Advertising watchdog asked to rule on God's existence

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.)

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9 years 11 months ago
Clifford Longley is now being pursued for plagiarism/breach of copyright as he copied someone else's article to use for his 'complaint'. The third paragraph you quote above (and all the rest of his 'letter') is plagiarised from In any case his complaint was just a device to get himself in the papers, which has made the ASA cross as he was just using them to create a news story. So, no, he's not "having a great time with this", he's just shot himself in the foot and destroyed his professional reputation. The story surrounding this has given a great boost, and many giggles, to supporters of the THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD campaign who number in their tens of thousands. Most of the rest of the complainants are members of Christian Voice which is, shall we say, not really a fun group of guys to be around. Or 'looneys' as they're known. Many 'normal' Christian and Muslim people have contributed to the campaign. Discussion is good, theocracy ain't.
9 years 11 months ago
This contretemps reminds me of those involving the colorful San Francisco lawyer, Vincent Hallinan. He tried to sue the Catholic Church on the grounds that it defrauded the faithful by preaching the existence of heaven and hell. He wanted longitude and latitude details for these destinations to be shown to a court’s satisfaction. If he had succeeded in putting on his courtroom spectacle and with the penchant of modern American courts for expert witnesses perhaps we would have seen testimony from rival teams of mystics.
9 years 11 months ago
This raises the question of why we proclaim a faith in God in the first place. I address this in more detail on my blog. Traditionalist will answer that we ought to, however oughtness implies obligation, which usually implies a need on behalf of the one to whom the obligation is owed. God has no such need, so there can be no obligation. God accepts our worship as a free act on his part, much the same way the parents among us hand our children's art projects on the refrigerator door. Our worship is not aesthetically the best, not comparing to the worship of the angels, which is sung. As a cradle Catholic who has sampled the singing in quite a few parishes since Vatican II, I can assure you the quality of sung worship in most congregations leaves much to be desired. The error of Satan was his rejection of the human state of the son of God, thinking that salvation would come from a higher creature. His error was believing that his worship at the Throne was essential to God, when that is not the case compared with the harmonies within the Divine Essence. Let us not repeat that mistake.
9 years 11 months ago
First of all, Clifford Longley copy and pasted from a website without accrediting it. The letter itself is an example of plagiarism. The Guardian's Andrew Brown tried to pull his friend's backside out of the fire, only to have one of the Guardian's posters (JonathanWest) point out that the letter itself is essentially, an example of quote mining, where taken in context the passages mentioned end up saying the exact opposite to what the original writers wanted them to say. Now I know a lot of Christians are in fact honest, decent people, and a few even try to put up honest arguments in favour of your God, but, and this is an important but, religion is gaining a reputation for lying for its God or gods. That means if you ever come to us atheists with honest arguments and honest evidence, we are more likely to ignore you and call you liars, because we are so used to being lied to in this manner. It essentially ends up hobbling your arguments, and when you accuse atheists of doing the same thing, it begins to look a lot more like projection than anything else. As to trying to claim that secularists are humourless, well, the Chaser's War on Everything, Tycho of Penny Arcade, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, Andrew Sullivan, in fact 90% of the comedy world, would disagree with you. Secularists, which is a brush a lot broader than just plain atheists, dominate comedy while the religious? They go around issuing fatwas because someone wrote a book they didn't like.
9 years 11 months ago
If one is professing Atheism out of a love of mankind, in reaction to misbehavior of the religious, than one is acting from the promtings of the Holy Spirit, who is Love. If God is Love, then guess who the joke is on? I would say the atheists, but since they are going to heaven for acting out of love, it must be those who would persecute them. It matters what one does and why one does it. I don't care what one professes, then again, I get no money by operating a Church.


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