Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, May 9, 2010

James White/Robert Price Debate: Price Narrowly Wins the Battle for the Bible

Friday night's debate between Dr. James White and Dr. Robert Price was if anything, quite entertaining. The title of the debate was, "Is the Bible True?" Price opened the debate with a 20 minute barrage of supposed inconsistencies in Biblical text by resorting to a historical critical deconstruction of the New Testament. Price insisted early that false accounts of what Jesus said and did are most certainly mixed in the New Testament Scriptures. He used the resurrection accounts and Jesus' mistaken identity to imply that Christ had never really rose from the dead, but that it was only a fabricated story that was made up later. The Gospel of Mark and 1 Corinthians were also targets for Price's historical deconstruction during the debate. White countered first by asking the audience to look for consistency in each of their presentations. White was quick to try and preempt any presuppositional attitude that Price came to the debate with, which was largely Price's proposal that any historical evidence from an era as far removed as the Biblical texts are removed, cannot possibly be reliable.
Dr. White criticized Price's principles of analogy, in which Price would apply a strict historical criticism to every piece of historical evidence brought forth. Dr. White rightfully proposed the question to Price as to what type of evidence would be sufficient to actually convince Price of the authenticity and reliability of the Bible. White later offered some explanations of some of the proposed inconsistencies in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 8:34-35) when Jesus asks his disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him, for example. Price remarked that this text was anachronistic and that the text was added by later Christians to the Gospel text for the sole reason of appealing to later Christians. Price argued that none of the disciples at the time would have had a clue as to what Jesus was talking about in reference to the cross, and so Price argued that the text must have been added at a much later date.
White countered that argument and successfully pointed out the fact that although His disciples may not have completely understood the passage at the time, it would not have been a complete stretch for Jesus to have made such a statement in the original setting that the Gospels place them in, since his disciples would have grasped the general concept that Jesus presented, just not the entire context which would obviously later tie into Jesus' own crucifixion. Price had a decisive advantage in the debate because it was his own material that was discussed for most of the debate. This advantage began to show during the cross examination period when White started to look like he was chasing a ghost as he tried to poke holes in Price's argument. Every time it appeared that White might have been going somewhere during the cross examination, Price would outmaneuver White with an elusive response to some proposed historical inconsistency that White was not always able to refute. One reason for this was the unstructured form that the cross examination was conducted in, which was not how it was really planned to go. It just ended up materializing that way, largely by Price’s ability to control that part of the debate. 
The cross examination period was really the deciding factor of the debate. As I just pointed out, it must be noted that it was not a very formal cross examination period, and it looked like more of an informal discussion period, with both debaters exchanging questions and answers quite casually. This format actually favored Price, and in the end Price looked very comfortable fielding most of the questions very quickly and many times he retorted with questions of his own that were directed right back White, to which White did not always answer. I was actually a bit surprised here, because it appeared to me that Price actually controlled this part of the debate, even when he was being questioned. Price pointed out the fact that St. Paul's conversion story was not recorded in any of St. Paul's letters at all, and only in the book of Acts. For Price, this was a point of contention for him because he could not understand how such an event would not have been recorded by St. Paul himself. He implied that the story was later made up and added to the book of Acts. White countered by claiming that St. Paul would not have had to repeat his own conversion story in letter, because it would already have been known to the Christian communities that he was writing to. Much of the exchange was each person's personal opinion of why the Biblical texts were written the way the were, Price trying to deconstruct and illustrate inconsistency, while White trying to offer reasonable objections as to how the the apparent contradiction could be reconciled.
To my surprise, Price actually forfeited his second cross examination period to ask White questions, and invited White to go ahead and ask his second round of questions instead. I can now see why Price opted out, since White in my opinion allowed Price too much leeway to ask questions back to him in the first round. Price probably realized it was more effective to counter White as he was being asked questions, rather than work from an offensive front. Once again this ended up working in Price's favor, since White had no choice but to try and pin Price down to illustrate some sort of inconsistency in Price's historical criticisms. White was partially successful when he was able to point out the selective method that Price used to actually determine what historical evidence he would allow to be accepted as credible evidence. Price only seemed to admit any type of historical evidence which would illustrate some inconsistency in the Biblical texts, while dismissing any historical evidence that would support the historical accuracy of the Biblical texts. For instance, Price brought up some external historical evidence that would seem to contradict one of Jesus' sayings pertaining to what could have and could not have been done on the Sabbath. White pointed out the fact that if Price could admit that historical evidence in to discredit the Bible, then why were not other historical accounts allowed to be used to reconcile the Biblical texts? In other words White did make the case that Price was using a double standard as to what credible historical evidence Price was allowing to be used. This alone however was in my opinion, not enough to totally derail the efforts of Dr. Price. Price came up with a few examples of how he has admitted in the past to actually reconciling apparent contradictions in the Bible from historical sources. He used that as an out to distract the from the fact that he cherry picked his historical sources to set up his arguments. 
Although Dr. White was able to point out some inconsistencies in Price's method of attack, in the end White never resolved his own position that the Bible was indeed true and reliable. At least that is what I thought his resolved position was supposed to be. White stressed at the beginning of the debate that he was going to avoid arguments from authority and try and stick to Price's actual written and presented material. To White's credit, he pretty much stuck to that format. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it was his ultimate downfall. Price kept White chasing him throughout the debate as if he was the Shaolin master toying with the apprentice, as the apprentice tried repeatedly to land the knockout spinning back kick that missed every time. Price often sat with his hands behind his head, sitting back in his chair relaxed as he fielded White's questions. As they say, it is hard to hit a moving target, and Price never stayed in the same place long enough to get pinned down. Much of White's effort was spent trying to chase down Price's erroneous accusations and little time was spent on resolving whether or not the Bible was indeed true and inerrant.
When someone will not accept anything as an objective truth, then it is hard to pin them down in a debate. When nothing can be trusted accept one's own senses in the here and now, then anything presented to them as historical evidence is going to be dissected and criticized to the point of skepticism, which was pretty much Price's consistent position. Price frequently made statements like (I am paraphrasing here), "we can't know for sure", or "I was not there, how do I know?", or "if this is as clear as God's Word can be, then we are all screwed", or finally "God would never hold us accountable for this type of obscure historical evidence that is presented in the Bible for or eternal salvation, etc." Every piece of evidence that White would present was easily dismissed by Price under the fallacious position that we just can't know anything for certain. White tried to reconcile the proposed inconsistencies that Price put forward, but it was like White was trying to plug 20 leaking cracks in a dam with his fingers and toes! Price actually said at one point, that he would need actual video footage of the miraculous events of the Bible to really believe them. He even had a hard time coming up with a set of circumstances that would allow him to believe that the Scriptures were indeed reliable as God's Word. When you are confined to such limited evidence, it is difficult to prove anything. I mean, if we had a court of law where nothing shy video footage is going to be admissible as evidence as to someone's wrongdoing against another, then its going to be hard to make a conviction in many criminal cases these days, no?
In the end, when you buy into a false philosophical worldview, which largely rejects anything objective, this is what you get. Price, like the tortured philosophers of Descartes, Kant, Rousseau and later Sartre, Nietzsche, etc, all in one way or another deny objective truth, and they allow rationalism and subjectivism to become the norm for determining their “truth.” In Price’s mind, nothing short of empirical proof will do and ultimately anything short of being at the actual event is going to convince him of anything, although he once admitted that one original manuscript by an eyewitness may convince him, or perhaps a video tape.  But then again couldn’t the video tape have been doctored? Price was also able to inject some humor into the debate which also helped him out, and it gave a lighter tone to the debate as a whole. The lighter mood of the debate worked better for Price's position than it did for White's. 
In my opinion, White's deficiency was that he did not consistently try and dismantle Price's philosophical method as a whole. White tried to show that Price was inconsistent, and that his outrageous historical demands were almost impossible to fulfill, but that was Price's whole argument to begin with. Price would admit that maybe some of the things accounted in the Biblical texts happened, and maybe they did not. So in the end Price was able to concede the possibility of some things being accurate, but he would never admit to the possibility of everything being accurate, which was the foundation of Price’s entire position. Price was able to dance around White throwing out historical criticisms which were intended to paint a negative light on any type of historical evidence that White brought forth to lend credibility to the Bible. In the end White failed to prove with any certainty that the Bible was indeed true, even though he managed to counter some of Price's accusations. Price was able to poke and prod White the entire evening using his crippled philosophy of phenomenology unchecked. In my opinion, the only way to have countered Price in this type of debate would have been to expose the error ridden philosophical premise that Robert Price argued from throughout the evening. Since White attempted to match Price blow for blow by focusing entirely on Price's material and structure during much of the debate, if I were to add up the scorecard at the end, I would say that Price ended up edging out White by the simple fact that White did not answer every single claim that Price brought forward. In other words, if Price can show one inconsistency that is not refuted then the whole credibility of the Bible is called into question.

Although White countered many of the challenges brought forth by Price, he never adequately proved that the Bible was handed down historically without error. This is where I think the Catholic position of an infallible Magisterium would have been a much better position to hold than one of Sola Scriptura. When all was said and done, Price was able to use his own material to make it appear that there were inconsistencies in the Bible more effectively than White was able to prove that the Bible was indeed the innerant Written Word of God. That being said, I do not think that anyone went away from the debate running into the arms of agnosticism or atheism as a result of Price's performance. If the debate was actually to debate whether or not the significance of the inconsistencies that Price had documented were a strict barrier to accepting Scripture as being inerrant, then White would have been the victor. But as it stands, the way the debate was presented, “Is the Bible True” I think that Price was able to edge out White.
After the debate was over I went up and introduced myself to White at his book signing table. He did not look very enthused to see me as he glanced a few times over to check my name tag before allowing me to approach the table. We exchanged a few words in jest. I told him that if he would quit calling me the "Catholic Champion" which is the name of my website, not my identity, that I would not refer to him as the "Alpha and Omega." In the end it was a good evening, and my friends and I enjoyed the debate.

Below are a couple of grainy photos from my buddy's iPhone.

Above: Me (Blue shirt) standing in line to meet Dr. White.

Above: The grainy photo of Turretin Fan that I promised! See him exiting the stage with his waiter's tray? I am just joking. I don't think TF was at the debate.


scotju said...

Even though I find Dr White to be a very unlikable person, after reading your report on the debate, I felt kind of sorry for him. I really can't understand why a supposibly seasoned debater like James could lose to a intellectual light-weight like Price. All Price did was recycle old historical-critical canards that have been refuted time and time again.

I believe the real reason JW lost is he was too full of himself and believed Price would be a walk through victory. He wasn't counting on Bob Price being intellectally agile. He believed BP would behave in a certain way because he was a liberal. What White didn't understand (IMHO) is a liberal doesn't have any set position on anything. It's like trying to hold on to one of those water snake toys. You grab it and it slips through your fingers. If Jimmy wishes to win a debate in the future with a Bob Price, he's got to be more flexiable and agile in dealing with the mental gymnastics that his opponents can dish ot.

Paul Hoffer said...

I am somewhat surprised that Prof. White has not given a blow by blow account of the event by now like he usually does. I was interested to see how he spun his performance.

God bless!

Matthew Bellisario said...

I think he is going to talk about it on his radio show today.

Rhology said...

He did. Give a blow by blow about it on the show today, that is.

Matthew Bellisario said...

I am listening to the Dividing Line, and so far, aside from his insulting comments made towards me, it seems that my account has been pretty consistent with what White has presented. For example, he also mentioned how the cross examination period favored Price, etc. Of course White went into more detail on certain points than I did. White also admitted that the debate was the most challenging that he has had thus far.

What I found amusing was that White mentioned that there are no Catholic apologists who could even approach Price in a debate, like he did. Of course I beg to differ, and White is going to find this out in September when he debates Robert Sungenis. If I can, I will be at that debate as well. I would hate to miss the opportunity to watch a live debate where White loses another debate to Robert. I think that Robert would have been able to make a stronger case for the Bible being true from a Catholic position than White could have from the Protestant position.

White also mentioned that I would not be able to debate Price as well as he did, and I have no problem admitting that. I have little experience in public debate, and no experience in a setting like the debates Dr. White participates in. That however does not make the Catholic position any less credible, it only proves that I am not an experienced live debater.

Jon said...

As an non religious skeptic and big fan of Robert Price I think James White deserves some credit. Defending the Bible as the Word of God is not easy. And doing it against Robert Price is especially not easy. This guy's grasp of the Bible is staggering. Listen to the Bible Geek and note the ease with which he dissects complex questions about the Bible on the fly. Read "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man" and tell me this guy isn't serious.

I suspect your dismissal of Price as a light weight is based on total ignorance. Have you read a single book of his? You say he offers nothing but historical-critical canards refuted time and time again. Have you read these so called canards? Which authors offer these, which have you read, who refutes them, and who have you read?

The difference between you and James White is James White actually cracked a book written by those he would criticize. That's why James White expected the debate to be challenging. He knew the arguments. Do you?

Matthew Bellisario said...

First of all, where did I say that Price was lightweight? If you read my post, I pointed out that Price won the debate. I think that Price is weak in his philosophical position that he argues from. I never said he was a lightweight as far as his debating skills. The historical critical method of examining such things only take you so far.

Jon said...

I was replying to scotju.

Rhology said...

aside from his insulting comments made towards me

So apparently you can dish out criticism and call it "fair-minded" or something, but can't take similar criticism without whining that it's "insulting". But I guess we already knew that.

What I found amusing was that White mentioned that there are no Catholic apologists who could even approach Price in a debate, like he did.

So, when is the next RC apologist scheduled to debate anyone besides White, who keeps challenging THEM? And when will any RC apologist debate Price or any other Jesus Seminar guy, or Ehrman, or someone like that? Please fwd me the details - I'd love to listen too!

I think that Robert would have been able to make a stronger case for the Bible being true

Oh, yes, I'm sure that a guy whose church has a very strong strain of biblical errancy in it and whose apologists also rip the Bible's perspicuity nearly every chance they get would do an outstanding job on the topic "Is the Bible True?" Riiiiggghhhht.

Chuck Williams said...

So, when is the next RC apologist scheduled to debate anyone besides White.

Last time i checked Dinesh D'Souza was Catholic.

Rhology said...


That's fair enough, but he's not a Roman Catholic apologist. I've been listening to alot of his stuff recently and read "What's So Great about Christianity". He's an apologist for Mere Christianity/nearly-barebones theism, not for The Roman Catholic Church qua entity.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Rhology says, "So apparently you can dish out criticism and call it "fair-minded" or something, but can't take similar criticism without whining that it's "insulting". But I guess we already knew that."

What are you talking about? I merely pointed out the fact that he made some insulting comments. If you don't like it then go talk to your buddy White, and don't come crying to me about it because I made reference to it.

Rhology says,"Oh, yes, I'm sure that a guy whose church has a very strong strain of biblical errancy in it and whose apologists also rip the Bible's perspicuity nearly every chance they get would do an outstanding job on the topic "Is the Bible True?""

Do you even know what perspicuity means? In case you don't understand, perspicuity has nothing to do with whether or not the Bible is true or not. How can you even equate the two? As far as I know the Catholic Church has always held to Biblical inerrancy. Do you even know what you are talking about?

Rhology said...

Haha, Dr White and I'll have a good laugh about all this when he comes over tonight for our thrice-a-week brandy and cigars after dinner appointment.

Do you even know what perspicuity means?

No, I just like the way the word looks. Æsthetically pleasing and all that.

perspicuity has nothing to do with whether or not the Bible is true or not.

And how would one know that if it weren't perspicuous? Or whatever that word means?

As far as I know the Catholic Church has always held to Biblical inerrancy.

Wow, I must say, I NEVER expected that Matthew Bellisario, of all people, might miss a nuance or two! Or mischaracterise someone with whom he disagrees! Never, not in a million years!

Do you even know what you are talking about?

That's never stopped you...

Chuck Williams said...

",That's fair enough, but he's not a Roman Catholic apologist."

Close but no cigar. He is a Catholic apologist. When James White is debating atheists, he is mostly defending mere christianity, not Calvinism.

Just because D'Souza does not engage in trite debates with protestants does not mean he's not a Catholic apologist. But then again i never expected you to admit you were wrong.

Rhology said...

When James White is debating atheists, he is mostly defending mere christianity, not Calvinism.

Chuck, I'm very sorry, but you haven't listened very closely then. Calvinism is always there, sometimes boiling under the surface, but always there.

Tell you what, point out to me one debate in which D'Souza has represented Rome as a distinctive church against some other religious group and I'll concede the point.

D'Souza does not engage in trite debates with protestants

Oh, you mean like what you're doing now?
What Matthew Bellisario spends half his blogging time on? Those kinds of trite debates?

Matthew Bellisario said...

Rhology, what are you talking about? The Bible being true has nothing to do with how easy or hard it is on its own to understand. Christianity has never been a religion of the book. God's Word is alive and resides in more than Holy Writ. So your comment falls flat on its face.

You and White can chuckle over your cigars all you want. It doesn't change the fact that White lost the debate and it doesn't change the fact that White is going to lose to Robert Sungenis again in September. You two can chuckle over that fact when you are sipping your brandy, and don't forget to tell Dr. White I said hello.

scotju said...

Jon, you are correct that I've never read anything written by Price. However, I know about the basic ideas he espouses, because every liberal critic of the Christian faith ends up believing and teaching the same old balderdash that's been around since the begining of 'modern' historical criticism in the late 1700's. Occasionally, a new hypothesis is offered up to bolster the faith in nothingness, otherwise it's bsiness as usual.

Henry said...

"Haha, Dr White and I'll have a good laugh about all this when he comes over tonight for our thrice-a-week brandy and cigars after dinner appointment."

You people are extremely arrogant.

Rhology were you even at the debate, or are you just taking White's word for it like a typical groupie?

We can care less whether you and Dr. White are going to chuckle about this tonight over drinking brandy and smoking each other's cigars. Point is, Dr. White even admits to having lost the debate when he began making excuses for his poor performance on the DL. We're just supposed to pretend that sometime in the future we are all going to magically see White as being the winner because we just don't understand Price's position today like he understands Price's position. Dr. White had to pout like a child that the cross-examinations also weren't fair. Poor baby!

I can't wait to hear the debate when it is released.

When you two are enjoying each other's company tonight, like you do three times a week, please report back to us just why Matthew was even discussed in such an intimate setting. I thought that Dr. White doesn't give Matthew a second thought? Matthew sure does seem to keep poping up in Dr. White's mind.

Henry said...

I can't wait until the Sungenis debate. I've listened to their prior debates and Sungenis has wipped the floor with James White. This should be great! How many debates are planned?


Jon said...

scotju, tell us about this "balderdash" written in the late 1700's that's so silly and easy to dismiss. Which of these authors have you read?

Not that I've read them, but I've read enough of Price to know that he claims these people who's arguments he's repeating were never refuted. Merely laughed off. The myth that they were refuted is perpetuated today by the echo chamber. He could be wrong on that, but I also know that I'd have to look into it before confidently claiming that he's wrong, as you do.

Rhology said...

Henry's sarcasm detector appears busted. Might want to replace it.

scotju said...

Jon, I don't claim to know everything about higher criticism. What I do know is that hc is based on the biased false assumption that God didn't inspire the holy men of old to proclaim infalliable prophecies, most which pointed to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. It claims that God (at least the Christian one) doesn't exist. HC also claims that Moses didn't write the first five books of the Bible. Yet, 3500 years of tradition from both the Jews and the Christians say the opposite of these claims. The Jews under the the law of Moses and the Christians under New Covenant transmitted through oral and written tradition the things that they heard and saw. Then you and your fellow hc's claim what was handed down for 3500 years isn't true. And when one does a search of why you and your fellow hc's don't want to acknowledge the traditional faith, it's not a matter of you proving your position as true, it's a matter of you not wanting to believe period. All of your 'arguements' are based on a pre-existing bias against God and his Word. You read your own biases into the text instead of reading and understanding and believing what the text actually says. You ought to try reading out of the text, instead of reading into it sometime. Yo might be shocked at what you missed before.

GADEL said...

It's fun to see you meet James White. Please I'm still waiting for your GMAIL response to my mail. Pax tecum. GADEL