In autumn 2008 it was revealed that an atheist bus campaign was going to happen in London. The slogan on the ad would be:
We in the Everything2 chatterbox were amused by this. I, for one, found the slogan unsatisfactory. Spiregrain remarked, "Who chips in thousands of pounds to assert a 'probably'?" "Probably" is wishy-washy for an atheist slogan. An atheist believes that there is no God, and there is no "probably". So this much more of an agnostic slogan. Also, the core problem with organised religion is hardly that it causes people to worry overly.
So, naturally, being writers, we started spinning our own.
A few days later, TenMinJoe came to the conclusion that the reason for the word "probably" is most likely because the Advertising Standards Authority can't allow advertisers to make claims that they can't prove. This is the same reason why Carlsberg adverts read "Probably the best lager in the world" rather than simply "The best lager in the world". Carlsberg would be hard pushed to prove the assertion "The best lager in the world" in a court of law, or even in a pub. (It could easily be disproven of course, all you'd need to do is produce one of the many lagers which are objectively better than Carlsberg. </beer snob>)
But why would the ASA disallow the assertion "There is no god" on a bus ad? Presumably, the ASA believes that this statement cannot be supported. Why would the ASA have that belief? Either
- because they believe that the statement cannot be proven, i.e. the ASA is agnostic, or
- because they believe that the statement can be disproven, i.e. the ASA is religious.
I then realised that I'd seen advertisements in train stations displaying direct John 3:16 quotes. Does the ASA really believe that
is a supportable assertion?
Probably not, because it's a cited quotation. But in that case, you can say anything if it's quoted.
Carlsberg: "The Best Lager In The World."
"There is no god."
Some time later, I came up with a different strategy. How about:
No "probably", because the non-existence of Santa Claus is very easy to prove scientifically. But think of the children! The most amusing thing to come out of this would be the complaints. "But I have the right to lie to my children! I choose to teach them fairy tales and keep them ignorant, and you have no right to tell them the truth!" I think it would get the foot in the door, set a useful precedent and make for an interesting statement overall.
After that we got a little off topic and TenMinJoe suggested a whole campaign of harsh truths:
Then we got a little dadaist and philosophical:
Some weeks later, TenMinJoe reported that he had seen bus advertisements proclaiming
There definitely is a God!
This was something I found to be profoundly disturbing because it strongly implied that the ASA is, in fact, a religious organisation. But a little further discussion elapsed and the question became whether "God does (not) exist" or "Santa Claus does (not) exist" even qualified as advertising. Do any of these statements promote a product? Do they, therefore, even fall under the ASA's purview? Was the "probably" in "There's probably no God" inserted simply as a legal CYA for a party which almost by definition has no funding to fight a lawsuit if challenged?
Spiregrain ultimately remarked, "I don't think it's an ASA issue. It's probably the blasphemy laws that you offend against if you publically contradict the CoE." Blasphemy laws, in this day and age? Oy.
Update: http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/news/news/2009/Atheist+bus+ad+campaign+not+in+breach+of+advertising+code.htm states that "The ASA Council concluded that the ad was an expression of the advertiser's opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation" - in other words, the ASA operates as an agnostic organisation.