Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hayter vs Robertson on the radio

These two guys went on the Unbelievable show twice (part one, part two) that I know about.

In general, the host and producer of this show does a decent job of finding a bold, outspoken, and articulate Christian apologist and putting him up against someone who has little to no experience at public speaking and debate, a meek atheist who talks softly and haltingly. These episodes are no exception to the general run of the show, although there have been a few shining exceptions on occasion.

The program doesn't get very far in before David Robertson starts batting Adrian Hayter around like a cat toying with a mouse. It is vicariously embarassing to listen, and it serves as a warning to those who accept an invitation to play the role of Alan Colmes on a network that exists for the sake of making you look foolish.

You can safely skip these episodes, since there is rather little substantive debate to be found therein.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Smith vs. Jackson in Yukon, OK

Last night, I went out with a few friends to watch Abbie Smith debate a renowned young-earth creationist and itinerant preacher named Charles Jackson.

My first impression was that she’s a Mac, and he’s a PC. Abbie came off as more spontaneous and vastly less rigid and pompous than her interlocutor, especially after she really warmed to her work. Dr. Jackson, by contrast, pretty much followed his usual formula, which you can enjoy on YouTube. Also, it is of some note that Abbie is waaaay friendlier in person than one might ever suppose from reading her blog. I already knew that, but still, the contrast was striking.

Probably the most striking part of Dr. Jackson's presentation was the part in which he admitted (and even displayed) the remarkable degree of homology between human and chimp genomes and then when on to claim that this evidence is not to be taken as confirmation of common descent, but rather as evidence of an intelligent designer who pretty much recycles as much genetic material as possible when making new species. This guy can speak the whole cosmos into being, but cannot seem to be bothered to invent too much in the way of unique gene sequences for the one and only species that created specifically in the hopes that they would eventually get around to freely loving and worshipping Him. Small wonder, then, that the humans so often take to murdering each other for access to resources and mates, as if they were naught but tallish, baldish apes.

The good doctor took this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, namely, that the chromosomal fusion event (absolutely necessary to confirm the theory of common descent) did actually happen, but it happened in humans - presumably sometime between the creation of Adam and Eve and the eventual extermination of almost the entire species in the Noahic flood.

Congratulations, then, to Dr. Jackson for putting forth a research agenda for creation scientists everywhere. His hypothetical homo sapiens with 24-pairs of chromosomes should be found in strata just below the Noahic floodline, having lived only a few thousand years ago, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Once the unfairly marginalized (dare I say EXPELLED) research scientists of the ICR make this find, they will finally get the attention they so roundly deserve. Go to it, guys!

  • Unbeliever rating: 4.0 stars

  • Believer rating: 3.0 stars

  • Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carrier vs. Craig in Maryville, MO

This long-awaited clash between two men who are arguably the most learned representatives of the far-left and far-right of Biblical scholarship took place right here in the flyover states, of all places. I'd seriously considered making the drive out, and after hearing the quality of the only mp3 file posted thus far, I sort of wish that I'd taking the time and effort to do so.

On style and persuasiveness, Craig takes this one hands down. He was working with three significant advantages: the affirmative position, home-field advantage, and an inherent human tendency to prefer explanations based on intention to those based on the contingent results of unplanned natural processes.

On substance and logical coherence, though, Carrier almost pulled even about halfway into the Q&A, during which he managed to flesh out his valid arguments enough to make them more-or-less sound. Here is one, paraphrased and formalised a bit:
  1. If early Christians were creating mythic tales instead of recording history as it actually happened, we would expect Mark's writings to be more detailed and fabulous than previous Christian writings, as well as less detailed and fabulous than later Christian writings.
  2. In fact, this is precisely what we do see, inasmuch as the later canonical and non-canonical Christian writings generally do include more details and more fabulous stories than earlier ones.
  3. Therefore, it is probably that Mark (and his contemporaneous oral historians) were making myth rather than recording historical events.

I'm not going to go into Carrier's empirical support for premise #2 here, but suffice to say it was expansive and difficult to rebut. However authoritatively and however many times Craig boldly declares that he has "multiple independently attested sources" it still doesn't make it so, and Craig at no point refutes the Carrier's arguments that the various resurrection accounts bear the marks of literary dependence one upon another.

  • Unbeliever rating: 3.75 stars

  • Believer rating: 4.25 stars

  • Overall rating: 4.0 stars

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Baggini vs Beale on the radio (UK)

FFWD tip: Around 24:00 they finally start in on cosmological fine tuning.

Nicholas Beale ( makes the argument that because the constants of physics fall within a small range allowing for complex life, we can safely assume that our universe exists by for a reason, that is, by design. Incidentally, Beale is given almost ten minutes to lecture with only minor questioning from the host. To my knowledge, this has never happened to a guest sceptic.

Julian Baggini ( makes the case that it is a bad idea for theists to plug God into the epistemic gaps which science has yet to explain, because much of the time science comes along later on and fills those gaps with solid scientific theories. He says that it is a bad idea to leave religion vulnerable to scientific disproof in this way.

p.s. Big W00t 4 STAR TREK music!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Singer vs. Hare

Moral Mammals - Why do we Matter? - Does theism or atheism provide the best foundation for human worth and morality? from The Veritas Forum on Vimeo.

An excellent debate between two sophisticated moral philosophers over the ultimate nature of reality and morality. Singer makes the case that we should act to maximize happiness (broadly construed) because we like happiness and we empathize with other mammals. Hare argues that this is not enough, we need to be moral out of love and fear of the divine. They both do this persuasively and politely, and although I disagree with both of them I found the conversation most enjoyable.

Dr. Peter Singer leads with a series of questions on the nature of morality. Is it merely a matter of obeying rules from above? Is it a set of heuristics which help us to achieve some of our mutual goals? Do we not recoil at atrocity even if no one tells us it is wrong? He then fairly quickly launches into a brief exposition of the Euthyphro dilemma, concluding that we must make sense of moral ideas in terms other than theistic commands. He goes on to point out a few noteworthy difficulties with attempting to derive morality from either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. He then provides a few thoughts on the evolutionary origins of morality and its analogues in the animal kingdom. He closes with an appeal to a modified form of the golden rule, one which roughly approaches a sort of universal prescriptivism.

Dr. John Hare (son of famed ethicist R.M. Hare) makes it clear up front that he and Singer have a similar sense of what entails the good, but he wants to argue about the question of moral motivation. “Why be moral?” one might ask, if one is concerned only with furthering one’s own happiness, and the commitment to morality becomes shaky at best. He quotes from the great utilitarian Henry Sidgwick to make the point that we are naturally motivated primarily to help ourselves and those close to us, as opposed to everyone equally, as demanded by the moral principle of universalizability. He then argues that we can overcome this bias for ourselves, our families, our tribes, etc. by trusting in God and following His universal laws grounded in His universal love for everyone. This brings us, quite naturally, to the problem of evil, to which Hare gives us the most bizarre retort I’ve ever heard with my own ears. He says that we need to take seriously the experience of those people (e.g. Holocaust survivors) who say that their faith sustained them in the face of great human evil, while implicitly discounting those who (equally sincerely) affirm that such terrible experiences forced them to reconsider and reject their faith. He makes a few more attempts to hang ethics on theism, few of which are more well grouded than this one.

During the rebuttal period, each speaker has another go at the foundations of ethics, and Singer basically concedes that if you are asking for a universal moral arbiter, the universe isn''t going to help you out with that. All that it will do is provide you with a multitude of preachers and gurus and mullahs who disagree on major issues.

The Q&A period features both distinguished philosophers sitting back and relaxing at the coffee table and chatting about written questions. Would that they'd haave gone back and forth questioning each other instead!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bacrac vs Keller on the radio (UK)

This episode of Unbelievable quickly disgressed into a debate over the origins of moral thinking, as they so often do. They go back and forth and mostly past each other for quite awhile.

Around 48 minutes in, they finally get down to brass tacks, when the Christian asks why we shouldn't simply prefer our cooperation to comptetiion in structuring our ethical systems? Alas, Bacrac's answer is essentially question begging, or else so poorly expressed that we cannot tell why he labels certain actions as immoral. What he ought to have said, "Those actions are wrong because they increase suffering and decrease well-being. In fact, that is precisely what we consequentialists mean when we call something immoral or wrong." He eventually gets around to saying something like this almost ten minutes later.

Keller puts theistic ethics in a nutshell around 1:05:30 "I'd rather submit to a tradition than set myself up as the arbiter of all truth. I don't trust my own heart."

Overall, I'd say that Keller manages to sound calmer and more reasonable than Bacrac, though he gets more than a little help from the presenter.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Buckner vs. Bocchino at Georgia Tech

This one was a geniune debate, but in an odd format. Instead of opening statements, the moderator asked the interlocutors a series of questions, starting from very basic assumptions about reality. Questions such as "Does our reality need to be scientifically verifiable or falsifiable?" and "How does one's belief or non-belief in God alter one's perception of reality?" and "What is the reality of free will?" and "Is there any ultimate purpose to life?"

With such questions as these, you may well imagine that the debate might be somewhat weak tea, and you'd be correct. While things do pick up a bit later on, I'd say that this on is not exactly worth an hour of your time, expecially given the annoyingly scratchy audio.

Here is a more uplifting review.