Why do I keep dumping on poor Atheist Missionary? Is it because I have a curious, morbid fascination in an intelligent denizen of western civilization defending his prejudices in a painfully ad hoc manner? In part, perhaps. But that’s not the whole story. The real lesson here is that we all attempt to justify our prejudices from time to time, and there is something to be learned for us all by examining one case.
It all began, you’ll remember, with The Atheist Missionary asking me whether I’d teach my child that a dead man rose again. I asked him whether he would teach his child that a unique, unrepeatable event in the past had occurred. With self-righteous indignation he replied: “No!” Unfortunately this excluded him teaching his children the Big Bang. And so it went, point by point he would fine-tune his principles (or invent new ones) to justify his determination to communicate his own prejudices to his children, always under the rubric of “free thought” of course.
After he noted his willingness to defer to the majority opinion of experts in a given field on whether a unique, unrepeatable event had occurred in the past, I asked whether he would do this in the case of New Testament scholars if they had a majority opinion on the historicity of the resurrection. Of course he said “no!” because he’s a free thinker.
And what justified this response?
The reason, as Bart Ehrman described in his 2006 debate with Bill Craig*, is that most New Testament scholars are “theologically committed to the text”. Most are employed by conservative Christian institutions who would deliver a pink slip in response to common sense thinking such as that presented by Ehrman.
Ahh, so now the principle gets qualified once again. I take it that “theologically committed to the text” is another way of saying “has a vested interest in the outcome of research”. And this is a ground to exclude the majority opinion of a field of experts?
Um, news flash for TAM: if that’s the new criterion then he can dismiss the consensus of the field of Holocaust historians because they are committed to a particular broad view of the Holocaust and a departure from that narrative would imperil their teaching positions.
It would also allow him to dismiss the consensus in the field of evolutionary biology. Don’t believe me? Well TAM, the next time you’re being interviewed for the position “Lecturer in Biology” at a public university try slipping in the words “intelligent design” into the interview and see what happens.
What do you think would happen to an economist at the University of Chicago’s School of Economics who repudiated the gospel of deregulation? Fast track to tenure … or termination?
And if you’re a climatologist why not start arguing that the burning of fossil fuels has no part in climate change? Sure you might be put on the payroll of Exxon, but what about that cherished university posting?
Imagine if we started dismissing the consensus or majority opinions of experts in the fields of history, or biology, or ecomics or climatology simply because of the presence of a regulative orthodoxy within the field. You’d have no experts left!
Let me guess: TAM only applies this restrictive criterion when he discerns that the regulative orthodoxy is one tied to theological opinions.
As the Church Lady (of SNL fame) used to say: “How convenient.”