Thursday, April 2, 2009

More on Ahmed/Habermas

The Carrier/Craig debate has created a good amount of internet discussion. Some people think Carrier performed great (that's my view), but maybe not to the level where you'd declare him the winner. Some Christians think he did very poorly. But for some of these Christians it seems that the skeptic always does poorly. One Christian reviewer that thinks Carrier did poorly also thinks Habermas defeated Ahmed. I couldn't disagree more. In my view if you are a Christian and you think Ahmed lost to Habermas then you simply have difficulty ever recognizing when your side has lost in a debate.

In what follows I will explain in more detail why I saw this as a clear Ahmed victory. This will serve to show that if you can't recognize that the Christian lost here, you're just not objective, and your opinions on these issues should simply be ignored.

In this debate, Ahmed made three arguments that he expressed very clearly. I outline the arguments here. He provided them in syllogistic form and asked Habermas to identify the premises he denied. Ahmed put it this way after he presented his first argument.

"The argument is the form of 3 premises and a conclusion, so 1, 2, and 3 are the premises and 4 follows from them. If 4 is false, then one of 1, 2 ,and 3 must be false. So my next question for Gary is which one of those premises 1, 2, and 3 he denies and why."

During the initial interactions between Ahmed and Habermas, Habermas perhaps implied a denial of one of the premises to one of the arguments, but it wasn't clear. The first questioner from the audience put it to Habermas again. The questioner pointed out that Habermas has not told us which premise he denies in the three arguments. Tell us now. Identify the premise by the number on the printed page. Do it for each argument.

Habermas offered no clear answer. Ahmed responded "I couldn't discern an answer to the question in that response." Ahmed said that he believed Habermas implicitly denied one premise in the third argument and he countered what he took to be Habermas' argument.

Another questioner said to Habermas "You've spent the entire evening and you haven't answered any of the questions he's tried to put before you. Let's be honest about it." Habermas responded by saying among other things "I believe I responded to all three." Ahmed replied that we still don't know which premise of the first two arguments Habermas denies and we have no good reason to deny the 2nd premise in argument three.

Finally in the closing moments of the debate Habarmas offered this:

"For those of you that have been waiting for this, I will dispute the 1st argument, premise 3, 2nd argument, premise 3, 3rd argument, premise 2. I thought I made it plain and may not have. I think the resurrection data upset those points."

So a simple numerical identification of the premises he denied without much by way of explanation or justification. No time to explain himself. No opportunity for Ahmed to respond to an explanation.

Now, it would be one thing if Ahmed made dozens of arguments that weren't clearly formulated and Habermas wasn't able to get to them all. That was not the case here. He was repeatedly asked to answer the questions and just would not. Anybody that left that debate would have left with no idea of how to deal with the arguments Ahmed made. The first two arguments were for the most part ignored. Habermas attempted to counter the third argument. Ahmed countered and Habermas never got back to it. Any one of these three arguments is rational grounds for rejecting belief in the resurrection. Habermas left these arguments unanswered.

Yet our Christian reviewer can still chalk it up as a win for Habermas. How is this possible? He cites three issues. Ahmed assumed Mk 16:18 was regarded by Habermas as genuine, he referred to Mormons when he should have said Jehovah's Witness in one instance, and he decides he doesn't think Ahmed knows much about I Cor 15 (though I see it more as disagreeing with his understanding of I Cor 15). Oh, and also the fact that his "philosophical arguments are weak." So two utterly inconsequential errors, one opinion (fairly baseless) that Ahmed doesn't know much about I Cor 15, and his own bare assertion that his arguments are weak. None of this makes belief in the resurrection rational. Each of Ahmed's arguments makes disbelief in the resurrection rational. Yet somehow Habermas wins this debate.

What if the Christian in the debate ran from the room sobbing and screaming as part of his first rebuttal. At that point would the skeptic have earned himself a victory? For some of these Christians you wouldn't be sure.

1 comment:

Joe Creason said...

Hey, I know this was four years ago but I reviewed this debate and linked to your review here:

I agree about the Xian review you talked about, too. I cannot see how anyone can think that Habermas won this debate. I think Habermas's head would have had to explode for theists to call the debate a draw.