Friday, February 25, 2011

Prescott vs. Kern on Christian Nationalism

Photo by David Wheelock

Last night, Drs. Kern and Prescott debated whether the U.S. Constitution had founded a Christian Nation. Here is the abridged audio, and here is the full video.

After listening to the debate, a few questions naturally spring to mind. Perhaps most saliently, one must ask what exactly are these uniquely Christian principles upon which Dr. Kern rested so many of his arguments? Are there any moral principles which one finds in the sayings of Jesus of Nazareth which are not to be found elsewhere in pre-Christian religions (e.g. Animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Dionysianism, etc.)? If so, where are these uniquely Christian principles to be found in the U.S. Constitution?

Secondly, why should the letters or speeches of individual founders (e.g. Patrick Henry or Gouverneur Morris) be considered final and authoritative as to the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, especially when said founders were expressing themselves on matters unrelated thereto? If modern church-state integrationists do not consider it acceptable to take Jefferson's "wall of separation" metaphor to be authoritative because it was written in a private letter to a Baptist church, why should Morris' unpublished draft of a Constitution for France carry more weight? At least it may be said of Jefferson that he was reflecting upon the potential of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By contrast, Morris was proposing a wholly new set of rules for a strikingly different cultural context, even as (back across the pond) the original thirteen States were busily discussing and ratifying the First Amendment.

Finally, it should be noted that Dr. Kern brings up a completely new topic when he moves on from the Constitution and its drafters to the late 20th century, attempting to draw a causal connection between secularism and some of the more unfortunate consequences of the sexual revolution. This is a fascinating topic in and of itself, and while it is irrelevant to the debate last night, might well merit further inquiry in another forum.

Overall, both men did a fine job of defending their respective positions, however, Dr. Kern had a much harder time of it because the facts were almost wholly against him, given that the proposition under contention was about whether the Constitution was intended to found a secular or religious republic.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Law vs. McGrath on the radio (UK)

While this show is founded on a concept which I find irresitably appealing (Christians and non-Christians in conversation and debate), I've found myself generally critical of the show for failing to achieve intellectual and airtime balance between the unbelieving guest and the apologist(s) for religion. This episode is a happy exception, in which both debaters are equally bright and articulate. I definitely recommend this episode, if not the entire podcast.

Alister McGrath defends the ideas he has published in Why God Won't Go Away while Stephen Law assures that McGrath has to put up a geniune defense. They also manage to agree on some key propositions about how discourse and debate ought to be conducted. They also go back and forth a bit on theodicy and the problem of evil, which is clearly one of Law's pet arguments.

There is a fantastic bit around half an hour into the show when Law poses the following question, "What it is, actually, that the Holy Inquisition, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, all had in common?" Well, that is something to chew on.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Williamson vs. Craig at University of Saskatchewan

If you've already seen the earlier debate between these two men, you'll find this debate to be highly repetitious of those same arguments. At least Williamson seems a bit more prepared this time.

Craig starts out very strong, giving his usual five highly-polished arguments for theism. No surprises there.

Williamson starts out weak, fumbling about for a bit, speaking haltingly, and seemingly generally ill-prepared. I experienced a sinking feeling at this point, but he goes on to put together a few interesting arguments, one of which was an unusual presentation of a form of incompatible properties argument. Points for novelty at least.

On rebuttal, each speaker does a fine job ot tearing apart their opponent's arguments. Indeed, Williamson's rebuttal demonstrates that he did his homework, immediately singling out one of Craig's premises and demonstrating how that particular premise begs the question in favor of theism, and giving some reasons to doubt the premise itself. This is generally a good model for how to rebut deductive arguments put forward for theism. (His rebuttal of the fine-tuning argument could have been better, by providing an argument showing how the universe may have been naturally finely-tuned, and not conceding so much ground to Craig.)

Here is an example of what that rebuttal technique might look like in practice:
Craig's argument from objective moral values assumes that morality can only be "objectively real" if it is grounded in the mind of a transcendent moral being, which we call God. Thus, by claiming that morality is indeed objective (in this peculiar sense of the term) Craig is claiming that god exists, right up front in one of his premises. But this is precisely the question under discussion, and so we should be debating instead about the actual nature of moral value, rather than simply assuming that they are transcendent in the theistic sense which Craig supposes.

After the rebuttal period, the two debaters cross-examine each other for awhile, a format which I always enjoy. Craig gets the better of Williamson here, but it wasn't terribly one-sided.

Overall, it was a decent debate in which both sides were examined in some depth, but better arguments for naturalism exist, and may be found in better debates.

Here is another view.

Overall rating: 4.0
Believer rating: 4.5
Unbeliever rating: 3.5