The atheist group behind last year’s controversial bus ads suggesting “there’s probably no God” is rolling out a provocative new set of posters on buses across the country that places Allah beside Bigfoot and Christ beside psychics.
The new posters bear the slogan: “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” with “Allah, Bigfoot, UFOs, Homeopathy, Zeus, Psychics, Christ” listed below.
They will hit Toronto streetcars in January, pending final approval from the Toronto Transit Commission, said Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, an atheist organization. After the Toronto debut, the organization plans to post the ads to buses in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Montreal.
“Why is belief in Bigfoot dismissed as delusional while belief in Allah and Christ is respected and revered? All of these claims are equally extraordinary and demand critical examination,” says the campaign’s website.
Trottier insists the ads weren’t designed to offend religious Canadians.
“I’d love it if everyone saw the ads and know the point of the campaign is to emphasize not the kind of knee-jerk debunking to anything suspicious but that we’re interested in a genuine debate, a conversation about so-called extraordinary claims. We’re not here to mock people who believe in these claims,” he said.
He said scientists have made extraordinary statements to explain evolution, but their beliefs are backed by evidence.
“Homeopathy, miracles and religious claims — those are at least as extraordinary but where’s the evidence? Present the evidence and we’ll be happy to come along for the ride and endorse those beliefs,” he said.
The previous ads, which ran beginning in January 2009, said, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” and appeared in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal for about a month in each city.
Trottier said the Freethought Association of Canada raised $50,000 to pay for the 2009 ads. The campaign plans to raise another $50,000 to cover expenses to run the new posters.
Last year’s ads received a mixed reaction from both religious Canadians and atheists.
“There were a lot of people who misunderstood the point of the campaign and took issue with the tone, which they saw as overly confrontational or mockery,” said Trottier.
Some critics said relaxing and enjoying life was “hedonistic” and suggesting God “probably” doesn’t exist angered both atheists and theists, for different reasons.
But the campaign led to invitations to join debates, panel discussions and even sermons “in a loose sense” to various religious communities, Trottier said, noting that many organizations found atheists’ interest in religion “intriguing.”
He said he hopes the new campaign will also launch a discussion.
The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, countered last year’s atheist ad campaign with newspaper ads of their own.
“There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” they read.
Rev. Bruce Gregersen, the church’s general council officer, called the Church’s ads a “joking response” and said Trottier’s new wave of ads will ask Canadians what’s more valuable: facts or meaning and purpose.
“Conversation is welcome and invitational to all people to think about the meaning of faith. It’s a fair question that goes to the heart of what you count as proof. There are millions of people who have sense of the mysterious . . . deeper within our spirits,” he said.
He hopes religious Canadians won’t be upset by seeing Christ and Allah in a list with Bigfoot and leprechauns.
“Our perspective is that Christ is able to stand in that kind of situation and not be ridiculed. Our belief about Christ is much bigger than anything related to Zeus, or psychics or homeopathy, so in that sense it’s trivializing the nature of faith. On the other hand, it’s not enough that I’d want to raise issues,” he said.
“Dialogue between people of all faiths is always welcome provided that the means to do so do not contravene Canada’s hate speech laws or promote violence toward any identifiable group,”.
About a quarter of Canadians said they didn’t believe in any God in a 2008 poll on religion.
– Prophecy News Watch