Newsletter: 1998: July 1998
Internet Infidels Newsletter
In this issue:
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On June 15, 1998, Professor Keith Parsons squared off against the formidable William Lane Craig in a debate at the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. The debate topic was "Why I am/am not a Christian." Approximately 4,200 were in attendance, and of those, about 4,100 were on the side of Dr. Craig. Professor Parsons has provided a summary of his experience:
Dr. Craig opened the debate. I was surprised at the line he took. He appeared to be "witnessing" a good bit of the time rather than engaging in debate. He did bring up his standard argument about God and Big Bang cosmology. He also briefly mentioned the historical "evidence" in favor of the resurrection.
In my opening speech I noted that since the topic was not Theism vs. Atheism, but Christianity in particular, I did not plan to address the Big Bang argument. I mentioned that I'd be happy to take up that topic in a future debate addressing the Theism vs. Atheism issue. My first point had to do with Christian scripture. I quoted some of the more horrific passages where God commits atrocites or orders them done in His name. I quoted the wonderful passage from Tom Paine's Age of Reason where he says that such material is more appropriately called the word of a demon rather than the word of God.
I then went into loving length on the "holy horrors" perpetrated in the name of Christ and explained why the standard apologetic lines were not good excuses. I got in a good dig at the Christian Coalition, pointing out that history is evidence that America under their rule would be like Spain under the Inquisitors. I also talked about the doctrine of hell, and how the most orthodox theologians had gloried in the contemplation of eternal torment.
My main argument was an attack on the historicity of the resurrection. I began with a paragraph listing nine reasons that the canonical gospels could not be trused as reliable historical sources. I next went after Craig's three main points in support of the resurrection: the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian religion. I explained in detail why I regard each of these so-called pieces of evidence as worthless.
The remainder of the debate was basically a back-and-forth on these issues. Dr. Craig maintained that Christianity was the greatest force for good the world had ever seen. I asked how on earth he could possibly know that and countered with the offer to read reams of extra evidence about the sins of Christianity. He argued that the post-mortem appearances could not have been hallucinations. Drawing on much recent work in anomalistic psychology, I insisted very forcefully that they could indeed have been hallucinations. I pointed out that the latest issue of the New York Review of Books has an excellent article about how Whitley Strieber and others have experienced "alien abductions" and how absolutely "real" these experiences seemed to them.
I got the impression that Dr. Craig was on the defensive much of the time. He did admit to me that he had not expected an attack on the historicity of the resurrection. In a message to Jeff Lowder he graciously said that he thought I had done a good job with that material, better in fact than some of the NT scholars he's debated.
Dr. Craig, of course, is a fine debater. Having seen some of his other debates, I felt that he occasionally distorted his opponent's position and attacked a straw man. I only got a bit of that feeling once or twice in my debate. A couple of times he seemed to be saying that I had merely asserted a position when in fact I had given reasons for what I said. Other than those minor occasions, I thoroughly enjoyed the debate. Perhaps we can meet again at some time in the future. At present I've got to get tenure!