Atheists Out of Their Depth

Believe it or not, I do appreciate some agnostics and atheists. Often there can be broad areas of common ground, and I will therefore recommend their material from time to time. Sometimes I may even agree with them quite a bit. One example is Melbourne journalist and commentator Andrew Bolt.

I know Andrew, and I like the guy. I could even consider myself to be a distant friend of his, or at least a fellow comrade in arms. I like what he does most of the time and I am glad he is on the scene. We need more writers and commentators like him.

As an indication of my appreciation of him, I did a quick word search on my website. The word “bolt” appears in 65 articles. Now it is possible I may have been talking about ‘nuts and bolts’ or some such thing in one of them. But I suspect almost all are articles which have to do with the work of Andrew Bolt, which I approvingly quote and promote.

In addition to often citing him and his work, I even gave his 2005 book – a collection of essays – a nice review. See here:

However on at least several occasions I have had to take him to task. You see, Andrew is a conservative commentator, and so am I. So that means we often see eye to eye – probably on most things in fact. But he is not a Christian – and he seems to be quite proud of that fact.

So when he writes a column or blog post attacking Christianity, needless to say I am not as impressed. Not because he disagrees with me, but because – as with so many other atheists such as Richard Dawkins – when he starts writing about things theological and biblical, he often is simply way out of his depth.

Indeed, he can embarrass himself at times when he wades into these discussions which he clearly is not well versed in. Like Dawkins, he has various areas which he is pretty capable in, but religion in general and Christianity in particular are certainly not his strong suits.

These guys simply make themselves look foolish when they try to offer their ‘knock-down’ arguments against Christianity. Bolt did this for example in a most ungracious fashion back in 2001 when he posted an attack on Christianity on Christmas, of all days.

I wrote a reply to it and sent it in to the Herald Sun soon thereafter, but it never saw the light of day. So I have posted it on my website:

I even sent it in the following Christmas, hoping for a right of reply. But still no dice. Now Andrew has been an editor at the HS for some time now. I do not know what his status was back then. But given how often he rightly talks about free speech and the importance of proper public debate on contentious issues, I wonder if he even raised his voice about my piece back then and sought to have it printed.

He has taken pot shots at Christianity on other occasions as well. For example, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ appeared in 2004 Bolt wrote a quite nasty review of it. As I recall, he even managed to somehow find ‘homophobic’ content in the film!

And in 2009 he was at it again with a rather unhelpful piece in which he tried to inform us about “the essence of Christ’s preaching” and of St Paul’s as well. Sadly he was way off the mark again, wandering into territory which he clearly was not suited to. I discussed that article here:

Yet having said all this, so often Andrew out-Christians Christians in defending their faith and taking on challenges to the faith. For example in 2007 he wrote a great piece highlighting the many attacks on Christianity, at least on Christian morality. I discuss approvingly his article here:

He often writes about things which Christians should be writing about, but do not – things like abortion, increasing statism, political correctness, decreasing freedom of religion, etc. So he is a funny kettle of fish really. But in his piece which he posted yesterday he was back to his old unhelpful ways, unfortunately.

Entitled “Which Genesis story should Christians believe?” he seems to think he has made some unique and devastating critique of Christianity. Of course he has done no such thing. He simply rehashes the same old tired arguments that are wheeled out so often, only to be shot down in flames.

He gives us two great pieces of “evidence”: the supposed differing accounts of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis, and the alleged contradictions in the Gospel accounts. Like Dawkins, he is probably patting himself on the back now, thinking he has delivered some telling blows here.

Sorry, but no deal. His objections are without any merit, and have repeatedly and amply been dealt with before. And what is the basis for all this earth-shattering criticism? Bolt informs us: “As Robin Lane Fox sums up in his superb The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible…

There you have it folks: one book by one author, and Bolt thinks he had somehow dismantled biblical Christianity, and rendered it a smouldering pile of rubbish. But Bolt conveniently fails to inform us of several key facts. Fox of course is an atheist, so he might just have some biases here at play.

Also, he is not an Old Testament scholar; nor a New Testament scholar; nor a theologian; nor an exegete; nor a Biblical authority. He is an English historian. And he is a radical controversialist at that, challenging most mainstream scholarship on all things biblical.

He has been carefully critiqued by many actual authorities in the field. But the real question is, is Bolt even aware of these other scholars? Has he actually ever read any of them? Is he even interested in doing so? There would be many hundreds of international scholars and experts who can give us a much different account of these matters than someone like Fox.

Now Bolt might reply that he is too busy to read these authors. But of course if he is too busy to inform himself of the current state of play of biblical scholarship, and too busy to actually understand what he is writing about, then he really shouldn’t be engaging in these rather juvenile pot shots at biblical Christianity in the first place.

If he does have a bit of time, I would be happy to suggest some titles for him. In fact, if memory serves me right, I did that very thing back in 2001 when he first came out with his Christmas hatchet job. If I did, I take it that he has not bothered to follow up on my suggested reading.

But let me make a few more recommendations here – this time just on the New Testament. No one claiming to be even remotely up on the literature on NT scholarship would fail to be aware of the massive output of English scholar N. T. Wright.

Simply consulting the first three of his projected 6-volume Christian Origins and the Question of God, which runs to around 2,100 pages so far, would show just how very woeful it is to rely on liberal writers like Fox. Of course he has written dozens of other major works, but just these three would be a great starter for those critics who are really interested to see where the debate is at today.

Some other heavyweight contributions to NT scholarship, Jesus studies, and work on the gospels, would include the 2006 volume by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans); or the 700-page work by NT scholar Darrell Bock, Jesus According to Scripture (Baker, 2002).


Craig Keener’s 830-page volume, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2009) would be another, along with the 750-page Lord Jesus Christ by NT expert Larry Hurtado (Eerdmans, 2003). And here are a few more volumes which anyone serious about these issues should be aware of:

Bock, Darrell, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. Thomas Nelson, 2006.
Bock, Darrell and Daniel Wallace, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Eddy, Paul Rhodes and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker, 2007.
Evans, Craig, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP, 2006.
Hill, C.E., Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. Oxford University Press, 2010.
House, H. Wayne, The Jesus Who Never Lived. Harvest House, 2008.
Komoszewski, J. Ed, James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus. Kregel, 2006.
Marshall, David, The Truth About Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels’. Harvest House, 2007.
Perrin, Nicholas, Lost in Translation? Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Roberts, Mark, Can We Trust the Gospels? Crossway Books, 2007.
Strobel, Lee, The Case for the Real Jesus. Zondervan, 2007.
Witherington, Ben, What Have They Done with Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
Wallace, Daniel, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Kregel, 2011.

There are many dozens more recent works of profound scholarship which the critics could consult if they were really interested. But that is the real question here: are they, or have they already made up their minds? They can talk a lot about weighing up the arguments and real public debate, but when it comes down to it, do they really mean it?

In closing, I do not doubt that I will continue to plug and promote Andrew Bolt when he does good commentary on areas he is well-versed in. But I will, in the name of intellectual honesty – something which he too says he champions – certainly not hold back when he strays from his areas of expertise and comes out with rather silly and thin hatchet jobs such as this.

It is hoped that Andrew will rise to the occasion, and start checking out some scholarship that he apparently has not yet read. You never know, he might find that this material will even change some of his preconceived ideas. Let’s hope so anyway.

[1700 words]

37 Replies to “Atheists Out of Their Depth”

  1. I like your summation Bill. Bolt is rated the most influential media commenter in Australia. I like him. He can be devastating as evidenced by his almost single handed demolition of AGW but in other areas he can be surprisingly naive.

    Consider his opinion of the legal scam of the divorce industry and the overt discrimination of family courts. Bolt wrote that if one parent doesn’t want to share parenting after separation they shouldn’t. That is the child’s right to maximise his/her development potential by having meaningful relationships with two fit and loving parents should be forfeited by one parent’s selfishness. I’ve noticed It is very difficult to get comments published on this issue.

    Bolt is happily married with young children. One wonders what his opinion might be if those kids were lost.

    Howard Beale

  2. Doubt it very much, the antitheists have a view and they will only look at the view which matches their view. When you dismantle their weak arguments, they love to throw the good ole, “invisible friend”, “fairy tale”, or my absolute fav, they direct you to the “flat earth society”, which is enormously funny, seeing as the flat earth society was in fact started and continues to be run by atheists. I will listen to their “arguments” until they throw their usual argument stopping insults, then I know they are finished and simply leave them to their stupor.
    Neil Waldron

  3. I too like reading Andrew Bolt but also find at times I disagree with him.

    He’s an agnostic.

    He did visit Israel last Christmas.

    Last Christmas he criticised the gospel writers for writing about Herod the baby killer who we know from third party accounts murdered members of his own family and died a horrible death. Problem is only one Matthew wrote about the baby killer. Matthew did not mention the baby killing or the other murders Herod carried out, nor did he describe the painful death Herod endured.

    There are two other Herods mentioned, one in the Gospels and the other in Acts.

    Such an elementary mistake would not be made by someone who has carefully studied the Biblical text.

    Just had a read of Andrew’s new article.

    The creation accounts are from two different angles. The first one from God’s point of view and the second from man’s. It illustrates clearly that how things appear to man often tends not to reflect reality.

    Then one has to consider that the New Testament accounts were written by different authors and for different purposes. Some chose to emphasise what others omitted. Indeed Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ birth, Mark omits it and John makes a passing reference to it. If you were to get say 10 people who watched a footy match to describe what happened you’d get 10 different accounts. All could be perfectly accurate and yet highlight different things.

    Matt Vinay

  4. Yes, Andrew often likes to promote the cultural benefits of the Christian faith in Western civilization, but without actually embracing the core of truth involved.

    To challenge and undermine the Christian faith as this article does, actually undermines all he says about the cultural benefits.

    To sum up horticulturally: He wants the fruit without the root.

    John Angelico

  5. Yes quite right John

    As I wrote in my first article critiquing Bolt, he has it all wrong. Like so many folks today, he wants to run with the ethics of Jesus while rejecting his teachings. But that cannot be done. The ethics he demands can only come from a relationship with God, which he came to restore for us. Until we embrace his teachings that we are sinners alienated from God, we certainly cannot live up to his ethics. It is the same with the Ten Commandments. The first four have to do with our relationship with God. It is only when we get that right that we can begin to keep the next six, which deal with our relationship with others.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. I also notice that although Bolt generally does a good job countering much homosexual activism including opposing SSM, he does at times appear confused over the issue. I suppose we should be grateful to hear as much sense as we do from the agnostic Bolt, since most atheists or agnostics are completely unable to see anything wrong with homosexuality.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  7. Have you posted this list of books on his blog site? He may not read yours.
    I pray, if he takes the time to read them, it will do more than change his view, but change his life and eternal destiny.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  8. Should have mentioned that I think visiting Israel was a good thing. Something that I’d like to do one day.
    Matt Vinay

  9. I was interested to see you reference the book “The Historical Jesus”. I’ll have to look it up. Usually when one comes across that phrase, it’s a work that admits Jesus existed, but denies his divinity.
    John Bennett

  10. Thanks John

    Actually there are plenty of NT scholars who fully affirm both the historicity of Jesus and the divinity of Christ. And the so-called search for the historical Jesus has gone through three phases already.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Thanks Zac

    Very briefly, the First Quest was based on the premise that there was a radical gulf between the historical Jesus and the way he was interpreted by the Christian church. This was discussed by such figures as Reimarus, Strauss, and Renan. Schweitzer in his The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) showed that those who sought to “discover” the historical Jesus “behind” the supposedly mythical gospels ended up creating a Jesus in their own image.

    The Second Quest (really a period of “no quest”) included people like Bultmann and Kasemann.

    The Third Quest involves people like Sanders, Vermes and Funk. Part of this is the Jesus Seminar with folks like Funk, Crossan, and Borg.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. While naturally I would be delighted as you Bill to see Bolt’s efforts in many ways, the apologist in me must ask how he intellectually justifies his moral positions to himself and what drives him. The logical position of agnosticism and atheism is ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. There’s no real reason to believe moral values are possible, much less fight for them.

    Anyway, just a few directionless musings – no real point to them!

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  13. There is plenty of evidence out there for the existence of Jesus. Indeed I reckon there would be few who’ve seriously looked at history that would deny his existence.

    One should note that Islam acknowledges Jesus as a prophet but denies his divinity.

    The study of history can lead to greater appreciation of the Bible and a greater understanding of things in it.

    Indeed John’s Gospel (which is widely believed to be the last of the four gospels to be written) was written so that Christians would “go on believing” (John 20:31 – believe and have in this verse are in the present continuous and should be translated as such to avoid giving a wrong impression). It’s written primarily for mature believers and with this purpose in mind it’s clearly the least useful of the gospels for evangelism (though it tends to be used very often). Already by this time people were questioning Jesus’s divinity. There is an emphasis both on Jesus’ manhood but also on his divinity throughout this gospel.

    After considering what Jesus did (Mark), and what he said (Matthew and Luke) one can then consider in a deeper way who Jesus is (John).

    Matt Vinay

  14. Readers might be interested in the post which i put up in response to Andrew Bolt:

    “Andrew, you have raised some old canards here, which have been answered time and again by Biblical scholars, admittedly with greater or less satisfaction. This is not the forum for a full discussion of these issues, save to say in regard to the first that there is much that we don’t know about the period 6 B.C. to 4 A.D., often called the “silent decade”. This is especially so in regard to the Roman administration in the eastern provinces and the kingdom of Herod. Hence to say, glibly, that Luke got it wrong is a simplicism which will not stand examination. According to tradition Luke came from Antioch, and was in a position to know the details of the local history, which are unavailable to us.
    As to the one about Genesis 1 & 2, this to is an old chestnut. In short, it revolves around the exegesis of each passage from the Hebrew text. Genesis 2 is in brief a closer look at the creation of man and his environment, his food supply, and the original paradise; whereas Genesis 1 gives the broader picture. Such an exegesis showing an essential harmony can be done without recourse to special pleading or far-fetched interpretations. For that matter the modern evolutionary story of origins has its own internal contradictions and imponderables, so those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

    You are quite right, Bill: Andrew is clearly out of his depth, and why he ventures into this field is beyond me. Perhaps he is trying to justify to himself his own unbelief?
    I don’t claim to have read all the literature which you cite, but Bauckham’s book is, I believe, a landmark which sweeps away so much of the unbridled and indigestible funk characteristic of liberal scholarship over the last 150 years. I am less happy about the writings of N.T. Wright, who has embraced the New Perspectives on Paul and some of the positions of recent liberal scholarship. “Evangelical” scholarship is very much in a state of flux these days. Quite often I don’t know whom to trust.

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  15. Thanks for writing this Bill.
    I was also disappointed by Bolt’s article and found most of the comments there unhelpful.
    Richard Penman

  16. I can see why you recommended “Can We Trust the Gospels?” by Mark D. Roberts. It’s a fascinating book. The Harvard Ph.D. could destroy Bolt’s arguments in his sleep.

    I share many of Bolt’s opinions, but his incoherent arguments against Christianity are embarrassing. One wonders too why the koran isn’t a target for deconstruction.

    Ben-Peter Terpstra

  17. Thanks Ben-Peter

    Of course we all know why the secularists pick on Christianity rather than Islam. Christians do not fly airplanes into buildings, issue fatwas against their critics, or strap themselves full of explosives and seek out the infidels.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. I can only hope that in future Bill Muehlenberg chooses his friends with greater care. Nobody – least of all anyone with Muehlenbergian zeal and talents – needs friendship with Bolt, whose hatred of Bob Katter’s “homophobia” is indistinguishable from the Rodney Croome atelier’s effusions.

    Can Mr Muehlenberg really suppose that anyone capable of the following Herald Sun screed is interested in amity with Christian believers on any terms other than abject deference to Bolt’s own half-baked Internet-derived cant?

    Reluctant though I am to defend present-day Australian tertiary education in any sense, I nevertheless consider that such education was not always as frightful as it is today, and that least part of Bolt’s monumental cluelessness derives from his lack of formal schooling. For persons of his generation and mine (he was born in 1959, two years before I was), university degrees – yes, even in arts departments, would you credit it – involved genuinely hard intellectual work. They supplied skills which it was difficult (though certainly not impossible) to acquire outside campuses. To take but two instances: they supplied the skill of rebutting an argument at its best rather than at its worst; and they supplied the skill of trusting the intellect rather than the emotions. Bolt has never shown the smallest ability in either task.

    Also mysterious is how much of Bolt’s raging at “homophobia” derives from guilt concerning his own employment with the late paedophile ex-Senator Bob Collins. While Collins still lived, Bolt furiously denied – not least to myself – ever having had such employment. After Collins had taken his own life, Bolt admitted to having had this employment after all. Rather than unleashing loose talk about perjury, I prefer to believe that Bolt’s overwhelming emotions sincerely persuaded him that he was stating the truth both times, even though Statement A and Statement B flatly contradicted one another. Since muddle-headedness is to atheism as fleas are to dogs, this strikes me as being the most probable explanation, in addition to being the most charitable one.

    Let me conclude by repeating, and amplifying, a quote which I have already offered: Evelyn Waugh’s solemn 1930 admonition against alleged fellow-travellers with the devout: “Civilization — and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe — has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. . . . It is no longer possible, as it was in the time of Gibbon, to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis on which it rests.

    R. J. Stove, Melbourne

  19. Hello Bill,
    I emailed your article “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage” from one of your other posts to about five atheist left-leaning newspaper journalists. I have so far received two replies.
    Their replies are just as you would expect.
    Peter Fitzsimons from the Sydney Morning Herald replied:

    From: Peter FitzSimons
    To: Paul de la Garde
    Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2012 3:31 PM
    Subject: Re: The Same-Sex Marriage Debate
    You are kidding.
    Read what you have sent me again!
    This is not an “argument” against anything.
    It is bigotry dressed up as an argument.
    Quoting unsourced people who say we want to destroy all marriage is NOT an argument!

    Sarrah Le Marquand from the Daily Telegraph replied:

    From: Le Marquand, Sarrah
    To: Paul de la Garde
    Sent: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 2:38 PM
    Subject: Re: The Same-Sex Marriage Debate

    “Hi Paul
    Thanks for your email. I agree with you that automatically labelling anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot or homophobic is unfair and unhelpful. But beyond that I am afraid we shall have to agree to disagree on this issue.

    Best wishes, Sarrah”

    I will let you know what the others have to say.
    These champions of same-sex marriage are hard to convince otherwise – just as you point out so often.
    God bless,
    Paul de la Garde, Sydney

  20. Matt, Islam says it accepts Jesus as a prophet, but if you ask them if a prophet would still hold the position of a prophet when he has been found to lie, as they would say Jesus did when he talked about His divinity, they may have to rethink their position.
    Bill, if Christians would do the things you describe, fly airplanes into buildings etc, they would just be justified in their opinions that Christians are screwed, maybe would even kill a few in retaliation, but beyond that, I think, they would be happy in finally having the world to themselves without anyone to bother them about their eternal destiny and the righteousness of God. No, I believe that conflict goes deeper than that to the core of a human being’s willingness to surrender to their God, their maker and redeemer.
    I am currently reading “Was Christ born in Bethlehem” by William Ramsey, not terribly easy going to me as a lay person, but very clearly proving that Luke can be trusted as a historian after his writings have undergone very rigorous scrutiny.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  21. Very disappointing by Andrew Bolt whom I have always had a high regard for. Yes the bible has inconsistencies, not errors.
    But The Age and Herald Sun have inconsistencies, not necessarily errors.
    Peter Ghalayini

  22. Thanks Peter.

    But did you not mean to say this?:

    ‘But The Age and Herald Sun have errors, not necessarily inconsistencies.’

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  23. Hi Bill,
    I just read through some of your articles and comments. I was struck by your comment about the 3 phases in the quest for the historical Jesus and that the first phase people tended to reconstruct Jesus after their own image. One of G K Chesterton’s witty comments came to my mind: “By their ‘Historical Jesus’ you will know them”. This comment would have referred to the first of the three phases.
    May God bless you Bill.

    Joost Gemeren

  24. I was quite encouraged by Bolt’s post.

    He sounds like a man drawn to investigate the claims of Christianity, but hoping with all his heart he can find something (anything!) to prove it isn’t true.

    This is a very dangerous place for an atheist. As C.S. Lewis said “Dangers lie in wait for him on every side”. Even more so for someone like Bolt who in the past has been prepared to follow the evidence where it leads and changed to fit the facts.

    Mansel Rogerson

  25. I too, was disappointed to read the article by Andrew Bolt. I did respond to him in his blog, and was pleased to find (up to that point at any rate) that no one had abused him for his views. Many Christians did try to explain that the two accounts in Genesis were from different perspectives, but all were respectful and were not ‘ranting’ against Andrew Bolt or anyone else. Personally, I find it encouraging that he is reading books and articles about Christianity, and feel that he is attempting to pursue truth. We should encourage him in his pursuit.
    Joan Davidson

  26. Thanks Mansel and Joan, Yes I hope you are right. But of course the real test as to whether he really is on a genuine quest for truth here will be if he actually starts reading some decent books on these issues, and not just the silliness of people life Fox. If he reads only those sorts of books then it is clear he is only interested in debunking Christianity, not actually learning about it.

    But we need to keep praying for him nonetheless.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  27. I note Bill that you recommend books to be purchased from Amazon. Why not recommend that they be bought from who are a Christian distributor in the USA and very competitively priced.

    Roger Marks

  28. In the world of abortion I often hear that something can’t be trusted because it’s pro-life propaganda or pro-abortion propaganda.
    Seeking the truth means reading material on both sides of the debate. After a while you can work out who consistently lies and who consistently tells the truth but you will never find the truth about an issue if you dismiss everything written by the other side as lies out of hand. I hope Bolt will be willing to seek the truth rather than just read books by people who agree with him.
    Kylie Anderson

  29. I just finished reading Bolts article. He states that he didn’t know before reading Fox’s book about the apparent contradiction in Genesis. From this I surmise he had never, and perhaps still has not, read Genesis 1 & 2 for himself. Perhaps before he critiques the Bible he should actually open it.
    Quite frankly the Bible contains lots of things that I wouldn’t have put in it. The man after God’s own heart who commits adultery and then murder to cover it up. The women who discover the empty tomb instead of a respectable man. If I was righting a religious text I wouldn’t put in people’s failings, I wouldn’t use witnesses with credibility issues. Rather than discrediting the Bible these things point to a divine author rather than fallible man as the writer.
    Kylie Anderson

  30. Of course the fact that the Christians commenting on Bolt’s piece can’t agree on Genesis 1 & 2 either doesn’t help matters.
    Kylie Anderson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *