The Dobbs-Till Debate
Reprinted from the _Firm_Foundation_....
The Dobbs-Till Debate
On May 23-26, 1993, H. A. (Buster) Dobbs, Christian, and Farrell
Till, atheist, engaged in a public debate in Portland, Texas.
The debate was conducted as part of the First Gulf Coast Lectures
sponsored by the Portland Church of Christ. The debate was about
the deity of Jesus. Dobbs affirmed: "Fulfilled prophecy of
the Old Testament proves Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God."
Till affirmed: "The New Testament claims of prophecy fulfillment
in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth were fabrications
or misapplications of Old Testament Scripture."
The format of the debate was unusual. It was agreed that the negative
speaker could call a stoppage of his allotted time at any time
during his speech and ask his opponent any number of questions.
The affirmative disputant was given a maximum of two minutes to
answer each question. At the conclusion of the questions, time-keeping
was then resumed, and the balance of the time evenly divided between
the speakers. This made for numerous very interesting exchanges
that would not have taken place otherwise. Brother Dobbs forced
Mr. Till to agree to the fact that he (Till) has no hope beyond
the grave whatsoever. When asked what he thought about the Judgment,
Mr. Till replied that "he never thinks about it." However,
at least for a brief time during the debate, brother Dobbs, with
great effect, forced him to think about it.
The debate was marked by good attendance at each session. Some
denominationalists attended, and three or four atheists were present.
One of them made it a point to walk out during the closing prayer
each evening. Brother Dobbs did a creditable job of defending
and expounding the Scriptures. It is likely that no minds were
changed by the debate as is often the case in such proceedings.
However, it is good for God's people to cover such ground again,
hear assaults on the faith from a live enemy, and think through
such assaults and the answers to them again. The debate is available
in both audio and video tape formats.
(Dub McClish's address is 908 Imperial Drive, Denton, TX 76201.)
Thoughts on the "Final Judgment"
As indicated in the foregoing review of the _Dobbs-Till_Debate
_ was originally published in the _Firm_Foundation_,
a monthly paper that Mr. Dobbs himself is the editor of. Usually,
reviews of debates published in Church-of-Christ papers revel
in the great victory for truth that was scored by Brother Whoever,
so the rather subdued tone of this review is quite remarkable
and undoubtedly more telling than the author, Dub McClish, would
willingly admit. Mr. McClish is doctrinally aligned with the guardian-of-the-faith
watchdogs in the Church of Christ who constantly plead for a return
to the "old paths" in opposition to a growing effort
in the church to moderate its hard-line fundamentalist position.
Mr. McClish also attended each session of the debate, so if he
had seen anything in Dobbs's performance to gloat about, surely
he would have exploited it. As it was, he had to confine the praise
for his side to an unenthusiastic comment about the effective
way that Dobbs had forced me to think about the final judgment.
This is not to say that no one in McClish's corner has praised
Dobbs's performance in the debate. In personal correspondence
to me, Lindell Mitchell, whose article appears on pages 4-5 in
this issue, informed me that Dobbs had "spanked [my] britches"
and reduced my arguments to "utter ruin." He did not
attend the debate, so I assume that he formed this opinion from
having viewed the tapes or else from a process of wishful thinking.
In the total absence of evidence to prove the inspiration and
inerrancy of the Bible, many fundamentalists apparently believe
that fervently wanting it to be the infallible word of God will
somehow make it so. It isn't surprising, then, that someone with
this kind of mind-set could find reason to believe that the evasive
tactics and straw-man antics that Dobbs resorted to in the debate
constituted "spanking my britches" and reducing my arguments
to "utter ruin."
Is it fair to say that Mr. Dobbs resorted to straw-man antics?
Well, the issue in the debate was prophecy fulfillment. Mr. Dobbs
signed on to affirm that "fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament
proves Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God," but the tapes
of the debate will show that he spent a disproportionate amount
of time attacking my despicable atheism and philosophy of despair.
Advertisements of the video tapes in the _Firm_Foundation
_ have boasted that "(t)he degrading nature of atheism
was clearly shown by brother Dobbs." I emphatically dispute
this claim. Mr. Dobbs repeatedly proclaimed the degrading nature
of atheism, but he by no means _clearly_ showed that it is
degrading. Fundamentalists seem to have great difficulty recognizing
the difference in _saying_ that a thing is true and in _proving
_ that it is true. Undoubtedly this explains why Mr. Dobbs
and his audience of sympathizers seemed to believe that he had
proven his proposition by simply showing that the Bible _says
_ that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
Now comes Dub McClish to tell us that "for a brief time during
the debate, brother Dobbs, with great effect, forced [me] to think
about" the final judgment. After I had read this review,
I wrote Mr. McClish to inform him that he was mistaken. Dobbs
did not force me to think about the final judgment. As McClish
reported in his review, Dobbs merely asked me what I thought about
the judgment, and my reply was that "I never think about
it." At that moment, the biblical doctrine of the final judgment
was necessarily in my mind; otherwise, my brain could not have
processed the question and answered it. As soon as my answer was
given, however, all thoughts of a "final judgment" passed
from my mind, so my answer to the question still stands. In the
sense of lying awake at night worrying about it or going through
my daily activities with nagging thoughts about it on my mind,
I never think about having to stand before some kind of infinite
deity in what Christians call a "final judgment."
Does this mean that I do in some sense think about it? Well, of
course, I "think" about it in that it is obviously a
biblical doctrine, so since I spend considerable time studying
the Bible, I necessarily encounter passages that teach the concept
of a final judgment. That, however, is the total extent to which
I think about "final judgment." I personally regard
the doctrine as just another of the many absurdities in the Bible.
It is a finely honed fear tactic that religionists use to keep
the superstitious in line, but there is no proof whatsoever that
any such event will ever occur. The idea of a final judgment is
a Persian concept that the Jews apparently encountered during
their Babylonian captivity. It is frequently proclaimed in the
New Testament, but so are numerous other untestable and, therefore,
unprovable claims. The virgin birth of Jesus his divinity, his
resurrection, his ascension--all of these are proclaimed in the
New Testament, along with the doctrine of a final judgment, but
the truth of these assertions rests entirely on the word of a
bunch of religious mystics, living in highly superstitious times,
who claimed that they were inspired of God. How much credence
can rational people give to such claims? In my case, not much
at all, which is why I don't sit around worrying about a final
For the sake of agument, however, let's just grant two claims
that the fundamentalist side has made about the Portland debate:
(1) Dobbs very clearly showed the degrading nature of atheism,
and (2) Dobbs, with great effect, forced me to think about the
final judgment. Even with those concessions, what has the opposition
proven, for the debate was about neither atheism nor the final
judgment? It was about the issue of prophecy fulfillment. The
record will show that Dobbs in no way sustained his belief that
prophecy fulfillments proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the son
of God. He hardly even addressed the issue. If Dub McClish wishes
to see that as "a creditable job of defending and expounding
the Scriptures," I guess he is entitled to do so, but he
is sadly mistaken if he thinks I spent any time during the debate--or
since--thinking about the final judgment.