Responding to the Ignorance January 8, 2009

Responding to the Ignorance

This absurd quotation’s bothering me, and since it is my duty to fix the Internets, I wanted to address it.

Allahpundit of Hot Air says the following regarding the Atheist Bus Campaign:

The good news: They exceeded their fundraising target by 2,700 percent. The bad news: They totally wussed out by tossing “probably” in the slogan. The worst news: They couldn’t think of anything better to do with £135,000 than buy dopey ads on the side of a bus.

No no no. Very wrong.

They didn’t wuss out. They were being intellectually honest. We can’t prove God exists or doesn’t exist. But the evidence points to him not existing. Even Richard Dawkins titled a chapter in The God Delusion, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” If the other religions’ ads were as honest, they’d attach qualifiers, too (“We’re pretty damn sure God exists” or something like that).

And it wasn’t like the atheists had £135,000 lying around and decided to drop the money on bus ads. That would’ve been crazy.

There wasn’t any money for this to begin with — just an idea. Because the ad campaign was so interesting and novel, and got some great initial publicity from Richard Dawkins and Ariane Sherine, thousands of people were excited enough to get on board and donate to the cause.


Now, I feel better.

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  • Matthew

    Other things that probably don’t exist:

    -Gay republicans (ok, just kidding on that one)

  • misterjustin

    I agree that the campaign is well done and that there was no “wussing” involved. It keeps the message polite enough that opponents are going to have to really stretch to challenge it… which is what they’ve done, of course. Paragraph 4 in the article linked here really sums it up.

    The bus campaign is what the money was raised for and, as such, is well spent. The campaign itself will spark public discussion, debate and awareness – which, in the end, is pretty effective.

    If it keeps the religious folks coming up with truly inane arguments against it… well, that’s just makes the whole thing entertaining.$1259459.htm

  • Dave Huntsman

    Richard Dawkins, by the away, originally said he didn’t like the ‘probably’, but i just saw a video where he says that he’s come around to it, since you can’t definitely prove the non-existence of anything.

    I prefer these softer- but still direct – messages (ie, that one, plus the Washington, DC “be good for goodness’ sake”); rather than FFRF’s truly anti-theist plaque that they put alongside manger scenes et al that have been put on government property. Stating as unequivocal fact that religion always hardens hearts and deadens minds, etc. – no matter how many examples of exactly that happening I can cite – is simply not useful; in fact, it can be unnecessarily damaging to ‘the cause’.

  • Aj

    Dave Huntsman,

    Richard Dawkins, by the away, originally said he didn’t like the ‘probably’, but i just saw a video where he says that he’s come around to it, since you can’t definitely prove the non-existence of anything.

    He suggested “almost certainly” instead because he thinks that’s more accurate. NY Times and the BBC assumed that he is certain but that’s not the case, only the BBC bothered to ask him about it.

    It wasn’t about advertisements standards.

  • You had me at: “We can’t prove God exists or doesn’t exist”.
    You lost me at: “evidence points to him not existing”.
    gimma a break, there’s no evidence either way.

  • I think it’s a mistake to say that there’s absolutely “no evidence” either way, when the more accurate claim should be that the evidence we have is not entirely conclusive. There is definitely evidence which conflicts with certain features of the existence of certain types of gods — but is this conclusive? Of course not.

  • Aj

    gimma a break, there’s no evidence either way.

    Depends what kind of god… sometimes they knock into science. I wouldn’t call the case for the improbability of a certain kind of god in The God Delusion “evidence” although others tend to use the word more loosely. I’d call it reasoning, since it relies on reason, the “ultimate 747” argument, the improbability of complex things appearing randomly (cranes vs skyhooks).

  • Of course mere reasoning is not evidence, but there’s definitely evidence against the existence of a god which is predicated upon a more literal interpretation of the events in Genesis in the O.T. where creation occurs on six actual days, because of geology and evolution. So there is some evidence to conflict with some interpretations of some gods. That’s why I wouldn’t say “there’s (absolutely) no evidence either way”.

  • How shocking. What a ridiculous waste of money. They couldn’t think of anything better to do with £135,000 than to spend it on the exact project that the money was raised for.

    (rolling eyes)

    As for “evidence against God”… with all due respect, jodi, I beg to differ. True, there’s no absolutely conclusive evidence against God… but there’s some pretty damning circumstantial evidence.

    The consistent and overwhelming replacement of religious explanations of the world with natural ones… and the fact that not once has this happened in reverse. The complete failure of religious believers to come to any agreement on what God is like, or even to come up with a reliable method for figuring that out. The fact that arguments for religion always boil down to authority, anecdote, personal experience, the idea that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims, or the redefining of God into an abstraction. The consistent diminishment over time in what God’s powers are believed to be, even by people who believe in him. The fact that the religion you were raised in as a child is the single strongest factor in determining what religion you’re likely to be. The fact that everything we think of as the soul is increasingly being shown to have physical causes. The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing. The slippery, unfalsifiable nature of religious belief. The complete failure of religion to improve over time: no improved prayer or prophecy techniques, no better ability to predict God’s behavior, no method for settling religious disputes.

    And most importantly: the complete and utter lack of good evidence in favor of God.

    We’ve been looking for evidence for God for hundreds, indeed thousands of years. We haven’t found any. Not a scrap. That, just by itself, is pretty darned strong evidence against his existence.

    The bus signs are right. There’s probably no God.

  • Paul R

    Just wanted to point out that the ‘Probably’ was included because the company that controls the adverts said that they wouldn’t run them without it. So no wussing out on the message, just pragmatism in getting the message out in the first place.

  • Tao Jones

    ‘Probably’ is more precise. We don’t *know* that gods don’t exist.

    ‘Probably’ sounds nicer. Why should anyone consider our message if we’re not willing to consider the possibility that we’re wrong?

    ‘Probably’ makes the statement an opinion and not a claim. If it could be demonstrated that God does exist, it wouldn’t invalidate the statement. I was involved in a M&A where I had go through all our collateral and remove anything that could be construed as a claim where we did not have supporting documentation. It was a huge job but a necessary one for legal purposes.

    ‘Probably’ was probably the best choice, though I prefer “almost certainly.”

  • Richard

    As well as being intellectually honest, the wording seems just right in contrast to the absolutes of the christians. In any case, we brits do understatement.

  • SarahH

    I think “probably” is perfect 🙂 Thanks Hemant, for defending outstanding awesomeness!

  • Aj

    Probably can mean “almost certainly”, “likely”, or “most likely among several options”, so it’s more inclusive. Ariane Sherine called it “shorter and catchier” and “more lighthearted” even though she agreed it wasn’t as accurate, Richard Dawkins came round to it. I agree with those points, but I still think accuracy is best, because inaccuracy tends to come back and bite you.

    While it’s true that the advertisement agency required “probably” in there. Ariane Sherine, Richard Dawkins, didn’t want “there is no god”, Dawkins wanted “almost certainly” but “probably” was voted for. While it was a requirement, I am confident they would have included it anyway.

  • I don’t see how they could have worded it any better than ‘probably’. It shows a level of humility that the religious seem incapable of and other than that it’s just plain true. We can’t see for definite there are no gods but the gaps they inhabit are shrinking at a frightening rate. There’s going to be a hell of a divine homeless problem before long…

  • sinistr

    I’ve been godless for about 45+ years but been on my own raising kids and busy just surviving however with retirement I can now pursue my “spirituality” or whatever it’s called. I did my fair share of christian baiting when I was young just for the fun of it but not for many years now. I see atheists like Richard Dawkins advocating not allowing kids to be taught their religion by their parents. “Let the kids choose for them selves” he says. I see the logic behind his words but to force one’s will on another group is just plain wrong. After years of being “ruled” by christians why would atheists want to force their views on others? It simply won’t work anyway, prohibition of any kind just drives what is being prohibited underground. Hasn’t anyone learned this simple truth? If atheists do try and force others to their will don’t we become what we were complaining about not that long ago.
    I raised my kids as I saw fit and I never passed on my atheism to them for pretty much the same reason (let them choose) and I would have been hopping mad if I had been forced to raise them christian. I can imagine the howls of protest from the religous if they were forced to raise their kids in anything but their own religion. My son decided to be a christian and for 20 years we have very civil discussions. Come to think of it this communication has added to our relationship and most often we agree to disagree. My daughter choose New Age and we have “spirited” discussions as well. We are still a very close family despite being of 3 different philosophies. Besides the way I see it we all wear “colored glasses” to view and interpret the world. Why should my glasses be any better than anothers? I treat all religous views as theories including my own. This way I can step outside my beliefs or lack of them.

    Thank you.

  • Clare

    I’m sorry but I have to correct you a little on this one. The Atheist Bus Campaign did not receive “great initial publicity” from Ariane Sherine, because she was the one who came up with the original idea in her blog for the Comment is Free section on the website for the Guardian newspaper. Public response to the idea was so great that the British Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins became involved too.

    The original post where she first suggests the idea is here:

  • The difficult with this slogan is that it is almost certainly incorrect. Philosoher Keith Ward’s excellent book, Why There is Almost Certainly a God, shows clearly the extremely shaky basis for what has become the bus slogan. Unable to construct a satisfactory resposte, Dawkins has to simply pretend Christian’s don’t think, rather like saying all swans are white. Well, this black swan does think.

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