The Atheist Bus

Jender (originally from the US, but now living in the UK) is having a culture-shock moment, thanks to lp, who has just told her about The Atheist Bus campaign.
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AtheistCampaign.org began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.
Unsettled that religious groups were allowed to advertise websites which warned that the non-religious would face torture at the end of their lives, Sherine pitched and began to write a comment piece for The Guardian’s Cif (Comment is free) website, called Atheists – Gimme Five. As part of her research for the piece, she called the Advertising Standards Authority, but was told that the website advertised wasn’t part of their remit. At the end of her article, keen to suggest a solution, she proposed:
[if all atheists reading this] contribute £5, it’s possible that we can fund a much-needed atheist London bus ad with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and [enjoy] your life.”

I like it, though I do wonder if the text might be more appropriate for an Agnostic Bus campaign. To read more, go here.

13 thoughts on “The Atheist Bus

  1. I have seen the bus about 3 months ago in central london and was as surprised. very nice approach, i have to say.

  2. it’s so good!!

    i read an article that explains the ‘probably’: they wanted to make sure that advertising standards agency couldn’t take the ads down on grounds that they were misleading. and i heard a brief interview with dawkins, who explained (this is an approximate quote) ‘we couldn’t say “certainly”, because we can’t even say that about the tooth fairy or unicorns’. *beautiful*.

    the campaign set a target at the outset to raise £5,500 for the ads. but they’re now (last i saw) up to £130,000!

    be sure to head over to the website (if you’re in the uk) and order a tee shirt for £13. proceeds go to pay for more bus signage (and posters in the tube, which will start appearing next week)!

  3. from the FAQ section of atheistbus.org.uk:

    ‘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.’

  4. Thanks for the clarifications! Fascinating about the advertising standards. And embarrassing that my over-speedy blogging meant not reading the FAQ. But I’m not sure I’ve convinced. An atheist is supposed to think God’s about as likely as Santa Claus, right? If you met someone who said Santa Claus probably doesn’t exist you wouldn’t really count them as a SC-disbeliever, would you? And what about someone who says SC almost certainly doesn’t exist? Still seems funny to call them a SC-disbeliever. On the other hand, this might well be a matter of pragmatics, but I should probably get back to work now….

  5. yeah, i wonder whether an atheist must be without faith. is it inconsistent to be a faithful atheist? i suppose it is if you’re either anti-religion, or trying to ground your beliefs squarely in reason. hmm…

  6. There are some spin off campaigns here in the US. Here’s the one started by the American Humanist Association. I think these bus ads are in Washington DC. There’s another one but I can’t remember what organization put that one up… Something about religious freedom. If I remember I’ll post it…

    Victor Stenger wrote an interesting book “God: The Failed Hypothesis” (here’s a summary). He got around the certainty issue by defining the god very clearly as the omnipotent Christian god. That one very clearly does not exist.

  7. Rachel, let me suggest a bit hesitantly that the Stenger book may not be all that good. The pro’s and con’s of the existence of the Christian god – and what that god actually could be – have been debated really since the middle ages, and indeed before. Among others, the Jesuits have poured over everything time and again since 1554. Some of humanity’s best minds, including Descartes, have tried to add to the arguments. So I’d be sceptical about a physicist’s knowledge/understanding of the arguments, and the summary wasn’t very cheering on that score. I looked at the book on Amazon.com, where one can do a search, and thought some of it poor indeed.

    I really don’t like arguments from authority, and I’m not saying that all those people managed to make the thesis of God’s existence coherent. Rather, the point is that defeating them is not a snap.

  8. rob, this is quite a good link. i’ll point out that what grayling is doing in this piece is encouraging all of us to speak out (actually do something about it) it if the advertising standards agency doesn’t hold religious groups to the same standard. what a good point! the ‘probably’ could serve us well in the end after all!

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