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Richard Dawkins on board with a pro-atheist message

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'The God Delusion's' author, a backer of a British Humanist Assn. bus ad campaign, talks about the collision of science and religion.

By Henry Chu
11:59 AM PST, January 11, 2009
REPORTING FROM OXFORD, ENGLAND -- All they are saying is give atheism a chance.

Earlier this month, 800 buses rolled out of depots across Britain plastered with advertisements cheerfully informing people that "there's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Sponsored by the British Humanist Assn., the ad campaign is the brainchild of a comedian who had seen Christian messages on buses, looked up the websites of the organizations behind them and found warnings that, as a nonbeliever, she was destined to go to hell.

The new ads have attracted little controversy in Britain, a secular country that finds religious fervor a tad awkward. Perhaps the biggest kerfuffle has been over the word "probably" in the slogan, which the British advertising authority said should be thrown in to keep the ad from being potentially misleading, on the grounds that no one can say with 100% certainty that God does not exist.

The campaign's highest-profile backer is Richard Dawkins, a biology professor at Oxford University and the author of "The God Delusion," a defense of scientifically based atheism that became a bestseller in Britain and the U.S. Dawkins pledged to match donations to the campaign up to $8,250 -- a figure that was quickly reached.

Passionate but gentlemanly, with a professorial air, Dawkins spoke recently with The Times in his Victorian-era home in Oxford.

Were you surprised that so many individual donors responded to the campaign to mount bus advertisements?

I'm surprised and delighted but also somewhat embarrassed. The original target was 5,500 pounds [about $8,250], which I offered to match and we thought that we'd be lucky to get. . . . It would have been enough for buses for a brief period in London.

What happened was huge numbers of people gave small sums -- 10 pounds, 15 pounds. . . . The final figure is something like 130,000. That's why I said I was embarrassed, because that is too much money to spend on a bus campaign. That much money would have been better spent doing something else. . . .

I was actually in favor of diverting the money to something else, which I thought the donors would approve. But other members of the group felt that [as] the money had been given for the bus campaign they were legally obliged to spend it on that campaign.

Click here to continue reading the interview:,0,3974830.story?page=1



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