A few months ago I was approached by an individual after a speaking event. “Do you believe in evolution?” he asked. It was a surprising question given that it had nothing to do with my topic. I replied that on matters outside my area I defer to the consensus of experts unless I have a reason not to. This was a case, I noted, where I didn’t have a reason to question the experts and so I deferred to the consensus that accepts the broadly Neo-Darwinian account of the origin of species.
“Interesting,” the man said, “because I am a medical doctor. I looked into the matter and discovered that there is no evidence for evolution.”
I was struck by the absoluteness of his assertion. Had he said, “I am unpersuaded by the evidence for evolution,” I would have been sympathetic. But to deny that there is any evidence whatsoever in fields like evolutionary biology, paleontology, and genetics for speciation and common descent is patently false. (For a good initial overview to some of that evidence and guidance as to how to process it relative to Christian convictions, one should visit http://biologos.org/.)
And it is worth noting as well that a medical doctor’s skill and knowledge set, while no doubt formidable, would nonetheless not equip a person to assess properly the range of evidence for evolution from these various fields.
But this isn’t just a problem to be found among Christians. The fact is, however, that atheists frequently make claims that are every bit as outrageous as that of this doctor. Consider, for example, the late Victor Stenger. Though Stenger was a scientist — a physicist — for some reason he believed this equipped him to opine on the field of ancient history, and so in his article “How to debate a Christian apologist” he makes the following claim:
“There is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the gospels even existed.”
Once again, we have an individual who, though highly educated, nonetheless lacks any expertise in the field on which he is opining. And yet, he has the audacity to endorse a fringe position and to insist that all the evidence supports this position.
To make matters worse, Stenger then goes on to defend his claim with a string of falsehoods:
“He [Jesus] is only mentioned in the New Testament, which was written long after his death by people who did not know him. St. Paul says little that suggests a historical Jesus. He also did not know Jesus. His “evidence” for Jesus is just his own mystical visions. He said, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1: 11-12).”
Contrary to Stenger’s claim, Jesus it not mentioned only in the New Testament (he is mentioned in the work of Jewish historian Josephus, Roman historian Tacitus, and probably in Roman historian Suetonius, for example); the New Testament was not written long after Jesus’ death by people who did not know him (rather, it is a library of first century sources about Jesus with the earliest, the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, dating to within a couple years of the events; and the status of the gospels as based on eye-witness accounts has been defended vigorously by scholars like Richard Bauckham); in his writings Paul demonstrates a wide knowledge of Jesus and his teachings (see, for example, David Wenham’s Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity); and Paul’s evidence for Jesus is not limited to his “mystical visions” (see again the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, for example).
To sum up, all sides would do well to drop the unqualified, sweeping assertions that there is no evidence to support the development of a consensus of experts, whether the matter is Neo-Darwinian evolution or the historical Jesus or anything else.