Although I enjoy listening to debates, I’m not a big fan of them. This may sound contradictory, so let me explain. On the one hand, debates are a great way to become familiar with different points of view, be they non-Christian or Christian. In this respect, I appreciate the knowledge that can be gained from assessing each point and counterpoint making up the debate. However, on the other hand, personality can often take the place of sound reasoning. The more aggressively one pursues his debate opponent, for instance, the stronger he appears to the audience, as one who is in the right. Why? Because his personality trumps the weakness of his argumentation. Thus, debates can swing in the favor of men who present well, as opposed to presenting their case well.
The debate over whether or not Codex Sinaiticus is a modern forgery, a debate between James White and Chris Pinto was, unfortunately, one that made me dislike debates even more. Before I listened to the background information that Pinto presented in his documentary and on his podcast/radio show, I was pretty sure James White’s statements about Pinto’s ideas being far-fetched and based on loose threads woven together by conspiracy were right. But when the debate took place a couple nights ago, I saw that Dr. White was wrong. Pinto presented documented history that challenged the official story regarding Simonides (i.e. the man who claimed to have penned Codex Sinaiticus); Dr. White, however, did not refute Pinto’s challenge.
Dr. White appealed to authority, asking Pinto if he had ever collated manuscripts of the Bible or if he was competent in Greek, in an attempt to show that Pinto’s ignorance was the only justification he had for believing that the case of Simonides was not a closed case. But this kind of reasoning is fallacious. Pinto was not arguing from the standpoint of one who knew either the collation process or was competent in, if not a scholar of, koine Greek. His credentials in these two fields (i.e. manuscript collation and ancient Greek) is completely irrelevant. Pinto’s argument was drawn from historical records regarding the events and persons surrounding Codex Sinaiticus. Dr. White, therefore, had no reason to ask for such credentials.
If the historical data Pinto presented are to be jettisoned, then Dr. White should have presented an argument in favor of ditching the historical sources to which Pinto made reference. But Dr. White did no such thing.
Also, Dr. White reduced Pinto’s cogent reasoning to a “conspiracy theory,” a term which is often used in American media to dismiss viewpoints that contradict the official story. And Dr. White used it in just that way. In other words, Dr. White uncritically dismissed Pinto’s argument to a “conspiracy theory.”
In short, here are the problems I had with the debate: 1. Dr. White argued fallaciously, appealing to authority when no such appeal was relevant to the matter at hand. 2. Dr. White made assertions, central to his argument, that cannot be empirically verified. For instance, he claimed that the task of manuscript collation could not be done by a nineteen year old. This is not an argument, nor is it an empirically verifiable fact, as it is a universal proposition. There are many people in history who have accomplished great things at even younger ages. Are these people historical fictions? If they are real people, then are the historical accounts of their great abilities to be dismissed as “conspiracy theories” or overblown accounts of otherwise “normal” individuals? This is not a point that can be taken very seriously, moreover, considering the renown that Simonides had for his unusual intellectual gifts as a young man.
Whether or not he was a prodigy, I don’t know. However, when there is evidence of men speaking highly of Simonides’ superior intellectual endowments, and there is no evidence to prove that a nineteen year old cannot collate biblical manuscripts and form a unique copy of the Bible from those collated texts, the testimony of writers contemporaneous with Simonides actually holds weight, where Dr. White’s assertion has none. Chris Pinto presented a logically cogent case for his position.
Dr. James White neither presented a logically cogent case, nor did he succeed in refuting Pinto’s position. Again, Pinto presented actual historical documentation that drills numerous holes into the “official” story regarding Simonides, whereas Dr. White simply dismissed Pinto’s sources, failing to provide counter evidence to Pinto’s argument. Consequently, it is Pinto, in my opinion, who won the debate. And what is troubling to me is that many will not (i.)be able to identify Dr. White’s fallacious reasoning and (ii.)will depend on personalities in their assessment of the debate.