Monday, October 19, 2015

My Interview and Debate with Vocab Malone on Urban Theologian

Well it was recorded awhile ago but it's out now!

Here is the interview: EPISODE 40;
and here is the debate: EPISODE 41

More information on the stuff I mention in the debate first:

Hindu Milk Miracles
Ahmed's Debate handout
Buckhout's Eyewitness Testimony Article
Some sources I used.

The Debate: In detail and scored

Vocab's Opening

Vocab made two arguments:
1. Scripture is sufficient and reliable evidence to accept the resurrection.
Basically, regarding the EWT is formulated in a way that emphasizes the historicity of the event. That is, if this were legendary or not an account of actual events then Mark's gospel would not be the important gospel because of his minor place as a disciple. Peter's account would be the important gospel because he was a key figure. Furthermore, God guided the process of composing the gospels so it must be accurate. Also, the scribes who copied the gospels later must have been faithful because they did not embellish or update Jesus' words to address hot button issues contemporaneous with the time range given to a particular manuscript.

2. If we "discount, diminish, dilute, dismiss, or deny" the resurrection as an historical fact, then we could not explain other historical events. We would only be able to deny the resurrection and get saddled with a bunch of unanswered questions.
In short, the conversion of the disciples, the change from established Jewish traditions to radical Christian ones and the like do not make sense unless the resurrection actually occurred.

Before the debate I actually heard Vocab going over another common argument: the martyrdom of the apostles but that never came up. I don't think it's a strong argument but Christians certainly do. I would have mentioned the 911 attacks as a counter-example but I recently mentioned that in another discussion with Christians and they were not impressed. I'm not sure if actually showing that the so-called accounts of the apostles' gruesome deaths are dubious in and of themselves is something that would be worthwhile to address either, though.

Anyways, when I heard Vocab's opening I was actually a bit surprised. I did not feel it was really strong though it was not what I was expecting at least. In an earlier debate he had, he went the natural vs supernatural worldview route. He also even brought up the problem of induction. So I did have some stuff ready for that, but it wasn't needed in this debate.

Later I realized why Vocab presented this weaker case: it seemed to be more inline with a debate about whether or not Jesus actually existed. I think the last few debates Vocab has been in have been on Jesus Mythicism, and he might have been dipping into that pool of arguments. The issue is that I actually do think that Jesus can be demonstrated to have existed through historical evidence and within an ancient historical context. To put it bluntly, showing that isn't an outrageous contention with respect to the evidence presented, but showing that someone rose from the dead with the same evidence, that's a buttload harder to pull off.

My Opening

As Vocab rightly noted, I used the first argument and one of the sources from Arif Ahmed's 2008 debate with Gary Habermas which I have a long review of HERE.

Unlike Ahmed, I went a bit more critical and didn't grant too much of the resurrection argument for Vocab. I decided to do this for time purposes, as I was a bit worried that granting for the sake of argument that the Res eye witnesses were trustworthy would not work with only one of Ahmed's arguments instead of the three he uses in his debate.

So I essentially said this: The resurrection is cool to believe on faith alone. However if you want to say that we can actually accept that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and that there's evidence for such a claim then the evidence offered by the apologist simply doesn't cut it. Why? It's eyewitness testimony, and that's being gracious. It's actually pretty weak eyewitness testimony and there is more substantial eyewitness testimony to other supernatural events that the apologist is obligated to accept if they are credulous enough to accept the eyewitness testimony for the resurrection.

I gave roughly two examples of supernatural claims evidenced by eyewitness testimony (EWT), both of which, are more concrete than the EWT offered in the New Testament: 1. The Hindu Milk Miracles; 2. Alien Abductions.

In hindsight I should have stuck with the former example AND I should have explained it in my opening. I only mention it in my opening and explain it later. I also should have referred to it as I do above, in the debate I say the Ganesh Milk Miracles, which might sound odd to people not familiar with the deity. I also should have left out the alien abductions. The thing with the alien abductions is they are technically naturalistic but still highly unlikely. As such, they're a good example to mention because it deflates the argument that I have a bias against the supernatural. In the past Vocab has gone that route but he didn't in this debate, so I should have stuck with Ganesh, especially since it was completely foreign to him.

The Rest of the debate

After both of us made opening statements it was more of a back and forth. Listening to it I noticed that I was actually more on the defensive, or rather, Vocab was asking more of the questions. I think I answered them well but not persuasively.

First, we went on about the divinely inspired part of the bible and I was lucky in that I recently became interested in the argument over God telling lies and knew a bunch of associated bible passages.

The ones I mentioned are:
2 Thessalonians 2:11
2 Chronicles 18:22
1 Kings 22:23

More passages are found here. I had a friend tell me that he was impressed with how quickly I responded to the question. I also felt this point technically would "flow" to me as well, especially since 1 Kings pretty much shows that God is willing to send both truth (John 16:13) and lying spirits to deceive people for theological purposes.

Second, I finally do detail the Hindu Milk Miracles. I go on for a bit, but I think I do make it clear and I think I do address the point that Vocab brought up about the supposed non-EWT evidence. I have a friend who said he liked Vocab's Spider-Man argument but I never made that argument and maybe I should have made that clear. Because my response sounded a bit vague and because this wasn't an argument I didn't bring up I call this argument a draw.

Third, faith, evidence, the importance of the resurrection and milk doin' a body good. Here the focus was on Vocab's second argument. I told Vocab I'm fine with people accepting the resurrection based on faith and Vocab took issue with that, elaborated on his second argument, and said that I failed to explain the data he mentioned to prop up his second argument. Here again I think I gave a good response, but upon relistening and not hearing others agreeing with my assessment, I can see that I just wasn't effective and might have been a bit glib. This one I flow to Vocab.

Fourth, I say that Vocab failed to demonstrate which of the premises in my argument he disagreed with. I messed up and said that he agreed with all of them, but of course he doesn't agree with the one about our never seeing someone rise from the dead. The issue is that he is begging the question, but I didn't call him on it because I was to thickheaded. Here I think Vocab kind of floundered, though. He brought up a more nuanced argument that reminded me of one William Lane Craig has made. That is, no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead. People saw him die, found an empty tomb, and then saw him again in his resurrectioned bod.

When Craig mentions this argument it's for a different point, however. In a nutshell, Craig mentions that the resurrection claim isn't extraordinary because it's based on two rather mundane lines of evidence: is it extraordinary for people to watch someone die? Nope. Is it extraordinary to discover a previously occupied tomb empty? Nope.

But when Vocab mentioned the fact that the EWT actually doesn't mention seeing Jesus rise from the dead, he did so with regards to my 3rd point (we've never seen bodies reanimate), and I say something that I thought was a lot more of a NOICE argument but I guess wasn't. I said "It sounded like you were saying because they don't describe,--actually seeing Jesus resurrect, that gives them more credibility as eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection?" I felt that Vocab gave a weak response to this and moved on. Though my point should have been a bit more punchy, I'd flow this argument to me.

Fifth, historical issues with the gospels. Here I actually was a bit confused because I thought that Vocab was more of an evidentialist. At this point he was speaking about the EWT as actually coming from Mark, Luke, Matthew, etc. and not just being the works of anonymous second generation Christians. A bit of a miscommunication on my part messed up the argument though. I said no biblical scholar disagrees with me on the issue when I shoulda said, most. Vocab got hung up on that a bit and I didn't catch it at all. However, this is the one part where someone did say he thought I was really on point. In my friends' words "The Bart Ehrman stuff is where you did really well". The problem is that this is a really short part and I should have stuck with my own arguments instead. Still, I think I'd barely flow this one to me because Vocab didn't really address my point about the anonymity of the gospel authors besides taking issue with my universal negative.

Sixth, bringing it on home. Though I failed to outline the Hindu Milk Miracles in my opening, I think this part of the debate is when I really made it clear that Vocab was not consistently treating the type of evidence for supernatural claims. Here I think Vocab fell into a tangent talking about the interesting historical background of the NT and the authors and everything and in so doing inadvertently made the eyewitnesses he felt were credible enough to accept that a miracle occurred seem even more dubious. Here I now realize that I think Vocab was still hoping for a historicity debate and he might have been annoyed that I brought Ganesh back into the mix. It sounded like he might have been thinking "Hey man, I told you I don't think that's a persuasive argument. I thought we were talking about historicity now!" However because of some awkward language on my part and the blunder of mentioning alien abductions, I'm going to give this one to Vocab. Again, I had friends tell me they thought I was bringing up irrelevant points and maybe just sticking to the milky miracles should have been my only strategy to curb this issue.

Final score: Vocab: 2 Joe: 3 Draw: 1

So technically, I won, though I'm willing to bet that I am being to generous. Rhetorically however, Vocab came off a lot better. I'm still cringing at how nervous I felt and how many pauses, ums and uhs and awkward phrasings I used. I need to get better at this.

So there's a long review of the debate and some more info on things brought up. I'd like to know what others think but no one reads this!

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