Reactions to an Atheist Bus

There's Probably No God This bus is slowly accumulating adjectives. Creative Commons License photo credit: Base on Mars

I’m going to assume you already know about the “atheist bus” campaign. I for one like it. It will get people talking, and doing so hopefully from a starting point of skepticism, which is the healthy way of doing things. But mostly I like it because the reaction to it has been comical and served to make religious people look foolish (which is pretty easy) and that always makes me smile. The funniest one I’ve put right at the end to force you to read the whole post. (I certainly can’t see how you could possibly read the end without reading the start and middle first.

For example, Theos have responded by pretending that it is in fact the best thing to happen to religious belief since the crucifixion was retconned out of the Bible. First, they donated £50. Then they started firing off soundbites almost at random, apparently in the hope that if they said something silly enough a newspaper might print it.

We've donated the money because we think the campaign is a brilliant way to get people thinking about God.

-- Paul Woolley, Director of Theos

Fifty quid? That’ll pay for rather less than one third of one advert. That was entirely worth the bother.

Telling someone "there's probably no God" is a bit like telling them they've probably remembered to lock their door. It creates the doubt that they might not have.

-- Paul Woolley

That’s really quite a poor analogy, although it’s quite telling if Theos think that “skeptical but afraid of what might happen if they’re wrong” counts as belief.

The poster is very weak - where does 'probably' come from? Richard Dawkins doesn't 'probably' believe there is no God! - and telling people to 'Stop worrying' is hardly going to comfort for those who are concerned about losing jobs or homes in the recession, but the posters will still prompt people to think about life's big questions.

-- Paul Woolley

That’s right, Richard Dawkins doesn’t ‘probably’ believe there is no God. Richard Dawkins believes there is probably no God. How can you not understand what adverbs are for?

Let's leave aside the adverts' basic proposition, "There's probably no God". Where did that "probably" come from? It doesn't suggest the sales staff is overly confident about its product. If my pilot told me "This flight to Paris probably won't crash," I'd think about taking the train.

-- Nick Spencer, Director of Studies, Theos

Like (seemingly) almost all religious people, they don't get the point of this. Atheism isn't about believing there is no god, it's about not believing that there is. (Apparently this adverb problem is common in Theos.) It's about not accepting patent nonsense for which there is not one shred of evidence. It's about thinking about whether or not there is a god rather than believing just for the sake of it. It just so happens that everyone who does so comes to the conclusion that God is just a made-up person. (That link is what YouTube was like in 1996.) That's the nature of correct answers.

And let's leave aside the advice, "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". You would have to go a long way to find a slogan less suited to our New Year, recession-looming, mass-unemployment gloom.

-- Nick Spencer

I don't think "leave aside" means what Nick Spencer thinks it means. He's right though: what people need in the midst of recession-looming, mass-unemployment gloom is a book full of contradictory and insane rules which must be followed to the mistranslated letter on pain of unimaginably awful everlasting torture.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "who cares what Theos think? Get to the point! Tell me what eminent British philosopher Bill Oddie thinks!" Okay. But you're crazy.

What they are doing is dangerous. In doing something like that they're speaking straight to extremists. I'd like to know how they sleep the night after one of those buses gets blown up. I've put that point to their head office and you know what she said? That's why they put the word 'probably' in. It's pathetic.

That is a danger.

The problem is that they've aligned themselves with Richard Dawkins. I would happily design dozens of alternative slogans for them. There are so many good things that they could advertise and instead they've chosen to go with Dawkins.

Yeah, I hates them ‘militant atheists’ who constantly go on about how there’s probably no god and how they reckon, on balance, that the Bible is more than likely fiction. They’re fundamentalists. Why can’t they advertise something good, like the West Wing box set, or innocent smoothies?

Interlude: 10 Jokes About Atheist Buses: #

  1. Atheist buses don't go anywhere when they die.
  2. Christian traindrivers have warned that atheist buses might go off the rails.
  3. Why did the bus turn atheist? Because it had a breakdown.
  4. English buses let people know there is no god. Then atheists hire advertising space on them.
  5. The Atheist Bus is a direct response to the Christian Bandwagon.
  6. Why did the atheist cross the road? Because it was a bus.
  7. The Atheist Bus was built by a freak tornado in a junkyard.
  8. Atheist Buses don't believe in guidance from above, except sat-nav.
  9. Where did Richard Dawkins install his graphics card? The atheist bus.
  10. Atheist buses come in threes. Christian buses also come in threes, but they're all aspects of the same bushead.

Number four is a rephrasing of a Charlie Brooker line. The rest are mine. Any more, if you have them, in the comments.

The best reaction this campaign has sparked is the one from Christian Voice, who have, presumably on purpose, complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, saying

There is plenty of evidence for God, from peoples' personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world. But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.
But then, he also said this:
Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large.
Er, okay.
According to the Guardian (who started the whole thing), the ASA has received 150 complaints about the adverts, and this means that they're going to have to make a ruling about how much evidence there is that God exists and what conclusion should be drawn from it. The BHA, who run the ads, had this to say:
I've sought advice from some of our key people here, but I'm afraid all I've got out of them so far is peals of laughter. I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God's existence.
If they rule that there is so little evidence that the ads are true, then I'm going to complain about ads that talk about God as if he was real. Fair's fair.