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.