Friday, October 9, 2009

More On My Discussion with James White

Atheists have an advantage. You see, having no morals they are free to lie and cheat and steal. Or break the rules of a debate with their atheistic ethics. There's no reason not to for an atheist. What does it matter? If it gives him an advantage, go for it (see about the 5:25 mark and following). In contrast Christians like James White have "transcendent moral values" that limit the scope of their behavior.

So says James White with regards to his debate with Dan Barker. Among several examples of Dan's wickedness is his use of Justin Martyr. Here is what Dan said during the debate:

Now it's not just modern scholars, but even early Christians. In the 2nd century there was a christian apologist who had been a pagan believer who converted to Christianity: Justin Martyr. And he was arguing with the pagans about we should all convert to Christianity, you know why? Because it's no different. Look what he says: When we say also that the Word, who is the firstborn of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you pagans believe regarding those whom you esteem to be the sons of Jupiter. Like Mercury Jesus is the logos. Like Perseus he was born of a virgin. Like Aesculapius Jesus healed the sick. If early Christians claimed that the Jesus story was nothing different from paganism who am I to disagree?

I think this is a fair point. James White thinks it's a pretty egregious example of wicked atheistic ethics. How so? Go again to his youtube clip to see. Supposedly Dan is taking Justin Martyr out of context and misrepresenting him. He starts by quoting chapters 3 and 6 of Justin's First Apology wherein he shows that in those chapters Justin is talking about how though Christian beliefs are similar to some pagan beliefs Christians are persecuted but pagan's aren't, so that's not fair. Further Justin believes pagan gods aren't real. He says "we could stop right here" as if he's already demonstrated his point. Dan is misrepresenting Justin Martyr.

But Dan is quoting chapter 21. How is it that the fact that Justin makes a different point in chapters 3 and 6 this somehow overturns his other point in chapter 21? Can a person make only a single point in a multi-chapter book, so White is free to impose the intention of chapter 3 on chapter 21? This is proof of the case already?

In chapter 9 Justin says other gods aren't real. In chapter 13 he says that our beliefs are true. In chapter 20 he says that he offers proof that his beliefs are true, so why are Christians being persecuted? Fair enough. White then says "Is he in any way shape or form saying....oh we just got this or we just derived this from over here and we grabbed this from over here? No."

But where did Dan say that Justin is admitting that Christian beliefs were derived from pagan stories? Nowhere. So who is James arguing with?

He then quotes chapter 21, which is where Justin starts to make his case for why Christianity is believable. Here he basically says that you shouldn't reject Christianity due to something like a virgin birth claim. After all you pagans already accept such things. Or in other words Christianity is believable despite what might on the surface appear to be an outlandish claim. You already believe things that are no different. Our claims are likewise believable. That's exactly what Dan said Justin Martyr had claimed and it's exactly what Justin Martyr did claim. But for some reason James still wants to assume that Dan is arguing that Justin believes Christian stories are derived from pagan stories.

At about the 21 minute mark again James says "It's not saying we pulled these from the same things" as if that was what Dan claimed. At about 22:15 "Notice he didn't say 'we borrowed this.'" Who claims otherwise, James? After Justin asserts that Christianity is alone true White says "So much for getting it from them" (24:25) and later (24:45) "Anyone who quotes Justin and does not deal with this is simply dishonest. Just dishonest!! That's the only way to describe it....If you try to make it sound like Justin was doing something he wasn't doing you're lying. It's dishonesty." Really? Who is it that is making someone say what they didn't say? Who says Justin believes they "got it from them", James? Read what Dan said and I've transcribed. Nowhere does Dan say that Justin admits Christian stories were borrowed from pagan stories.

James White offered the same misrepresentation in my call with him multiple times. When he did it at the 22:30 mark I corrected him. He quickly shifted away from the point about the derivation from pagan sources to something else, and soon after that he was hanging up on me like he had done to his prior caller.

Now, what would be easy to do is to just start going off about Christian dishonesty and how Christians are all ready to lie for the kingdom and misrepresent things, whereas we atheists have moral standards that don't come from a genocidal, misogynistic, slave promoting book. But then that would not be very gracious, and we all know how big Calvinists are on grace. We atheists will show some, though the Calvinist doesn't always return the favor. In my view James White probably just made a mistake and imposed a view on Dan that Dan didn't actually say. These things happen.

As to Dan's breaking of the rules, I have a suggestion for James White that might help prevent such things. As I said when I spoke to him I think he spends way too much time asserting the correctness of his view rather than arguing for it. This is "parralelomania." This was rejected 50 years ago. It's absurd, awful, embarrassing, etc. I say why not just make arguments and show that his claims are embarrassing. It's far more persuasive to let the audience draw the conclusion than to emphatically assert the conclusion.

The reason this could also help with rule breaking is that this behavior is also rude. When you say a belief is absurd, embarrassing, etc you automatically imply that anyone that adheres to it (like your opponent) has some sort of character flaw. Maybe he's stupid or too wicked to admit truth. That's rude and creates a hostile environment, which might incline someone to do something like break a rule. Sticking to arguments is win/win. More persuasive. Less rude. Try that. That's what Dan did. That's why he was so effective.

James White is a young earth Christian as far as I can tell. Suppose he debated the topic and his opponent spent a lot of time saying stuff like "No reputable scientist believes this sort of thing, this is absurd, embarrassing, etc." That may actually be his opponents view, but to say that is rude and ineffective on a young earth Christian. Show that the view is absurd by argument and let the young earther draw his own conclusions. That's more persuasive in my view and it makes the whole discussion more pleasant.


Steven Carr said...

Parallelomania is things like claiming John the Baptist was like Elijah because both people wore leather belts.

What sort of crazies would do such a thing like that?

How could John the Baptist in any way parallel Elijah unless you are one of those crazy people who see parallels everywhere?

Vinny said...

James White is a douchebag. After his debate with Bart Ehrman, he was patting himself on the back because Ehrman wouldn't comment on the textual integrity of the Koran. What was Ehrman's excuse for this refusal? The Koran wasn't the subject of the debate and it wasn't his field of study. White knew this couldn't be the reason since Ehrman was the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC. He knew that Ehrman was just being a hypocrite.

AIGBusted said...

Actually, I think there are some pagan parallels to Jesus which are quite meaningful:

Let me know what you think.

Michael Servetus said...

Concerning the topic of Justin and pagan parallels. I think Justin is saying more than, you should have no problem believing our claims since you have similar beliefs of your own scattered here and there.
I think Justin is also using them to say that they are a shadow of reality, scattered all over the place, hints and clues, and that they back up Christian beliefs because , Christinas according to the logos doctrine believed that gentiles had some pieces of truth and light and that also they could be inspired by spirits and therefore could find clues that point to the final reality whcih culminated in a revelation in Christ who would be savior of all, gentile and Jew breaking down the barrier.
Therefore I don't see the use of this by Dan Barker as completely honest or accurate according to the little i have read here and the site where I followed the link you left.