Atheists and humanists are preparing for what they say will be the biggest gathering of freethinkers in Australia's history.
The 2010 Global Atheist Convention is sold out, with some 2,500 people expected to attend the March 12-14 event at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center.
Some Christians are countering the event with creationist seminars and book giveaways.
New Zealand native Ray Comfort has been busy organizing the distribution of thousands of copies of On the Origin of Species on college campuses, including the University of Melbourne. The copies are special editions that include a pro-Intelligent Design introduction, written by Comfort.
In response to the scheduled visit of New Atheist Richard Dawkins, who will be speaking at the atheist convention, Comfort said, "This is a city where I (almost daily), for 12 years, poured my heart out in the local 'Speaker's Corner.' Over 3,000 times I climbed onto a soapbox and spoke to crowds in an effort to turn people's thoughts to God, and if the learned professor thinks he is going to walk right in and undo that without any opposition, he has another thought coming."
"All I want is for people to know that the theory of evolution is bogus science," maintained Comfort, who leads California-based Living Waters ministry. "Charles Darwin lamented the lack of species-to-species transitional forms, and 150 years later, the missing link is still missing."
Creation Ministries International is also countering the atheist convention and has scheduled a Sunday afternoon seminar to take place the same weekend. The world's leading atheists have apparently rejected an opportunity to "demolish in public the arguments put up by scientists from one of the world's leading creation groups," according to CMI.
In a recent interview with the local SBS Dateline, Dawkins said he expects he will be proven wrong in certain respects as the scientific worldview he holds will be enhanced and elaborated in the next few hundred years, but he has no doubts that he will not be proven wrong "about some particular religion like Christianity or Islam."
"I think there will be something much grander than anybody's existing worldview but I'm ... sure it's not going to be Christianity or Judaism or Islam," Dawkins said in the interview.
The articulate atheist said he doesn't consider himself to be particularly militant or aggressive as some label him.
"I am passionate about truth and passionate about clarity," he said. "I simply wish to discuss what's true and to listen to evidence and to put evidence forward to other people and have a sensible, sane, moderated argument."
Meanwhile, his advice to those affiliated with a religion is: "Get a life."
"We have this one life. Let's enjoy it. Let's live it to the full. Don't identify yourself so passionately with this business called religion," the bestselling author offered.
According to the 2006 census, the Christian population in Australia is dwindling. Compared to a century ago, a smaller majority (64 percent) of Australians identify themselves as Christians. Meanwhile, the percentage of those claiming "no religion" grew to 18.7 percent in 2006.
Similar figures are seen in the United States, where 15 percent of Americans currently claim no religion. The growing nontheist population has begun to step out into the public square, prompting Christians to respond by equipping fellow believers to better defend their faith.
Atheists in Europe, the United States and now Australia have recently lunged their messages with numerous advertising campaigns. Melbourne buses currently carry the ad: "Atheism – celebrate reason."
"This is the first time we have advertised in public in such a big way – it's a very significant move forward for atheists," said Atheist Foundation of Australia president David Nicholls, according to The Age newspaper.
The theme of this weekend's Global Atheist Convention is "The Rise of Atheism."