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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Which makes more sense; Atheism or Christianity?

On Thursday (16/10/08) I will be debating Mike Paget on the subject 'Which makes more sense; Atheism or Christianity?' The debate will be at 6PM in The Theatre Lounge, Level 3 Tower, UTS, Sydney. It is being presented by Credo, a campus-based religious group, so I am expecting the audience to be a bit slanted towards belief and it might be a tough crowd.

Mike is the Anglican chaplain for UTS and is also the assistant minister for St Barnabas Broadway. He also writes a blog.Then there's me, I simply haven't seen any convincing, objectively verifiable evidence to prove the existence of a god, hence I am an atheist. I am also ordained, so 'Reverend Alan vs Reverend Mike' might be an appropriate subtitle for the debate.

You can see the promotional material here, here and here.

There are a few points to make about the flyer though:

'Atheism and Christianity are both very prominent beliefs in our society today '

Atheism is not a 'belief', but a lack of belief. Atheism is to belief as bald is to hair colour

'Atheism, which denies the existence of a God, gods or the supernatural...'

Atheism doesn't deny their existence, just finds no evidence and therefore no reason to believe in them. I think these people equate atheism with antitheism. An atheist can deny the existance of a god, but is not required to. It is a much more solid position to say 'until there is reasonable evidence, I will retain the null hypothesis that belief in god is unnecessary.'

On top of that, most of the atheists that I've heard talk on the subject would be welcoming of any decent evidence for the existance of a god. If it were to be found, it would expand our view of the universe and all that is exponentially.

I think it is a rather outdated concept that an atheist is a grumpy old scholar that rants on and on about the impossibility of a god. Atheists today seem more interested in the reasons that people choose to believe in something with no decent evidence for doing so and we are more than happy to run comprehensive experiments on any testable claim made by proponants of religion. If an interactionalist god did exist, it should leave testable traces in the physical world. So far, none have been found. The universe appears exactly as would be expected if there were no god, so it is unnecdessary to propose the existancwe of one.

'the Christian Bible and its belief in one God has remained unchanged for 2000 years.'

What? WHAT? UNCHANGED???!!!!! That has to be one of the most ignorant sentences I've read from a christian. It's so wrong, I don't know where to start... ummm addition of Jesus as God; Judaism > Christainity; Umpteen reinterpretations and rewritings of the bible; Mistranslations leading to major plot twists (Mary went from being a young girl to a virgin... shhh, don't tell the Catholics!)

I look forward to the debate and I think it is going to be very stimulating and should get the audience thinking about the basis of their religious position.

If you're in the area, come along!

I hope to see you there.

If you would like more info you can contact me at


  1. The Bible as we know it did not exist until the fourth century.

    Are they just lying, are they breathtakingly ignorant, or do they just make it up as they go along? Serious question.

  2. Quote:
    "the Christian Bible and its belief in one God has remained unchanged for 2000 years"

    And I thought Mark's and John's endings were added much later to the Gospels... Not to mention that early church fathers including Justin Martyr thougth Jesus was adopted at baptism to "the son of God", trinity was a late second century development and Jesus got officially promoted in the 4th century to the essense trinity...

  3. Dave, no one is "breathtakingly ignorant". The canon was put together around 300AD, but the gospels, Acts and Paul's letters (so pretty much the entire New Testament) have been reliably dated to the first century. In fact some of Paul's stuff is dated around 50 AD.

    The problem was there was a stack of other writings floating around, for example the Gospel of Thomas- written late 2nd century AD, so the church had to decide what was authoritative and what wasn't. The most reliably writings won out- the ones written early on, by either witnesses or friends of witnesses etc.

    Peter, the trinity is a concept used to explain what's described in the writings themselves. The word trinity doesn't appear in the bible as far as I'm aware (In fact I'm sure it doesn't)

  4. So in other words, Dave no one is saying the "bible as a whole" hasn't changed. We're saying the writings which make up the bible are reliable. There's a big difference between those statements.

  5. Hey, Trav, I was wondering where you'd got to! Hope you had a good weekend.

    I hope you'll understand the following two statements:

    1) I know there's a world of difference between saying the "bible as a whole hasn't changed" and that the writings of the bible existed before it was compiled.

    2) I am not the one that is claiming that the bible has not changed in 2000 years. The only people who are claiming that are Credo, the UTS Christians.

    You claim they are not 'breathtakingly ignorant' in making this assertion, but you fail to explain why you think that. Are they then deliberately lying, or are they making it all up as they go along?

    I know we disagree on a whole host of things, like what can be considered a justified true belief in this awesome universe. But Trav, come on, even you must admit that Credo are talking out of their arse on this one.

  6. Hey Dave,

    I am good! I trust you're likewise.

    I think this gets down to semantics really.

    I don't think the credo's are trying to claim that the bible in itself hasn't changed for 2000 years, it doesnt make sense for the reason you mentioned- Mike Paget and co would surely know when the canonisation process happened. However, they can claim the writings which make up the bible haven't changed. So if you read the statement as "the entire bible and it's compilation hasn't changed" for 2000 years then clearly that's not true because it hasn't been around that long.

    But my contention is this: the writings which "eventually made up what we now call the bible" haven't changed for nearly 2000 years.


  7. trav,

    Trinity is mentioned in some Bibles in 1 John 5:7, but that was famously added later. Trinity is not described in the writing, it was copied from egyptians in Egypt.

    Canon was not put together around 300AD, just look at the Codex Sinaiticus from circa 350AD or the oldest vulgate, Codex Fuldensis from 545AD.

    trav said:
    "The most reliably writings won out- the ones written early on, by either witnesses or friends of witnesses etc."

    Again another Christian myth. Modern scholars know that at the most seven of the letters are were written by Paul. The rest were by other people. And even the text within those seven contradict each other.

    We do not know if there were witnesses, some writers claim that there were witnesses.

    trav said:
    "We're saying the writings which make up the bible are reliable."

    Yet another christian misinformation. We do not have originals, texts were constantly changed, and we do not have reliable extra biblical info about any of the events. For example less than half of the verses in Mark are identical in the old manuscrips copies.

    trav said:
    "eventually made up what we now call the bible" haven't changed for nearly 2000 years.

    Canon was changing quite a lot during the first 400 years, Vulgate period was somewhat stable, but since 1611 it has kept on changing and today the Bible(s) [doctrines, interpretation and content] are changing faster than ever.

  8. Hi Trav,

    Credo's claims were linked by Alan in the post and I think Alan quoted and challenged them fairly.

    By the way, I'm not claiming that Mike Paget himself was necessarily involved in creating the promotional materials.

    Here again is the passage I object to:

    Atheism and Christianity are both
    very prominent beliefs in our society today and their
    fundamental differences have been the fuel for much
    recent debate. Atheism, which denies the existence of a God,
    gods or the supernatural, has been growing in prominence
    over the past century while the Christian Bible and its belief
    in one God has remained unchanged for 2000 years.
    The question for you is: which belief is correct?
    logically, historically, scientifically, factually
    and emotionally, which makes more sense?

    Did you spot that? Apart from misrepresenting my view that atheism is not a belief, merely a lack of belief in personal god, here's where they are lying, ignorant or making stuff up:

    the Christian Bible and its belief
    in one God has remained unchanged for 2000 years.

    That. Is. Not. True.

  9. Just one qustion:

    Who framed the question - Which makes more sense...

    It seems a little odd comparing a religion/world view with a position.

    Perhaps should have been:

    Which makes more sense Atheism or Theism?


    Which makes more sense (insert non-religions world view/code of ethics here) or Christianity?

    but then that may not have drawn in the punters.

    Kudos to you Rev. Alan for challenging yourself

  10. Sean, I'm not 100% on how the topic came about. It was to be an 'Atheism vs Christianity' thing from the start. I think it may have been 'science vs christianity' at one stage, but I am not a scientist, so that'd be a bit silly.

    I agree that the final debate question was not well balanced, but I think it worked out ok. We would like to look at a more focused topic if we get the chance to do this again.

  11. Sean & Alan,

    Choosing a debate title is a matter of compromise. Mike Paget first suggested, stating that was the Dawkins position: 'Has science disproved Christianity?' I explained it was unacceptable as that is not the Dawkins stance nor is it of the AFA at all.

    I then suggested, as Atheism does not prioritise Christianity: “Which is a more reasonable stance, Atheism or religion?”

    Because Mike is of the Christian persuasion, and also considered that using the word sense’ was “a little blunter and more colloquial than ‘reason’”, a compromise was met with.

    “What makes more sense, Atheism or Christianity?”

    Give and take is the name of the game good people.

    Well done, Alan.

    David Nicholls
    Atheist foundation of Australia Inc

  12. David,

    Thanks for dropping in and for filling us in on the background.

  13. David's quite right.

    The reason I also asked for us to go with 'Christianity' as opposed to 'religion' is that I have no interest in defending religion as if it were generically reducible.

    Before I was a Christian, I was an atheist. If I stopped being a Christian (were persuaded, for example, that it is false), I would be at the very least, a secular agnostic, not a Muslim or Hindu

  14. Mike,

    I guess the point I was trying to make is that you can't really compare the two, they are apples and oranges.

    I think it would be more intellectually genuine to say compare Secular Humanism with Christianity.