Field of Science

Bad atheist billboard, you

Boy, the recent billboard put up by the American Atheists have gotten a huge amount a really bad criticism.

Massimo Pigliucci hates the message and the tone.
PZ Myers hates the design and thinks the message doesn't work.
Jerry Coyne thinks it's ugly and probably no very effective (but mainly has a problem with Pigliucci, as usual).
Rebecca Watson... hyperbole and cursing is always fun. And truthy.

Bill O'Reilly just hates atheists. (At least he admits that he's "not the smartest guy in town.")

My own thoughts are that the billboard probably works, and in the end that's all that matters. Yes, it could surely be better designed, and yes, the words could perhaps have been more carefully chosen. But at the end of the day, there are two considerations that most commentators ignore, but that I think must be taken into account. First off, and as Dave Silverman emphasizes, whether this billboard works is a matter of evidence. And it apparently does. People are coming out:
The good news is I do have facts. I have the fact that our membership is up 20% since November. I have the fact that we’ve seen a surge in purchases and donations. I have a nearly sold-out regional convention – in Alabama. I have more new members in the local Alabama group than they’ve gotten in the past 9 months combined. I have literally hundreds of emails to American Atheists from people who our message has reached, from all over the world, who truly appreciate our efforts. So, quite frankly, the assertion that we are “driving people into the closet” is simply an assumption Massimo uses to support his conclusion that the strategy is faulty. That’s not factual. We are succeeding quite well.
Silverman has more on the evidence in that post. And as he says in the interview, he wouldn't be on O'Reilly if it wasn't for the billboard, would he?

And that's the other consideration, namely that pretty much all that matters at this point in time is to let everyone know that we are atheists, and we are here. There are still people who don't really believe that we don't believe in their gods, and that it's not because we haven't read the Bible, or that we hate God. Religion is a scam, and the more people who know that we are many who think so, the more people will join us, because there are atheists in religious communities, sitting around in church every Sunday just because that's what one does.

Not anymore.

P.S. If you're wondering about the dearth of posts here lately, there are two reasons. Maybe three. I'm frightfully busy, working on 5+ different projects. I have recently experienced the feeling that myself and other bloggers are spinning our wheels, walking in each other's footsteps, wanking too much (figuratively speaking). But definitely also to finally have the opportunity to use the word 'dearth'.


  1. Those are similar to my thoughts, although I'm more willing to come right out and say that the billboard is ugly and the message is grating and I just plain don't like it.

    That said, I don't think it's invalid that people want to put out a grating message that sits uncomfortably with myself and many other atheists. They are not under some kind of obligation to avoid making me uncomfortable.

    And what's more, by spreading a message that makes even folks like me feel uncomfortable, they are pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable. That's the other side of it, you say "all that matters at this point in time is to let everyone know that we are atheists, and we are here." But I think it also matters to try and push on the boundaries of what is allowed in the public conversation.

    This billboard, as tacky as I find it, does that. The CoR billboards look a hell of a lot less controversial by comparison, eh?

  2. Hmm, I don't actually dislike it, though. As for Msassimo's objection that it's incorrect - who cares? Yes, there will be people who don't KNOW this (like there will be people who don't really know they want that cheeseburger). But it's a billboard, not a peer-reviewed publication.

    But yes, I could also imagine that it could be made better, which is as far as I'll go in saying I dislike it.

  3. The saying, attributed to P.T. Barnum, is that "all publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right."


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