Battle of the bus ads

des moine busI personally think these atheist bus adverts are a good idea. But I wouldn’t if they were agrressive or hostile to believers.

Their value lies in making people aware that there are people who don’t have religious beliefs. These people are human, deserving of respect and rights. They are a normal part of a healthy pluralist society. And their existence and rights are often ignored. We saw this with the NZ Statement on Religious diversity.

The adverts also represent a component of that open discussion in the public square that some religious people claim to support. Provided that discussion is respectful and open this can only be a good thing.

Joining the discussion

So, many supporters of the atheist bus adverts have welcome the decision of Christian groups to join the discussion with their own adverts.

But you have to wonder about the reaction of some Christian groups to the Des Moines, Iowa, bus ads (see Churches sponsor signs opposing atheist outreach). Initial plans for the “atheist” ads were put on hold in August when the bus company withdrew the ads because of complaints from Christians. Then a driver for the company refused to drive buses with the ads and was suspended. This provoked a Christian demonstration against the company.

However, the adverts finally went ahead and the protesting Christians decided that the best way of protesting was to place their own ads. That seemed to be a sensible reaction, at last. Joining the discussion instead of trying top stop it.

But what are they choosing for their advert? How do they respond to the freethinkers slogan “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

A quote from the bible – “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'”

No imagination!

By the way – there is a group organising atheist bus adverts in New Zealand. I am looking forward to these – and the reaction. Surely NZ Christians are more sensible than those in Des Moines, Iowa.

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See also:
NZ Atheist Bus campaign
NZAtheistBus on Twitter

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24 responses to “Battle of the bus ads

  1. I think you are being very generous in your analysis of the response to these ads.

    Given the purpose of the atheist campain is to both raise conciousness about atheism and reach out to those you percieve themselves as an isolated minority, the response seems to be attempting to deny that atheists should be apart of their comunity.

    Perhaps this is a misreading on my part but that is the impression I got from the quotes included in the article by the man responsible for the post atheist ads.

    The article states “the group’s first priority is to rebut the IAF message” how to you rebut a message of solidarity unless you misunderstood it in the first place?

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  2. “reach out to those who percieve themselves”
    Sometimes spellcheck is not enough.

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  3. I think you are right that the main public response is an attempt to deny legitimacy to non-believers. Unfortunately this seems to be very common – it certainly comes through in the “interfaith” activity, even in NZ.

    However, I think rationalists and free thinkers should be trying to encourage open participation in the public square. In a sense we should welcome a response to the assertion of our right to exist. But we should point out that rejection of that right is hardly an acceptance of our current pluralist society.

    If believers wish to support a humane society they must accept these rights for others as well as themselves. I am sure many do and hopefully they will add their voice to the discussion.

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  4. What’s the name of the group organizing in NZ?

    I’d love to see some of these rolling around the streets of Auckland.

    Tyeah, yeah. I’m a jafa. Get over it, people. ^_^

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  5. I welcome freedom of expression. And it doesn’t appear to be abusive in the slightest, so ‘go for it!’.

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  6. Like Dawkins’ provocative bus advertisements in the UK; “There probably is no God so stop worrying about it and enjoy your life”

    Christianity is not meant ot be dour and humourless. Maybe something cheesy from Adrian Plass would be a fun response: “God is nice and He likes us”

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  7. Very true Ken,
    I think the lack of response by other churches that frustrated Mr Johnson is evidence of acceptance by most of the believing population.

    It’s unfortunate that the vocal and intolerant minority is the only voice we hear from the believer’s side of the discussion.

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  8. Think you’ll find the N.Z Group is on Facebook?

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  9. Hey, ropato. I disagree with your claim “Like Dawkins’ provocative bus advertisements in the UK; “There probably is no God so stop worrying about it and enjoy your life””

    1: These ads were financed by thousands of small donations – Dawkins was only one contributor and he didn’t initiate or organise the fund raising campaign.

    2: The ads were not provocative. Just a statement of fact, really. Unfortunately some “believers” won’t allow such statements of fact. They would rather we just didn’t exist and find it extremely hard to acknowledge that we do.

    If you see that wording as provocative – imagine how I feel about ads calling me a fool? They are certainly hostile and contribute nothing – either as a statement of belief or as conversation.

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  10. So Ross – you welcome free expression. Do you think labeling honest people as fools is acceptable?

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  11. Ken,
    1: OK, thanks
    2: A convincing “statement of fact” would include a fact. I think the ad is a little aphorism about life, not a fact.
    The ad is highly provocative because it implies that faith
    – is irrational and false
    – causes anxiety and fear
    – prevents enjoyment of life!

    That’s not a positive message for atheists, it’s a transparent attack on believers (unlike the mild ad depicted in your post above). Perhaps there is some context I am missing?

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  12. @Ross

    What would you say if we atheists used the slogan, “Only idiots believe in god”?

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  13. @ropata

    I take issue with the following:

    a) the ad implies religion is irrational and false

    We’re atheists, remember? We DO think religion is irrational and false!

    b) the ad causes anxiety and fear

    If that is the case, then how can the faith of those who feel this way be anything but brittle?

    c) prevents enjoyment of life

    Huh? How so?

    That’s not a positive message for atheists, it’s a transparent attack on believers (unlike the mild ad depicted in your post above). Perhaps there is some context I am missing?

    Indeed there is. It lets people know that there is another valid viewpoint out there and it is perfectly okay to follow it.

    If people are offended by so inoccuous a message, it says more about them (and none of it positive) than it does about those that put it on the bus.

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  14. @ropata

    Sorry – don’t mean for this to be ‘pick on ropata’ day – but you did challenge the fact thing.

    2: A convincing “statement of fact” would include a fact. I think the ad is a little aphorism about life, not a fact.

    Whether or not you think it’s a fact doesn’t change whether or not it is a fact.

    Now, how to support it as a fact that it probably isn’t true? Well… Depends on your criteria, I suppose.

    As a general rule of thumb, any hypothesis for which no evidence can be presented to disprove the corresponding null hypothesis can be fairly regarded as probably false.

    Strictly speaking, even in the absence of any evidence whatsoever we couldn’t rightly say ‘There is no God” and call that a statement of fact. Strictly speaking, we also cannot say “There is no Santa Claus” and call that a statement of fact. The same could be said about any sky-hook.

    But given the total lack of evidence, the statement that “There probably is no God” isn’t quite the fairest representation of the evidence for God’s existence either. That would be something more like “To within a vanishingly small degree of statistical uncertainty, there is no God”.

    However, that’s a bit harsh, not quite as snappy, and probably too long for a bus ad. So with that in mind, “There probably is no God” is actually a generous reading, as it doesn’t do nearly enough to establish precisely how improbable God’s existence actually is.

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  15. * “probably false” should read “probably not true”.

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  16. Ropata – I think your response to the bus ads –
    “– causes anxiety and fear
    – prevents enjoyment of life!”
    identifies the problem.

    It’s been OK that Christians for yonks have been saying scandalous things about humanists, free thinkers, scientists, atheists, etc., etc. (calling them fools is one of the mildest) but the minute non-Christians get up and say its OK not to believe, or one doesn’t need a god to be good, it threatens Christians!

    What a flaky belief if they are so sensitive.

    And they just cannot expect the rest of us to tip toe around them.

    The message should be – “grow up, recognise our differences, in fact value those differences, and don’t be so thin-skinned. Appreciate how the rest of us have lived for thousands of years.”

    This is the real value of the bus ads. If there are NZ Christians who are that sensitive they need to be exposed to such ads.

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  17. Paul O'Reilly

    For all points of view involved, surely there is an extremely shallow depth of conviction, if it is believed that a sign on a bus can make any significant difference?

    Either way, there’s a great picture on the topic here:
    http://blogs.spirited.net.au/dean/2009/02/17/and-i-thought-i-was-blunt/

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  18. @Paul O’Reilly

    My work firewall blocks the site you linked, so unfortunately I have no context.

    That said; who said anything about conviction?

    I don’t have conviction. I don’t feel the need for conviction. I don’t even consider that conviction is a wise or desirable state of mind.

    Indeed – I consider the reverse to be true; that conviction, like piety, is a vice.

    Don’t know where you stand on this one personally, of course. But you’ve got me curious as to whether or not people here are working on the presumption that conviction is a desirable or undesirable quality.

    @ropata

    I’m curious for your view. Do you consider conviction to be a good thing of itself?

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  19. Personally I’m not bothered by these messages on the sides of buses. They are far preferable to the usual consumer junk, at least they get people thinking and debating.

    I was just saying how one such advertisement was interpreted by many. On second thoughts I suppose the gist is pretty cool. I am all for enjoying life & not worrying, it’s just the “no God” bit that was annoying. I would certainly not wish to prevent such ads, but they do invite critique.

    I would be interested to see the reaction if someone started plastering stuff like this on buses in NZ.

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  20. @ubiq-che
    It’s unclear exactly what you mean by “conviction”, but yes.
    Convictions, opinions, the clash of ideas is the lifeblood of democracy.

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  21. I thought ‘conviction’ was in the sense that ‘this is something I hold to be important, no matter what!’

    So for example, I have formed an opinion that human behavior is contributing to global warming. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a conviction. If I was presented with truly persuasive evidence that I was incorrect, I would change my opinion without a twitch. Well… Maybe a but of an embarrassed grimace, but I wouldn’t hesitate to change my opinion if new evidence comes to light that shows my current opinion to be wrong.

    To me, a conviction is very much like an opinion, with the key difference being that the person holding a conviction will, for whatever reasons, resist letting go of it in the face of any evidence to the contrary, no matter how persuasive.

    That’s the sense in which I was interpreting Paul O’Reilly’s use of the term ‘conviction’.

    I may have the opinion that no entity like a God exists – but it isn’t a conviction, as I’m happy to change my opinion if genuine evidence for the existence of a God-like entity shows up.

    In that sense, Are you happy with your comment in light of this understanding of the term ‘conviction’?

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  22. @ubiq-che
    Everybody holds convictions as you describe to some degree.

    1) At minimum those convictions ought to enable one live a good life and to make a useful contribution to society. 2) It is healthy thinking to be able to examine one’s convictions/preconceptions/subconscious beliefs and not be afraid of different ideas. 3) It is disciplined/well-educated thinking to be able to defend one’s convictions with reason and logic, and modify them as appropriate.

    thats $0.20c (gst+inflation) worth of philsophizationing 🙂

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  23. Pingback: NZ Atheist Bus Campaign reaches fund raising target in under a week « Open Parachute

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