American Atheists Billboard Causes Controversy in Iowa March 31, 2011

American Atheists Billboard Causes Controversy in Iowa

I mentioned American Atheists may be putting up a new ad in anticipation of their national convention… and it’s now up! (Five of them!)

Can you believe it’s causing some controversy…?

“Even within the atheist community, the idea of ‘You know there is no God’, there are various difference of opinion about how far that goes — if it’s too far, not far enough — but that’s the objective. Get people thinking, catch the eye and create some dialogue,” said Randy Henderson of the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

“Everything from a de-baptism to bar crawls to book signings. So, there are really going to be a lot of activities that are going to be fun, as well as very informative,” said Henderson.

Doing it on Easter is blatant. It’s flagrant in many, many ways. But again, it’s just another opportunity to be able to express, ‘My God lives,'” said Pat Nemmers, pastor at Saylorville Baptist Church.

Actually, the billboards are going up a month before Easter… but Christian pastors are constantly complaining about our mere existence. This is no different.

You could put up a billboard in November and they’d argue it’s too close to Christmas. You could put it up in June and they’d argue it’s too close to Pentecost Sunday.

I love this news clip discussing the controversy. The best part about the segment? Quoting the online poll…

… 10,000 have voted in our unscientific, online poll, where 71% of voters say they love the new billboards and those votes, by the way, are coming from people across America…

That’s number’s currently at 77% 🙂 Let the Pharyngulating commence.


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  • I think he means hosting the convention over Easter, not the timing of the billboards.

  • DR

    Clearly, they don’t even realize they’ve been pharyngulated… “coming from people across America”!!! I bet they are.

  • PZ noted this a couple of days ago; likely reason for the 77% – oops – 78% it has now…

  • Have to agree with Todd. The convention is over Easter.

  • Valdyr

    My main complaint with these billboards is that they’re ugly as shit.

  • Sarah

    If I have to see/hear religious rambling on church marquees, random people trying to shove their feet in my door to preach, telling my children (who are still impressionable) that they are going to hell for the “sins of their godless mother”, then I think the rest of religious America can deal with a billboard. I try to be tolerant of people of faith, but I’m losing my grip with (for lack of a better term) holier than thou attitudes. My views are just as worthy of advertisment as anyone else’s. We’re here, we’re faithless, deal with it.

  • “You KNOW there is no GOD”

    Yeah, well I know there are a few competent, atheist, graphic designers. This is horrid. That color- like the discharge of a baby after eating hot thai curry. Ugh. The tents? No.

    We need dinosaurs, and teapots! And TURTLES, all the way down.

  • stogoe

    I don’t have a problem with the KNOW part of it. I ‘know’ there are no gods with as much certainty as I ‘know’ that gravity exists and that the speed of light in a vaccuum is constant and that the earth formed 4.5 billion years ago from accumulating space dust around a forming star that we call Sol. There’s a very slight chance that every single bit of the evidence we have about how the universe operates is wrong, but probably not.

    Are you going to be at the conference, Hemant? This is probably the only one I’ll ever get to due to a combination of general lack of funds and reticence to go to conventions in general and it would be fun to meet you and/or any commenters who make it out.

  • ACN

    Yeah, well I know there are a few competent, atheist, graphic designers. This is horrid. That color- like the discharge of a baby after eating hot thai curry. Ugh. The tents? No.

    Thank you for this.

  • Danielle

    Fucking ugly billboards.

  • fea24

    My friends always have dog shows over Easter weekend, is that also disrespectful? I spent enough years sitting around waiting for someone to come back from the dead on Easter, I’m getting on with my life..

    Also, the add looks like a Christmas card to me.

  • ScarletA

    I don’t care for these billboards. Much prefer the other campaign…Freedom From Religion, I think…with various folks from our community. They need to see that we are just people…just like them. That is always my approach, and I live in a Mormon enclave. I believe that most people want to find commonality with other humans (not talking about freaks like the fred phelps-ies), and my mission (haha–I just spoke mormon) is to get dialogue and spread LOVE!! we’re all one, baby!!

  • I think it’s as obnoxious to tell people “you know there is no God” as it is for theists to tell us that we really know that there is and are just denying it. One could argue that the message is aimed solely at atheists, but then what are the star of David, cross, and crescent doing there?

  • NeCrom-X

    Funny how they ignore the Abortion Billboards they used to put up that were way more offensive than any of these.

  • Silent Service

    I just love the fact that pharyngulate now appears in Urban Dictionary;

    1. verb: to skew results of an online poll, usually having to do with religion, science, or politics, in order to reflect a more rational …

    Proof that PZ is now a power equal to Will Smith; though Will is cuter. 🙂

  • John McCready

    SInce this “Easter” bullshit is coming up, a BETTER billboard message would be:

    DID JESUS COME BACK TODAY? THERE IS NO JESUS/GOD! DEAL WITH IT!

    THAT would piss them off! 😉

  • The billboards from AA are some seriously FUGLY things and they just don’t work. Their design people need to understand that what works on a web site, poster or t-shirt doesn’t necessarily work on a billboard.
    The graphics serve only to confuse drivers who are speeding past since most of them associate a combination of those symbols with Interfaith propaganda. Poorly thought out graphics negate the poorly thought out wording so you are left with a billboard that is both hideous and ineffective.
    I imagine the average response from someone driving by is “wha…huh…?”
    Admittedly, the color choice isn’t bad as that shade normally implies a message you can trust, but since the message isn’t easily discernible, it might as well have been Pepto Pink.

  • I think they’re beautiful billboards! Bright colors, easy to read, strong message. All without condemning anyone, cursing or vulgarities. Just plain free speech we can all withstand.

    I’m also very glad that there’s a national Atheist group out there willing to be this bold. This proud Atheist says, more bold billboards please!

  • And Pepto Pink? Hmmm…that’s a darn good idea! Ya can’t miss it! I’ll suggest that to Dave S. :o) Thanks!

  • ‘I think it’s as obnoxious to tell people “you know there is no God” as it is for theists to tell us that we really know that there is and are just denying it.’

    Echoing this. American Atheists is making me embarrassed to be an American atheist.

  • I have to agree with those wanting better design. This billboard is an awful color scheme.

  • I agree with Valdyr. As a designer, the billboards all make me cringe. Reason should extend to using reasonable design guidelines.

  • @Joe Zamecki,

    “I’ll suggest that to Dave S. 😮 ) Thanks!”

    Well gosh, back at you pal! Thanks so darn much! 🙂
    While you’re at it, tell your special super-dee-dooper best buddy to lose the man-boy facial fuzz if he hasn’t already! 😉

  • A more attractive design wouldn’t hurt at all.

  • Samiimas

    Are e seriously supposed to believe that the whiners would be calling a billboard obnoxious and rude if it advertised a Christian Convention by saying “You know their is a god! We know you’re right!”.

    I doubt it,since that’s nothing but a very basic statement of what Christians believe. Just like how this billboard is a simple basic statement of what Athists believe.

  • Kristi

    Just so you know, that poll is now up to 78% 😀

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I ‘know’ there is no god. I respect religion the way I respect small pox, cancer, and cholera, so think this billboard while perhaps ugly is soft peddling the message. Would that message be simply discounted, sure, but I think such political conventions is an ideal location for it.

  • Blacksheep

    hement recently wrote something along the lines of, “embrace doubt, ask questions, make doubt your friend.” As surprised as I was to hear him say that, I thought it showed maturity. What’s with the “You Know” business?

  • There are so many better statements that could be said which makes this just seem like a waste. Something like:

    “No God? No Problem!”

  • faustfire

    Seriously…worst billboards ever. Why is it that most Atheist billboards are badly designed? Please, could we use a font that is actually readable from a moving car? The billboards posted yesterday, while better designed than this one, suffer from the same readability problem.

  • ash

    @Blacksheep, I missed the bit were Hemant said he knew 100% that there were no god/s – or do you think all atheists are interchangeable? In which case you owe everyone here (well, globally) apologies for being as bigoted as Westboro church, as dumb as Ray Comfort and as criminal as Kent Hovind. Or I could pretend you’re an individual who doesn’t necessarily agree with everything your fellow christians say + do…

  • ash

    P.s. ‘fugly’ is right.

  • Samiimas

    I thought it showed maturity. What’s with the “You Know” business?

    Yeah people are so immature for thinking they ‘know’ that god doesn’t exist. Exactly like how they’re immature for thinking they ‘know’ that Lord Xenu doesn’t exist, or that they ‘know’ Anubis doesn’t exist, or that they ‘know’ fairies don’t exist, or that they ‘know’ their isn’t a teapot in orbit around the sun…

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I ‘know’ gravity exists.

  • I agree with Pat Nemmers, I’m sick of people blatantly exploiting the festival of the Germanic Goddess of Spring to promote their own insidious beliefs.

  • Blacksheep

    @Blacksheep, I missed the bit were Hemant said he knew 100% that there were no god/s – or do you think all atheists are interchangeable? In which case you owe everyone here (well, globally) apologies for being as bigoted as Westboro church, as dumb as Ray Comfort and as criminal as Kent Hovind. Or I could pretend you’re an individual who doesn’t necessarily agree with everything your fellow christians say + do…

    Ash,

    You’re tipping at windmills. In Hemant’s statement about doubt, he is making a big, overstated point about doubt being quite important. That stands in stark contrast to the message on the billboard, which he posted. Secondly, If I were speaking about all atheists, I would have said that.
    Is there an arrogant tone of cock-sureness on this site among atheists? Absolutely. In the way that hemant adds his commentary to stories? Absolutely.
    I could assume that you are one of them – Or should I pretend that you are an individual who doesn’t agree with the tone set forth here?

    As far as an apology goes, I won’t ask for one from you even though you suggested that I am possibly bigoted, dumb, and a criminal. (For posting my opinion). That’s the spirit, Ash!

  • Blacksheep

    Yeah people are so immature for thinking they ‘know’ that god doesn’t exist. Exactly like how they’re immature for thinking they ‘know’ that Lord Xenu doesn’t exist, or that they ‘know’ Anubis doesn’t exist, or that they ‘know’ fairies don’t exist, or that they ‘know’ their isn’t a teapot in orbit around the sun…

    Samiimas,

    I guess you missed Hemants quote. That’s what I referenced, and that’s what I found interesting.

    Besides, you can’t compare your examples to Christianity. It’s silly. If the worship of anubias (A good riddle for God spelled backwards) had swept across the globe, if ancient texts were found containing the doctrine of anubias that one could apply to current day life, if archeological digs continued to turn up evidence that corroborated stories in the anubias bible, if countless people had their lives changed by praying to anubias, if scores of followers of anubias had been martyered for refusing to deny their allegience to him, and if the doctrine of anubias set forth clearly the ideas of love, peace, forgiveness, and charity, and if present day followers of anubias gave more of their time and money to helping others than those who believed in no God, I would consider that there might be something to it. I would weigh it as a possible authentic path of truth. There would be questions and issues to wade through, like in any belief, but if it fit the above criteria (or something like it) in my opinion it would bear looking at.

    (No teapot, but I have read that there’s a glove and a spatula currently orbiting the earth)

  • Blacksheep

    I ‘know’ gravity exists.

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anyone who is not sure of that… I thought the billboard was referencing God, faith, and things unseen.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I ‘know’ gravity exists.

    Clearly you’ve never been educated in the Truth (TM) of Intelligent Falling.

  • Zhuge

    “‘I think it’s as obnoxious to tell people “you know there is no God” as it is for theists to tell us that we really know that there is and are just denying it.’

    Echoing this. American Atheists is making me embarrassed to be an American atheist.”

    I think this might be a misunderstanding over the point of the bilboards. I’ve heard Dave Silverman explain the rationale, and as far as I can see it makes sense. The billboards are not aimed at Christians or Muslims, Jews or Hindus, Sikhs or people practicing Cao Dai. Rather, it is aimed at what you might call “culturally religious” or “Churchgoing atheists.” It is in effect a statement to the non-believers who aren’t already members of the free thought community. It is certainly designed to be provocative, of this I have no doubt, but I think it’s part of a campaign to shift the overton window on the dialogue, if you will. That way when less rough ads are run by other groups, they won’t be disliked. It’s not an unclever strategy, but I frankly don’t think that these bilboards are particularly offensive in any case. (Well they do offend my sense of aesthetic, but that’s a seperate matter. Echoing everyone else, the tent design is a mystery and the yellow is sort of ick.)

    As for the phrasing of “know,” I don’t think that AA is a particularly philisophic organization, in the sense that they are deep into epistemology. Having heard their justification for the term, I think that ultimately they’re using it in a contextualist sense(for any philosophy people out there), whereby while maybe in the rigorous Platonic sense of “know” you don’t know there is no God, in the sense in which it is used for pragmatic purposes(I “know” where the restaurant is, or that Washington is a state). So you might say that if there are (at least)two definitions of “know”, AA is using the second and more common sensical use of the term. Not 100% but willing to put a stake on it.

    On the whole, I think that these two criticisms were unwarranted. Not that one has to agree with AA, mind, or anyone else. I just don’t think these are accurate characterizations of their positions.

  • Inthewater

    We have one of these billboards on the property where I work (along a busy street) and there was just a man in a gorilla suit under it protesting with some sort of psalm on a poster board.

    Before the office figured out what was on the sign, it was a lot of comments about “why would they do that, isn’t that mean billboard enough?” then when it was discovered to be anti-atheist they became “good for him”.

    I had some interesting discussions after that, where the billboard has sort of “outed” me at work.

    It would be cool if it was at least a cool looking billboard.

    : /

  • Blacksheep,

    I would consider that there might be something to it. I would weigh it as a possible authentic path of truth. There would be questions and issues to wade through, like in any belief, but if it fit the above criteria (or something like it) in my opinion it would bear looking at.

    Then why have you not looked into any of the other modern religions that have billions of followers? Maybe there’s “something to” Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. With the criteria that you have laid out, the fact that they’re popular must mean something. Blacksheep, you never responded to my comment here, but you continually seem upset by atheists saying that your deity does not exist. However, I see no such hesitation from Christian believers expressing that their deity does exist, and, more to the point, that other deities do not. If you’re perfectly comfortable declaring that Anubis is fictional, then I should be equally comfortable declaring that Yahweh is fictional. Otherwise, it’s a double standard. I don’t believe you consider your fellow Christians to be “cocksure” when they express confidence in the non-existence of Anubis, Hanuman, Tengri, Ngai, and every other deity on the planet except your own.