Yes, Virginia… There Is No God November 3, 2009

Yes, Virginia… There Is No God

Since they won’t be putting up Nativity scenes or atheist plaques in the Washington state Capitol Building this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation decided to buy adspace for a few hundred of these ads on Seattle buses.

Provocative? Of course.

Accurate? Not in the least.

Atheists don’t (and shouldn’t) say, “There is no God” because it’s wrong to make such a blanket statement. (The British people knew well enough to put the word “Probably” in their bus campaign.)

FFRF knows this, too.

But their press release doesn’t acknowledge the erroneous claim:

Obviously, the “Yes, Virginia” reference is a play on the famous question posed by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897 to the New York Sun newspaper: “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

The rest is history. In an unsigned editorial, the Sun’s Francis P. Church (ouch!) wrote his “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” line, along with, “Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!”

Freethinkers and skeptics have a hard time with the belief thing, which is what’s behind the ads, said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. “Most people think December is for Christians and view our solstice signs as an intrusion, when actually it’s the other way around,” he said. “People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the natural holiday from all of us humans.”

Christians will complain this this is an attack on Christmas (which I suppose it is in a roundabout way) and atheists will complain about the statement itself. It’s another thing religious people can correctly use against us when they say we make absurd claims about the nature of God. We have to defend this by saying it’s an inaccurate statement simply designed to get attention.

Make no mistake: This isn’t a bus ad designed to reach out to other atheists. It is just a fundraising and publicity tool for FFRF. I’m sure they’ll get some good media coverage out of this.

It’s also great advertising for FFRF’s annual convention which will — not coincidentally — be held in Seattle this weekend.


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  • The conversational tone suggests that this is a statement of opinion rather than a statement of fact. I’d prefer it if it said “There are not gods” rather than single out the Abrahamic god but I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment even though it is factually debatable. Not inaccurate because it might be but debatable because it is a statement of opinion.

    It is probably easier to not have to explain the issue every. single. time. a Christian pulls us up on the point though. 😉

    Also I thought the UK bus ads used probably for legal reasons so they didn’t have to prove that the claim was accurate rather than for reasons of impact. I might be wrong though.

  • Staceyjw

    GOOD for them!!! I love the ad.
    Xtians say the most ridiculous things,and post them all over- even extremely offensive and hateful ideas about gays. I’m sure they will have a shit fit over this, but who cares?

    There is nothing wrong with saying there’s NO GOD. I liken it to saying there are NO FARIES or No Santa, for that matter.We’re atheists, not agnostics after all.

    Staceyjw

  • With common usage, this phrasing is quite fine, I think- You can easily say “There is no god” much in the same way you can say “There is no Santa Claus”, and be pretty well correct. Neither statement is the full story, (I mean hell, there /could/ be a Santa, but what are the chances?) but they’re both “good enough for government work”, as my grandfather says.

  • littlejohn

    Slightly OT, but as an old newspaper guy, I can spot a phony letter to the editor in a second. The original “little girl” letter is fake. It was obviously written by an adult, probably a newspaper employee. How do I know?
    Easy. Have you ever heard a child refer to her pals as “my little friends”?
    Of course not. It’s a condescending term used by parents and other adults.
    Also, I disagree: There is no god. No need to modify that statement of fact.

  • Michael

    I see nothing wrong with saying “there is no god”. There isn’t, so why not say it?

    Adding a “probably” qualifier is wishy-washy.

  • DJMattB241

    “Atheists don’t (and shouldn’t) say, “There is no God” because it’s wrong to make such a blanket statement.”

    Erm… I say there is no god, because god, as defined by christians, cannot exist. Saying “there is no god” is as accurate as saying “there are no square circles”

    When the definition is self contradictory, you don’t need to tread lightly.

  • Delphine

    It’s not an inaccurate statement. There is no god. There’s no ifs and buts about it. They can prove me wrong, but they need to bring some proof first.

  • Chris

    No one can say there is no god with 100% certainty, but neither can you say anything else with absolute, 100% certainty – there’s always a crazy infinitesimal chance that the sky is actually red, for instance, and that our entire lives we’ve had mass hallucinations of it being blue, including all the scientific information that identifies it as “blue”. But we say definitively that “The sky is blue”, because at some level of certainty we state that something is, in fact, true. In my opinion, the statement “there is no god” is beyond this level of certainty so it can be uttered without saying “PROBABLY there is no god” just like we dont say “PROBABLY the sky is blue”.

    Based on how we use the statement “There is no [blank]” (for instance, in reference to the tooth fairy, spaghetti monster, santa claus), I think “There is no god” is complete fair.

  • flatlander100

    I don’t like the ads. Nothing wrong with the text saying “there is no god.” Problem is associating the message with a jolly Santa. It’s aimed plainly, I think, at children and that’s a bad idea.

    Absent the Santa framework, I have no problem with it. With the Santa, it’s a bad idea. Downright churlish.

  • ChrisZ

    Really, Hemant? Can we really not say there is no God, there is no Santa Claus, or there are no flying, invisible hippopotamuses? Do we really have to drape all of those in conditionals just because there is some infinitesimally small chance they are wrong? Are all of those statements absurd?

    I think the only absurd thing here is your criticism of the ad.

  • Alan E.

    Using Probably is correct when you have a 99.9999999…% chance that there are no gods, but .9 repeating is also equal to 1.

  • Jay

    Hate to break it to you Hemant but there is no Santa just as there are no gods or firebreathing dragons.

  • Tyro

    Uh huh, right. It’s fine to say “there’s no Santa” because everyone knows that is fictitious but it’s wrong to say “there’s no God” because… why exactly? Because we may offend someone? Because some idiot intent on misrepresenting us will take that as a sign of dogmatism?

    It’s as accurate to say there’s no God as there’s no Santa. In any other circumstance it’s implicit that we’d change our minds if there was actual evidence so why not say “there’s no God”? No matter how many weasel words we add, no matter how clear we are, people still accuse us of dogmatism, faith, bigotry so caving buys us nothing. May as well stand tall.

  • Colin

    My problem is more with the Santa imagery than the text. People have all kinds of misconceptions about atheists, one of which is that we’re spoilsports, Ebeneezer Scrooges, literal-minded Spocks trying to ruin the fun of the holidays for everyone. Do we HAVE to play into that perception in this ad?

  • Diagoras

    Hemant, if we are to say that “there probably is no God” just to be on the safe side, then shouldn’t we also say
    “There probably is not Zeus”
    “There probably is not Poseidon”
    “There probably is not Vishnu”
    “There probably is not Ra”
    just to be on the safe side?

    Of course not! You do not need to say “There probably is no #insert absurdity here#”; you can say that statement without the “probably” and be correct.

  • They should do these as a boxed set of Christmas cards. I’d buy a case for Bill O’Reilly.

  • @ Diagoras: I’ve been thinking that taking the approach of “There AreNo Gods” with media like this might disarm the Xtians a bit. If we remind them that we also don’t believe in Zeus, it can’t really be called an attack on Abrahamic religions.

  • Bobby

    I kinda agree with Hemant. It’s not particularly friendly. I don’t think it’s the fact that they didn’t qualify their statement with the word “probably” but instead I don’t like it’s cause it’s obviously targeted at kids–and provoking kids. I know the other side does this all the time, but that doesn’t make it right. I don’t think that we need the law to make the entire world bubble wrapped in family friendliness, but there’s really just no good reason for FFRF to go there.

    Also, British libel laws are stricter, and free speech protections weaker (which of course you know from the UK “chiropractors are frauds” lawsuit) which is probably why they use “probably” in their ads.

  • It isn’t my first choice for a bus ad, that’s for sure. But there is no evidence for the existence of any god. So in general this sign is correct. Just as if someone said that Santa Claus wasn’t real. No one could possibly know that with 100% certainty. Nevertheless, we are reasonably certain that Santa and God don’t exist. So FFRF should go forward. But I do wish that they had an ad that was a little more defensible. I’ll still play their hand though by using the various super offensive Christian Billboards as a defense. See my Billboard Wars Project on DangerousTalk.net for more details on that.
    -Staks

  • Richard

    It seems that some atheists do say “there is no god”.

    It’s not a necessary condition of atheism, but it’s certainly sufficient, and apparently a position held by the FFRF.

    Of course, I can also see the argument that it’s unhelpful. Theists will call any atheist advertisement offensive. If our ads are entirely, utterly reasonable, then they seem silly.

    If the ad is something that could possibly be taken as offensive, then the debate devolves into yet another round of “Atheists: Rude?” rather than anything about theism’s arguments.

  • Guest Pest

    As far as the Santa imagery in the ad, it reminds me of this line:

    “God is as real as I am,” the old man said. My faith was restored, for I knew that Santa would never lie.

  • Hannah

    I agree with all the other commenters here – I do not understand why it’s inaccurate to say there is no god. God is a concept invented by humans. When used in the singular form, it almost always refers to a specific deity in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Therefore, saying “there is no god” does not mean you think there is no possibility that some supernatural force exists. It means specifically that the Judeo-Christian god, or any other specific deity, is an invented concept with zero probability of existing. I could sit here right now and invent an imaginary friend, and then say that my imaginary friend is “probably” not real. This would be the same, in essence, as saying god is probably not real. As cute as the “tooth fairy agnostic” idea is (meaning you are agnostic about god’s existence the same way you are agnostic about the tooth fairy’s), I have never really understood the argument that we must be agnostic about invented superstitions. God is made up, just like the tooth fairy, and that’s the way it is! 🙂

    Nevertheless I agree that the ad is unlikely to generate much positive response. I think atheist advertising and outreach should focus on things that make us seem like decent people rather than snarky people, and this ad sort of fails.

  • Tyro

    On the issue of whether this ad will help, I’m going to start with a stance against some of the commenters (and maybe I’ll be convinced to change my mind 🙂 ).

    I think the ad is kind of funny, it’s certainly a clever way of comparing God with Santa. Sure many people will be offended but so what, ads merely proclaiming the existence of atheists offends people and that’s no reason to stay silent. I think that it’ll make atheists laugh and make the fence-sitters grin or think twice which is probably the best you can hope for in any ad. Plus it keeps the existence of atheists in people’s minds especially if they’re offended by it!

    When we look at how the gay rights movement advanced, the single biggest factor that I’ve seen is just reminding people that they exist. Controversy and jokes do that very well. I think it’ll be a good addition to the wide range of ads.

  • Alex

    The ad does have some shock value, but nothing like what the churches teach the children in Sunday schools.

  • I’d not use an ad like this, myself; and I consider myself a friendly atheist. But I agree with the statement that there is no God.

    Atheists are not monolithic. We don’t have a standard set of dogmas or principles or requirements or rules. Some atheists do say that there is no God. I’m one of them. Like any other statement I make, it is provisional and in principle subject to possible revision in the light of new considerations. But I think there is no God in the same way that I think there are no werewolves.

    Long long ago I wrote an essay about this, on what was then described as “strong” vs “weak” atheism (strong and weak in the formal mathematical sense that strong => weak; no value judgement intended). Unfortunately it is no longer online. I must fix that some time.

    In the meantime the initial parts of it can be read at this link.

  • Alan E.

    Off topic, but did anyone else notice that the thermometer for donations is over $42,000 with a month and a half to go! Maybe someone else will jump in to give a pledge amount. Way to go people!

  • Blanket statements are ok, or else we would be reduced to saying “probably” to everything. I am a Packer’s fan. I should not say that the Vikings probably won this past weekend. They won. Sure there is a possibility that that the Packers blew out the Vikings 68-0 and that Farve threw a record forty-two interceptions. And that there is a giant conspiracy to keep the truth under wraps. There is always the possibility that all of the major media outlets and all of the fans in attendance are in on scam, and that they have been all bought off by Jesse the Body Ventura. The broadcast of the game could have been doctored with advanced computer graphics. As much as I would want this crazy conspiracy theory to be true, there is no evidence. To add the word ‘probably’ is misleading and dishonest. It implies that there is evidence for both view points, when there isn’t. The Packers lost. The Vikings won. There is no God.

  • I have to agree with Hemant on this one.

    While one could quibble over interpreting this as either a probabilistic vs. absolute statement, I think it’s straightforward to say that it mocks religious belief. Best not to confuse mockery with criticism if you’re trying to be civil! 😉

    It’s simply a more offensive statement than most other bilboards: “Show me the proof” is quite different than “You are wrong.” It also opens the door for religious believers to place the burden of proof on the FFRF (yes, one can’t prove a negative, I know, but it simply BEGS others to demand the FFRF back up their claim, then claim victory when the FFRF provides them with “insufficient” justification).

    Sure, it might be targeted towards like-minded individuals, but I think it’s fair to ask whether they couldn’t have been just as effective in their advertising without being offensive. Unless being offensive was their intent…

    Brings up an interesting question: “Should atheists condone public mockery of religion? If so, when should or shouldn’t they?”

  • The Other Tom

    Hemant, for you to claim that we can’t factually say “there is no god” is like all those theists who make a big point of saying “evolution is just a theory“. Yeah, the idea that there is no god is a strong probability rather than an unquestionable fact, but the difference is so small that it’s ridiculous for us, as atheists, to insist on the qualifier. I’m appalled that you would post this.

    Dirkson, I would say that “there is no god” is actually more accurate than “there is no santa claus”, because santa claus is at least based loosely on a person who is known to have actually lived and whose corpse is known and can be pointed at, so at least there’s some evidence that santa claus once lived.

  • Dustin

    Although most of the detracting comments above mine have a lot of merit, this ad is a wonderful troll and will achieve its purpose: provoke discussion amongst the population.

  • Chris

    While I said I think there’s nothing wrong with “there is no god”, I think there’s something to be said for being diplomatic. Obviously you need to examine the FFRF’s goal in placing this ad and then examine whether or not it accomplishes it. If they have good reasons for placing a more “shocking” ad then I’m all for it – I doubt that this is just one guy in a locked room who comes up with this stuff without discussing how it affects their message.

  • Mike Wagner

    I feel it is correct to say there is no god or gods with as much certainty as one can say there are no leprechauns, unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, or fantastic creatures in a story I wrote myself.

    If indeed it were possible that there is some force or being that births universes, it is simply a natural phenomenon beyond our current understanding. Gods are supernatural and exist beyond reason, in the realm of myth. Myths are creative and sometimes interesting stories but they are certainly not fact.

    There is no God. There are no gods.

    Yes, I’m a terrible person for not believing or even considering the possibility of any one of thousands of contradictory religions gods, but I’m sure they’ll have all the opportunity to address my feelings on the issue with me after I’m dead. *snicker*

  • Joe Fogey

    The ad is good.
    (This is to be taken as a statement of my personal belief, and not as a definitive statement of fact. I do not mean that the ad is good in all possible circumstances – I don’t think people in many parts of the world would understand it and perhaps it might be offensive to some people so it wouldn’t be good for them if you see what I mean.)
    (Please don’t take the qualification in brackets above too seriously. It is not intended to indicate disagreement or to be in any way upsetting to other people who think the ad is good too).
    (I would have liked to put in footnotes to this comment so that I could qualify my statement that the ad is good in various ways but I’m not quite sure how to do that).
    (I hope that’s cleared up all possible misunderstandings).
    (But I’m not optimistic about it).

  • Spencer

    “Yes, Virginia there is almost certainly no God” doesn’t carry quite the same impact.

  • I have no issue with saying that something which isn’t logically consistent with reality doesn’t exist. Squared circles don’t exist. There is no probability that one does exist, because the concept contradicts itself in definition. If God is supposed to be all knowing and all powerful, that’s a contradiction. If God is supposed to be consciousness without form, that’s a contradiction. Outside of time, all loving while being murderous and neglectful, creating and destroying matter and energy… all of these are definitions of God that are not consistent with reality.

    And what’s wrong with aiming a message like this at kids? Are we not allowed to teach children facts and truth?

    So I think it’s safe, and right, to say that Yes Virginia, there is no God.

  • To most of you commenting — In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says he puts himself at a 6 (leaning toward 7) on a scale from 1 (I know God exists) to 7 (I know god doesn’t exist).

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

  • jose

    that’s like ateapotters don’t say “there is no teapot in the sky”

  • Alexander P

    To most of you commenting — In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says he puts himself at a 6 (leaning toward 7) on a scale from 1 (I know God exists) to 7 (I know god doesn’t exist).

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

    Someone at a 6 can and will say “There is no God” in the same sense that “There is no Santa Claus.” Dawkins definitely makes this clear, and stated in regards to the UK ad campaign that he wished it didn’t say ‘probably’ and that God is about as probable as the tooth fairy (I don’t have a source atm; I can find it if someone really cares).

    Atheists can and SHOULD say “There is no God.” Though it may be disputed, it is a statement of fact rather than opinion.

  • llewelly

    You’re right Hemant. We can’t prove there’s not an invisible porn star in your garage, so therefor we can’t say there’s no invisible porn star in your garage.

  • Adam Tjaavk

    I’m a convinced and passionate atheist who just loves that deliciously condescending litotic ‘probably’ – much preferring arch playfulness from above to boorish blustering from below. This playfully courteous dismissive usage, though, would be a nicety better highlighted by adopting: More than probably there are no gods – the simple addition of a pluralising ‘s’ packing a far heftier punch.

    This way of pithily downsizing deity – likening the one to the usually more vigorously dismissed many (Odin, Wakanda, et al) – is an often-missed trick that should always be kept in mind. Just a little less effective on Hindus, I would imagine!

    _____

  • Chris

    Hemant,

    To be precise, Dawkins can’t be wrong about stating something he believes. It’s beside the point really and it’s not as if Atheists regard the god delusion as the bible. Were you to actually bring up an actual point that Dawkins made in that book about WHY he says he is a 6, then i’d be interested in hearing it.

    I think the point is that NEITHER statement is really inaccurate. “There is probably no god” is accurate, it’s just that the “probably” is so strong that it may as well be dropped in favor of just saying “There is no god”. The point everyone has made about how we say “There is no tooth fairy” is valid.

    Another question is…why do I feel like there are always arguments in Atheism over semantics (most of which are kind of pointless)? That South Park episode where everyone was Atheist in the future may have been more accurate than I thought.

  • Hemant, No Dawkins is correct in his opinion. I agree with Dawkins, but that doesn’t mean I have to qualify every statement I make with “probably.” I will be writing about this tomorrow on Dangerous Talk. Or would it be more accurate to say that I will “probably” be writing about it because the world might end tonight. You never know for certain, lol.
    -Staks

  • llewelly

    To most of you commenting — In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says he puts himself at a 6 (leaning toward 7) on a scale from 1 (I know God exists) to 7 (I know god doesn’t exist).

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

    If someone asks you: Is SpongeBob Squarepants real? What do you say? “hm, hah, uh, well, I can’t strictly disprove SpongeBob Squarepants, but he’s probably not real.” On a blog that’s fine. But on a billboard, there is very limited space. There’s a huge advantage to simplifying your message. So you may as well say: Yes, Virginia, SpongeBob Squarepants is not real, even though you’re a 6 on the scale of a-SpongeBob Squarepantsism.

  • If someone asks you: Is SpongeBob Squarepants real? What do you say? “hm, hah, uh, well, I can’t strictly disprove SpongeBob Squarepants, but he’s probably not real.” On a blog that’s fine. But on a billboard, there is very limited space. There’s a huge advantage to simplifying your message. So you may as well say: Yes, Virginia, SpongeBob Squarepants is not real, even though you’re a 6 on the scale of a-SpongeBob Squarepantsism.

    Agreed. But we’re talking about different things. The billboard is Twitterized. You have to make a point quickly. I get why FFRF said what they did. But logically/philosophically, it’s not accurate. God’s existence, to me, is as close to 0% as I can imagine. I would bet my life on the idea that god doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t make the billboard accurate. Just catchy, snappy, and attention-getting.

  • Charon

    atheist = believes there is no god

    It’s really pretty simple. Yes, anyone who takes a scientific view of the world knows that all knowledge is tentative, and nothing can ever be established with 100% certainty. But even scientists don’t insert “probably” into every statement. “I probably had a hamburger for what was probably lunch probably today” – are you kidding?

    I live in Seattle, and I think these signs are great 🙂

  • Charon

    God’s existence, to me, is as close to 0% as I can imagine. I would bet my life on the idea that god doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t make the billboard accurate

    Yes, it freakin’ does. There is no way you qualify stuff this much in your everyday life. Is every statement you make untrue, then?

  • Ben

    But that doesn’t make the billboard accurate

    You are misrepresenting the term “accurate”. The definitions that I can find in several dictionaries includes nearness to the true value or perfection. Not perfection in itself, it just has to be close to it.

    In scientific terms, accuracy is usually defined as a value with a margin of error. This margin of error depends on the method(s) of determination, but because those margins exist doesn’t mean the value/claim is not accurate, especially when you’re talking about “as close to 0% as [you] can imagine”.

    For example, using the value of 3.14159265 for Pi is accurate for most uses. But using that value for orbital mechanics is not terribly accurate. In other words, accuracy is determinate on the requirements of it’s use.

    For the requirement of this advertisement, I would say that it is accurate.

  • Hemant, I don’t think you can say it is not accurate. It might be, you don’t know. It is probably better to say that it is probably accurate or that it is not accurate in your opinion. 😉

    There are no gods. I am convinced that this statement is accurate. OK, I might be wrong (something that few Christians will admit to) but I doubt that I am. Dawkins is talking about a spectrum of probabilities in the God Delusion. As a scientist he is examining the god hypothesis as a demonstrably assertion. Gods cannot be demonstrated (it would invalidate faith to do so), defined in a non contradictory way (not that it is up to a sceptic to define what we are sceptical about), poked, prodded or measured. If there are gods then they are as invisible, intangible, odourless and silent as the greatest pink unicorn ever to not exist.

    But we might be wrong.

    I’ve thought of another reason why I like and dislike the advert. To the statement “There is no God” a theist can respond “Oh, yes there is” in true pantomime style. This isn’t an argument. An argument isn’t just a contradiction. An argument is a connected series of statement intended to establish a proposition. “There is no God” puts theists in a defensive position which I like as it forces them to defend there view (or just ignore the advert) but it doesn’t promote dialogue or discussion on the subject because it is a closed assertion.

  • ihedenius

    To most of you commenting — In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says he puts himself at a 6 (leaning toward 7) on a scale from 1 (I know God exists) to 7 (I know god doesn’t exist).

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

    And once he corrected himself to 6.9. Dawkins just recognizes that one shouldn’t make absolutist statements about anything (beyond “I think therefore I am”). Dawkins takes pain to express himself as precisely as he can in formal debates and books.

    A billboard is different. As has already been pointed out “probably” in this context makes a huge difference. IIRC the original english bus campaign didn’t want “probably” but had to add it to get the boards up.

    The default position for any unsupported fantasy narrative of any kind is that it doesn’t exist. The god concept is no exception except in the size of it’s fan club. In colloquial speak there is nothing wrong to say so.

  • I posted my response on Dangerous Talk.
    -Staks

  • Alan E.

    Jerry Coyne raised something similar to this argument at the AAI conference. The segment starts at 5:30.

    (on slide)

    What do we mean by scientific fact (truth)?

    An assertation for which there is so much evidence that it would be perverse to deny it

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/11/jerry_coyne_at_aai.php
    via Pharyngula which is via RichardDawkins.net

  • Hemant says:

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

    No; the line of reasoning is that there is no dogma or rule here.

    Atheists vary. The issue is not that we should pick one correct place, as you seem to be suggesting by saying that certain statements about your own beliefs or lack of beliefs are “wrong”. Atheism doesn’t have a set of “right” or “wrong” ways to disbelieve in god.

  • … This isn’t an argument. An argument isn’t just a contradiction. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition…

    Hoverfrog, I assume you are familiar with Monty Python’s “argument skit” 🙂

  • Mark Greene

    To say that you 99.99999999999….% believe that there is no god or gods does not qualify a person to claim Atheism. This person would clearly be an agnostic. We need to be completely committed to our beliefs, or we will be seen as having doubt and showing fear. We have catered to the whims of the religious for far too long (centuries). Every day I am bombarded by images of Jesus, crosses, churches, billboards stating that I need to trust in God or go to church, etc. I spend money that has religious propaganda worded all over it, and am expected to accept this. We have to hear our “leaders” say “god bless” after every speech, have to “swear” to tell the truth “so help me god” in court (my last appearance in court went over like a “fart in church”….I was threatened with contempt of court, but didn’t give in, so the judge finally had to settled for my “I give my word as an honorable man” statement because I brought up the fact of my rights). I could go on with examples, but we are all very aware of them. So there is nothing wrong with stating our beliefs in public.
    I do believe that we lower ourselves to the level of the religious if we are offensive about it, so we must use our “logic” we profess to have in better taste.
    The Santa is a bad idea, as well as the wording. I hate the fact that Christmas promotes the belief in and the imagery of a magical being who leaves presents for the good (it’s a precursor to the belief in another fictional being), and to associate our belief with this Christian icon and childhood myth is wrong. We need to associate our image with reality and fact. We will never be accepted by the religious, but if we use common sense and fact to voice our beliefs, we may be seen as rational, and more people will see the sense and strength of our logic. We have no beliefs that promote hate or bigotry, and we have the strength of science and logic to move us in the direction we need to go. We don’t need to be rude to be right. That makes us wrong.
    Maybe the ad should say, “We are Atheists, and we believe there is no god. Want to know why? Research it.” It shows no shame, and it gives a person the choice to check us out and see what we are about. And get rid of the Santa, so there is more room to say something important without being insulting.

  • You say it isn’t accurate… but it probably is accurate. You might not be able to prove that gods don’t exist but if you say that they don’t you’re probably correct.

    In fact the probability is so strong that it really doesn’t seem like an unfair claim at all.

  • Susan Robinson

    I say There is No God with the same certainty that I say Your hair will not spontaniously turn hot pink at the count of three…..
    For all practical purposes, there is no god.
    And the Santa angle introduces children to the concept that belief or non-belief in God is a choice they too can make…. Many children grow up not knowing they can leave religion behind them.
    Even the Imagine No Religion billboards were declared to be going too far by the believers. It’s time we started bombarding them with mockery and criticism, at the very least to try to dull their hypersensitivity (hypersensitivity leads to censorship…)

  • 1225truth

    Victor Stenger asserts and argues that scientifically, GAWD does not exist.
    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/godless.html

  • But logically/philosophically, it’s not accurate. God’s existence, to me, is as close to 0% as I can imagine.

    I disagree. I think the billboard is accurate. Not “probably” accurate, not “as close to accurate as we can conceive of”, just accurate.

    I don’t understand what is logically or philosophically inaccurate in stating that “there is no God”. Would you not agree that God is a logically inconsistent concept?

  • Neon Genesis

    Is he wrong? Should he have put himself at a 7? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning here?

    If we don’t put the word probably in the ad, theists might accuse us of being too dogmatic, but if we do put it in there, theists will accuse of trying to redefine atheism and agnosticism, so I think we won’t win against them either way. I’m more concerned that the ad is bringing kids into the debate, especially with the implication that it’s telling kids they’re stupid to believe in Santa Claus. Even Christopher Hitchens thinks that childhood is a time for magic and imagination and we should let kids believe in Santa Claus, so it just makes it seem like the FFRF are trying to ruin the fun of Christmas for the kids and being insulting to children.

  • Susan Robinson

    The ad says nothing about the reality or unreality of Santa Claus. In fact, it makes it look like Santa is doing the talking here. Therefore it does not ruin the fun of Christmas and is not insulting to children.

  • AlexP

    But logically/philosophically, it’s not accurate. God’s existence, to me, is as close to 0% as I can imagine. I would bet my life on the idea that god doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t make the billboard accurate.

    Logically/philosophically it’s just as accurate as saying “So-and-so will be performing a concert next week!” Sure, billboards for that don’t have room to say “This event is planned but if some major catastrophe were to happen, or if it turns out that the band members don’t actually exist and it was just an illusion then it won’t happen.” But do you expect them to be more ‘accurate’ and say “There will probably be a concert next week.”? The philosophical argument can be made that NO statement can be made with certainty; that does not mean we need to qualify everything with ‘probably.’

  • muggle

    Like so many others here, I beg to disagree. I can and do state there is no God. Unequivocally.

    No, this does not put the burden of proof on me. That’s semantics. The god people making a ridiculous assertation then if you dare to say it is just that instead of proving what they asserted, they cry prove I’m wrong! I don’t have to. You have to prove you’re right!

    I absolutely love this in every way! I love the whole phony cutsey Yes Virginia story. I think it’s charmingly quaint and pretty in that nauseating way only enjoyed at Christmastime. And I’m a big believer in the Santa myth as a great lesson in free thought for kids everywhere. Besides, Santa’s just plain fun.

    And I’m really sick of us tip-toeing around on egg shells so afraid of offending the Christians even while they be offensive as hell. I love the in-your-face of this.

    I am so proud to be a member. I will have to send these comments along to them in a note of encouragement and thanking them for spending my membership dues well. When my membership comes due, I hope to change my membership to a lifetime.

    They allow monthly payments to do this now and once the membership is paid for, hopefully, I can continue to send a like amount to continue supporting them though admittedly I’ll at first do this buying books and t-shirts and music I want. I’ve been searching high and low for something no one seems to sell anymore. Regular old bookmarks, not that silly dangling jewelery for books that pulls out in a purse. I was thrilled to see that FFRF is selling a set of six. I will be buying myself a little Happy Winter stocking stuffer pay day.

  • Leia

    I like the ad. I don’t think we need to be apologetic for our beliefs. You know how many people still say ‘God bless you’ and send out get well cards with religious setiments with out a care as to whether the person they are wishing well are themselves religious?

    People use the term ‘blessed with’ when they really mean ‘thankful for’. They post their God billboards all over the beautiful state of Texas with no apologies.

    It’s time that we used our voice. It’s time that the religious folk see that not everyone is like them. We have our freedom of speech as well. And I think it’s cute that an unreal character is making mention that another unreal character doesn’t exist. I think that really drives it home.

    We can be friendly atheists while still being upfront and unapologetic about who we are and what we believe.

  • bigdave

    Have I just been living under a rock? I had not ever heard the story behind the message (the little girl named Virginia asking if their was a Santa). Did anyone else have to have that explained to them or did I just miss out on something everyone else already knew?

  • Sheila

    I would stake my life on the fact that the ad is wrong: the Reality is found in Christ, thank God, and a beautiful Reality it is.

  • muggle

    In your dreams, Sheila, baby. In your dreams. Life, real life, isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be. You don’t really need that crutch. You just think you do. Throw it down and walk. Before you know it, you’ll be walking with a spring in your step and your head held high actually feeling good about yourself instead of like a dirty sinner.

    As a matter of fact, hon, you have staked your life on it. And, sadly, thrown it away on a mere fantasy.

  • ed-words

    It is not ABSURD to say there is no god.

    Richard Dawkins believes God’s existence

    is highly unlikely. “No God” is

    pretty close to that. The Brits used

    “probably no God” to clear the censors.

    The burden of proof is on the “faithful”.

  • Fair is fair

    Freedom of speech is freedom of ALL speech. Being in favor of freedom of speech most directly means being in favor of speech that you do not particularly agree with. Of course most people are in favor of something being said that they agree with. I do not agree with the statement of the ad, however I strongly agree with it’s being present. We all could debate whether there is or isn’t a/any god/gods for the rest of time (obviously, as we have been for as long as we humans have existed). The point of freedom of speech is not being assaulted in any form for stating your beliefs. You can’t “prove” there is no god and I can’t “prove” that there is, hence BELIEF. Both stances take an equal amount of faith. So, of course, all Christians aren’t going like this ad; but as I see above, all Athiests aren’t going to like it either. So what. It is an ad. I don’t like tons of ads for reasons that vary in a wider range than religion.

  • freedomofhatespeech

    It is amazing that one can say “there is no god” and that is considered “freedome of speech”, but should one say “Jesus is the only savior” this is considered hateful and mean. If we truly want to be fair, then should someone want to make a flat out statement that there is no god – and not receive hateful comments about it, then someone else should also have the freedome to say that Jesus is the only savior without receiving hatful comments. Too bad we do not live in a perfect world where we really can have our own opinions and let others have theirs.

  • freedomofhatespeech, who is saying that to say “Jesus is the only savior” hateful and mean? Forcing that opinion on others and restricting differing views is certainly something to disagree with but if you want to say “Jesus is the only savior”, “Allah is the only savior” or “Odin is the only savior” then knock yourself out.

    Too bad we do not live in a perfect world where we really can have our own opinions and let others have theirs.

    That is precisely what the atheist posters are about.

  • freedomofhatespeech

    hoverFrog, while no one on this particular sight has said that “Jesus is the only savior” is hateful and mean, it has been said many, many times. I agree with you that forcing that opinion on others and restricting differing views is something to disagree with. In fact that was pretty much my point. In other words the same freedom that atheists may (or may not have) to proclaim what they think should also be given to Christians, Muslims, Budhists etc. If a Muslim wishes to hang a giant billboard that says “Allah is the only true God” or a Christian hangs a giant billboard stating that “Jesus is the only savior” than no opposition should be held. I’m guessing that won’t happen. Sounds to me like you would be ok with it, I could be wrong, but again my point is that freedom of speech should be for all (I am not agreeing with hateful comments about any gender, race or sexual preference however).
    Thanks for your comments.

  • freedomofhatespeech, we are in agreement. I think it is a shame that you seem to think that atheists as a group (there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one) are out to deny the rights of others.

  • Philoctetes

    The burden of proof is on the side making the proposition. We would not be having this conversation if someone had not made the proposition, “There are gods, and their properties are thus and so.”

    My atheism is based on the fact that this proposition is not proveable, not because I think I need to prove that there is no god.

    I agree that identifying atheists with people who want to diss Santa is a little counterproductive. I would have preferred an ad with either of these quotations:

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
    – Philip K. Dick

    or

    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
    – Stephen Roberts

  • Tyler

    I don’t agree with the message this ad is posting. It claims that ‘there is no god’ which I don’t agree with. I am a diehard atheist, but to make the claim that there isn’t one… is ridiculous.

    Logic and Reasoning is typically the ways of the non-religious… and if it was so, then it would say ‘There MAY NOT BE a God’.

    Also, this just seems to be a Jab at the religious. Which, I’m sure I’ll get hell for at Christmas time… but, I don’t think they should be taken down, but I don’t approve of or endorse their message.

  • Tyler, what’s logically wrong with the claim “A logically contradictory being can not exist”?

  • Jojo from Kokomo

    I am not a christian, being a Born Pure Natural Witch, the only kind that exists. But let me tell you people something that hoot and hollar about Nothing you know about, Christmas being for Pagans. I am not a Pagan for the word means “ignorant peasent” but Witch I am, Witch I be. And if you don’t know about The Gods, and noticed I mentioned plural Gods, then you should keep your doors locked at night when the Wind Howls looking for people…just….like….you. You are easy targets.

  • heather

    back to the original statement. it’s all opinion. there is nothing to prove or disprove items that are not based on science. whether or not the statement is “correct” is irrelevant. as a statement of opinion it is completely acceptable under the first amendment, likewise, other religious statements are permissible as free speech. NO ONE NO MATTER WHAT THEIR STANDING SHOULD BE CUTTING OTHERS DOWN WITH THEIR STATEMENTS; that means statements damning homosexuality and atheism, as well as statements mocking the intelligence of others’ beliefs.

  • heather

    **that is not to say that this specific ad is doing such, it is a free statement and is not directly condescending to anyone, and those who take it overly offensive need to take a step back and look at what they do.

  • Bo Parker

    I find this add very ironic if you have actually read the letter “Yes Virginia …” The letter itself is more of a critique of atheism than a support for belief in Santa Claus. Consider the opening paragraph
    “VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.”

  • How long will the FFRF go on positively affirming God’s non-existence without evidence?

    Is this not what they condemn as “faith”?

    They are doing it this year and they did it last year:

    http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2008/12/dan-barker-and-neo-pagan-atheism.html

  • Jennifer

    Um, so just to confirm, you’re all planning to be at work bright and early on December 25, correct?

    I mean, if you don’t believe in the Christian God (or any god for that matter) then you can’t believe in Christmas — so why would you take a day off from work that day? Or are you only too happy to benefit from the perks of that in which you don’t believe? If so, then you’re hypocrites.

    If not, thanks for holding down the fort!

  • Hammurabi

    Jennifer, are you expecting the non-christians to refuse a day off? Besides, there is barely anything about christmas that is uniquely christian. Throwing away the obvious (Santa, reindeer, frosty, christmas trees, rampant consumerism, etc.) the whole idea of a winter feast with family and friends long, long predates christianity. Beyond that, the whole nativity story is a patchwork of previous myths (virgin births, marked by a star, visited by sages, endangered by the local ruler, son of god, etc.)

    It should also be noted that Dec 25 was not considered to be jesus’ birthday until the church decided to co-opt the day to overtake the popular pagan traditions/mythra’s birthday/saturnalia. The nativity story states that the “shepherds watched the flocks at night” which would only happen in the spring, when newborns were about. Therefore, jesus’ birthday was originally celebrated in the spring and was a very solemn and reverent holiday much in the jewish tradition that proceeded it. In the United States christmas regained the solemn and reverent tone it once had because the christians here knew that all the fun parts were inherited from pagans and they rejected that.

    So, I wrote all that to write this:

    Um, so just to confirm, you’re planning to celebrate the birth of your savior respectfully and without all the fun pagan parts in the spring, correct?

  • Jennifer

    I celebrate the holiday as celebrated by people of my faith — as to whether the holiday incorporates ancient Pagan rituals, that should be immaterial to people who claim not to believe in anything.

    And, actually no, I’m not surprised by the hypocrisy of atheists who decry Christmas, yet are only too happy to benefit from Christianity by taking Dec. 25 off.

    In fact, I find it hilarious that people who go around claiming that they’re good, moral and ethical people without a belief in a god can’t even bring themselves to pass up one day off to prove just how principled, ethical and committed to their non-belief that they really are!

    So consider yourself challenged, atheists. If you really don’t believe in a god — so much so, that you have to blatantly try to ruin the holidays for those who do believe — then put your money where your mouth is and go to work tomorrow. If not, then do the rest of us a favor and keep your self-righteous hypocrisy to yourselves.

    And to those of you who do stay home tomorrow…MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  • Merry Christmas Jennifer. Sadly my office is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and on the following Monday as a bank holiday. I don’t have a choice about going to work. This is the same on the other bank holidays. In my country some of us also get the Queen’s birthday off. My partner is employed by the education authority and works term time only. She also has no choice about the days that she works.

    With that in mind I spent the day with my family free in the joy that there is no hypocrisy in not going to work when the workplace is shut.

    Unless you are suggesting that people who work days are hypocritical for not working nights as well?

    Also who is decrying Christmas? Christmas is great. It just isn’t religious any more.

  • dude

    Jennifer, who says atheists don’t believe in anything? Atheists just don’t believe gods exist. Do you understand that?

    Do you believe unicorns exist? No? Then does that mean you don’t believe anything? Think of how stupid your comment was.

    Oh, and Merry Christmas to you too. Thanks for coming by to spread your Christian love.

  • Tim

    There’s no need to always say “probably.” The existence of God is an absurd claim, it’s not a philosophical sin to refute it completely. I would think such a well-rounded atheist as yourself would not fall victim to the fallacy of agnosticism. Simply because someone claims something, we must then legitimize their ridiculous claim (and diminish our argument) by being forced to say it’s only “probably” not true? If someone walks up to you and says “Hello, I’m an orange,” we can say without a doubt that that is not true. However, if the person were to prove he was in fact an orange, you should then acknowledge that it is true. But are we really expected to treat every ridiculous claim as a legitimate hypothesis?
    There’s nothing wrong with claiming something 100%; this obsession with taking the most noble philosophical stance is pointless. We have every reason to say there is no God, because there is no evidence. The only philosophical obligation we have is to keep an open mind; which simply means that we are willing to change our minds if the evidence requires it. If Christians prove God exists, or Muslims prove Allah exists, or it turns out that the Greeks were right, I’ll be the first to convert. That’s all open-mindedness requires of us. Until that day, I say with complete certainty THERE IS NO GOD.