Sunday, February 10, 2013

Carrier Debate: Top 11 add-ons . . .

Well, now I know what it's like to stand on the stage in the lights with an audience in dark before one, and debate a clever and well-read opponent.  We had a great moderator, who was cheerful, helpful, and fair.  The folks at Ratio Christi and the Nontheist group did an excellent job of preparation, and I'm grateful for the chance to participate.

My goal in this debate was not to win on points, to rebut every detail (which would have been impossible), or even to "win" the debate at all in any abstract sense.  My goal was to win people.  Whether or not anything I said proved helpful in moving any hearts towards God, He alone knows, but that is my prayer.

I was also hoping to develop a good relation with my opponent.  I was glad that Richard seemed to feel the same way.  He was friendly, professional, and in every way good to work with off the stage, and away from the podium.

A lot of people said they enjoyed the debate, and I had some good conversations afterwards.  (Still a little psyched, after speaking for 4 hours in the morning, the debate, talk afterwards -- did my sermon prep for tonight and for tomorrow's talk in Atlanta in the middle of the night, also thought of all the witty rejoinders that didn't come right away, of course . . . )

I was happy with my main arguments, and with the Q and A period, by and large.  As anticipated, though -- knowing myself -- I flubbed some responses to Carrier's arguments.  (Mea culpa -- on my last trip, I lost my passport!)  There were also new texts Carrier brought up which I haven't checked yet, but will when I find time.  Carrier rightly tells audiences to check his texts -- when I've checked them in the past, I've often found they showed very different things from what he seemed to think they did.  And also, there were points I did make, but would like to reinforce and emphasize a bit more, because they do I think go to the heart of things.

So here are my top eleven "What I meant to say, Senator"s . . .

(1) Why is an experience, by oneself or a good friend, a reason to change one's mind, but a million experiences by other people, just a mishmash collection of worthless anecdotes?

For that matter, while you're recalling what some writer thinks he found about memory, if memory is all that bad, how do you know you remember it correctly?  And how do you know he accurately transcribed what he found, relying also on memory?  Don't you realize that attacks on memory are a double-edged sword?

(2) What, indeed, is the difference between anecdotes and mutually-reinforcing historical accounts?  Or is that just a semantic game we are playing?

(3) How could the fact that miracles happen to a lot of people, somehow make them less credible?  Surely Bayes doesn't show that!  And wasn't Hume's argument just the opposite?  So both the fact that they are few, and the fact that they are many, both would count against miracles, after all, despite your written claims to being open to the evidence?

(4) If Jesus was so ordinary, how come (emphasizing my original argument on this point) so many of the greatest geniuses in human history have found his teachings and person extraordinary?  Is it not more likely, Dr. Carrier, that you are missing the "elephant in the room?"  As C. S. Lewis put it, you claim to see fernseed, but your evident inability is to see an elephant standing 10 paces away in broad daylight?

(5) You said that God can only be believed if he transcends cultures.  Now that I show that He does, you deny that argument has any weight or relevance.  So are you disavowing your earlier argument, which I quoted earlier tonight?

(6) The cloaking devise the Brahmins in Apollonius of Tyana used to make their city invisible is pretty cool, too.

(7) I love C. S. Lewis, even if I'm not entirely satisfied with his arguments over the Problem of Pain.

(8) By the way, I found my notes on that issue (which yes, I had misplaced, and poorly recreated on the spur of the moment, the worst moment in the debate for me, I think), and here is my real argument, in part . . .

The point about Dr. Carrier's description of how he would have created the universe is this.  I find the world he imagines creating instead of this one, boring.  We all seem to be just fat cows grazing contentedly in the meadow, forever.  I prefer a world with adventure in it, with problems to be solved, with the opportunity for loving others at loss to oneself, and even for correcting wrongs.

Who would want to live in Middle Earth without orcs or dragons?  Tolkien's story stops when the problems are solved, because it would be boring without them.

Maybe there are still adventures in Heaven.  Or maybe God has something else and better planned.  But surely it will be more interesting than the imaginary reality Richard Carrier describes in Why I am not a Christian, which MIGHT drive a sane person to contemplate suicide.

That of course does not mean I am either satisfied with children dying, or can explain why God allows this to happen.  I admit this is a real problem, one which many Christian explanations I have seen leave me dissatisfied.  But surely part of that answer is that this world is not all there is, or even most of what there is, and that justice will come "in the morning."

(9) The Muslim imam who heard from God was one in a million?  It would be more accurate to say, he is one of millions of Muslims who have risked crossing one of the most formidable cultural barriers to follow Jesus, in recent years, often because of such experiences -- as some have related to me directly.

(10) In response to the Muslim lady: Jesus is not the physical son of God, according to Christians.  God did not have sex with a lady, as Mohammed seemed to imagine, not knowing genuine Christian doctrine.

(11) Dr. Carrier has a long history of throwing out obscure references which don't (in my experience) pan out when looked up.  It's probably for the best that he didn't try to defend his comparison of the "Rumor of Sizzling Fishes" to the Resurrection of Jesus last night.  Good impromptu line about the sardines, though.

The larger point, however, is that such references, several of which Carrier gave again last night, serve mainly to show that he lacks any real awareness of the remarkable character of the Gospel texts.  I tried to explain, briefly, that character last night.  Hopefully my arguments went home for some in the audience, and others will read them with more open minds.  But in the future, I am hoping to rework the material and the arguments in Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, and to a lesser extent in Faith Seeking Understanding ("The Fingerprints of Jesus"), into a fuller argument, not just in rebuttal of Carrier, but as a positive argument for the Gospel which I think has great potential.  Last night provided me a chance to begin working on some of those ideas, and for seeing how a consummate skeptic like Carrier might attempt to respond to them.

I am more confident than ever that this is a winning argument -- because the nature of Jesus himself, and the gospels Richard Carrier disparages, but does not (I think) really see, in any sense worth calling sight.  By God's good grace, maybe that fuller argument will help enable Dr. Carrier to see Jesus as He really is.  

Well, that was fun for us, and the audience seemed to enjoy it as well.  Thanks again to those who did the leg work to put it on.  May the Lord use that evening to His glory, and for the good of those who attended and watched, or will watch, on the Web.

It looks like more debates will be coming up later in the year.  Please do stay tuned.


Freeman Today said...

Dr. Marshall:

I was privileged to attend the debate and host Richard Carrier. As your first effort there is always a lot to learn and opportunities to improve. I won't offer a point by point critique of your content or presentation here, but if you are interested, I would be happy to carry on a brief dialogue.

Charles Miller,
Secular Coalition For Alabama

David B Marshall said...

Charles: Thanks for helping to set the debate up.

As Richard I think recognizes, these debates are interesting for the issues they raise, but those can't be settled during the debate itself very well. In a sense, I think the debate was fun and interesting, but in another, we talked past one another more than I might have expected -- me as well as him. I got the feeling Richard was expecting a different set of arguments, because I certainly don't think he answered the ones I gave. And likewise, he might have felt about my responses. But what will be useful, and what I am looking forward to, is when the debate is easier to access, looking up those references Richard gave that I haven't considered yet, and working through his arguments (in light of my own) with more care and detail than was possible in that format. I've always found that rewarding. And I expect that will be of more use to Richard, as well.

So I'll welcome further dialogue. But let's put it on hold for a few weeks, until I end this speaking tour, the debate goes up, and I have a chance to consider our arguments again in more depth.