Friday, January 1, 1999

Price vs. Craig in Columbus, OH

It is striking how much Craig’s modus operandi has gone unchanged for at least a decade or so. In this debate he makes his usual arguments (alleged facts established by scholarly consensus) while Price makes a few unusual ones.  Price mostly goes after Craig’s methodology, pointing out that it is impossible to do anything like objective scholarship if you start with one’s emotional commitment to Jesus as Christ and then work backwards to prove up the death, burial, empty tomb, and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Towards the end, Price has a go at the hypothesis that the Markan narrative is cut from whole cloth, woven together from the threads of Pagan and Hebrew mythology.

Overall, Craig definitely comes off stronger, if only because he puts forth about two or three times as many historically substantive arguments (as opposed to methodological criticism bordering on circumstantial ad hominem). However, Craig also poisons the well a bit against Price, preemptively discrediting him as an unscholarly crank (as Craig also did against Carrier). Against this attack, Price makes a memorable comeback which I’ll not relate here.

I’ve no doubt that Price could have made a much stronger case against the historical reliability of the gospels, but he did not focus on making that case here. Also, he got slammed pretty hard during Q & A and had relatively little time to respond, although “Hey, it’s Jesus, take a whiff!” was memorably zingy. Overall, I found this event mildly disappointing, mostly because I expected Price to make a much stronger affirmative case in favor of historical skepticism.

  • Unbeliever rating: 2.5 stars

  • Believer rating: 3.5 stars

  • Overall rating: 3.0 stars

Tabash vs. Craig

This debate is surely among the best I’ve heard, inasmuch as both debaters bring their strongest arguments and give very little ground.  Moreover, it may be the only debate in which William Lane Craig is evidently struggling to keep up.

Eddie Tabash’s opening argument can be summed up in a question from philosopher James Teller, “ Why should God expect us today to seriously consider something that God did not expect contemporaries of the event to seriously consider without a miracle?”  Tabash goes on to point out that it would be relatively easy for an all-powerful deity to reaccomplish the resurrection to a live television audience of billions, along with providing all manner of scientifically verifiable evidence.  This argument somewhat resembles arguments put forth by Hitchens and Ehrman, who contend that it makes no sense for a cosmic deity to reveal itself in only one time and place to a very small group of devout and uneducated followers.

Tabash then tears into Biblical morality, particularly the injunctions to commit genocide and rape, and then goes on to recapitulate and illustrate variations on the arguments from evil and unbelief.  He then attacks the idea of the afterlife, the soul, mind/body dualism, and a few other theistic mainstays to boot.  To a significant extent, Tabash borrows heavily from Craig’s own style here, throwing out so many assertions and questions that it is more or less impossible for one’s opponent to address them all during the relatively brief rebuttal period.  This tactic has the virtue of switch-footing one’s opponent, but it may confuse and lose the audience at the same time.  I had to rewind the audio a few times myself, and I was raised up north where speaking rapidly is none too taboo.

Craig makes his usual arguments, but without quite the force and polish that I’m used to hearing from him.  Possibly, this is because he is ten years younger than at present, or else it could be because he was a bit flustered at meeting another professional debater as practiced and well-prepared as himself.  He makes some downright kalamitous assertions in support of his cosmological argument, and manages to sound a bit silly in doing so, at least to those of us who studied physics above the 101 level.  Craig also tries to sneak in Scripture at various points in his arguments and rebuttals, while at the same time averring that he is not required to defend Biblical inerrancy.  Ultimately, though, Craig does make a few strong arguments against the universality of Humanist ethics.  

Unbeliever rating: 4.75 stars
Believer rating: 4.25 stars
Overall rating: 4.5 stars