“Probably” no God – probably acceptable

Debate around the ‘probably’ in the London atheist bus adverts is interesting. First, some background.

Arian Sherine raised the issue back in June with her Guardian article Atheists – gimme five:

“Yesterday I walked to work and saw not one, but two London buses with the question: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It seems you wait ages for a bus with an unsettling Bible quote, then two come along at once.

The errant capital letters weren’t the only disturbing thing about this (Faith Hill or Faith Evans?). There was also a web address on the ad, and when I visited the site, hoping for a straight answer to their rather pressing question, I received the following warning for anyone who doesn’t “accept the word of Jesus on the cross”: “You will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell. Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire which was prepared for the devil and all his angels (demonic spirits)” (Matthew 25:41). Lots to look forward to, then.”

The campaign

She went on suggest:“that if there are 4,680 atheists reading this and we all 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 get on with your life.””

Well, the idea flew and beginning January some London buses will carry the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Originally planned to run on 30 buses for four weeks the donations have been far greater than the appeal target (see atheist bus campaign). So the campaign may run longer, extend outside London and/or also include advertisements placed inside the buses.

Commenting on the success of the campaign Sherine said: “I was just keen to counter the religious ads running on public transport, which featured a URL to a website telling non-Christians they would spend “all eternity in torment in hell”, burning in “a lake of fire”.” (See Evangelical Atheism)

Christian reaction

The campaign has been welcomed by humanists and atheists throughout the world and also by some Christian groups (including in New Zealand – see for God’s sake, let people think) who believe it will fuel a “continued interest in God.”

Some other Christians have reacted negatively – even warning that “people don’t like to be preached to and that it wouldn’t be surprising if the public retaliated.” I agree – people don’t like to be preached at – but who has being doing the preaching? “I should be surprised if a quasi-religious advertising campaign like this did not attract graffiti,” said Stephen Green of U.K.-based Christian Voice(from No God’ Ads to Hit London Buses)

And how is this from an offended blogger: “missionary work by the followers of atheism should be expected.” But: “insulting most of humankind is arrogant and disrespectful. It’s one thing to disagree with your neighbor and make your points. It’s an entirely different thing to call your neighbor a moron.” Paul Woolley, director of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said: “Stunts like this demonstrate how militant atheists are often great adverts for Christianity.”

Well – we know how Christian apologists bandy around the word ‘militant’, don’t we?

Atheists accept probably

The ‘probably’ in the slogan has caused some Christians to ridicule the campaign some describing it as “wishy washy.” Some atheists have also objected to the word ‘probably.’ However, it’s interesting that many atheists are actually happy with this qualification – because nothing is completely certain in science. Richard Dawkins (who contributed £5,500 to the campaign) is one of these – as he makes clear in The God Delusion.

A poll carried out on the Truth Is a Woman blog indicates the ‘probably’ qualifier may be acceptable to most atheists. It’s not very scientific but the results (see Our Labels versus Our Beliefs) indicate that atheists may be happier to say that God ‘probably doesn’t exist (66%) than believers are to say the she ‘probably’ does exist (12%). Believers seem to go in for certainty with 66% saying they are 100% certain of God’s existence. Only 28% of non-believers are certain of her non-existence.

I guess that’s the difference between science and faith.

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39 responses to ““Probably” no God – probably acceptable

  1. Great post! I was appalled when I saw adds for books by Ron L. Hubbard on buses in San Francisco. They were the science fiction kind and didn’t seem to be obviously peddling scientology but still… Oh, and we had many bus-shelter ads for Catholic Radio…

    Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to digg this post! I keep getting an error complaining that the URL is a non-working link. Funny that it worked just fine when I got here… Is digg.com censoring?

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  2. Okay, never mind, I guess digg.com just had its wires crossed, which seems to happen sometimes. I got it posted as a new submission.

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  3. Ken, there are a couple of typoes toward the end of this article: you refer to God using the feminine pronoun instead of the masculine. Posting before your coffee?

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  4. Ah – another great research topic for theologians. What is God’s sex?

    Myself – I wouldn’t presume to know.

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  5. @3:

    No typo I would think. Read up a little and you’d see that the blog this comes from is called… “Truth Is a Woman” 😉

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  6. God’s sex is male, inasmuch as he anthropomorphically represents himself in Scripture. Jesus was a male. So if you don’t presume to know, Ken, I presume you’re pretty ignorant. And the masculinity of God is not specific to Christianity. All the major monotheistic religions view God as a woman. The God under discussion is inarguably a male.

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  7. Lol, obvious correction to #6: all the major monotheistic religions view God as a man.

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  8. What a silly discussion – the sex of a mythical being!!

    Meanwhile, in the real world the Bus advert campaign (which had a fund-raising target of £5,500.00) is currently up to £109,020.83.

    The interesting thing is that donations are coming in small amounts, from around the world, and from large numbers of people. These people haven’t been tithed or had collection plates pushed in front of their noses. They are contributing because they think it is a good idea – and presumably because they are sick and tired of the way the god-bothers have been pushing their anti-human messages in their faces for so long.

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  9. They are contributing because they think it is a good idea – and presumably because they are sick and tired of the way the god-bothers have been pushing their anti-human messages in their faces for so long.

    And you wonder why we don’t buy into all your “universal human rights” garbage…

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  10. @ James:

    So – are freedom fo relgion and belief & freedom from religion not human rights?

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  11. Ken, even if God is “mythical” (meaning to you, I presume, that he does not exist), the fact remains that he is still a male mythical entity. Referring to God with the female pronoun is no more sensible than referring to Zeus in the same way, or calling Artermis “he”. It’s no better than my deliberately misrepresenting the mythical theory of evolution in some way either.

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  12. Very effective advert, if you ask me, but I’ve obviously get a self-declared bias. Remember reading, those behind the campaign wanted to state ‘There is No God etc’ but the Bus Company rejected the proposal, so they opted for what we see now. Reminds me of that U.S billboard campaign, depicting a blue sky and clouds with the inscription ‘Don’t believe in God?’, ‘You are not alone’. Ken, Bnonn has a poster of God on his wall, so he knows what the guy looks like mate, mind you some of those she-males from Thailand are hard to tell, and with access to the best cosmetic surgery Gods can buy, the suspicion he’s actually he/she will always be there. Best we ask him/her to hike his kilt, eh? Oh, that’s right God isn’t keen on directly communicating with his play-things, so that would be a waste of time. Best we just get on and enjoy our lives instead.

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  13. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    Of course, you often do misrepresent evolutionary science. However, with this it’s always possible to check.

    I just find it laughable that people who claim there is a god – but one that science is incapable of detecting! – yet they know what their god is thinking (especially about what other private citizens get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms). Now they tell me that they have infallible knowledge of the sex of this being (who is beyond detecting).

    A theological question – why should a monotheistic god be male (or female)? What’s the point have having sexual organs at all if they can’t be used – there being no other gods to have sex with?

    Whoops, I forgot (it’s been so long). There is a use.

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  14. So Ken, should I take it that it’s just as correct to talk about Zeus using the female pronoun as the male, then?

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  15. Erm, the Greeks were polytheists… Ken’s question’s about a monotheistic god?

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  16. DBT, what in THE heck are you on about? If it’s Scripture you’re on about, God is pictured as BOTH male and female. The genesis narrative describes BOTH the man AND the woman as created in God’s image (i.e. neither the man nor the woman can fully reflect God’s likeness on their own – it takes both). God is likened to ‘a woman in birth pangs’, and Jesus also says he wanted to protect Israel ‘like a mother hen’, etc.
    I’m in sheer amazement as to how matter-of-fact-ly you speak of God’s ‘gender’ being ‘male’.

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  17. So – are freedom fo relgion and belief & freedom from religion not human rights?

    So far, but if our beliefs are really “anti-human” like you said, then the only rational thing to do is to rid the world of this “anti-human” mind set.

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  18. I know let’s do the same test they do at the Olympics to ascertain Gods sexual orientation. Think Bulgarian woman shot-putters. You theist guys corner him. Bnonn said he’s got a large magical net, using an idea he got from Wonder Woman. Then grab a single strand of his/her hair. I’ll organise Otago University to defer useful research into medical science, awaiting the sample. Cripes, the world media will be all over this one. I’m so excited I can’t be bothered reading the next chapter of L. Ron Hubbard’s gripping book Dianetics. As a read it’s easier to consume than The Bible (lead characters are clearly sexed)and makes about the same amount of sense.

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  19. Dale, I am perplexed. Does God, or does he not, refer to himself using the male pronoun in Scripture? Was Jesus, or was he not, a man? What happened to your brain, dude? When has God ever been a “she”?

    My daughter is created after my image. Is it then reasonable to refer to me as “she”? If I were to use a metaphor in which I was a woman, would it be reasonable to infer that my gender is actually female?

    Perhaps you’re confused, though, about how I my position has been immediately misrepresented by the non-theists here. Perhaps you think I am saying that God is male in the same sense that creatures are. Naturally, however, I am not saying that (although, as pointed out already, Jesus, who is God, certainly is a male human). My contention was that it’s an error to refer to God using the female pronoun, since the Christian God is typically in view, and he is not referred to that way.

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  20. @ James – October 28, 2008 at 12:20 am

    You ask if your “beliefs are really “anti-human” “

    If they are along the lines of the message I referred to:
    ““You will be condemned to … spend all eternity in torment in hell. Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire which was prepared for the devil and all his angels (demonic spirits)” (Matthew 25:41). “ then, yes they are.

    However, I know many (probably most) Christians do not give me (as a non-theist) that sick message. So I don’t find most Christians anti-human in their day-to-day beliefs and actions.

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  21. Of course, even if that message is anti-human, you haven’t given the slightest shred of evidence that (a) there’s something wrong with that; or (b) that it’s false.

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  22. @ Dominic – October 28, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Putting the laughing aside (I know it’s hard because on the surface it is a silly argument) I can see why some people take the issue seriously.

    Some feminists, for example, refer to their god as ‘she’ as a consciousness raising measure. And particularly as religion has historically been very bad for women – usually justifying violation of the basic human rights of women.

    On the other hand, many traditionalists (particularly in the Jewish and Islamic religions) justify their anti-women positions and actions using their holy scriptures. Personalising their god as a male is very useful in that respect.

    We have got to challenge such patriarchal attitudes in our modern world. So, in that respect, I see the feminine attribution to gods as being, to some extent, progressive. This means, of course, that opposition to this may well reveal attitudes towards women which are basically anti-human.

    @ Dominc – October 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    “Of course, even if that message is anti-human, you haven’t given the slightest shred of evidence that (a) there’s something wrong with that; or (b) that it’s false.”

    No I haven’t. Nor will I because it’s obviously wrong. And it is an anti-human . This is the sort of thing that gives Christianity (and the Christians who spout such rubbish) a bad name. No wonder people are fed up with being preached at in this manner.

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  23. Ken, the issue of God’s masculinity isn’t one which is intrinsically related to feminism or women’s rights. It’s purely about accurately representing the way in which God is revealed in the Bible, upon which Christianity is definitionally based. If we’re talking about the Christian God, then using female pronouns is simply wrong; there isn’t really anything more to say. But if we’re talking about some other god, then either she should be named, or the initial capital should be removed to avoid confusion. (As regards Islam, it’s technically wrong to refer to Allah as God anyway—they are quite different entities.)

    As regards the “anti-human” message, that sinners are going to hell—since you feel no need to provide an argument against it because it’s “obviously wrong”, I suppose Christians have no need to provide an argument for it either, since in fact it is obviously right. I deny both that the message is wrong, and that it has even the prima facie appearance of wrongness. In fact, at every level it is patently and manifestly true. Moral evil, of which we are all knowingly and willfully guilty, entails punishment. And we could be punished forever and be no less guilty. There is nothing “anti-human” about this, and it’s plainly not rubbish either; everyone knows it to be true, though they do suppress this knowledge (who wouldn’t).

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  24. @ Dominic Bnonn Tennant:

    Ah well. I’m obviously going to hell and women just have to accept their oppression.

    What an evil world view!

    Anyone else have anything sensible to contribute about the apparent position accorded to women by the monotheistic religions?

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  25. “Women just have to accept their oppression”? I’m not Muslim, Ken. And Christianity does not teach the oppression of women. I really wonder where you’re coming from.

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  26. Hey Ken, I can just picture Bnooonn at his daughters birthing recounting Gods soothing words from Genesis, to his screaming wife “To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”. I’m sure these kind words on the curse of Eve were of comfort to her & increased her commitment to a Christ & her hubby. Woman should toughen-up & take Gods pain and stop blubbering for an epidural. Men Rule O.K?

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  27. … I suppose Christians have no need to provide an argument for it [that sinners are going to hell] either, since in fact it is obviously right. I deny both that the message is wrong, and that it has even the prima facie appearance of wrongness. In fact, at every level it is patently and manifestly true.

    DBT, if you want to think that way, go for it. From my point of view, when I die the ‘I’ (my personality, id, ego, whatever) will cease to exist & the rest will (if the kids follow instructions! Of course, if they don’t, I’ll never know 😉 ) be cremated & scattered somewhere nice. I see no evidence that anything else is likely. One of the reasons that I turned off organised religion as a kid was that I simply couldn’t see why a so-called loving god would condemn enormous numbers of people to eternal unpleasantness simply because they didn’t believe in that particular deity.

    Most of the people I know profess no particular beliefs. Yet they are good people. If in some way they do wrong to others, then they attempt to right it. Not because they’re afraid that if they don’t they’re going to some nasty place when they die, but because the perceive it as The Right Thing To Do.

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  28. One of the reasons that I turned off organised religion as a kid was that I simply couldn’t see why a so-called loving god would condemn enormous numbers of people to eternal unpleasantness simply because they didn’t believe in that particular deity.

    1. So because you can’t find an answer to a problem, you assume that the problem represents a false view of reality?

    2. You obviously failed to consider the question very seriously at all, since you can’t even define it correctly. God doesn’t condemn people to hell because they don’t believe in him. He condemns them to hell because they are sinners who must justly be punished for their wrongdoing. Faith (that is, knowledge of and trust in his promise) is the means he has given by which people may avoid that unpleasant fate. That is to say, he has promised to everyone who is willing that he will impute their sin to Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness to them, so that the punishment for their wrongdoing will be considered paid in full.

    Most of the people I know profess no particular beliefs. Yet they are good people.

    3. Of course, they aren’t actually good people when measured against the correct standard. What you mean is that they generally try to do what is right. But the Bible itself affirms that when these people, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:14–16).

    4. On the same note, even if they are generally good, one wrongdoing is sufficient to entail guilt—how will they remove that guilt if not by trusting in God’s own promise to do so? They could do good works for the rest of eternity and have only done their moral duty, and be no closer to undoing their sin.

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  29. @23:

    I could write a small essay in reply, but perhaps “man, are you into self-justification” would suffice! I have to admit I love (not) the way your post slates just about everything and everyone in one fell swoop.

    Never minding that, a few loose comments:

    I’ve always understood that while the bible is in there somewhere, and G-d is in there somewhere too, Christianity is “definitionally based”, borrowing your phrase, on being followers of J.C. (and in one sense perhaps on the act of baptism).

    Ruling that the capitalisation of G-d is “only” for Christians, is, ahem, a little stingy, if not downright greedy 🙂 Seriously, I have little doubt other religions do, although I can imagine some would be inclined not to simply to avoid being confused with your lot! Anyone is welcome to correct me, but I believe the Bahai use the capital G term, as does Judaism.

    It reminds me of trying to explain to you some time ago that you can’t tell others “who they are”: this use of the G term strikes me as much the same issue. Why should you tell other religions what to call their g-d?

    Your final paragraph is, well, how can I describe it, so wonderful just-justified! Especially the final assertion (“everyone knows it to be true…”, etc.).

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  30. Dominic’s judgementalism is not, of course, restricted to Christians. It’s true of many religions and religion-like movements. This sort of judgmentalism was exhibited by the Maoists (remember the Red Guards in China – or am I just showing my age) and Stalinists. Even more moderate left and right-wing organisations can be very judgmental towards their members and others.

    Personally, I find this interesting from the point of view of understanding why humans should be like this. It seems to me that we have unconscious intuitions/feelings which include judgement, duty, guilt, jealousy, etc. These would have arisen naturally during the evolutionary of a social species. They have been important in our interaction with each other (within our tribes) and also interaction between them and us.

    So we have those intuitions/feelings in our subconscious. They are still sometimes useful – but often not in our modern society. And anyway, as an intelligent species, we do have the ability to override those intuitions and apply reason to social situations.

    However, political and religious movements do appropriate or make use of these intuitions/feelings. (Also a lot of advertising and subtle social messages also utilise them). This can be very dangerous as we saw with Stalin, the Christian Inquisition and Mao. This is the same as the sort of extreme judgmentalism we get from some religious spokespeople today. It probably underlies a lot of the hostility extreme and fundamentalist religious people have towards science and other manifestations of human rationality.

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  31. Ken, of course, those intuitions of judgment, duty, guilt, jealousy and the like are reflections of our moral character as creatures made in the image of God; not a product of evolution.

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  32. @31: Animal behavioural studies, for example, would say otherwise, as would some lines of cognitive research.

    You seem to be riding a “we (Creationist) Christians are just right” bandwagon at the moment!

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  33. @ #28: You obviously failed to consider the question very seriously at all, since you can’t even define it correctly. God doesn’t condemn people to hell because they don’t believe in him. He condemns them to hell because they are sinners who must justly be punished for their wrongdoing. Faith (that is, knowledge of and trust in his promise) is the means he has given by which people may avoid that unpleasant fate. That is to say, he has promised to everyone who is willing that he will impute their sin to Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness to them, so that the punishment for their wrongdoing will be considered paid in full.

    In other words – they have to believe in him. Otherwise how can they be willing to ‘impute their sin to Jesus’?

    As for the rest, I find that fact that you simply dismiss others as not being good people because they don’t measure up to your particular idea of what ‘good’ is, somewhat arrogant & intolerant. It seems that any good that someone does is negated in your eyes if they also fail to buy into the idea of redemption through holding a particular belief. That is not a worldview that I have any wish to share.

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  34. Ken @30. I agree that this is an interesting point. In this sense, we could posit that the prevalence of religious styles of thinking are by products of evolved adaptations (being the core emotional trigger points). This perhaps, is precisely why some religious people find evolution and the theory of natural selection so threatening as to willfully ignore the evidence.

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  35. @34: I’ve seen elsewhere a remark to the effect that religious-type thinking is associated with OCD and/or brain disorders (in a comment in a thread on Novella’s blog from memory) . Not meaning to slate “ordinary” Christians in any way in writing that. As an anecdotal account, a person I know became quite religious prior to what eventually proved to be a brain disorder. Its possible that the preference some have for religion is a much more minor “normal” variant that has a similar outcome-?

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  36. There’s probably no god because, though a good one is impossible as it’s existence would contradict our experience of the world, assuming it was omnipotent, there could still be an evil god.

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  37. Following on from Eric…

    Enjoy.

    Mr. Deity Episode 1: Mr. Deity and the Evil
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=Qzf8q9QHfhI

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  38. Pingback: No God? No Worries -Yeah right « Open Parachute

  39. I think we don’t need the ‘probably’. Even if it’s technically true, if we started using ‘probably’ in front of all things with theoretical doubt it would become tiresome. Paris is probably the capital of France. Of course maybe Paris is a collective delusion or the product of a conspiracy – so we best insert ‘probably’ just in case.

    No one does that.

    Consider also that God, as conceived by the monotheism is a-priori and deductively impossible. God is more like a round-square than a unicorn. I.e. you know it’s false from the definition, you don’t need to go looking like you would with a unicorn.

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