybe you are not even atheist, maybe your define yourselft as “pagan” for avoid critics, or “scientist” (that is not doing any research), humanitarian (so you could use the PITY that yourself have towards other people), humanist (so you can claim that because personal charity you are by default a “good person”), or maybe another self brand, but for this blog there is a question: – Are you a New/Guns Atheist or a fan of the rethoric of those guys? Do you have a personal problem, like them (they will obviously lose fans and money), saying: “I believe that no god exist”, do you have a problem with the word “belief” like them? Why you will defend other peoples because they are atheists if is the only connection (“non-belief”?), probabily they will not have the same ideas that you about any other topic outside “God exist? No” stance?

    In a note:
    – I want to know what you think of feudalism in contrast with a pure democarcy?
    – Why do you believe that there is only atheists (non communist atheist) in mayority christian nations in Europe, North America maybe Oceania (i doubt it), but not know groups in Asia (non-poor or uneducated) or Africa (non-christian mayority), South America (i don’t know any group), Center America (i don’t know any group) or Antartida?

  6. Theists don’t agree on what theism consists of, either. I’m not sure I understand your point.

  7. I’m not a big fan of Boghossian, or pretty much any vitriolic anti-theist. I’ve contended against his awkward attempt to control the definition of “faith” on a number of occasions.

  8. pennywit says:

    There’s actually no reason for atheists to agree on any sort of dogma. The only unifying factor is “We don’t think it’s likely God exists.”

  9. Vy says:

    There’s actually no reason for atheists to agree on any sort of dogma.

    Perhaps, but they do.

    The only unifying factor is “We don’t think it’s likely God exists.”

    Based on my experience as recent as yesterday, it’s more like “There is no God or gods, ‘religion’ needs to die, scientism and naturalism FTW, I decide my morality, a godless explanation is a better one even though it’s false, etc.”. That’s pretty consistent with their proselytizing groups and individual advocates then and now.

  10. pennywit says:

    Regual, for the love of Noah Webster, could you reread before you post? Or at least use a spell-checker? Your comment is incoherent and riddled with misspellings. I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say.

  11. Vy says:

    Theists don’t agree of what theism consists of either

    There really is only one way to believe God(s) are nonexistent.

  12. pennywit says:

    There really is only one way to believe God(s) are nonexistent.

    Richard Dawkins can be an obnoxious ass, but I found the “continuum of belief/disbelief” he outlined in The God Delusion useful. As I recall (I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment), at either end you find “I am absolutely certain God exists” and “I am absolutely certain God does not exist.” The gradations in between can include statements like “I think God probably exists” and “I do not believe there is sufficient evidence either way.”

  13. pennywit says:

    Based on my experience as recent as yesterday, it’s more like “There is no God or gods, ‘religion’ needs to die, scientism and naturalism FTW, I decide my morality, a godless explanation is a better one even though it’s false, etc.”. That’s pretty consistent with their proselytizing groups and individual advocates then and now.

    Did you interact with atheists or ATHEISTS?

  14. Michael says:

    I’m not sure I understand your contention, here. Those of us who, as Boghossian describes, claim that the evidence is not strong enough to warrant belief are referring expressly to our own personal understanding, and not to any objective claim about reality. Indeed, that seems like the entire point of differentiating ourselves from those atheists who make the positive assertion that God does not exist, which is a claim about objective reality.

    We are not saying that God doesn’t exist. We’re simply saying that we don’t believe you when you claim God does exist.

    Then I would think it obvious this blog posting does not apply to you.

  15. Vy says:

    Richard Dawkins can be an obnoxious ass, but I found the “continuum of belief/disbelief” he outlined in The God Delusion useful

    Indeed. Isn’t his reason-free movement across that continuum sort of the focus of this article?

    As I recall (I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment), at either end you find “I am absolutely certain God exists” and “I am absolutely certain God does not exist.”

    I believe the thing most people forget about believers is that it has less to do with belief in His existence and more to do with worship and acceptance of Him as opposed to other gods. Thus the reason I rarely find someone saying their a theist as opposed to a deist when labeling themselves.

    The gradations in between can include statements like “I think God probably exists” and “I do not believe there is sufficient evidence either way.”

    The former doesn’t seem to be an agnostic – nothing can be known about God – and the latter is an Atheist.

  16. Vy says:

    saying *they’re* a theist

  17. Vy says:

    Did you interact with atheists or ATHEISTS?

    The difference being?

  18. Michael says:

    Regual, for the love of Noah Webster, could you reread before you post? Or at least use a spell-checker? Your comment is incoherent and riddled with misspellings. I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say.

    Just a heads up. You might want to consider that English is not his/her first language.

  19. pennywit says:

    atheist: “I don’t believe in a god.”

    ATHEIST: “I AM AN ATHEIST!!!! FEAR THE POWER OF MY BRAIN!!!! YOUR RELIGION SUCKS!!!! GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

  20. Vy says:

    ATHEIST: “I AM AN ATHEIST!!!! FEAR THE POWER OF MY BRAIN!!!! YOUR RELIGION SUCKS!!!! GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

    LOL! Definitely this. It was on a comment section about a once self-described militant Atheist saying he’s realized how naive he was and has let go off his militancy. You bet it didn’t sit well with the ATHEISTS so much so that they even attack their brethren that say “I too was once a militant atheist but…”.

  21. pennywit says:

    I used to be the latter when I was in high school and college. These days? Not so much. I joust with religious folk a little bit on the ‘Net, but mostly for shits and giggles. Somewhere along the way, I realized militant atheism is just as annoying as militant theism. Also … there are more interesting discussions once you get into the nuances rather than the screaming.

    In real life, I mostly avoid the topic of religion, like most polite people do. My last real-life encounter with actively proselytizing theists was about a year ago. A pair of very polite Mormon missionaries started their schpiel when I was walking my dog. I politely, but quite firmly said, “I’ve tried religious faith before, and it’s not for me.” They took the hint, and the conversation switched to dog care.

  22. Vy says:

    In real life, I mostly avoid the topic of religion, like most polite people do.

    For me, it comes up once in a green moon.

    My last real-life encounter with actively proselytizing theists was about a year ago.

    And my first real-life encounter with an Atheist was about 3 weeks ago. Started with me supporting his argument against people saying children from incestuous relationships are not more likely to be deformed, then arguing about AGW and ended up with him saying “God only exists in your imagination. Whatever godless theory the explains the origin of the universe is better than any with God” and I was like “Ooooh, no wonder your talking points sounded so familiar”. It was quite interesting!

    * Did I mention he called Ben Carson a moron for not being an evolutionist? Good times…

  23. Regual Llegna says:

    pennywit says:
    “Regual, for the love of Noah Webster, could you reread before you post? Or at least use a spell-checker? Your comment is incoherent and riddled with misspellings. I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say.”

    No se escribir en inglés muy bien, pero ya mejoraré luego. El punto es que no me gusta que los relativistas, de ningún tipo, intenten imponer metas, ideas y sobre todo leyes a otras personas y eso es lo que son estos “ateos” por eso no son filósofos, excepto unos cuantos, de ningún tipo que no sea relativista.

    Boxing Pythagoras says:
    “Theists don’t agree on what theism consists of, either. I’m not sure I understand your point.”

    1. – Theims means: Beliving in a god/s (action).
    2. – You, like the other gnu atheists, continually confuse words “theism” with “religion” as if they were the same.
    3. – Why so many of “you people”, as someone will say, want muslims (scientists?) in the “March for SCIENCE tm”?

  24. Regual Llegna says:

    But don’t worry Boxing Pythagoras, is true that they are crazy and dangerous religious people:
    Like The Pope Francis
    https://www.jihadwatch.org/2017/02/pope-francis-muslim-terrorism-does-not-exist
    “What he apparently meant is that not all Christians are terrorists and not all Muslims are terrorists—a fact evident to all—yet his words also seemed to suggest that no specifically Islamic form of terrorism exists in the world, an assertion that stands in stark contradiction to established fact.”

    “… no specifically Islamic form of terrorism exists in the world,…”
    The concept of Jihad in Islamic and Arab texts?, the democratily elected Hamas (still no new election)?, the criminal organitation know as ISIS (Islamic State) and their enablers?, the highly political Muslim Brotherhood and their associates?

    But i doubt that this have something to do with catholicism and cristianity in general, only another liberal talking head.

  25. Regual Llegna says:

    That still don’t cut the atheism-marxism-socialism-communism (political movements) that happened less than 100 years ago.

    In present day atheists only matter in the political spectrum (gnu atheist and liberals) if they can be non-white (simply non-european) victims of theists (no matter the belief), preferably non-male. Otherwise you are part of the “white privilege” people.

    pennywit says:
    “atheist: “I don’t believe in a god.”

    ATHEIST: “I AM AN ATHEIST!!!! FEAR THE POWER OF MY BRAIN!!!! YOUR RELIGION SUCKS!!!! GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!””

    The first line will be said if there is no public or loss of any kind, the second happen internaly especialy the :” YOUR RELIGION SUCKS!!!!” the religon word is not important, what is important for them is the “YOUR”/s.

  26. Regual Llegna says:

    Boxing Pythagoras says:
    “I’m not a big fan of Boghossian, or pretty much any vitriolic anti-theist. I’ve contended against his awkward attempt to control the definition of “faith” on a number of occasions.”

    Because atheists are not the same that anti-theists, or socialists or communits, but all the gnus are anti-theists, they need religion as enemies or their heavy flaws are visible (virtude signaling) as proof you have any bad interaction of the gnus with any other group/ideology that is not religious like femminism (SWJs and celebrities), socialism (economists), capitalism (politicians and rich people), communism (“atheists-marxists-communits”-Xi president of the communists party of China), humanism (people that feel and do action based on their own self pity), anti-racism (anti-racists and racists), transhumanists (“The “atheists” for president guy” = Zoltan Istvan) and a wide array of philosophers (Theists and most of the “old” atheists).

  27. Regual Llegna says:

    The botton line is that with the hipocresy and dishonestity those gnus atheist i am disappointed.
    I expected total objectivism on their part, a clear goal or something, but they when to celebrity status and that was all, a celebrity status obtained through mockery of other people that are serious (not all people) about what they believe about their lives and the world.

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