The Tyranny of Consensus

by Barry Newton
Arthur Schopenhauer is credited with the insight: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Perhaps an appropriate addendum would be: The fight against truth often involves the tyranny of consensus.
Within a large amphitheater style auditorium, silence recently reigned as riveted attention focused upon the scientists sitting at a series of tables on the stage. Each held a doctorate. Each were leaders on the controversial topic being discussed.
The opening statements from both sides of the discussion seemed reasonable enough, even convincing. Suddenly the nature of the evidence being presented shifted dramatically.
As counter-evidence was presented, one side retreated to appealing to consensus with statements along the lines of: Among those at research universities, I do not know of anyone holding that position.
The pattern continued as the spotlight shown brightly on additional data. One side asserted that if the scientists working in that field were to fill the auditorium, the opposing idea would be rejected.
At times, consensus simply provides an historically curious snapshot of a social barometer.
Arthur’s insights and my proposed addendum lead me to reflect upon another scenario.
Confronted with the evidence that the New Testament beckons people to rely upon Jesus for salvation by being immersed, I encounter two typical responses.
Some merely reiterate, “salvation is by faith.” In this case, they reveal that they either fail to grasp the discussion is focused upon how people are being instructed to initially express faith in Jesus and not upon the role of faith, or they possess no evidence to submit.
Others however, irregardless of where the evidence actually points, remain unmoved as they verbally seek refuge and security in the consensus opinion of Protestantism.
As a principle, agreeing with the consensus opinion is not necessarily misguided. Most people agree 2 + 2 = 4. Conversely, neither is the unpopular the plumb line. What matters is not the degree of popular acceptance, but where the evidence actually leads.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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