Against the Atheists: God or Subjective Concept? (Part 2)

My second response to the atheist contention that the inescapably subjective nature of descriptions of God means that knowledge of God cannot be certain has to do with the very notion of subjectivity. In my opinion, though I am not really a philosopher, we are much too careless in our use of the adjectives ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’. I am not sure that the two exist as independently of one another as we tend to assume. The classic example in this case is in the realm of color. When we look at the color blue, we tend to see ‘blue’ as an objective quality of whatever we are beholding. But how do we know that ‘blue’ is not something completely subjective, that someone else’s vision of ‘blue’ isn’t different from my own? We can’t ever know for certain. However, the fact that non-colorblind persons tend to point at the same objects and call them blue gives us grounds for accepting this designation as more or less certain.

The linguistic way of going at this problem is to say that our experiences of the ‘objective’ world are always mediated for us by a set of concepts given in our language. But language is conventional and therefore only ‘objective’ to the extent that we agree to adhere to the same definitions. Different cultures separate colors into slightly different categories, such that ‘blue’ is only an ‘objective’ color when a language decides to designate a certain range of colors in that area.

In regards to the opening statement of this post, the point is that conventional language about God is more or less the same as conventional language about any other ‘object’ that we humans describe. There will always be an interpenetration of the objective and subjective, and the stability of something’s existence is not dependent on whether we can conceive of it ‘objectively’, apart from cultural convention and mediation.


  • Ron Kozar says:

    The facts remains that no one perceives God visually, aurally, or tactilely. (A visionary who claims to perceive Him that way invariably “sees” or “hears” things that the person standing right next to him fails to see or hear.) That being so, any experience of God that someone might profess to have must be just a feeling or something, which is necessarily subjective. The fact that the existential experience of the color blue might differ from one pair of eyes to the next doesn’t alter the fact there is a publicly viewable phenomenon there that anyone can see and talk about, which is not the case with God.

    I’m not sure “tactilely” is even a word, but you get my drift.

  • Taran of Caer Dallben says:

    Ron, you have a point there.

    Something that I, for example, experience as God doing something in my life, will usually be something others do not notice until I tell them. So how can I be sure it was not just, as they will often tell me, wishful thinking?

    I have a good friend, we share a lot (hobbies, crafts). I know his wasy, idiosyncracies, how he tends to react in certain situations. If some other acquaintance tells me: “I met a man the other day, in the city, and when this happened he reacted in that way that kind of caught my eye”, I may think: that must have been my friend, that is so like him. Depending on the event I may be very certain of this!

    And so, even though, in my presence, Jesus never changed water into wine or cured a blind person, sometimes, when something touches me, I recognize that it comes from the same source, is done in the same spirit. And when other people tell of their experiences with the Lord, sometimes I recognize that, as I would recognize a voice.

    Sometimes of course I don’t, but if that is because of me or because of them – who am I to judge?

    There is an experience, and it can be shared, it is not easy, and there may be misunderstandings, but there is a quality that can be recognized, I think.