World atheist convention rejects Australian creationist debate challenge
CMI responds with a public event in the same city on the same weekend
Published: 1 January 2010 (GMT+10)
The 2010 Global Atheist Convention will be held in Melbourne, Australia, at the prestigious Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, over the weekend of March 12–14, 2010.1
Titled “The Rise of Atheism”, it is being billed as the “biggest ever atheist event in Australia’s history”. The more than twenty presenters include some of the “cream” of the world’s most prominent and vocal atheists.2 These include the notorious “ethicist” Professor Peter Singer who has made it plain that some animals have greater “rights” than human infants, who can even be killed after birth in certain circumstances (for more, try typing “Peter Singer” into the search engine on this website).
Also, the fanatically anti-creationist biology professor PZ Myers, who runs a well-known “science blog”—and of course self-styled “devil’s chaplain” and Darwinism promoter extraordinaire Dr Richard Dawkins will be there in full force. As will a whole array of representatives of various rationalist, humanist, skeptic and freethinker groups.
Atheism = faith in evolution (the world made itself)
All of these make it overwhelmingly plain in their writings that their reasons for rejecting Christianity and the God of the Bible are firmly founded on and reinforced by their faith in evolution. They fully understand, sometimes better than many Christians, how evolution and its “millions of years” completely undermines and destroys the whole logical foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s not long since Dawkins rocked the world with his million-plus bestseller hymn to atheism, The God Delusion. His follow-up magnum opus, not long released, sets in cement his deep conviction that “science” (read naturalism, evolution and long ages) makes belief in a personal God impossible. It is called The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution, and with it he intends to throw down the ultimate gauntlet to creationists. (Read on for our coming response to this latest Dawkins book.)
Why CMI issued a public invitation/challenge to debate
All CMI offices are of course certain that goo-to-you evolution is not only spiritually but also intellectually bankrupt. CMI-Australia in particular became convinced that with the world’s top atheists boastfully proclaiming their faith and its alleged “intellectual foundations” (evolutionary science) in Australia, we had a duty to make a public stand in response—fully conscious that the real warfare is spiritual. In 2 Corinthians 10:4 the Apostle Paul says that “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” In the very next verse he sets out what the apostles went about doing (bold emphasis ours): “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Since this is about as public an anti-God pretension as there could be, and one based on a claim to rational argument, we sent an open letter of invitation/challenge to the convention organisers. This was for a public creation-evolution debate, offering for it to be formally videotaped with each side freely able to distribute it, regardless of the outcome. They were to be permitted to have a panel of their choice of atheists (preferably including Dawkins) formally debate the issue—of whether the evidence best supports creation or evolution—against our choice of CMI staff scientists.
Global atheists turn down debate
We got a rejection back the same day—which didn’t surprise us, except for possibly the speed. It’s easy for popular anticreationist books to distort and misrepresent the science involved in proper creationist claims made by scientifically trained and competent people, and also to set up strawmen to “demolish” in front of an unsuspecting audience. But if it wasn’t obvious before, it is clear now, that it was never going to be palatable to such anti-creation promoters to be held accountable in public for their misrepresentations, strawmen (and sometimes blatant deceptions). Nevertheless, we think it was important to try, if only to have taken a stand so that it might in some way help highlight the bankruptcy of these claims of “intellectual superiority”. (Plus we are holding a special Melbourne event the same weekend—see below).
Richard Dawkins and his crusade
As quoted on the site of the 2010 Melbourne Global Atheist Convention, Dawkins states:
“The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science … We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance … ”
Translation: We have to spend a lot of time and money fighting the creationists (who are winning hearts and minds) and defending evolution.
SO WHY WON’T THEY DO SO IN AN OPEN PUBLIC FORUM? ONE WITH CREATIONIST SCIENTISTS WILLING TO FLY DOWN TO WHERE THEY ARE—A FORUM WHERE, UNLIKE IN THE ATHEISTS’/SKEPTICS’ BOOKS AND ARTICLES, ARGUMENTS CAN BE REBUTTED IN THE OPEN LIGHT OF DAY.
Dawkins himself, while in Australia in March 2010, will also be holding a public lecture in Brisbane, home of CMI-Australia. The venue bills him as one who, via his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth, “comprehensively rebuts the creationists by pulling together the incontrovertible evidence for evolution.”
In addition to highlighting this pointed refusal to debate the issues, CMI will, prior to Dawkins’ arrival, be releasing a new book by Dr Jonathan Sarfati comprehensively rebutting the best that Dawkins could come up with on evolution, the intellectual foundation stone of his atheism. Stay tuned!
Curiously, Dawkins says that he refuses to debate creationists simply because it gives them prestige. Yet, he has gone ahead and debated some ‘creationists’ while insisting that he would not debate creationists. Since he insists that he will not debate creationists even while debating some, he is obviously picking and choosing those he considers to be easy targets or those who he knows will not effectively counter his evolutionism.
We’ve included the back and forth correspondence, below the main text of this article. This is for accuracy and accountability, and so you can see the terms proposed, which left plenty of room for negotiation on the details. But the details were never an issue, there was never any desire for open debate.3 The organisers even refused to pass the invitation on to the presenters. When we asked again, we were told that we could contact PZ Myers and Dawkins on their respective websites directly by email. We did this, though we were not surprised that there was no takeup by either of this offer. This is even though we were saying, in effect, “Here’s your chance to publicly demolish once and for all the best that one of the world’s leading creation organisations can put up, including the author of the world’s topselling creationist book”.4
There has been some blog reaction on the Dawkins site, including a bit of puzzlement, with at least one Dawkins supporter wondering, in effect, “Why not debate them?”. (Good question, though one with an obvious answer, we think.)
PZ Myers’ “in your face, Christians” response
PZ Myers, however, while not giving the courtesy of a direct reply, did so firmly and unmistakably on his widely accessed blog. Not surprisingly, it, too, involved a rejection of the invitation to debate, with all the usual excuses trotted out. Readers who are not used to some of the anti-Christian vitriol on such sites need to be warned, but we think seeing the response may be useful for some of you who may have thought that this issue is primarily about science—it’s not. That much should be obvious just from the emotionalism of this response alone. There is a palpable disdain, even hatred, of Christianity and the Bible. Myers concludes his rejection with a “Here’s my answer to Carl Wieland … ”, followed by an image which has a common depiction of the Lord Jesus, with the image of the hand manipulated so as to be giving a rude gesture. For the whole response by PZ Myers, bearing all the warnings in mind for younger members of the family in particular, you can see scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/a_reply_to_carl_wieland.php
Our response—a special Melbourne creation event at the same time
On the Sunday afternoon (14 March) of the same weekend, CMI will be holding a multisession event in the same city (Melbourne)—from 2pm to 7pm, with an optional ‘early bird’ screening of our Darwin documentary The Voyage That Shook the World at 1 pm.
It will feature one session each from three of our scientist speakers, followed by a public panel question/answer time, with ample breaks between sessions. This will be an opportunity to
- attend and be encouraged
- show by your attendance that not all are intimidated by the ‘rise of atheism”
- bring folk who are being dragged into the abyss of unbelief without ever having had the opportunity to hear the powerful evidences and arguments that the evidence, and the science, does support the Bible.
The argument is not (and never has been) about “the facts” relating to origins, but rather that they are being interpreted within a framework that begins by rejecting God and His Word.
Admission will be free (voluntary expense offering), to encourage attendance. We would ask for your help in making this event widely known, particularly by email forwarding of this article link. People outside Australia can contribute to this effort, too; not only will the very existence of this public stand be an encouragement to many around the globe, but you never know how many people will end up also getting your message through this passing on. And even if only one of these is in a position to attend the Melbourne creation seminar, it can have a life-changing effect.
For seminar details: see Countering the Rise of Atheism: the evidence for creation
CONFERENCE EXTRA: We hope to have Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s latest book, being worked on now, ready to “roll out” at this seminar at the latest. It is squarely aimed at Dawkins’ latest book (mentioned above) which purports to kill creation belief once and for all by its presentation of alleged evidence for evolution. With Dr Dawkins himself “down under”, this presentation in the same city presents a great opportunity to openly pick up the gauntlet he has in effect thrown down to Bible-believers.
Below, just for the record, is the correspondence between CMI and the GAC organiser.
ORIGINAL INVITATION/CHALLENGE WAS SENT ON 27 NOVEMBER AS FOLLOWS:
To the Organiser, Global Atheist Convention 2010
Att. Mr David Nicholls
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PMB 6 Maitland SA 5573
Phone 08 8835 2269
Copy sent by email and hard copy followup by mail.
27 November 2009
Dear Mr Nicholls
Open Invitation to public debate – atheists vs creationists
I refer to the Global Atheist Convention, “The Rise of Atheism”, due to take place March 12-14 next year in Melbourne, Australia.
From your website, all the speakers appear to have been chosen but not all details are yet set in stone.
I note that the public utterances of several of the planned speakers, particular Professor Dawkins, project a supreme confidence that the evidence most certainly does not support creation as per Genesis (recent creation of groups of fully-formed organisms, global flood, etc) but that the evidence overwhelmingly supports evolution (defined as non-living molecules evolving into all life forms, including man, over millions of years).
We find that a frankly bizarre proposition, and issue this invitation/challenge to a formal public debate in Melbourne on this matter (i.e. which position on origins, yours or ours, is better supported by the available evidence?). The exact wording can be finetuned between us, but the above should adequately clarify the nature of the subject matter with little room for misunderstanding.
We propose three speakers nominated from your array of atheist champions brought in for the purpose of this convention, vs three nominated from among our small group of CMI scientists and speakers. Since Dr Dawkins is by far the most vocal, this challenge should include him on your side, to “put up or shut up” in a sense. (Since it is a “panel debate”, i.e. “Atheists vs Creationists”, not “Dawkins vs X”, this will hopefully be able to outweigh his normal stated reasons for not participating.)
Our proposed conditions would be as follows:
- That it be public (if a modest fee is charged by mutual agreement, it can be shared among the participants less hire costs).
- That permission be granted for either side to professionally videotape (or we can share the costs of doing it jointly) with each side free to use or not use the final raw footage.
- That a mutually agreed-upon “neutral” chairperson, of good personal and public reputation, be selected and required to keep the parties, on the day, strictly to the conditions and times set.
- That the timing and structure be such that there is opportunity for proper rebuttal by both sides ( /-counterrebuttal and/or a series of audience questions). If a question time, the questions and answers should be strictly regulated in length, be alternately addressed to atheists and creationists, and that the opposing group to the answering group be permitted a (shorter) response time in each case.
Given that you have some of the world’s leading lights of atheism in one place, and that we are prepared to come down there (at a date and time of your/their convenience around the time of the conference), I would have thought that this would be an opportunity to relish. You have the chance (if your arguments really do stand up, as they are continually promoted) to be able to finally demolish some of the world’s most prominent proponents of scientific creationism in one sitting, and in public. Plus you could forever have the rights to market or otherwise distribute this “demolition” on DVD anywhere in the world.
Of course, it is possible that those are right who say that while Dr Dawkins and others have no difficulty countering “strawman” arguments of their own making, encountering the actual arguments of informed and scientifically trained creationists is something they would have no stomach for.
I hope that this turns out to be wrong, and if accepting, I would welcome being able to move forward on discussing the few remaining details. I look forward to your reply at your early convenience.
Creation Ministries International (Australia)
THE SAME DAY A RESPONSE CAME FROM DAVID NICHOLLS BY EMAIL:
Thanks for your email. We expect Richard Dawkins and other credible scientists would consider debating a position that is supported by an equal amount of evidence in accredited scientific literature as supports evolution. However, at present, that is not even close to being the case for creationism. In any event, it is the Convention’s policy to not arrange interviews or debate with any of the presenters, as the FAQ page of the Convention website states. If you wish to contact Professor Dawkins or other presenters directly, of course you may do so.
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
CARL WIELAND REPLIED THE SAME DAY:
Thanks very much for the superquick response.
I note, however, that there is no mention of debates in the FAQ section you mentioned, reproduced below.
Item 8 comes the closest to being relevant, where it states:
“Any requests for interviews should be sent directly to the presenter or their agent.”
I would have thought that our invitation/challenge, being a group affair, was in a different category altogether. Especially since point 1 in the FAQ section states: "The program has not yet been finalised".
Given the importance of the issue, and the amount of time and effort spent by atheist groups worldwide on "countering" creationism, including the recent publication of Dr Dawkins’ book on the evidence for evolution, it seems somewhat strange for you as organiser to sidestep the opportunity without even giving the presenters a chance to consider the request. If you would be so kind as to either
a) Provide the email contact details for each so we might forward the invitation to each simultaneously, or
b) Undertake to do so on our behalf forthwith, so that they might make a group decision on this group invitation, we would be grateful.
Incidentally, concerning your comment about the lack of scientific evidence for creation (as opposed to the question of whether such evidence is permitted an airing in secular scientific journals)–that is surely the very point at issue. If there is this paucity of evidence, then such a debate would enable you to successfully highlight and reinforce that. And you would be doing so in front of large numbers of onlookers, as there would be huge interest in creationist circles in the US, for instance, in this age of the internet.
Polls consistently suggest that perhaps over 100 million individuals in the US, for instance, reject goo-to-you evolution in favour of divine creation. Unless one chooses to accept the convenient caricature that these are all semi-retarded rednecks, a major reason is surely that their perception about the evidence influences that view, at least to some extent. I would have thought that this would be a priority for your group, given that atheist-allied groups continually raise alarmist calls about these sorts of figures.
In short, if the evidence really does line up behind your macroevolutionary view (as is so often claimed when there is no one there to point out the contrary), here’s an amazing, unique opportunity. You would be bringing some of the best atheist minds in the world to bear on the topic, and your opponents would be folk belonging to an organisation which has
a) Had more people read its magazines on creation over the last 3 decades, over a greater number of countries, than any other worldwide.
b) Includes the author of the world’s top-selling book on the evidence that counters evolution and supports biblical creation (well over 500,000 in print).
By discrediting publicly this group’s claim that the evidence supports biblical creation, you would have a chance to finally convince huge numbers of those who currently doubt your claim to the reverse. In fact, we would be pleased to have our Australian Broadcasting Corporation agree to film and televise the entire session live.
I look forward to your reply, once again.
Dr Carl Wieland
(SCROLL PAST THIS TEXT AS DESIRED, ONLY PROVIDED FOR COMPLETENESS)
1. What time does the Global Atheist Convention start on Friday night?
The program has not yet been finalised, but we envisage attendee registration will commence around 6.00pm on Friday 12 March 2010. We encourage all attendees to allow plenty of time to register to help us run everything smoothly. Attendees will be provided with further details closer to the date of the Convention.
2. I’ve bought a ticket, but how do I get my Pass to the Global Atheist
Attendees will need to register at the Global Atheist Convention, either on Friday night (for Gold or Full Weekend Pass holders) or Sunday morning (for Sunday-Only Pass holders). Attendees should bring a copy of their email Order Confirmation for Global Atheist Convention to assist the registration process. Attendees who have purchased a Concession Pass (either Weekend or Sunday-Only) must bring proof of their entitlement to a concession ticket, otherwise they will be required to pay the difference between the concession rate and the full rate prior to receipt of their Pass.
3. When is registration for Sunday-Only Pass holders?
The program has not yet been finalised, but we envisage attendee registration will commence around 8.00am on Sunday 14 March 2010. We encourage all attendees to allow plenty of time to register to help us run everything smoothly. Attendees will be provided with further details closer to the date of the Convention.
4. When will the full program be available?
Additional details are being added to the indicative program on the Convention website as they become available. The full program will be available shortly before the Convention dates.
5. Can I get a reduced ticket price if I provide my own catering?
No, all ticket prices include catering on the relevant day(s). Because of the large number of presenters, the break times need to be run efficiently and it would not be practical for attendees to seek food & beverages outside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre during the break times. In addition, given the number of attendees and the planned location of the catering, it is not practical for us to distinguish between those who have paid for catering and those who have not.
6. How does seating work for the Saturday dinner? Can I nominate to sit with
certain people at the Saturday dinner?
Seating will be allocated for the Saturday dinner on tables of approximately 8–10 people. Prior to the Convention, people who have purchased a Saturday night dinner ticket will be emailed and asked if they have any requests regarding seating allocations. People who wish to sit together should respond with their request, including ALL email Order Confirmations for the relevant people. Please note that the maximum table size available is 10.
Note that only requests that include Order Confirmations from ALL people noted in the request will be considered.
If you have not already purchased Saturday Dinner Passes and you have a group that wishes to sit together please purchase your tickets as a group in one booking (note the maximum table size of 10) as that will facilitate a collective seating allocation.
While we will endeavour to satisfy all valid requests we cannot guarantee any particular seating allocation will be made.
7. Will all the presenters from the Convention be attending the Saturday night
All presenters have been invited to the Saturday night dinner. We expect to confirm their attendance closer to the convention date, however, cannot guarantee the attendance of any particular presenter.
8. I have a TV/radio/podcasting show, am I able to request an interview with
Please note that the presenters are volunteering their time to present at the Convention. Any requests for interviews should be sent directly to the presenter or their agent.
9. Can the Atheist Foundation of Australia help me get my Australian visa to
attend the Convention?
If required for visa purposes, once you have purchased a ticket for the Global Atheist Convention, the Atheist Foundation of Australia would be pleased to provide a letter that confirms your ticket purchase and invites you to attend the Convention. Attendees should investigate whether or not they require a visa to visit Australia, the visa application process and timing well ahead of the Convention.
10. Can I bring a camera / take photos at the Global Atheist Convention?
You may bring a camera to the Global Atheist Convention and take photos.
However, please be considerate and do not take photos with a flash while any presenter is speaking, as it can be very distracting for the presenter and the audience. If any presenter requests no photography at all during their presentation the MC will announce that prior to the presentation, and we ask attendees to respect the presenter’s wishes.
DAVID’S RESPONSE SAME DAY:
The Global Atheist Convention has increased our workload manyfold. If we leave emails for too long they build up in their hundreds, therefore I will respond quickly when there is a reason to do so.
I thought I made it very clear that if you wish to debate any of our guests, then you will have to organise it yourself. We do not impart private information about speakers or performers. Our exact program is not finalised but we have a full compliment of speakers and performers.
If you skirt the question about accredited articles, then it is no wonder you are having trouble finding people to debate. Debate is not science, it is playing upon the prejudices of the audience. Scientific conclusion is about peer reviewing work from accredited scientific journals. I really can’t see Professor Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers or any real scientist taking seriously or bothering to debate about alien abductions even though millions believe it to be true. There are just no credible studies on this as there are no credible scientific studies that support creationism.
CARL’S SAME DAY:
Hi again, David.
Thanks once again for your response.
Organising the debate is not a problem, we’re happy to be of whatever assistance you need for that.
I can understand why you would want to skirt around any appearance of declining a debate, but I gently suggest that it’s not a "good look" for you to be acting as "gatekeeper" so as to either
a) prevent the presenters from finding out about the invitation
or (perish the thought)
b) seeming to do so, in order to provide a way for presenters to be able to position themselves as if they knew nothing of it, or at least not in time (when asked the inevitable question as to why they would refuse such a golden opportunity).
These delegates, positioned as representing the cream of global atheism, always have the prerogative of refusal. And I can understand not providing contact addresses. That’s why I gave the other option, of you forwarding my email to them.
May I therefore ask for a response to that part of my request, please, to undertake to forward that email to them?
I’m sure they would find it of at least passing interest, even if unwilling to take the risk of a public debate loss. And in their shoes, I would probably appreciate the right to make the decision myself, in any case.
Dr Carl Wieland
DAVID’S SAME DAY:
You seem to have purposely missed the point. The people we have speaking at the Global Atheist Convention would not debate with those promoting the idea of alien abduction as there is no accredited credible evidence for it. The same is true of creationism. We therefore would not send an invitation from either group to our honoured guests for a debate because of that.
You must realise, Carl, that both Professor Dawkins and PZ Myers have web sites where you can contact them directly. We will not facilitate an invitation we consider to have no legitimate basis in rational thought.
If you cannot understand what I am saying, I will use simpler language next time.
(SHORTLY AFTER THIS, AS EXPLAINED EARLIER IN THIS ITEM, CMI SENT EMAILS TO RICHARD DAWKINS AND PZ MYERS VIA THEIR RESPECTIVE SITES ALERTING THEM TO THE INVITATION, WITH THE RESULTS AS ALREADY INDICATED.)
- Co-presented by the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Atheist Alliance International. For convention details and a full list of presenters see http://www.atheistconvention.org.au/ Return to text.
- Along with some “homegrown” Australian atheists, including the militant journalist Phillip Adams; the former party leader of the now-defunct Australian Democrats, Lynn Allison; and the notoriously anti-creationist ABC science presenter Robyn Williams. Return to text.
- Had it been some less experienced “easy meat” creationist(s) making the challenge, we wonder whether the outcome would have been the same. Return to text.
- Refuting Evolution, by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, with over 500,000 in print. Return to text.