Ottawa Historicity Debate: A Commentary

Video of my debate with Zeba Crook (an atheist professor of New Testament studies) on whether Jesus historically existed is now available online as Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth? A Discussion with Zeba Crook and Richard Carrier (produced by AtheismTV). I announced and discussed that here. But now you can watch the debate itself. The AV quality is not very good, but it’s manageable. As I note in the video, there was no way to respond to every point made, for want of time. Indeed, by the time I got to state my first rebuttal, I had to answer thirty minutes of Dr. Crook in just ten minutes. But I think both sides got to state their best case, and left the debate where further discussion is needed but at least moved beyond a lot of the usual sidetracking nonsense.

I shall place here below, and expand, what notes I had jotted down as the debate went on but didn’t have time to get to at the podium, including some comments on Dr. Crook’s final closing, which left loose ends unfinished, since he only at that point had any opportunity to respond to my rebuttal (at which point, he had five minutes to answer my ten, putting him at the disadvantage). Those notes I wrote in my own kind of abbreviated shorthand, but here I just spell them out in full sentences, with connecting sentences and whatnot (so don’t imagine I wrote all those words as-is during the debate; I captured those ideas in a much more abbreviated notation). Some of those notes will repeat what I said in rebuttals, some will expand on them, and some will be things I didn’t have time to talk about.

Certainly ask questions in comments here about anything you didn’t find resolved in the debate, or any arguments Crook made that you think I overlooked or didn’t adequately address (especially things that came up in Q&A, since I didn’t write notes then). But please first read the commentary below. It may already answer your question. In which case I’ll just tell you to read it.

Preliminaries

[Read more...]

I’ll Be Debating the Historicity of Jesus in Ottawa, Canada

The Center for Inquiry Canada is hosting two events with me in early April in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), sponsored by CFI Ottawa.

The first will be a debate between myself and Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University, on whether it’s likely a historical Jesus existed. Details here. (Although, amusingly, we certainly aren’t debating whether “a man named Jesus live[d] in Palestine 2000 years ago,” since plenty of men named Jesus did; of course, we’re only debating the particular Jesus claimed to be the author of Christianity). The next day I’ll be taking questions and speaking on various matters of philosophy for the Philosophy, Phood, and Phriends meetup. Details here.

The debate will be held on Saturday, April 5 (2014), at 7:30pm, at the Centrepointe Chamber Theatre (101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, ON K2G 0B5; the theatre is located at the back). Admission is $15 (or just $5 if you are a CFI member; and new members can also get a free ticket). The format will be something like 20/20-10/10-5/5 (openings-rebuttals-closings), with the first to speak chosen at random on the day. Written questions will be taken from the audience.

The philosophy meet will be on Sunday, April 6 (2014) at 11:00am, in the CCOC Meeting Room (OPSEU Local 464, 2255 St Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa, ON K1G 6C4 464 Metcalfe St., near the Museum of Nature). $10 admission includes food and drinks ($5 for members of CFI). “Bring your questions–suggested topics include: metaphysics, naturalistic philosophy, morality, counter-apologetics.”

There may be copies of Proving History for sale at the first or possibly both events. But I will sign anything you bring (so you can buy any of my books online now and have them in time for that).

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.

I’m Sort of on TV This Weekend – And in Some New Videos Online

Two new video interviews with me are now available, and another is going live this weekend–almost literally: it will actually be on cable television. (For that, see the last paragraph below.)

First up, I did a video interview with Adam Ford on “the singularity” and related questions in the future of artificial intelligence and human utopias and Bayesian reasoning and all kinds of whatnot. As he describes it:

Just finished doing a fantastic interview with Richard Carrier on Bayesian reasoning, possible futures for AI, the Intelligence Explosion, how to evaluate the possibility of smarter than human level AI coming about, using Bayesian reasoning to determine confidence levels about history and Richard’s book Proving History (and more)… the video will be up on my youtube channel soon.

You can check that interview out here. It’s great because we range over lots of topics I don’t usually get to talk about.

Next, my talk on studying Jesus as a mythical deity at INR3 is now online. It was titled “Imagining the Study of Jesus without Religion” and focused on how we would actually be studying the origins of Christianity if Christianity were just another extinct religion like nearly every other from the same period, and we didn’t have millions of people and million/billion dollar institutions devoted to defending it and a cultural history so invested in it even secular institutions can’t get away from the assumptions only believers originated. For backstory see here. The video is here. (Lighting isn’t good. My hair looks weird in consequence. I have inverted horns like an anti-devil! Apropos?)

And in bigger news, I will actually be on TV. Local cable at least. I participated in a kind of three-way quasi-debate between an atheist (me), a liberal Christian (Rob McQuery), and a Buddhist (Jack Elias), all on the premier episode of the Blind Faith Virus Vaccine show (general promo here), hosted by Mark Gura, based on his book. It airs this Saturday (October 19th) on Comcast Channel 24 Atlanta at 7pm, and on Comcast channel 25 North Fulton County, this Sunday (October 20th) at 7pm, and other cities (not yet announced, but you can check local listings or DVR search just to be sure). Watch Mark Gura’s FB wall for further info (including a webpage for the show, still in development).

Is William Lane Craig Afraid?

There are two people who have been asking noted Christian apologist William Lane Craig to debate them for years. And he has consistently declined, always with specious excuses–which are all the more galling given that they are much the same excuses Dawkins gave for not debating Craig, which Craig then mocked, not at all grasping the irony. [Read more...]

Hey, Free eBook! Christian vs. Atheist Intellectual Cage Match

Cover of the book God or Godless.Today (and today only!) you can get a free eBook, containing a written (and thus carefully thought-out) debate between an Atheist and a Christian. John Loftus (an atheist with two masters degrees, in theology and philosophy, who studied under none other than William Lane Craig) and Randal Rauser (a Canadian evangelical with a doctorate in philosophy) engage in an organized back-and-forth debate on twenty topics in the book God or Godless: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

You can, of course, buy it in print [here]. But this very day (July 1st) a special is on for the kindle and nook editions [although, it appears, only in the U.S. and select other countries]: if you grab it today, the book is free [see kindle and nook]. If you prefer the more generic eBook format, you can get that for free, too, at a Christian vendor [here]. (Although if you missed today, it’s still available on all three platforms for cheap through the end of the month).

Loftus and I have worked together on projects in this field over the years and he made use of my work and advice for some of the positions he takes. But overall, what you get here is what my blurb for the book says:

This is a fascinating and sometimes humorous intro to twenty common debates between atheists and theists. You’ll find countless rambling and confused versions of such debates online. But here you will find a clear, concise, well-written exchange on each. Keeping it short, the authors can’t include every point to be made, but they make a good show of where each side stands on these questions and why. If you want to continue these debates further, start with this.

Indeed, this book is an excellent starting point for any of the twenty debates included. I’d recommend starting any debate online, for example, by having both sides read the corresponding mini-debate in this book, and then continuing from there. And if you just want some ideas for how to debate these topics in general, or even to help you think about them in building your own philosophy of life, this book is well suited as a primer for the task. Even if you don’t think either side is making the very best possible defense of their position, it’s even a useful task to think through how you’d do it better, since both are representative of some of the best approaches. So even then it’s a good place to start.

The twenty questions debated (alternating between the philosophical and the biblical) are (1) the meaning of life, (2) whether early Biblical Judaism was actually monotheistic, (3) the reason to be moral, (4) whether the Bible promoted child sacrifice, (5) the value of religion in respect to science, (6) whether the Bible justified genocide, (7) whether theism or atheism explains the universe better, (8) whether the Bible promoted slavery, (9) whether human reason and knowledge require God, (10) whether the Bible is sexist, (11) whether love can exist without God, (12) whether the Biblical God cares one whit about animals, (13) whether even atheists “just have faith,” (14) whether the Biblical God was scientifically illiterate, (15) whether the power of music can prove God exists, (16) whether the Biblical God was a lousy prognosticator, (17) whether any miracles are real, (18) whether God is an incompetent creator, (19) the resurrection of Jesus (of course), and (20) whether God is an incompetent redeemer.

All interesting questions to see hashed out this way. Each side makes their case, then gets a short rebuttal, and then a quick closing statement, before moving on to the next. And today, you can get an electronic edition for free (links above).

Three New Videos

My Huntsville debate with David Marshal can now be viewed online (Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?) as can my Raleigh talk on the literary study of the Gospels (Why the Gospels Are Myth: The Evidence of Genre and Content) and my Greensboro talk on the historicity of Jesus (Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist: A Historian Explains the Evidence That Changed His Mind), which is a double-length expansion of my briefer summary at Madison last year (So…if Jesus Didn’t Exist, Where Did He Come from Then?). All three talks summarize material that will appear in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.

The debate, meanwhile, was something organized separately. It was a decisive win. I thought that might be because Marshal was too honest. He didn’t have any real rebuttal to my case to offer, and wasn’t willing to invent one (and had no bag of tricks to manipulate the audience with either). But as his subsequent blog commentaries show, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about anyway. As John Loftus reports, Dr. Hector Avalos told David Marshall, “I’ve seen your debate with Carrier, in which you were clearly outmatched intellectually, theologicaly, historically, and scientifically.” Loftus concurs: “Having seen it myself I agree.” As one might expect, Marshall has been writing a blog series in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the debate, yet just skimming all that I find it full of weird factual errors and yet more logical fallacies and irrelevancies. I’m honesty not even sure it’s worth replying to.

 

Debate in Alabama

On Saturday, February 9 (2013), I will be debating the proposition “Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?” with Dr. David Marshall at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The whole event will run from 6pm to 8pm, doors open at 5:30pm, and Dr. Marshall and I will be selling and signing our books in the lobby afterward. The debate will be held in the Chan Auditorium. For more details see the calendar page for UAH Non-Theists, the co-sponsors of the event with the campus group Ratio-Christi.

The Goodacre Debate

One of the many things I did when I was in England was go on a radio show that then aired in London just this last weekend (Saturday, December 15th, 2012), called Unbelievable with Justin Brierley, for Premiere Christian Radio. There, I had a cordial and informal debate with professor Mark Goodacre on the merits of the theory that Jesus didn’t exist (but is instead as mythical as Hercules or King Arthur).

Photo of Justin Brierley Speaking at a Podium Justin was an excellent host, and we both mused over the irony of the fact that he had an American in England debating an Englishman in America. I had stopped by the studio in person while I was in London; Goodacre was kind enough to phone in from his office at Duke University, North Carolina, where he’s an Associate Professor of the New Testament. So we were both at a disadvantage, he by being on the phone (having been there myself, I can testify to how difficult it is to carry on a conversation that way), and me by having almost literally just landed after a twelve hour flight from Los Angeles, which had immediately followed a six hour drive by car, and after which we had just enough time to get our bags and drive to the city and drop me off at a tube station en route to Premiere. Fortunately, I’m pretty resistant to jet lag. But it definitely felt weird. I had that “wired” feeling one gets after being awake for far too long.

If you want to listen to the show, it’s available online (for just this week it’s the featured show but after that it will be in their archives; and if that link doesn’t work properly try this) and via iTunes. I will comment on the show here. So if you’re keen to hear my thoughts on it, read on.

[Read more...]

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.)