An Atheist Got Offended Over *This* Billboard?

This billboard went up — and then came quickly down — in South Africa, because an atheist complained it was too offensive and an advertising watchdog group agreed:

The billboard featured an image of a man holding his hands against his temples, and the following quote from English poet Francis Thompson appeared underneath: “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident.”

The consumer submitted that the billboard offended him as an atheist as he did not consider his existence to be an accident. He added that the depiction of a man with an empty head communicated that atheists were stupid.

The [Advertising Standards Authority] added that the quote on the church billboard suggested that atheists believed their existence was an unplanned event.

The visuals of a man holding the sides of his empty head suggested that atheists lacked intelligence. This was something that would likely offend all atheists in a manner that the code sought to prevent, the ASA ruled.

It added that the commercial would likely cause offence and was therefore in contravention of clause 1 of section II of the code.

The authority upheld the complaint and ordered the church to withdraw the advert immediately and not to use it in future.

Really? That’s offensive?! No it’s not. It’s just ignorant. If it suggests that we’re cosmic “accidents,” there’s no real argument. We are. We’re certainly not here because God “willed” us to be. (Of course, the “accidents” are guided by the process of evolution, but I doubt the people who people up the billboard understand that.) If it suggests we’re stupid, it’s just plain wrong. If that’s the best religion can do to criticize us, they’ve failed miserably.

But here’s a better idea: Don’t fight to take the billboard down.

Raise money to put up another billboard near the same location.

Keep the same image.

Use some version of the quotation: “Be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Subtitle: “Religion.”

Ta-da! We win.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Piet Puk

    “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident.”To all the female atheists: According to this church you are men.BTW I certainly am in no way offended by the quote.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    1) Free speech is good. No one should object to the placement of such a billboard.
    .
    2) If you don’t have free speech, but instead have laws making it illegal to offend any one, then it should apply to theists as well as to atheists.

  • http://twitter.com/thelittlepecan Alana (aka Pecan)

    I’m gonna go to my grave saying it.

    No one has the right to live their life unoffended.  Get over yourself and stop trying to control everything everyone else does.  As you’ve said, Hemant, make change in ways you can instead of trying to force others to stop.

    *rolls eyes*

    • Justin Miyundees

      No one said they had a right to not be offended and no one is demanding that right.

      He said someone was offended.  What’s wrong with that?

      If someone says my mother eats shit sandwiches, and I’m offended it makes me wrong?  I think you got a knee-jerk slogan you’re misapplying.

      What a conflation to “go to my grave saying”.  

      • http://twitter.com/thelittlepecan Alana (aka Pecan)

        Sure they did, by demanding the government DO something about someone else’s free speech.  This is absolutely NOT how I want to have my rights protected.

        Nothing wrong with saying someone is offended, or being offended…just don’t expect me to care.

        Well, yeah. Does your mother eat shit sandwiches?  I mean, how effing stupid is that?  I think you’ve got knee-jerk offense you’re attempting to apply here.
        The point is, we can go on about “being offended” or we can go on making real change.

        Also, I think you’re using “conflation” incorrectly here.  I can “go to” somewhere without actually “being in” such a place.  Hell, I can go to my grave without even being dead (which would probably make some people super happy here in GA!)

        Oh, the ridiculousness of being from the South.
          
        But, yanno, semantics and ish :)

        Relax. I’m just not a fan of being offended.  It doesn’t mean I don’t think things are wrong, it just means I don’t like forcing others to think the same as me. :)

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    I’m offended!

    Because an atheist is not a MAN who anything…

    • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular

      I think you accidentally a word.

      • Ubi Dubium

        I don’t think she accidentally a word at all!

        How about “an atheist is not a “MAN who…” anything”. 

        An atheist is a “PERSON who…”, thank you.

        • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular

          I agree with the idea, but disagree with the slaughtering of a sentence to attempt to convey it.

          • Karl

            And yet you happily slaughtered a sentence to convey your idea.

            • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular

              There’s this thing called the internet. On the internet there are memes. I guess you didn’t get the memo.

            • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular
              • http://www.facebook.com/brianmichaelrogers Brian Rogers

                Well played,  sir.

              • Erik Cameron

                heheh… MEMo

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    It plainly is offensive; it’s a pretty deliberate calculated insult.

    The problem here isn’t the allegation that it’s offensive, it’s the idea that offensive ideas should be censored.

  • Anonymous

    Is it offensive? Well yes. It’s not only inaccurate, but it plainly implies that atheists are stupid.

    Now, wha IS stupid is complaining you are offended in order to get the thing banned. It’s your right to be offended, and it’s totally your right to complain about it, but affirming that someone feeling offense is a good standard by which to decide what does and does not get published? That’s wrong.

    In fact, I’d say I find it offensive.

  • MattO

    “We’re certainly not here because God “willed” us to be. (Of course, the
    “accidents” are guided by the process of evolution, but I doubt the
    people who people up the billboard understand that.) If it suggests
    we’re stupid, it’s just plain wrong. If that’s the best religion can do
    to criticize us, they’ve failed miserably.”

    I think this billboard was small minded and offensive too for a host of reasons.  I also cringe at the “us” verses “them” dynamic that’s been set into motion by Christianity and the church.  However, I do have a sincere question after following your tweets now for much of the past year.  

    How is it intellectually possible to eliminate the possibility that some sort of cosmic personality or presence, (Call it God for sake of conversation) did or did not “will” the process of evolution into existence?  I’m totally on board with both God and evolution.  Do you see no space whatsoever for the two to co-exist at any level?  Have enjoyed hearing your thoughts. 

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      When Wikipedia’s back you might want to use it to look up ‘Russell’s teapot’, or in the meantime Google for ‘invisible pink unicorn’. Short version – you don’t get to make up any old rubbish just because it can’t be disproved.

    • EvidentialismFTW
    • Anonymous

      How is it intellectually possible to eliminate the possibility that some
      sort of cosmic personality or presence, (Call it God for sake of
      conversation) did or did not “will” the process of evolution into
      existence?

      You say “eliminate” as if a world view starts out with a god or “cosmic personality” in it, which is then removed. There’s no logical reason to start with it and then eliminate it unless you start out with a world view that includes absolutely everything you can imagine. (Which might be what the inside of some authors’ heads looks like. :-p) Sure, starting from that and then eliminating everything that doesn’t seem to actually exist, such as unicorns and talking trees and gralfnaxes, is one way of doing it, but it does seem awfully time consuming and impractical.

      If you start out with a world view that is based on the observable, there’s never any reason to put a god of any kind into it until such a being or irrefutable evidence of its existence can be found. (And “just look at the world, it’s awesome” doesn’t constitute evidence. [iamnotascientist]Black holes come to mind: they can’t actually be seen, but are indirectly observed through how they warp their surroundings in various ways. Evidence![/iamnotascientist])

      Of course, those two options are on opposite ends of a spectrum where your upbringing and many other things factor in. In my case, for example, any religious ideas just kind of faded out because they didn’t make a difference. The world around me was getting on fine – the earth revolved around the sun, people lived and died, stars went supernova – without any trace of a Prime Mover of any kind keeping an eye on it all. So why hang onto just the idea of one?

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

      Evidence. There isn’t any. Now, it is possible that there is some sort of “God” that has set this all in place, and even interferes from time to time, but has, for whatever reason, chosen to do so in such a way that it can’t be traced back to it with any certainty or likelihood. But such a “God” also gives me no reason to believe in it’s existence. So, intellectually, not only is it possible to eliminate that belief, it’s practically required.

    • Mxs3

      Though I can’t speak for MattO, I believe he’s just asking if a cosmic personality or presence ::could:: be one explanation to how the process began. We (atheists or theists alike) can’t prove it one way or another.  

      There is no logical reason (and evidence suggests it’s not likely) that a presence  that dictates commandments or is actually involved in our lives today actually exists.  To atheists, belief in that kind of god(s) is futile and completely irrelevant to our lives and our consciousness. And in the case of most organized religion, even harmful to humanity and life in general.
      But…for arguments sake…what I think MattO is saying is…what if that presence started things then ceased to exist? Or started things and went away? Or doesn’t care? OR doesn’t exist in the first place? We currently can only guess what came before the big bang, which is how science to our current knowledge can explain at least one starting point about how things came to be.

    • Drakk

      As I have been ninja’d on the burden of proof, I will explain the Occam’s Razor and historical basis.

      No there isn’t a reason it definitively CAN NOT be a god. Why, though, should we assume there is, when by assuming there is not, we simplify the list of assumptions we need to make. As such:

      Assumptions of the god hypothesis:
      -A god exists
      -It is intelligent
      -It is able to directly affect reality
      -It has a motivation to do so
      -It is willing to do so

      Assumptions of purely naturalistic evolution:
      -Traits are coded for by genetic sequences (proven)
      -Genetic sequences are heritable (proven)
      -Genetic sequences can be subject to mutation (proven)
      -Traits conducive to survival result in increased survivability (proven)

      Yes there are the same number of points under each heading. However, not only is nothing on the god-hypothesis table proven, but for theistic evolution which you advocate, the two sets of assumptions need to be ADDED TOGETHER. It is preferable to dispense with the assumptions that are not necessary.

      Historically there is a trend for the god-hypotheses to be superseded by naturalistic ones. God(s) were invoked to explain things like sunrise and sunset, planetary orbits, weather patterns, seasons and reproduction. As time progressed, naturalistic explanations of these phenomena were found to be simpler in terms of unproven assumptions and having more predictive capability and so god-hypotheses were abandoned.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Would you rather the evils in the world be according to plan?

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      Of course. That would clearly be much more organised, and we could get the relief campaigns sorted out ahead of time.

    • Drakk

      Isn’t it god that supposedly draws the plans for the universe?

  • http://www.quietatheist.com/ Slugsie

    The only thing I am offended about on that as is the ignorance displayed over what believers think us non believers believe.

    Oh, and it’s proof that all sides have their overly sensitive types.

  • Rod Chlebek

    The quote I’m fine with; the associated image is inappropriate.
    I would like to hear from a church who’s ready to have a conversation with an atheist instead of reaffirming the arrogant position that atheists are stupid.

  • Drew Bentley

    People still look at billboards? Honestly, I’d rather see billboards outlawed, it’s a distraction and people need to pay attention to the road instead of billboards. ;)

    • Eleanor O’Neill

      In Maine there are no billboards. FTW!

      • http://www.facebook.com/brianmichaelrogers Brian Rogers

        Same in Alaska.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah! Fellow atheist Mainer! *high fives* Are you on the Atheists of Maine Facebook page? The National Atheist Party of Maine Facebook page?

  • Wildrumpus67

    I pretty much agree that my existence is an accident.  I mean the chances of me existing at all are pretty much just short of zero.  There is no purpose for my being here…  it’s all just a big cosmic fluke.

    I also think the illustration looks like the guy has an open mind – where’s the insult in that?

    …and I have to chime in with the agreement that no one has the right to not be offended…

    In this case… Atheists – 0, Intolerance-1

    • http://synackaon.myopenid.com/ Syn

      Total bullshit spewed out of your mouth – here, let me help you.

      First off, an accident is commonly defined as :
      1. An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.2. A crash involving road or other vehicles, typically one that causes serious damage or injury.

      For ANY human to be born, there has to be a degree of intent and expectation. Infants do not “appear” out of the blue. Now, while the initial act of pregnancy /may/ be unintentional, the decision to have a child is not. Even willful ignorance of such immediately disqualifies the term ‘accident’ as there is intent to ignore it.

      Ergo, there is no ‘accident’ in the act of birthing a live human being.

      Furthermore, I object to your “We’re all a cosmic fluke” shit, and here’s why:
      The definition of “Fluke” that you are most likely using is “Unlikely chance occurrence.” However, given what we already know of evolution and natural selection, were things a “fluke”, then how does one rectify the preponderance of life we see today?

      Taking that one step even further, with the RNA world hypothesis and panspermia, we find that amino acids and other components of life as we know it are rather common, appearing in meteorites to a model of the early ocean (of which we know did exist).

      You are ignorant (and wildly so) of our own biosphere and our beginnings. You are ignorant of the probabilities of natural selection factored in with commonly available blocks. And finally, you are ignorant of the enormous size of the universe, which has so far given us more evidence for an environment that could have had, can, or will support life (Mars, Europa, et al).

      It’s a big universe. Shame you assume so much of it.

      • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

        Sure, but the chances of any *one* particular individual, with a certain genetic makeup and initial set of circumstances, coming into being are pretty damn small.

        • http://synackaon.myopenid.com/ Syn

          The term used was ‘accident’. 

          I find the whole probabilities shit people offer to be ill-considered, shallow and ignorant of the context around it.

          In this case, ignorant of the parents who bore the hypothetical individual. For all we know, you’ve discarded the context that said parents wanted (at least one did) a child. As such then, the set that includes that individual has been raised from a lower probability to a much higher one of having at least one set member (potential child) be grown and possibly born.

          It’s completely moronic to talk “chances of an individual being born” without considering all the myriad and convoluted contexts around each singular event.

          Maybe that’s why psychology papers on high level actions like potential ingrained gender preferences and behaviors is seen with such skepticism…

  • Annie

    Oh, good grief!  I wonder how much time, energy and money went into the process of banning this billboard? 

  • Bahl Sanchin

    It’s not offensive, its just stupid.

  • Mel Walker

    “Accident” is insulting, and was meant to be. We are not accidents, no matter how unplanned we are, although we may be serendipitous. They insulted him, he called them on it. Good for him.

    I’m surprised that you don’t want atheists to fight back in a legal way. Speech has different restrictions in different nations, and in South Africa is is his right to claim legal offense.

    People who claim “nobody has the right to not be offended” are, of course, missing the point. It is offensive and he exercised his legal right of complaint. End of story. Could he have put up another sign nearby? We have no evidence one way or the other. It’s easy to sit back and be a keyboard warrior on a blog. It’s another thing entirely to actually make a difference in the world, like he did.

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

      But what difference did he make? He got a billboard taken down that made an implication he agreed with? In other words, he encouraged censorship? That’s not a difference I would like to see made, frankly. Legal or not. Speech may have different restrictions in different nations, but that doesn’t mean that those restrictions are good ones.

      And if Hemant, or me, were to encourage and support what he did, then that would be rather hypocritical of us. Hemant has been highlighting the various billboards that the American Atheists and FFRF have been putting up all over America, and objecting when theists try to have them removed. The theists, of course, are claiming offense — just as the atheist in South Africa who got this billboard taken down.Personally, I wish the billboard had stayed up, and been mocked incessantly. I don’t find “accident” insulting (it’s true), but I do find the implication of stupidity insulting. But I would rather be insulted, as an ethical position, than to see government censorship.

    • gene machine

      The only difference he made was to join all the other fools who think their right not to be offended is more important than other peoples’ right to express their opinions.

      I don’t fear being offended, I fear losing the right to express my opinions.

      • Travshad

        Do you live in South Africa?  If not then your “rights” in no way are affected.  If you do live in South Africa you did not have the right to put up an offensive billboard before this action.  In either case neither your rights nor anyone elses rights were abridged.

        While I am an American, I have never been a fan of this modern belief in a nearly unfettered right to “free speech”.  There are many reasonable limitations that should be placed on speech.  I have no problem with this decision in South Africa. 

    • monyNH

      The billboard doesn’t incite hate or violence; I wouldn’t even characterize it as particularly mean. One can be offended by many things, but unless the speech is hateful speech, I don’t see any benefit in censoring it–but a great deal of harm in allowing one person’s thin skin to set this precedent.

      Frankly, if I had seen that poster I’m not sure I wouldn’t even get it–whatever point was trying to be made, it’s not making it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    “An atheist is a person who consider themself to be a happy accident”?

    Cue side flame-war as to the grammatically correct gender neutral third person singular reflexive pronoun for the English language….

  • Lina

    Why is it when atheists put up billboards against religion, that’s OK, but when religious people put up billboards about atheists, that’s “ignorant”. Fact is that as long as it isn’t what you guys believe or don’t believe in, that makes it “ignorant”. This is the most faulty logic ever, for both atheists and religious people.

    I look forward to seeing the day when atheists can make their point without insulting others. Right now I don’t think they’re even capable of it.

    • Anonymous

      The act of putting up the billboard isn’t called ignorant in Hemant’s post, the statement on it is.

    • Demonhype

      The original atheist billboards were not “against” anything but simply stated that atheists exist, are perfectly good and moral people, and gave some contact info for the group.  For that, the theists lost their shit and screamed persecution.

      Even the ones that came later (like “you know it’s a myth”, for example, or quotes from famous people regarding their views on religion) didn’t directly insinuate that believers are empty-headed morons or misrepresent what they believed (even the “you know it’s a myth” didn’t misrepresent the content of what people believed but said that subconsciously they knew that their beliefs were only negligibly different from those beliefs they would deem “myths”).

      The reason it may seem to believers that atheists “can’t make their point without insulting believers” is because believers take everything as a personal attack on their faith.  At first, the atheists were just “hi, I’m an atheist and I am a perfectly good person” and that seems to be all it takes to make believers go ballistic.  If that’s the case, why should we bother with the kid gloves if a simple polite statement of our existence and morality is enough to be accused of “insulting  believers”?

      The fact is that  believers can’t make their points without insulting atheists.  We’ve been the scapegoats of faith since time immemorial.  Believers of all stripes have made it an intrinsic part of their faith that unbelievers are evil incarnate or at best immoral or amoral monsters and as such, a visible atheist is a huge threat to faith because atheistic visibility puts the lie to the claim that faith is crucial to morality and that atheists are evil, so it becomes imperative that atheists be kept silent no matter how
      mild their message might be–it’s hard to demonize an openly visible
      group for your own self-aggrandizement and control of society, after
      all.

      That said, this billboard does seem to be a direct insult to atheists in general, but at the same time they have a right to have it up.  Finding it offensive or insulting is no reason to resort to outright censorship, and that goes for both sides.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Lina,

      I would like to most respectfully bring it to your attention that you have, perhaps inadvertently, done the very thing that you object to in atheists. I certainly mean no insult to you by helping you to see it, but simply as a courtesy to you in the same spirit as one would discreetly point out that someone has a speck of food on her face, or that his fly is open.

      Your second-to-last sentence expresses your desire to see atheists making their point without insulting others. That is a good idea, and actually I see atheists doing that often, and I personally try my best to do exactly that.  

      But your very last sentence makes a blanket statement strongly implying that no atheists anywhere are capable of making their point without insulting others. That statement is clearly insulting. I wonder if perhaps you haven’t yet been able to read or hear the many, many atheists who make their points without resorting to insults. If this is so, then your last sentence would be an example of a characterization of atheists based on, (and please, please do not take this word as an insult) ignorance.

      Saying that someone’s remark is ignorant is not by itself intrinsically an insult. It is an assessment of the lack of knowledge that their statement reflects. People point out to me when I speak without sufficient knowledge, and I am grateful for it.

      The caption in the billboard is definitely something that would be said by a person who does not understand much at all about atheists or atheism, therefore it is an ignorant statement. Atheists are constantly hearing people tell them what atheists think, feel and do, yet since those characterizations are simply dead wrong, calling them ignorant is far more charitable than assuming they actually know better but are malicious.

      Lina, I hope that I have been able to make my point without insulting you. If you think that I have insulted you, please help me to understand how.

      For the record, I agree with the several people here that getting the billboard taken down is an unfortunate response. That’s what the laws in South Africa permit, but I think it would be better to counter the ignorance reflected in the billboard with perhaps another billboard that helps to educate people about what atheists actually think, feel and do.

      Most sincerely yours,
      Richard Wade

  • PBR Streetgang

    False representation: an untrue or incorrect representation regarding a material fact that is made with knowledge or belief of its inaccuracy.  The billboard is offensive because it is a false representation.  It would be just as offensive and unethical for an atheist group to put up a billboard that says “A Christian is someone who likes to fuck goats and snort cocaine,” with a picture depicting just that. 

    As someone else mentioned, the billboard is a calculated insult and nothing more.  It has no constructive value whatsoever.  It is essentially the same thing as trolls on the internet.  Is it censorship when a website administrator bans and deletes a troll who posts inflammatory nonsense? 

    • Anonymous

      An admin runs a private board, and has the right to set rules for it the same way you set rules for your own home that don’t apply outside of it (e.g. “cussing isn’t allowed here”). A billboard is (usually) put up in a public place, and you should essentially be allowed to say the same on a billboard that you are allowed to say from a soap box below it.

      • Demonhype

        Problem is that “A Christian is someone who likes to fuck goats and snort cocaine” would be rightly seen as misrepresentation and taken down, and everyone would agree to that.

        Remember a few years ago when they had to add “probably” to the atheist billboards because saying “there’s no god” was seen as false advertising, brought about by an attempt of the religious to ban all atheist messages on billboards and bus ads–but messages along the lines of “Jesus Christ is the Messiah and Lord and Savior and anyone who disbelieves this message will go to hell which totally also exists for sure” was not seen as false advertising?

        If they’re going to say shit about atheists, couldn’t they at least not make things up and present them as facts?  Or would that put them at too much of a disadvantage?

        • Anonymous


          Problem is that “A Christian is someone who likes to fuck goats
          and snort cocaine” would be rightly seen as misrepresentation and taken
          down, and everyone would agree to that.

          Everyone would? I doubt it. Notice that in these comments, some atheists are agreeing with the statement on the board, the one others are offended at. They don’t all feel misrepresented, apparently. (Atheists, herding cats, etc.) So who gets to decide it’s misrepresentation? Do we vote on whether we believe what the board says?

          OK, I admit you probably wouldn’t get a lot of Christians saying the goats-and-cocaine line is correct. :) Legally speaking though, I don’t know for sure where anyone trying to put up that statement would stand. It seems difficult sometimes to draw the line between free speech and misrepresentation, hate speech etc. (Would I be allowed to stand on a street corner and tell people they’re goat-fucking cocaine addicts? Might differ from country to country, I guess.)

          Remember a few years ago when they had to add “probably” to the atheist
          billboards because saying “there’s no god” was seen as false advertising

          Hm… no, I remember that differently (there were complaints about the “probably” ad, but the complainers failed). I’d appreciate any links to news stories from back then to see who was involved and how it played out, I can just find more recent news on complaints against atheist billboards.

          Again though, on such a fuzzy subject as offensive speech, there are probably wildly different practices and precedences across the world, even just in the parts of it that value free speech.

          If they’re
          going to say shit about atheists, couldn’t they at least not make
          things up and present them as facts?

          To be fair, they didn’t make the effort of making something up, they just found a quote from… some guy. But yeah, how about “Atheists are godless!”? (Add exclamation marks as needed.) Because it’s a) true and b) would make the flock nod sagely. The original board didn’t seem to aim to convert atheists anyway, just make the religious feel better about themselves.

      • Travshad

        The people are the owners of the public space.  Assuming this is the law of the land and was enacted by the democratically elected respresentatives of the people, then this would appear to me to be an appropriate act of censorship.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’m with Hemant.  Demanding this kind of thing be censored is something that theists pull all the time, and we should avoid following their example.  Rebut, don’t remove.

    As long as this billboard wasn’t posted in a public high school auditorium.  THEN I’d have a problem with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Whether or not we’re offended, the message on the billboard is totally false. The problem with disinformation like that being on a billboard is that a lot of people are going to see it, and because it’s on a billboard, they’re going to assume it’s true. Yes, a lot of people think like that. A lot of young people too.

    I find the message insulting, but it doesn’t hurt my feelings, only because I’ve seen and heard so much worse from theists over the years. Any Atheist who has never gotten a hard time from theists might find this message offensive. Having been a brand new Atheist once in my life, I understand the feeling.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Francis Thompson said, “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident.”

    You wrote, “If [the Thompson quote] suggests that we’re cosmic “accidents,” there’s no real argument. We are.

    All I can say is, “Amazing!”

  • Tommy

    The word accident implys agency, does it not?   We don’t say “That rock accidentally fell down the mountain”, or the grass blade accidentally dried up.  To say we were created by shear accident makes me think more like god tripped over his chemistry set.   I supposed the correct rephrase would be.  What ever *CAN happen, probably will happen.  If it can’t happen,  It won’t.  We are here, and so Humans CAN happen.

    *Can – laws of physics, economics, arrangements of matter that are possible will do stuff + the time and shear numbers of combinations of matter in the universe lends to a probability of something that CAN happen, might happen.

  • Greg

    I don’t think offence is the right way to look at this – it should be looked at as whether it is defamation. People don’t have the right to not be offended. They do have the right not to be defamed/slandered.

    It is arguably defamation, therefore I have no problem with the sign being taken down.

    • Perry Kaufman

      From Wikipedia: “Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image.”

      Defamation, as I understand it, requires a specifically targeted entitity in order to take legal action and this sign has no such target; hence, it cannot be considered defamation. “Atheist” is just a term used by a variety of people to describe their beliefs, or lack thereof (if the ad were targeting a particular atheist organization then it would arguably be defamation) . As an analogy, a sign that said “Basketball fans are stupid” would not legally be defamation either as it has no specific target whom it can unjustly damage the  reputation of.

      • Greg

        You’re nit-picking, really. Whether or not by law defamation *must* be directed at an individual wasn’t really my point. After all, we aren’t talking about legal points existing in American or UK or European law, and it’s clear that legally speaking, in SA, the atheist was in his rights to complain about the sign, and that the sign was right to go down.

        The point I was making was that we shouldn’t be looking at this as regards offence, but whether the statement was a factual claim which was false, and could cause a negative image to fall upon the people in question.

        Also, I don’t find that the idea that they are doing it to a whole group of people and not just a targeted group makes it any better! ;) After all, another way of looking at it is that it is individually defaming each member of the group. (I’m sure you’d be as annoyed as anyone if you saw signs defaming women, say, as a group, or else defaming people of a certain race.)

  • Sjk

    I love it!  It means the gloves are off for a round of discussing evolution verses magic in 1200 point fonts!  

    Bring it!!!  Yeah!!

  • Perry Kaufman

    This billboard could offend me, but I’d rather just laugh at the ridiculousness of the clearly false and platitudinous quote.

  • Eskomo

    I have questions about the background of this episode. Are there any non-religious billboards in South Africa? Have any been taken down because someone was offended? Has anyone tried to change the law that allows the removal of billboards for appearing offensive to someone? Is this a response in an attempt to change that law?

    So many questions, so little info.

  • Hellboundalleee

    Basically yeah, an accident. Big deal.

    But yeah, it is EXTREMELY annoying that not only are believers frigging sexists, but they think the same way as a lot of atheists nowadays.  Everyone assumes I’m male. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t see this garbage: “I think we call all agree (something stupid about women),” And ” (something stupid about women), AMIRIGHT?”

  • Biochemist_2460

    I honestly like
    this one. I think people are looking too much into the design. This is just art
    to catch people attention. It is surrealism. It is used all the time without a
    negative connotation. Why does the image even change anything about the meaning that
    is being conveyed? Would you like to comment on the fact the person is
    reflected at the bottom which suggests a reflective state of mind and also
    implies being in a different medium, such as water. This suggests serenity
    about the state of mind. The only thing you should argue about is the text and not
    the symbolism of an unrelated image tacked on the side.  Even that is dangerously close to the idea of a certain south
    park episode where everyone makes way too much of a gross story. Frankly, all of you that are complaining about it sound like the marketing departments of Starbucks or apple. Focusing on
    such minute and insignificant details without looking into the grander context
    is meaningless. If your faith in your doctrine [teachings/philosophy] is not
    shaken by the statement, then walk away. Why does it bother you? Or, are you so
    unsure of what you believe that you can’t confront such an idea?

    If you are sure
    fine, if not you need to re-examine what you believe. If you don’t you will
    just keep swaying back and forth in the wind, not terribly unlike most politicians.

  • Biochemist_2460

    Not sure why it broke everything up like this.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6O7TY36KKR4RN2JRA7MLV6LEZY Stan Dalone

    I agree, Hemant.  Sure it’s dumb, and it’s offensive.  So what?  That’s no reason to take down a sign like that.  It’d be different if it said something like “Atheists are unbelievers. Unbelievers must be killed [cite from Biblical passage I'm too lazy to look up right now].”  That would be hate speech, an incitement to violence.  Something like this that says “Hur hur, they’re dum!” is absolutely their right to say and they shouldn’t be silenced.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TDouglasBrown Tim Brown

    Accident implies creation (from a god); therefore if we believe we are accidents, then we need to believe in a creator who’s product was not his or her intent.

  • Bob

    Psalm 14:1 in the bible says it all!

  • Chazah

    I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts on this
    article and put my bit in here?! ~ but what I don’t understand abt this
    billboard is how was it supposed to draw people to think abt God in any way? As
    I see no God in it at all. And the respondent said that ~ ‘It quoted the famous
    English poet Francis Thompson thinking that most people would be familiar with
    his work and would possibly respect his comment’ ~ I just think thats very
    arrogant of them to presume that ‘MOST PEOPLE’ would be familiar with this English
    poet!? My family and I are English, love poetry, but we have never heard of
    Francis Thompson and we have never even heard that line of poetry that was used
    [“An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident”]. We are
    Christians who do believe in God, we live in South Africa, we emigrated here
    frm England over 35yrs ago, and we also found this billboard very ugly, the
    flat half-head with no brain is jst awful! and it is offensive as well as being ignorant! It does NOT depict
    the true character of God in any shape or form. There is NOTHING abt God in it!
    We are completely puzzled over what it
    was trying to say!? No wonder an atheist/s took offense over it, we would have
    been the same as we were atheists too before we had an encounter with God that
    completely changed our hearts and lives. And as past atheists, [who still rembr
    how we used to think], it’s a load of rubbish what Francis Thompson wrote that
    an atheist ‘believes himself to be an accident’, as we NEVER thought that way
    at all. Goodness knows where Francis Thompson got that thought from? Also the
    respondent said that it was based on the scripture Psalm 14v1 and Psalm 53v1,
    which says “only foolish say in their hearts there is no God.” On the billboard
    it shows a man’s head, but in this scripture it says ‘….in their hearts… [not in
    their heads!!]. And I’m puzzled again as how would an atheist understand that
    this was based on these scriptures? Not even us as Christians would have understood
    this, as how can ~ “An atheist is a man who believes himself to be an accident”
    ~ be the same as ~ “only foolish say in their hearts there is no God.”~ ??? Two
    completely different sayings! I think some Christian ‘bright-spark’ from that
    church thought this was a great idea… obviously it wasn’t! And they really didn’t
    put much thought or common sense in it either as it back-fired on them and they
    became the ‘empty-headed fools’ in the end!


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