Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Thoughts on the Barker/White Mythology Debate
09/28/2009 - Tur8infanLast weekend, Dr. White debated Dan Barker on whether the Biblical account is derived from prior mythology (Topic, with Dan Barker Affirmative: "The Jesus Story is Cut from the Same Story as Other Ancient Mythologies"). I understand that eventually Alpha and Omega Ministries will make a DVD of the debate available. In the meantime, here's my take on the debate (having listened to it live).
1) Barker's Opening Speech
Mr. Barker gave a reasonably interesting opening speech in which he attempted to claim that much of the New Testament account was simply derived from various pagan mythologies. If one took his speech alone, it might actually sound as though he had an arguable case for his contentions.
2) Dr. White's Opening Speech
Before Dr. White could even get started, Barker committed what can be considered at best to be an enormous faux pas. He interrupted Dr. White's speech to object to Dr. White responding to Barker's own book. It was a boneheaded move, since it made Barker appear to be attempting to disrupt his opponent's speech. Furthermore, the rationale for the objection tended to undermine Barker's credibility, since normally scholars are willing to stand behind their books, especially when they are still selling that particular book.
3) The Remainder
Dr. White recovered well from the interruption and went on to demolish (quite thoroughly) the argumentation used by Barker against the New Testament. The cross-examination section was especially good, in that during Dr. White's time to ask questions he was able to demonstrate the weakness of Barker's position, while Barker had to resort to trying to argue and grand-stand during the cross-examination section.
What made things worse for Barker was the fact that such argumentation in the cross-examination is not just against the general rules of debate, but against the specific rules that Barker had agreed to just before the debate. Barker acknowledged this but then indicated that he was "proud" to violate the very rules to which he had agreed. At that point, I think that most of any remaining credibility he had was shot.
Other Views on the Debate
Barker made reference during his opening speech to the fact that there were a significant number of unbelievers present. I have looked for any atheist commentary on the debate and have found none. I have found a couple of Christian comments regarding the debate, which seem to confirm that the impression I got, of how the debate went, was accurate (first post, second post). (UPDATE: Here is one atheist view of the debate. (link))
Overall, I felt that the debate was a clear victory for Dr. White. Obviously, I am biased. Dr. White is a friend and I'm on his blogging team. I'm not sure, but I think that Barker realized that the debate was going against him. Barker is obviously a bright guy with good rhetorical skills, but his case was demonstrated to be weak. In my view, one of those weaknesses was that one of Barker's techniques seemed to be:
1) Assert that similarities between a myth and the Scripture show derivation; and
2) Assert that differences between the myth and the Scripture show "improvement" over the myth.
It should be apparent that if one uses that technique, one will be able to show derivation for any two stories that have any kind of superficial similarity.
Consider the example of the Iroquois (one of the North American aboriginal tribes) tale of the salvation of the human race. There are some similarities to the Scriptural account of the flood. Practically all the people of earth are wiped out. Their mode of salvation had to do with water, and the way in which their salvation was obtained was via divine revelation. In both cases, the hero's name begins with an "N", as an "o" in the middle of the name, and ends with an "a" sound. Notice how I've emphasized the similarities. But when you read the actual account (link for the skeptical), it's practically nothing like the history of the Great Flood. In fact, there's not even a flood in that story (instead, the calamity is a plague). The point, however, is that one can do the same kind of thing with virtually any two stories, especially those that go for any significant length.
I will not spoil the debate further by getting into the detailed arguments that were presented. After all, if you have to deal with typical atheist arguments against Christianity, this is a debate you will want to watch.
UPDATE: You can watch the first hour of the debate here:
The Most Unusual Event in All of My Debates Took Place Today
09/26/2009 - James White
I never saw this one coming. I had a feeling Dan Barker would be going a different way in his presentation than he had in his 2007 book, Godless. But when he gave a completely different presentation than he had in a book published only two years ago (with a foreword by Dawkins---a book he was selling in the foyer of the church, and which I have heard him promoting at colleges around the US this year), I knew something was up. He went first, so I had the second 20 minute opening statement. Exactly 20 seconds into that statement he interrupted me, objecting to the moderator. His objection? I was quoting from his own book! "This debate isn't about my book. Please stick to the topic!" Can you believe it? He wanted me to do my presentation without any reference to the very arguments he himself had put in print on the very same topic in a book he was selling in the foyer of the church! I couldn't believe it. In all my nearly twenty years of debate I had never encountered a more absurd situation. Someone demanding that you not hold them accountable to their own published statements on the topic of the debate! Amazing beyond words. Obviously, I refused to let him silence me, and I proceeded to document error after error in his work. But it was truly the most amazing thing I had ever seen. He later openly, and without repentance, broke the rules of cross-examination we had agreed to before the debate, and openly said that was a rule he was "proud" to break. It was an amazing display of atheistic ethics, to be sure. I know the atheists in the audience were rowdy, doing a fair amount of vocal "participation" from what those sitting next to them tell me. One yelled out at the end of my closing, "What about Islam?" As if I haven't debated that topic enough! But these were the same zealots who applauded wildly every time Barker mentioned the "Flying Spaghetti Monster." When I pointed out how irrational and absurd Dawkins and his argument actually is, they were very displeased. They just about worship Dawkins, sad to say.
I can't pull the video of Barker's objection to my quoting his own book (please note, he was not saying I was misrepresenting him, he was objecting to anyone even quoting him, even in context!) until I get home (I am at the gate at the Portland airport about to get on my return flight: I preach both services at PRBC tomorrow), but I will post that portion first so you can see for yourself. Despite that, the debate went very well, and I think will be very helpful to those dealing with this subject. Thank you for your prayers and support!
Ready to Listen to the Debate?
09/26/2009 - James WhiteI should be firing up the feed about now, so, I've timed this blog article to appear so as to provide the link you will need to listen live to the debate in Newberg, Oregon between myself and Dan Barker. Lord willing, the following link will get you connected! Click here to listen!
The Triune God of Scripture Lives: DVDs Now Available
09/17/2009 - James WhiteRich was learning a new program, so it took a while to get the original Barker debate onto DVD, but it is now available here. The mp4 of the debate is available here, and mp3 recording here. Don't forget to be praying for the next debate with Dan Barker up in Newberg, OR. I will be taking my mini computer to live webcast the debate as long as my Verizon signal is strong enough. I will also be taking up my new micro camcorder for a full recording of the debate, as well as the Flip Video unit for backup. I think that should cover it, since the church is video taping as well! No more losing recordings of debates!
Great Stuff on Justin Brierley's "Unbelievable" Program from the UK
09/04/2009 - James WhiteJustin Brierley is hosting a two-part conversation featuring Richard Bauckham on the topic of his views of the eyewitnesses and Jesus' ministry on his "Unbelievable" radio program this week and next. I listened to the first part while riding yesterday, and found it fascinating (though at one point I was a bit distracted by riding through a long stretch of swarms of white flies in the darkness before sunrise---I can't wait till those little creatures are no longer a regular part of my morning diet!). It is a two-parter, so the second section should air this weekend. At the end of the program Justin read e-mails, and played comments on both of my own recent appearances on "Unbelievable," both with the Fosters to discuss Calvinism/Arminianism and then eternal punishment. I found the commentary fascinating, to be sure. You can listen to the current program with Richard Bauckham, as well as the two programs I did last month, here. Let Justin know you are listening, as that is always an encouragement. If I get a chance to get to London in February, I hope to join Justin in studio again.