Although he did get smarmy, the good Rabbi was one of the two best in debates with Harris. The best was Chris Hedges. Both made important points, though neither seemed to want to address the main thrust of Sam’s attack, nor did they come close to defending their baseless belief in a deity.
Sam has done well to point out the three usual “ruts” theistic arguments fall into. I think sometimes he needs to just say “That’s an argument from incredulity fallacy”, or “Red herring”, or “ad populum” etc. More people need to understand basic critical thinking for nonsense beliefs to disappear.
The major problems in this debate were Wolpe insisting 1) on equating God with our highest aspirations and abilities - reason, morality, etc., and 2) that religion is lived and not propositional.
The first claim is a matter of semantics, and needs to be addressed as such. It’s much like the debate in Plato’s “Symposium” where the first two speakers want to attach every positive quality to Love and then dare anyone to speak against it. Sam addressed one problem here; it just doesn’t demonstrate that such a being exists. But the deeper issue here is that even if we allow that point to go unquestioned for the sake of argument, the argument doesn’t support any particular religion. To do that we have to add characteristics to this ephemeral deity, and that *is* adding propositional content. Sam hinted at this formulation, but it was never explicit.
The claim that religion is lived is related, and falls to the same criticism. To live according to a religion requires clear criteria, not merely abstract ideas of something higher. Once those clear criteria are present, we have propositions to be accepted or rejected, and tribalism inevitably emerges. Wolpe refused to acknowledge this.
The one point I saw go unaddressed that I wish would have been was this idea that the extremists frame their world view in a certain way and only those within the same frame can address them. But the problem here is precisely that both the extremists and the moderates frame the issue incorrectly, and that it is this agreement between them that perpetuates the atrocities we see.