About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Christians complain atheism does not meet advertising standards
To Sherine’s utter surprise, her campaign quickly raised £140,000, which has made it possible to run the advertisement on 800 buses across England. Not at all unexpectedly, this has generated an angry response by some religionists, despite the fact that church attendance in that country is one of the lowest in the world. And here is the kicker: Christian campaigner Stephen Green and others have actually filed formal complaints with the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the ground that the atheists are violating “guidelines on taste and decency.” According to Green “If you're going to put out what appears to be a factual statement then you have to be able to back it up. They've got to substantiate this proposition that in all probability, God doesn't exist.”
Oh really? Talk about a spectacular example of the pot calling the kettle black! Let me get this straight: a statement that supernatural entities probably do not exist is, in Green’s and his loony friends’ mind, less obviously substantiated than a statement that there is such a thing as everlasting punishment in hell? To put it another, perfectly parallel, way: claiming that Santa Clause (probably) doesn’t exist would also be less “tasteful, decent, and factual” than to claim that he really does deliver presents to the world’s (Christian) children every 24th of December. If you think I’m joking, you should read the excellent “Santa Lives! Five Conclusive Arguments for the Existence of Santa Claus” by Ellis Weiner (the arguments are: ontological, causal, from design, experiential, and moral -- sounds familiar?).
Now this hilarious insanity has put the ASA in the rather awkward position of having to rule on a long standing metaphysical dispute. If the agency lets the atheist campaign go on, it will implicitly be saying to the British public that it is in fact reasonable to state that god probably doesn’t exist; if, on the other hand, Sherine’s and the British humanists are found to be at fault, the ASA would in effect taking the position that there is sufficient evidence for the existence of hell, so that Christian groups are not violating its advertising standards. Philosophers and theologians the world over will surely be following this one with utmost interest!
By the way, I have to note that the only atheist who has (partially) objected to the campaign is our good old lovable curmudgeon, Richard Dawkins. He doesn’t like the word “probably” in the ad. This is because Dawkins, as I have pointed out before, insists on maintaining the indefensible position that science can disprove the existence of (all) gods, though he is a bit wishy washy about this even in his "The God Delusion", where he says both that he is not absolutely certain of god’s nonexistence and that science can disprove such a ridiculous notion anyway. The reality is that science cannot disprove the supernatural, but that a philosophical argument informed by sound science can, in fact, reduce the likelihood of the supernatural to the very, very improbable indeed. That’s why Sherine and the British Humanist Association got it exactly right in the wording of their campaign. So now go on and enjoy your day without fear, there (probably) is no hell.