So is Shabir going the route of empty rhetoric? If so, this is a dark day for the debate world. Instead of carefully weighing arguments and evidence, perhaps we should all just give up and start saying our guy "schooled" and "owned" the opposition. Of course, since Shabir, like all Muslim debaters, is thoroughly inconsistent in his methodology (he becomes a skeptic/atheist when he examines Christianity, but a Muslim fundamentalist when he examines Islam), Shabir's best bet may be a rhetorical attempt to distract the audience from his inconsistency.
Here is a portion of James's first response to Shabir:
During the cross examination period I asked Shabir to provide me with earlier Christian material than that found in the Carmen Christi, the hymn to Christ as to God, found in Philippians 2:5-11, that would demonstrate a view of Jesus contrary to that found in that primitive text. His response surprised me. He did not seek to identify a more primitive stratum of tradition. He did not question the provenance of the hymn fragment. Instead, he responded by pointing me to—the Old Testament! Now, of course, the Old Testament was not produced by early Christians, was it? It was completed centuries before the Christian movement began with Jesus of Nazareth. Our debate was about the earliest disciples of Jesus and what they believed about Him. Surely the Old Testament is relevant as a background document, but it seemed to me, and I leave it to the listeners to decide for themselves, that Shabir conceded, in his response, that the oldest specifically Christian tradition does, in fact, present the deity of Christ. Appealing to Shabir’s personal interpretation of the Old Testament is not sufficient to fulfill the burden of the debate topic.
But as I further pointed out, Dr. Ally tied himself in an even worse logical bind with the rest of his argument. He basically said that they earliest followers of Jesus were “monotheistic Jews” who could not have believed what Paul was teaching (clearly admitting Paul taught the deity of Christ, though errantly thinking that means he denied monotheism, an error that would have required Shabir to refute my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 8:6-7, which he was not able to do). Well, of course they were monotheistic Jews. That does not make them unitarians, however, as Paul was a monotheist Jew without embracing unitarianism. But, Shabir then went on to say that the deity of Christ developed slowly—first a slight elevation of Jesus, then a little more, to the status of a demigod, and then finally to full deity, etc., over time. This is one of the reasons Shabir (and all radical skeptical critics) have to move the gospels as far from the time period of Christ’s ministry as possible, to allow for this “evolutionary process” to take place. (I note in passing the popularity of putting John as late as 170 AD only a century ago—a theory blown apart by P52). But how can there be a slow evolutionary process like this, with the elevation of a mere man to the status of a demigod and then a full deity, if, in fact, the disciples of Jesus were monotheistic Jews? Would monotheistic Jews accept this kind of evolutionary development over time? Of course not! So, one has to modify the argument so that it is no longer monotheistic Jews who are in view in this development period, but, evidently, someone else—possibly pagans or polytheists or Greeks or something? We were not told when the transition supposedly took place. But once again we were left with a ton of assumptions and silence—we were told what the early Christians could not believe, but we were not given anything they left us to confirm the assertions made.
Now, after the cross-examination, I had another rebuttal period. I pointed out what had just happened, and laid out the problems with Shabir’s position. When Shabir rose to speak, he began by saying that he found it very strange that someone who had “lost the debate so badly” could claim to have won it! I was surprised at his tactic, but upon reflection, I fully understood it. He was under a great deal of pressure, having been introduced as the “leading” Islamic apologist, and so he needed to make a strong statement to deflect the argument that had just been presented. This he did in a way that riled up his base—but I don’t think it carried much weight with those who were seriously considering the issues. (Continue Reading.)