April 5, 2014.
Last night I gave you a little teaser about the debate I attended between Kyle Butt and Dr. Bart Ehrman. Today I will go into a full analysis (or what I think of as full at least) of the debate, with some (hopefully constructive) criticism on both sides and my two cents on some of the issues, for what it’s worth. The debate can be viewed at one youtube from GBN’s channel by clicking here. I made the link actually start where the debate started as opposed to all the “pre-game” stuff. I encourage you to watch it for yourself instead of just taking what I have to say about it. Today’s post may run a bit long, so let’s jump right into it.
Overall analysis of the debate format.
I wrote yesterday about some of my issues with the debate format and how it doesn’t quite lend itself to a truly open discussion of ideas, but rather a “I must win and not look stupid” mindset. If this were a secular debate, perhaps some merit could be given to this mindset (though I’m still not sure I would like it), but since this is a religious debate, I do not think it is the most effective in changing the minds of either of the two parties involved. The most effect that it will have will be on those who are on the really on the fence of believing in God, specifically the Christian God for this debate. To well grounded Christians, Dr. Ehrman was not likely to bring up anything that would shake our faith. To well grounded agnostics/atheists, Kyle was not likely to make a case for the Christian God. These two facts do not mean that each speaker was not able to bring up good points, but because our biases have already told us who was right. And this can be a good or a bad thing. It can be good if the opposing viewpoint brings up a point that is not grounded in logic and falsely persuades the listener. I believe each side had some arguments that would fall into this category. But it can be bad if the opposing view brings up a completely valid point, and we write it off immediately because they brought it up.
Overal, I believe the actual format of the debate was set up well, save for two points. First, I believe the moderation should have been much better. This was most clearly seen in the cross examination section, where no ground rules were set up and the two speakers just went back and forth, cutting each other off and not actually answering the questions. This was probably the most frustrating part of the night. In fact, one of my friends who came with me actually left after this part. The moderator should have stepped in and given each man a time to talk, or regulated it in some way. Fortunately, this was only apparent during the cross examination and the rest of the set up went smoothly. Secondly, it should have been stated at the very beginning that the audience was to hold all applause until the end of a speaker’s time, so as to not interrupt and use their allotted time just to clap at something they found amusing. This was a debate between the two men on stage, not the audience. And as the audience in attendance was of one persuasion or another, it did little good to express what everyone already knows to be our position.
Criticisms for both speakers.
1. Answer the questions!
This is a debate where questions will be asked. Answer them, with clear answers. Time and again last night a question was posed by one side and completely skirted around by the other. This was not just done solely by Dr. Ehrman or solely by Kyle. It should be assumed that in this debate format that the opposing view is going to come up with leading questions that are looking for the answers they want to hear. If you have truth, answer the question (I Peter 3:15). Explain the answer instead of avoiding the question. Circular answers are not acceptable.
2. Debate the premiss at hand.
Both speakers had this issue in different ways.
Kyle, though I appreciate the amount of research and preparation he did for the debate, seemed to be more concerned about what Dr. Ehrman had said in the past than what he had to say during the debate. He pulled quote after quote, and frankly it got a little old in the end. This is not to say that I don’t think you should do your research or pull quotes from the opposing view, because I think this is good in some cases. But I do not think you should do it for the majority of the debate. If the opposing view said it before, they will say it again (unless they have changed their mind), so just ask them again. It’s powerful to know their answers, but not as powerful to force their answers on them. This is my opinion, at least, so you can take it or leave it.
Dr. Ehrman missed this in a different way. It didn’t seem like he honesty came to debate the topic at hand. He appealed to our emotional side by saying we should help people who are suffering regardless of whether or not you believe in the Christian God. This poses no issue with the Christian. Of course we believe we should help those who are suffering, and we do. That was not the topic for the night. The topic was that suffering indicates that the Christian God does not exist. Dr. Ehrman did a poor job in my opinion of explaining why this is so, and he also offered no alternative reason of suffering (more on this later). If you agree to a debate, come prepared to debate the issue, not to say it doesn’t matter.
Criticisms for Kyle.
1. Remember who you are.
Before I go far into this section, I just want to make it clear that I have a high respect for Kyle Butt and I have listened to a good portion of his work. He is who inspired me to really dig deep into apologetics and who showed me why it is important. I believe he is a wonderful speaker, and that you can truly tell that his masters is in communication. He has a love for truth that is clearly evident, and I admire that greatly. However, sometimes I think that this zeal for the truth can get in the way of the love we are to show to others. I know that to be the case with me in the past. We are Christians, and we should act like Christians at all times, whether we are helping someone in need or debating an agnostic in a public format. There were a few times that Kyle made a dig at Dr. Ehrman that I did not appreciate. Yes, it was funny and it got a laugh from the audience, but how is that showing love to Dr. Ehrman? I admit that I’m not sure I would be any better suited in the situation as Dr. Ehrman was being difficult at the time and you could tell it was really frustrating. But isn’t that the point of God’s love? Isn’t it shown best when we do something that is not expected as opposed to reacting like the world does? Romans 12:14-21 sheds a bright light on this subject.
2. Confidence is good, until it becomes arrogance.
One of the things I admire most about Kyle Butt is his confidence. I know I could choose any opponent, no matter what academic caliber or prestige, and Kyle would have the confidence to speak with him. I don’t worry when he debates people. He will be prepared. This courage is lacking many times in the Christian community. However, when this confidence turns into arrogance, then you start to lose your influence. Both men standing on that floor last night has at least a small level of arrogance, which is to be expected. I myself have not won this battle of pride fully. But arrogance is seen as a bad thing, as it should be, because we should not see ourselves as better than the other person. My friend Chris, last night as we were having a great discussion about the debate and beyond, told me something his Dad once said to him: “You can win a debate, but lose a soul.” This is so powerful. Dr. Ehrman, no matter how frustrating he could get at times, is still as soul. If we simply clobber him in the debate, what have we gained? Even the world will look on us and see evil. This is not a good reflection of Christ. We should indeed have confidence, but our confidence should be placed in the Almighty (Psalm 20:7).
Criticisms for Dr. Ehrman.
1. Prepare for your debate.
One of the most striking statements made by Dr. Ehrman last night to me was when he said “I don’t know much about Kyle,” indicating that he had not prepared for the debate by reading and listening to Kyle’s material. Kyle demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Dr. Ehrman’s writings and previous debates, so much so that Dr. Ehrman seemed to be dumbfounded in the amount of preparation that Kyle had put into the debate, as he exclaimed “How much of my stuff have did you read?!” If you are going to debate someone who has public works published, you should prepare by at looking at their viewpoint. We have a sneaking suspicion that Dr. Ehrman did study Kyle a lot more than he let on, saw his aggressive style and decided to try and play the victim of the debate because he know Kyle would prepare like he did. This is purely speculation, of course.
2. Come with an answer.
As I alluded to earlier, Dr. Ehrman did not come with a satisfactory answer to why the premiss was true or to why suffering exists in the world. The best he could give is that it was a complex answer that could not be told in 20 seconds. He urged that we should not accept simple answers, as they are probably not true, but did no’t give any evidence for that. He just said that it was true. Then he went on to say we should help those who are suffering as opposed to just talking about why they are suffering. But that was the premiss of the debate. He never explained how rejecting the Christian God fixed the problem of suffering, or how the bible didn’t deal adequately with suffering. Dr. Ehrman continued to insist that there is no one simple answer to suffering, but then criticized the bible for having multiple answers to suffering. This is faulty reasoning in my opinion. In the end, it was clear that he didn’t have an answer other than the Christian God is wrong. This is not satisfactory.
A few issues and my response.
1. Biblical authors have different viewpoints on suffering.
This was one of Dr. Ehrman’s main cases against the bible. Different authors believed suffering happens for different reasons. I don’t fully understand his qualm, because that is completely true. Of course they have different beliefs about suffering, because there are different reasons that people suffer. There is no one answer as to why suffering exists, and Dr. Ehrman himself would agree to that. But then he criticizes the bible for having different answers. This is not logical to me. In his defense, he does say that some ideas are reconcilable, but then he goes on to say that others aren’t. For a very complete and coherent answer to this question, watch Kyle’s first rebuttal. I believe this to be his best section of the night.
2. You don’t need moral absolutes to be moral.
Dr. Ehrman stated several times during the debate that he believe that certain things, such as parents beating their children, were wrong. When addressing how he could say that without believing in a moral absolute, he said that he didn’t tell people they are wrong because he had moral absolutes, but just because he simply knew it to be wrong. Here’s what is interesting to me- Wikipedia’s definition of Moral absolutism:
“Moral absolutism is an ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other circumstances such as their consequences or the intentions behind them.”
You cannot say that you don’t have moral absolutes but then continue to tell someone that they are wrong in what they are doing, especially in the case that you believe it is always wrong to do something, such as beat a child. That is a moral absolute. You can call it whatever you want, it doesn’t change the truth. And that’s the issue for atheism and agnosticism. The notion that “I don’t need an objective outside power to define good and bad” is simply false. If there is such a thing as good and bad, there must be a moral absolute. There must be something (someone) higher who defines what good and bad are. Justice cannot exist without a law giver. Simply claiming it can does not affect the truth.
(From Wikipedia): “Redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and altered slightly to make a single document. Often this is a method of collecting a series of writings on a similar theme and creating a definitive and coherent work. “To redact” later came to be used in the sense of selecting from or adapting (as by obscuring or removing sensitive information) a document prior to publication or release”
This was a minor point in the debate, but I believe that it should rally be addressed. When Kyle was asking Dr. Ehrman questions about his view of Ecclesiastes, Dr. Ehrman brought up the point of redaction and how many scholars believe that Ecclesiastes went through several revisions and had additions made to it to change the meaning of the book. Now, if you follow my blog at all, you know that my favorite book of the bible is Ecclesiastes, so of course I am going to take issue here. But I believe there is a different point being made that needs to be addressed. I understand how for the one who does not believe in God, this could be an issue. But suppose, for argument’s sake, there is an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God who created the universe. Do you not think that, if he chose to use human writers to make his will known to man (a concept that is ver complex and wonderful that we can get into some other time), that he could not also guide the process? That he could not make certain books get lost if he deemed them unnecessary or if they had some falsehood in then? That he could not cause a revision to be made that further explains his will? See, at what point does the word of God cease to be the word of God? If you are going to criticize the fact that Solomon possibly did not write the complete book of Ecclesiastes, where is your proof then that only what Solomon writes is the word of God? We get into a really sticky situation here, and it seems to be hard to sort out. However, I believe in a God who is big enough to providentially work in the lives of men so as to preserve his will in the Scriptures he has laid out (II Timothy 3:16-17). If you don’t believe he could do that, then I would suggest you consider the size of the God you serve.
4. The pain and suffering in the world indicate that the Christian God does not exist.
This is a topic that pages upon pages could be written about. But I won’t do that here. In this debate, Dr. Ehrman was not able to adequately affirm this proposition in my opinion. We live in a fallen world, where men are evil and our intentions dark. Kyle gave many different reasons for suffering (all biblical). Dr. Ehrman did not show why the reasons were not logically sound, but why he didn’t want to believe them from an emotional standpoint.
“Do you want to believe that suffering happens because God is punishing people?” Well, if that is the case, us wanting to believe it or not does not change the truth. Yes, there are cases in the bible where God punished a people with suffering because of their actions and disobedience. To reject the Christian God on the bases of “I don’t like that,” is dangerous. I don’t like the fact that we have to pay taxes. But me not believing they exist simply because I don’t like what it would mean if they did exist would get me into a lot of trouble. The same goes for God.
“All will be made right in the after life is not a satisfactory answer for me.” I’m going to be a little blunt here. So what? If there is an almighty creator who has told us exactly what we have to do, who are we to talk back to him? I’ve heard it said “If that is what God is really like, then I don’t want to serve him.” This is a prideful statement. Since God’s ideas don’t align with my ideas, then he is wrong and mean. This is simply not true, as one day we will indeed learn our place in relation to an Almighty God. Then it simply will not matter what we think or what we like. All that will matter will be his glory, amen.
“Do you really want to believe that God punishes people for questioning him?” One, that’s not why God spoke to Job like he did. He did not get angry when because Job questioned him. Two, we simply need to realize that when we question the omniscient, omnipotent God, we need to be prepared to be put in our place. This is what happened to Job. “Where were you when I laid the foundations for the Earth?” It is truly amazing that such a powerful God could care so much about mere man.
“Where was God when I was suffering?” Kyle’s closing statement was good about showing where God is when we suffer. When we read the bible, we do find the answer to suffering, and that answer is a man. Jesus Christ, our Messiah, gave up the glory of heaven to come to this world and suffer immensely, all because he loved us. When we ask “where was God when I suffered,” we see that he is at the same place when his only son was hanging on that tree, bearing our sins while we were yet sinners. “No greater love has mortal man than for a friend to die.” Christ laid down his life in pain and agony, so that he might experience our suffering and be able to comfort us in our time of need like no other human being can. That is the love of Christ.
There are other points that I could discuss, but I think this post has been long enough. God does care about our pain. He is seeking to comfort his people. He wants you to be saved. God has gone out of his way, above and beyond anything we could ever hope for, just so that we could be reconciled to him in spite of our sinful nature. Pain and suffering do no indicate that the Christian God does not exist. Pain and suffering are dealt with extensively in the bible. Christ himself is referred to as “the suffering servant.” God understands our pain. He wants to comfort you. But he cannot be in the presence of sin, exemplified when he had to turn his back on his only son as he bore our sins (talk about suffering!). Have you been sanctified? Have you been washed with the blood? Are you prepared to meet your God? He has made it simple, yet so complex. If you believe in him, he has made an avenue where you can be buried with him in baptism to raise a new creature, redeemed by the blood. The old will be passed and your new life in Christ will begin. Time is swiftly passing. We will all know the truth one day. Will you be ready?
Suggested Daily Reading: Isaiah 57, Acts 4, Romans 1, James 1.
The Lord bless you.