Debate in Riverside

Later this month I will be debating the existence of God with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries, on Wednesday May 23rd, 7-9pm (2012), at UC Riverside, in University Lecture Hall [UNLH 1000] on 900 University Ave. in Riverside (California 92521). There will be overflow seating in Life Sciences 1500 [LSc 1500]. It’s sponsored by the Well Christian Club. Free to all, but they expect high attendance so come early to be assured a seat. (See the CRM page and the Facebook page.)


  1. says

    Don’t feed the trolls. God doesn’t exist. The jury is in. We won this debate. Debating creationism, homeopathy, and the existence of god just gives credence to debunked ideas. Let’s talk about something more difficult, like ethics, values, community, and trying to do good despite our different beliefs.

    • says

      We do that on occasion, too. But you can’t consider the debate won when the world is still 70%+ believers. The word still needs getting out, and debates, when honest, can help do that. They don’t answer the question. But they can sow seeds that later bear fruit.

    • says

      If your aim is to get a resolution of a question, they are. The only value debates have is education: exposing people to ideas they haven’t thought or known before. But then they have to continue researching the subject themselves. If you expect more than that, then debates are indeed as lame as a no legged man.

    • Cozmot says

      Yes, of course Richard said that, in his critique of Ehrman, when someone said ‘why don’t you just debate?’ I pointed that out, too, and he said:

      “Nice job ignoring everything I’ve said about debates and how they cannot accomplish what is being asked here… I have no problem debating (I do it all the time). I do have a problem with people who think it resolves anything.”

      But here he says, “But you can’t consider the debate won when the world is still 70%+ believers.” So, how do you “win” debates without resolving anything, without refuting points?

      The fact is, Richard is going to “debate” (whatever his convenient definition at the time is) a lightweight evangelical pastor. Good grief, I’d debate Lenny Esposito! And win. But although I consider some of Ehrman’s argumentation in his new book, Did Jesus Exist? to be weak, I wouldn’t get in the ring with him. Neither will Richard. And all because it won’t “resolve” anything. Right.

      Anyway, smart move, Richard, because I’m afraid he’d demolish you. So you two can keep, um, well, for lack of a better word, “debating” Ehrman in your blogs, and it gives you good cover.

    • says

      We don’t win by winning debates. We win by educating people and inspiring them to think for themselves and check the facts for themselves.

      In advanced scholarly “debate,” we prevail not by having clocked, two-hour verbal debates, but by engaging in exchanges of publications without time limit until a consensus arises.

      But as I said, I’ll happily debate Ehrman (nice try pretending I said otherwise). You are just a fool if you think that will “resolve” this issue.

    • Cozmot says

      So Richard says, “We don’t win by winning debates. We win by educating people and inspiring them to think for themselves and check the facts for themselves.”

      Let me understand this. He’s going to engage in a “debate” (his word, not mine) with evangelical Lenny Esposito, but not try to win the debate? Really? Just try to “inspire” the evangelical attendees to “think for themselves”? Oh yes, I’m sure that the Well Christian Club, which features “explosive God-centered worship,” and a “deep exhortation from God’s Word” in their Bible studies, will be “inspired” by the non-debate debate to stop believing in Jesus.

      So, in this case, “The word still needs getting out, and debates, when honest, can help do that.” Gosh, maybe you’ll reduce that 70%+ of “believers” to, oh, say, 69.99%+, through “educating” these manifestly open-minded people.

      Oh, wait a minute, I just saw those hairs that Richard split. He wrote, “In advanced scholarly ‘debate,’ we prevail not by having clocked, two-hour verbal debates, but by engaging in exchanges of publications without time limit until a consensus arises.” Ah, I found Richard’s key! He’s not going to engage in “scholarly debate” with Esposito, but some lesser kind of debate. Maybe it’ll be modeled on the Republican Primary “debates” that regaled us all these past several months! Those debates certainly inspired a lot of people to think for themselves, didn’t they?

      Well, good luck with your non-debate debate. I’m sure that it’ll take great discipline to resist the urge to “win,” but I’m sure that deep down you have it in you.

      So, now that you say “I’ll happily debate Ehrman,” challenge him to a debate. You don’t have to “resolve” anything, but just take the same approach as you are with Esposito. Inspire and educate, but just don’t try to win.

      We’re waiting.

    • says

      Cozmot: “He’s going to engage in a “debate” (his word, not mine) with evangelical Lenny Esposito, but not try to win the debate?”

      You are confusing winning a debate with winning an argument. You can win a debate and still be completely wrong. For example, if you win by doing nothing but lying the whole while, or using nothing but logical fallacies that your opponent doesn’t have enough time to point out before the clock runs out.

      Thus, it is foolish to expect to win a debate when your opponent is going to use countless fallacies and misstatements of fact. Thus the only valid objective is to provide the audience with enough evidence that your opponent is doing that, and enough examples of facts and arguments your opponent would rather the audience not be aware of, that the audience is inspired to distrust your opponent and check things for themselves.

      Even when your opponent is mostly logical and accurate, in complex matters the pertinent facts are too numerous to list and defend in an hour’s time. Thus, again, you can’t win a debate when you need two hours to list and establish the evidence for your case. All you can do is present enough of a case that the audience realizes the matter is uncertain and hasn’t been resolved in the debate they just watched, thus inspiring them to check further. But again, they have to actually do that. If they are idiots and think the matter is resolved when the clock runs out, there is no helping them.

      In well-argued matters like God’s existence or the resurrection of Jesus, where there is ample information and publications on both sides that an audience member can get informed enough to make a call, this kind of process works, to the extent that the audience actually bothers to honestly inquire and check (which is on them). But in the historicity case, there has never been a proper exchange of publications and analyses, just bluster and straw men from both sides, usually ignoring each other. So there is little an audience member can do. It was for this very reason that my fans hired me to get the proper conversation started by researching and publishing a properly argued case for or against historicity (whichever I ended up with). Which I am near to completing.

      Ehrman cold have done us a favor by starting this proper debate himself, by actually correctly describing the best one or two mythicist theories and analyzing the arguments and evidence assembled in their support. But he didn’t do that. So even his book is useless. It’s just more bluster and straw men. That didn’t have to be the case. But that’s what he chose to do. Even so, imagine him defending his case in one hour, when he needed three hundred pages to do it in print. You’ll then start to realize why oral debates simply can’t be won in the sense you want them to be. They can be won on rhetorical measures, but not on the one measure that matters: deciding who is right.

      Thus, I don’t see an oral debate being very useful in this matter. An open-ended written debate would be. But so far the only person talking about starting one of those is me. That’s the function of my next book.

  2. says

    The major problem that the Christian debater has in debates like this is that he is stuck with a type of God which is very hard to defend (i.e. a God with a personality). So God, to some Christians, is simple but powerful, and yet at the same time dictates petty morals and changes his mind.

    One could present a positive case for God, perhaps, but in my estimation it would have not much to do with the God of the Bible.

    In any case I look forward to watching a recording. And I hope you have fun.

  3. Achrachno says

    Good! I’ll be there: I can find my way to Riverside. I met you briefly at the LA Times book fair recently, and it’ll be good to hear you spar with this Esposito fellow.

  4. Cozmot says

    Richard Carrier: You are confusing winning a debate with winning an argument. You can win a debate and still be completely wrong.

    While I disagree with you on this nuanced point, I appreciate your detailed response. While we are still at odds, I have gained more respect for you because you demonstrated a more logical explanation. Consequently, I think that I can finally objectively evaluate your arguments. Thanks for your time, Richard.

  5. Grayhame says

    Some good points Richard. Personally, I think oral debates are an excellent means to persuade others, possibly even superior to written debates. Written debates require much more patience than most people will give to a topic, even important political, philosophical or theological ones. I would add that the point of debating should also be to educate oneself on how to be an effective debater.

  6. says

    The debate about “if” god exists, if a high intelligence ordered up the big bang out of nothing, has to me.. NOT been won by atheists. If it had, then I wouldn’t be an agnostic along with millions of other people. Machio Kaku recently stated while being interviewed by C-SPAN that he is not an atheist but believes in the god that calculated the laws of physics & nature. That his god is similar to the god that Einstein pondered. Richard Dawkins who is a leading atheist debater & author in the world now, admitted to Jewish Ben Stein when pressed about how sure he is god doesn’t exist; that on a scale of 1 to 7, he is a 6!! To me Dawkins being unable to posit a 7 on a scale of 1 to 7 revealed he is actually an agnostic. Just closer to being an absolute atheist than me.

    Stein seemed to have set a trap for Dawkins which Stein worked to attempt to demonstrate Dawkins hates conservative Jews. And Dawkins clearly hates the god of Judaism as Stein managed to have Dawkins quote the “trash talk” he piles on the Jewish god in his book “The God Delusion”.

    Next Stein wants to know: “if god didn’t create the universe and life on this planet, then how did it get here?” Richard Dawkins admitted that nobody knows how the universe came to exist or how life as we know it came to exist here on this planet. Dawkins goes further and says that it could be that some high intelligence in the universe created life as it exists here on earth and it was seeded from outerspace but this view, if it turns out to be correct, has NOTHING to do with a god that religious people promote!. Here Dawkins must be talking about something similar to what is presented in an old book I have from 1981 by Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, PhD titled “Evolution from Space”.

    One can view this interesting exchange between the often arrogant Ben Stein and the cocky Richard Dawkins by going to YouTube and typing in the search box “Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins”.

    Also very recently there was a show on one of the cable channels on creation of the universe where they play Stephen Hawking’s latest understanding of the creation of the universe and speaking as he must via his electronic voice; Hawking states that his view now is that the universe came to be when the big bang happened over 13 billion years ago and all matter, energy, time and space (yes space; before the big bang there wasn’t a place for any of us to be located) came to exist at that moment and it all happened WITHOUT a god. THE UNIVERSE ACTUALLY CREATED ITSELF OUT OF NOTHING!! To me that was as odd and fantastic as Genesis 1.

    Then the host of this show introduced Machio Kaku, a current popular author, host of science shows on cable TV and physics professor in New York City and Paul Davies who did his PhD at Cambridge under Fred Hoyle (Hoyle always rejected the big bang and I remember Hoyle saying how he was most put off by the fact the big bang was originated by a Roman Catholic Priest…but Hoyle is credited with naming the theory “the big bang” while debating it’s merits on the BBC years ago ) and these two men took exception with Hawking saying he has taken it too far and has NOT put a god out of any possibility in the creation.

    I also have an old book from Paul Davies titled “God and the New Physics” which this man invokes a kind of god often into his discussion of physics, astronomy and creation of the universe.

    It seems clear to me that the god these men seem to think exists or may exist is not the god of any religion & may not even be aware of our existence. That is what Hoyle would say later on the BBC. That life is cosmic in scale, older than the earth & that even the interstellar grains are dried bacteria and life came to this planet via comets and meteors! That view is gaining some acceptance now but not exactly as Hoyle thought. Probably just the building blocks of life and water comes from space. The oceans may have built up over millions of years from space rocks one drop at a time!! They showed a slice of meteor on this science channel show last year and locked in it were organic material and a few water droplets and the scientist interviewed said it shows life and the oceans likely accumulated from material coming from outerpace on the early/young earth. (maybe they got the damn thing out of the ocean! I don’t know)

    Also there are those who hold the big bang is bogus. But I did some checking over the weekend and most of these people are now dead and I’m of the opinion that almost NO scientists today reject the big bang. Yes there are different opinions about secondary mechanics concerning how the big bang worked but that is about it.

    But there is this video on YouTube “The Big Bang Never Happened”. And the lead scientist interviewed who rejects the big bang is Geffory Burbidge who recently died. When he talks about it, he sounds as if his objections have great merit from his work as a scientist! His wife Margaret also has a PhD in astronomy. Those two wrote a paper with Fred Hoyle and Willy Fowler in the 1950’s which proved (in an attempt by Hoyle to overthrow the big bang which then held that all the elements were created by the big bang itself) that the elements are created inside stars including carbon which is said to be the cornerstone of life. But the two elements which are responsible for stars to burn remained outside this work and are NOT created inside stars; so while it changed things concerning how most of the elements are formed, it didn’t kick the big bang’s ass after all! The others who hold the big bang is bogus are also dead now including Hoyle and Herrman Bondi and Tommy Gold. Gold was a physics and astronomy professor at Cornell and actually hired Carl Sagan. I heard him lecture years ago and he was most interesting. One of the big bang detractors on this video IS still alive and that is Dr. Arp but he is 85 now. So it seems any big opposition to the big bang is literally dying out.

    Gee I guess I’m showing my age! Yes I was alive when Hoyle named the big bang in and I followed the fight with great interest during the 1950’s between the two camps.

    Well pardon me for rambling here much too much but I wonder if Dr. Carrier would also agree that Richard Dawkins may be considered to be an agnostic or “almost” an atheist rather than a straight, down the line, “no doubt about it” ATHEIST since he told Stein that on a scale of 1 to 7 he is a 6 about god not existing?

  7. says

    I wonder if Dr. Carrier would also agree that Richard Dawkins may be considered to be an agnostic or “almost” an atheist rather than a straight, down the line, “no doubt about it” ATHEIST since he told Stein that on a scale of 1 to 7 he is a 6 about god not existing?

    Larry, no atheist with some life experience and some education would ever say that the God hypothesis has an absolute probability of being true or false.

    Commonly, agnostics (like Neil DeGrasse Tyson) either don’t know, don’t wish to convince anyone of their opinion, or don’t have an opinion at all (and they don’t appreciate atheists telling them what category they should fit into). Atheists either don’t want anything to do with God (even if he exists), are not convinced of the evidence, or believe that there is evidence against the God hypothesis.

    I have not seen Expelled but Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, both interviewees, have interesting stories to tell about how the movie was edited.

    • says

      The God hypothesis has an absolute probability of being true or false.

      It is either true or false. The only thing probabilistic about it is the uncertainty that comes with knowing things by way of senses. We can be rather sure things are true. The odds of God being true is less likely than werewolves and there is as much evidence supporting werewolves as gods.

      We can have some mathematical proofs that somethings can’t happen. I cannot for example take two different sized perfect cubes of carbon and use all the molecules without losing any and make a different sized cube of carbon, regardless of those sizes.

      Perhaps it’s true as Carrier noted in The God Impossible, that there could be a logical proof of the impossibility of God, and we just don’t know it yet.

      In any event, as John McCarthy once noted, to be an atheist doesn’t require that we have absolute proof there is no God. One only needs to understand that the evidence on the God question is on par with the evidence for the werewolf question.

      Generally we can’t have absolute knowledge, but that hardly makes gods less absurd. They are just less likely than unicorns. And I don’t believe in unicorns. But, moreover I don’t believe in gods and that alone makes me an atheist.

  8. Justin says

    Hello Dr. Carrier, I was at the debate at UC Riverside yesterday and I really enjoyed the whole thing. In all honesty it was very one sided in your favor. Nice job taking Esposito to town on all his arguments, you really gave him no room to breath! All Lenny was able to hold onto (in my opinion) was his cosmological argument of “what caused the Big Bang if not some greater intelligence?” but that’s still nothing more than a God of the gaps argument, which I don’t think looks too brightly on the theist position.

    I thought it was interesting how Lenny tried to make atheism the side that has to bear the burden of proof, that it’s up to the atheist to prove that God doesn’t exist. That’s obviously not true and you were quick to lay that claim to rest, even if Lenny didn’t want to accept that. He then tried to falsely accuse you of not bringing in proof of God’s nonexistence. This seemed like it was a ploy to diffuse what you said and shift the favor back to him, which I thought failed.

    Lenny dropped the ball on few of his own major arguments for God’s existence, such as consciousness, morality, and Jesus’ resurrection. These were all areas that he did not seem particularly well-educated in and you provided plenty of evidence to show that. His position that God’s existence follows if objective morality is true, didn’t seem to be logically connected. His argument on Jesus’ resurrection was nothing more than circular reasoning: it’s true because the Bible says it’s true and the Bible’s true because it’s the word of God. This of course didn’t hold up very well.

    Thanks for speaking at this debate! It was the first debate I’ve been able to attend and for you to be the atheist speaker made it even better.

    • Rebecca says

      I was at the debate, too, and I really enjoyed what Richard had to say. Richard, you inspired me to start some scientific inquiry of my own (though, I’m not going to lie – when you and Lenny started delving into physics and infinity, my mind started to explode a bit from the power of SCIENCE).

      I was disappointed with Lenny, though. I’m an agnostic atheist, but I was raised as a Christian and I read that he was going to bring scientific proof of God’s existence into the debate. So, I was super interested – but instead, he spent the better part of two hours trying to dampen Richard’s credibility and ignoring basic principles of evolution. I was face-palming all over the place.

      I’m rambling now, but in short: it was great listening to you, Richard!

  9. says

    Hello Richard,

    I got to listen to an audio recording of the debate. I have a question about something you mentioned in the debate.

    You mentioned that Philo “tells us that there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named Jesus.”

    Would you provide more details – what Philo says and where? Perhaps a blog post?


    • says

      I discuss it in Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-51. See the intertextual content of Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63 and 146 and On Dreams 1.215 (for starters). The first of these refers to Zech. 6 which is (or was originally) talking about Jesus ben Jehozadak (in legend the first high priest after the exile; although this passage has him appearing in God’s throne room in heaven). Modern bibles will call him “Joshua ben Jehozadak” but that’s the same name. Philo rejects the historical reading (and thus does not regard this as Jesus ben Jehozadak, but Jesus the Logos, the firstborn of all creation). His discussion of this figure elsewhere makes clear this is not his innovation, but an existing element of Jewish theology he has inherited.

      P.S. Is that audio available online?

  10. says


    I think I mixed up your debate and your talk at the Freethought Festival 2012. The reference to Philo was probably at the freethought festival not at this debate. Sorry about that.

    Both the recordings are available online.

    The debate audio can be found linked here.

    The Freethought Festival 2012 audio recordings can be found here:


    • says

      Oh yes, I definitely did talk about the Philonic Jesus at the Freethought Festival talk.

      (I thought it seemed unlikely that it came up at the Carrier-Esposito debate, but I do so many events and Q&As I could have forgotten–and it didn’t matter, really, since either way the info is the same.)

      Thanks for the links.