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John Oliver, Climate Change and the existence of Jesus

February 9, 2015

Last week I saw this hilarious video from John Oliver on the Climate Change debate:

I think he makes a very interesting point that there are some things which are so overwhelmingly agreed by experts, that it would be disingenuous to the topic to engage in any kind of “debate” to the contrary. Hence to pit one on one in a debate context is creating a perception that a genuine ‘debate’ exists, when one really doesn’t. I think a similar case could be made for the anti-vaccination movement – where a few fringe advocates create a debate where one really doesn’t exist – and cause great unrest and concern among the general public.

I am a firm advocate in evidence based reasoning and quality debate. Yet Oliver’s point, whilst valid, does raise questions at what point agreement on an issue becomes so consistent that debate is not necessary? How many ‘experts’ need to agree? It also raises the potential issue of the suppression of “prophetic” voices. How does a paradigm shift occur in consensus on a topic? Certainly evidence will convince people to change their minds, but how can this occur if the evidence is not debated? I don’t think there is an easy answer here.

An analogy to the existence of Jesus “debate”

Oliver’s video prompted me to draw parallels with the existence of Jesus “debate”. There is an overwhelming consensus among experts that Jesus really did exist. Hence attempts by certain fringe characters e.g. Richard Carrier, Raphael Lataster, to create doubt about this and to stimulate public debate on this topic creates the perception in the mind of the public that there is a live ‘debate’ on this topic, when there really isn’t.

I shared this video with historian John Dickson drawing this potential analogy and he responded with this:

Yes, it is a rough analogy to the Jesus’ existence ‘debate’, except if a survey were taken of full professors in ancient history, classics, and New Testament about whether Jesus ever lived, the result would not be as low as 97.5% in the affirmative.

Also, the point about 1 person debating ‘for’ and 1 debating ‘against’ is partly why I am hesitant to debate this topic in public. The very optics give the impression there is a reasonable measure of doubt about Jesus’ existence. It pulls a respectable topic of secular historical inquiry (the figure of Jesus in Roman Palestine) down into the bog of mere sceptical apologetics. There are serious questions about the figure of Jesus, but the question of his existence isn’t one of them. Cheers.

Dickson is saying that the measure of doubt among academics on this topic is less than debate among scientists on the reality of climate change.

Therefore if someone suggests that Jesus didn’t exist, then the reasonable response is to say that the ‘experts’ are more certain in the existence of Jesus than they are about human involvement in climate change.

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From → Comment, Jesus, News

22 Comments
  1. Global warming is a proven hoax.

    Here are just two links in today’s news to articles by climate scientists who understand the hoax and are horrified by it.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11395516/The-fiddling-with-temperature-data-is-the-biggest-science-scandal-ever.html

    http://www.climatedepot.com/2013/01/10/meteorologist-anthony-watts-on-adjusted-us-temperature-data-in-the-business-and-trading-world-people-go-to-jail-for-such-manipulations-of-data/

    The claim that global warming is factual is a simple lie. And to say that contesting a lie should not be permitted is the advocacy of oppression and perpetual stupidity.

    Likewise, people who deny that Jesus actually lived are simple liars.

    The proof that Jesus actually lived is Western Civilization itself. Our entire civilization counts the years before and after the birth of Jesus.

    Either AD, Anno Domini or BC, before Christ, or CE, the Common Era or BCE, Before the Common Era, it all revolves around Jesus Christ who was a real man, with real teachings and who was part of tradition precious to modern, civilized man.

    • “Global warming” is the term coined to describe the rapid rise in temperature following the Earth’s climate cycles, otherwise known as Milankovitch cycles, in recent history. Climate change occurs in periods of hundreds of thousands of years, with peaks and troughs that occur throughout, giving rise to some historical periods where the world has been warmer and/or colder, such as the medieval warm period or the previous ice age before the Holocene period.

      Climate change happens and has been happening since the Earth has had a climate, this is where Ice ages and warm periods come from. The only debate is whether or not the recent rapid rise is man-made, and most climate scientists think it is.

      The two articles you presented discussed the same story, data manipulation, however if you had actually read them you would have seen that the data has only been exaggerated, not entirely falsified. This would be like saying your football team won 5-0 instead of 2-0 and then people telling you that you never won, which is ridiculous.

      The argument that Jesus must have existed due to the fact that our date system is based on his birth is utterly ridiculous, as this could have been easily propagated by someone in power.

      Personally I think the most overwhelming evidence counter to the notion that Jesus existed would be the fact that there are other deities (or of a similar liking) that were also named “healer of the sick” “the light, the way” or wandered the desert and hallucinated, or walked on water, or born of a virgin, or crucified, or born on the same day – such as Horus, Mithra, Krishna, Osiris and even Buddha. Let alone the fact that the bible is complete tripe and nonsense.

  2. I raised the question about Jesus’ existence with a thinking Christian friend, and he challenged me to name someone with a PhD in history who says Jesus didn’t exist.

    Note, though, that we can never be as certain in ancient history as in physics. Also when we ask if “Jesus” existed, if we simply mean did someone who actually existed lead to the stories told in the bible, that seems like a very minimal claim. Much myth plus stories of other people could have been incorporated into biblical and apocryphal/Gnostic writings, and the claim would still be true. (I’m speaking abstractly – I’m not a historian and am making no claims one way or the other.)

    Re silenceofmind’s comment, it’s a stretch to call Anthony Watts a climate scientist. It’s no disrespect to call him a former weather announcer and a popular blogger, which is what he actually is. I don’t know what who else in those links is being referred to as a climate scientist (the plural form was used).

    • Chris,

      Clearly you didn’t even bother to read the articles.

      Global warming is such a discredited hoax that the hoaxers changed the name to climate change.

      Unfortunately, the climate is always changing, so this hoax appears to be aimed at the truly and willfully ignorant.

  3. James Garth permalink

    I fully agree with your analogy, Robert. The “mythicism” position on the historical Jesus is so far outside the mainstream that it’s held by only a tiny handful of professionals; the same names crop up again and again. These thinkers themselves operate outside the mainstream environment of publishing in reputable, peer-reviewed historical journals. Mythicism is also held by a disturbingly large number of online armchair sceptics who don’t have any ‘skin in the game’, much like the anti-vax and climate-change hoax proponents.

    Given that there’s a very strong correlation between ardent anti-theism and Jesus mythicism, it does not seem unreasonable to me to postulate that it’s the former position driving the latter in a large number of cases and that powerful cognitive bias mechanisms are playing a very active role here.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      I agree, Mr. Garth. There is much evidence for Jesus Christ. Now, of course, even if you can convince a fool that Jesus did exist, he will still reject him as the Son of God.

      Josephus records things about Jesus Christ. Years ago I learned that the priests’ “checkbook” was discovered and it recorded paying the tomb guards to keep their mouth shut about the resurrection. I cannot remember the source for the information. I study archaeology, especially Biblical/Middle Eastern.

  4. Most atheists aren’t interested in the question of whether Jesus really existed. Richard Carrier’s proposal is interesting to listen to, because he knows his topic very well – he is by no means a crackpot. But those of us without a strong background in the historical facts can’t offer much one way or the other.
    What atheists really doubt are the claims of divinity and supernatural miracles, regardless of whether they were apparently performed by a charismatic Nazarene 20 centuries ago, or by a Catholic Philippino faith healer in recent history. This is where you should focus the defence of your faith.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      You are correct. I mean, on where Christians should defend their faith. I try to use scripture, mostly, with not so much talking.

      • “…I try to use scripture, mostly, with not so much talking.”

        What – as a defence against atheist challenges to the claims of divinity and supernatural miracles?
        That’s Circular Arguing 101. I’m sure you’ll get a long way with that.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, KJV.

        So many Christians and the pointlessly religious use logic and reasoning to try to win souls. This will not work. We are not saved through logic. No one logically decides to be saved. God uses Scripture. The best evidences for Christ are His Word and all creation. That is just a fact. If I prove to you that Jesus lived, you will reject him as the Son of God. You know you will. And if I give you 7 non-biblical, archaeological/historical records showing that he was the Son of God, did miracles, etc., you will still reject him and those sources. You have stacked the deck. You require non-Biblical proof of his Deity, right? But any extra-biblical evidence for his Deity, you would reject as religious. So there can be no “proof” for you. You have an unfair challenge, because you have made the impossible rules. The greatest evidence for God is God’s Word and all creation.

      • The best evidences for Christ are His Word and all creation. That is just a fact.

        Indeed – I agree that these are the best evidences, and that is why a growing number of people cannot accept belief in the divine Christ.
        You are basically re-affirming that belief and worship depend ultimately on faith, and not on an unambiguous demonstration of reality.

        Something that many atheists struggle with is how supposedly intelligent Christians reconcile this point (that worship is faith-dependent and not fact-dependent) with the knowledge and experience of 21st Century humanity. Unless I’m mistaken, contemporary Christians do, for the most part, believe that God wants all of us – every person on earth – to believe in Him and Christ and the resurrection. He actually wants to grant us all salvation, right?

        But He also must know that the 21st-century educated Westerner (or Easterner, etc.) is naturally and appropriately skeptical – given the ocean of false deities, superstitions and spiritual claims that we need to navigate in this age. He (the Christian God) must know that our shared and truthful view of the world is based on objective and repeatable demonstrations of what is real, and that false claims of spirituality and pseudoscience are rightfully treated as false and and left to one side.

        The honest skeptic is given nothing by the Christian God, to allow her to discriminate Him from the falsehoods. We are told instead that it is all right there in ‘His Word’, and to have faith in this – which is the circular argument from which there is no escape. (Actually, there is an escape. The Christian God could give us that evidence we request! How hard could that really be? He’s God, right?)

        I’ll therefore end with the question I referred to above. How does a Christian reconcile salvation through fideism, with the honest skepticism of 21st century people?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        When a person has faith in God, that is not something that they just decide to do. They don’t just go, “Hey, I am going to Hell. There may be a God, so I guueeessss I’ll believe in Him and hopefully I’ll make it to Heaven.” Faith is not man’s decision. It isn’t an ignorant leap of faith. Salvation is a change in a man/woman that overtakes you. You don’t hope against your better intuition. When salvation occurs, YOU change. YOU become something different. You become a child of God, and you KNOW! I, and any Christian who actually knows his Bible, is not going to ask you to “just believe.” YOU CAN’T!!! That is absolutely impossible. How can a blind man see the light? “Oh, well just look really hard.” At salvation, God gives you a faith, in which you KNOW that you are a sinner, in need of Christ as Saviour. He is your only hope. A person then repents of sin and trusts that Christ died for them, and they are saved! It is not a man made decision. It is a soul changing experience. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9, KJV.

        I do not believe that man is anything greater than ancient man; in fact, I believe the opposite. We stand on the shoulders of giants. While we are passing on more information, I believe our abilities are declining. Just read 19th Century style of writing. I do not believe that we are surrounded by more examples of false religions than we were. I say–and what may seem to be circular reasoning–to read scripture as proof of Christ, because that is true! How do we best prove math? Study math! It is self-proving. That may sound circular, but it is true. God uses scripture to prove himself.

        As an aside, if you wasted your time studying the koran, you would realize what violent junk it is. It proves itself to be garbage. It preys upon men’s lust for lots of women and violence. Like, “Hey kids, obey me and when you die, I’ll send you to a place of endless candy and cartoons!” The other false religions go the same way.

        On the other hand, the Bible, and, in English, I ONLY refer to the King James Version, proves itself to be true–the Word of God. I am not asking you to just believe, because I know that you cannot. If you do “just believe,” you will only create or become part of a false Christian religion, like the Roman Catlicking religion. I am asking you to read the Bible. You could ask God, whom you say you do not believe in, to show you truth, or you could just study the Bible. And what can happen to a person, is that God shows them truth and they believe. Sometimes this happens with a gospel tract, sometimes with really studying the Bible.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23

        “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

        “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

        “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

        “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

        “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      What is your religious/non-religious background? You say you have read through the Authorized version of the bible. What, in your mind, caused you to disbelieve in God?

  5. Baptist Joshua, you didn’t answer my question. There are plenty of us – thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, including me – that indeed have read the KJV Bible and simply have not been granted the miraculous revelation that you have. Where is my road-to-Damascus moment?

    As you say, “Faith is not man’s decision. … Salvation is a change in a man/woman that overtakes you.”
    You admit that Christianity is not a choice. It is granted only to The Elect. So unless we’re one of the chosen few, it’s the eternal fires of hell for us once we leave our earthly bodies. Punishment and torture, rather than bliss.

    I ask you again: How can you possibly reconcile your Christian values – and I assume they include equality and mercy – with a God that deliberately denies salvation to so many honest people?

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      You said, “Where is my road-to-Damascus moment?” I do not know. I do not know your history. Why don’t you tell me about your past? You have not always been atheistic. So you may be a Christian who is in rebellion, or you may have a pointlessly religious past, and are, therefore, rightly dissatisfied. Or you may have grown up not really considering the Truth.

      As to who is saved, I cannot discuss election with you. Why? Because it is like trying to discuss complicated, bicycle repair, with someone who doesn’t believe in bicycles. It is likely to confuse them. They don’t have a groundwork, a foundation, on which to build. Election is of no concern to the unregenerate soul.

      Your last paragraph speaks of not understanding election. Don’t worry about it. It is of no concern to you now, if you are not saved. However, you do show that you do not understand/accept the total depravity of man. Man is not honest. Oh sure, to some, the average Joe seems like an honest guy. But think of it this way: If you were a non-violent home robber. If you deliberately waited until no one was home, and then ransacked their house for goodies, but you heard of a violent murderer, and he deliberately massacred people and stole their valuables, you might think that he deserved to be punished by the Judge, but you–you’re good–you, and others like you, who are “peaceful,” don’t deserve punishment. The mean old Judge would have no right! But then comes along a man who does not steal or murder. Can’t he then see that though you are a lesser criminal, you too, deserve punishment and to be brought before the Judge? Now to you, that may seem like a holier than thou goodie two shoes, right? Yet he would be correct. A criminal will not condemn another criminal of like status. Not only that, he may not be able to condemn another, because he, himself, is not more honourable than the other.

      I do not know of “so many honest people.” I am not honest, though I strive to be. This striving will not save me. I am already saved–just still imperfect. Now if you knew me, you would likely call me “honest,” because I am not known for lying. However, I have deceived, which I now know is lying. It is false. Deception is an unspoken lie. Lying is in our hearts. “Good, honest people” cheat on their taxes. Fail to report things. Murder their unborn children and tell no one. Look the other way. Backbite. Vote for the lesser of two evils, instead of for the right person who “cannot win.” It is best summed up in this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9, KJV.

      When a person is saved, they go from thinking of themselves as “pretty good, or acceptable,” to knowing that they are evil. Wicked. But then after salvation, through growth, they begin to realize more and more just how evil they are!

      I do not spend this time, to attack you. Please never read my words as though I am angry. I am not. And I don’t lord it over you, that I am saved, if you are not. I am not good. I am not special. I did NOTHING! I have a friend who is, or has tried to convince himself, that he is an atheist. He likes me because I don’t “shove it down his throat.” I never want to. You can’t force someone to be a Christian. I do not know your background. What if your real beef with God, is actually a beef with a false religion? Maybe your “church” is just a worthless, religious portal to hell. There is no hope in the pope. Why, even the name is unbiblical. “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9, KJV.

      • I hardly know where to begin with this, Baptist J.
        I don’t interpret any anger or attacking in your comments, but the whole bit about Election is certainly patronising.

        “…As to who is saved, I cannot discuss election with you. Why? Because it is like trying to discuss complicated, bicycle repair, with someone who doesn’t believe in bicycles. It is likely to confuse them. …Election is of no concern to the unregenerate soul […] It is of no concern to you now, if you are not saved.”

        I read this as, “This is secret Christian business that you wouldn’t understand. Sorry, but you’re on the way to hell, there’s nothing you can do about it, and I can’t be bothered explaining it to you.”

        To follow on, you’ve missed my point about “honesty”. In particular, I was making a point about honest skepticism. The same point applies to all the individuals who have ever lived (and who will ever live) without ever being exposed to the story of Jesus. If you have Calvanist (or perhaps also Arminian) beliefs, then without digging into the details of election, the summary is that honest skeptics, and the ignorant, are doomed to eternal damnation. In other words, God’s choice of who gets eternal salvation is arbitrary. Or at the very least, out of the control of mortals.

        It’s ok though – given your last comment here I don’t expect any further explanation. No doubt it would likely confuse me.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        I don’t know that my comments need further explanation. I mean, I thought I was very clear in what I said about you and election. How can you speak on calculus, if you haven’t yet know basic math? Well, if you are not saved, how can you expect to understand the deep workings of the process of salvation. That doesn’t make sense. Why should you care about God’s workings, if…YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD? First things first.

        As to “secret” stuff, it is not meet to talk to you of election, if you won’t believe in God. I, in myself, would LIKE to talk to you of election, but I know better. You are not ready for it. Learning always comes with a foundation first. Otherwise, you burden the hearer with something they cannot bear, and don’t understand.

        Who is doomed to eternal damnation? The Bible is very clear on this: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” John 3:18-21, KJV.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Why don’t you tell me about your past? Religious history/non-history. Maybe I will know, better, how to talk to you about this.

  6. Josiah Erasquin permalink

    have you read the book “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”? One of the key propositions there is that anti-intellectualism thrives in contexts where experts are denounced in favor of individual opinions. If we go strictly by rationality, consensus is literally everything. If you so much as question the validity of consensus, you have to entertain the claims of creationists who believe the world to be nothing more than 6000 years old, or the claims of flat-earthers. If you believe in rationality, it is incumbent that you believe consensus wherever it leads, whether you like it or not.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How Matt Dillahunty makes a brilliant argument against Jesus myth scholarship | Atheist Forum
  2. An Atheist’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus | Atheist Forum

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