Debates & Interviews

In January (as announced beforehand) I debated the question “Jesus: Man, Myth, or Messiah?” with Douglas Jacoby at Amador Christian Center in the beautiful Sacramento hills. And now the audio of that debate is available (video might come later; if so, I’ll emend this blog and mention it in the comments thread). Ben Schuldt produced a good wrap-up post on it, briefly reviewing the debate and then surveying all the things he would have wanted the audience to hear (he’s well aware that debates are on the clock and thus everything that needs to be said simply can’t be, but that’s what blogs are for, praise Jebus).

Video of my debate with J.P. Holding (also at Amador Christian Center, last year) on the topic of whether the “Text of the New Testament is Reliableis also now available. I had announced that long ago in a comment thread, but have been meaning to blog it up properly for a while, so I’m seizing the opportunity. Not only is the video available (via YouTube) but you can also download our slideshows and view them separately (Carrier’s | Holding’s).

I was also interviewed for the Oklahoma Atheists podcast (yes, people, there are atheists in Oklahoma, it’s not just all rusted cars and missile silos), which is now available. In it we discussed my use of Bayesian Reasoning in Philosophy, especially in The End of Christianity where I apply it to the design argument.

Finally, I was actually on live public radio in Las Vegas a while back, appearing as a phone-in guest (along with a few others) on Conversations with Cogree. One reason I hate doing call-in shows is that phoneline audio quality is usually terrible, and with multiple people and signal delays and no body language to observe, talking over each other is a constant problem. But Cogee does a decent job moderating it all. The theme was “Atheism vs. Faith” and there were multiple believers and multiple atheists, each coming from a very different viewpoint than the other. Everyone was treated fairly. You can listen to an archive of the show.


  1. Sili says

    I’ve been on an Ehrman binge on Youtube the last couple days (con: He has a limited number of jokes).

    The last video I watched was a debatediscussion with a dr Daniel Wallace about the accessibility of the ‘original’ New Testament.

    While irrelevant to the discussion, Ehrman was asked about the existence of a historical Jesus, and I was rather surprised by his answer. It sounded like standard apologetics to me (an uninformed layman): The Messiah was supposed to be a warrior-king. The Christians claimed the Messiah was crucified. This is so unintuitive and wrong that noöne is likely to make up such a claim. Ergo Jesus.

    I hope I’m being too glib in my summary, but I can’t say I was impressed by that last bit of an otherwise excellent performance.

    • says

      You are right, Sili, that’s one of the standard arguments scholars use for Jesus being historical (although, usually also by fundies to argue for his really being resurrected), yet is not only fallacious (gods aren’t supposed to be castrated, either; so…therefore, Attis was a real dude?), it is also factually false. I think Ehrman is not seeing reason on that. His response to my blog on this sounded to me just like standard Christian apologetics, denying the obvious meaning and implications of a fact or text in order to try and rescue the “theory” that no Jews expected their messiah to die, getting cart directly in front of the horse (you’re supposed to argue from evidence to a theory, not from a theory to the evidence). If he pulls this in his book, I’m going to call him out on it. But we’ll see how that goes.

      (I also extensively document what’s wrong with this argument in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, but for those who don’t want to wait for the whole nine yards, I put half a hard of it in Proving History; see p 335, “dying messiah, concept of.” But again, only half a yard there.)

    • says

      Mike: I wonder if Jacoby has the sense to realize he should be thoroughly embarassed.

      I’m not sure what you mean. In the context of his delusion, he handled himself reasonably well. He did lose the debate on any objective technical measure. But that’s not embarrassing. I’ve seen embarrassing, and it doesn’t look like that (the Catholic opponents in the Hitchens-Fry debate, that was embarrassing).

    • says

      I’m not saying there has never been a more embarassing debate. I also don’t see why being in a context of a delusion makes something less embarassing.

      I would give the following as just a few reasons one might be ambarassed, as far as debate performances go:

      – His opening statement reminds me of a bad sermon from my Assemblies of God days. It consists largely of unsupported assertions and very sloppy reasoning.

      – The argument that the miracles actually help the reliability of the NT is downright hilarious.

      – He had to contradict himself when you cornered him about the Jewish culture adopting things from neighboring tribes.

      And that’s just a few examples from the first hour. On a positive note, I thought you did well. I’ll have to keep listening until the end to see if there is interaction with the audience, which I’m guessing is a church audience. I’d be interested to hear how they thought it went.

    • says

      Mike: I also don’t see why being in a context of a delusion makes something less embarassing.

      Granted. But I find it more sad than embarrassing. Embarrassing is when someone really shows they don’t know what they are talking about, explicitly eats their foot, and can’t reason logically, and as a result doesn’t even come close to a technical win or draw in a debate. Jacoby was at least well informed (he made only a few mistakes of fact), could reason soundly (his fallacies were complex and thus not “obvious”), and knew how to pick up drops and otherwise go for a technical win in a debate. In other words, he was competent. He just made a few key mistakes as to underlying premises, and it is on top of those that his entire delusion is built–yet, built entirely logically and informedly. That’s the trouble with delusions in smart people: they can make them perfectly consistent with logic and (almost) all facts. It’s just those few little blindspots that allow this to be possible. So I distinguish between someone with a few (albeit fundamental) blindspots and who makes a few (ancillary) errors, and someone who is completely out of touch with logic and reality (like, say, Josh McDowell or Newt Gingrich).

  2. Jake says

    Is there a case for religious people or even theological institutions to think of Ehrman as a “useful idiot”, in the sense that he can say what he likes about the bible, but as long he is making a case for a historical Jesus then that’s half the battle to them?

    As long as they have this basis then they know they can argue about “divinity” for the next thousand years. But what author or historian is going to be given the limelight considering that limelight has very often a religious institution as its benefactor?

  3. blotonthelandscape says

    Jacoby was straight-out proselytising in his closing statement! Shocker!

    But other than that enjoyable. Honestly, it sounds like a more informed version of a typical conversation between my dad and I.

    I also have trouble drawing the link between schizotypal behaviour and christianity, or indeed calling it a cult, without it coming across as insulting. I think you did that very well.

  4. Sili says

    Thanks, I remembered and read it after writing my comment.

    Can I find Ehrman’s response somewhere, or did I just miss it in the comments?

    Incidentally, are gods supposed to be lame? If not, then Hephaistos must be real as well.

    Speaking of Hephaistos, and delving into parallellomania: Is there any connection between Vølund the Smith and Hephaistos?

    And on a similar note, is the Old Testament story of Jephtah and his daughter related to the child offerings in Homer? Idomeneus seems to be the nearest parallel, but Agamemnon and Iphigenia seem to fit, too.

    (I realise your expertise in NT, but you’re more likely to have come across this, than I am.)

    • says

      Sili: Can I find Ehrman’s response somewhere, or did I just miss it in the comments?

      It was in backchannel conversation between us. I expect he polished his side of the debate up for inclusion in his book out this March.

      P.S. I don’t know much about Nordic religion, so I can’t help you with that question. As to child sacrifice in the OT, that’s not influence from Homer, but influence from widespread ANE religious culture in general, which independently influenced both Homer and the Bible. Avalos covers this in Christian Delusion, pp. 224-27 (see also End of Christianity, pp. 147, 186-88.

  5. Sili says

    If I may critique you’re performance, I have to say that you’re speaking too fast for the audience. You’re hurrying through material that is likely unfamiliar to your audience. Holding comes across as more sympathetic, I fear.

    Incidentally, the moderator was charming. The coffee and cookies were a nice touch.

  6. Ray Staroof says

    Thank you. I was just running out of Richard Carrier audio. Have you thought about putting out audio versions of any of your books?

    • says

      Ray Staroof: Have you thought about putting out audio versions of any of your books?

      Ideas are in progress. I have the equipment now. It’s finding the time to do the recording that’s the obstacle at this point.

  7. congaboy says

    I’m listening to the debate with Jacoby. I’m at the part where you both had 5 minutes to rebut each other and Jacoby says that he cannot see the parallels between other religions and Xtrianity. He is in denial, but perhaps you could use more modern examples like the similarity between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Another example could be the movie Star Wars (the original) and every story about good versus evil that has ever been told. You can argue that West Side Story is nothing like Romeo and Juliet, WSS takes place in the 20th century and has Latin gangs vs. Anglo gangs. They fight with fists and knives and not swords. They’re not family members, but just gang members. And no one is named Romeo or Juliet; they are completely different and unrelated stories.

    I was 13 years old when Stars Wars was released. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I convinced my mother to see it with me. When the movie was over, I asked her whether she found it as awesome as I did and she said to me that it was just the same old story. My mother’s review of the movie really opened my eyes about the origins of stories and how the same story can be retold in different ways.

    Also, the New Testament is a collection of self-promoting documents. The books were written by people who were trying to promote their own beliefs. How is the New Testament any more reliable than a television commercial promoting any other product or service?