Why Atheist Buses Rock

A comment (by this fellow) on the atheist bus advertising campaign caught my eye:

My question to Hanne Stinson would be “What has this appeal acheived?”

For an atheist like Dawkins, the statement seems a little weak to me. “There probably is no God” does not carry the tone as when Christians declare there definately is one. I’m suprised at the level of compromise.

I think its heartening for atheists, secular humanists, and agnostics to see something like this.  For myself – a theist – its a cheering thing to see (I live in the DC area, where we have our own advertisements for Atheism).

It isn’t a compromise, its truthful.  The logic of Atheism can be a bit counterintuitive to folks coming from a faith-based background.  Instead of starting with a neccesary belief and using logic to defend it, one starts with available evidence and uses logic to explore it.  So from an Atheist’s perspective, one might say there is no reason to believe God does exist.  But there is evidence to suggest God doesn’t exist (the Problem of Evil is  one example).  So its simply the most likely possibility that God doesn’t exist.

I think this bit from the campaign’s website clarifies the use of the word probably perfectly (emphasis mine):

As with the famous Carlsberg ads (‘probably the best lager in the world’), ‘probably’ helps to ensure that our ads will not breach any advertising codes Committee of Advertising Practice advised the campaign that “the inclusion of the word ‘probably’ makes it less likely to cause offence, and therefore be in breach of the Advertising Code.”

Ariane Sherine has said, ‘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.’

The campaign  defines Atheism in a way theists ought to sit up and take notice of:

Atheism [/aythi-iz’m/] is defined as “a lack of belief in God”.

But atheism is much more than that. It’s about making sense of the world, thinking freely and feeling liberated because of it. It’s about using your intellect and sense of reason to learn what life is about, and having the courage to think for yourself. It’s about relying on evidence when deciding on your beliefs, and being brave enough to speak the truth.

While I do have a belief in God, I can absolutely embrace the ideal of thinking freely, using evidence, and speaking the truth.  When we stick to these principles we can be more honest in probing our own beliefs and internal consistency, as well as being accepting of other ways of viewing the world besides our own.  It frees us up to have the kinds of conversations that are fulfilling and healthy for society to have, those about ethics and purpose.

Which is why I see these buses as such a wonderful thing.  At the very least, they are letting people know how many Atheists are out there.  I’d also bet that the ads are inviting more than a few people to examine their own thoughts.

Hopefully more people check out the website.


4 Responses

  1. Ok… as odd as this may sound coming from an agnostic, I think I take issue with this. Since when do Athiests recruit? At what point did those of us without faith think we needed to become missionaries for our own beliefs? While this mostly looks amusing and quirky, I am repelled by the idea that we should start pushing our ideas down people’s throats or relieve them of their faith.

  2. I think I’ll refer to the campaign’s faq on this one:

    This has been an overwhelmingly positive campaign. It’s lighthearted and peaceful, and is meant to reassure rather than preach. After all, an advert on a bus isn’t going to convert anyone, and the vast majority of religious commentators have recognised it as a simple statement of atheist and humanist beliefs. The advertisements were designed as a response, an affirmation for people that it’s OK not to be religious; that if you are not religious, there is absolutely no reason to worry about that, and that one can lead a happy, enjoyable and rewarding life without religion. Of course, most non-religious people recognise that the best way of leading a happy, enjoyable, positive and rewarding life is by working with, cooperating with, and supporting other people of all beliefs to do the same.

    The campaign was done in response to religious advertising that essentially told people “Unreligious? You are going to hell!”. This was meant to counter that message with a great big “Hey, relax.”.

  3. Ahh, yes, I’m sure they have nothing but the best of intentions. They sound like the happy fuzzy Athiests who I would enjoy talking to. That being said, have you ever spoken to a militant Athiest? They’re out there, and they are just as frighteningly dogmatic as any religious zealot.

  4. I like Dawkins statement about not taking a stance based on faith. There are, as Kate mentions above, militant athesits. They are more of the Sam Harris variety; those that actively believe there is not a God, and don’t think anyone else should either. Dawkins respresents what is right about atheism; Harris is the voice for what is dangerous about it.

    -that fellow

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