Friday, September 21, 2012

Why do atheists spell "God" with a little "g?"

I had a conversation today with a man we will call M, posting in the comment section for an Amazon review of our e-book, True Reason, which came up with the crocuses this spring.  (And whose cellulose leaves are due to drift down in physical form this fall.)  He admitted, in his initial post, that he was confused by a popular argument that God is the necessary source of morality.  Four rounds of back-and-forth showed that he really was confused, and seemed to want to draw others into that state as well.  But ironically, from all the confusion a measure of clarity seemed to emerge on a question I've often asked in recent years: why have so many Internet atheists taken up spelling "God" with a small "g" lately?

Other poster:  The straw-man argument of accusing theists of saying that non-Christians are immoral won't do. In fact, the Christian says that all men DO have morality, written by God on their hearts. That's an argument FOR God, not against him.

M: Care to explain which god you're talking about? Amun Rah? Allah? Shiva? Zeus? Jupiter? Oden? Apollo? Kuan-yin? Venus? Mitras? Istar? Neptune? Minerva? Sete? Rama? Quetzalcoatl? Si-Wang-Mu? Tezcatlipoca? Isis? You guys have created so many Gods over the years, it's hard to keep track!

DM: There's only one God, M. This is proven in many ways, among which the obvious fact (did you bother asking yourself this, first?) that no one ever credited Apollo or Guan Yin (the "K" is old-fashioned, get with the times) with being the source of moral law, anymore than anyone credited Spiderman with creating spiders. Honestly, go beyond bumper-sticker skepticism and dare to think.
M: There is no evidence for the christian god (other than a 2000 year old book written by unverifiable authors).

Moral law is a very subjective term, in ancient Greece is was common practice for people to own child sex slaves. Where is your evidence for the assertion that the christian god is the source of moral sense?
DM: You asked "which god" is alleged to be the origin of morality, claiming that the plurality of gods makes this confusing for you. I've just pointed out that only one God, the Creator God and Source of All Being, is alleged to be the grounds of morality. Are you still confused on that question? Or does your desire now to move on indicate that you recognize that question has been adequately answered . . . ?
M: You've made a logical fallacy; you've made a blanket assertion that 'god is the source for morals' and I've asked you for evidence, and you've resorted to an assertion without proof. If you're having trouble, you've committed a simple post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
DM: An assertion without proof is not a "logical fallacy;" it is just an assertion without proof. For instance:

"The moon is made of green cheese."

There is no logical fallacy here, even if the statement happens to be wrong.

Anyway, I didn't say "god is the source for morals." I didn't even say (more grammatically correct; perhaps your confusion is largely grammatical) "God is the source of morals." I am beginning to wonder if your entire worldview might not arise from something so elementary as sloppy reading.
M: Are you going to answer my original question(s)? Where is your evidence that:

There's only one God, Stanley This is proven in many ways, among which the obvious fact (did you bother asking yourself this, first?)

And this:

I've just pointed out that only one God, the Creator God and Source of All Being, is alleged to be the grounds of morality. Are you still confused on that question?

Please provide proof the christian god is responsible for morals. If the christian god is responsible for my morals, how come I don't have the urge to kill homosexuals, or stone rape victims?
DM: Sorry if this sounds truculent or contentious, but let me speak frankly.  A better question might be, if God is the author of our conscience, why don't you try harder to accurately represent opposing arguments? 

Several times, now, you have seemed to deliberately fog the issues, rather than try to clarify them:
(1)  Some Christian claim God is the source of morality.  God, in Christian vocabulary, means the Uncaused Cause, the Creator of all things that exist or can exist, inhabiting all things, not locally confined to any one place, the unique source of all that exists.  Why do you confuse that concept (even as a concept) with, say, Apollo, a ancient Greek action figure with a few cool superpowers, but who was born, locally inhabited a particular mountain in Greece, and was limited in power and knowledge?  
(2) Why in your first post do you say, "You guys have created so many Gods," but then in your second post speak of "the Christian god," perversely reversing conventional spelling in both cases?  Normally the lower case "g" is used to refer to divine figures in general, generic powerful spirits.  The upper case "G" refers to the Uncaused Cause, the Creator of all things, infinite in distance and character from all creatures that come into being.  The letter is given upper and lower cases to make it clear which of these two quite diverse concepts one is referring to. 

Even with commonplace names, "Lake Baikal" is the name of a specific body of water, one of many "lakes." 
So it is striking that you admit confusion, then seem to go out of your way to manufacture the very confusion you admit by deliberately bad grammar.  Are you confused?  Or do you want to confuse? 
(3) You also manufacture a quote and put it in my mouth, to the effect that "god (sic) is the source for morals." 
But I didn't say that.  I said that God (the only God) is "alleged" to be the source of morals.  I used the word "alleged" twice.  Why did you overlook it both times? 
(4) Now you claim that your "original question" was "where is the evidence (that there is a God)?"
But that wasn't your original question.  Your first 20 questions, in fact, all reduce to:
"Which god are you talking about?"
And I think I have answered that question, as hard as you seem to be laboring to misunderstand my answers. 
I hope I am not being too petty, to deconstruct your arguments in this way.  I don't mean to be cruel, but I really do want you to stop simply mouthing skeptical slogans, and stop meandering from bumper sticker to bumper sticker, and begin to think. 
Think first about your circumlocutions, above. 
Why do you, and so many other Internet atheists these days, insist on using the ungrammatical "god" in place of the correct, dictionary and traditional term "God?" 
One might suppose it is for the same reason my dog's fur stands up on his back when he meets another dog that he's afraid of.  He wants to make himself look relatively big: one can do this either by puffing oneself up, or by diminishing Him whom one fears. 
One might suppose "god" is a petty way of snearing at Christians who are conceived of as having (and sometimes do have) thin skins. 
But here is another possible explanation.  The conversation here is about God.  You claim to be confused about which "god" we are talking about, name 19 diverse ancient superheroes, and ask which one we are referring to -- one of these "Gods," or the Christian "god?"  So you not only confuse philosophy (the "Unmoved Mover" with a guy in tights flying down from Olympus to make hay with the ladies), you also confuse standard English spelling and even fail to be consistent with your own spelling within the space of a few lines. 
This, I think, is not just carelessness.  This is a sign that something deeper is going on than sloppy spelling.  This suggests you are not confused by accident: you mean to be confused, and you mean to confuse others, too, if feasible. 

I guess some atheists spell "God" with a little "g," to reassure themselves that He doesn't exist, by conflating him with superheros whose existence it is easier to deny.

St. Paul's words come to mind:

God's indignation is revealed from heaven against all impiety and wickedness of men who through their wicked ways suppress the truth; because whatever can be known regarding God is evident to them, for God has shown it to them.  From the creation of the world His invisible qualities, such as His eternal power and divine nature, have been made visible and have been understood through His handiwork.  So that they are without excuse.  Because although they had knowledge of God, they failed to render Him the praise and thanks due to God . . .

Maybe I'm over-reading a careless train of thought.  But I've long been intrigued by the idea that everyone really knows that God exists, at some level of our being.  If that idea is correct, and it may be, our awareness of God need not always be entirely conscious -- we know, but suppress the truth.  But it seems likely that the suppression of known truth would reveal itself in visible obfuscations and intentional confusions, the moving of the shells to hide the nut of truth.   


David B Marshall said...

Kilo: Thanks for confirming my hypothesis. But we have standards, here.

Jason Pratt said...

What's stranger is that I know people who are not actually hostile to the notion of theism (even being at least a little theistic themselves), nor even hostile to religious theism per se (despite not being Christian or Jewish or Muslim themselves), who have switched to using little "g" when talking in ways that normally would refer to God Most High.

I know one such person in particular who not only ought to know better for grammatic reasons, but has degrees in archaeology and anthropology. She would never even distantly consider calling Thor "thor" even in casual conversation, or Zeus "zeus", or any of her fictionally invented deities (she's a fantasy author). As noted above, it isn't that she's inherently disrespectful in attitude to theism or to religious theisms, either: she has Christian and Jewish friends (and thinks rather highly of me not only personally but as a religious person).

Now, granted, this kind of behavior is also endemic among people who are clearly doing it to be hostile. But that ought to be even more reason for people who aren't particularly hostile to stop doing it. Pretty much every such person I know of (herself included) who does it would be affronted for the sake of other people if their beliefs were belittled like that.

After considering different examples of this over the past three or four years, I have decided that it's a way of socially identifying that someone is only using the term colloquially, not as a believer. That would explain most or all of the discrepancies involved, such as, to use 'her' as an example again, why such people seem to be fine with using the capital G when seriously referring to God (despite not being theists or not being religious theists).

Gnus, and people who aren't necessarily gnus themselves but have been recently influenced by them, simply take that concept to the next stage by using the small 'g' even when talking in a non-colloquial way about the kind of deity Allah or YHWH would be--even when people merely influenced by gnus aren't trying to be actively insulting. It's a cultural tag for signaling they don't believe in God.

Gnus per se take it to the next level again by being intentionally insulting about it, so we see things like reversing English grammatic standards in ways they expect to directly annoy theists who aren't polytheists--even though not everyone who follows the new trope or meme (for want of a better word) really intends to be insulting (although they might intend to be dismissive, but not even necessarily that).

I kind-of think that's the answer she'd give as a folk anthropologist anyway. {g}


Jason Pratt said...

Argh, commenting again so blogger will register me for followup alerts. {rolling eyes}


XAtheistX said...

There is a very good reason why atheists spell god with a little g. It is because the Christian god is like all other fictional characters. Dragons, faeries, and trolls are all characters that are not capitalized because they do not exist. They aren't important. Therefore the word god also doesn't need to be capitalized. I think its amusing how you characterized atheists who use a lower case g as doing so because they want to "diminish Him whom one fears." That's down right hilarious!

David B Marshall said...

X: You lend support to the "atheists having problems with grammar" hypothesis.

Caps or no caps has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person is fictional or non-fictional, important or unimportant.

Harry Potter is capitalized.

A dog named Lassie is capitalized.

The dragon Smaug, the fairy Twinklebell, and the troll Bert are all capitalized.

The "world's leading superpower" is not capitalized, despite its vastly greater importance compared to a collie, and even the fact that Lassie is fictional.

What is rather funny, though more sad than hilarious, is that this basic rule of grammar seems to have passed you by, leaving you grasping for straws.

XAtheistX said...

Apparently you are the one with grammar issues since I said god is not capitalized because "they do not exist" and are "unimportant." What do I mean by this? Do you place much importance upon unicorns or leprechauns? How about faeries? Do you regularly capitalize these other fictional figures? If you answer "no" then you have your answer why atheists do not capitalize god. Talk about a lack of reading comprehension! Sheesh!

David B Marshall said...

X: Oh, I see. Your rule for grammar is, "Do not capitalize proper names when the named person is BOTH imaginary AND unimportant."

Whereas, we should capitalize Lassie, Tinkerbell, Smaug, and Bert, as is always done by literate wriers of the English language, because while imaginary, they are more important than God?

Your buffoonish comments (sorry, but they really are) reinforce my hypothesis. It appears that you really are refusing to use caps for God, against all grammar, logic, and English precedent, precisely to pretend to yourself that He is "unimportant," in other words to minimize Him, make him less of a psychological threat, to whistle past the graveyard, as it were. You rather directly confirm my hypothesis: so has Stanley, in the Amazon thread, in almost exactly the same way.

Brian Barrington said...

I think some atheists spell God with a small g because they think putting it in the capital letter confers special significance on God, and they object to that. Is God a common noun or a proper noun? You could make a reasonable case that it is a proper noun – if we spell Allah and Zeus and Shiva and so on with capitals, then I don’t object to spelling God with a capital G.

The question is: what is God? Is God a personal God, as envisaged by Judaism, Christianity, Islam and others? Or is God an impersonal, immanent entity, such as the Universe, or Total Reality, or the Totality of all Universes etc.? If the latter, many would argue that the word “God” is superfluous – why not just use “Universe” or “World”? That depends on whether the concept of salvation makes sense even if God is impersonal – many Hindus, Spinoza and others think that the concept of salvation is rational and coherent even if God is impersonal, and so for them it still makes sense to use the word God.

XAtheistX said...

I was not referring to "proper names." I was referring to mythical beings and creatures such as faeries or dragons. I have to agree with Brain's take on the issue with the exception that I do mind if god is capitalized.

Southern Anglican said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Southern Anglican said...


Suppose we all had a conception of a sort of Prime Unicorn. A greater and more perfect and more self-sufficient unicorn than any other unicorn. He is a sort of archetypal unicorn, and we call him Unicorn. Some people say he's not a person but an idea; some say he is fact and others fiction; some say he is a spirit, some say an energy, some say a state of mind. But all agree that he is a distinct, unique entity. Even if he is not a person and even if he does not exist, talking about him is not the same as talking about just any old unicorn. Since the people who usually discuss Unicorn speak English and have a modicum of education, they capitalize the name.

Oberon is a faerie. He is also a fictional character in a play. 'Oberon' is his proper name, and it is capitalized, because in English that is what you almost always do with proper names. Whether the bearer of the name is real or fictional, in your judgment or anyone else's, is entirely beside the point. If I make up a character tomorrow named Joachim Eduardo Bebel, anyone who mentions his name in writing is, by capitalizing his name, merely observing the rules. They're not saying 'yes, I think this person actually exists.'

I don't see how this could get any simpler.

David B Marshall said...

Southern Anglican: It IS quite simple and obvious. Maybe X really is ignorant of this rule and the value of such conventions, but it passes reason that the more educated Gnus who do this could be. That it is a sneer, a petty little rhetorical act of sabatoge, is obvious, like the woman who crosses out "In God we trust" on a bill, whose blog account I just read a few minutes ago. My hypothesis is that it is also an attempt to deny the truth of God (not gods) that it simultaneously acknowledges, in the very act of "exchanging the truth of God for a lie." Any thoughts on that?

Southern Anglican said...

David Marshall:

I'm not sure what you mean by saying it's an acknowledgment of the truth of God. It doesn't seem to do that in any way - though it is certainly consonant with the verse to which you allude.

There are innocent enough reasons to neglect capitalizing 'God' but in my experience, coming from combative atheists it's usually plain old blasphemy, an attempt to strip God of the honor due to him. It is at the very best a denigration not of God but of religious belief or believers.


David B Marshall said...

SA: I could be wrong. I'm trying to peer beneath the surface of things, and it is striking to me that in the act of denying God's existence, skeptics can't even bring themselves to refer accurately to him, but deny the existence of "gods" instead. I know Freud can be overplayed, but he may have had a point in this case -- including about himself. Maybe at some level, Anselm is at work on them, and they realize they can't deny God. Or maybe I'm imagining things.

Southern Anglican said...

David Marshall:

I suppose it is possible that, on some subconscious level, the atheist is drawing back from wording his condemnations precisely because he senses God is real, and like everyone else the atheist desires the ultimate good which can only be found in him. Certainly I agree that everyone has some sense of and longing for God, however deeply buried. But I think the atheist's surface antagonism is sufficient explanation. After all, many atheists do not employ such rhetorical flourishes.

Jason Pratt said...

I'm just not interested in Bulverizing people, even when they're Bulverizing us. Lewis taught me better than that. {shrug} {g}

The gnus clearly do it to insult us; other agnostics and atheists do it for reasons that clearly have nothing to do with insulting us. (At least one non-gnu of my acquaintance does it precisely so that she won't be dishonoring God Most High by referring to Him colloquially.) Neither group has to be doing it for subconscious psychological weaknesses.

Putting it another way: any explanation of hostile usage which doesn't fit the habit of some Christians of refusing to capitalize the name/title of Satan for various reasons, is likely to be false. {g}


David B Marshall said...

Jason: That's a good rebuttal, and you may be right. I'll keep my pet theory on a leash, but I'll also take it out for walks from time to time and let it sniff around, because I still think there may be something to it.

Jason Pratt said...

Just don't let it pee on anyone. {g}