Do Massively Powerful Ghosts Exist? The Carrier-Esposito Debate

Image of Esposito's Some of you might recall I debated the existence of God with Come Reason evangelist Lenny Esposito at UC Riverside some time back. Well, video of that debate is now available! You can watch it in standard low res at YouTube, or get a higher quality version as a DVD set (or audio CD set). The DVD includes the Q&A (that’s not on YouTube), a written transcript, and Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” (and not mine, of course…I suppose it wouldn’t even occur to them to ask).

By all reasonable accounts I won this debate, pretty handily, although I don’t think debates can actually be “won” like this. My winning just means the clock ran out before Esposito could voice a credible answer to everything I said…and that he couldn’t have, even if he had more time, is something that can’t be decided by a clock. But if you don’t care about that and just like debates with a clocked win by the end, this is one such.

Their description:

Does God Exist? Philosophers and theologians have written volumes on this topic, but it has become especially significant in our modern world. In this riveting debate, Lenny Esposito and famed atheist Richard Carrier go head-to-head to try and settle the question “Does God Exist?” Recorded in front of a packed house at the University of California Riverside, this multi-disc set provides over five hours of stimulating debate, discussion, and answers to one of the greatest questions in human existence.

This debate is part of a larger DVD set that includes the live debate, an extended question and answer session with the students at UC Riverside, a debate transcript, as well as Lenny’s post-debate analysis of Carrier’s arguments in an mp3 audio file.

Notably, the debate and Q&A was only about two hours. That the DVD contains “over 5 hours of content” would suggest Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” is over twice as long as the entire debate itself (and thus he gets to speak four times as long as I do). Do the math on that and you’ll kind of see how Christians need to sort of kind of cheat to win people over. The idea of maintaining an actually balanced analysis, equal time to both parties, doesn’t even occur to them.

Picture of a mug being sold (click image to buy) in which it says I also have to say, in reaction to their ad copy, I’m starting to get amused by the tired old trope of calling every debate over the existence of God “the Great Debate” (that’s been used so many times it’s almost at joke status by now). I now think, “Really?” Unfettered capitalism vs. an intelligent economic ecology with capitalist-socialist checks and balances against each other’s extremes: that would be a far greater debate. Since it would actually affect billions of lives. Whether you believe God exists or not doesn’t really change much. Because “God exists” actually doesn’t entail a position on any moral, economic, or political issue whatever, since God can be made to advocate literally anything (and has been), simply depending on what sect of believers you fall in with by mere global happenstance. But whether you believe we should totally unchain capitalism (or, just as horribly, go for full-on communism) will actually change how you act, speak, vote, and change the world for countless other human beings. Likewise so many other real issues. Gay and trans* rights; women’s equality; institutionalized racism; prison reform; placing limits on government spying; legalization of sex work or recreational drugs; and so on and so forth.

You know. Just saying.


P.S. If anyone either finds/creates a transcript of Esposito’s post-debate analysis or extracts from it any remarks you would like to know my response to, feel free to bring it up in comments here. I’m not going to bother listening to it myself. I’ve been doing this long enough; I’ve heard it all before.


  1. August Berkshire says

    You must have done a great job if he needs all that extra time to try to (undoubtably) spin the debate into a victory for himself.

  2. says

    Agreed, I’ve thought for a while that touting God as this Supremely Important Question ironically gives religion more credibility than it deserves. No one thinks there’s a Big Question to be settled w.r.t. the earth being round instead of flat; we regard the fans of the latter position as marginal cranks to be mostly ignored, and I see no reason to take the God Question more seriously than that.

    ….but it has become especially significant in our modern world.

    Why is it more specially significant now than it was 100 or 500 years ago? This is just fluff to sell the DVDs.

    • says

      I think the “does God exist” question has become more significant of late – mostly for believers. In the last decade or so they’ve encountered an increasing and increasingly vocal number of people who don’t take God claims on faith and aren’t afraid to say so. This “modern world” grants far less accommodation to miraculous claims than it used to and believers (and their leaders) are noticing.

  3. says

    I really hate your “something can come from nothing if there are no rules saying it can’t” point. Doesn’t that sound like yet another rule? I think I asked you about it before in person and you said something more reasonable (that I don’t exactly recall), but the front point doesn’t play very well to theistic audiences, imo. Even more bizarre is how you follow the point with such confident language about *expecting* something to come from nothing. What in the world are you talking about? At the very least you are throwing the audience huge curve balls by not presenting your reasoning. It’s much more important to drive home the “competing brute facts of existence” point, imo, which you only briefly touched on. Also you could have taken a swing at the incoherence of immaterial things and atemporal minds to further keep things in perpsective. Theism doesn’t get a free pass on asserting a whole bunch of random inexplicable things all the while complaining about typical more modest arbitrary starting points of metaphysical naturalists’ provisional understandings of their worldviews.

    Otherwise, very nicely done. **applause**

    • says

      Doesn’t that sound like yet another rule?

      It’s logically necessary. And what is logically necessary always exists (so you don’t have to explain why it exists). If, indeed, the position that only nothing comes from nothing could be proved logically necessary, then that rule would be necessarily true. Instead, it’s not necessarily true. So having it requires explaining where it came from (it therefore cannot exist when “nothing” exists; only what is logically necessary will, by definition, necessarily still exist when you take everything else away, the only kind of “nothing” that’s logically possible). As I’ve formally proved here.

  4. says

    Oh, and your point about having proof of concept for the first replicator needs to be elaborated upon or clarified in terms of just what it is you are saying has been definitively solved. Self replicating proteins or something like that (as I recall from some of your writings)? You give the appearances of the origin of life being a done deal as far as science is concerned and I’m pretty sure that is far from true as your opponent tried to say.

    • says

      I’m pretty sure I make clear my point is in-concept and not “we know how life began.” But it’s possible that nuance gets missed by the hearer when I’m presenting so much material in so short a time.

  5. Kris Rhodes says

    “Do the math on that and you’ll kind of see how Christians need to sort of kind of cheat to win people over. The idea of maintaining an actually balanced analysis, equal time to both parties, doesn’t even occur to them.”

    Unfair generalization!

  6. says

    how much for the “great debate” coffee mug? just in time for xmas i mean solstice or whatever floats your boat……. :)

  7. says

    Watching the debate right now. I’ve never actually sat through an entire such event. About 2/3 way through right now. I’m wondering–is there any evidence that events like this make any kind of difference as to what or how anyone thinks?

    • says

      Yes. Apart from abundant anecdotal evidence that some debate played a part in a lot of atheists leaving religion (by laying seeds that over the long term led them to realize they couldn’t defend their faith against the arguments made), there is solid empirical evidence that it can change minds even immediately in the Fry-Hitchens team debate.

      But the latter is rare. Usually before-after polls of the audience show minimal movement, but that’s true for everything anyone believes. You don’t just turn it off like a switch; you continue affirming belief as it erodes instance after instance after instance until it erodes so far you just can’t bring yourself to affirm it anymore, and that requires more than one debate or event or book, but a series of them, but a series requires individual elements to constitute the series, and a debate can often be one of them.

  8. dutchdelight says

    That Q&A gets just plain ridiculous when the apologist goes on about the “embarrassment of riches” concerning sources for Jesus’ resurrection. Especially since he no doubt heard Carrier on this topic during the talk.

    It almost seems like the “professional apologists” are purposefully playing deaf to the actual question. Instead of providing sources for a resurrected JC. Esposito just goes rattling of a list of people who mentioned a jesus and lived a long time ago. And he’s hardly the only one that does this, Craig does the same thing.

    I don’t recall any skeptic ever… *EVER* doubting that there are ancient sources mentioning Christians believing in stuff, what they always ask for is contemporary sources. Nobody is asking to hear apologists bring up friggin’ Tacitus again. What is the point of apologetics if they can’t even answer a straight and simple question on arguably the most important event of ever in their religion.

  9. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Because “God exists” actually doesn’t entail a position on any moral, economic, or political issue whatever, since God can be made to advocate literally anything (and has been), simply depending on what sect of believers you fall in with by mere global happenstance.

    Accepting “[noun] exists”, sure.

    But a knowledgeable interventionist god that persuasively whispers its opinions into the heads of particular followers. One that ostensibly is the source of authority a sect uses to insist members share those opinions…

    The proposition itself doesn’t entail specific positions either way, it may entail reassessment of many other positions.

  10. iplon says

    I was saddened by Esposito’s arguments, they were too standard and some of the weaker forms.

    However, you are a fantastic debater. It’s rare to see someone put out all the fires and question time only to find out that they have plenty left to keep pouring the water on. I wanted to chuckle and shake my head when he had his second section and accused you of not answering objections he hadn’t raised yet to your moral argument.

    The only thing I would have gone on about in the spare time in the first section was pointing out that we can’t expect life to exist in a universe that can’t support it, but that it exists in a niche that can support it is the only thing we can expect. This also ties into the morality argument. Should we expect a species to survive if every single individual in it has a chief urge to kill every other individual? No, it cannot and will not survive. Only a species that has at least a bare minimum of cooperation can live on.

    I have to admit I was scared for him when he mentioned multiple independent attestations. I was hoping for you to shred into that directly a bit more.