Why doesn’t the bible give better advice and information?

February 21, 2012 | By | 16 Replies More

Why doesn’t the Bible give better information and advice? Many people reading this might think, “What do you mean? The Bible is perfect.”  This post is not directed to people of this sort, because nothing I could say would matter to them.

To everyone else the Bible is lacking in many ways, including its failure to condemn slavery, its failure to speak out on behalf of women’s rights, and hundreds of other contradictions and inaccuracies. For instance, the Bible calculates pi incorrectly, based on this passage from 1 Kings

7:23 And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

Nope.  Sorry, but pi is not exactly 3.  If an omniscient being had actually written the Bible, a circular structure’s circumference would not have been described as exactly three times its diameter.

Everything written above is context for introducing Adam Lee’s most recent post at Daylight Atheism at Big Think. To a hypothetical outsider (a Martian anthropologist, for example) the Bible is a very strange candidate for the alleged “greatest book in the world” based on its many stories starring a warmongering god and by the absence of advice based on accurate science, math and empathy. Adam offers many examples of the types of advice that one should have found in the Bible had it been authored by a perfect god, including the following:

“I freed you from captivity in Egypt because I hate slavery. Do not hold your fellow human beings in bondage or buy and sell them as if they were property.”

and

“Mars and Venus are worlds of their own, worlds like the Earth is, and all of them travel in a great circuit around the sun. The moon is a smaller world that travels in a circuit around the Earth.”

Check out Adam’s article for many more examples.

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Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (16)

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  1. Short answer: because it’s a human set of books from an era in which they didn’t know these things. It isn’t perfect: far from it. But the real art is learning to appreciate its truths without embracing its errors.

  2. Karl says:

    There are no decimal values anywhere in the Bible, what a bunch of idiots they must have been! It would have been very beneficial if God had told people about irrational numbers back in the day! Can you imagine the degree of arguments that would have cropped up by saying technically no one is right when they round off PI to any number of places!

    Fractions in the Bible are mainly associated with divisions of the people and of property, and also with sacrificial offerings. Distance measurements are expressed to the nearest whole number in the Bible, so was the ratio of PI as expressed in the Bible.

    I like to think that God allowed PI to be truncated at three to show that people would never be able to exactly put into a finite listing the exact value of such an irrational number. Even today we chose how precise we wish to be when we calculate using this ratio.

    The common fractions used in the Bible and in common usage at the time were 1/2, 1/3, 1/5, 1/7 and 1/10 so that 3 and a tenth could have been closer and chosen if they had ever recorded any distance measurements using fractions to such a degree of precision. But as far as I know we never see a fractional length measurement anywhere in the Biblical records.

    They had enough discrepancy in the span, foot, cubit, pace and even a day’s journey to keep them debating around the clock who actually had measured anything to anyone else’s satisfaction.

    3.14 rounded to a whole value of 3 does not mean God was a failure. Many things recorded by people were limited to the common language and understandings of the day.

    What 3.14 being rounded to 3 means is that customary use of language was not precise enough for modern standards of today. Why do we round it off to any place value? Anyone that says PI equals 3.14 is wrong as well.

    Let’s be more precise and don’t stop at 3.14! Stopping anywhere technically makes you a liar if you want to hold someone else accountable for not saying that have chosen an approximation at some degree of precision for this numeric ratio

  3. Karl says:

    Slavery has such a contextual meaning to specific cultures that one fails to see it one one’s own culture, or in one’s own time.

    To the Hebrews of Biblical Days, there is more slavery going on today than people would ever be willing to admit.

    Any one that continually asserts their will or supposed authority over another essentially understands and practices the common use of the term.

    Even in the Bible, God called upon Hebrew Society to protect people from all manner of harm caused by others that would simply wish to treat them like property and degrade their value as human beings. Anyone that abuses others to appease their own misdirected hatred or anger has it really bad.

    There are cultures where slavery, personal devaluation and hatred go hand in hand. In these cultures people are continually used by others for selfish benefit and are mainly recognized today for what they are. It can not be hidden from public view. Iran for instance has stated publicly its intentions towards Israel; will the rest of the world sit by and let this go unchecked?

    If someone’s stated ambition in life is to kill or harm you, you can usually get an order of protection that does some help but it still doesn’t stop the offending individual from having the thoughts and feelings that they do.

    The Bible says not to treat people like objects and place them in bondage against their will nor buy and sell them like they had no value as human beings.

    If you enter into any kind of a debt contract you are a essentially buying into the whole master and slave mentality.

  4. Adam Herman says:

    The pi thing isn’t really a fair criticism since 3 is at least approximate. But the other stuff is absolutely true. If the Bible had given us some things that people back then didn’t know that would be more convincing. It’s also interesting how Jesus’ update of scripture basically just encompasses the change in moral values between Moses’ time and Jesus’ time.

    I don’t know that you can find deeper truths in the Bible though. The Bible is a take it or leave it proposition. You can find things of interest in there of course. Since there was no real study of history until the Greeks then the Bible remains the best historical source we have of the time period.

  5. Adam Herman says:

    So is the Greek study of science, but I imagine they’ll look back at our understanding of things in the 21st century 2500 years from now and shake their heads at what we thought we knew. The Greeks achievement wasn’t in what they found out with their new tools, but that they invented those tools in the first place.

    Of course, the religious authorities later on in the Dark Ages completely missed the point and accepted the outcome of the Greeks’ studies, especially Aristotle’s view of the universe, as holy writ for the next 1500 years.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Larry. Clever. Perhaps one apparent contradiction down, thousands to go. Many of these issues are not problems for many believers, but only for the inerrancy crowd.

    • Huh. That didn’t stop the Arkansas state legislature one year putting into law that PI equaled 3, based on the Bible.

      If that were put in a math text book just about every student would get it wrong. That begs the question rather than answers it. Which part was being “compassed round”—the rim or the bowl?

      On the other hand, the Hebrews were not known for their math skills. (You brought how many loaves? How many fishes? Oh, for…how are we supposed to feed all these people with THAT?) (Before some jumps on that, it was intended as humor.)

    • It seems to me you regret bringing it up because it is objective. Questioning our own premises and not projecting modern societies standards upon an ancient one are essential when examining “apparent contradictions”.

    • Chip Camden says:

      Mark, you’re right that they weren’t known for math, but you could have picked a better example. The whole concept of numbers in ancient Israel is pretty sketchy. Where they add up at all, most scholars tend to take that as a sign of a later redaction to harmonize the account. A better example might be the so-called 70 persons who went down to Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:27). The ancient Israelites tended to treat numbers qualitatively rather than quantitatively. If we try to interpret their usage literally (meaning, applying our quantitative meaning to them), then we will certainly miss the original sense.

    • “The whole concept of numbers in ancient Israel is pretty sketchy.”

      Here are some numbers to consider:

      http://www.whatabeginning.com/Misc/Wonders/P.htm

  6. Jim Razinha says:

    Maybe pi is too nitpicky. What about these?

    Exodus 21:15 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

    I would have been put to death on more than one occasion for that one.

    1 Timothy 2:11-12 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

    Crap. There goes 76% of our public school teachers.

    1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    The menfolk had better get learning so they can be accurate in their at home teaching. Unless that’s not a requirement.

    Solid advice, don’t you think? Lots of other good stuff on food, uncleanness, foreskins, how to destroy nations that refuse your offer of peace (with the caveat that acceptance incurs servitude as slaves) by killing everything that breathes….oh, the things one discovers when one reads the bible critically!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: I regret bringing up the pi argument, in that it is nitpicky. I couldn’t resist, because I had the inerrant folks in mind. You’ve given more good examples of the problem. Adam Lee’s counter-examples make the problem even more clear. When you see good advice side by side with crappy advice, it’s especially hard to pretend that the crappy advice is good.

  7. Chip,

    Agreed, but the point is not whether it’s metaphorical or redacted or simply wrong, but that some folks today insist on its validity over and above even common sense. We’ve learned a whole great big bunch of stuff since these books were written and yet there are those who think the only reliable source of anything in the Bible.

  8. Karl says:

    Humbers are quantitative, but they may have qualitative interpretations.

    Don’t try and reverse it by saying that numbers are more qualitative than quantitative, or you’ve just given the best reason for how the Trinity or “three in one” is clearly something that the human mind can grasp in its depth and breadth.

    What a strange way to consider that some numbers are only meant to mean something about what an individual can not themselves count or measure.

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