Monday, September 28, 2009

Debates part one

I have recently become passionate about listening to debates, particularly those covering religion. I will recommend a few over the next few weeks. If it's something you are interested in, then I encourage you to listen. Very fun stuff.

Anyone who watches the presidential debates knows that whether a person wins or loses a debate is not proof that they are correct. It's half a legitimate search for truth and half a sporting event where debaters try to best each other in how good their arguments SOUND. I have often heard people win debates with bad points because his/her opponent does not effectively refute those bad points - either in substance or in the clarity of the speech.

This first one is hardly a debate, actually. Evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig debates in a traditional, well-organized style. Liberal theologian and Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong is less interested in responding tit for tat with Craig, than he is at getting his point of view across. Often this is annoying in debates, since the debaters don't really engage on specific points, but in this particular example I think Spong comes off favorably.

The debate subject is the historicity of Jesus' Resurrection. Was it a one time, specific, bodily event? Craig argues yes. Spong argues no. But as I said, Spong spends his time arguing for his point of view, rather than against Craig's.

The whole debate is about an hour and a half, but I recommend listening to just the last 10:30 of the debate. Craig ties up his points in an organized manner, lamenting liberal theology, and describing his personal experience of God. Then Spong responds to Craig's accusations in one or two sentences and delivers an eloquent description of God - something that he believes is essentially outside any human's ability to effectively describe.

Here is the link


  1. Steven - have you read Spong's book? He comes off as a bit of an ass, but his message is clear and, in its essence, good.

  2. I have read "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" and "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism"

    I think the messages of both are great. My problem with him is that he repeats his points a lot. I suppose they stick with you though!

    AFter listening to this debate, my opinion of Spong has changed for the better. Tone of voice goes a long way.

  3. I've read the first, but not the second (not yet, anyway). Huston Smith comes to mind, too, as someone who can seem a bit priggish from his writing, but very pleasant in "real life." You're right - tone does go a long way!

  4. I have read Smith's World Religions book, and I enjoyed it. I don't remember a negative tone, but it was a favorable overview of all world religions, so I suppose he didn't need to be polemical!

  5. Hi, Steven-

    Thanks for the link- that was fun to listen to. One of Craig's refrains is that "most scholars of the Bible" believe X, Y, and Z. I'd expect that most scholars of the Koran don't believe X, Y, or Z, and instead believe that Muhammad was recipient of the last and greatest message from God. Scholarly self-selection bias does not equal critical insight.

    Spong's point about the passover and the Jewish / liturgical / metaphorical nature of early scripture is very interesting- blood of the lamb, cross and the doorpost, etc. Link to Goulder.

    And the discussion towards the end about whether cadaverous resurrection is appealing anyhow was fascinating. Of course my view is that everything about religion is a matter of wishful thinking, which makes this extremely relevant. And to hear Craig celebrate the doctrine and defend its historicity, based on rather forced misreadings of stories and documents all internal to the tradition and supported by his gaggle of non-critical "scholars" ... well, that leaves little more to be said, really.

  6. I see much of what people argue for as that which they find aesthetically pleasing. This extends beyond religion - it doesn't mean there are nt objective standards, it just means that we all feel first and think second.

    I too am fascinated by Bill Craig's strategy. He employs what he calls "holy spirit epistemology" which means that any subjective truth he encounters is valid without an adequate defeater. This coupled with a stunning intellect and well-honed debating skills means that he can constantly retreat to the possible, and disguise it, whenever he is challenged.

    I am working on refutations of many of his arguments. It's been done many times before of course, but I'm interested and it's fun to work through. If you're interested you might check out my first entry on the Kalam Cosmological Argument - Craig's baby. I try to keep it very tight and short.


    I listen to so many debates, I really enjoy a melodic voice. Isn't Spong a pleasure to listen to? Soothing, calm, lovely accent, etc. I didn't expect that after reading his books. And I too was fascinated by Spong's take on the connection of the gospels with the liturgical component of Judaism and the early church.