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Christian pseudo-historian David Barton said in a video released this week that he was once invited to debate an atheist, but he refused to do it unless American Atheists met one specific condition:

He wanted to speak 97% of the time. Because Christians make up 97% of the country.

… Back when I was getting started doing a lot of this history stuff, I got challenged to a debate by the American Atheists Association [sic]. And they wanted to debate me over religion and the Founding Fathers and whatever. And so this national network called me and asked if they could set up a debate between me and them, and I said sure. I said, “Here’s the ground rules. I get to speak 97% of the time. They get to speak 3% of the time.”

They said, “That’s not a debate!”

I said, “Look at polling. Right now, 3% of the nation does not believe in God. 97% does.”

If I go on there and only get 50% of the time, I have given them 15 times more than what they’ve earned. They’ve earned 3% of the time because that’s where the nation is. So don’t tell me I have to give up what I believe as a 97%-er to be even with the 3.”

David Barton understands math and debate as much as he understands history…

The whole point of a debate is that both sides get to make their case and may the best arguments win, yet Barton believes that he should get a huge head start because most people already agree with him. That’s not a debate tactic; that’s a way to make sure no one ever debates you so that you can claim victory through forfeit.

Even then, Barton’s still wrong. Christians now make up about 71% of the country when you lump them all together. The non-religious are nearly a quarter of the population. He’s pulling the 97% number out of his ass, which is probably where all of his other math mistakes come from.

Two other things to point out: I’ve asked American Atheists if they ever invited Barton to do this kind of debate. They told me they have no record of it. It’s unclear if Barton just has the wrong group or if the entire anecdote is fictional.

Also, he’s told this story before. But when he told it in 2016, he said he wanted 92% of the speaking time.

So even when he’s telling a lie, he finds a way to tell more lies.

***Update***: American Atheists has released this statement in response to Barton:

“David Barton is as loose with his statistics as he is with the misattributed and erroneous ‘facts’ he peppers his pseudo-scholarship with. Three years ago, he claimed the percentage was 92%,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists. “There are as many non-religious Americans as there are evangelicals and Catholics, and our numbers are only growing. With 35% of Americans 13-18 identifying as nonreligious, Generation Z is the most atheistic generation ever.

No matter what numbers David Barton wants to pull out of thin air, he represents the fringe of Christian nationalism. Even Christian conservatives have denounced him as a crank writer. No wonder his Christian publisher pulled his book for factual inaccuracies,” added Fish. “As we said the last time Barton made this claim, we have no record of the debate he’s talking about.”

“Let’s not get distracted by Barton’s fuzzy numbers,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy. “Barton’s influence threatens  the religious equality of all Americans. As one of the shadowy figures leading the Christian nationalist campaign Project Blitz, he is seeking to inject religion into public schools, undermine LGBTQ protections, and deny women the right to control their bodies.

(via Right Wing Watch. Large portions of this article were published earlier, because Barton’s told this lie before.)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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