At our favorite atheist-theist battleground, Matthew said:
It isn't quite true that the burden of proof lies on individually proving something using our individual senses. If a color blind person were to use the same criteria, you would have a real problem proving to some people red is different from green.I'm going to answer you, Matthew. For now, I'll assume that we're having a dialogue and not a debate. Maybe you'll learn something about the atheist position if you read what I have to say. I'm not attempting to turn you into an atheist, only to get you to understand what one atheist — me — does and doesn't claim. If you're game to listen and ask honest questions, without trying to score points, I'll try to elucidate my position as best I can. Bear in mind that I speak only for myself.
I don't think I said that the burden of proof always depends on our using our individual senses.
However, even assuming I did, a person afflicted with red-green color-blindness can use his or her senses to detect a real, physical difference between the colors, at least in practical situations. He or she just can't use color vision to make the distinction. But there are many other criteria in addition to pure color, depending upon what red-or-green objects you're referring to. Think of red peppers/green peppers; red traffic lights/green traffic lights; red wine/green wine; red strawberries/green strawberries. If you learned that red meat was good and green meat was rancid, you could perceive the color through your sense of smell and, if it came to that, your sense of taste. You would be able to substitute other senses for the deficiency in your color vision. You wouldn't need to rely on faith.
I'll give you a concrete example of a sensory deprivation that I myself suffer, and how I can still require — and get! — proof. Each year, songbirds called cedar waxwings migrate through my area.
These cheery little creatures travel in small- to medium-sized flocks. While flying, they give a very high call, which is way out of my range of hearing. Mrs. Exterminator, however, can hear that call perfectly. If we're outdoors, she might cry, "cedar waxwings!" and I'll look up in the sky, or at a tree across the street, or over at a bush in someone's backyard, or wherever she's pointing. Sometimes she doesn't even have to point because I'll know that there are some berries nearby that cedar waxwings just can't resist. Anyway, I'll look, and there they'll be. I don't have to hear them, but I can prove to myself that they're there.
If, after enough cases, I decide that whenever Mrs. Ex says "cedar waxwings," there are actually cedar waxwings, I may decide to trust her — trust, not have faith, because I'd be relying on actual past empirical experiences. So maybe I could accept that cedar waxwings are somewhere around even if I can't see them. But, to tell the absolute truth, much as I love and trust my wife, I probably wouldn't believe her, because she has been wrong three or four times. In those instances, her cedar waxwings turned out to be other birds that I either saw or could hear. Or not birds at all.
Sometimes, of course, she might say "cedar waxwings" and they actually would be there, even though I couldn't see them. But she wouldn't have proved their existence to me, because, although I trust her cedar-waxwing-spotting ability, I don't trust it blindly.
And that's all an atheist says. Your bird may be there, but you'll have to prove it. Because 99.9% of the time, there are no cedar waxwings around. Sometimes you're gonna say something is a cedar waxwing that isn't. Sometimes, maybe, you will hear a real cedar waxwing. But if you want me to believe there's a cedar waxwing there, you'll have to give me some evidence. Because, as far as I'm concerned, until you show me otherwise, it's probably just a mosquito.