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Archive for September 28th, 2009

The September 26th, 2009 debate has some early feedback in the blogosphere

I will highlight some of them.

PART I: BARKER’S INTERRUPTION OF JAMES WHITE

Here is the clip of the incident that everyone is talking about, where Dan Barker didn’t wanted James White to quote from Barker’s book

James White first written post-debate reaction concerning this moment (from http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3514):

He went first, so I had the second 20 minute opening statement. Exactly 20 seconds into that statement he interrupted me, objecting to the moderator. His objection? I was quoting from his own book! “This debate isn’t about my book. Please stick to the topic!” Can you believe it? He wanted me to do my presentation without any reference to the very arguments he himself had put in print on the very same topic in a book he was selling in the foyer of the church! I couldn’t believe it. In all my nearly twenty years of debate I had never encountered a more absurd situation. Someone demanding that you not hold them accountable to their own published statements on the topic of the debate! Amazing beyond words. Obviously, I refused to let him silence me, and I proceeded to document error after error in his work. But it was truly the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

My brother in Christ, Christian apologetics’ blogger Chris Bolt was listening to this debate and his reaction to this moment is as follows (from http://choosinghats.blogspot.com/2009/09/futility-of-unbelief.html):

After Barker’s opening statement, Dr. White got up to begin his opening statement. As Dr. White always does his homework, his opening statement was full of quotes from Barker’s books. One would think that Mr. Barker would be glad to have his works read and quoted, but this was not the case!

Before Dr. White could even finish his first quotation, Barker loudly objected to having his own book quoted! He kept saying, “I may have changed my mind”. There was a short spat regarding this and Dr. White (as well as my wife) pointed out that Barker is still selling the books that Dr. White was quoting from. The moderator did not uphold Barker’s objection.

If I were an atheist, I would be ashamed of Dan Barker and concerned about his confirmation of the truth of Christianity. His thinking and behavior show that he is clearly just a man who hates God and has no apologetic, which is exactly what the Bible says he is. (Romans 1.20b)

Update: To make matters worse, Barker just quoted from his own book with respect to naturalism and miracles.

Tur8infan’s reaction (http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3516):

Before Dr. White could even get started, Barker committed what can be considered at best to be an enormous faux pas. He interrupted Dr. White’s speech to object to Dr. White responding to Barker’s own book. It was a boneheaded move, since it made Barker appear to be attempting to disrupt his opponent’s speech. Furthermore, the rationale for the objection tended to undermine Barker’s credibility, since normally scholars are willing to stand behind their books, especially when they are still selling that particular book.

The MennoKnight gives further insight (http://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2009/09/26/initial-thoughts-on-the-dan-barker-vs-james-white-debate/):

1.  Dan comitted a fatal error right off the start.  When White started his opening statement, Barker interupted him and pleaded for a point of order; he asked that White would not quote from his own book Godless.  Why?  Barker essentially has changed some of his positions from the book (released in 2008) and doesn’t want to have to defend some of the things that he’s changed his mind on.  Ironically, the book was apparently for sale on the merch table at the debate though.  Fatal error is an understatement.  Barker came to the debate and brought his latest book, but protested to his opponent actually refering to his published offerings on the subject.  If Barker is still in transition on the issues of the debate, selling his book at the debate while admitting it’s error is both a marketting flaw and a debating seppuku.

White rightly remarked that he’d never heard of anyone doing that in a scholarly debate.  Usually, people desire to have people quote their books (as opposed to some T.V. interview, or some sound bite, or a blog post, etc.).  It seems that when a person writes a 400 page book on an issue, they’re relatively confident on the subject matter and have done enough thinking about the issue to think it’s worth publishing, for the benefit of the world at large.  Barker is a bizarre exception to this rule.

James White later delve into further details that Barker’s argument in his first book, “Losing Faith in Faith”, was nothing different in Barker’s new work, “Godless” (Source: http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3517 ; the reader should read all of what White has to say there!):

As soon as I got into the office today I went over to my atheism section in my library and pulled down Dan Barker’s 1992 publication, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist. This book is the immediate predecessor of Godless which came out, not two years ago as Dan recalled in the debate, but in 2008. I immediately began thumbing through the book, and very quickly encountered chapter 51, beginning on page 359. Now, there may be some minor editing of this chapter as it appears in Godless (pp. 251ff), but the sub-headings are the same, as are the citations.
Consider for a moment what this means. Dan Barker has been promoting the Barbara Walker “Mithraism parallels” foolishness, in print, for seventeen years. Seventeen years! Same argument—even to having eight self-contradictory “natural explanations”—over the course of two books. And I replied to that argument. What else would you expect me to do? Dan Barker has been promoting the same material for nearly twenty years. Should I ignore the consistent argumentation, documented for nearly seventeen years, in print in books Dan Barker has been distributing through the Freedom From Religion Foundation and at all his speaking events, let alone on the very day of the debate, in the foyer of the church? If you have been presenting the same arguments for that long, and have never given the slightest indication (until your opening statement anyway!) of having changed your views, upon what possible grounds should I have concluded that I should ignore his own published arguments and respond to…something else?

PART II: REST OF THE DEBATE

This was James White’s perspective of the rest of the debate (http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3514).  Speaking of Barker:

He later openly, and without repentance, broke the rules of cross-examination we had agreed to before the debate, and openly said that was a rule he was “proud” to break. It was an amazing display of atheistic ethics, to be sure. I know the atheists in the audience were rowdy, doing a fair amount of vocal “participation” from what those sitting next to them tell me. One yelled out at the end of my closing, “What about Islam?” As if I haven’t debated that topic enough! But these were the same zealots who applauded wildly every time Barker mentioned the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” When I pointed out how irrational and absurd Dawkins and his argument actually is, they were very displeased. They just about worship Dawkins, sad to say.

MenoKnight’s insight (http://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2009/09/26/initial-thoughts-on-the-dan-barker-vs-james-white-debate/):

Barker got horribly outgunned by White on the various source texts that are used to establish the Isis/Mithras/Osiris issue, as well as the supposed Christian borrowing from those texts for the creation of the “Jesus Myth”:

  • First, White knew the source material and had done original language work that adequately challenged the translation of some of the source documents.  Barker apparently does not know Greek enough to simply read a Greek text without helps, since he had nothing to say about White’s interpretative points stemming from original language work.
  • Secondly, White commented on the parallels and showed how utterly non-parallel they are; i.e Osiris was “resurrected”, but this really means he was hacked to pieces and sewn together and ultimately became a zombie.  Not quite as similar to the resurrection of Christ as many people attempt to portray it.
  • Barker admitted that the Old Testament’s essential message was one of how the Israelites were constantly flirting with idolatry; thus he made the effort to show how the Israelites were familiar with paganism and attempted to incorporate it into Judaism.  White responded by pointing out that the univocal response to paganism in the OT was one of disgust; the prophets consistently and constantly showed a hatred of paganism in all its beliefs and practices.   Also, the paganism was essentially set by the leadership; i.e. when a king was bad, the nation was bad (idolatrous like Ahab or Manasseh), but when the leadership was good, the nation was good (non-idolatrous like David or Josiah).  It’s very hard then, knowing how completely “anti-idolatry” the Jews were after the Babylonian captivity, to suggest that anyone in Judaism would support what would have clearly been idolatrous concessions, if early Christians were Jews stealing from paganism to make up their Christianity.  The Jews, especially the leadership (Pharisees and Sadducees), would have condemned any pagan concessions, and the early Jewish converts would have gone with them in condemning the ‘psuedo pagan message’ that the Christians were delivering.  This is not the case with Christ though.  Everyone knew he was a miracle worker, and the historical records of the gospel suggest blasphemy where Christ said he was God.  This was an utter attack against the Jewish monism that was found nowhere in preceding paganism.  The 1st and 2nd century Jews knew that Christianity was new and different, but nobody thought it was a reversion to, or new version of, pagan idolatry.  Many things were rightly said of early Christianity by the Jews, but ‘pagan rip off’ was not one of them.
  • Barker completely abandoned this topic in both of his Q&A periods, which is telling.  Barker used his Q&A time to pursue obvious ad hominem arguments; namely the idea of Young Earth Creationism and ideas surrounding Mormonism and their “scriptures”, attempting to establish evidences of inconsistency with White.  The YEC questions were simply attempting to show that White was a crack pot, and Barker didn’t go near Mithraism/Isis/Osiris, etc. in his Q&A time.  In channel, everyone was consistently asking “Why is he changing the debate subject?” and “Why is he using such obvious rhetorical traps and ad hominem arguments?”

3.  Barker started off the debate attempting to give proof that Christianity stole from pagan sources to manufacture the “Jesus story” but ended up the debate reverting to a pleading for uncertainty.  He closed his final statement suggesting that White looks for “proof” when you cannot prove anything, suggested that Christianity is unprovable, his atheism is equally unprovable but more rational (though he abandoned any form of reasoning, outside of ad hominem attacks against White, to show how it is more rational), and gave the standard “I only believe in 1 less god than you” line.  Barker was on the ropes, and it seemed like he knew it.  I was wondering where his notorious “capital ‘A’ atheism” (I’m going to prove that God does not and can not exist…) went by the end of the debate.

I’m guessing that’s why the “Jesus never existed” camp is so utterly small (what, >10 biblical scholars support that, if that?), and why the “Jesus is entirely a concoction from earlier pagan myths” camp is not much bigger (what, >100 biblical scholars, if I’m being generous?).  The first position, when thrown in the ring of actual debate and when demanded to present its factual evidence in the face of articulate and informed rebuttal, is simply atrociously weak and utterly indefensible.  The second position, when thrown in the ring of actual debate and when demanded to present its factual evidence in the face of articulate and informed rebuttal, needs to rest in ambiguity and has to completely ignore the numerous glaring differences between Christ and the pagan ideas in order to argue for [precious few tiny similarities.

The web groups that applaud things like Zeitgeist are essentially filled with high-school level skeptics who are incompetent critical thinkers that are allergic to self-critical examination, and the whole “Jesus never existed” and  “Jesus is a concoction of pagan components” positions are built upon bizarrely improbable skepticism stacked upon bizarrely improbable skepticism stacked upon bizarrely improbable skepticism.   Let’s face it; the majority of people who support the latter position on a popular level, have no training in anything relevant to anything biblical (Ancient Near Eastern History, Religious Studies, Classical or Semmitic languages, let alone Biblical studies, theology, exegesis, biblical languages).  I think that’s why biblical scholarship (i.e. the SBL or…*cough* the ETS) currently has less than a dozen scholars who positively defend the position as opposed to the thousands of currently active biblical scholars who, although they represent a wide variety of opinions about Jesus, recognize that he was a figure who was not simply a figure built from the lego blocks of the paganism that came before.

That of Tur8intin (http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3516):

Dr. White recovered well from the interruption and went on to demolish (quite thoroughly) the argumentation used by Barker against the New Testament. The cross-examination section was especially good, in that during Dr. White's time to ask questions he was able to demonstrate the weakness of Barker's position, while Barker had to resort to trying to argue and grand-stand during the cross-examination section.

What made things worse for Barker was the fact that such argumentation in the cross-examination is not just against the general rules of debate, but against the specific rules that Barker had agreed to just before the debate. Barker acknowledged this but then indicated that he was "proud" to violate the very rules to which he had agreed. At that point, I think that most of any remaining credibility he had was shot.

Of course, the full debate will eventually be available through Alpha Omega Ministries.  Here's some further preview:

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