No God-Yes God Divide

by | June 13, 2015

In an opinion piece for Peterborough This Week, Mike Lacey describes the difficulty of “Finding the Balance in The No God-Yes God Divide”:

I can sympathize with Christians who feel under attack in Canada.

Heck, as an agnostic, I’ve felt like that most of my life. In our society, when it comes to religion, to often one is forced to make a choice.

When Lacey says,

Atheists tend to look at agnostics as wishy-washy and can be as militant as the most Bible-thumping Christians.

he is both right and wrong.  Most atheists do see agnostics as wishy-washy and find the excuse that there is no way to prove there is no God unconvincing, but very few atheists are militant. In fact, very few are militant and most are not militant active enough.

Lacey goes on to say,

while the religious and the atheist are at polar opposites, they seem to have a grudging respect for each other. And both seem to look down upon the agnostic for failing to have strong enough convictions to pick a side.

Therefore, I tend to shut up, never really letting people know where I stand.

However, Lacey ‘s article, “Finding the Balance in The No God-Yes God Divide,” makes it very clear that he is taking a stand:

So, while I can sympathize with Christians for feeling under siege, I would like to remind them that their religion is still the dominant force in Canada. Political leaders still proudly proclaim themselves Christian and, even though Peterborough’s city council may not open up meetings with the Lord’s Prayer, there is nothing preventing individuals stating that prayer any time they choose.

Lacey should be applauded for writing this article and for risking “ridicule” from both the religious and the atheist.

14 thoughts on “No God-Yes God Divide

  1. Larry Moran

    I doubt that Lacy believes in gods. Therefore he is an atheist … and an agnostic. The reason why most atheists mock “agnostics” is because they don’t understand the correct meaning of the word “atheism.” Or, at the very least, they don’t understand that the atheists they criticize have a different definition than the one they use.

    In spite of what he says, I’m absolutely certain that Lacy has picked a side. Either he believes in some gods, or he doesn’t. I can’t even imagine what other position he could adopt unless he’s a Christian on odd numbered days of the month and an atheist on the even numbered days.

  2. bruce van dieten

    I agree Larry. Well said. I am sympathetic to those agnostic friends of mine who say, since we can’t disprove the
    existence of God, the door is open for that possibility to exist. My probelm with that logic is one has to then accept the a priori existence of something called god. I can’t disprove the existence of something that has no essential markers of existence and so therefore I have to accept that it might exist. Huh? That is giving away too much. I simply don’t accept the original premise, anymore then I do unicorns or water sprites, etc. and see no reason for the discussion.

  3. Tim Underwood

    I would have to agree with both of you. Although, I have always thought it was a stronger position to say that the scriptures were obviously composed (concocted) by human authors. In the absence of the Abrahamic assertions, who really cares about atheism?

    Probably one of the reasons that the acceptance of the possible existence of gods persists is that we are thinking in English. Remember this language, as we now have it, was created by Christians, for the most part. Islam has a similar relationship with the two main languages of its origin.

  4. billybob

    Two internet/youtube defintions of atheist.

    Atheist (Christian/Muslim version)
    Someone who believes no god(s) exists.

    Atheist (Atheist version)
    Someone who believes there is no evidence god(s) exists.

    Lacey is using the Christian definition of atheist, commonly used for the “where is the proof atheism is
    accurate and correct” strawman.

  5. Indi

    > The reason why most atheists mock “agnostics” is because they don’t understand the correct meaning of the word “atheism.”

    Yes, exactly. I don’t think agnostics are wishy-washy – I’m an agnostic, a strong agnostic (and a weak atheist), and quite proud to say so. I do believe it is and always will be impossible to prove that no gods exist.

    But I do disdain people who call themselves agnostics because they think it means they don’t have to call themselves atheists. That’s not only plain cowardice, it’s actually adding to the bigotry and discrimination against atheists when you refuse to accept the label.

    Of course, I make allowances for ignorance – for people who call themselves agnostics-and-not-atheists because they don’t know any better. There are a lot of people spreading the silly idea that “agnostic” is somewhere “between theist and atheist”, when the truth is that “gnostic/agnostic” is about an *entirely* different question than “theist/atheist”. But after I’ve explained that “agnostic” is not a get-out-of-jail free card – you still have to choose between theist and atheist – if they *still* refuse to admit they’re atheists, that’s when my respect for them fizzles.

    > Atheist (Christian/Muslim version)
    > Someone who believes no god(s) exists.
    > Atheist (Atheist version)
    > Someone who believes there is no evidence god(s) exists.

    Both of those definitions are wrong.

    Having the belief that a god or gods exist.

    A-theism = the logical complement of theism

    The “a-” there is the “privative a” from Greek (which is also where “theism” comes from), which just means “not”. It’s same way “amoral” means “not moral”, but not “immoral”.

    “Atheism” is just “not having the belief that a god or gods exist”, which is not the same as “having the belief that gods do *not* exist”.

    As for agnosticism, that’s relating to an entirely different question. (A)theism is about a question of fact: do gods exist? (A)gnosticism is about a question of knowledge: is it possible to know whether gods exist?

    I am an agnostic atheist. I do not believe it is or will ever be possible to prove that a god does or doesn’t exist… but I don’t believe they do.

    1. billybob

      As I stated these are the definitions in common use on the internet. The dictionary definition is not used on the internet and will get you in trouble with PZ Myers.

      I am 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 sure gods do not exist, am I an agnostic atheist?

      I am also 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 sure planet eating vorpal dragon kittens do not exist, am I an agnostic avorpaldragonkittenist?

      At what point does reality come in, is anything possible? No, gods and planet eating vorpal dragon kittens do not exist.

      1. Indi

        > The dictionary definition is not used on the internet and will get you in trouble with PZ Myers.

        You are not telling the truth, *and* you are misrepresenting Myers.

        First of all, the “dictionary” definition is very definitely used on the Internet, and in general. To say it isn’t widely used is simply bullshit. In fact, most atheist sites will correct you if you don’t use it. Dr. Moran came all the way here from Sandwalk, for example, to correct the improper usage. For some other major examples, I can point to American Atheists (, (, RationalWiki (, even Wikipedia (it’s even in the simple English version: Even Richard Dawkins – the people that most of the uninformed public thinks is the atheist pope – uses the correct definition in his books (and in fact is *only* an atheist if you use the correct definition – if you use the incorrect definition religious people like to use *Richard Dawkins would not be an atheist*).

        Second, Myers’s problem with “dictionary atheists” isn’t that he objects to people using the actual correct meaning of the word. It’s that he objects to people refusing to admit that there are *consequences* to the actual correct meaning of the word. In the real world you can’t simply say “I’m an atheist” then drop the mic and walk away – once you’ve identified as an atheist, you now have to explain where you get all your values and meaning from, because they obviously didn’t come from a god. Myers has a problem with people who refuse to do that – he has a problem with people who want to identify as an atheist then go no further, accepting no social responsibility or anything else.

        > I am 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 sure gods do not exist, am I an agnostic atheist?

        You have not given enough information. “Agnostic” and “atheist” are two entirely separate things – you cannot possibly identify with both using only a single clause. The degree of certainty is also irrelevant.

        You want to know what you are with respect to agnosticism and atheism? It’s quite simple. There are only two question you need to ask.

        Do you believe a god or gods exist? If yes, you are a theist. Otherwise, you are an atheist.

        Do you believe it is possible to prove or disprove the existence of gods? If yes, you are not agnostic. Otherwise, you are agnostic.

        In my case:

        Do I believe a god or gods exist? No – I just haven’t seen any decent reasoning or evidence to suggest it. Therefore: atheist.

        Do I believe it is possible to prove or disprove the existence of gods? No – I think it is totally impossible to prove something *doesn’t* exist, and particularly for gods because they don’t seem to be subject to any laws of reason or limits. Therefore: agnostic.

        1. Corwin

          As long as we’re talking about dictionary definitions, I should point out that my Concise Oxford defines atheism as “disbelief” in deities. That word implies something more definite than absence of belief or lack of belief, I think. But dictionaries are just a starting point in any case.

        2. billybob

          The bit about PZ Myers was meant as humour(failed I guess).

          Some internet definitions of atheist

          These definitions of atheist are similar to mine and are on the internet. The reason I said christian definition was because in debates on the internet they use this definition.

          One arguement is “you can’t prove there is no
          god so atheism is a religion” ignoring the null
          hypothesis to put atheism on the same footing as
          religion, a belief.

          1. Indi

            > The bit about PZ Myers was meant as humour(failed I guess).

            Sarcasm doesn’t travel via text. If you’re going be sarcastic or ironic, it would be best to clearly mark it so (*especially* when it’s relating to something that there is a lot of controversy about).

            > These definitions of atheist are similar to mine and are on the internet.

            No one disputes the incorrect definition can be found on the Internet. But what you said was that the correct definition is *not* found on the Internet. That’s simply not true, as I showed. (And I remembered *another* recent example – – where McGuire actually mentions the conflict, and that he was only one of many pointing out the error in the original video.)

            As for the dictionaries, there are 4 main problems with using them without caution.

            First, all English dictionaries are *de*scriptive, not *pre*scriptive. They describe what people *do*… not what people *should* do. If enough people are using the wrong definition of a word, dictionaries will happily include it. The easiest way to prove that is to look up the definition of “peruse”. You’ll find that most dictionaries define it to mean “read through carefully” *and* “skim casually”… completely opposite meanings. (Also take the case of “literally”:

            Second, some dictionaries just plain suck. Like, *really* suck. Merriam-Webster is famously horrible, but even in the case of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, it makes a difference which version you have. Some versions include the correct definition (even with etymology and usage, natch, others don’t ( Even within the same dictionary, definitions can change quite frequently – there was one point where the definition of “atheism” on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary changed at least three times in a single year.

            Third, dictionary definitions can be highly politicized, and heavily influenced by the ideologies of the editors. It’s not just “atheism”; get dictionaries for the last 30 years and look up the definition of “marriage” – some *still* define “marriage” as between “a man and a woman”. Editors of prestigious dictionaries are well aware of the power and influence they have, and can and have used dictionaries to promote religious ideology. The classic example is Noah Webster, who turned into a real zealous Christian wacko later in life – that is, the time he was actually writing his dictionary, versions of which are still in use today. He quite shamelessly used his dictionary and other language and teaching books to promote Christianity.

            And finally, it’s just a numbers game. For every dictionary you provide that gives the incorrect definition, I can provide another one that gives the correct definition. If majority rule was all it took to decide what is right and what is wrong, then we’d all be Christians.

            Generally, you should *never* use dictionaries to justify your position in a debate (unless the debate is specifically about dictionaries, I guess). They are *terrible* sources of truth. They’re not *entirely* useless, but they’re about as trustworthy a source of information as using your thumb to measure something. Trying to use them to figure out the *actual* meaning of something is as stupid as trying to use a map to figure out the actual landscape of a location. And if you think that’s a good idea, enjoy your trip to Sandy Island.

            Here are the facts:

            * Just about every major atheist group that bothers to give a definition of the word gives the correct definition – that atheism is just a lack of belief in gods. And the *vast* majority of people who all themselves atheists are only atheists by the correct definition (like me). (And yes, the *vast* majority – there have been plenty of polls and studies that show that “strong” atheism is much rarer than “weak” atheism. The incorrect definition only covers strong atheism.)
            * If atheism were *not* just a lack of belief in gods, most of the most prominent atheists would no longer be atheists. That just makes no damn sense at all.
            * Theists have a very strong motivation to push the incorrect definition; it turns a simple lack of belief in *their* proposition into an actual belief in a *different* proposition (that there are no gods), which they can then demand that we show evidence for. (That would be the example you gave with the “null hypothesis”.) Atheists who play into this game are idiots.
            * The correct definition of the word is the only one that is actually correct, given the morphemes. Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong. (And they usually can’t even argue that – instead they try to argue that “well, it doesn’t *matter* that it’s actually wrong…”.)

            So, there it is. The correct definition is correct by the etymology, by the morphology, by the official definitions used by almost all atheist organizations, and by the usage by the vast majority of atheists (though not the vast majority of *people* because most people are not atheists… but who gives a fuck about what they think on a topic they don’t even know much about?). There’s really no argument to be made.

            It really depresses me that atheists are so determined to rid the world of bad ideas and misconceptions… riiiiiiiiight up until the moment it’s one of *their* bad ideas or misconceptions. Then they’ll throw out all the usual terrible defences they’d *never* accept from others, like that “it’s what most people believe”, “there’s no point in fighting the inertia of entrenched misconceptions (or ‘swimming against the current’)”, “it doesn’t hurt anyone to be wrong about this”, “there are more important misconceptions to worry about”, etc..

            So if you’re one of the people who believed that “atheist” meant “someone who believes there are no gods”… you were wrong. Suck it up, correct your knowledge, and move on – that’s exactly what we ask believers to do, so we should be able to as well.

            As for the dictionaries, we can deal with fixing them another day.

          2. Corwin

            The correct definition of the word is the only one that is actually correct, given the morphemes.

            Riiight. Which is why transphobia is a morbid fear of crossing things (roads? railway tracks? lines in the sand?), a butterfly is a winged insect made of butter, and “to conspire” means either “to breathe together” or “to deceive a steeple” depending on whether one weads those wascally morphemes in Latin or in English. Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong! Gotcha. [**Sarcasm!** **Sarcasm!**]

            I’m happy, however, to join you in holding the line on “peruse” and “literally”. I approve of dictionaries being a little prescriptive, and not spreading their covers for any new-fangled usage that comes along with a winning smile. But look, words don’t have a fixed morpheme-based or etymology-based meaning that must never be allowed to evolve. If they did, half the language (well, approximately) would be incomprehensible. Once a word has been coined and is out there in the world being used and abused, its etymology is just a curiosity and (at most) a vague and unreliable guide to its meaning. The real determinants of meaning are precedent, including but hardly limited to whatever precedent was set on social media five minutes ago, and practicality.

            I realise I haven’t effectively defended my and Billybob’s preferred usage of “atheist”, even in the terms I’ve laid out. Stay tuned.

    2. Corwin

      “Atheism” is just “not having the belief that a god or gods exist”, which is not the same as “having the belief that gods do *not* exist”.

      The former definition is the one that follows logically from the etymology of the word, as you point out, but the latter one is also well-established in actual usage. My impression, at least, is that the vast majority of people with an interest in the subject do use “atheism” to mean belief (to some high, but not necessarily absolute, level of certainty) that gods do not exist. I don’t see the point of swimming against that current for the sake of pedantic attachment to the True Meaning of the “privative a”. When I say that I’m an atheist, I mean that I’m pretty sure gods don’t exist. I’m not quite 100% certain, and I don’t believe it’s possible to get to 100% in good epistemological conscience, but I’m close enough that to go around calling myself an agnostic would needlessly confuse the issue. Knowing is a continuum, and the “agnostic” label becomes increasingly misleading as the needle moves away from zero.

  6. dusttodust

    Here’s another me too. I’ve also struggled with this concept. We all might agree that we’re, by default, born without any concept or knowledge of something called a god and all its accoutrements. It’s only upon being taught about it from parents that we become aware of such a thing. Up until then, of course, we’ve not had any external show of any such thing to take as a verification and suggestion that such a thing exists.
    I take the stance of the default null position. There has been no verifiable evidence of any kind of greater being. Therefore, I suggest the teachings are a misguided falsehood. I do not make any claim that there is no god as, of course, there’s no way to prove a negative. I simply don’t accept any of the assertions that there is any such thing for lack of evidence.

    1. Tim Underwood

      Yes, but, also, when you learn a language, word inspired ideas present themselves and become part of your thought-world.

      The word ‘spirit’ may have at one time, in a former language, just meant ‘air’ as in ‘the breath of life’. In modern English it is also a root word for ‘spiritual’ which now has a different connotation.

      Luther, purportedly, frightened off the Devil with a gust of putrid air when he rolled over on his back, opened his legs and farted in the direction of Beelzebub. Obviously he thought that bad air was spiritual in some mysterious way.


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