The Bible Is A Mediocre Book
By David Metcalfe
The Needles of Advanced Thought
Whenever I enter a bookstore, it is kind of like a treasure hunt; sometimes, even like finding a needle in a hay stack. Walking in initially, I see a variety of pandering, thoughtless collections: self help books, business advice, fiction…that is all hay. I find the good sections: philosophy, community and culture, history, etc. There is still a lot of hay. Eventually, I find books that are worth my time and intellectual investment.
Often, I can get the entire concept of the book just by reading the introduction. To actually read it would be to get more content, but the mere acquisition of content is a foolish endeavor, unless necessary for the development of concept.
The relationship between content and concept is like designing and flying a plane. If the design is bad, the plane will not be able to fly effectively and will crash. If the design is good, and the plane is ready to take off, it would be a waste of time to devote thousands of more hours to tweaking the design. Just let it fly, and tweak it if there are any problems that come about.
This is used in the physical sciences, of course. Charles Darwin takes a certain amount of time to acquire content on the Galapagos Islands before taking flight with the concept of evolution. Copernicus acquires a certain amount of content on planetary movement before taking flight with the concept of the heliocentric universe. Robert Boyle acquires a certain amount of content from looking at gases before taking flight with “Boyle’s Law”…the list goes on. And, of course, if their content was wrong, the theories that would have come from them would also be wrong. In other words, the plane’s design needs to be good.
This process is called “inductive reasoning”, and is the process by which we create larger ideas from information we access. We do this in every discipline. We work to acquire as much information as we can on a particular subject, and then create a theory to explain it and make future predictions. As new information comes about, we incorporate it into our theory, and if the theory is no longer consistent with the information, we alter the theory, or scrap it completely.
For the ancient Greeks, philosophy and science were essentially new endeavors. In this sense, we might say they were the “Wright Brothers” of pioneering concept from content. They designed a plane from scratch, and sent it into flight. It crashed sometimes, and other times, flew, but had problems. But their impact was incredible, nevertheless.
In today’s world, concepts are often indistinguishable from content. Teachers tell their students a certain theory, and the students get a check mark on their exam if they successfully regurgitate that information. They did not find content and create a concept. They were merely told a concept as if it were content. This is a process I call “thought surrogacy” in which we allow the thinking processes of others to become our own conclusions. This is a type of content acquisition for those who lack the desire or ability to fully develop concepts on their own. If each one of us had to re-create every scientific experiment and organically think of every philosophy, progress would be severely limited. “Thought surrogacy” is therefore necessary, but should be practiced in a very specific way if it is to arrive at the best measure of truth.
When we choose to accept a conclusion, there is a certain degree of trust we are putting into the methodology by which it was obtained. The best knowledge is that which has the least amount of trust and the most amount of accessible content. We can then test our own content and rational thought process against those that have come about from others, and eventually arrive at the best one. This is what is meant by “individual, free thought”. It is not the entire knowledge process being put on one person, but rather one person taking all of the conclusions from others critically and comparatively.
To get back to the bookstore, that is what I’m doing. I’m using “thought surrogacy” to access the thought processes that took others years to accomplish, and I’m getting them right away. However, I need to view them critically and comparatively, which is why I need to think through every sentence and constantly compare it with other things I have read from others, thought for myself, and learned from experience. If a book cannot provide that process for me, it is useless. That’s why I walk past them without a second glance.
But then there are some books that there is no criticism or comparison for, or at least it would take an excessive amount of intelligence and knowledge and even then would only scratch the surface, leaving the primary content of the book unscathed. Who can truly criticize a thoughtful masterpiece like Walden? What can you compare with Shakespeare? How can you say your life experiences conflict with the dialogues of Socrates? Can anyone explain a better political philosophy than Thomas Paine?
And these were all written by people. The Bible, on the other hand, is supposed to be the “word of God”.
God’s Thoughtless Surrogacy
It’s a high standard. In fact, it’s the highest possible standard. And yet, God somehow displays less intelligence, depth, beauty, and understanding than these human authors. There is nothing about the Bible that makes it spectacular. It’s exactly what we would expect from an ancient group of people. There is a creation myth that contradicts modern science, the description of the earth is in accordance with flat earth, geocentric conceptions, the morality presented in the Old Testament is barbaric and authoritarian, and progresses substantially in the New Testament (coincidentally after the Greeks came up with ideas about virtue and love).
The writings in Proverbs carry some wisdom, but nothing that a human couldn’t come up with. The writings of Paul display the capabilities of someone who was learned in Jewish law and had influences from Stoics and Epicureans.
And look at the people who follow it. Many people have studied the Bible and come up with very stupid ideas about life. You’d think that God would write in such a way as to develop intelligence and good will among those who honestly read it. But the Bible is only as wise as the one who reads it, and their wisdom is not borne of the Bible, but auxiliary to it. Wise men are made from the writings of more enlightened thinkers, and appeals to their own sense of good will. They sometimes falsely conflate this with the Bible.
Even if the Bible is a good book, I’ll even grant it a very good book, it would have to be absolutely spectacular to actually be the word of God. An all-knowing, all-powerful being does not write a slightly above average book. And the fact that the Bible needs to be argued for at all is evidence of its lack of divinity. You don’t need to work at selling a great product; a great product sells itself.
Moreover, we find equally good writing in other texts claimed to be “of God”. The Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and other religious writings all contain wisdom in them, and stories of ancient people to draw life lessons from. They all have a creation myth, and none of them show any signs of spectacular content that would deem them “divine”. The most interesting thing about reading religious texts is to marvel at how any thinking person could possibly believe them to be divine.
If God actually wrote a book, it would be obvious. It would be vastly superior to anything a human could possibly write, and all people would marvel at its contents. If that book is out there, I have not found it, because in my opinion, the Bible is a mediocre book.
3 thoughts on “The Bible Is A Mediocre Book”
I don’t know of any other collection of books (The Bible) that expands so far in history, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to be called mediocre. That to me is a spectacular statement because there is nothing else that could be written to escape mediocrity if that is the standard. I haven’t read the books you have included as your case studies, but if they are so great, why haven’t they invalidated the Bible?
You are missing the point when you are going to the physical sciences to use inductive reasoning to conclude principles (Or making a huge generalization). It’s scientific discovery that takes tools to discover what there is to bring us to our scientific principles we know today. It’s usually systematically built upon reason. We can take what the Bible says about tools of understanding, like the 3-tiered universe, and easily dismiss it because it is no longer our way of knowing. Knowing the 3-tiered universe however allows us to interpret the Bible more fully (Unless if that Hermeneutic is a sham, I would love to know). Copernicus thought that the sun made the heavenly sphere spin, instead of the Earth, apart was because of the idea of the 3-tiered universe. Classical Physics as defined by Newton all breaks down as we approach the speed of light but yet we still teach Classical Physics because it is the best explanation we have for our present experience. We model our velocity in our car off Classical Physics.
Your comments on education are valid in that we take scientific theories and present it as fact to children. There are reasons for this, and that can be that the teacher themselves do not understand what they are teaching. Something as simple as velocity/time for velocity is always deemed true in all situations (Which would be spectacularly wrong). Another reason is developmental, abstract concepts are hard for anyone under 21 to grasp, so as a teacher teaching 40+ students it can easily be a battle that is not worth taking at the high school level when students are learning Classical Physics. The responsible action for the teacher would be to imply that there is a mystery and that the thought goes deeper than any brilliant mind can come to comprehend. I can branch off to countless different fields in my studies in physics and be an utter fool to say I can know them all. Math, for example, has been a stationary tool for hundreds of years due and can be reliably taught to great accuracy due to the refinement of time (ignoring the great problem in math education today).
I have yet to see the refinement of time come to disregard the Bible (We probably understand the Bible better than we ever have now because of that refinement). For that reason alone I would say that the Bible is an interesting book. Anyways, I would love to hear your thoughts.
I wouldn’t say the Bible contains spectacular history. Just a random tribe of ancient people and some of it is verified by secular sources and some not. It is an ok history book, but not exactly something to rely on for factual content. The examples of books I used are not ones that oppose the Bible, but are just books that are better written. More thoughtful and contain greater depth and understanding of many subjects.
There are two types of content acquisition in inductive reasoning: empirical and reasoned. Science works off empirical data to come to approximate conclusions for how things ought to work. It is definitely a type of inductive reasoning, and one that is easy to understand for people who haven’t heard the idea yet.
Yeah, modern education is good but in high school the students don’t really get the opportunity to do much thinking. That’s basically reserved for university, which is fine, because someone who just wants to get their high school diploma to work as a mechanic doesn’t need to be considering the existence of reality, or whatever.
I think the Bible’s main point of historical interest is the fact that it dominated society for thousands of years, and still has significant influence to this day (not so much the content itself). It is impossible to understand history and philosophy without knowing the Bible, which is why I think it is great for people to read it. But many people read it very poorly, and come up with terrible ideas. I like to get people thinking more about what the Bible is and what’s important about it.
Ah, I see the point you are trying to make! For any book to address life’s big questions is of significance. I was going to comment about-about the cosmic history that the Bible addresses but I guess that is invalid with your last blog post. I was also going to address the change in the multiple mediums that the Bible communicates; like poetry, essay, letter, etc. I am also hyper-sensitive to the talk and representation of science and yes if you are aiming for beginning learners you have done well. I would like to believe that misgivings about the Bible come from lazy interpretation, not that people are willingly misinterpreting it.