John Oliver, Climate Change and the existence of Jesus
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.