Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Debating J.P. Holding

You heard that right. On Saturday, 9 April 2011, at 5pm, I will be debating my "nemesis" J.P. Holding on the textual reliability of the New Testament ("Do We Have What They Had?"). It is being sponsored by the Christian congregation of Pastor Cameron English and will be held at the Amador Christian Center (see their events page; right now it's a little ways down the page). For directions and more info see the Sacramento FAN page on the event. The center is located at 16829 Latrobe Road, in Plymouth, California, about twenty miles northeast of Sacramento. Anyone is welcome to attend.

There will be a Q&A, and afterward I will be selling and signing my books. If you are unfamiliar with my history with J.P. Holding (or his reputation generally) see (1) my book Not the Impossible Faith (which is a response to his book The Impossible Faith and its once-associated web pages at his site Tekton Ministries) and (2) the website Tektonics Exposed, which is run by others who have tangled with him and now document his foibles (to put it mildly). Despite his reputation I'm assured he'll be on good behavior in person.


Josh said...

This looks great! Any word on if this is going to be recorded / streamed?

AIGBusted said...

If he hits you, don't hit him back. Just learn how to slide him into a good sleeper hold.

; )

Landon Hedrick said...

Given that you've agreed to do this debate, I think it might benefit you to watch some of Bart Ehrman's videos (including his debates). Not that you won't have your own points to make, but Ehrman seems to have a good way of explaining and debating these issues that is understandable and persuasive to the layperson.

Ben said...


"You heard that right."

That was necessary to say. February 8th is not the new April 1st, right?

I would really like to come to this.


Unknown said...

J.P. Holding also haunts the Theology Web forums and generally avails himself of being an ass--often unabashedly so.

Mr. Carrier, I think you'll have little difficulty taking Holding apart. From what I've read of both of you, you have the stronger case by far.

Take care,

Rational Gaze said...

Ha ha, appealing to Brooks Trubee? What's the matter Richie, surely your career as a pathological liar would be able to give the ability to invent your own BS about Holding?

Unknown said...

Ah, Mr. Gaze...

One of the larger pathological lies passed down to the masses would be the unfalsifiable claims of religion, wouldn't you say?

There are some good elements to Christianity, absolutely. But lets not pretend that said religion is airtight and flawless, because we both know it isn't.

So if Mr. Carrier has a premise to put forth that raises concerns about the typical claims of Christians like Mr. Holding, appealing to ridicule is not going to fortify your position to others. Do you agree?

Morrison said...

Good Behavior? What is that to you, Richard?

When you gave a talk in Olathe, Kansas last year, after your debate in Topeka, you used the word "bullshit" or some variation thereof NINETEEN times in your "scholarly lecture".

It was hilarious, and, I must say, diminished you even in the eyes of some of the skeptics.

Morrison said...

Landon, I was there when Carrie debate Craig at the debate you helped organize.

By his own admission, Carrier lost. Of course backing out in the opening as to what he had already agreed to that the debate would be about was not a real good start. LOL!

And Craig is a good debater, but not a real strong speaker compared to Holding.

This is going to be great!

Ben said...


So you see no difference between giving a humorous talk to a predominantly sympathetic audience and interacting respectfully towards those you starkly disagree with?


Unknown said...


Who cares if Carrier swore 19 times? Is your moral constitution that delicate that some profanity can override your appreciation for the points Carrier made?

And, honestly, there is no prohibition on swearing in academia. Rather, academia has slighted itself by building an air of pretense and useless expectations (e.g., don't swear). I think such false humilities are bullshit.


Landon Hedrick said...


You always have been a fan of J.P. Holding. Anyway, this claim that you've been making around the internet--that Carrier changed the topic of the debate in his opening statement--is just false. Craig was wrong when he criticized Carrier on that score, and you're wrong to parrot Craig's criticism. I feel like I've corrected you on this before.

Carrier was arguing that we don't have good evidence for the resurrection. Calling into question the historical value of our sources (e.g. the Gospels) is not only on topic, but it's an important issue that needs to be settled. When you read Carrier's chapter about the resurrection from The Christian Delusion, did you think: "Why is Carrier changing the topic? None of this has to do with the resurrection being believable!"

If that's what you thought, you should give that chapter another read. Yet there was a lot of overlap between that chapter and what Carrier said in the debate, if I'm remembering correctly.

Greg said...

Dr. Carrier, is there any way you could post your slides from Skepticon III? I could not see them that well in the video.

thank you,


Pikemann Urge said...

I'm always up for a debate about textual reliability.

Holding is indeed a windbag when he writes but he does argue differently in spoken debates (I listened to him debate Kenneth Humphreys on the historicity of Jesus on the Unbelievable! podcast).

JP doesn't seem to work from a template, unlike WLC, so a debate with him will be quite a different thing.

Despite knowing most if not all of Richard's and JP's arguements, I look forward to the debate.

AIGBusted said...

"Holding is indeed a windbag when he writes but he does argue differently in spoken debates (I listened to him debate Kenneth Humphreys on the historicity of Jesus on the Unbelievable! podcast)."

The debate with Ken Humphreys was about the only time I can say that Holding was truly on the side of reason. And it isn't even because Holding's opponent was a mythicist, it's because his opponent was a really hare brained conspiracy theory type of mythicist, not an Earl Doherty/Bob Price type of mythicist (whom I respectfully disagree with, but whom I do not think of as "bonkers").

Pikemann Urge said...

it's because his opponent was a really hare brained conspiracy theory type of mythicist

I haven't read too much of Humphreys' work to really agree or disagree, but I understand the distinction. Perhaps he takes the mythicism too literally - it's more proper to say that the probability of the Gospel Jesus' existence is lower than believers want it to be. To say that he didn't exist at all is a bit simplistic.

It's like the difference between a skeptic who investigates something as deeply as they can, and a skeptic who thinks they know everything about how the world works and has no understanding of subtlety.

Anonymous said...

This should be interesting. Given what I've seen posted here so far I'm sure Holding's sycophants will declare him to be the winner no matter how well you do.

Vincent said...

I am still baffled at why Dr. Carrier would waste his time with bottom of the barrel Christian apologist scum like JP Holding. Why, while the ink was still wet after finally receiving your Ph.D., would you write a book addressing this guy?

Now, you're actually going to debate him? You only encourage him and give him undeserved credibility. What do you really expect to gain from all of this?

Anonymous said...

Vincent, if someone offered me a thousand dollars to debate Holding I probably would do it. Now I don't know what Richard will get paid for debating him but there is sure to be money involved. Perhaps people who think Richard should not give Holding undeserved credibility might consider paying Richard enough not to debate him. ;-) After all, he's an independent scholar who must make a living with his books and debates.

James Snapp Jr said...

Greetings, Richard.

My hopes are not high that anything productive will come from the anticipated debate. As you prepare, I welcome you to use the text-critical resources at
www.curtisvillechristian.org/BasicTC.html , which include a small library of downloadable books (mainly from Google Books) on subjects pertaining to the New Testament text.

And if you have any questions about the NT text, I would be glad to try to address them.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Lennius said...

Give him Hell!

Richard Carrier said...

Vincent said... I am still baffled at why Dr. Carrier would waste his time with bottom of the barrel Christian apologist scum like JP Holding.

Your opinion of him has no bearing on his actual influence. And the value of having a fair opportunity to rebut him in public is directly proportional to his influence. The only counterweight for me would be if he is abusive or rude or egregiously dishonest in the debate, which would end any further association I will have with him.

Why, while the ink was still wet after finally receiving your Ph.D., would you write a book addressing this guy?

Because I was paid to.

And it was fun. And I continue to earn income from it. And it's a really good book I like to cite in many other contexts. And I believe it provided valuable educational material against a common set of claims (of which Holding is only the latest purveyor) and thus suited my life's aim of dispelling lies and disinformation by disseminating a more accurate picture of ancient history and historical methodology (and of the views of important experts whom Holding shockingly misrepresents, like Bruce Malina).

What do you really expect to gain from all of this?

Experience and an honorarium. Plus an opportunity to educate an entire church congregation of facts they almost certainly would never have learned otherwise. And finally, preventing the church in question from getting an incompetent opponent for J.P.

Richard Carrier said...

Gregory said... Dr. Carrier, is there any way you could post your slides from Skepticon III? I could not see them that well in the video.

Okay. Since I won't likely give that talk again (now that it's online), I can oblige. But you can use its material only with attribution, and I do not extend to anyone the right to profit from it (unless they receive signed permission from me). That applies to both the Sk III slideshow and the Sk I slideshow. I'll put them both online (and announce here and a few other threads) in a couple of days.

Richard Carrier said...

As requested. Warning: the following files are large PDFs. Also they are proprietary. All rights reserved. You may not use them without attribution, nor may any of their original content be used for profit.

Skepticon I Slideshow (2008)

Skepticon III Slideshow (2010)

openlyatheist said...

I too would be very interested in this debate.

Despite the way I've seen Holding dismissed by atheists around the net his exchange with Loftus and Zindler on opposingviews.com was eye opening.

Without his usual invective tone, which was probably kept in check by the website management, it appears clear to me that he simply out-wrote both Loftus and Zindler.

I saw little reason any Christian reading the exchange would do anything other than side with Holding.

Richard Carrier said...

openlyatheist said... Holding['s]...exchange with Loftus and Zindler on opposingviews.com was eye opening...without his usual invective tone

That's encouraging. Could you provide a more specific URL? I'm unfamiliar with that debate or even what it's topic was.

Anonymous said...

Richard it was a three man debate on whether Jesus was a historical figure. Holding and I are on the same side but I should have been placed in the middle.

It didn't allow much space for us, but it was interesting.

It took place December of 2008.

Meatros said...

Richard - Have you considered trading opening statements with JP, like you did with Mike Licona?

Your debate with Mike Licona was one of my favorite debates and I think that this was one of the factors.

Richard Carrier said...

I no longer prefer to read opening statements. I'll be speaking extemporaneously. So trading opening statements wouldn't be fair to J.P. (since I wouldn't actually read mine). Although I might have some slides prepared this time, which IMO is what actually made the Licona debate so informative and consistently on-track. But either way I am certain the coming debate will be informative.

Ben said...

"I might have some slides prepared this time"


jptill said...

It's possible during Q&A someone may bring up JP Holding's enduring reputation for personal invective, childish insults, and sneering contempt.

The following may be instructive for the audience.

When reminded of the scriptural instruction to "be gentle as doves", Mr Holding's interpretation was "according to metaphorical lexicons of the period, doves were reputed as vicious fighters...Jesus' words there are closer to my methods than you may realize."

Ben said...

You have a link on that Jptill?

jptill said...

post22 paragraph4
"Are you aware that according to the metaphorical lexicons of the period, doves were reputed as vicious fighters?"

post16 paragraph2
"Actually, doves are renowned as vicious fighters when the need arises...Jesus' words there are closer to my methods than you may realize."

You may find it informative to read the second thread (Explain...Offensive). Christian member Glenn P (then "Theonomy") who holds a PhD in theology(?) enters the thread at post45. The exchanges with him give a revealing hint of Mr Holding.

Ben said...


Fascinating. Thanks!


jptill said...

Also of note is JP Holding's comment that it took Richard Carrier ten years to get his doctorate.

Regarding his own lack of scholarship, Mr Holding, who holds a masters degree in Library Science, declares:

"I'm an information broker. That gives me more than sufficient qualifications to address the validity and usefulness of data to address and/or prove a given point, and to know whether or not a question has been answered, once I achieve a certain level of familiarity with a data set."

Anonymous said...

First blog post on the debate: http://thepassivehabit.blogspot.com/2011/04/carrier-vs-holding-opening-statements.html

Lennius said...

Audio yet?

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

yeah, does anyone know if there is an audio link to this debate?

Anonymous said...

No! Will77, you have uncovered our church's role in the conspiracy to conceal the truth about the New Testament!

We were going to destroy the recording, but you're such a capable detective that we have to release the unedited video now.

Well, not really. Converting the tape to DVD has proved more difficult than I expected. But it'll hopefully be done this week.

Richard Carrier said...

I hope soon! I thought the debate was very informative and well worth making publicly available, so please do make the effort to get it out. Thanks, Cameron!

Richard Carrier said...

I have been asked how the debate went. Holding called it a win-win, which I suppose depends on what you thought was the important conclusion. As to the actual debate topic, he conceded that debate in his opening and moved the goal posts by defending a different position (something like "Yes, the NT text is unreliable, but it's reliable enough for supporting the core things of the gospel" without ever specifying what those core things are).

I didn't bother rebutting that argument because he never stated what things were reliably supported by the extant text, so there was nothing to rebut. So he can claim to have "won" that argument if we are unbothered by it being one big fallacy of special pleading. As to the actual topic of the debate, it was a clear and informative win for me. "We do not have what they had," and many changes made to the text are undetectable to us now. Holding didn't even argue against that.

There was one overall exception to his "goal post" move being special pleading. I think he made a point to the effect that broad claims in the NT, like that Jesus was crucified or Mark described the discovery of an empty tomb, were not "textually" dubious, and I agree. But as I pointed out, the NT isn't just used for broad stroke claims like that, it is used to make countless specific points from specific passages (even specific word choices in those passages), and on that point he certainly lost. What isn't clear is whether he even cared about losing that argument. But it will certainly complicate his attempt to make those kind of arguments in future.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree. There are some comments on my blog if anyone is interested.

Richard Carrier said...

Until the video is finally made available (tick tock), I have made my slideshow available (as a PDF): On New Testament Unreliability.

From that it's clear the NT text we have is not what they had. These are serious issues that can't be glossed over with excuses about vague "general gospel facts." The text is errant, badly so, and more so than many secular texts (and secular texts are pretty hosed as it is). Anyone who doesn't realize the consequences of that fact is deluding themselves. Plain and simple.

Richard Carrier said...

I have also added a new blog post on just about the only factual point in my opening that Holding actually attempted to rebut: see Pauline Interpolations. But that still must be consulted in conjunction with my slideshow, lest anyone think this is the only kind of evidence we have.

Anonymous said...

"The text is errant, badly so, and more so than many secular texts (and secular texts are pretty hosed as it is)."
Out of curiosity, which secular texts?

Richard Carrier said...

Regarding hosed secular texts, I mentioned Tacitus in the debate, among others (remember my rocket ship analogy?). But in the slideshow that I've made available (above) are the additional slides I didn't use that survey several other examples and discuss the problem this creates for historians generally and how we deal with it.

Qualia said...

Dr. Carrier,

Are there any copies of this debate floating around on the web (video, audio or transcript)? If not, are there any plans to have it published? Many thanks.

Richard Carrier said...

Not yet, but soon. A video should go online in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Video is online now! http://thepassivehabit.blogspot.com/2011/07/carrier-holding-debate-video-on-youtube.html

Richard Carrier said...

Thanks, Cameron!

For everyone's ease the link that links to the video and both slide shows (three separate files) is here. Cameron also explains there the missing material at the end, etc.

To go straight to the video on YouTube, click here.

For JP's slides, here (HTML). And mine, here (PDF).

Richard Carrier said...

New video link here.