A religious debate still draws a crowd in Sydney with a sold-out audience watching Archbishop Jensen, a catholic academic and the ABC online religion editor argue the proposition that atheists are wrong.
Archbishop Jensen was first speaker, followed by Dr Tracey Rowland, the Dean of the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne and Scott Stephen, the Religion & Ethics editor for ABC Online.
Speaking against the proposition were Philosopher and literary critic Russell Blackford, Media personality and radio host Jane Caro, who is writing a book about atheism and Dr Tamas Pataki, honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne School of historical and philosophical studies) and author of "Against Religion".
The debate was the latest in the IQ Squared series.
Sponsored by the Sydney Morning Herald and St James Ethics Centre, the scene was set when a pre-poll of the audience showed 56 percent in favour of the atheists, only half that believing they were wrong with 15 percent undecided, although there was confusion at pre-polling because of the double-negative nature of the poll.
Dr Jensen started the debate declaring "I have an atheistic mind and an atheistic heart. First, I am sceptical of the existence of all gods... but one. Many concepts of God are human beings on super-steroids, dismissed by atheists and Christians alike. Thank you atheists. Second, my own desire for freedom means that I would prefer not to worship the one God creates and judges all."
The Archbishop then went on to anticipate atheists arguments on the wrongs done in the name of religion.
"It’s not an argument to point to all the awful things that Christians may have done; Christians can point to all the awful things that atheists have done. But what Christianity does offer is this – an objective means by which to identify and judge the evil that religious and other people do. In fact the Christian doctrine of original sin means that we expect humans to do evil, even those who do it in the name of religion. Christianity critiques religion" he said.
He ended with an appeal for atheists to examine the life of Jesus.
"When atheists refuse to study Jesus seriously they are flat-earthing" the Archbishop said. "Serious study may leave them unmoved; but at least they would be looking at evidence for faith and not simply pretending that there is none."
Dr Rowland spoke of the 'emaciated arguments' of the atheists on the purpose of life, saying they could not explain our desires and quest for real love and real goodness. She quoted figures which said only sevent percent of all wars had a religious element, contrary to an atheist argument that religion was the cause of the majority of human conflict.
Mr Stephens said it was 'chic' to be atheist, yet it posed little challenge to our social and political ills. "Atheism" he said "is a symptom of pointless, listless, all-pervasive nihilism."
Mr Pataki attacked American conservatives as "know-nothing, pugilistic, right wing Christians" and claimed that all religions were on the same level, and incompatible, so they should all be 'ditched'.
Jane Caro launched a feminist attack on religion, majoring on Islam and said "God and women's rights seem diametrically opposed. Gods are all about men." When questioned later about the babies aborted in the past 40 years, many of whom were female, Ms Caro replied "There are far worse things than not being born".
The final speaker, Russell Blackford, accused the other side of 'moralising'. "The current moral malaise, if there is one, has nothing to do with atheism" he said. He then raised the problem of suffering "The world does not look like a world created by an all powerful, all good, God of love."
The final vote largely mirrored prepolling, with a majority still in favour of the atheist (66 percent), 28 percent saying atheism is wrong and around 6 percent undecided.
The debate was recorded for later broadcast on the ABC.