Praise Darwin, but please don’t PRAISE Darwin

The fairly recent trend of groups buying ad space to promote rationalism is fantastic. The bus campaign in the UK is wonderful, and even though Tracy disagrees, I think the slogan is perfect: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It’s a casual and positive statement, and the campaign itself drew attention to the nation’s many atheists and freethinkers.

Donna wrote about the Colorado Coalition for Reason’s billboards, which featured serene clouds and the slogan, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” That, too, is positive and non-confrontational, making it all the more telling that local Christian groups still made a concerted effort to have them removed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation – which fights hard to protect the separation of church and state in the U.S. – has also jumped in. Yesterday, press releases announced billboard ads going up around the country, including one in Whitehall, Ohio. The mayor of that town said some ignorant things about freethinkers in response to a request for the town to honor Darwin’s birthday on February 12. From the press release:

“We were so shocked and offended at the statement by Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe to CBNS-TV Channel 10 saying, “We are a Christian nation,” and dismissing a constitutional violation because: ‘They’re atheists, they’re antagonists and they’re a minority,’ ” said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The FfRF opted for this billboard:

Previous FfRF billboards had the phrase “Imagine no religion,” but this new slogan was created to focus on Darwin in the 150-year anniversary of the publishing of On the Origins of Species. The new slogan has also appeared on billboards in Dover, PA, Dayton, OH, and Madison, WI.

Speaking as a copywriter, that billboard appears to be the result of cleverness gone wild. The slogan “Praise Darwin” is in fact clever – the idea behind celebrating Darwin Day is to praise a very intelligent man and his groundbreaking idea, so the phrase can mean that while satirizing the theistic outburst of “Praise Jesus,” in which usage “praise” has a different connotation of blind worship.

Unfortunately, I suspect that’s not what’s going to be conveyed. Instead of people seeing satire and taking the “praise” to mean “celebrate the accomplishments of,” they’re going to see Darwinists worshiping their Atheist religion’s God. They constantly accuse evolutionary scientists of elevating Darwin to a god-like status, blindly believing in his theories without question and finding data to support the conclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth, but good luck convincing them of that when they bring up this billboard.

I think the FfRF does a wonderful job of protecting our rights and encouraging discourse, even inspiring freethinkers to take action and contact their politicians when it really matters. In this case, though, I think they screwed up.

What do you think?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I think they screwed up in the wording of the sign will probably irritate the majority of their followers including me.

  2. I’m gonna have to agree with you on this one. You have know and understand common counterarguments to your position if you plan on changing anyone’s mind. It seems here that they played right into one of the most frustrating ones.

  3. The true believers will read what true believers read. Maybe “In Praise of..” might have been more succinct. The thing that always gets me about those “TBers” in question is that they’ve had the floor quite some time now, but if we try to get a word in edgewise, they cry foul. like they are the only ones allowed a say.

  4. Who is this aimed at? It’s definately not a screwup, that was a fully intentional jab at religion.

    We know that praise means celebrate his accomplishments (just like we know the difference between a scientific theory and the common meaning of that word.)

    I think it’s a clever nose-tweak to those who believe we deify Darwin. They’re going to believe it with or without this billboard, once again not giving the meaning or intent any thought but just conforming it to their already held beliefs (like the New Scientist “Darwin Was Wrong” cover.)

    Very interesting where this billboard is running. Sounds like the FRFF is aiming for a broo-ha-ha, where media attention will be brought to their tactic and people may actually have to (gasp) think about it.

  5. In addition to the “Evolutionists worship Darwin” problem, the phrase “Evolve Beyond Belief” reinforces the misconception that evolution and atheism are equivalent.

  6. There are two minds to this. Your point, Rebecca, is accurate – that there are those who will misinterpret and say that we are guilty of worship. Those who make their money from religion, and know PR, will also use this to their advantage — “the ungodly have their God, it is Darwin.” But the point is not to take those who are of such a mind and throw their words at them. It is to take mainstream secular Americans and show that we can poke fun at the fundamentalists – that there is a secular alternative. I doubt that run of the mill Lutherans are going to be upset by Praise Darwin – -they might find it unique enough to investigate it.
    So, yes — from one aspect, they blew it- but if it gets PR — even negative PR from newsmen interviewing the Preachers then interviewing skeptics– it will be much better than not.

  7. Since my original post about the atheist bus slogan, I’ve commented elsewhere that I stand by my comments that it’s not what I’d go for to attract atheists, but I do acknowledge that as a PR campaign (not a marketing campaign) it’s a very good choice. This is in light of the additional PR mileage gained from the ASA complaints and also the Christian ads which have been funded in response and aren’t quite as reasonable in tone.

    As a slogan for atheists or those looking for clarity or inspiration about God, it really doesn’t do it for me, but as a headline-grabber, it’s perfect. PR is a different objective though, and if that was the intent of the campaign than that does put a different light on it.

    It seems like you’re in a similar position about this Praise Darwin campaign (about which I agree with you), but it may be that it attracts loads of media attention by dint of being so provocative, and the ‘can religion and Darwinism be reconciled’ angle might turn out to be better for debate than it appears.

    It depends what their objectives are. I thought the atheist bus campaign’s objectives were to send a message to closet atheists in London via bus advertising, but I think the objectives were actually to stimulate debate in the press and across the world, which they’ve achieved to an amazing degree.

  8. I agree. It’s kind of clever, but it totally conveys the wrong message. Freethinkers do not worship Darwin, but this billboard implies that we do.

  9. I don’t like the idea of idolizing historical figures. Yes, Darwin was a remarkable scientist and should definitely be credited for one of the most noteworthy accomplishments in the history of science. I don’t, however, consider him (or anyone else) to have been infallible or above criticism. The word “praise” seems much too personality-cultish for my liking.

  10. I agree with those of you saying that the True Believers will never be convinced by a billboard anyway – those are hardly the people I’m concerned with. I’m much more interested in theists who aren’t familiar with the debate, or who passively accept creationism/intelligent design. I really don’t think this billboard will have a positive effect on them, and moreso I think it will have a negative effect.

    As for the idea of it inspiring debate, I agree that it can be useful in that way, but there are better ways to do it. As tkingdoll says, the London bus slogan was better in that regard.

  11. First, note that this is a Ray and Kirk joint, way of the master all over again.
    I wrote in to them and got an interesting response of about 30 specific biblical science claims.

    In the end they said they’re just out to push religion, not talk about science… Very convenient and dishonest.

    ps. I prefer the EvolveFish to avoid any darwin-praising confusion.

  12. Sometimes, when I’m in a cynical mood, I’m compelled to think that the only way out is through. Sort of like:

    “Yes! Evolution is our religion, Darwin is our prophet, and you better stop blaspheming His Name an show some respect!”

  13. I can see what they tried to do but this is jsut gonna stoke the fires of the “They’ve made Darwin a deity” creationist crowd.

  14. I like the idea of showing people that the thought in the back of their head is valid. The tag line from the London campaign, “just be good for goodness sake” (if memory serves) hit the mark spot on. How many times have we all heard the story about the person (sometimes ourselves) who didn’t know that they were a skeptic, until they met another one. The point of any msg like this should convey,”hey, its okay not to believe”.

  15. This worries me a little. The last thing we need is for religionists to complain that we do the same thing-making a religion out of “Darwinism.” When in fact it is nothing of the sort. I sometimes worry that the ffrf is a little too strident in their approach.

  16. I would agree that this kind of message plays right into the hands of those who already say that atheists worship Darwin to discredit both.

    But the bigger issue, as I see it, is with your average run-of-the-mill theist that doesn’t really know or think much about atheism or evolution beyond a few general misconceptions.

    I could easily imagine someone driving by this sign and, having never believed it before, coming to the conclusion that Darwin is a figure of worship, leading to more misconceptions and making them more resistant to evolutionary theory when they encounter it subsequently.

    I am all for this recent trend of getting the A-word out there, making it less scary for, you know, people on the fence. But it’s a fine line between letting people know they don’t have to be ashamed of their rationalism and fueling the culture war.

    Overall, I don’t care for this particular sign in its execution, but I love it in principle.

  17. @buffalodavid: “How many times have we all heard the story about the person (sometimes ourselves) who didn’t know that they were a skeptic, until they met another one.”

    Spot on. I think that the greatest good that comes from these campaigns is to highlight the number of freethinkers, encouraging others to explore their own doubts.

  18. The great thing about campaigns — it isn’t difficult to re-tool. So, hopefully they will. Otherwise, they make the best of a campaign that was not thought out too well.

  19. This might be a case of blaming the innocent. Like accusing a rape victim of encouraging the rape by having been scantily clad.

    We know that when we say “Praise Darwin” we’re not meaning “praise” in the same way others mean “Praise God.” We know that. FFRF knows that. Any rational human knows that.

    Why continue to kowtow to the religious nuts who inevitably find something wrong with everything non-believers (and even believers of other religions) do? I say, post whatever the hell we want, and if the believers are too stupid to get it, then don’t blame us. Anyway, if I have to pass by about thirty churches on my 3-mile bus ride to the metro, they can deal with a few little pro-reason posters.

    I hate the idea of “don’t rock the boat.” Especially when it’s the nutters who have been navigating that boat for centuries.

  20. The FFRF has been really disappointing me of late. I didn’t agree with the wording on the sign they put up in the Olympia Washington Capitol building, and I don’t agree with the wording on this. I happened to get to speak with Dan Barker last night about the sign in Washington State. I asked him if he thought it was appropriate for the sign to be making positive claims (there are no gods, angels, or devils), which shifts the burden of proof away from the theist to the atheist. He basically replied that in common usage we usually say “There are no leprechauns”, and “It was just a sign”. But I think Dan is missing the point. I actually liked the UK ad “There is probably no god”. Because it wasn’t an absolute claim. I think that’s really important.

    As for this “praise darwin” sign, I agree with what others have said, it’s not a good tactic because it plays into the false ideas theists already have about non-believers.

  21. Why the hell do so many people in our camp not see and try to correct for the damage these kinds of ads accidentally do to the reality based community? Often I hear “the good ones will read it correctly and only an idiot will read it the wrong way” – No.. anyone that wants to read it the wrong way, even those of like mind, can and will see the horrible implications and find it offensive – whether accidental or not.

    Makes me wish freethinkers had a solid organizational movement to help head up these kinds of blunders – oh wait, that’s what FFRF is supposed to be. :P

  22. I’m with you on the “cleverness gone wild” aspect of the wording. “Praise” is a loaded word that many theists will–accidentally or purposefully–misinterpret to our disadvantage.

    It’s the kind of thing that might work fine as an in-group message, but not for a PR campaign.

  23. @Procrustes: I think you misunderstand my point. I LIKE rocking the boat. The problem with this billboard is not that it is too forceful, but that it gives ammunition to creationists and misleads people about what atheists believe.

  24. I don’t think it maters. The die hard religious fanatics already believe we PRAISE Darwin anyway, so I don’t think it’s such a big deal. I actually like the use of the word, I don’t think it will have the effect you claim.

  25. Am I the only one who thinks that FfRF tends to do more harm than good concerning PR issues? Quite frankly, their rhetoric is often antagonistic and tends to rally people against the atheist community rather than allow our voices to be heard.

    I agree with what they stand for, but I think diplomacy goes a long way, especially when you are already representing one of the most hated minorities in the country.

  26. Nope, I don’t think “Praise Darwin” is a mistake. It’s a conversation starter. Any rational person who interprets it as a religious message can easily be brought to understand that it isn’t. Praise doesn’t mean worship. They’re not synonyms, and that’s easy to explain.

    There will be those Xtians who jump on it with a misinterpretation, but those people are beyond hope anyway as they are either dishonest or just too stupid for hope. There is nothing the anti-theist side can say that some sophists won’t distort for their theist case. PZ Myers’s blog has examples of that all the time.

    I was more taken aback by the mayor dismissing the atheists as “a minority,” as if minorities should be ignored be ignored and/or have their rights trampled. There’s a guy undeserving of public office.

  27. @Rebecca: Does *it* mislead people, or are people misled by it? Or is there a difference?

    My problem is that if we’re constantly made to worry about all the different meanings our words can have to people if they’re manipulated into thinking that way, then, in effect, we’re self-chilling our speech. We’re playing the game by their rules, not ours.

    With regard to ammunition, aren’t believers and non-believers intrinsically opposed to one another, such that, fundamentally, anything one does or says (at least in furtherance of either belief or non-belief) is ammunition for the other?

    I do agree that we should not intentionally try to mislead people, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening with the FFRF sign. I also agree that I would have done it differently, and some past efforts on their behalf have been a bit to callous and possibly unnecessary for my tastes, but I’m just not sure I want to jump on the condemnation bandwagon when, at the heart of it all, it is, as you suggest, a clever play on words.

    After all, just the mere mention of having a “Darwin Day” has already churned animosity aplenty. What’s the harm in suggesting some proper laudation for the man? (I mean, what else would you have them say, “Laud Darwin”? ;) )

  28. @Procrustes:

    Does *it* mislead people, or are people misled by it? Or is there a difference?

    In advertising, there is no difference.

    With regard to ammunition, aren’t believers and non-believers intrinsically opposed to one another, such that, fundamentally, anything one does or says (at least in furtherance of either belief or non-belief) is ammunition for the other?

    No. Happily, the world is not that black and white. :)

  29. Thank you for this interesting discussion. It reminds me of a radio interview I heard over the weekend in which Richard Dawkins was discussing his sometimes aggressive position in promoting his view of the world. He said that he has often gotten calls to tone down his message, that he is providing ammunition to his foes and this works against Evolution.

    His response was interesting and went something like this (if I remember correctly) , he said it is how you perceive the battle. For him, this is not a battle about Creationism vs. Evolution. From Professor Dawkins’ view, the real war is Naturalism vs. Supernaturalism. (The evolution vs. creationism is but a skirmish in this war.) He says that as a consequence, it can appear that you are losing a particular battle while you focus on winning the war.

    I see his point. I like the Praise Dawrin billboard – Hallelujah!!!


  30. It’s awfully stuffy and humorless too. I prefer slogans with a bit of humor to them. Something like:

    Become a Nonbeliever
    We Have Cookies

    …for example.

  31. I’m sure I’m parroting, but:

    I think we’re over thinking it. It’s a billboard. Why should we care about the “optics” of Darwin when most people already have their mind made up about what he represents? We’re already heathens and even the most logical and even tempered explaination is falling on deaf ears.

    There is a way around this by leveraging “intelligent design”, but it’s far too delicate for either side to entertain or execute successfully.

  32. Feeling persecuted is just way to much fun for some people. It can lead religious folk to feel purposeful and affirmed in their beliefs and it can lead the non religious to feel smug and superior. Humor, rocking the boat and poking at sacred cows is usually great stuff, but public statements and PR campaigns regarding philosophy and religion are probably not well served when they’re vague, obtuse or easily misinterpreted.

    I prefer my holy water straight when I’m eating sacred cow served up by virgins.

  33. You know what the great thing about being a freethinker is? No one speaks for you. You can say: “Oh, some guys placed a ‘Praise Darwin’ billboard? Why are you telling me? Go tell the ones who are responsible for it!”

    @greenishblu: Thank you! I was ready to yield first place to sliced bread, but what the heck.

  34. You guys seem to be more moderate than most when these subjects are brought to the fore. Please understand I am not ‘having a go’ I truly am interested. I love science and free thinking, but I have found nothing that convinces me enough…, not to completely rule out the possibility of God. I not saying I will agree with you I just want to understand this point of view.

  35. @echobucket: @Miguel Picanco:
    There are a lot of comments about how negative atheist campaigns are causing such a problem. You should notice so much that is going on behind the scenes. local meetings, ethical development, community support, skepchick fun… Tons of good stuff.
    To get things in the news and to draw attention, it’s necessary to have a bit of an edge. You can take the ‘high road’ and suggest we should be nothing but the epitome of good manners and sound logic, but nobody wants to hear that. It’s interesting to do that in marketing and it’s not necessary to have that define the whole movement.
    @buffalodavid: identifies the real value – that we find others like ourselves. And they find us.

  36. Andres and James: possible COTW? (Not sure which comment I like more.)

    @Martin Moran: I recall Richard Dawkins saying atheism and theism could be thought of on a seven-point scale, where seven is certainty there is no god. He put himself at a 6.9. Your conceding that there might be a god means your atheism score is a little lower, I guess.

  37. @Andrés Diplotti:

    You know what the great thing about being a freethinker is? No one speaks for you. You can say: “Oh, some guys placed a ‘Praise Darwin’ billboard? Why are you telling me? Go tell the ones who are responsible for it!”

    Is that directed at my post, or am I misreading you? If you’re really wondering why I’m mentioning it here, it’s because I honestly wanted to hear the views of the Skepchick readers, hence the question I ended the post with.

  38. Funny thing about the English language, one word can have multiple meanings. Because, if you say, “You’ve done a good job”, you are praising someone, but if you worship someone/thing, you are praising them also.

    So, this gets us into a sticky situation. You can say “Darwin was a great scientist”, and you will be praising him.

    A little critical thinking would tell you its satire, since its “praising” Darwin, but written like an Illuminated Manuscript. As such, the religous will attack in the standard way, notably, Darwin is an athiests god. Knowing that, you should have your counters ready.

    So, while I’m not a big fan of it, my official stance on this issue is….Proceed…With caution.

  39. @YourSkepticalGuy: The worry over giving ammunition to creationists is one I see in both outspoken, in-your-face atheists and more moderate, nicey-nice humanists/freethinkers/etc. 98% of the time I feel those accusations are unwarranted, and I strongly believe that the way to reach more people is to have both camps reaching out.

  40. @Steve:
    “We have cookies” – Love it!
    What I like about a more light-hearted, humorous statement is the way it works on two levels:
    1) The TB view is so silly we aren’t even threatened by it. We are above their “fire and brimstone” fear mongering. The fight is already won because we have reality and perspective on our side.
    2) Middle of the road society doesn’t need to be afraid of us. Look! Athiests have a sense of humor! We can poke fun at ourselves, too.

    As stated elsewhere, the TB’s are going to hate us no matter what we say. Of the groups that might be swayed by a few seconds exposure to a glib statement on a bus, the only message they need to take away from it is we are here and we mean you no harm. Now take me to your leader…

  41. I like the other ads, but the “Praise Darwin” one is incredibly stupid. Yes, Darwin was a great scientist and evolution is a strong theory. Yes, I’m looking forward to Darwin Day. But not because I’m an atheist, because I’m a biology major. I’d be just as happy celebrating Mendel or Pasteur. Hell, outside of biology there are great scientists that I would like to have their own day to remember their work (Newton, Einstein, Bohr, and Curry to name a few).

    I’m also sick of the idea that science=atheism. Yes, it can lead to it, there’s a reason there is a disproportionate number of scientists that are atheists. But it is not a productive area of discussion. Public perception of science (elitist bastards) is already bad enough. Let’s not make it worse by equating it with a religious position.

  42. @ Rebecca, you’re are right in the London Bus case for me certainly because the word probably was used. I guess in this case it’s the Evolve beyond belief bit. I do understand it could be a play on words though, but I doubt it being an Atheist organization.

  43. I like the billboard’s snark. I understand why people will think it’s counterproductive, but it makes an atheist like me smile — which is a good thing.

    And I think that every WTF! it promotes in the general population is probably a good thing. Especially if kids riding in cars get to see their overreligious parents foam at the mouth, then look it up on the Internet, understand the snark, and get to bask in their own coolness as a result.

    Put another way: the powerful mock the weak to keep them in their place and to goad them into revealing their weakness. That’s the point of the zillion black billboards signed “-God” that infest my home state of Texas. Well, the theists have the power of numbers, but I have the power of facts, and I like the way the FFRF translates those facts into a good game face, full of confidence and snark.

  44. Agree 100%. Even before reading what was written after the image of the billboard, my hands were twitching to comment: “nooooo!!!”. I’ve seen Darwin been called “our god” way too many times.

  45. @SkepLit: I’m halfway considering taking those images and printing up cookie cutters using my RepRap.

    …which is way off topic and I really should be doing something more constructive with my time…

  46. It’s something about the way the billboard is designed that makes me feel icky about it. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe if it had an exclamation point, like “Praise Darwin!” then it’d be more obviously playful.

  47. @Martin Moran: You can’t prove a negative. You can never prove that God does not exist. But the burden is on the church to prove that he does exist. Which they have not done.

    They have a book written in the Bronze Age that says “yeah, God is real. I used to run into him all the time and he would totally help me out.” But that is not proof.

    So, speaking just for myself, it is not that I don’t want to believe in God. It is that I can’t because I have not been shown any good reason to think that he is real and not something just made up like the thousands of other gods.

  48. The problem I have with this argument and the last time I used this I got shot down in flames in all directions. This time I will try to explain a little better. Science works a relevant example would be this, me communicating with you.
    Science at the moment only explains 4% of the universe, although I am certain that when the LHC gets going that will change. For me Black Holes that destroy the Earth, No. Alternate Universes(String Theory) unlikely, Higgs boson yes but this means there is a Higgs Field, my interpretation is liquid mater everywhere.
    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  49. I’m saving my praise for the beatification of James Randi.

    Seriously, advertising is great, but I’d prefer the money was used for more scholarships for ”
    B” students, like me.

  50. I see these types of ads less as a way to attract new atheists and more as a way to promote atheism as a minority that shouldn’t be belittled any more than other minorities. And if these little ads get people noticing that there are more of us than that “poor soul” down the street who will be going to hell, I think that’s a good thing. However, I think there needs to be a clear message conveyed that we are regular people, we just believe in one god less than they do. I don’t think the FFRF’s message gets that across. Text is about the worst way to convey irony or sarcasm and people will read into it what they want. I don’t think this helps us. They should say what they want to say and stop trying to out-clever them.

  51. And to clarify the above because I realize it sounds like I’m associating atheism and evolutionary theory: They should have said something clear about evolution; the atheist ads should say something clear about atheism.

  52. @Kimbo Jones: That’s my thinking too. I think the analogy to gay rights I sometimes hear is a pretty good one. The goal isn’t necessarily to covert people but to slowly raise awareness that there are: a) a lot more of us than most religious people think, and b) that their negative stereotypes about us are clearly unsupportable. For the second of these reasons, I think Rebecca’s right about the wording of the sign.

    What we really need is an atheist equivalent to “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” But I can’t think how without using the word “brights,” which I loathe.

  53. @Rebecca:

    I respect your view but do not share it in all respects…

    Actually, as I try to parse what you have written, I realize I am not quite sure I understand your view.

    Certainly cooperation is preferable, in general, to non-cooperation. I do not believe that there are, in point of fact, just two camps or that it is going to be easy to fashion a one-size fits all outreach message.

    On top of this, I also am a bit reluctant to second-guess how an organization decides to commit its own hard resources which are often far-too limited. The famous armchair quarterback is not limited to actual sporting contests.

    There are many alternative ideas swirling around but I have not heard a call to take up a collection and actually design and purchase an alternative billboard. Could enough of us agree on an alternative that could get sufficiently funded? If so, why don’t we?


  54. @YourSkepticalGuy: “Actually, as I try to parse what you have written, I realize I am not quite sure I understand your view.”

    I agree, I think you don’t understand it. I specifically said that I think there should be multiple, differing tactics taken by different groups. Obviously there aren’t just two camps – I was using them as examples of my point, that the hardcore in-your-face groups should do their thing just as well as the moderate let’s-all-get-along groups should do their thing. There’s no such thing as once-size-fits-all. That was my point.

    As for taking up a collection and doing a billboard, I don’t really follow what you’re saying. Do you mean Skepchick should? If so, why? To what end? There are plenty of other groups doing that, and they’re doing a fine enough job.


    Thank you for that explanation – it seems like we are more in agreement than I thought. (Somewhat comforting for me, but maybe not for you…)

    Re: billboards and skepchick. I was not proposing that Skepchick actually do a billboard or not do a billboard.

    My point, if I had one, is that there are many issues associated with actually getting one done. Among those issues, finding someone to “let you” then understanding the demographics of that/those area(s), and deciding on a message that you believe, based upon your past success/failure in achieving whatever goal you had, and then getting it actually done. Not having actually addressed all these issues and the other issues I know nothing about, I can only bet that there are many compromises and issues along the way. Absent being in the shoes of those who get these messages done, it is hard to be too critical of their work.

    If the question is to address messages in the abstract without regard to the real-world questions (whatever they are) as a thought-experiment, it would help to explain some of the premises behind the various critiques. Who do you think the audience is? What are you trying to accomplish?

    Your original question was, does think that the FFRF screwed up. I just find that a hard question to answer for some of the reasons I gave, and I do not know how other people can answer the question without thinking about some of these real-world issues associated with getting any message out.

    Just as I mention I do not want to second-guess, there is a certain amount of benefit of the doubt granted to those I believe are informed about an issue and have some reputation of critical thinking.

    Perhaps some of the posts would be more interesting if it were supposed that the FFRF did not mess up – what does that suggest about the premises, demographics, purpose, timing, etc. of the message?


  56. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong or offensive about the billboard (the first one at least, the Darwin one is a catastrophe for all the reasons listed above) but I don’t think these atheist billboard campaigns are very well thought out.

    First of all, billboards are for advertising (simple minded shallow advertising at that) and if you’re advertising your religion you are by definition an evangelist. Does it make sense to be an evengelical atheist? Are they advocating anything more than a lack of belief in something?
    If atheism is a religion then it’s a pretty thin one. And if it’s not why are they evangelizing. Back to the drawing board.
    Secondly, the Freedom From Religion organization is a PR disaster. Dan Barker is the last guy who should be the public face for anything.
    If they want to organize non believers they should organize around something worthwhile. Food drives for the 3rd world and that sort of thing.

  57. Given the style of the billboard, it’d make a good Monty Python style cartoon. If they just unhinged the jaw, give him googly eyes and put blinking lights around the boarder to make it a cheesy little display, it’d come off as funny, and that would defuse it as ammunition for the other side while highlighting the clever side of the word praise.

  58. I think the billboard sucks, but for slightly different reasons. Anyone reading this site will look at it, read everything on it, and know exactly what it is trying to address. Most people driving past it will just say “huh?”, or not pay attention at all.

    There’s too much text, the font is hard to read and it doesn’t grab your attention.

  59. I agree. I don’t like it. Praise ideas (that work), not people.

    Newton was an asshole. He had great ideas. Deal with it.

  60. I’m also sick of the idea that science=atheism. Yes, it can lead to it, there’s a reason there is a disproportionate number of scientists that are atheists. But it is not a productive area of discussion. Public perception of science (elitist bastards) is already bad enough. Let’s not make it worse by equating it with a religious position.

    Thanks, I wasn’t thinking that all scientists are atheists…I thought I read in Skeptic Magazine it was like 42 percent believed in a God.(I’ll stand correction)That “Evolve Beyond Belief ” hmmm seems like a barb though. I also agree that picking on the religious only gives them more fuel for the fire of their convictions. I also agree that people should be reminded that “God or no God” is a personal matter.

  61. @virginskepchick:

    Thanks, I wasn’t thinking that all scientists are atheists…I thought I read in Skeptic Magazine it was like 42 percent believed in a God.

    It would be interesting to see what correlations there are between any given field of science and nontheism. Are astronomers and biologists more likely to be nontheists than, say, chemists? Good luck getting funding for that study.

  62. Considering Jeebus’-fanboys fanaticism, I doubt there would be any clever thing they could use without drawing the ire of said fanboys.
    I do see your point, but honestly I think if FfRF is going to get shit from these people, maybe it is better to cause a REAL ruckus, so that they may better present their opinion. As they say… any press is good press.

  63. They spent a lot of money pretty much invalidating anything else they have to say forever more, to the people who most needed to hear it. Shit. There goes the occasional donation I’ve sent them in the past – contributed to people lacking PR sense.

  64. @left_brain18:
    I think that’s overstating things a bit. I’m definitely in the camp that thinks this particular sign might have a net negative effect… But I don’t think it’s going to have THAT much of an impact one way or another.

  65. Hey Everyone! I live in Columbus, Oh. Whitehall, one of the Columbus suburbs, is one of the locations FFRF recently put up a “Praise Darwin” billboard.

    I wanted to share Darwin Day Columbus (, which is an attempt to get local groups having Darwin events working together and the events listed in one place.

    We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response so far! Thanks!

  66. I like this. It reminds me of a billboard near my home a couple of years ago, around November. Planned Parenthood had paid to put an ad on it, which was a red background with a couple of white splotches, and it said “Santa only comes once a year. The rest of us use condoms.”

    Great ad! It got lots of free press. As you can imagine, it was widely vilified. Those who approved were less vocal. Eventually it was vandalized. But the message got out.

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