Atheist bus adverts could lead to watchdog ruling on God's existence
Added: Fri, 09 Jan 2009 00:00:00 UTC
Officials at the Advertising Standards Authority are now considering whether to tackle the question that has taxed the minds of the world's greatest thinkers for centuries.
It has recorded 48 complaints since Tuesday when buses first hit the streets emblazoned with the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." At least 40 more people were understood to have made objections by last night.
Most of those who have contacted the ASA consider the adverts offensive and say they break guidelines on taste and decency.
However Stephen Green, the Christian campaigner who led the protests against the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer – The Opera, is claiming they should be taken down because the statement in the adverts cannot be substantiated.
He said: "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."
The ASA is now considering whether to investigate his complaint, which could lead to it reaching a deep ontological conclusion about a supreme being.
If it ruled that the wording in the posters was unsubstantiated, it would be interpreted as effectively saying that in all probability God does exist.
Ruling that the words were justified could be taken as an agreement that God probably does not exist.
Members of the public donated Â£140,000 to the Atheist Bus Campaign after its founder, the writer Ariane Sherine, suggested there should be an antidote to religious posters on public transport that "threaten eternal damnation" to non-believers.
Some supporters of the movement, which has now paid for 800 bendy-buses across Britain to carry the posters for a month as well as placing 1,000 adverts on Tube trains, had wanted a stronger slogan that denied God's existence categorically. But the word "probably" was included in order to meet ASA rules.
The British Humanist Association, which is co-ordinating the campaign, said it was confident the chosen wording will not be banned by the watchdog.
Hanne Stinson, the group's chief executive, said: "I've sought advice from some of our key people here, but I'm afraid all I've got out of them so far is peals of laughter. I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God – though presumably only the one that he believes in – but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God's existence. However, if they do investigate we will be very happy to respond."
The ASA said: "We are assessing these complaints to see whether there are grounds for an investigation."
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