Bad Argument For God: The Popularity of the Bible

This is the first in a series refuting some of the bad...yet still common...arguments in support of a personal god.

Argument: The Bible is the most popular book in history, therefore it must be true.

This isn't an argument for truth, but rather an argument for popularity. The most common number I have seen is that there have been around 5-6 billion bibles printed [ref] [ref]. This would, easily, make it the most reproduced book of all time. One thought that immediately comes to mind is "How do they know that?" Well, the truth is they don't know that with any real precision. There was never any formal census of publishers to get an accurate count of such a thing. Still; I am willing to go with that oft-repeated estimate. Christianity is the most popular religion and some version (more on that later) of the Bible is pretty much standard issue for Christians since the advent of broad literacy and movable type...6,000,000,000 it is then.

It should be obvious to the casual observer (but obviously isn't) that mere popularity does not infer any higher truth. The number two book in history is Mao Tse-tung's Red Book (aka Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung). Like Christianity; Mao had an obedient captive audience that made ownership of his musings on communist ideology required. Does the popularity of The Red Book mean that communism is a truer form of governance? Is the Toyota Corolla a divine form of automobile? Is a McDonald's hamburger a more inspired form of sandwich? Of course the answer to those examples is a resounding "No!"...and I shan't bore you with saying why the answer is "no". If it needs explaining, then you need a serious intellectual intervention...and you can't get it on a blog post.

Moreover; there are many versions of the bible and they do not all differ merely from translation biases [ref]. Even the Ten Commandments...something ostensibly chiseled in stone by God himself...varies in content [ref] in important ways. Most importantly; the interpretations of those bibles is all over the map...even when using the same version. It would seem to me that, if a book were genuinely divine, then there would be only one consistent interpretation regardless of how it were translated.

But maybe the bible isn't the most popular book....

Think about all the basic mathematics textbooks that have every been printed. Effectively; every person in the world getting a formal education from the 1500's to present made use of a math textbook. [of course early on not every student had their own textbook, but populations were small and wouldn't skew the number too badly]. Let us consider the printing of myriad versions of math texts analogous to the printing of the various derivations of the bible. I would estimate that there have been 7,000,000,000 algebra texts printed ... because I can invoke my own unsourced number to compete with the unsourced 6,000,000,000 of the bible.

Even if I pulled my number from an orifice on my lower torso [I did], it is not insignificant that, while there are far more versions of math texts, there is only one interpretation of their content. If we are looking for a yardstick for determining truth; I would submit that there is far more truth in any math textbook than there is in any version of the Bible.

Next time: "Why is there something instead of nothing?"


Ryan Jennings said...

Respective of modern history...I see a great weakness I'n your "Red Book" illustration since it was predominantly forced upon the multitudes (from leaders with an atheistic worldview), whereas the Bible is predominantly acquired voluntarily. the very least the Bibles popularity throughout history, including it's present status should cause us all pause: either we humans are historically and presently foolish, or we are on to something...right? We can "gray up" this argument with math and rhetoric...but volume should certainly lead one to serious inquiry.


FVThinker said...

Certainly the motivations for procuring the Bible and the Red Book were different...and we can get into the motivations of Christians (and non-Christians) to pick up their own copy of the bible, but not in this cramped forum.

As far is the invocation of communist China forcing the Red Book upon its subjects, that is true enough, but not pertinent to the argument. It should be recognized, though, that it was not because they were atheistic that they forced the reading. They forced the reading because the regime would tolerate no ideology that would compete with their's...religious or otherwise. Atheism (simply non-theism) in and of itself can't lead to such. If one argues that the horrific crimes of Stalin and Mao were because of non-belief, then one is a poor student of just what what those regimes stood for and believed.

In any case, let's return to the central point...
Let me know just what the number is that separates 'divine' books from the merely 'popular'.

I think the analogy to the McDonald's hamburger is pertinent and merits consideration. It's cheap, accessible, appeals to a broad audience and is well marketed. I also think that it is about the lowest form of the sandwich.

As far as the foolishness of humanity....
For as long as we have records, humanity has believed in gods. You, I expect, would consider all the other, myriad gods yes...we are foolish (if we use your term). I rather consider more characteristic of our species to invent gods to answer the unknowable. I believe in just one fewer god than you.

As far as "greying up" [as in grey matter] the argument...
We should ALWAYS grey up the arguments. Real, rational, empirical thought is what moves us forward. The mere thought that you could dismiss dispassionate analysis is troubling.

Popularity does not equal divinity. I think even you would agree with such a simple statement.

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, sub/dude said...

You can think whatever the #@!! you want of the Bible, but that's still not gonna change the state of your indelible soul, son. I found what few other human mortals on this swiftly, decaying planet have yet to discover: a Way Home, past this violence and materialism that has so engulfed, so enveloped our populace on this journey to our demise; because you’re ignorant on how to rise above the whorizontal world and one-outta-one shall croak sometime, somewhere soon, God has set-up this magnificent feature on the Way either Upstairs or downtown: the Warning. Everyone (me, too) living on this planet will see and feel the Warning lasting about 20ish minutes, showing U.S. a gorgeous picture of Heaven, Purgatory (depending whether our sins demand a greater punishment before being allowed into the Great Beyond), and dagnasty Hell. Remember, God doesn’t condemn; we condemn ourselves by our sinful lifestyles of unbelief. The Warning’s just a wake-up call. Don’t believe me? Guhroovy. You will soon. God bless you with discernment: atheism is cool, isn't it, till you croak...

FVThinker said...

Sorry for the late reply Kold_Kadavr. I haven't been monitoring this for a while.

It is telling that you refute none of what I said in my post on the popularity of the Bible. You claim to know much about God and the afterlife (with specific details) while offering nothing to back it up. It's plainly obvious to me that you could attribute such a speech to a Muslim or a Hindu. It really doesn't matter what you believe, because revelation it not a reliable way of knowing anything.

Perusing your profile, it seems you came to this world view as a result of a near death experience (coincidental with the tragic loss of a loved one). You might be interested to know that all the characteristics of NDE have been replicated in laboratory settings. They have little (nothing) to do with viewing the next world and more to do with carbon-dioxide/oxygen levels in the blood/brain. Scientists actually study this stuff because, were they to actually find something besides biology, there would be a Nobel prize in their future.