Richard Wilson recently posted a report of my debate with Phil Zuckerman on the Friendly Atheist blog. Wilson's report was honest and fair, if sketchy, though many comments less honest or fair followed. Finally, someone signing himself or herself JMK issued the following eyewitness report of the debate. Perhaps JMK is making a dry, tongue-in-cheek critique of eyewitness reports in general, with a view to discrediting the gospels? It certainly demonstrates the power of bias over perception. JMK does get some facts right. Let me correct the rest. I suspect I may have to do this more than once, so let me add a Roman numeral to the title of this post.
Having attended the debate I can vouch for the one-sided nature.
The quotes are the best I could do.
The gist of Zuckerman's argument was twofold:
1. Secular Humanists agree with many Christian values, with a side emphasis on Democracy being valued by both. Nonreligious (post-Christian) democratic populations show the most success at displaying Christian values. (Launched by his Treaty of Tripoli arc establishing the U.S. as not Christian, and followed by much evidence from polls re: U.S. subgroups and internationally.)
2. Secular Humanism can draw upon the best the world, which also shares these (predating Christianity) "Christian" values, and SH allows all to come to the table with their beliefs. On the other hand, Christianity is non-inclusive, especially if privileged. Followed by subtle implications of the Bible, and strong evidence of evangelicals, falling short of "Christian Values".
Marshall never countered these.
Marshall came prepared with a pro-Christian, anti-Atheist sermon full of anecdotes (both personal & historical) and quotes. Most of my notes for him are along the lines "More quotes, more anecdotes".
No actual evidence. No firm rebuttals.
Zuckerman defanged him by agreeing Christianity has had successes, but then showing the greater success of post-Christian democracies (and peoples).
Marshall kept trying to get back on the 'communist' arc and the 'atheists have no values' arc, but since Zuckerman had already filled those gaps by embracing democracy and "Christian" (but shared universally) values, Marshall found no footing.
Essentially, Zuckerman didn't counter him (except to correct errors or obfuscations) so much as top him.
Marshall's attempts to extricate 'basis of civil society' away from 'democratic government' was sloppy, as he had no replacement 'basis'. (Zuckerman had already conceded that a society of one religion, any religion, would be 'civil', but in our pluralistic world, that wasn't an option. (Also alluded to Sharia Law.))
Marshall didn't seem to understand Secular Humanism is not atheism, nor anti-Christian, or that is does have a set of values.
My response: At least you're not entirely guessing at my arguments, like some above. But I gave a number of empirical arguments for my case, backed them up by citing many leading historians, and Zuckerman did nothing to overthrow those arguments. Were you asleep during my opening statement?
As for your rebuttal, consider the following:
(1) There were no "secular humanists" in the Continental Congress. That is anachronistic. But every single man there grew up in a culture deeply influenced by Christianity. And while some figures who influenced the outcome might have been closer to deism than Christianity (Hume, Jefferson), others were serious believers (Locke, Witherspoon).
(2) Government, in my view, should be neutral between religions, and between religious and non-religious organizations. That is not at all the same as saying either that the values that made America were not largely and deeply Christian, including government itself -- read the Tierney book I cited.
(3) Christianity has, in fact, "drawn upon the world," and in a deeper sense than Secular Humanism can. Humanists of the Kurtz-Zuckerman variety are atheists. That isolates them from many true insights in world civilizations, such as those I described the next morning at Adventure. Early Christians recognized this from the beginning, as Paul Tillich, for instance, points out. (As does Jaroslav Pelikan's excellent Jesus Through the Centuries.)
Plato and Socrates were not left behind on the cutting board: they became part of Western ("Christian") civilization. Homer is reborn in Milton; Virgil in Dante. The Stoics accompanied Mateo Ricci to China.
(4) No evidence? Baloney. I gave copious evidence. And Zuckerman conceded a great deal of it. Your bias is showing like pink underwear through thin white cotton, on that bit of nonsense.
This week I'll post my opening statement. It is full of copious evidence for the positive influence of the Gospel, which Zuckerman did nothing to refute.
(5) I never, ever said "atheists have no values." Nor have I ever, once, written such a thing. Though I wonder if you may need more of them, in misrepresenting me like that.
(6) Secular Humanism is a "religion" in the sense I use the word -- I cited Peter Berger on the two different kinds of definition for "religion." Have you read Berger? I suspect Phil has, which is why he did not challenge me on the point.
(7) Nor (again you are misrepresenting the facts) did I "concede the power" of Zuckerman's Gish Gallop at the end. I conceded that I could not possibly answer all those points, and then somehow conclude my own argument, in five minutes. I said I'd answer them elsewhere (on my blog, when the transcript is available -- but I've already answered his strongest point in my last post).
(8) The concluding story was real evidence, which Zuckerman's main argument was not. He concedes himself that "correlation does not prove causation." Ruby Bridges' story (multiplied many thousands of times over) shows causation, not just correlation. Zuckerman is looking at society from a satellite, but real human impact occurs at the ground level. And I'd given plenty of general evidence to demonstrate that causation already. Including by citing Zuckerman himself, and then demonstrating that the Scandinavian atheists who tell him how the Gospel has influenced Scandinavia for the better, are right.
As Zuckerman himself concedes, when life gets easy, people tend to forget God. That's what the Bible says, too, including Jesus, in the Parable of the Seed. Why should I argue with Jesus?
(9) I did not "dredge up dirt." Not once was I uncivil or did I offer irrelevant arguments. I like Phil, never impugned his motives, and was courteous throughout. I don't fault Phil for bringing up the 100 Years War: he has no reason to fault me for bringing up the mass horrors of 20th Century Marxism-Leninism. This is a serious discussion.
(10) The tribe I mentioned was the Yanomami. Zuckerman was wrong: they are not exceptions, as even Margaret Mead concedes, but much more the rule. See War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. (I have lived among other tribes with such backgrounds, both in North America and Asia.) Phil was also wrong to suppose that means I don't appreciate the good in such tribes -- a subject I have often stressed, and I followed immediately by pointing out the oppressive character of many early civilizations.
(11) You're also wrong in assuming that I'm a Democrat. I simply refused to discuss politics, as Phil seemed to want to do -- not that there was time for that, anyway.
I will post this, and subsequent corrections, on my blog, along with detailed empirical refutations of those important points that I didn't get to in our short debate, and Phil got wrong.