Tuesday, April 27, 2010

McCormick vs. DiSilvestro at Bridgeway Christian Church

This is a debate between two personal friends and professional academics, and much like the Miller / George debate back in 2003 it has an unusually cordial feel to it. No cheap shots or personal jabs here, which is refreshing after listening to a few too many D'Souza debates.

Opening Statements
DiSilvestro leads with WLC's four facts supposedly established by NT sources (i.e. Paul and Mark):

1) Jesus was buried honorably in the Arimathean’s tomb
2) On the following Sunday this very same tomb was found empty
3) Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Jesus after his death and burial
4) The original disciples believed that Jesus arose from the dead

He goes on to infer that the best explanation for these "facts" lifted from NT sources is the explanation given in the NT itself, that is, "Jesus is risen -- Halleujah!" It is somehow taken to be an excercise in logic that when one omits the resurrection from the gospels, one finds a resurrection shaped hole in the narrative. Essentially, DiSilvestro's argument is that the NT writers were documenting history rather than making myths. This strikes me as more than a bit question begging, especially since he fails to address the key problem which is how one can determine which bits of ancient writings are history and which are mythical. All told, however, he runs the so-called minimal facts argument fairly well.

McCormick leads with a general approach to determining historical veracity, with a timeline chart showing the relevant historical documents, the events they purport to depict, and the gradual process of NT canonization. He goes on to make a fairly straightforward point about signal degradation over time, using cell phone towers as an illustration, and then goes on to take a decent stab at the probability of any given miracle report being accurate. Finally, he makes a few arguments from higher Biblical scholarship as to the reliability of the gospel accounts, and then runs out of time.

Follow On Arguments
DiSilvestro runs a few typical defenses of the reliability of Christian Scripture, for example, he defends the process of canonization by discussing a few of the criteria used to select which books were included in the New Testament. He also waves away gospel inconsistencies as invariably minor and thus compatible with the discrepancies common to eyewitness accounts of the same event.

McCormick doesn’t rebut DiSilvestro but talks again of historical methodology. He does bring up a very trenchant and persuasive comparison between the testimonials of Salem witchcraft and the testimonials of Jesus’ resurrection - in both cases one might attempt to use historical resources to evaluate the truth of a supernatural claim. This particular line of debate will be pursued further at a later date.

Closing Arguments
Both debaters manage to close well and recap their arguments, though they also bring up some new points. McCormick closes on a excellent question, which was essentially whether the historical evidence is so strong as to suggest that an all-powerful deity could not have made it far more convincing.

Overall, this was a fine debate, with both sides summarizing the usual arguments. I'd love to see these guys do a few more debates.

See also:
Luke Muelhauser's review
John Loftus review

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