Thursday, February 11, 2010

Carrier vs. Licona in Topeka, KS

Mike Licona leads with a moving anecdote or two which I'll not repeat here. He then lays out a series of criteria for historical analysis. Eventually, he gets into his main historical argument, which he explicitly bases on the Pauline corpus rather than the gospels. He starts building up a minimal facts argument based on the scholarly consensus as to the crucifixion around 30CE and Paul's subsequent conversion to Christianity a couple years later. Unsurprisingly, he moves on to the various claims put forth in 1 Cor 15, which Paul seems to have received from earlier Christians. He then attempts to preempt Carrier by making an argument that the standard historical criteria make the resurrection hypothesis the best explanation of Paul's conversion and the claims that Paul reported to have received from the early church. [Editorial note: Another equally useful explanation would be that the early church sincerely believed that which it passed on to Paul, but that there were no actual eyewitnesses behind the creed, only oral traditions which grew up in precisely the same way that glurge e-mails do.]

Rick Carrier starts off with an effective illustration to help people come to see the difference between claims which require ordinary evidence "I own a car" and claims which require far more evidence "I own a nuclear missile" and claims which require the best possible evidence "I own an interstellar spacecraft." He goes on to address miracle stories in general, such as those surrounding St. Genevieve, and the reports of magical events at the Temple of Delphi and the sacred olive tree of Athens. He goes on to make a parallel between the gospels and earlier legends, such as the stories of Romulus and Osiris. He then makes the difficult argument (given the audience) that the early disciples were schizotypal visionaries, prone to subjective religions experiences unbeknownst to those of us who are psychologically healthy and normal. Specifically, he argues that Paul was preaching a gospel based on his own personal religious visions combined with his interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He goes on to argue that Paul hallucinated precisely what he needed in order to quickly resolve his internal emotional conflict, assuming that he was riddled with guilt over his persecution of the early Christian Church.

Instead of rebuttal, this debate goes straight into cross-examination. They each ask difficult questions of the other and work hard to bolster their own case while tearing down their opponent's case. I love this format and wish that more debates would adopt something like it.

Overall, this was a tremendous debate in which both men do a fine job of making honest arguments from the best evidence available.


T said...

Recently obsessed with watching these atheist/theist debates, I've watched a dozen before finding this site.

I have to agree that this is one of the very best in so many ways. The format seemed certainly a big part of what made it great; that combined with the sincerity and general non-combativeness of the deeply knowledgeable debaters.

I can see how this format would make some nervous, as it depends on the good will of the opponent to not "strategize" running out the questioners time with off-topic or other filler. But in this case, both participants stayed on track and were considerate of each other, and the format made for a vastly more productive and meaningful exchange than occurs in most debates.

I wonder if there was any follow ups anywhere on the web, as both debaters indicated they had things they needed to look from the other's arguments into further to confirm or alter their view.

Reid said...

Didn't see the video linked in the post, so for posterity: