Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ads Promote Conversation

It seems as if the 'anti-God' bus ad campaign is picking up speed and spreading beyond the boarders of England and America.

"The anti-God bus ad campaign has now spread beyond the borders of England to the heavily Catholic nations of Spain and was also scheduled to start appearing in Italy next month."

The world did become largely Christianized through similar measures as atheists are taking now: propaganda. I suppose some merit can be proffered atheists since this present campaign to wipe-out God is more peaceful than, say, the anti-religious cleansings propagated by Mao Zedong, and Stalin (who, combined, are responsible for the deaths of almost 100 million people); not to mention lesser atheist bad-asses like Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, and Kim Jong-il. So we can all rest assured that this time, the atheists bent on removing God from the daily workings of human life are going about things with less gusto.

Still, the fact that atheists have less gusto this time around does not mean they lack stridency. On the contrary, they're decidedly vocal with their advertisements, the most popular one of which states, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." But this is not the only slogan:

"...in Italy, home of the Roman Catholic headquarters, buses with the slogan, “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him,” was scheduled to start appearing in the northern city of Genoa on Feb. 4. "

That slogan met a quick end, however, when a bevy of conservative protestors managed to have it stopped.

What tickles me about these slogans, however, is that neither of them is empirically provable. At best, this should give the atheists asserting these campaigns a moment of pause. For, if the pride of atheism is (as Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris say it is) the rational life as understood through science and Darwinian natural selection, then there must be some empirical evidence, some kind of evolutionary proof de jour to support such bold-faced claims.

Put the other way around, if confronted by ads from the religious community, a simple response from atheists would be to say that the religious have the burden of proof to demonstrate that God does exist. However, since these atheist ads assert their message by way of negation ("there is no God"), they would do well to establish physical evidence to prove their universal logical negative -- which is impossible, and thereby not worth consideration.

Or is it?

"Other Christians, however, have reacted positively to the 'No God' campaign, saying that it helps spark debate and provides an opportunity to talk about God."

That's a decent perspective. I can agree to that. However, if this conversation is going to happen, we're going to have to have it on a much more sophisticated level than the playground academics of "yes He is," "no he's not" that we've seen so far. When this happens, whatever proof one thinks he has -- no matter how valid it might be -- is just a red-herring that leads to the usual end in these conversations: talking past each other, not to each other.

2 comments:

psa said...

"they would do well to establish physical evidence to prove their universal logical negative -- which is impossible, and thereby not worth consideration."

you can do better than that chris. the issue is to believe or not to believe, to have faith or not. i'm not a scientist nor do i view the world solely through the lens of scientific rationale. and while some of the bus ads and other campaigns deny the existence of god, some are simply asserting that there "probably isn't a god". which was in part, i believe, the london bus slogan. the purpose of that was to give a sense of inclusion to a segment of the population whose feelings are routinely invalidated in the larger culture.

we who chose not to believe in deities are inundated by the ubiquitous nature of religious iconography and secular/cultural ritual, especially around the solstice. it can be pretty depressing. when i read about the bus ads in london it brought a smile to my face, a little reassurance. since the refusal of observance is not something that is always greeted kindly by friends, family and peers.

science does not work by proving negatives, so the demand to prove the negation of god as one standard while sidestepping the burden to prove the positive is a little bit of the dance of the weasel. no? in fact, the absence of positive proof weighs more heavily to the advantage of the negative than the other way round.

also, while it is true that the villains you named as killers on the grand scale were indeed heinous in their acts and deeds, their purpose was not to go to war with god or believers, they were in pursuit of earthly power first and foremost, political and not spiritual domination. the anti-religious element was just a tool in the arsenal of their tyranny and not the sole purpose. the same can not be said of the crusaders and inquisitors or any of the murderous sorts that committed their crimes in the name of a god or faith. regardless, a godless murder is no more and no less heinous than one performed in the name of a pope or a deity or a pantheon. then there comes the question of just which god is the god and heaven knows there are a lot of conflicting answers to that one. answers that are certainly noted for inspiring their share of bloody handed murder.

my proof is no more scientific than yours. i have no proof other than my heart and my mind. i have heard the stories and myths of a number of belief systems and i appreciate them for what they seem to me to be, social and moral codices. humans have created gods to comfort, console and control, to instruct and shape the cultures of their time and place. i am a skeptic. the christian variations on the theme of god strike me as no more plausible or literally true than do the other abrahamic faiths or the hindu pantheon, the roman or greek gangs or the b-52 that dropped men and supplies onto isolated jungle isles in the second world war giving birth to cargo cults.

in any event, i think the burden of proof lies with the one making the positive assertion. so far, a compelling case has not been made to me, hence i do not believe. that does not mean i wish to end your belief or destroy your church or religion. i have a reasoned understanding of right and wrong, freedom and tolerance and i don't believe in god.

much love to you, sarah and the lads.

Christopher said...

"you can do better than that chris. the issue is to believe or not to believe, to have faith or not."

Yes, but "to believe or not to believe, to have faith or not" is the wider, more rational appraisal of the issue at hand. The main objective of the atheist bus ad campaign is to promote disbelief. Were it not so, we might see more ads that read something like this: "You have been naturally selected, so stop worrying and be happy."

"i'm not a scientist nor do i view the world solely through the lens of scientific rationale."

Like I implied above, however, you have a more reasonable perspective on these issues. That is, you tend to be ahead of the curve in matters of cognitive fortitude.

"and while some of the bus ads and other campaigns deny the existence of god, some are simply asserting that there "probably isn't a god". which was in part, i believe, the london bus slogan. the purpose of that was to give a sense of inclusion to a segment of the population whose feelings are routinely invalidated in the larger culture."

Yes, you're right: the notion of the probable non-existence of God is part of the London bus ads. What I'm not understanding is why there's any feeling about God at all from a segment of the population that denies his/her/its existence. Why feel anything about something you agree is rational to disbelieve? I don't feel anything about unicorns not existing; I have absolutely zero 'feelies' whatsoever about the non-existence of the Purple People Eater. So what makes it different for an atheist around Christmas, or Easter? If you don't believe, and value tolerance, why feel anything at all about what you might perceive as an irrational belief?

"since the refusal of observance is not something that is always greeted kindly by friends, family and peers."

Agreed. And that is just more cause for Christians (at the very least) to acknowledge their utter lack of ability to judge the hearts of others, or the "positional future" of another's soul. Friends, family, and peers that cannot accept atheist credos (!) should not then disrespect the one who holds to non-belief. If anything, love speaks louder than the most attenuated apologetic-based judgment.

"science does not work by proving negatives, so the demand to prove the negation of god as one standard while sidestepping the burden to prove the positive is a little bit of the dance of the weasel. no?"

Not so much, no. I see it this way (and I'm open to correction): if science wants to place the burden of proof on the person making the positive assertion, and simultaneously administer empiricism as the rational standard, then it should uphold that same standard to prove what it denies -- deity. Thus, if a scientist wants to deny the existence of any form of deity then one of two things need to happen:

1. S/he must admit his/her denial of deity is an honest leap of faith in the absence of evidence;

2. Provide evidence for the lack of a (or all) deity.

But I think you'll agree with me when I say that neither of those two options is really satisfactory. Not only because we agree that scientific empiricism is not the only way to know something, but because the sword cuts both ways: theists cannot hold to faith while simultaneously administering dogmatisms as the rational standard, and all the while deny the use of empiricism as a form of proof.

The conversation has to move past the bifurcation of "nonoverlapping magisteria" (Stephen J. Gould) and into a more wholistic appraisal of reality. Neither science nor religion needs a magisterium; we need useful conversation, and helpful perspectives from each other in the reality that we both share.

"also, while it is true that the villains you named as killers on the grand scale were indeed heinous in their acts and deeds, their purpose was not to go to war with god or believers, they were in pursuit of earthly power first and foremost, political and not spiritual domination. the anti-religious element was just a tool in the arsenal of their tyranny and not the sole purpose."

I agree. But that does not erase the fact that they were anti-religious campaigns, even if only on a tertiary level. The corollary of their actions is that they perceived religions and religious beliefs as a threat because it provided the target populations with an indominable morale. Hence an effective campaign for earthly power necessitates a war against the spiritual. That is why some of those despots aimed pograms at the clergy and churches.

"the same can not be said of the crusaders and inquisitors or any of the murderous sorts that committed their crimes in the name of a god or faith."

Are you sure? From what I've studied (and again, please correct me if I'm wrong) things like the Crusades were politically motivated. The fact that religion was heralded on both sides doesn't preclude the expedience and savvy of having political power over Jerusalem: the person that controls the hub controls the wheel, as it were.

"regardless, a godless murder is no more and no less heinous than one performed in the name of a pope or a deity or a pantheon."

I agree 100%. Murder is a heinous act. Period. God or no God.

"then there comes the question of just which god is the god and heaven knows there are a lot of conflicting answers to that one. answers that are certainly noted for inspiring their share of bloody handed murder."

Yeah, that's a much trickier issue. One that's been bugging my head a lot this past while. I don't think I can offer anything substantial to that question in this conversation, unfortunately.

"in any event, i think the burden of proof lies with the one making the positive assertion. so far, a compelling case has not been made to me, hence i do not believe. that does not mean i wish to end your belief or destroy your church or religion. i have a reasoned understanding of right and wrong, freedom and tolerance and i don't believe in god."

While I don't share your perspective on the issue of the burden of proof -- mainly because I think it's a great way to side-track a possibly beneficial conversation -- I can appreciate that you haven't heard a compelling argument for the existence of God. I think there's an end to reason; that is, that there comes a point where the capacity to 'know' stops. At that point, a person has to leap faithfully into the belief that skepticism is the only valid conclusion, or take the same leap in the opposite direction. Which is to say, to take a leap of faith and believe in God. Both options, no matter which one a person takes, are moreso a reaction to the reality that 'rationality can only go so far' than they are a reasoned response.

Sarah and the lads send their love to you, too. And I love you, also, Uncle L.

Christopher