When Elijah stood on Mount Carmel he faced a formidable array of 950 prophets (I Kings 18:19). All were resolute in their populist ‘consensus’ theory about a troubling environmental matter.
But Elijah didn’t mind the odds. He wasn’t interested in predictions and theory, just hard facts. The issue on Carmel was one that countless would-be prophets throughout the ages have played on: weather (no rain) and climate change (a three-year drought).
It didn’t end well for the false prophets on Carmel. And it was faith in their theoretic sacrificial solutions that proved to be their downfall. These days, of course, we don’t put false prophets to the sword. Instead we put them on the public payroll, give them status awards and grant them high-profile media prestige, no matter how pathetic their prophetic insight may have been. Take Paul Ehrlich, for example.
Ehrlich came to prominence in 1968 with the publication of his environmental blockbusterThe Population Bomb. The book’s central Malthusian thesis is that a growing population is unsustainable in a world of dwindling finite resources. As Malthus’ scenario failed to materialize, so too Ehrlich’s apocalyptic vision of hungry and dead bodies on the streets in the 1970s proved a total fiction. Not that this has deterred Ehrlich. He has continued to make a healthy living from a litany of population predictions – not one of which has come to pass.
The truth is that Ehrlich is the greatest failed prophet of our age. Yet amazingly, not only does he continue to collect his university stipend and pick up lucrative public appearance and book deals, for all his blatant failures, is still feted by the media. Take the journalistic drivel with which John Vidal’s Guardian article began at the end of April. Vidal’s interview announces Ehrlich as “the world’s most renowned population analyst”. So what track record of predictive success to date warrants such approbation? Ehrlich’s prophecies include: