There’s a hip new infographic to visualise 439 Bible contradictions. It’s a visual rendition of Project Reason’s Scripture Project, which is a Web 2.0 reincarnation of Steve Wells’s Skeptics Annotated Bible.
I notice that (1) Project Reason exists for spreading scientific knowledge and that (2) the Scripture Project is supposed to be ‘the best source for scriptural criticism on the Internet’. Do I smell a contradiction? Since when is science a useful basis for understanding texts?
The Scripture Project isn’t atheism versus the Bible so much as atheism versus the humanities. Language and literature is less like maths and physics, and more like painting. Yet the Scripture Project betrays a lack of thinking outside the orbit of the hard sciences, if not a complete disdain for it.
Take Proverbs 26:4-5, in which two opposing statements are placed side by side. Should I answer a fool? No. Yes. Behold, a contradiction!
The Scripture Project is like using Haese and Harris to interpret The Lord of the Rings. I could only chuckle at Doug Wilson’s suggestion that Project Reason be renamed Project Literacy. By privileging science over other domains of thought, the Scripture Project has suddenly turned the art of reading into a dense and distasteful cryptography.
The humanities — history, classics, literature, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, languages, and so on — are the first port of call for understanding texts, not least ancient texts. These are of course familiar domains of thought to Christians, a people of book and story (my current program of study broadly incorporates all of them).
What I’m saying, friend atheist, is that when you ask me explain some of those Bible contradictions, I’m not likely to launch into some obtuse, mystical claptrap. I’m going to invite you to consider how texts and stories work. I may well start by turning your attention to the texts and stories of our own culture: movies, novels, video games, music videos, and so on. The secrets of the Bible lie therein! Maybe, if things are particularly dire, I’ll recommend an undergraduate English major. And, by the way, I won’t try to convert you. I’ll simply attempt to demonstrate that ancient people thought differently to us.
As long as we privilege the hard sciences over the humanities, ancient texts will remain incomprehensible, along with the religions that spring from them.
Now, it sounds like Project Reason doesn’t mean to be anti humanities. Indeed, its own charter, ‘to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world’, hopefully leaves us treating the Bible with thoughtful, critical consideration rather than unimaginative disdain.
But the Scripture Project’s blithe self-evidences hang in a fog of implicit value judgements. There’s a certain xenophobia here: unlike the ancients, who were slobberingly stupid, we moderns know best. The ancients who penned that Proverbs 26:4-5 contradiction — ridiculous! — must just have been too dumb to pick it up.
This is sheer obscurantism. Is there any desire to question what seems obvious to us, to consider other perspectives? This supposedly critical approach to the Bible is anti history, anti literature, and anti culture. It is an astonishing collapsing of horizons, an appalling myopia, shrinking the world down to the reach of my own two arms.
As it happens, there’s not much science to the Scripture Project either. It provides no definition of what makes a Bible contradiction, no working means of deducing a Bible contradiction, nothing to approximate even the most rudimentary scientific method. This doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for the Scripture Project’s wiki community. Sure, it’s a work in progress, but what’s the rationale? The best source for scriptural criticism on the Internet? Really?
Actually, there’s already plenty of good Bible criticism around, and it’s serious business. I mean ‘criticism’ in the robust, academic sense: not the banal, easy act of disapproving and dismissing, but the careful scholarly work of analysing, evaluating, and interpreting, as can be found in Novum Testamentum and the like. This criticism is dedicated to understanding the biblical texts and the ancient cultures that produced them — without an a priori commitment to their obsolescence.
This, in fact, was closer to the approach of Chris Harrison, the original inspiration for the Project Reason infographic. He had the far more useful idea: to work with the Bible on its own terms instead of making it dance to our own xenophobia.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.