The fun goes on. The UK advertising ombudsman may have to rule on God’s existence following a complaint by Christians that a bus poster paid for by atheists violates industry standards.
In All Things regulars may recall the poster, and the British Atheist Bus Campaign" controversy, which I wrote on here last year.
The campaign came about after an atheist, the writer Ariane Sherine, last year jokingly suggested that buses carry advertisements as antidotes to religious posters on public transport. Her online article in the Guardian led to her receiving more than $200,000 in donations.
This month, 800 buses across Britain are carrying the posters for a month -- and another 1,000 adverts have been placed on underground trains. They read: "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".
More than 40 people have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) not just that the advert is offensive -- the usual grievance of religious groups -- but that the statement cannot be substantiated.
My former Tablet colleague, the religious commentator Clifford Longley, is one of those who has complained. He writes:
’The statement “There’s probably no God”, as currently seen on the side of London buses, is untrue and dishonest, in so far as the word “probably” completely fails to reflect the true state of the scientific argument. In fact it would be honest and true to say the opposite - “There probably is a God.” A fair reading of the material below could lead to no other conclusion.
’I therefore call on the ASA to order the withdrawal of this advertising, as incompatible with its code of practice. According to growing numbers of scientists, the laws and constants of nature are so "finely-tuned," and so many "coincidences" have occurred to allow for the possibility of life, the universe must have come into existence through intentional planning and intelligence.
’In fact, this "fine-tuning" is so pronounced, and the "coincidences" are so numerous, many scientists have come to espouse "The Anthropic Principle," which contends that the universe was brought into existence intentionally for the sake of producing mankind. Even those who do not accept The Anthropic Principle admit to the "fine-tuning" and conclude that the universe is "too contrived" to be a chance event.
And he goes on to quote various scientific authorities.
There is a very British mixture of frivolity and seriousness involved here, an ironic playfulness (knowing Clifford, he’ll be having a great time with this). Consider, for example, a Christian think tank’s support for the posters, which it says help people think about God.
"Telling someone "there’s probably no God" is a bit like telling them they’ve probably remembered to lock their door," says the director of Theos, Paul Wooley. "It creates the doubt that they might not have."
The secularists, on the other hand, are displaying their usual humorless solemnity. The National Secular Society is warning that were the ASA to rule against the Atheist Bus Campaign, "surely every Christian advert that decorates the front of churches and railways stations would have to be taken down". Should the ASA rule that there was insufficient evidence either for or against the existence of God, says the NSS, then expect "theological fireworks".
This being Britain, the ASA will of course avoid the question with an ingeniously-fudged ruling that satisfies no-one but keeps the peace. (We Brits have some experience at this, you know.)