Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Historical Jesus And Global Warming

I believe this video was made in 2012, shortly after the publication of Bart Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist?

In the video, Ehrman incorrectly states that no-one teaching at an accredited university in one of the "relevant fields" -- ancient history, Biblical Studies, etc -- doubted that Jesus existed, and compared this to the overwhelming consensus among meteorologists that global warming exists and is man-made.

Ehrman was incorrect when he said that none of the academics in ancient history or Biblical Studies or related field had doubts about Jesus' existence -- but he was close enough to correct. If we're going to stick with Ehrman's analogy of global warming, then as far as I can tell, the percentage of the academics who doubt Jesus' existence is lower than the percentage who doubt that global warming exists and is cause by humans.

But the question is: how similar is Biblical Studies to meteorology? One figure I've heard is that 3 percent of meteorologists do not agree that global warming is happening and is man-made. The thing is, there are extremely wealthy interests who fund a lot of these 3 percent -- oil and gas and coal companies. And shocking as this is, they seem to fund most, or all, of the 3 percent, and none of the 97 percent who agree with all of the rest of us who have been conscious for the past few decades and noticing the weather.

There are extremely wealthy interests who fund Biblical Studies too: religious institutions. In my opinion, it's a lot harder to tell whether a Biblical scholar is insincere about Jesus than whether a meteorologist is being insincere about global warming. Global warming and its causes are so obvious. It's so hard, if not actually impossible, to find someone who is both a highly-qualified meteorologist and a global-warming skeptic who has never taken money from oil companies either directly, or indirectly, through lobbyists and think tanks run by oil companies.

You know something that's not hard to find? Religious believers and theologians among the ranks of Biblical scholars. It's no longer unusual to find atheists and agnostics among them, but the atheists and agnostics often do seem very reluctant to come right out and say that that's what they are. Ehrman is unusually open about his agnosticism for a Biblical scholar.

Meteorologists are the academic successors of Galileo. Biblical scholars are the successors of the people who threatened to torture Galileo unless he recanted what he'd said about what he'd seen in the sky. That doesn't mean that Biblical scholars today tend to be would-be Inquisitors. But I think it's perfectly legitimate to ask how open they have been, since Galileo's time, to views which have challenged traditional Christian views. Did they lead the way in questioning the existence of Adam & Eve, and then the existence of Abraham, and then Moses, and then (pre-Tel-Dan-Stele) David, and now Jesus, or have they tended to stand in the way of open inquiry?

It's legitimate to ask how much huge financial interests may have nudged scholars in one direction or another, whether it's oil companies nudging meteorologists in the direction of expressing climate change skepticism or religious institutions nudging Biblical scholars in the direction of saying they're certain that Jesus existed. It's also legitimate to ask how much a climate of belief and theology has hindered Biblical scholars' objectivity and good common sense.

One thing is certain: once we go from academia to the general public, Ehrman's analogy between climate-change skeptics and mythicists (people who are less than certain that Jesus existed) falls apart altogether. In the general public the two groups are almost entirely mutually exclusive. I can't recall ever meeting someone who had doubts both about climate change and about Jesus' existence. Climate-change skeptics tend to be religious believers and to have a skeptical attitude toward science in general. Mythicists tend to be highly literate scientifically. Often they are professional scientists. And they tend to have a skeptical attitude toward Biblical scholarship.

Which is a real shame, as I have emphasized over and over in this blog, because the Biblical scholars are the experts in their field. I'm not accusing the Biblical scholars of ineptitude nor of dishonesty. And furthermore, when Ehrman accuses the mythicists of cluelessness, he's right about most of them. (Most of us, I should say.)

I'm accusing Ehrman and his fellow Biblical scholars (with a few exceptions) of not considering the question of Jesus' existence. I'm accusing them of claiming that the issue has been settled, when in fact the experts have barely begun to examine the issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment