A constant problem in searching for information on the internet is judging the value of the information you find and the expertise and bias of the writers.
One site which appears to be authoritative and neutral is The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Its aims look good: Disseminating accurate religious information, Exposing religious fraud, hatred and misinformation, Disseminating information on “hot” religious topics and Promoting religious tolerance.
I used to use the site as a resource, until one day I discovered a serious bias.
Did Jesus exist?
This is a hotly debated topic. There are many who claim that Jesus never existed, but almost all scholars who are expert in the area say the evidence points to him being a real person – see Was Jesus a real person? for a summary. For example, Bart Ehrman, an agnostic scholar whose popular and sceptical books on the New Testament have sold well, nevertheless sums up the conclusions of scholars:
I don’t think there’s any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus …. We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.
So you’d expect the Ontario Consultants’ article on Did Jesus Christ Exist: All sides to the question to contain the views of the most respected scholars – names such as Sanders, Meier, Crossan, Wright, Hengel, Dunn, Vermes. You’d expect a site which claims to present “all sides to the question” to present the views of the sceptics (mostly not recognised scholars), but you’d expect to see at least an equal representation from the leading scholars.
But you’d be disappointed.
What the Ontario Consultants say
The discussion of whether Jesus existed covers three internet pages, each with quotes and a list of references. I couldn’t find a single quote or reference by any major scholar representing the consensus view of the question. Instead we find numerous references to authors who have few if any academic qualifications in the field (names like Wells, Acharya and Doherty), some atheist commentators, and a few christian websites, most of which are no longer on the web. There are a few authors whose view might fairly be considered to be on the “ratbag fringe”. But none of the top historians.
Thus the information given doesn’t fulfil the site’s stated aims of providing good and unbiased information, and the references are not at all representative of the best historical conclusions. And then I read that the author and “owner” of the website, on this occasion, was presenting his own views (“I stress that these are my personal hunches. They are shared by few if any theologians.” – and he might have added by few historians).
The page on Parallels between Christianity and ancient Pagan religions is similarly contrary to the views of most experts, and based on non-scholars and fringe sceptics.
When I became aware of this bias and misinformation, I wrote politely to the website pointing out the problems and suggesting in the interests of fairness and their own reputation that they should balance the discussion. I received no reply to two emails and the material remains.
I intend to write again, and I will report back on any response. But in the meantime, don’t believe all that you read, even when it appears to come from an unbiased and authoritative source.