I have listened to the Barker-White debate of last Thursday twice (an mp3 of the debate can be obtained here). Many things could be said about the debate. I have a few quick thoughts on why Dr. White dominated the debate:
1) Dr. White presented a Biblical case.
This is the primary reason that Dr. White dominated. Dr. White properly identified God as the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, the God who created the visible world (with a cellular energy transfer process as an example), and the God through whom alone knowledge is possible.
Dr. White did not rely on an evidentialist approach or a philosophically rationalist approach that tries to borrow a secular platform to argue for God’s existence. In this, in my opinion, Dr. White was dramatically superior to many of those who have tried to argue from probabilities or from clever philosophical syllogisms.
2) Dr. White was Prepared
Dr. White had done his homework on Barker. In fact, those of us who had listened to the Dividing Line webcast for the past few weeks were not surprised by anything that Barker said in his opening speech, and there really wasn’t much more that he said in other parts of his speech that were surprising.
This preparedness gave Dr. White a clear edge, since he was able to anticipate several of Barker’s arguments in his own opening statement. Additionally, Dr. White was even able to anticipate Barker’s follow-up questions during the cross-examination section.
Barker did not appear to be similarly prepared. Barker ended up having to waste time during the cross-examination section finding out preliminary facts about Dr. White, such as whether Dr. White accepts the hypothesis of evolution and whether God could be said to be behind the swine flu outbreak.
Likewise, because Barker was not familiar with Dr. White’s background, he confused evidence of God with evidence for God. Dr. White noted evidence of God in the evidence, but did not try to prove the God of Scripture from the evidence.
3) Dr. White Avoided Landmines
Dr. White avoided ad hominem arguments, except where the matter was relevant. For example, Dr. White did not argue that atheists were statistically more immoral than theists, did not try to make the argument that being an atheist makes you a Stalin, or any similar argument. Instead, Dr. White wisely stuck to pointing out the fact that atheistic morality is simply an unwarranted borrowing by atheists from the Christian worldview.
Dr. White did, at one point, note that Barker’s education to be a pastor was (to quote Barker’s own words) little more than a “glorified Sunday school,” but he did this only because it had become relevant in view of Barker’s suggestion that as a preacher he had been unaware of the most notorious textual critical issue that exists in the Bible. Although Barker may not have known about it, it wasn’t because Christians hide this issue, but only because Barker’s familiarity with Christianity wasn’t very deep. Dr. White was quick to point out that Barker is an exceptionally intelligent man (in the top few tenths of a percent of the population), and Dr. White made it clear that he was not arguing that Barker was lacking intelligence.
4) Dr. White Linked To Other Debates/Discussions
Dr. White provided a significant numbers of connections to other debates and discussions, both to debates that Barker had done and debates that Dr. White has done. These connections demonstrated the fact that Dr. White was aiming for consistency: not only in his own presentation, but in insisting that his opponent be consistent as well. These connections permitted Dr. White to focus on the important issues that had been raised in other contexts, even when Barker may not have raised them as clearly in this particular debate.
On the whole, I think Dr. White did a great job. Obviously, being a Christian and a member of his blogging team, I’m liable to bias. Nevertheless, I trust that the listener will agree with me and that has been the case with many of those with whom I have chatted about this debate. He presented the consistent message of the Bible and contrasted it with the inconsistent message of atheism.