Last 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: