Thursday, October 23, 2008

Atheists Going Public

You may or may not have heard about the British Humanist Society's plans to begin advertising on buses with the catchy slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." It's an interesting development within the larger debate that's been rumbling on for some time now - whether or not faith is a public or private matter. I'm a passionate advocate for the place of faith in public life. Privatized beliefs are utterly pointless, I mean, why bother believing anything if it has no connection to the way you live your life and if it isn't worth sharing with someone else? Books like the God Delusion and poster campaigns like this one (which probably doesn't even need to run now as it's attracted so much publicity already) bring the God conversation into the public realm and I love that. Faith is such a deliciously juicy subject to discuss and that's why it drives me nuts that it's too taboo to bring up in polite conversation. If only people could get beyond their cultural conditioning that schools them to resist any situation in which their worldview might be challenged. Pesky memes, they spoil all the fun.

For an interesting look at the 'Probably' bit of this poster see my review of the book 'Deluded By Dawkins'.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Dev said...

I'm glad you said this, I was beginning to wonder why we had to see this as a fight (which I believe the church started in the first place). I think they have a valid point which is that a person with a religion is never allowed to have anything said to them that might offend them (so the advert has to say 'probably' no God), but an ordinary atheist has to put up with lots of talk about God and can't ever say it offends them. And they try to make this point, and oh look, it offends faith groups so I guess they just can't please anyone.

I think their 'probably' on the bus is partly a legal thing and partly just more honest than our 'definitely' can sometimes be. I believe there probably is a God, sometimes I'm 99% sure, but I am too small to be able to say that I could never be wrong on this.

I'm glad people are allowed to say this on buses, and I think we have to remember that atheists are not the enemy (flesh and blood...). If they think there's no God, it's partly because we give God such a bad name that nobody can see him anymore.

spurious said...

I really appreciate your response to this, dev. Such honesty is rare among believers, and is a credit to your intellectual integrity. My question to you would be that there isn't, in my opinion, enough 'evidence' to be even 99% certain in God, so given that you need some faith to get you to 99%, what stops it from reaching 100%? What is prohibiting you from making that final jump? And given that you can't, aren't you suspicious that 99% may be a bit generous?

Dev said...

Interesting, thanks. I don't see faith quite the same way, I can't quite explain it though. I'm a scientist by background and an ex-atheist (well, as much as I really could have been at age 17), just to give you some bacground. I have been a Christian for about 15 years and am now finding myself with a lot of questions again - but there are always things that I can't explain. Don't get me wrong, I would love to have a bunch of evidence, but I don't. The way I see it, life is mostly explainable by science (and I love to see how it all works) but every now and then something happens that I don't have an explanation for.

I said 99% (which was a bit generous) to suggest that even if I was really really sure that there was a God and that I knew how life worked, if I turned out to be wrong, there is room in my world view for that to be the case. Am I making sense? It's a different measurement than the way you took it (which is interesting).

To answer your question, I think there isn't enough evidence to be certain in God, not for me anyway, but then there are the things that aren't explainable by 'non-God' either, in which case it turns on its head - I'd only be comfortable being up to 90% sure there was no God, because there are a lot of things I just can't explain. It's faith either way, and on different days I personally don't know shich way to commit. But that's just me.

Thanks for the interesting question, sorry to have gone on a bit but it's complicated...

Dave Burton said...

Very cool, and very true. Mind you, I know my response to discussion of faith is often to become passionate to the point of incoherence (I'm working on changing). I think it's hard to have a discussion about something that matters without begetting very unEnglish responses, so these things are kept far away from polite society. So perhaps the last thing Christian society should be is polite? I like this idea...

Anyway, thanks!