Friday, January 9, 2009

It all hinges on "probably"

I have been watching with interest the fundraising campaign of comedy writer Ariane Sherine, scientist/ atheist Richard Dawkins and their friends in the UK to buy advertising space on the side of the "bendy busses" of London. According to Riazat Butt, in the Guardian:

The principal slogan – "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" – can already be seen on four London bus routes, and now 200 bendy buses in London and 600 across the country are to carry the advert after a fundraising drive raised more than £140,000.
The money will also pay for 1,000 advertisements on London Underground from next Monday and on a pair of giant LCD screens opposite Bond Street tube station, in Oxford Street. Organisers unveiled a set of quotes from public figures – including Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams and Katharine Hepburn – who have endorsed atheism, or at least expressed scepticism about a Creator.

I've commented on ultra-fundamentalist Richard Dawkins before (go HERE). He's contributed £5,000 of his own money to this advertising on the busses. So, why did the British Humanist Association settle for "probably"? It might be a clever way of getting around the Advertising Standards Committee; it might be a way of not seeming to be as closed minded as other fundamentalists (although that's never worried Dawkins before). It is said that Dawkins himself preferred the phrase "almost certainly", but agreed to "probably" because "science can produce no certainties, only statistical probabilities."

Many people have observed Australia to be a far more secular country than either Britain or the USA. So it came as a bit of a surprise to read in today's Sydney Morning Herald this article on the rejection by Australia's biggest outdoor advertising company, APN Outdoor, of The Atheist Foundation of Australia's proposal for a similar nationwide campaign featuring atheist slogans.

The Foundation's President, David Nichols, clearly had his nose put out of joint

"Australia is in desperate need of a human rights and equal opportunities act," Mr Nicholls said.

"It's clear that western Europe, the US and Britain have better laws than we do when it comes to ... respecting freedom of speech."

In fact, Christians welcome the debate about God's existence, even if we are a bit bemused by the "probably"! We owe Dawkins et al a great debt (quite literally!) because that "probably" is going to make so many people ask so many questions and explore the evidence and pilosophical arguments afresh. The SMH article continues:

Associate Professor Carole Cusack, of the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, said most Australians were too apathetic about religion to be affected negatively by the campaign. "If religions can buy advertising space, then why not atheists?"

Friar Peter McGrath, of St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Paddington, agreed.

"The [atheists] should have a right to advertise. They should be able to say what they want."

I couldn't agree more. Bring the debate on!


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