Friday, January 09, 2009

There's probably no God. But there's definitely no bus.

28 comments:

John said...

"probably" no God. That's the best that atheism's attack dog can come up with? Christians are dangerous, imbicilic wackos because they beleive something that's "improbable"?

Gareth McCaughan said...

John:

1. So far as I know, the people who organized the bus ad campaign aren't claiming that Christians are dangerous imbecilic wackos.

2. The usual referent for "atheism's attack dog" in a UK context would be Richard Dawkins. He is on record as regretting the word "probably" in the ad.

3. I believe the "probably" had to be inserted on pain of not getting approval for the ad from, er, someone who had to approve it. (Presumably the bus ad people.)

In view of all which: ?Que?

Greg G said...

The bus campaign was created by Ariane Sherine, who I do not believe to have been described as an attack anything.

I believe the point of the exercise was to offer a counterpoint the "y'all are going to hell if you're not a certain type of christian" signs that are apparently ok to put on buses and do not result in international media coverage and finger-waving.

I do not fully support Ms Sherine, however, as she did write for "My Family" at one stage.

Jacob said...

There is no spoon, either.

More seriously, I think that this bus campaign is a good thing.

I don't expect it to change many people's minds itself, but it will help get render statements of atheism more acceptable.

At present, pretty much anyone famous who regularly states publically "I do not believe in God" gets adjectives like "controversial" and "outspoken" attached to them.

The only way that's going to change is if more people do it.

It's one of those things that is only worth doing because some people want to stop it being done, like publishing cartoons of Mohammed.

Phil Masters said...

As I understand it, (a) this campaign is claimed to be aimed mostly at agnostic more-or-less atheistic people, telling them it's okay, not to believe, so just relax, and (b) the Advertising Standards Authority rules say that you can't put essentially non-provable statements in adverts, or something like that, so saying that There Is No God would be against the rules, whereas the people involved reckon that this one should be fine.

In fact, I get the impression that they'd love for Christian Voice or whoever to formally protest this one. Let's face it, the number of eminent churchmen you could drag through as expert witnesses, tying themselves into knots about the balance of probabilities and necessity of faith and other Oolon Colluphid-esque stuff, while the Daily Mail tied itself in four-dimensional wet-knickered knots, would be utterly fuggin' hilarious.

John said...

""y'all are going to hell if you're not a certain type of christian" signs"

Are those really common in Britain? Something like that would be extremely rare in the US except for small signs in very remote rural areas.

Andrew Hickey said...

John, no - they're much less common over here even than in the US. The vast majority of people over here are, if not atheist/agnostic, irreligious in the sense of not really caring one way or another, with a smaller chunk of 'cultural Christians' who hate those dark-skinned people who have crescents instead of crosses, and a tiny proportion of people who actually care about the matter, roughly split between Christians like Mr Rilstone and atheists like myself, who've actually thought about things.

There has, however, very recently been a slight but noticeable increase in US-style nutjob fundamentalists (mostly a very small group called Christian Voice), and a concommittant rise in annoying nutjob fundamentalist atheists (Richard Dawkins, Ben Goldacre, et al) who see religion not as a matter of what happens to be correct, to be discussed and evaluated on the merits of the case, but as a way of pointing out how bad people who are not 'us' are.

In this case, the nutjob Christians did start it, by putting a few signs on London buses saying something like "The Bible says non-Christians are going to Hell". In response, the nutjob atheists are putting up signs saying "Yeah, but the Bible's a load of rubbish anyway, so don't worry about that Hell nonsense" and they've got a lot more publicity than the original 'offence'.

Personally, I wish a plague on both their houses - Christian Voice for campaigning, however ineffectually, for a theocracy, and the Dawkinsites for making 'my side' look like a bunch of permanently-angry bigots...

Andrew Hickey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg G said...

"pointing out how bad people who are not 'us' are"

I haven't seen this as part of the bus thing, I thought it about as positive as a campaign promoting a negative could be.

Christian Voice have just started a legal challenge against the adverts claiming they are misleading.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Are those really common in Britain? Something like that would be extremely rare in the US except for small signs in very remote rural areas.

I don't think they would be legal in Britain. Advertising rules make it hard, if they don't actually ban, unprovable claims and denominational campaigns. (So "Buy this charm: it's been dipped in a lucky wishing well" is probably okay, but "Buy this charm: it will increase your chance of winning the lottery" isn't. "Read the Bible; it's great" is probably okay "If you don't believe in transubstantiation, you ain't no Christian" would almost certainly not be.)

The poster that irritated the Guardian columnist and triggered the current bout of tit for tat silliness consisted of a quote from Luke's Gospel on it ("when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?") and a plug for a bog-standard "three steps to God" evangelical web-site. The small print on the website does admittedly say that baptism by total immersion is compulsory, which may qualify as promoting a particular brand of Christianity.

Andrew Hickey said...

Greg - you're right. I was talking more about the general attitude of 'prominent atheism' rather than that specific campaign.
Having said that, though, I question the need for an advertising campaign for atheism at all. I mean, really, what is it actually meant to accomplish?

Greg G said...

Andrew H: I admit I had wondered if both sides are actually working for the Daily Mail on the side.

Andrew Rilstone said...

1: I agree that the campaign is quite positive: I thought the whole thing was rather a good joke until I found that it was promoting dastardly Dick's website.


2: It wouldn't have occurred to me to lump Mr Goodacre with Mr Dawkins. Very occasionally Goodacre comes across as a whining geek ("oooo the world is run by arts graduates who don't understand that it ought to be run by people more like me oooo'); most of the time, he seems to write good, critical stuff debunking pseudoscience. I didn't even know he was an atheist, although I might have guessed he wasn't a fan of, say, faith healing. He seems to have spent rather a long time finding out what homeopaths actually believe before trying to debunk them.

3: The advert was simply a quote from the Bible. The website took the standard evangelical line that we are all sinners and Jesus died for us but he have to accept him as our personalsaviour.

4: I am not absolutely convinced that the very small group called Christian Voice consists of anyone apart from Steven Green. It's interesting that the meejah continue to treat him as "the leader of a Christian pressure group" without seeming to have spotted that he's on the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe. (Sort of like Jack Chick without the jokes The ambition of men to run the world on their own authority, in their own name, in rebellion from Almighty God, is as old as civilisation itself. Globalist groups from the United Nations to the European Union, their front organisations and the shadowy bodies of elite insiders behind them, are merely following in the ancient footsteps of Nimrod. Christian Voice opposes globalism and globalist capitalism as antichrist systems for the oppression of the poor. )

5: The purpose of the campaign is to irritate Christians. Since atheists are (I imagine) irritated by Scripture Gift Mission quotes on railway stations, this seems fair enough.

Andrew Hickey said...

2) Goldacre appeared at that "12 Rationalist Days Of Christmas" thing in London last year. And unfortunately he's very much of a type with Dawkins. He very often attacks people on the fringes of things and then uses them to tar every supporter of nutritional medicine (and there are some who have done very good, serious work and who have far better academic credentials than Goldacre himself) with the same brush. I've just been discussing him on my own blog ( http://andrewhickey.info/2009/01/09/very-quick-one-here/#comments ) which is why he came to mind, but he's also very involved in this Atheist Bus Campaign.

3) Fair enough. I only heard about the quote third hand...

4) You may well be right. All the more reason not to rise to his bait with stuff like that campaign then ;)

5) Can't say they ever bothered me, and I'm an atheist. And while I know some people who *are* irritated by that sort of thing, I think that deliberately irritating even more people is probably not a particularly productive thing to do - I tend to think the world would be a nicer place if people didn't make 'irritating other people' a primary motivation...

Lirazel said...

I don't know about the rest of the United States, but heah in deah old Bahstun (that's Boston, Massachusetts) when I was a child there were overtly Roman Catholic advertisements in the subway (aka the Tube). "For peace, pray the Rosary daily," bland image of a lady in a blue cloak in soft focus, etc.

Then, when I was a bit older, a whole slew of more-or-less Wild and Crazy Stuff started showing up on the public-transit hoardings. Mormons. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Guru Maharah Ji. Eckankar. Which the authorities felt they could not refuse unless they took down the very bland Rosary posters, because public money cannot be used to promote a single religion here, and most of the transit funding comes from taxes.

But now, there's nothing religious anywhere. Beset by Scientology on one side and various flavors of "you're ALL going to Hell" on the other, the authorities have decided to take only ads promoting various educational programs and generic ways to spend money. And safe sex. At last, something we can all get behind!

Phil Masters said...

Note, by the way, that Advertising Standards Agency rules only seem to apply to bought-and-paid-for advertising, as I understand it. A private individual or a church or whatever can stick a sign up somewhere on their own land, saying "Join the Mormons" or "There is no God" or "You're all going to Hell" or "Eat more Snood", and not have any contact with the ASA (although they may fall foul of other laws and regulations (re. fraud, public decency, road safety or whatever).

Of course, unless they're lucky with their site, they won't be seen by as many people as a commercial advert.

Come to think of it, the first such sign I ever saw ("Christ is Risen Allelujah", by the A41) was put up on his own land by one of my Plymouth Brethren uncles.

RCWCEC said...

"probably" no God. That's the best that atheism's attack dog can come up with? Christians are dangerous, imbicilic wackos because they beleive something that's "improbable"?

Making decisions based solely on improbable things may not be as bad an idea as basing them on impossible things, but it's still a pretty shitty idea. HTH!

John said...

RCWCEC is more indicative of the kind of comments we see on blogs in the US. No attempt at substance or civility.

Andrew R. and Andrew H., keep up the good work. Nice to read comments from thoughtful people.

And no we don't make decisions "solely" on anything. I don't think God has much of an opinion on what kind of car I drive or where I work or what I name my cat.

RCWCEC said...

And no we don't make decisions "solely" on anything. I don't think God has much of an opinion on what kind of car I drive or where I work or what I name my cat.

What, not even if knowingly you buy a car from a company that uses slave labour or call your cat "Rape Is Awesome!"? Wouldn't those count as black marks?

I don't believe you make decisions based on what God thinks either, but some Christians apparently think that they do and some of them even expect other people to care about this.

I'm not saying Christians are necessarily "dangerous, imbecilic wackos" for believing in God, but if believing in a non-existent God was a bad thing, believing in a probably non-existent God would, most likely, be a bad thing as well. I don't think the "probably" is as much of a soft touch as you think it is.

More importantly, it feels to me like a more thought-provoking poster than a flat out denial.

RCWCEC said...

Plus: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/23/atheist-bus-campaign-ariane-sherine

"There's another reason I'm keen on the "probably": it means the slogan is more accurate, as even though there's no scientific evidence at all for God's existence, it's also impossible to prove that God doesn't exist (or that anything doesn't). As Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, saying "there's no God" is taking a "faith" position. He writes: "Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist". His choice of words in the book is "almost certainly"; but while this is closer to what most atheists believe, "probably" is shorter and catchier, which is helpful for advertising. I also think the word is more lighthearted, and somehow makes the message more positive."

John said...

"I don't believe you make decisions based on what God thinks either"

Andrew’s readers are usually mature enough not to put words in others’ mouths, but apparently not in this case. To clarify, Christianity obviously has teachings on how to live our lives. Some are shared with other beliefs and some are not. But we think God is the ultimate source of these, whatever the context. Since I can’t read other’s minds, I can’t tell you whether they are sincere in following these teachings or not. I think some are and some aren’t. On many matters, the Bible is simply silent. I don’t know about Britain, but here, there’s a possibly defensible concept floating around that “God has an interest in every area of your life”. Unfortunately some people extrapolate this into “God has an opinion about every little detail in your life”, which leads a few people to do silly things like name their dog Jesus Loves You, to put Mary’s face on plates, and to pray earnestly about whether to vacuum the stairs. The primary effect of this is that it gives people something to fret over other than serving the poor or loving their neighbor. So I try to avoid that way of thinking.

RCWCEC said...

"Andrew’s readers are usually mature enough not to put words in others’ mouths, but apparently not in this case."

I assumed they were mature enough to understand a joke, but I guess being pointlessly condescending is far more exciting.

Yes, obviously the colour of bath towels is probably not of great concern to the supposed creator, and so it is not particularly worrying if someone thinks it is and acts on it despite the improbability of this creator's existence.

It's rather more important issues than that where it becomes a problem.

John said...

"I assumed they were mature enough to understand a joke"

Sorry. I don't think it's maturity as much as needing to get more accustomed to subtlety in British Humour.

"It's rather more important issues than that where it becomes a problem"

Agreed. National religions, state churches, and legally enforced worship are all bad ideas, which is why we don't do them. I guess you guys have the Lords Spiritual (which is frankly baffling to Americans), but I don't think that's what you mean. Can you give an example?

dagonet said...

John wrote:
"National religions, state churches, and legally enforced worship are all bad ideas, which is why we don't do them."

I would watch my step if I were you, laddie. Even a rank dissenter such as Mr. Rilstone has noticed the Grand Drudic Theocrat of the Anglican Communion is fanatical enough to actually BELIEVE IN JESUS!!!
In a country whose most publicly nutty atheist has just turned agnostic (for that quote, anyway), such a position does, indeed, have the (relative) force of dipping all infidels in scalding mars-bar-batter!.

Jacob wrote:
"At present, pretty much anyone famous who regularly states publically "I do not believe in God" gets adjectives like "controversial" and "outspoken" attached to them.

The only way that's going to change is if more people do it."

Quite a few people have been doing that, for quite a while.
We still have headlines such as "Archbishop denies existence of Easter Bunny, belives in teaching the KORAN IN SCHOOLS INSTEAD!!!"

Recently read book by (theoretically)controversial & prolific (theoretically) christian author.
The reason for all the (theoretically)s above is that he does not seem to have actual viewpoints: he just uses a lot of the words other christian controversialists (by now, traditionally, & orthodoxly)use.

It seems to me a worrying indication of the state, not only religious, public debate is in.

Jacob said...

Dagonet wrote...

"It seems to me a worrying indication of the state, not only religious, public debate is in."

I don't think the bus adverts are part of a religious debate so much as they're something you need before you can have a religious debate.

At present, certainly most of the media and I suspect most of its readers too pay far more attention to the fact that atheists exist and are saying things than they do to what they actually say.

So I'm pleased to see atheists saying "we are atheists" repeatedly and simply, until that becomes no longer newsworthy in itself and "we are atheists for these reasons, and it has these consequences" becomes something large numbers of people will listen to.

At present, there is a very-widely help but seldom articulated view that religion is sacred, and that if someone says "my religion says X" then you shouldn't challenge X.

I hope that these buses are one step towards saying "well, X is wrong, so if you think your religion says X then either you are misinterpreting your religion or you need to give your religion up" becoming acceptable, especially for values of X like "homosexuality is immoral" and "abortion should be illegal".

Because without that - without the admission that some people may be wrong - one can have "talking about religion", but I don't think one can have religious discussion or debate.

Jacob said...

A thought further to the above post: when the atheist bus campaign moved to Spain (or possibly Italy), one of the local bishops proclaimed "this is an attack on religion", and seemed to regard this as proof in itself that it should be banned.

dagonet said...

Before You Read Any Further:
there are newer, yet relevant threads, where people are discussing Descartes, pleasently correcting each others quotes from the classics, & very possibly sipping champange.
Care to step up?

Jacob wrote:
"So I'm pleased to see atheists saying "we are atheists" repeatedly and simply, until that becomes no longer newsworthy in itself and "we are atheists for these reasons, and it has these consequences" becomes something large numbers of people will listen to."

Yes, that would be pleasing indeed.
It is just, well, it has been what, 300 years now?

ANYWAY, that was not really what I was talking about.

"At present, there is a very-widely help but seldom articulated view that religion is sacred, and that if someone says "my religion says X" then you shouldn't challenge X."

Oh. I thought that there was a secret conspiracy of atheist moslems who forced poor Archbishops to say mad, UnChristianly PC things like "I believe more in the Bible than the pictures on Hallmark Christmas cards".

Wich reminds me: you do realize that being called "provocative", or for that matter, "radical", or even "undogmatic" may not exactly be an insult? Of course, one does run the risk of not actually having to say anything new.
Limbaughs describing the Grand Anglican as being a clever sort of chap who keeps abreast with scientific theory may, in the long run, not be that bad a thing.

If one is Anglican, that is.

"A thought further to the above post: when the atheist bus campaign moved to Spain (or possibly Italy), one of the local bishops proclaimed "this is an attack on religion", and seemed to regard this as proof in itself that it should be banned."

Apparently, the good Italian (or possibly Spanish)Bishop thought it nessecary to make clear that it was not an attack on, say, football (a far more lethal proposition many places in this world) or, for that matter, stating the bloody obvious.

As for the second part of this potentially existant prelates proposition, if was actually put into practice one would have far more to worry about than mere Christianity.

Adam said...

I saw http://ruletheweb.co.uk/b3ta/bus/ and thought of you.