Monday, September 7, 2015

David Wood vs John Loftus - Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? May 2015

It's Willem Defoe from the Scorsese flick but I got the cap here.

More to come.

This debate ( audio | video | 2hr 11min ) took place in 2015 between Christian Apologist David Wood and Atheist Author John Loftus. The topic was "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?"

1 star: The archetypical Slick Apologist and Disastrously-Unprepared Atheist clash over a very well-known debate topic.

David Wood opened first giving a well-spoken case for the resurrection after poisoning the well a bit about Jesus Mythers and presumably hoping his audience will assume Loftus is one or that the only people who disagree with him about the resurrection are Jesus Mythicists which is not true. It was a very polished presentation but nothing new. If anything, he probably should have modified his material and left out the crucifixion because that's more for debating Muslims. If he left that argument out, he coulda emphatically asserted something else stupid without evidence or try to get one or two more cheap laughs out of the audience. 

If you're familiar with the material Wood is claiming to be undisputed historical fact then his incredulity is a bit too much, unfortunately. However there isn't too much we can do about it, so it's definitely up to Loftus to explain how misleading or incorrect Wood's pronouncements actually are.

Loftus gives just an unbelievably incoherent diatribe for 20 minutes. His major strategy seemed to depend on expressing an absolute state of pure astonishment that Wood, a Christian apologist, would think the Resurrection is historically substantiated. He wasn't even coherent on general complaints about critical thinking or criticism against Christianity. Loftus I think even curses in a church. I mean, at least try to read your audience. Loftus also had a ppt but for whatever reason decided not to use it or purposely decided against organizing the slides to fit his presentation...unless rambling about things and then saying "next slide" zooming through 50 slides in a row was part of his strategy. Bold move.

Loftus doesn't improve much in the rebuttal periods but Wood isn't too great either. The difference is Wood still seemed more off polished and as if he actually attempted to prepare for a debate, whereas Loftus, despite running a blog called Debunking Christianity since at least 2005 and publishing books on the topic, plus having masters degrees in the relevant fields, decided not to come prepared to debate a central topic running through all those qualifications, at all. That's how it sounded to me and if you read comments and other reviews of the debate, I'm not the only one with such an impression.

The Cross-Ex didn't improve much. Whenever Loftus responded, he'd ramble about general Christian topics eating up his allotted time. Only after his time was up did Loftus actually address the question flustering the heck out of the moderator.

Also, in the closings, Loftus quotes an argument made by Ehrman the Craig 2006 debate. This is a GREAT idea if it wasn't done in the closing remarks because 
(a) It's pretty much a challenge to the opponent to discredit. The point is that when your opponent attempts to discredit it, they look really weak trying to say that it would be absurd that people might have stolen a dead body from a tomb while also claiming that it's pretty much historic fact that a man came back to life after three days and then teleported to multiple places, in and out of rooms with locked doors and phased through solid rock.

(b) Wood couldn't respond because Loftus only mentions it in his closing statement! Before this, Loftus quoted Keith Parsons from his Craig 1998 debate, which again is perfectly fine. But it just reeks of last-minute preparation and Loftus brings it up in the Q&A and like I mentioned earlier, he decides to squeeze it into his response after rambling about something else.

In short, Wood came off as more prepared but wasn't very convincing, to me, at least. Was he convincing to his audience? I don't doubt it for a second. Even the two skeptical questioners at the end of the debate said as much.

A few years ago I listened to Loftus' debate with Dinesh D'Souza. Loftus did fairly poorly in that debate too, which bummed me out because he's been pushing for a debate with William Lane Craig since at least 2009.

The D'Souza debate was in 2010 and so this Wood debate occurred 5 years later and Loftus seems to have gotten worse. Maybe he's just not a good debater? Or, according to his response to PhilVaz on his blog, he didn't have enough time to prepare for this debate.

I don't think I want to let him off the hook for these things though because this isn't some nuanced new debate topic. David Wood didn't throw out anything new or out of left field, either (nor do I think it's enough to say that Wood might have brought something original to the table). He just used his schtick for debating Muslim apologists and aped William Lane Craig's arguments. He didn't even do WLC's arguments justice, either.

For example, several things Wood got away with are pretty standard apologetic attacks: claiming skeptics need to throw out all of ancient history if they want to throw out the claims of the bible, that skeptics of the resurrection are going against scholarly consensus, skeptics are essentially employing an unlivable form of skepticism when they doubt the resurrection, etc. etc. All these things are nothing new, nor was Wood particularly tough or forceful with these attacks.

This debate shoulda gone a lot differently.

But here's a bit more on why I think Loftus has no excuse*

1. He quotes from two VERY GOOD debates on the topic: Ehrman's and Parson's debates (to be fair, Parson's debate was on Christianity but he focused a lot on the resurrection). Those debates are really good places to get your own debate ready to go. But remember, Parson's debate is from 1998 and Ehrman's is from 2006, that's how old Wood's own material is! So even without those great debates, there is still even more recent material out there!

2. Loftus himself, has written on this issue. He has a popular blog called Debunking Christianity which has been around since 2006, has dozens of books relating to Christianity, several specific to Christianity and at least one focused on debating Christianity. What's more, his books are highly acclaimed, both non-theists and theists agree that Loftus is stellar at presenting the non-jargon-y arguments against theism.

3. Loftus is totally buds with a lot of big name atheists and scholars familiar with this topic. He co-authored (or edited?) a book with Hector Avalos and regularly interacts with Keith Parsons and Richard Carrier.

4. He's already debated David Wood before. Not on the resurrection but after watching Wood debate Muslims and one other atheist (him and James White for some reason are uncomfortable debating atheism unless it's a pop atheist or a new-comer. Also, apparently Wood only feels comfortable debating a new comer on the existence of a vague creator deity, that is straight Lamesville.)

Quick note about David Wood. I was going to also mention that he came off a bit slimey in his opening. He did, but it wasn't just in his opening, he was sleazy throughout his whole presentation so I'm talking about it here. He makes a random racist Asian joke and he refers to Richard Carrier as "polyamorous Richard Carrier" and it's like, what does Carrier's relationship preference have to do with biblical criticism? I was really quite pissed by the latter point but I've cooled down. It might just be the fact that polyamorism is completely beyond Wood's comprehension that he sees referencing it as more of a joke than being potentially insulting. But coupled with the overall dehonest way he approached the debate and the racist comment, it makes me think that I shouldn't be so generous in my assessment of the guy. I've also looked into why he reserved such douchebaggery for Carrier and found that they have been in an internet tiff for a while, especially after Wood gave a critical review of Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness without God with one of his criticisms being that a book making a case for a specific worldview was too one-sided and thinks Carrier is craycray for "believing" that some day humans will colonize space...Seriously, the mayor of Lamesville, right here, gang. I can see why Wood apparently forgot his Christian values when dismissing Carrier as a lowly historian specializing in ancient science and why Carrier would probably not want to debate such an ungracious, smarmy guy.

*I've heard tell that Loftus has debated others and done a bit better. For example, his Rauser debates are variable in positive praise so I should check those out. But like, I just can't excuse Loftus such a lapse, especially if he wants to go up against Craig and especially if he wants to keep debating in such a venue. 

9-10-15: Modified some thoughts, found out some more info and changed "Hactor" to Hector. 

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