Debating Atheists in the Park


November 26, 2013 by mattfradd


Last Saturday Trent Horn and I headed to the park to debate atheists.

Ah, a Christian nerd’s dream.

The park we went to is a beautiful park called Balboa Park. On Saturday’s, different groups (Christians; Hare Krishna’s; Atheists; tarot card readers) set up tables, pass out literature, tell you you’re going to Hell, or—as was the case with our Atheist friends—tell you no Hell exists.

It was a lot of fun.

Debating Atheists with Trent Horn is like making friends with the new kid in school who is bigger than all the other bullies who’ve ever picked on you and then going to talk to those bullies. He’s smart. Annoyingly so.

The arguments that took place were very pleasant. The Atheists at the table were kind and smart which made for good discussion.

You can read Trent’s account of the morning here.

A Useful Approach

Trent asked a question which I think is a very good one; one I’ll use in future discussions. He asked, “In your opinion, what is the best argument for Atheism, and the best argument for theism?” What a great question. It cuts to the quick (not sure if you use that expression in America), it get’s to the heart of the matter: what good reasons are there to think that God exists, and what good reasons are there to think that Atheism is true. If the reasons for thinking God exist are more compelling then we shouldn’t be Atheists. Conversely, if the reasons for thinking Atheism is true are more compelling then perhaps we should give up belief in God.

I use something like this approach in my discussion with Protestants, “What is your strongest argument against Catholicism? What’s your number one contention with the Catholic Church.” Once they state it, and I answers it, it should show them that, since their strongest argument can be dealt with, their weaker one’s might be able to be dealt with to. [1]

If our Atheist friend had of answered the question—we’ll see in a minute that he didn’t—then we could examine those two arguments and then show, if possible, that the argument for Theism is stronger than his argument for Atheism, and since these were the two strongest arguments he could think of, he should consider abandoning Atheism.

Unfortunately our Atheist friend (1) did not think that Atheists had any beliefs and therefore thought no argument for Atheism was necessary (see why I disagree) and (2) thought that there was no good argument for Theism. “They all suck,” he said.

Road block.

If you’re looking to get better equipped at answering Atheism, then you should get Trent Horn’s book, (I promise he’s not paying me for this. He should, the punk) Answer Atheism.

If you’re looking to get into public evangelization like this, check out the folks at St. Paul Street Evangelization. They’re doing great work.


[1] Alright, I’ll share one example. Several months ago, while pouring cream into a coffee I had just bought at the airport, a woman, apparently noticing how happy I was asked if I were a Christian. I told her I was. I shared with her that I was a Catholic apologist and her smile vanished. “oh sweet boy,” she said in her southern accent, “it would take you more than a lifetime to convince me why I should become a Catholic.”

“What’s would you say is your strongest argument against Catholicism?” I asked.

She thought for a moment. “That you have to go to Mary instead of Jesus.”

“I am so happy,” I said, “that I can be the one to eliminate your strongest argument against Catholicism. Catholics simply don’t believe that they have to go to Mary instead of Jesus. So that should no longer be a problem for you.”

She still wasn’t happy.

37 thoughts on “Debating Atheists in the Park

  1. I grew up with a father who was an avid Atheist, if you will, and a mother who held a great disdain toward the Church. Catholicism was always in the background of my life like this looming darkness I could never escape. I remember going to Sunday school a handful of times and each time I would go to my father’s house excited about what I’d learned.
    When I learned about Adam and Eve he explained to me rather harshly that there was no possible way an entire populace could come from two people; that would make us all brothers and sisters and we would be committing incest which is “illegal” in the Bible, as he put it. When I talked about Jesus I was told that the Romans had created this character of Jesus as a way to control their Empire. Sort of like an, “obey Caesar or you’ll be punished by this higher power.”
    Since my conversion I’ve been able to shed light on many of these lies and skewed ideals about Christ and the Church and through apologetics I’ve been able to share this new knowledge. My only issue is controlling my anger.
    It’s wonderful that the channels of communication really seem to be opening up though. I’ve never heard of anything like this event at the park, at least in my area. And I love the question your friend began with!

    • cducey2013 says:

      Thank you for this comment. Yours is an interesting story. Clearly, people like Richard Dawkins who claim that religious parents allegedly deceive their children are not aware that people on “the other side of the fence,” as it were, don’t automatically give their children an honest account.

  2. […] Hebert, Catholic Sistas Is the Catechism “Extra Stuff”? – Jon Sorensen, Catholic Answers Debating Atheists in the Park – Matt Fradd The Human Person & Morality – Mark P. Shea, The National Cthlc […]

  3. Matt says:

    why this article looks like it’s unfinished???

  4. MoonWalking Unicorn says:

    Best argument for [informed] athiesm is problem of evil
    Best argument for theism is I don’t know therefore god

    • mattfradd says:

      I agree with your first point. Evil is the strongest (emotional) argument against Christian theism (omnipotence + Omnibenevolence + Evil = Whaaa?( You’re second argument isn’t an argument. Perhaps you can enlighten me by expanding it.

      • MoonWalking Unicorn says:

        We could still have suffering (broken bones, sprained ankles, headaches) without having to have children born with leukemia.
        Free will is a terrible response to PofE (unless you think you won’t have free will in heaven?)

        Regarding best case for Theism: instead of saying “I don’t know why x happened” theists would say “god is reason for x”

        (Also the a in atheism isn’t capitilized because atheism isn’t a world view. Naturalism would be a world view)

  5. cducey2013 says:


    Quick question: why do you capitalize the “A” in “Atheism”? Is there a difference between atheism with a small “a” and Atheism with a big “A”?


    • mattfradd says:

      Because I think it’s a world view and I thought that world views were meant to be capitalized. Perhaps you can correct me on this.

      • cducey2013 says:

        Ok. No, I’m not looking to correct you at all. It was only a well-meaning question of interest. I would tend to agree with you that atheism is a world view, that, contrary to what the “atheists in the park” thought, it contains its own beliefs and paradigms. Additionally, I would say that there are different sub-categories for those who identify as atheist, such as scientific naturalists, and, probably largest of all, people who just don’t particularly like Christianity, and decide that all religion is bad/wrong as a result.

        Looking forward to future posts.



  6. Jimmy says:

    Atheist were in the band and drama club in high school. They are wounded.

  7. Rana says:

    This is just amazing. 😀 I enjoy all of your posts! They’re very understandable, which I appreciate so much!

    Quick question: how do you go about becoming an apologist? I mean, even if it’s not for the radio or a business, but just wanting to know the Faith better. I pray every day and say the Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I also try to read the Bible every day, but how do you actually get to /know/ the answers to the question people ask?

    Thank you and God bless!

    • James says:

      Why would you want to be an apologist? If your religion makes sense, what do you need to apologize for?

      • mattfradd says:

        Good question, James. The world apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means defense. If someone is an apologist he specializes in defending the faith, no apologizing for it. 🙂

  8. Ce Gzz says:

    Good advice! I get to be asked a lot also the source of my inner peace and happiness, despite trouble and all. When they ask me if I’m Christian, I gladly complete it with “YES Catholic”. Most of times it all ends with me asking for blessings in their life. GOD is so Mighty!

  9. cminca says:

    Matt–what makes you think atheism is a world view? What evidence do you have of that position?

    • mattfradd says:

      Thank you, Cminca. I would have thought that point was elementary. Atheists view the world a certain way. That certain way is their world view. What do you think?

      • cminca says:

        No–All atheists do NOT view the world in a certain way. What they do “agree” upon is the rejection of the existence of a deity.

        Some atheists view religion as the root of all evil. Some view religion as benign. Some would equate all theisms alike. Others may equate them differently. Some may equate religion and non-religious philosophies as equal. Some may not. There are as many ways of being an atheist as there are atheists.

        Hardly “elementary”.

        And you didn’t answer the second question–what EVIDENCE do you have to support your view?

      • MoonWalking Unicorn says:

        Neither atheism nor theism are worldviews
        Naturalism and Christianity are world views

      • cminca says:

        BTW–for the sake of this discussion my thoughts about religion are immaterial.

      • mattfradd says:

        Lovely to hear from you again, Cminca. I think you’re wrong. I think atheism is a world view and I’m surprised, frankly, that you’re so intent on denying that. Guess we’re just going to have to disagree, huh?

        Regarding what evidence there is for the existence of God. I believe there are many good arguments for God’s existence: The Kalaam argument; the contingency argument; the moral argument, etc. I’m not going to expound upon them in a comment; perhaps I’ll write an article on each down the road.

        In the mean time, check out my friend Bradon Vogt’s website, Click on the box that says 20 arguments for God’s existence. I hope you’ll find that a help.

        Great to hear from you.

      • cminca says:

        Matt–I didn’t ask you for your evidence of God. I asked you for your evidence that all atheists hold a singular worldview.

        The definition of “worldview” (according to the Merriam Webster dictionary) is “the way someone thinks about the world”.

        You are stating that every single atheist in the world thinks about the world in exactly the same manner.

        What evidence has lead you to such an opinion?

      • cminca says:

        BTW–my number one contention against the Catholic Church? They attempt to interfere with the laws of a secular, pluralistic society.

        They attempt to persuade the government of a secular, pluralistic society that some law abiding, tax paying members of that society should not be equal under the law to other law abiding, tax paying citizens. Because their reading and interpretation of the oral tradition of a bunch of nomadic herders is, by their definition, more important than the governing principles of the secular, pluralistic society.

        Feel free to try and argue your way around that.

      • Travis says:

        Hi cminca, thanks for sharing your views about the Catholic Church, I’m hoping that maybe I can address some of the concerns you hold?

        You state that you’re number one contention is that ‘they’ attempt to interfere with the laws of a secular, pluralistic society. By ‘they’ I assume you mean members of the Catholic Church, members who are in fact a part of the society which you identify. Thankfully we also live in a democratic society, which means everyone including members of the Catholic Church have a right to voice their opinion on the laws which govern them and the society they live in, just as members of any other religious or non-religious organisation. So how do you reconcile your concern while at the same time claiming that the society in question is pluralistic?

        I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly by your next statement, but the Catholic Church teaches that all persons are created equal under God. In fact members of the Catholic Church all around the world work tirelessly in various environments to try to attain this for all people. I will also say, and what I feel you may be alluding to, is that while all persons are created equal, the actions of those people are not. I’m curious with your last statement; do you consider that the ‘governing principles of a secular pluralistic society’ always has the best interest of the people at heart? If so, could you provide such an example?


      • cminca says:


        In the event that your question is actually genuine and not disingenuous–No, I do not mean the individual members of the church. Catholics have the same freedoms as the rest of America to speak freely and to vote their conscious.

        I am talking about members acting in their positions within the hierarchy of the church and speaking for the church as an entity, not as individual.

        Dolan–in his ex-capacity as President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops–was not speaking as a private citizen. He was speaking for the cc as an entity–and he was using its membership as a political threat.

        The governing principles in this society–life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and equality under the law–allow for the individual to define what is “best” for them. And (as long as they do not harm others) I’m fine with that.

        Your last paragraph seems to infer that the cc always has the best interest of individuals at heart. I can assure you that I do NOT believe that the cc has my best interest at heart, nor do I believe that the cc has the best interest of anyone at heart. As an organization–the cc seems more concerned with perpetuating its status and income than anything else.

      • Adrian says:

        Cminca, I would like to respond to your inquiry as to what “evidence” does Matt have to say that atheists share a common worldview.

        Firstly, before we can do this, we must evaluate what we mean by evidence. Typically, in my experience at least, these statements are made from the assumption that empirical evidence is the only evidence. What that means is that observable evidence with any of the five senses, aided with and by any form of technology and whatnot. While I can appreciate the desire for empirical evidence in many cases, in the case of language such a strict definition of the word evidence does not apply. Evidence in this case should be extended to include logical-non-empirical evidence also since language, especially in such an abstract realm as “isms” is beyond the realm of empirical evidence in the first place.

        Secondly, with evidence sufficiently broadened, we also should look at the term atheism to see what it means. Despite the emotional connotation associated with the word atheism, by definition it means a disbelief in a deity, as you already said. This disbelief in a deity is the definition of atheism and as such is what all ‘atheists’ have in common. Before I can conclude showing how this is a worldview that all atheists have in common, regardless of their personal rendition of this belief (and I mean belief despite the fact that it is a disbelief), I must discuss how taking a positive stance for or against the existence of God (and now I refer to omnipotent, infinite God not lesser ‘gods’ in a polytheistic worldview) is in fact a world view.

        Finally, in the Christian view at least, God is infinite. God is the source of existence, the entity from which all things come. This being we call God, and have a relationship with, is everywhere, in all things and hold things in being. This fundamental metaphysics is in fact a world view. It is a position that explains how anything is, how things continue to be. If theism by this definition is a worldview then it follows that to choose to not believe in this worldview is in fact a worldview.

        Thanks for the discussion!

        God bless,

      • cminca says:


        Thank you for your response. Unfortunately, your definitions are overly broad and you are jumping, in your second to last paragraph, from Christianity to a definition of all Theism.

        So unless you are going to assert that any Theism is the same Theism you cannot assume any atheism is the same atheism.

        In Matt’s posting “what is atheism” he states “As the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” We already have a perfectly good word in the English language for a person who withholds belief in God: agnostic.”

        I’d point out some problems.

        First–he uses a definition that suites his thesis. Other definitions (Merriam Webster: “one who believes that there is no deity”) do NOT propose “positive disbelief”. Matt used the definition he did in order to place the burden of proof on the atheist. It is not on atheists to prove the non-existence of God. It is on the Theist to prove it.

        Second– “We already have a perfectly good word in the English language for a person who withholds belief in God: agnostic.” ” Nice try but no cigar–agnostic– “a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not.” Questioning–not withholding.

        (Matt may also want to study the linguistic history of the English language and understand that English vocabulary has thousands of examples of words that mean the same thing. Adverbs for velocity–Quick, fast, speedy, rapid, winged.)

        I have no problem with Matt or anyone else saying they BELIEVE that agnostics hold a consistent world view. I have a real problem with them stating their beliefs as FACTS.

        Water is comprised of Oxygen and Hydrogen. That is a fact. It can be tested and the test can be repeated. The result can be anticipated. That is a fact.

        When he states “Atheists view the world in a certain way” he is stating–as fact–that all atheists view the WORLD in the same way.

        Now–he could say that “Atheists reject the existence of a deity” –and that would be a fact. Or he could say “It is my belief that atheists view the world in a certain way” and that would be correct. (He is stating his OPINION.) Or he could say “The atheists I’ve spoken with seem to view the world a certain way” or he could say “according to my study I believe that most atheists view the world a certain way”. Both of those would be factual statements.

        But if he is going to state, as fact “Atheists view the world in a certain way” than he is stating that ALL atheists view the ENTIRE WORLD, in ONE WAY. Since he is stating that he should be able to back up that “fact” with evidence.

        I’m tired of people presenting sweeping generalizations and stereotypes as FACTS. I’m tired of linguistic flights of fantasy and fancy being presented as FACTS. I’m tired of philosophical arguments being presented as FACTS.

        They are not facts. They are beliefs. They are faith. And that is fine. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs.

        But everyone is NOT entitled to their own FACTS.

  10. Oscar says:

    Thanks for the shout out to St. Paul Street Evangelization

  11. Jason says:

    THANK YOU, C’mica for your constructive comments.

    • Hegesippus says:

      That’s a very polemical and biased statement, Jason. Images of “ramming down throats” and claiming sexist positions need to be backed up with facts and evidence as has been demanded previously.
      Not only was Christianity the driver for the concept of “person” and the leader for valuing women in cultures throughout history where women had no rights or even a legal existence, the Church still upholds these. Thankfully society has more or less caught up. If you are referring to the idea that women should be able to take up every role a man has (and therefore men should be able to become nuns?!) then isn’t it against women if you want them to become exactly what men are. Viva la difference and allow the two sexes to become the best they are and not what the other is, surely!
      Anyway, I’m sure that when you consider the need for tolerance, you will include Christians in that as well.

  12. Hegesippus says:

    As Cminca at 11/27 5:58 has ‘cc’ for, I presume, “Catholic Church”, should that not be “CC” as it is, in his eyes, a world-view?
    Also, not all Christians have the same “world-view” and nor do atheists as he/she rightly states. The evidence shows this quite clearly. So where does that leave us?

  13. bluesync19 says:

    This is the reason why some labels are unhelpful. Some theists want the word atheist to mean “Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God” and some people who call themselves atheists want it to mean non-belief in a god. Agnostic may fail to cover this because it deals with knowledge and not belief. We don’t have the words abigfootists or aufoists for people who don’t believe in Bigfoot or UFOs just because you don’t believe they exist doesn’t mean you are claiming they don’t exist. That’s why I think people tend to use the label atheist because it has more descriptive power. Non-religious doesn’t work well either because you have some theists say they are not religious but have a ‘personal relationship’ with a god.

    I find it a lot better to ask someone what they believe and why? Because it gets straight to the point of what people believe and it is easier to have a discussion instead of starting off on different definitions of a word.

    So I ask you Matt or anyone else who wants to reply, what do you believe and why?

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