I’ve been quite enjoying the recent story about the campaign to get some atheist-driven advertising onto the side of London buses.  The nuts & bolts of it being that for many years now non-Christians have had to endure Christian advertisements all over every available surface, and after a comedy writer followed a link at the bottom of a religious ad she saw on a bus, to find an expression that non-believers would spend all eternity in hell.  She decided that it must be fair game to espouse an alternative opinion, and that the thing which must have more than likely prevented it so far was a lack of capital & unity.

Initially setting up a donation site asking for £5 contributions, the movement has now raised over £100,000 – and generated a cornucopia of public debate, before the ads have even gone up!

What sort of amuses me is the amount of criticism surrounding the wording of the ad mooted by the campaign – “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” – having been decried by punters at various positions within the debate as being “weak”, or simultaneously imposing unwanted views on people.

The story is interesting for a few reasons, I think:

  1. Previously it has been difficult to gauge support for active atheism, as far as I know, because whilst where a religion typically has structure, figureheads, and focus, atheism tends not to rally around any one figure or spread a message.  Probably the most famous and some would say extremist popular atheist is of course Richard Dawkins, who has been consistently outspoken (some would say rabidly so) on the topic.  What’s refreshing about this ad campain was that he didn’t have anything to do with setting it up, and though Dawkins has contributed a substantial amount (£5500, I think) to the campaign, the sheer number of contributors tends to indicate that there is active support for this viewpoint, and that it’s not a Dawkins personality cult.
  2. The number of column inches, blog entries & broadcast time that have been devoted to discussing this campaign have made it far more successful than Ariane Sherine had probably imagined, as there is now a vast amount of discussion taking place and the whole idea’s reverberating around peoples’ brains.
  3. Lots of time was spent agonising over the wording of the campaign wording (I hesitate to call it a “slogan”: I hate that word), and as mentioned above, it’s been dismissed by some as a weak position.  I’ve read in other comment pieces that Dawkins was keen to have “almost certainly” in place of “probably”, but deferred due to it sounding too clunky.  But I think “probably” still sums up the atheist position, as I understand it: my take on the issue is that atheists don’t believe in the existence of any god or other metaphysical or spiritual entity, as there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove any of it.  By extension I feel this means that were evidence to ever appear in favour of the existence of these things, and be testable and provable by scientific method, then we would then take it on board as being real.  Even Dawkins, that most outspoken critic of religion, will only go so far as to say “almost certainly”.  I think it’s an important point, anyway.

About the only thing I’m unsure of is how much advertising coverage the initial £11,000 would have provided – anecdotally I’ve been told that there are 560 bright pink taxis in London, but you only see one a week or so.  I guess we’ll see.  I’m sure there’s more to come on this story.