Sunday, January 28, 2007

Local lad makes good

Greatness has been thrust upon me. I have been attacked by Ian Wishart in the pages of his illustrious magazine, Investigate.

Not so long ago, I got into a fight with Ian on his blog about whether Bethlehem and Nazareth existed at the time Ian's Redeemer was supposedly born in the one town and supposedly lived in the other. For me, this a relatively trivial matter. I will not fall on my knees if I am proven wrong; I doubt that any archaeological or historical evidence is likely to prove that this man was indeed the son of God, even if it were to show that such a man lived. The numerous contradictions, inconsistencies and inaccuracies of the books of the Bible are a matter of interest but are not the basis of my faithlessness.

For Ian, on the other hand, matters like this are crucial. The Bible is the inerrant word of God and so all the evidence available must support its claims. Never mind that the Gospels contain several different accounts which contradict one another (how many angels were in the tomb; how many women saw the resurrected Christ; and who were all those Marys?) Never mind that there is not a shred of evidence to support the story of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt, which we were taught so often in Scripture classes as an historic fact. Never mind that the Crucifixion was marked by the dead rising from their graves and roaming the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53), yet no-one who was around at this time thought it necessary to record the event. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as all good fundies are taught in their Apologetics classes. As for the apparent inconsistencies, they are merely the fault of the reader who has not studied the Scriptures with sufficient scholarship; the reader who, unlike Ian, does not have "something in the region of 150 mostly-hardbound books in Christianity and religion" in his "personal library."

I grew tired of my spat with Ian quite soon after I had started it. Biblical Archaeology is not my subject and I have no wish to write one of those dismal Atheist tracts that claim to refute the entire Christian faith on the grounds that the Bible is not quite a work of history. It really doesn't matter to me. The argument took a turn onto more favourable ground when Ian claimed that Immanuel Kant was an agnostic but I soon realised that no amount of quotations from the Critique of Practical Reason would change his mind on that point. So I left the arena.

Lo (and behold) Ian is still fighting this battle. In the February edition, Ian has written a piece called Atheism for Dummies. And it is all about me. Well, its all about my opinions on the Bethlehem-Nazareth matter, Immanuel Kant having been forgotten. Ian concludes that Atheists like me have not read the right books and come to the right opinions:
What saddens me however is that most of my non-believing critics have probably never actually read a 1000 page systematic theology text or gone through analyses of the so-called "discrepancies" in the Bible to work out whether they really exist or not. Nor have they checked the ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words the Bible was written in and understood the many variances and permutations of words used.
As I said, it is not that important to me. I shall not be spending my Summer learning Hebrew and Aramaic. I have learned enough of the Bible's history to know that it was put together by committees, centuries after the events it describes were supposed to have occurred, from sources that contradicted one another and which could hardly be described as reliable.

Even if it were all true, if all the literature fitted all the history seamlessly, that would not make me a Believer. Admittedly, I would give pause for thought if a first-hand account of the zombies in Jerusalem came to light but I think that unlikely. I know enough about History to realise that it is a modern invention, dating from the 18th Century, as does most of the modern world. Before then, most accounts of events were written to persuade, not to describe (you could also say that about a lot of modern works that claim to be History, but that is another story). Writers in the First Century did not think historically; they didn't sift evidence and try build an argument from facts. They wrote stories.

The difference between fact and fiction which we post-Enlightenment types value is not a feature of the ancient world. Even the Roman Historians (who are about the closest to reliable sources we can find) were writing propaganda for the Emperors who were their patrons. They would not have let an inconvenient truth get in the way of the story. The writers of the Gospels were less disinterested still: they had no access to historical documents and no concern with them. They weaved stories from what they had heard or read elsewhere.

I could go on, but it is hardly worth it. Believers like Ian want to convince others that their faith has grounds in fact, that it is reasonable in the same way that a belief in the sun rising tomorrow is reasonable (despite David Hume's arguments to the contrary). I don't think that Faith with a capital F works like that. Its beliefs are in the supernatural and cannot be correlated with the facts of the world around us. As Gibbon observed, God in His wisdom decided to stop producing miracles a long time back. Since then, He has not done much to help his adherents prove their arguments.

I won't go on for another reason: I have another fish to fry. In giving me some free publicity and potentially a new readership of soy milk-abstainers, Ian refers to the Fundy Post as an online journal for fundamentalist atheists. I am sorry, but did I miss something? What in heaven or on earth is a fundamentalist atheist? I don't know about you, but the only thing fundamental about my atheism is that I do not believe in a supreme being. Neither do I believe in ghouls and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, but that is beside the point. I don't disbelieve in one God, maker of heaven and earth. I don't specifically deny the existence of Ian's God or of any other. What makes me an atheist is not disbelief but an absence of belief.

My atheism is of the 'now leave me alone' variety. I have as much difficulty explaining this to some Humanists as I do to believers. I am not interested in the elaborate arguments constructed by some atheist philosophers to disprove the existence of God (who for some reason is almost always the Christian God with a capital G, rather than any other kind of lower-case god). I don't think they prove anything beyond the bleeding obvious, that God defies logic. Any Jesuit could have told you that.

I do not have an alternative belief system to offer in place of a religious belief. Please do not ask me for a reading list. I have no shortage of opinions and preferences about all manner of things but I have no answers to the Big Questions, for the simple reason that I do not think they make sense.

I am also uninterested in making converts. I have several friends who are Christian (although their Christianity is very different from Ian's) and I am not going to insult them by trying to prove them wrong. Their Christian beliefs are very important to them and don't seem to have done them any harm. They have beliefs I do not share; but so what? We have more in common than we have differences, which is why we are friends. It doesn't bother me that other people hold religious beliefs. They can and they will.

Finally, in case we should meet and you have a religious belief you want to share, I am not interested in lengthy arguments about said belief; I find them tedious. It's not about you. It's just that I like arguments to have sound premises and conclusions. I do not think arguments for religious belief are well-formed. If that sounds harsh, I don't think they should. Faith is not the same as other forms of belief. If it is any consolation, I do not think that arguments against religious beliefs are particularly enlightening either. It still bewilders me, after many years of such arguments, why so many believers and non-believers alike assume that God must be good. I also think Metaphysics is a load of tosh, but that is another story.

All this might come as a disappointment to Ian, who holds that Atheism is a faith-based belief system. If he were to read the Fundy Post, he might just realise that it is not about Atheism as such, or any belief system. I write it because I don't like people who use their religious beliefs to stick it to others who live according to their own precepts. I don't like small-minded authoritarians, religious or otherwise, who demand that everyone think the same was as they do. I don't like bigots who disguise their prejudice as theology. The Fundy Post is not about religion. It is about religious politics.


Swimming said...

Hey Paul, what kind of an athiest are you?

An atheist is someone who disbelieves in God - or gods. You don't disbelieve as such, you have an absence of belief.

An absence of belief in god or God means that nothing certain can be known, due to that absence of belief.

Sounds very agnostic to me..

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of an Advocate toon from the eighties-
Psychiatrist to world: So, when did you get this feeling that you had to dress up as god and oppress people?

Craig Y

Anonymous said...

"Atheism for Dummies" was a brilliant title for this column under the well-named "Hard Questions".

(a) It takes one to know one as they say. i.e. This is the article written by a dummy for gullible dummies.

(b) When you ask a dummy a "hard question", you would not expect to get a sensible answer would you? In the case of Investigate, I have yet to see one example.


Richard Dawkins in his current best seller "The God Delusion" believes the alleged birth in Bethlehem was fabricated .. to match Old Testament prophesy. I have believed that for years too. Wishart continues to use the Bible to prove the Bible, in other words.

In his article, Ian Wishart challenges Dawkins' credentials to be in the debate as a mere zoologist. For the benefit of Wishart - Zoology as a discipline is built upon the foundations of the process of evolution! Who better to examine the claims of fundamentalist Christians than someone who understands the evolution argument as well as Dawkins?

On the other hand, Ian Wishart is by trade a journalist from what I can make out. He is the one who lacks the intellectual rigour and the formal academic credentials.

Like you Paul, I would have no interest in reading 150 1,000 page tomes about Christianity and religion - not unless I proposed to launch a publication like "Investigate" and become an advocate for its readership, advertisers and investors.

Also remember what is said on the Bible about excess learning?? Ha ha. The point here is that if the need to flatter God is not apparent by means more convenient than becoming a bookish monk - surely your own position is the one to take. i.e. ABSENCE OF BELIEF!

Wishart bemoans the gullibility of those with a government-approved education. I shudder to think what a Wishart-approved education would be like! The state education system has evolved for about 150 years now, incorporating threads from all the various authorities. Wishart's lack of respect for all those inputs is deplorable.

Great forum Paul .. was told about it over hols and great to contribute.


Paul said...


An atheist is someone who disbelieves in God - or gods. You don't disbelieve as such, you have an absence of belief.

I like the definition of Atheism at

1.According to many Atheists: having no belief about a deity.

2.According to most non-Atheists, actively denying that a deity exists.

An absence of belief in god or God means that nothing certain can be known, due to that absence of belief.

I don't see how that conclusion could follow from that premise. How does absence of belief entail uncertainty?

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkins thinks that being an agnostic is a cop-out - that the place to be is atheist.

Where you have an "absence of belief", in my mind you could be considered either atheist or agnostic. The atheist disbelieves, the agnostic considers the subject important to say God may exist but so what. This is another category that does not even acknowledge the question!

The line between religious and agnostic is also a bit vague. For example, Bishop Randerson has said he could be defined as agnostic because he is unable to define God.

Anonymous said...

"something in the region of 150 mostly-hardbound books in Christianity and religion"

Whooppe for Ian. My best mate has a copy of bullfinch's mythology, its hard back, and its heavier than the bible...


Swimming said...

easy paul. Agnosticism 101.

Let me give you an example

If I catch a train and it is timetabled for 7:30am but I dont have a belief that it will arrive on time. Therefore I have an absence of belief. Consequently I dont have certainty that the train will arive as timetabled.

Therefore my absence of belief entails uncertainty. How could it not?

Anonymous said...

NO Dave..

the point is that you believe there is a train!

if you saw a railway station and thought there was a chance of a train .. agnostic

If you were not aware of a rail system at all .. well that is the tricky one.

Paul said...

Dave, its is not that you have an absence of belief in the train arriving on time; you disbelieve the information on the timetable. I have an absence of belief in any supreme being. I do not think questions about supreme beings make sense in the terms of language philosophy. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can understand your frustrating at arguing religion. For believers, it is a matter of (after) life & death, whereas for the rest of us, well who knows. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

There's a bit in the intro to Dawkins' book where he says something along the lines of why waste time being an atheist? It is a matter of a few minutes thought to dismiss religion & god as unlikely & unprovable (I admit I read it in Dymock's so I can't remember exactly). I guess that's why they call it faith.

As the song goes:

Anonymous said...

All this splitting of hairs over the difference between atheism and agnosicism (and the various subcategories of each which apparently exist) would give me a headache if I didn't have one already.

I have been told that I'm an atheist, a strong agnostic, a weak agnostic, a determinist, an indeterminist, and many more besides. I've been told that I'm actually religious, even though I don't know it, by virtue of the fact that I have a "world view" - whatever that might be. I, too, have been accused of being a fundamentalist, as if I subscribe literally to some manual for atheism.

The people who tell me these things seem to thing that if they can make me fit neatly into some predefined category, that this will have some bearing on what I do or should believe. They are wrong. I, like Paul, don't believe in any god of any kind. I don't believe in ghosts or Cthulhu or superheroes either. That is what I believe and no amount of labelling and categorisation will change that. My beliefs are no more or less a part of who I am than my favourite food or sexual preferences. It seems, however, that to people whose religion defines who they are and how they should behave from start to finish find the idea of not really having such guiding principles quite foreign and confusing, and therefore are compelled to stick a label on me - a label which fits with their own knowledge and prejudices. Because once you give something a label, you don't have to think about it any more.

Anonymous said...

I hesitated before writing this because there nothing more tedious, outside of Ian's hardback ruminations on angelic ballet, than the athiesm vs agnostic business.

For my two cents the terms refer to different things. Atheism describes ones postion with regard to the theism hypothesis. If you are not a theist, you are an atheist. Simple as that.

Agnosticism answers 'no' to the different question 'Can we know that God exists?'

Most agnostics are also atheists, in that they do not accept the theist hypothesis 'god(s) exist(s)'.

A theist who believes in God on faith, (rather than making any claims about knowledge), would also be agnostic.

Anonymous said...

Well done that man! Wishart tries vainly to drum up an argument so he has something to publish. I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch where a man pays for, but fails to get, an argument. It was funny (in the 70's) but this is not. As a wise person once noted: 'arguing on the internet is like competing in the Special Olympics - even if you win, you're still retarded'

Anonymous said...

Yes Wishart is always trying vainly to drum up an argument so he has something to publish.

Taking one step further, he needs something to publish so that he has something to SELL!!

Also he has ADVERTISERS to impress!!

It is obvious that being the only wholehearted anti Government glossy in the market place will attract two categories of magazine buyers and advertisers

(a) Fundamentalist Christian
(b) The greedy wealthy

I suppose it is financial rewarding to turn out such horrible journalism.

Maybe its the atheists and agnostics that also provide Wishart with lots of income. I don't know about you, but I find some of the writing so hilarious it moves me to tears!

So it does fill a genuine entertainment niche as well, even though it is the nasty tone of the rag that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Just like the medicine you take, this is formula writing and formula interviewing - and as with Dan Brown, formula writing gets monotonous after a while. Recommended in small doses.

NZ Party Babe

Anonymous said...


We interrupt this broadcast with the news that Bruce Logan is back!

Muriel Newman's NZCPD site - I guess Bruce and ACT are logical bedfellows these days.

Reminds you of a nostalgia Act if you forgive the pun

Anonymous said...

Hell, they've been metaphorically in bed together since Moo invited Bruce to talk about "welfare dependency" on a forum when she was still an ACT List MP back in 1999.

See my Gaynz.Com article "Bruce Logan- Do We Need Him?" for more details.

Craig Y.

Anonymous said...

Brucie's still being published in the ODT, and he had a truly craptacular letter in The Press just before christmas repeating CS Lewis' silly arguement that JC could only have been either mad, bad, or god; therefore god.

He couldn't bring hisself to credit Lewis though, only saying that it was an arguement used by thinkers and theologians. I guess researchin, like presidentin, is haaaard.

Anonymous said...

Pascal's Bookie .. come right on out and say it. No! You are not accusing Bruce Logan of Plagiarism are you?

Come to think of it, how would Bruce survive if he had to rely on his own thoughts and values only?

Anonymous said...

If that were the case anon., his articles would be very very brief...


Lyndon said...

I do not think questions about supreme beings make sense in the terms of language philosophy.

What about "What If God Was One Of Us?"

Anonymous said...

I dont believe in god/gods because I have never found good evidence for it/their existence (and I've looked - Ian W has a whole 150 hardback books? Ptui! I have over 1000 (but not, I happily acknowledge,all hardcore christianity.)) And I've practised stuff before understanding it was *in* my head, not *outside* of mind...and let's not go into that false dichotomy good folk-

If that's atheism - fine. If it's not - fine.

Wishart is a print bully and a willing conspiracy theorist and will do a lot to increase his tiny & failing magazine's sales. My suggestion: dont give him any more oxygen. Let both entities suffocate-

Anonymous said...

I like to read the bible - it is fantastic literature. I don't read it from a need to bolster my religiosity (?is there such a word?). Once when reading said book I was struck by a phrase that goes 'Be still & know that I am God'. If you repeat that to yourself 1000 times a day you will come to believe that you are indeed a god (if not GOD!). I think I will found a religion/cult/tax free charity on this very principle. Move over L. Ron Hubbard there's a new messiah in town!


Anonymous said...

Is this good news week or what? Someone says that Ian Wishart is facing falling sales? Magnificent?

Does anybody know whether he has third party funding - you know, the kind of funding that got Don Brash where he got?

Don't be too harsh on Ian Wishart. It could be he does not believe a word he says. Commercially, he has found a segment of the market with needs, and as a professional journalist, he has endeavoured to meet those needs. Hard working journalism can be confused with crusading journalism.

Paul said...

Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show that in the 12 months to 30th June 2006, sales of Investigate fell by 3.94%.

Anonymous said...

Well well - after all that publicity (courteously provided by other media) and self-promotion.

Did the total market for magazines also fall by a similar percentage?

Why is the price so high, for a magazine promoting fundamentalist Christianity and right wing politics. I recall that Garner Ted Armstrong's magazine "Plain Truth" was available in the post free of charge.

Garner Ted still rates as a fave fundy. Read all about him:

Magazines from Anglican Church, Roman Catholic Church are available for about $3 - and they have fallen on hard times at times.

Jehovah's Witnesses will provide Watchtower free of charge. How good is that for value for money.

Could it be that Investigate may be pricing itself off the market?


Anonymous said...

I see a reference to Investigate Magazine at the bottom of this article:

The sentence in question is this:

"The commission also rejected similar allegations made by Investigate magazine about the legality of union electioneering material for the Labour Party."

Ian Wishart questions in his new book how things may have slipped since World War 2. Yet he also wants to question the right of Unions to represent the wishes of their members, after generations of being slammed by National Party and others of the right.

The Unions basically founded the Labour Party and have always formed a visible part of their grass roots. There leadership is elected as part of our country's extended democracy. They are not invisible trusts or Maxim/Exclusive Brethrens with hidden agendas! They certainly don't have the funds of the greedy.

Come to think of it, who (apart from Investigate) are the people that have sought to cripple trade union movements around the world? I thought that they tended to be dictatorial regimes of the left and right.

Yes the previous participant in this was right. Has the thinking of Investigate progressed from the excesses of fascism surrounding the world wars and other nationalistic extremism of last century? If we took notice of Investigate, we could soon be back in the Middle Ages ..

marcel said...

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a bientot said...

I wonder how many books on skepticism are in Ian's comprehensive library.

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