Understanding the now infamous Barker vs. White objection…

Okay, I’d first like to thank Brian at Apologetics315 for having an audio link up so quick for the September 26th debate between James White and Dan Barker.  For those of you that have not heard about it yet, you likely don’t worry much about apologetic debate and don’t follow that scene.  For those of you that did, it’s quickly becoming one of the more astounding statements made in public apologetic debate, to date.

Dan Barker delievered his opening address on the various parallels that Christianity has with other preceding mythological tales from various other religious sources.  He started with a ficticious story about 3 little donkeys and a nasty elephant, and commented on how his story was obviously borrowing from the three little pigs story, based on what is essentially known as ‘common sense’ in our culture, regarding childrens stories and literature.  After that, he listed a bunch of parallels from various ancient mythological tales and religious lore.  I won’t repeat it all, but it’s essentially along the lines of how other religious lore that preceded the story of Christ contained all the various elements of the story of Christ (virgin birth, 12 disciples, death and resurrection, etc.).  Barker argued that the story of Christ was, simply put, a patchwork quilt of various pieces that were ripped off from the blankets of other religions and sewn together.  A majority of his argument was similar in form and content to his published works that contained commentary on these subjects, namely Losing Faith in Faith (from 1992) and Godless (from 2008, though I’ve heard it was released in 2007)

Then, 30 seconds or so into his opening presentation, James White was interupted by Dan Barker when White stated that he’d present his case built against Dan’s arguments presented in his book and would respond to Dan’s opening statement in his cross examination period.  Dan wanted to make a point of order, and the point was that they were not debating his book.  I remember when I first heard that statement, I was floored, thinking that Dan Barker was objecting to White’s quotation of his work.  Surely Barer wasn’t suggesting that he had abandoned the arguments in his latest book?

After listening to the audio of the debate, I think Barker was suggesting something slightly different.

It seems that Dan objected to how White had an opening statement that addressed the arguments put forth in his two books as opposed to Barker’s opening statement, thinking that somehow White should be immediately responding to the opening address that Barker had just delivered.

It seems that Barker thought that White was “avoiding the issues” when White was not rebutting Barker’s opening statement with White’s own opening statement.

The reasoning that Barker seemed to give was that he “may have changed his mind” on something(s) that was in his books.  Barker seemed to think that White should have responded to what he had just said.  Later in the debate, it seems that Barker had abandoned some of the arguments about Mithras that he had gathered from The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, written by Barbara G. Walker.  It seemed that Barker had studied her other books A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, Charted Knitting Designs: A Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns, Knitting from the Top, Mosaic Knitting, The Book of Sacred Stones, Feminist Fairy Tales, The Secrets of the Tarot, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, etc. and started to have some suspicions about her scholarship.  She’s obviously not an atheist (more likely a wiccan), and spilts her writing between books on mystic feminism and knitting.  I cannot understand why Barker would have ever taken her seriusly as a scholar and I understand why he would distance himself from her.

Either way, it appeared that Barker didn’t want White bringing her up and didn’t want White attacking some of his arguments on the basis of the comically bad sources that he used.  I applaud Barker in recognizing that at least one of his sources is a non-scholarly source; unworthy of quotation or reference in a serious address on the subject of the origins of the story of Christ.

I think in the fury and the nerves of the debate, Barker wanted White to interact with what he said that day, not what he had written years ago (because he may have changed his mind).

It was still completely bizarre, but I think many people heard it as Barker saying that he didn’t want White quoting his book, as if that were somehow unacceptable in debate or somehow reprehensible.

I cannot understand how Barker would think such a complaint would be legitimate unless he had communicated his change of argument to White before the debate, so White could modify his opening statement to remove the elements that Barker had removed from his repertoire.  Entering a debate with a position modified from something you previously held is understandable.  Not communicating that to your opponent (or apparently anyone else in any sort of public way) is clearly not being forthright, and complaining about it is being downright absurd.  Obviously, White and Barker aren’t neighbors and don’t frequent the same locales.  How else would White learn about Barker’s espoused positions, except for his publically available printed work?  The complaint is silly, especially seeing that Barker is seasoned debater, with +60 debates under his belt.  He definitely knew better and I’m guessing that he was searching for an angle to slam White, right off the start.

Barker’s no stranger to mockery, and no stranger to special pleading argumentation.  The whole “I didn’t quote your books” complaint worked against Barker; it rightly shows that he has no concern for interacting with the specific case offered by his opponent but instead is only interested in gaining a public forum to make fun of Christianity.

– A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions – Proverbs 18:2.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger

Initial Thoughts on the 2nd Dan Barker vs. James White debate…

First blog post in MONTHS!

Well, I just got off the AOMin chat channel and finished listening to the White/Barker detate that happened.  It was a little over 3 hours, and it was definitely quite the show.  Right off the bat, I’m not going to pretend that I remembered everything that was said (and won’t suggest that my representation of the debate is factually inerrant in any way), but here’s my synopsis:

1.  Dan comitted a fatal error right off the start.  When White started his opening statement, Barker interupted him and pleaded for a point of order; he asked that White would not quote from his own book Godless.  Why?  Barker essentially has changed some of his positions from the book (released in 2008) and doesn’t want to have to defend some of the things that he’s changed his mind on.  Ironically, the book was apparently for sale on the merch table at the debate though.  Fatal error is an understatement.  Barker came to the debate and brought his latest book, but protested to his opponent actually refering to his published offerings on the subject.  If Barker is still in transition on the issues of the debate, selling his book at the debate while admitting it’s error is both a marketting flaw and a debating seppuku.

White rightly remarked that he’d never heard of anyone doing that in a scholarly debate.  Usually, people desire to have people quote their books (as opposed to some T.V. interview, or some sound bite, or a blog post, etc.).  It seems that when a person writes a 400 page book on an issue, they’re relatively confident on the subject matter and have done enough thinking about the issue to think it’s worth publishing, for the benefit of the world at large.  Barker is a bizarre exception to this rule.

2.  Barker got horribly outgunned by White on the various source texts that are used to establish the Isis/Mithras/Osiris issue, as well as the supposed Christian borrowing from those texts for the creation of the “Jesus Myth”:

  • First, White knew the source material and had done original language work that adequately challenged the translation of some of the source documents.  Barker apparently does not know Greek enough to simply read a Greek text without helps, since he had nothing to say about White’s interpretative points stemming from original language work.
  • Secondly, White commented on the parallels and showed how utterly non-parallel they are; i.e Osiris was “resurrected”, but this really means he was hacked to pieces and sewn together and ultimately became a zombie.  Not quite as similar to the resurrection of Christ as many people attempt to portray it.
  • Barker admitted that the Old Testament’s essential message was one of how the Israelites were constantly flirting with idolatry; thus he made the effort to show how the Israelites were familiar with paganism and attempted to incorporate it into Judaism.  White responded by pointing out that the univocal response to paganism in the OT was one of disgust; the prophets consistently and constantly showed a hatred of paganism in all its beliefs and practices.   Also, the paganism was essentially set by the leadership; i.e. when a king was bad, the nation was bad (idolatrous like Ahab or Manasseh), but when the leadership was good, the nation was good (non-idolatrous like David or Josiah).  It’s very hard then, knowing how completely “anti-idolatry” the Jews were after the Babylonian captivity, to suggest that anyone in Judaism would support what would have clearly been idolatrous concessions, if early Christians were Jews stealing from paganism to make up their Christianity.  The Jews, especially the leadership (Pharisees and Sadducees), would have condemned any pagan concessions, and the early Jewish converts would have gone with them in condemning the ‘psuedo pagan message’ that the Christians were delivering.  This is not the case with Christ though.  Everyone knew he was a miracle worker, and the historical records of the gospel suggest blasphemy where Christ said he was God.  This was an utter attack against the Jewish monism that was found nowhere in preceding paganism.  The 1st and 2nd century Jews knew that Christianity was new and different, but nobody thought it was a reversion to, or new version of, pagan idolatry.  Many things were rightly said of early Christianity by the Jews, but ‘pagan rip off’ was not one of them.
  • Barker completely abandoned this topic in both of his Q&A periods, which is telling.  Barker used his Q&A time to pursue obvious ad hominem arguments; namely the idea of Young Earth Creationism and ideas surrounding Mormonism and their “scriptures”, attempting to establish evidences of inconsistency with White.  The YEC questions were simply attempting to show that White was a crack pot, and Barker didn’t go near Mithraism/Isis/Osiris, etc. in his Q&A time.  In channel, everyone was consistently asking “Why is he changing the debate subject?” and “Why is he using such obvious rhetorical traps and ad hominem arguments?”

3.  Barker started off the debate attempting to give proof that Christianity stole from pagan sources to manufacture the “Jesus story” but ended up the debate reverting to a pleading for uncertainty.  He closed his final statement suggesting that White looks for “proof” when you cannot prove anything, suggested that Christianity is unprovable, his atheism is equally unprovable but more rational (though he abandoned any form of reasoning, outside of ad hominem attacks against White, to show how it is more rational), and gave the standard “I only believe in 1 less god than you” line.  Barker was on the ropes, and it seemed like he knew it.  I was wondering where his notorious “capital ‘A’ atheism” (I’m going to prove that God does not and can not exist…) went by the end of the debate.

I’m guessing that’s why the “Jesus never existed” camp is so utterly small (what, >10 biblical scholars support that, if that?), and why the “Jesus is entirely a concoction from earlier pagan myths” camp is not much bigger (what, >100 biblical scholars, if I’m being generous?).  The first position, when thrown in the ring of actual debate and when demanded to present its factual evidence in the face of articulate and informed rebuttal, is simply atrociously weak and utterly indefensible.  The second position, when thrown in the ring of actual debate and when demanded to present its factual evidence in the face of articulate and informed rebuttal, needs to rest in ambiguity and has to completely ignore the numerous glaring differences between Christ and the pagan ideas in order to argue for precious few tiny similarities.

The web groups that applaud things like Zeitgeist are essentially filled with high-school level skeptics who are incompetent critical thinkers that are allergic to self-critical examination, and the whole “Jesus never existed” and  “Jesus is a concoction of pagan components” positions are built upon bizarrely improbable skepticism stacked upon bizarrely improbable skepticism stacked upon bizarrely improbable skepticism.   Let’s face it; the majority of people who support the latter position on a popular level, have no training in anything relevant to anything biblical (Ancient Near Eastern History, Religious Studies, Classical or Semmitic languages, let alone Biblical studies, theology, exegesis, biblical languages).  I think that’s why biblical scholarship (i.e. the SBL or…*cough* the ETS) currently has less than a dozen scholars who positively defend the position as opposed to the thousands of currently active biblical scholars who, although they represent a wide variety of opinions about Jesus, recognize that he was a figure who was not simply a figure built from the lego blocks of the paganism that came before.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts.  I look forward to none of the coming comments, knowing who usually comments on this sort of stuff!  Hooray!

Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian