[Editor's Note: The introduction below has been copied from the paper version of this debate, which Skepticism, Inc., published after the Southwest Church of Christ in Texas stopped distributing it.]
My first attempts to find someone to represent the Bible inerrancy doctrine in written debate met with repeated failures. Having once been a preacher and missionary for the Church of Christ, I was familiar with this denomination's commitment to defending its beliefs in public debate, so I had mistakenly assumed that this commitment would include belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Some 200 letters that I mailed to Church-of-Christ preachers proposing a debate on this subject were either ignored or answered with terse refusals that questioned the propriety or practicality of public debates. Some of those who wrote to decline suggested that I contact Bill Jackson, who was a preacher for the Southwest Church of Christ in Austin, Texas. I acted on the suggestion only to have it met with silence.
Having once been a Church-of-Christ preacher, I could not believe in the sincerity of these men who were saying that they did not think that public debating was proper or practical. To prove my suspicions, I sent phony debate challenges to dozens of Church-of-Christ preachers who had declined either by silence or letter my challenge to debate the Bible inerrancy doctrine. Mailed from an out-of-state post office address, these phony challenges proposed debates on various sectarian doctrines and were sent under assumed names by which I pretended to be Baptist, Pentecostal, and Adventist preachers. The results were immediate. Over twenty acceptance letters were received before the ruse was uncovered through personal contacts that some of the preachers had with one another. When the sting was discovered, a howl of protest arose, and many wrote, including some who had never bothered to respond to my legitimate challenge to debate the inerrancy doctrine, to deplore my lack of integrity. No one said anything about the lack of integrity in preachers who, when challenged to debate Bible inerrancy, had pretended that debating is impractical but, when challenged to debate various points of sectarian doctrine, had immediately accepted.
Bill Jackson was one of the preachers who got caught in the sting. After he realized this, he first refused to debate the inerrancy issue but later wrote to say that he would if the format were restricted to five exchanges on each proposition with a limit of six, double-spaced pages to each submission. I accepted his terms, and the debate began in September 1989 and was completed a year later. An earlier version of the debate was published in January 1991 by the Southwest Church of Christ in Austin, Texas. Now that Skepticism, Inc., has distributed all of the copies obtained from the original publisher, we are issuing our own version. The text is the same with the exception of some typographical corrections in my manuscripts that escaped the notice of the publisher's proofreaders.
Readers will notice many mistakes in grammar and punctuation in Mr. Jackson's manuscripts. Before the earlier version of the debate was published, I worked several hours to correct these mistakes and sent him edited copies, but he spurned them with a terse comment about having his own proofreaders. I could not submit copies of this new version of the debate for Mr. Jackson's approval, because he died of a heart attack on April 5, 1991. However, I have checked very carefully to make sure that his manuscripts read exactly as he approved them for publication in the earlier version. Readers will understand, then, that mistakes like "irregardless" (p. 21) and the double negative "not hardly" (p. 49) were all pointed out to Mr. Jackson, along with his faulty sentence structure and numerous punctuation errors, but that he chose to leave them that way. Mistakes like these sometimes affected the clarity and meaning of Jackson's statements, such as when he said, "[Till] is then in no position to deny anything as action God would take, [sic] or to deny that a Bible statement is something God would not express" (p. 11). Surely, Mr. Jackson meant that I was in no position to deny that a Bible statement is something God would express, but he allowed the mistake to remain in the text after it was called to his attention. Despite problem areas like these, readers should be able to follow Mr. Jackson's line of reasoning--or, more exactly, lack of reasoning--and see that he failed to sustain his position.
While the debate was in progress, I was keenly aware of Mr. Jackson's inability to offer any kind of reasonable defense for the inerrancy doctrine or to rebut my arguments designed to show that errors can easily be found in the Bible text. Reviewing his manuscripts to make sure that this new version of the debate conforms to the text that Mr. Jackson approved in the first edition has made me more conscious than ever of just how inadequate he was in the defense of his proposition. I have no desire to malign someone who is no longer alive to defend himself, but I must say, as I told Jackson during the debate and in my correspondence with him while it was in progress, that his effort was quite pathetic.
I express this opinion of his performance, not to defame the memory of a respected preacher, but to make an important point. In my search for someone to represent the inerrancy position in written debate, several Church-of-Christ preachers advised me to contact Bill Jackson. They assured me that he was as able as anyone to debate this subject. I assume that the preachers who recommended him were sincere in their praise of his debating skills. In the Summer 1991 issue of Challenge, Jerry Moffitt, another respected Church-of-Christ preacher, said in tribute to Bill Jackson, "Along with everything else Bill Jackson did well, he will always be known as a debater, and even as one of the best we ever had" ("Bill Jackson As a Debater," p. 1). I didn't know Mr. Jackson personally; I met him briefly at my debate with Mac Deaver at Southwest Texas State University. If, however, Bill Jackson was truly "one of the best" debaters the Church of Christ ever had, then we must expect his defense of Bible inerrancy to be about as good as anyone could make. That being so, I will let the debate itself speak for the merits of Bible inerrancy, for if Jackson's defense of this doctrine is as good as we can expect, then it is a doctrine for which nothing reasonable or rational can be said.
Before the debate began, Mr. Jackson and I agreed that each participant would be permitted to write a brief introduction to any published versions of the debate. When I learned that the Southwest Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, was preparing to publish the debate, I wrote an introduction and mailed it to Mr. Jackson. He returned it to me and said that if I wanted it printed, I would have to publish my own edition of the debate. Were Mr. Jackson still alive, I would invite him to write a two-page introductory statement to this edition of the debate in which he could say anything he wished. Instead, I can only print the following biographical statement, punctuated presumably as Mr. Jackson wanted it, that was published in the earlier version:
Bill Jackson obeyed the gospel in 1943, and has participated in the work of the church since that time. He was preaching by appointment in the period 1955-1956, and in the fall of 1956 left his secular work to preach full-time. He did mission work in South Carolina and in England, and has done local work in six other locations, including two periods of work with one congregation, and three with another. He has been with the Southwest congregation in Austin, Texas since July of 1981.
Skepticism, Inc., is reissuing this debate as a monument to the utter failure of the Bible inerrancy doctrine. The text of this debate also testifies to the insincerity and hypocrisy of fundamentalist preachers who try to defend a doctrine that they know is erroneous. Throughout the debate, Mr. Jackson relied on ad hominem tirades in an obvious effort to draw attention away from his inability to prove the inerrancy of the Bible. He repeatedly characterized my debating efforts as "pitiful" and "pathetic." He claimed that an atheistic graduate student he had once debated had done a much better job of defending his position (p. 45). He said that my early letters to him "looked like something from someone who has never read the Bible" (pp. 6-7) and claimed not to understand "why in the world" I would want to debate (p. 12). "Never in human history," he said of me, "has a man been so confident, roared so loudly, promised so much, to then produce so little" (p. 40, emphasis added)! Did Mr. Jackson mean all of these things when he said them? Was he sincere? If so, then why did he say what he said in his final rebuttal when, rather than responding to my arguments, he used half of his space to make an impassioned plea for me to repent and return to the fold? "Mr. Till," he said, "it is very clear that you have mind and ability..." (p. 50, emphasis added).
How could anyone be sincere in making a statement like this about someone whose debating efforts he had constantly characterized as pitiful and pathetic? Mr. Jackson's inconsistency probably indicates the confusion and frustration that he must have felt about his inability to defend the Bible inerrancy doctrine. The lesson the readers should get from Mr. Jackson's failure is clear and simple: If "one of the best" could not defend Bible inerrancy, that is reason to suspect that it cannot be defended.Farrell Till, Editor
The Inerrancy Position:
The Errancy Position: