Which makes more sense: Islam or Atheism?
Debate Swinburne 20 September 2013 - debate notes

Islam or Atheism: Which makes more sense? Well let me draw your attention to the state of affairs in the Islamic world today and see if that makes sense. I watched the SBS News the other day. The first news item was about violence in Syria. The next news item was about suicide bombings in Iraq. The next item was about killings in Afghanistan. The fourth item was about violence in Egypt. My opponents will argue that Islam makes sense. Well good luck.

I have heard reports about Mr Tzortzis debating style. My debating style is to talk about what is true and what is not. I like to let the facts speak.

Apparently there is a debating style called the "Gish Gallop" technique. Rational wiki says: "The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time."

I trust that our opponents will not engage in that technique. I trust that they will engage with me in a genuine attempt and answering this important debate question.

Islam does not make sense for two reasons: (1) it is not actually true, and (2) it does not benefit Muslims. I hope that my opponents will address these specific questions. My college Ian will be explaining why atheism does make sense.

First I am against Islam not Muslims. In many ways I sympathise with Muslims. I do not support the invasion and occupation of Muslim lands. I am a humanist and a humanitarian.

Second, it is a tactic of Islamists to accuse critics of Islam of racism. I am not a racist. First, Islam is a religion not a race. Second, I am not against Muslims as people. So please, lets not hear this accusation. Lets make this a contest of ideas. As we say in Melbourne, play the ball, not the man.

Also, lets not hear the accusation that atheists lack moral integrity and are the cause of great crimes. I believe in the universal principles of compassion, honesty, justice and freedom. No religion is necessary for that. Religion causes good people to do bad things.

The truth of Islam

What is truth? Should we believe things even if they are not true? Does that make sense? Most religious people, maybe 98 percent, just believe the same religion as their parents. Does that make sense? Is something true, just because your parents believe it?

What makes sense to me, is that I know religions are a product of culture. Beliefs come from emotion. I know people follow beliefs, because of identity, loyalty, socialisation, fear, guilt and coercieon. I follow Essendon for this reason.

But that is not something I think is true. I have heard people say that they believe Islam because it suits them, it make them feel better. Does that make sense? Should you believe something is true, just because it makes you feel better?

Some people do change their religion. Almost always it is so they can get married. So, they change what they believe is true, because they have emotional need to. Does that make sense?

How about if we all tried to use reason and evidence to find out what was true first and then believe that. Wouldn't that make sense?

My opponents believe that Islam is true and that the Koran is true. I think they would agree that if the Koran is not true, then Islam could not be true.

To be a Muslim you must accept that the Koran is perfect and contains no errors. But it does contain many errors. Creationism for a start. The Koran mentions Allah as a creator god over forty times.

But we know evolution is true. We also know that the atoms of which wear composed were forged in the nuclear furnace of an exploding star. Science is wonderful, not religion.

To make sense of the Koran properly we need to view it in the context of the time. Most religious texts arose when preliterate societies became literate. When literacy came, the oral traditions were written down. That makes sense.

After time, the early written records came to be seen as sacred texts. That also makes sense. What does not make sense, is to still believe in these texts, literally, and without question now.

What do we actually know about the origins of the Koran and life of the Prophet? As with any religion, we cannot just rely on believers to give us an objective and thorough account of its origins.

We know that the details of the Koran and of the life of the prophet emerged some time after the prophetís death. The first biography of Muhammad was written about ninety years after his death. Much of the account seems plausible.

We hear of the exile to Medina, the insurgency campaign against the Meccan caravans and the eventual triumph over Mecca. Further military campaigns spread Islam throughout the Arabian peninsula and beyond. That is the history from Islamic sources. How much of that story is true we cannot say for sure.

What we do know, is that in the seventh century, the Byzantine and Persian empires were weakened by years of war with each other. Conquering armies came out of Arabia and rapidly established an empire of their own. That much is verified history.

But were the early Arab conquerors Muslims? In the 630s, they took over Jerusalem. Thirty years after the death of Mohammed, an Arab warlord called Muawiyah was hailed, in Jerusalem, as leader of the new Arab empire.

But there was little sign of him being a Muslim. Nowhere, not on his inscriptions, not on his coins, not on any of his documents, is there a mention of Islam or Mohammed. The first mention of Muhammad on a coin, or at the Dome of the Rock, was not until fifty year after Muhammadís death.

As you know, the Koran is not in chronological order and does not contain a clear narrative as other religious texts do. The origin of the Koran is the subject of serious academic research. There is speculation that it derives from liturgical texts, that is, those that were used for teaching or preaching. The original language may not have been Arabic

Patricia Crone is a professor of early Islamic history in the US. The Koran describes the cultivation of wheat, grapes and olives, which is not possible any where near Mecca. She speculates the origin of the texts could have been from somewhere further north. It has been suggested that the Koran and Islam may be a product of the early Arab empire not the other way around.

These things need investigation. Muslim scholars however tend to resent non-Muslims doing these investigations. The findings contradict Islamic belief. The Koran itself says that the Koran arose out of a transcription of what the angel Gabriel said to Muhammad in a cave near Mecca.

Serious academics do not entertain the idea of this miraculous origin of the Koran for a second. Generally however they are too guarded, too timid, to academic to say so outright.

Well I will say what Professor Crone and others are too afraid to. The idea that the Koran came from the words of an angel is just nonsense. If someone claimed they were talking to angel today would you believe it? So why do you believe it happened 1400 years ago. It just doesn't make sense.

The cost of Islam

The fact that Islam is false would not matter that much if it was not so harmful. So this is the second major reason why Islam does not make sense. It does not do Muslims any good. It causes violence, suffering and oppression.

In Islam, the laws of Allah are supreme, and cannot be changed by any government or parliament. Hence secularism, liberalism and democracy are not allowed in Islam. This is not just me saying this. Islamists themselves say it. It if it is not true, will our opponents deny it?

What you have in most Muslim countries is a choice between authoritarian governments that keep Islam in check, or authoritarian Islamic governments that impose Islam on the people. You have a conflict between Islamists who think that the solution is to impose Islam, and others who just refuse to have it.

What happened in Egypt this year is nothing new. It has happened time and time again, in Africa, in the Arab world and in Turkey. It is actually a conflict that is replicated thought the entire history of Islam.

In the 8th C, the Mutazilites, said the Koran was "created in time" and that Islam should be open to reason. The Mutazilites were persecuted, but the Arab scientists were at least allowed to operate for a time and did some good work.

Then around the 12th century the thinking of Al-Ghazali triumphed. This held that everything was caused by Allah and that resort to reason and rationality is useless and should be condemned. This has been called the shutting of the gate of ijtihad or the closing of the Muslim mind. It led to the abandonment of research and investigation. Needless to say this does not make sense.

But the tragic consequences of this are still prevalent in the Muslim world today. There are numerous statistics that I could refer to. Take the United Nations Arab Human Development Reports, which identified three major deficits: in freedom, women's empowerment and knowledge.

Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that Trinity College Cambridge had produced more Nobel Prize winners than the entire Muslim world. He was condemned for saying that but is is true.

Knowledge, under Islam is haram, or forbidden. That does not make sense.

But it is really worse than that. Violence is endemic in the Muslim world because the Prophet Muhammad was a military leader who led an insurgency and it is every Muslimís duty to emulate the Prophet. What started in Syria as a cry for freedom has now descended into a seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence.

Most places in the world are getting better but the Muslim world is getting worse. It is a humanitarian disaster.

Muslims are caught in a trap. The only way out is to realise that Islam does not make sense.

Thank you.


The Koran has a cosmology in which the earth is "spread out" as if flat (15:19), and the sky is a roof without apparent support. (21:32) The sun is described as being in orbit around the earth (21:33 and 36:40), and meteors are described as "missiles to pelt the devils with" (67.5). That does not make sense.

There are historical inaccutacies too. The Koran says that the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) built the Kaaba in Mecca. Yet the acheological evidence indicates that no such person could have existed at the time supposed. Like many Biblicasl stories, they are myths. To beleive them as true does not make sense.

Arab Human Development Reports One example they cite is that the number of books that are translated into Spanish each year is one thousand times the number that are translated into Arabic.

Mr Tzortzis, although never personally accused of terrorist offences, has called for an Islamic state, expressed his hostility towards Western values and stated that: "We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom."

His mother and father have not converted to Islam. Does Hamza really think they will burmn foreber in hell? Is this what he wants for hsi parents?

Notes used in Rebuttal time, after rebuttal

The Prophet Muhammad

Why does Islam in particular seem to be associated with violence and terrorism?
I would like to mention another aspect of Islam that we should be aware of.

The Prophet Muhammad is lauded in Islam as a paragon of virtue. He is revered and idolised as if beyond reproach. He is regarded as a perfect human being and an example to be followed.

Muhammad was a revolutionary political leader. He was the leader of a military rebellion. We know this from Islamic historical sources. Muhammad was sometimes benevolent, but often ruthless and brutal. (I refer to Richard Gabrielís book, Muhammad: Ialamís First Great General)

The prophet Muhammad was a military leader and a brilliant military strategist. His military campaign began as an insurgency. His unprovoked attacks on the Meccan caravans in 623, launched an unprecedented guerrilla war. This was the first national insurgency in history, and arguably the most successful. By instilling religious fervour, Muhammad was able to unite warriors from different tribes in his cause.

Without his early success, Islam may never have been established as a great religion. Many of his revelations are proclamations issued during his military campaigns. This legacy remains an important part of the character of Islam today.


In Islam, women are inferior to men, Quran (4:34). The Quran says that "Men have authority over women because God has made one superior to the other" (4:34, Dawood translation). It goes on to say "As for those for whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them."

Muslim women can try to find alternative quotes, and interpretations but they cannot overturn this.

The Koran requires Muslim women to be veiled as protection against molestation, (Quran 33:59).

"Prophet, enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers to draw their veils close around them. That is more proper, so that they may be recognised and not be molested."

The women of Medina were in danger from Muslim men at night. At the time of this injunction, all the non-Muslims in Medina had been banished or killed. This hardly seems a sensible or relevant justification for wearing a veil today. Can we nit aspire to something better?

Why do beliefs persist

Creationism is false. We have known this for 150 years. We also know why creationist beliefs persist in defiance of all the evidence. We know that there are powerful sociological and psychological forces at work that condition religious beliefs, and cause blindness to contradictions. We know there are powerful emotional factors, fear, guilt and loyalty to family and culture that are extremely coercive in matters of religious belief. We know that these emotional inducements can be very effective, and deep, especially when applied to the minds of children.

Creation in the Koran

Islam is a creationist religion. The Koran mentions Allah as a creator god over forty times. Whatever interpretation we put on the Koran, we really cannot find any clues there to evolution, the origin of species, and the ancestry of humans.

Here are some verses from different parts of the Koran that are particularly problematic (Dawood translation). Man was created from clay (6:1, 15:26, 23:12) from water (21:30, 25:54), from dust (3:59, 30:20, 35:11), from the earth (11:61), from wet earth from a germ (16:4), from nothing (19:67), from a drop of ejaculated semen (75:37), from gushing fluid (86:5) from a little germ (80:18), from clots of blood (96:1), from dust and germ (18:37), dust, germ, then clot of blood (22:5), (40:67).

There is no mention of evolution here. If there was god that created life on earth, then what was the purpose of evolution? Why did a god not just create everything as we see it now? All this is really a problem for those who claim that the Koran is a revelation from the creator. Why is it that the creator appears to have no knowledge of how things were created? Why is it that the Koran merely reflects 7th century knowledge and the legends and myths of other religions?

Sense of purpose and morality

Some may say that this is irrelevant, that religion gives a sense of purpose, of meaning to life, and moral guidelines. To them, I say that there are better alternatives. We can base our lives on universal ethical principles like honesty, justice, freedom and compassion.

People have a right to believe, but not to impose their beliefs on others. Instead, we should strive to have beliefs based on reason and evidence, not ancient traditions. Religions divide us and cause conflict. Yet we know they have no basis in the light of 21st century knowledge. This is the most important awareness that Muslims and those of other religions can achieve. Secular Liberalism is the way forward.

The Great Debate : Should God have a place in the 21st Century?

When we die, we are dead. Our brains cease to function. Consciousness leaves us. There is no afterlife. Before we were born we did not exist. After we die, we will not exist. Do we really want to go to a place inhabited by billions of other dead people? For eternity? No, this is the only life we have. We must make the most of it. We must each do our best, for ourselves, and for others.

The following are prepared answers for questions, mostly not used.

Q&A Atheist arrogance

It is common that atheists nowadays are described as arrogant or militant. But no, we do not make claims that are beyond reason and which have no basis. Facts are not arrogant. Neither do we want to impose atheism on anyone. We think that everyone should have freedom to choose any religion, or none, including children.

Q&A - Circular arguments

Why do you believe? Because it is true. Why do you think it is true? Because it is what I believe.
Why are you a Muslim? Because I believe in Islam. Why do you believe Islam. Because I am a Muslim
What we need is objective evidence and independent evaluation of truth criteria, to determine what we should believe.

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