Now that my debate with Matthew Firth over the contradictions in the Gospels has ended, I would like to know your reactions. Any reactions are fine. There is the obvious question of which side you found more convincing, but also the less obvious question of why that is. What about the argument, or counter-argument, was compelling or not compelling?
Part of the problem, of course, is that virtually everyone listening in on the debate already had a pretty firm idea of what they think about the issues. And because of “confirmation bias” we tend to agree with what we already think, and anyone who says it is obviously right! (Hence the problem with most viewers of both FOX and MSNBC.) But for my money, the most interesting responses come from people who have changed their minds. Still, in all the public debates I’ve had, in front of many thousands of people, I almost never have heard of anyone changing their mind.
So what’s the point? I often ask myself that! And often I ask it while I’m smack in the middle of a debate. My opponent will be arguing something that I think is both obviously and demonstrably false, or misleading, or hopelessly slanted beyond all recognition, and I will see people nodding their heads in agreement (the same people who are shooting darts at me with my eyes when I’m doing the talking) and I start writing notes to myself on my legal pad: “Why am I doing this to myself????”
BUT. There sometimes are people sitting on the fence. People who are open to either view, and want to know what to think.
And sometimes there are even people with one view willing to consider carefully the other – not in order to debunk it, but genuinely to consider changing their minds because they think that’s where the evidence leads.
And sometimes you can plant a seed in rather unwilling soil, and over a period of time, it can grow into a beautiful bush and blossom.
I resonate with people who are willing to change their minds that’s what I did and it changed my life. When I was in college, I would have completely agreed with everything Matthew said in our debate. But a little later, in graduate school, I opened up to the possibility that I might be wrong. I decided to look at the evidence without prejudging the issue. Are there inconsistencies in the Bible or not? I looked and looked and thought and thought and agonized and agonized and…. Well, you pretty much know the rest.
I suppose I do these debates with conservative evangelicals because I hope there is someone else out there like me, willing to change her or his mind.
But I never do them thinking I’ll change my opponent’s mind. In my experience, there is NOTHING, absolutely nothing, you can do to change the opponent’s mind. If what matters is defending the “truth,” then any alternative view has to be rejected, destroyed, and even mocked. The debaters I like very much the least are the ones who mock. I could, obviously, name names. But there are a couple of people I simply won’t debate. I don’t think mockery is a form of intellectual inquiry or exchange.
Apart from all that – what did you think of the idea of a blog debate and the way it was set up? Was it worth doing in your view? Should there be others?
The event was put on as a kind of fund-raiser, and I’m happy to say that we brought in some significant funds. The two fellows behind (different aspects) of the whole endeavor were Timothy Cottingham and Nathan Gordon. From their end they raised around $1200 in outside money; internally, the blog received something like $1500-2000 in direct contributions (it’s hard to tell because some of the donations received at the time were not earmarked). So we’re talking about several thousand dollars, all told. That seems to make the effort worth it!
In short: in a comment on this post let me know what you think t – what you thought of the idea of the debate, the way it was set up, the way it went, the arguments you found convincing or not, your general take on the whole thing, and whether it might be worth doing again on some other topic.