Acton Institute Powerblog

Concerns about Consensus

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George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.

With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.

It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Alex J

    Regarding the scientific consensus on global climate change: It seems to me that there have been relatively few incidences of clear scientific consensus being fundamentally wrong. For successful challenge of the consensus view, there are probably a thousand that are either so bad that they don’t make it to peer-review, or are demonstrated to be flawed shortly after publishing. Other than George Taylor’s apparently rogue views on climate science, there is also the other side of the discussion to consider:

  • Dan Garsonnin

    I’m speculating here . . . but weren’t those admirable skeptics developing the new themes; opposing the old guard? Not too long ago the proponents of global warming were the new thought; the challengers of consensus. Now, thirty years later, they still seem to be the new thought, battling the old guard. The fact that there are now so many of them that they now comprise the consensus shouldn’t detract from their message. At what point does an emerging thought lose validity (in the eyes of a rebel) because it becomes a consensus. Yes, it’s fun to rebel. It appeals to a sense of self and assertion . . . but let us recognize these qualities for what they are and not mistake tham for veracity. I think there’s a hazard to rebounding too far.

    We can probably bat this back and forth for a long time — and I guess we will. It would help though, if those opposing scientist would host a commentary. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough . . . .