Probably?

21.10.08 | Jon - Webmanager |
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A number of people have concerns about the slogan containing the word ‘probably‘. There’s also a lively debate about this at our . I’ll quote what Ariane wrote there:

…transport advertising regulations are more stringent than normal advertising regulations (for billboards, etc) and the decision of whether to run the ad or not is very much at the discretion of the bus companies. It’s their private space, and their criteria for this (I know it’ll make all atheists reading this bang their head against a wall, but here goes) is that the advert “must not offend religious people”.

In their view, the “probably” gets us around this (and even with it, I’m anticipating that the Advertising Standards Authority will receive several dozen complaints from religious people and organisations). Also, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, being an absolute “7″ on the faith scale (insisting “there is no God”) doesn’t make sense, as nobody can ever state this as an absolute. The alternative Dawkins proposes is “almost certainly”, but “there’s almost certainly no God” doesn’t make for an overly catchy advertising slogan!

In short our priority is to get these ads out on the buses, to get people thinking about atheism. That’s the major goal. So we hope plenty more people can back our efforts to reach that goal!

37 Responses to “Probably?”

  1. 1
    PhillyChief Says:

    1. All you can definitively say is “probably”.
    2. The criteria should be untenable really, since everything which doesn’t agree 100% with religion is ultimately offensive to religious people. Well, here in the States at least.

    Anyway, congrats!

  2. 2
    Alanis | Sue Bailey Says:

    [...] a few eyebrows if not a few mocking laughs: are atheists not so sure of their beliefs then? It turns out that it’s a requirement of the bus company’s advertising policies that adverts must not [...]

  3. 3
    Alfster Says:

    So presumably a Christian group could not put ‘Jesus Lives’ on a bus or ‘Jesus Saves’ but could put ‘Jesus Probably Lives’ on a bus or ‘Jesus Probably Saves’ instead? Or doesn’t offending secularist or Non-Christians count?

    Thank you very much for explaining why, once again, rationalism and true free speech is being gagged once again – I find the regulations somewhat offensive in themselves.

    It seems almost impossible to talk rational sense without offending anyone these days.

    We need Stephen Fry’s reply bandied about more: ‘You’re offended? So ****ing what?’

    How about putting an asterix on probably and adding adding disclaimer *’Probably’ added due to advertising restrictions.

    Right lets see how I donate…

  4. 4
    rosalbas Says:

    Good idea! My compliments!

    http://www.uaar.it Rom

  5. 5
    crowth Says:

    So presumably a Christian group could not put ‘Jesus Lives’ on a bus or ‘Jesus Saves’ but could put ‘Jesus Probably Lives’ on a bus or ‘Jesus Probably Saves’ instead

    Actually, a Christian group could not do that, because they believe in the absolute and universal certainty that Jesus does indeed live and does indeed save (or, more pertinently, is indeed God and will indeed send you to Hell for eternity if you don’t accept him as your Personal Lord and Saviour).

    Not advocating such self-righteous arrogance is, hopefully, what sets us apart in a campaign such as this.

  6. 6
    nullifidian Says:

    Personally I think “probably” is fine: it’s definitely on the right side of the vacuously improbable 50/50 proposition that the vast majority of those who don’t or haven’t thought about this seem to have.

    My only consideration is the use of the singular term “god”. It’s more than likely that none of the tens of thousands of the gods (currently interred in the graveyard of mythology) ever existed. Why pick a (vaguely) specific one?

    As mentioned above, how about an extra “* (including other, less popular, gods too)” as well?

  7. 7
    crowth Says:

    My only consideration is the use of the singular term “god”. It’s more than likely that none of the tens of thousands of the gods (currently interred in the graveyard of mythology) ever existed. Why pick a (vaguely) specific one?

    Being as the Atheist Bus Campaign intends to run counter-ads – countering those run by a Christian organisation – the use of the singular ‘god’ is appropriate.

  8. 8
    nullifidian Says:

    crowth wrote:

    Being as the Atheist Bus Campaign intends to run counter-ads – countering those run by a Christian organisation – the use of the singular ‘god’ is appropriate.

    That seems fair enough, although I wasn’t aware that there was a specific policy in place as to what these ads would be for (or against, as in this case); the “about” page on this site doesn’t appear to mention any such thing.

    It’s still a great idea though, and I’m happy to get on board. ;-)

  9. 9
    stupidguy Says:

    This is a terrible idea! I hate nothing more than when people try and force their religious ideals on others. Let people, especially poor people, be happy with their miserable lives.

    And btw Dawkins is a terrible writer – the God Delusion is the worst book ever written!

  10. 10
    phototrope Says:

    Hm. Here’s what your slogan made me think:

    There’s probably no God.

    Okay.

    But what if there is? …

  11. 11
    Rob Says:

    How about this:

    Psychosis – a state of mind in which thinking becomes irrational and/or disturbed.

    OCD – characterised by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and conscious, ritualised, seemingly purposeless acts.

    Religion – a combination of the above.

    For treatment visit http://www.humanism.org.uk

  12. 12
    baranica Says:

    What if there is?…

    What god btw?
    Allach, Jahwe, Christ or Zeus?
    Manitou or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    What if there are all of them at once? ;)

  13. 13
    nicknick bobick Says:

    Jon & Ariane,

    Great idea. Would the transportation advertising regs be so stringent if you were to change the wording as some have suggested to “gods”? That way you could state,
    “There are no gods… enjoy life.”
    You could point out that you are not capitalizing gods, so you are not offending anyone’s idea of a particular groups god. And maybe they wouldn’t be astute enough to realize that the statement actually becomes MUCH stronger.

  14. 14
    Matt Says:

    A very interesting idea and I’m glad it’s been done, as it will provoke debate.

    My immediate reaction was
    1) What do you mean by the term “God”?
    2) What’s the link between the atheist position and not worrying/enjoying life? Surely the absence of a belief system leads to a huge number of questions to be answered.

    Thank you for giving me something interesting to think about!

  15. 15
    Dave Says:

    The ‘probably’ is great. Without it I would have thought twice before donating.

    Telling them they are wrong and should be ashamed is just rude at best and anti-theistic at worst.

    Telling them they can’t prove it but to be happy anyway is a nice positive message.

  16. 16
    nullifidian Says:

    Matt wrote:

    What’s the link between the atheist position and not worrying/enjoying life? Surely the absence of a belief system leads to a huge number of questions to be answered.

    A fair question, but it should be realised that atheism is simply a lack of a belief in gods. It says absolutely nothing about beliefs in other areas of life. Those questions may (or may not) be answered by other means, and has nothing to do with having beliefs in gods.

  17. 17
    crowth Says:

    Matt wrote:

    What’s the link between the atheist position and not worrying/enjoying life?

    In concurring with nullifadian, I’d also like to add that this whole campaign came about as a response to an advertising campaign by a Christian organisation, which has been mentioned both in the original Comment Is Free articles on the Guardian website and on this website’s About page :

    AtheistCampaign.org began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

    So that campaign wanted people to worry that they might be condemned to “eternity in torment in hell” and this campaign would rather they didn’t worry about that, and enjoyed their lives instead.

  18. 18
    Chris Says:

    This is something which is bothering me too. The ‘Probably’ definitely needs to be there – but we need to be careful what the rest of the message implies. As it stands, it can be read as implying that if you believe you can’t or shouldn’t be able to actually enjoy life. Maybe changing ‘enjoy’ to ‘live’ would solve this.

    Fantastic idea though guys – much respect for the organisational effort :)

  19. 19
    Matt Says:

    Many thanks for the info crowth, the message makes more sense in this context. In other words, the answer to my question 1 is “‘God’ in the sense of the campaign to which this is a response” – yes, clearly, not believing in this conception of God would make one happier. Cheers

  20. 20
    crowth Says:

    Many thanks for the info crowth, the message makes more sense in this context. In other words, the answer to my question 1 is “‘God’ in the sense of the campaign to which this is a response” – yes, clearly, not believing in this conception of God would make one happier. Cheers

    You’ve capitalised ‘God’ which, while I have no idea if was the intended interpretation of the organisers, I would think is unnecessary.

    The Atheist Bus Campaign is a counter-ad campaign, formulated in response to ads run by a Christian organisation. However, there are more monotheistic religions which advocate belief in a singular god and whose belief systems include hell as a destination for people who do not please that god. Obviously, all the Abrahamic religions, not just Christianity, fall into this category. So, as there’s no distinction in the wholly capitalised lettering, I prefer to read ‘GOD’ as god.

    So while the ad can be understood in the context of countering a Christian campaign, I believe also applies in the wider context.

    As you say :

    A very interesting idea and I’m glad it’s been done, as it will provoke debate.

    It certainly will, and already has.

    I’m sure now the obvious question would be about polytheistic religions, as has been raised in debate by others previously. Or perhaps religions which do not have a similar conception of hell and its inevitable destination for the eternally damned.

    Being as the campaign has now raised over £81,000, who knows, there might be future opportunities to answer these criticisms on billboards up and down the country, and perhaps around the world, where polytheistic religions or those which do not advocate eternal damnation for non-believers are more culturally dominant…

  21. 21
    Suzanne Fade Says:

    Sorry I can’t help but I offer encouragement.

    I live in France. Atheism is easy to live here. No-one is offended. I don’t know what you can or can’t advertise here but on TV anyone says what they think.
    It’s because the state is non-confessional and separated from all religions.

    I wish you good luck, since that is what an atheist can hope for!

  22. 22
    Matt Says:

    crowth wrote:

    However, there are more monotheistic religions which advocate belief in a singular god and whose belief systems include hell as a destination for people who do not please that god. Obviously, all the Abrahamic religions, not just Christianity, fall into this category.

    That may be an incorrect assertion crowth – I’m pretty sure the Churches of England and Rome gave up belief in hell around 50 years ago. I’ll look it up later.

  23. 23
    Suzanne Fade Says:

    I’m pretty sure the RC’s never gave up hell, the devil, or anything at all. I joined them in the early 60′s only to leave them less than ten years after… too complicated.
    I was born British but married a Frenchman.

    The present Pope seems to be very strict on dogma, and retrograde. He wants to get at us again and insists that belief in”god” is attainable through reason.

    We need to be aware of it. Our French president Sarkozy declares that it’s better to be religious, despite the fact that he has no right to speak about religion as head of state, as the two are theoretically separated. It is called laïcism and has caused many problems in the past.

  24. 24
    crowth Says:

    Matt wrote:

    That may be an incorrect assertion crowth – I’m pretty sure the Churches of England and Rome gave up belief in hell around 50 years ago. I’ll look it up later.

    That’s an interesting point Matt, thank you. As far as I can ascertain I believe the Church of England have re-interpreted hell as being the total, irrevocable choice made by man that ends in total non-being. Which sounds like the afterlife expected by all atheists anyway!

    In 1999 the Pope described hell as the “the pain, frustration and emptiness of life without God”. Again, atheists don’t find life without god as painful or frustrating (at least, not for that reason).

    So I stand duly corrected. The Church of England would have us worry that because we don’t accept Jesus as our Lord and Personal Saviour that we’re not entitled to eternity in lovely, lovely heaven, instead we just cease to exist (not really very worrying, if you believe that already). And the Roman Catholic Church would have us worry that we’re on a one-way road to pain and frustration (if you think a life without god would cause pain and frustration).

    And people would accuse us of climbing down from our convictions with the use of the word ‘probably’! Who knew there was so little to worry about! What a revelation.

    It’s a shame then that the organisation, who currently run campaigns on London buses, stick to the good, old fashioned Biblical inerrancy of us all being condemned to “spend all eternity in torment” just for rejecting their beliefs. I suppose that’s just what you get when you read the Bible literally.

    Matt, you totally nailed me.

    I kind of enjoyed it.

  25. 25
    Suzanne Fade Says:

    Well, why do you bother about what the others say.
    There is nothing after life but a pile of chemicals, as my dead sister said when suffering from cancer. Then there are some memories for others and the situation provoked by our brief passage, and the influence that we had while we were alive. Concerning some dead people this influence can be very great and last a long time. :)
    Be careful what you leave!!!

  26. 26
    nullifidian Says:

    Matt wrote:

    I’m pretty sure the Churches of England and Rome gave up belief in hell around 50 years ago. I’ll look it up later.

    That’s an interesting observation, but it only makes mention of the organisational orthodoxy of (admittedly) the two largest UK christian sects. Is this what the general British laity also believe, or are they stuck with the simplistic “hell as an actual place” view as so often intimated (and stereotyped) or, heaven forfend, even Stephen Green-style literalist idiocy?

    My experience (admittedly almost exclusively with UK christian or islamic fundamentalists and US protestant christians—who are very frequently fundamentalists) leads me to the conclusion that the vast majority of “average” god-believers do not have a sophisticated or even moderately refined theological understanding, and far too often have a very unassuming and, dare I say, simpleminded view of the idea of a “hell”, usually of the fire and brimstone burny-burny not-a-very-nice-place satan-will-poke-you-with-his-pitchfork you’ll-go-there-when-you-die it’s-your-own-fault variety.

    I’m happy to stand corrected, and would be even happier to know that religious people took the literalist ideas of their scriptures with a bucket of salt.

  27. 27
    Thursday 23rd October 2008: Rev Rosemary Lain-Priestley | afterthought for the day Says:

    [...] people, just like me. Sure, we discussed the finer points, we weren’t sure about the ‘probably‘, it does sound like we’ve got a bit of a semi-on, I know, but there’s a reason [...]

  28. 28
    Matt Says:

    I’m happy to stand corrected, and would be even happier to know that religious people took the literalist ideas of their scriptures with a bucket of salt.

    In my (very limited) experience this is the case, as most of the church-going people I’ve met are older types who enjoy the experience and sense of community it brings, and don’t take the theology all that seriously. Of course, the argument against this crowd is that they are the thin end of the wedge that lets the fundies in, a fair point.

    crowth – I wasn’t trying to “nail you”, honest, just making an observation…!

  29. 29
    crowth Says:

    crowth – I wasn’t trying to “nail you”, honest, just making an observation…!

    That’s a shame. I thought we had something special going for a moment there.

  30. 30
    nullifidian Says:

    That’s a shame. I thought we had something special going for a moment there.

    No necking on the bus! ;-)

  31. 31
    Matt Says:

    Ohh stop, I’m chuckling into my sarnie and colleagues are giving me strange looks…

  32. 32
    crowth Says:

    A Hindu response to the Atheist Bus Campaign

    The conclusion?

    There is definitely a God, so let’s stop worrying and enjoy our life!

    Definitely.

    Definitely.

  33. 33
    Should we respect religious beliefs? - Page 39 - AVForums.com Says:

    [...] promoting atheism. You would have though they would be more direct – "There’s no God." This is what they have to say on the probably matter. __________________ Any advice I may give is [...]

  34. 34
    “No God” Slogan « In the Beginning God Created the Heaven and the Earth. Genesis 1:1 Says:

    [...] by the conviction of their faith.      The word “probably” in the slogan have concerned many atheists, which they had to insert to be compliant with advertising regulations. It reflects [...]

  35. 35
    Richard W Says:

    I’d just like to draw your attention to this:

    “The Atheist’s Guide To Christmas” is the UK’s first atheist charity book, featuring contributions from Richard Dawkins, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh, Claire Rayner, David Baddiel, Charlie Brooker and many more. It’s been edited by Ariane Sherine, the creator of the hugely successful Atheist Bus Campaign. It’s out on Oct 1st and all royalties are going to the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust. Please pre-order now:

    The Atheist’s Guide is a mix of humorous and poignant contributions from over 40 various prominent atheists. It’ll make an ideal Christmas gift for your atheist friends. Your religious friends will love it too, or, even better, it’ll put them in a foul mood for Xmas! So a win-win situation! More info on the Facebook group:

    Your support will not only maintain the profile of atheism in the UK, it will also help raise funds for the very worthy THT charity. Please note that the contributors, and Ms Sherine, have waived payment for their considerable input into the “Guide”.

    Thank you, and please pass this message on to everyone you know!!

    [My apologies if you already know about the Guide!]

  36. 36
    Tim Says:

    I’m a Christian and from my understanding, I think that reason they placed this ad was to prevent religious ideas from being forced to non-theists.

    I believe this is kind of contradicting because it is forcing non-forcing. Anyways, Christians aren’t supposed to force conversions on anybody. They are only supposed to tell others about Jesus. Whether anyone else believes them or not is their decision.

  37. 37
    nullifidian Says:

    Congratulations, Tim, for the most vacuous comment so far (and on a long-dead post too—extra kudos).

    Admittedly, you’ve almost hit the nail on the head with the first sentence. Congratulations. Unfortunately, you then proceeded to undo all of that good work with vapid platitudinous wordplay. Is not being tolerant of intolerance itself intolerance? Is being against bigotry not bigotry? Explain your working.

    Hint: English is not the best language to explain logical constructs.

    Your comment re: conversion is a matter of interpretation (ah, apologetics, how interesting thou art!) Matt 28:18-20 and Phil 2:1-5 (of the verses that I can recall/look-up) seem to indicate an express desire and expectation of your supposed anointed one to not only passively proselytise (for which there are a good deal more instructions/indications—Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47-49, John 15:26-27, and a good variet of “John”‘s letters [all KJV]—just in case you’ve forgotten) but actively, and determinedly, convert.

    But what the hell do I know? I read this stuff with the same intensity and literalism as I read Homer, Beowulf or the Vedas.

    So, then, here’s a question: if I (for example) have tolerated the christian mythos being explained to me, to death (no pun intended) by A. Christian-Religionist, how exactly is that communicated to the rest of christendom so that I’m not bothered with having to endure it again, in its inane entirety, from some other “well-meaning” soul? What would you do having the somebody shoving the contents of the Book of the Heavenly Cow down your throat at every opportunity, and claiming it was all true, at least in a figurative—if not literal—fashion?

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