Sunday, April 19, 2009

Roughgarden vs. Wright on BhTV

Now this is what I'm talking about when I argue that we must to "teach the controvery" (all of them, really) when we present the essentials of biological science to those in undergraduate programs.

In this diavlog, Roughgarden puts Wright on the defensive regarding selfish genes, sexual selection, and a number of other topics, including the joys of mating versus childrearing.  She repeatedly upbraids those who do research without first clearly defining their alternative hypotheses.  Wright, for his part, puts up a fairly good defense for someone who doesn't have a Ph.D.  in biology.

Wood vs. Gulam in Romulus, MI

Normally, I have some sense of whom I consider to be "on my side" in a debate, but this debate was between someone who claims that Jesus died for only three days and someone who claims taht Jesus somehow survived crucifixion.  The apriori probabilites of each event seems relatively low, since we only know of one person who allegedly survived crucifixion (from Flavius Josephus) and we have relatively few historically verifiable stories of reainmated corpses, despite a recent resurgance in the popularity of zombie flicks.

Oddly enough, I found that the Muslim debater was making arguments which I am used to hearing from skeptics such as Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, and Robert Price.  Part of his argument is essentially that since the gospel accounts are inconsistent on key points, we cannot trust them on their crucifixion accounts.

Of course, the Christian has the better arguments here, because pretty much all of the accounts which might possibly be construed as historical narratives are on his side.  That said, he doesn't do nearly so well as one might expect given such an overwhelming advantage.  

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Carr vs. Cole on the radio (UK)

In this episode of Unbelievable, we hear from atheist blogger Steven Carr and Canon Michael Cole on the topic of whether Jesus rose from the dead. We also hear from any number of ignorant Britons who call in to broadcast their lack of understanding on the medium wave radio.

Unless you are a sadist (like myself) bound and determined to listen to every debate on this topic, I'd advise you to move on right now. This debate consisted primarily of the skeptic noting that the early epistles do not seem to have any notion of a physical (rather than merely spiritual) resurrection and empty tomb, while the cleric repeats over and over that you have the take the New Testament as a whole. Really, I just summed up the entire first hour of the show. They hardly even scratch the surface on the gospels as sources, whether reliable or otherwise.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hitchens vs. Craig in Los Angeles, CA

About a score of freethinkers from all around OKC converged on Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, OK for this event.  Good times were had by all on hand, so far as I could see. Theists and atheists sat cheek by jowl, and were generally polite and respectful each to another. It was quite a fine and rare sight to behold.

Craig lead with his usual five arguments

1. Cosmological (Kalam)
2. Teleological (Paley/Ross)
3. Moral argument (Lewis)
4. Tomb / Epiphanies / Conversion (Habermas)
5. Properly basic beliefs (Plantinga)

None of these arguments are at all novel, and Craig makes most of them in mostly the same way in most of his debates, so Hitchens had absolutely no excuse for failing to directly address at least a few of them, even if philosophy is not exactly his bag.

Hitch leads with a bit of methodological criticism which sounds fairly ad homish, and then pretty much just goes off on the history of the Xn church and its various abuses of power and privilege. He also makes the argument that it seems absurd to expect a revelatory deity to only reveal Himself in to a few illiterate peasants in ancient Palestine relatively late in human history. Surely, it is absurd, but Hitchens pretty much leaves the details as a proof for the reader.

In the rebuttals, things go from bad to worse, as Craig pretty much refutes Hitch's main points
and repeatedly pounds him for failing to return the favor. At first, this is just unfair, since no one should have to rebut during their own opening, but eventually the accusation sticks and goes on to become the overarching motif of the debate. Hitchens increasingly rambles and mumbles, and one begins to fear the debate may become too one-sided to prove illuminating to all concerned.

Mercifully, though, someone at BIOLA decided beforehand to put aside time for cross-examination, and that is when things finally got interesting. Craig conceded the possibility of allegorical layering in the Matthean gospel, as well as giving away a few other tidbits to the schools of higher criticism. It was particularly gratifying to see these two stumping each other and pausing to gather their thoughts.

All things considered, this debate was worth attending, if only for the almost perfect ying/yang combination of these two particular speakers. I'd watch it again, once it hits the internets.  Meanwhile, I can take out my frustration at Hitchens by watching this video over and over.

  • Unbeliever rating: 2.5

  • Believer rating: 4.5

  • Overall rating: 3.5

Monday, April 6, 2009

Law vs. Talbot in Oxford, UK

This debate between Stephen Law and  Marianne Talbot was unlike most of those that I've heard lately.  Both debaters were quite cordial and clearly philosophically sophisticated, which makes for a significantly higher level of listening than I am used to from such events.  This is a bit ironic here, because they both agreed to use Dawkins (deliberately unsophisticated) anti-theistic book as a jumping off point. 

Marianne Talbot outlines a distinctly unusual God hypothesis and gives a few reasons for her lack of unbelief, from the perspective of a philosopher who has read a bit too much Berkeley. Money quote from the other side, "Your idea of God is a bit different..."

Stephen Law focuses primarily on the evidential argument from evil, and goes on to sublimely and rather ingeniously flip around all the standard theodicies in order to defend an  hypothetical supremely evil and powerful deity.  I'm definitely adding this guy to my reading list, and to my anti-W.L.C. debater dream team.

This debate would have been a rare 5-star event, but for the fact that Talbot's argument for god cannot seem to be recast into a deductively valid form.  If someone can correct me on this, I'd be more than happy to accept the reproof.

Unbeliever rating: 5.0 stars
Believer rating 4.0 stars
Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ehrman vs. Licona in Matthews, NC

Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona, both prominent Biblical scholars and historians, debated the resurrection of Jesus at Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina (video, audio). As in their first debate, evangelical scholar Mike Licona has home field advantage and a very friendly crowd.

After a surprising amount of autobiography, Licona leads with three allegedly well-established facts from Biblical scholarship:

  1. Jesus was crucified and died

  2. Some disciples claimed to have seen Jesus afterward

  3. Paul also claimed to have seen Jesus afterward

He goes on to claim that the best way to explain these facts is to conclude that the gospels are reliable in their claims of a literal bodily resurrection. His argument is that if you accept the New Testament accounts on these key details, you should go on to accept the gospels at face value, no matter how mythical the accounts might seem, because there is no point in ruling anything out as inherently unlikely, however miraculous it might be. Essentially, it is as if he lifted a resurrection-shaped hole out of the gospel accounts, and went on to note how perfectly he could plug that hole by reinserting the resurrection into the accounts from whence it was lifted. Of course, he manages to make it sound a good deal more reasonable than that, by going on at some length about historical methodology.

Ehrman's opening is a fairly strong condensation of his general case against the reliability of the gospels as historical sources, in which He uses the phrase "it depends on which gospel you read" at least two dozen times in reply to various historical questions he poses. He also provides a different account of historical methodology than that given by Licona. Ehrman seems to think that ancient written accounts are never going to be strong enough evidence to demonstrate the truth of a miraculous claim, given the very low apriori probability of such claims relative to other possibilities, e.g. mythmaking, hallucinations, dreams, visions, false memories.

On rebuttal, both speakers do a fine job of addressing their opponent's case head-on, which is surprisingly rare in these kinds of debates. I found Ehrman's rebuttal more effective, but then it seems to me that he had most of the relevant facts on his side. No doubt the audience saw it in a different light.

It should be noted that a major point of difference between the speakers lies in their treatment of probability, and neither one provides a full enough account of what probability theory really does in order to dispel his opponent's intuitions about how probability works. They would do well to go back to fundamentals on this issue. Mike even seems to posit that the relevant probability is the likelihood that an event takes place given that the most powerful being in the universe wants it to happen, which I'm pretty sure is a theological premise neither covered in his original three points nor established by independent argument.

Overall, though, this debate featured strong openings and vigorous give and take between two of the top scholars in the relevant field. Definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mac Donald vs. Douthat on BhTV

In this dialogue (which often borders on becoming a debate) Heather Mac Donald and Ross Douthat go back and forth on a number of issues of interest to secularists and theologians.  At her insistence, they spend a good deal of time on the matter of temporal and cosmic justice, as well as the problems of evil and theodicy and religious episemology.

One of the more interesting features of this diavlog is that both of the authors here are firm and outspoken conservatives, though neither leans towards theocracy.  This leaves them free to disagree about matters other than that usually featured at BhTV.  Enjoy!