Monday, November 15, 2010

Visualising truth

This is one of the most extraordinary infographics I’ve ever seen: It maps out the contradictions in the bible.

The chart was created for Project Reason, which promotes “science and secular values”. Steve Wells compiled the data that Madrid graphic artist Andy Marlow used to create the chart.

Suzanne LaBarre, who wrote the article on Fast Company, where I found this, explains it:

The organization here is pretty simple. You’ve got bars at the bottom representing the 1,189 verses of the King James Bible. White’s for the Old Testament, gray’s for the New Testament. Then a red arc links all the verses that contradict each other.

It’s one thing to know the bible is filled with contradictions, and it’s another to see them visually—and in such a compelling way. Sadly, though, the people who most need to see this and understand its implications are least likely to do so, no matter how stunning the visual.


Roger Owen Green said...

The problem with the poster is that some of the things in the NT werte supposed to alter the OT view, e.g., dietary laws. And, as a commenter at the link noted, sometimes it was a comparison of apples and oranges, or at least McIntonish and Golden Delicious.

Interesting, though.

toujoursdan said...

...or most religious people know there are contradictions and don't see that as a problem, because we have studied how ancient people communicated and know that very it's different than we do today. The fact that the Bible has contradictions is widely known in mainline Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox circles. You won't find many educated clergy and laity who would deny that fact. Even mainstream evangelicals will acknowledge that fact.

What is odd is why secular people see this as damning, somehow. Both the story AND the contradiction are found in the SAME book, usually placed there by the SAME author. These authors knew the contradictions were they when they wrote the text down. These writers put BOTH versions of these narratives in these books for a reason. For 2,000 years people read these texts and their contradictions and didn't perceive them as a problem. Why secular people don't take the next step and ask "Why?" always surprises me. In the conversation with anti-theists they often seem to believe that ancient people were too stupid to notice. We may have more factual and scientific knowledge than they did, but we aren't smarter than they were.

toujoursdan said...

The problem with the poster is that some of the things in the NT were supposed to alter the OT view, e.g., dietary laws

The problem is that both fundamentalists and secularists assume the Bible is meant to be read like an encyclopaedia, rather than an unfolding story. So they go look up answers, see contradictions, and fundamentalists try to harmonize them and secularists say "Aha!", none of it is true.

The Bible isn't written like any modern book. It's the product of hundreds of authors, writing in several genres (poetry, narrative, song, legal code, parable, litany, etc.), in 3 very different languages, over thousands of years of great cultural, political and economic upheaval. Since most people in the ancient world were illiterate, what was written down is the product of oral communication, so some of the details are contradictory. The ancient authors would include all the contradictory versions of the narratives because they believed that the truth was found somewhere in them, and the reader could read and decide. That was how Jews and Christians approached the Bible until the 20th century when humanities education collapsed, people ceased to learn about ancient people, and then imposed our ways of thinking and communication on them.

Roger Owen Green said...

The ancient authors would include all the contradictory versions of the narratives because they believed that the truth was found somewhere in them, and the reader could read and decide.

Of course, the number of people who COULD read them was very much limited.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Fascinating discussion!

I should say first that my primary interest in the graphic was visual: I like the way it's presented and the look and design of it. I can't help it: It's my industry.

I was raised quite literally in the church (son and grandson of preachers), so I was exposed the bible from a very early age. At no time was I taught that the bible was inerrant, so we never tried to justify the contradictions nor harmonise them as the fundamentalists did. Because the bible had been written over such a long time by so many people, mistakes and inconsistencies were inevitable. I think that's what you were getting at, toujoursdan.

While I can't speak for fundamentalists, nor for all secularists, I can say as one secularist (even when I was religious) that I've never used the contradictions and errors to declare that "none of it is true". Instead, I find it interesting, though, to be honest, I've never thought of the bible as anything more than a collection of stories, some useful, some not.

I do think that Roger raised a very good point: Not many people could read in ancient times—or until relatively recent times, even. Such people, I think, never contemplated the contradictions because they simply were unaware of them.

I think in light of the discussion, I should say that my final comment in the post was that the poster won't be seen by the people who most need to understand that the contradictions exist so that they can consider the bible with more discerning eye, a greater awareness, and decide what's true for themselves, not leave that to clergy (or bloggers, for that matter).

But, like I said, mostly I just thought it was a good graphic. Seriously!

On another matter, I'll be doing a post in the next week or so that you both may want to comment on—if I get brave enough to actually post it.

toujoursdan said...

Yup! That's pretty much what I'm getting at. Even the Gospels have strong evidence of multiple authorship in each book.

I'm no inerrantist, but I wouldn't call the contradictions and inconsistencies "mistakes", but different versions of a story that before had been told orally.

I would disagree with Roger though. For most of earlier Christian history (300CE - 1000CE), monastic communities and convents were storehouses of knowledge. Then, in about the 10th Century, universities sprang out of those monastic communities and took on that role. Both monastic and university communities had educated and literate members who read the Bible in an intentional, cyclical and increasingly critical manner and were aware of the contradictions yet didn't believe they were significant. Until about the 18th Century, the University theology department was the most prestigious academic discipline.

Its inconsistencies became more of an issue when modernism and the scientific method developed and we tended to assume that facts and truth are the same thing, which wasn't a pre-modern assumption. So to us, if something isn't factual, it can't be truthful. That's more of a culture shift than anything.

I definitely agree that more fundamentalists should be aware of the contradictions, though when I have mentioned them on religious websites they tend to become very defencive and I get nowhere. The people who should be exposed to this have developed some pretty strong defence mechanisms, sadly.

Roger Owen Green said...

I wasn't saying that EVERYONE was illiterate, but that there wasn't a Gideon's Bible in every hut, and that a LOT of people were dependent upon the interpretation of the Word that was usually NOT in the venacular.

d said...

I just don't understand religion - people living their lives according to a random book written by unknown authors (let's face it - no one actually knows who wrote anything) about events that happened decades or even hundreds of years earlier.

It just all sounds completely ridiculous.