Is The Bible Valuable?

The following letter is from Dr. Ellsworth Huntington, Research Associate of Geography, Yale University:

Dear Mr. Teller: I have read with interest you article in The Truth Seeker. Your purpose is good but I doubt whether you are using a wise method. It seems to me that you go as far in one direction as the Fundamentalists do in the other. To speak as though the Bible were a perfectly worthless book, full of mistakes and expressing merely man's attempts to solve some of the world's great problems, it nevertheless contains numerous extremely beautiful and valuable sayings. Moreover, as an historical record, it is of extreme value. This is true no matter whether its ideas about God and the future life are true or false.

Your attitude drives people like myself in the opposite direction from what you intend.

Sincerely yours, Ellsworth Huntington

Dear Doctor Huntington: Thank you for your gracious communication and candid criticism.

As one who greatly admires your work in science and who holds you in deep respect, may I ask you to consider two or three points?

I try to keep as far away from Fundamentalism as I can get. I should dislike to think that any opinion of mine is driving persons like yourself "in the opposite direction". That would be toward Fundamentalism, the lowest rung in the intellectual ladder. I cannot think of any disservice worse than that.

You think it "absurd" that I call the Bible a "worthless book". I thought my statement would be understood in its relative sense. I was commenting on the Fundamentalist claim that the Bible is a book of knowledge. No doubt, even "worthless" things can be considered of value in some particular way. Clam shells can be made into buttons and garbage into perfume. The worthlessness of the Bible consists of its disregard of truth. I was not considering its value to rabbis and priests or to students of mythology.

You are doubtless correct in stating that the Bible contains some "beautiful and valuable sayings". I must dissent, however, from your opinion that they are "numerous". I doubt whether you could copy as many as six typewritten pages of wise sayings from the Bible. Try it sometime when you have nothing better to do. And for every sensible passage you find you will run across hundreds that are rubbish or worse. My King James version contains 1,159 pages of closely printed text. A book of that size, on science or history, which could not show more than several typewritten pages of good, solid material in it, does not rate high.

If a fruit grower were to sell you a barrel of apples in which all but three or four were rotten, you would be justified, I think, in writing him. "You have sent me a barrel of bad apples." You would not qualify your complaint by stating, "I am delighted with the barrel of apples you sent me, because there are several good ones in it." The same for the Bible. A few sensible sayings do not offset the hundreds of errors, stupidities, brutalities, vulgarisms, and downright crackpot ideas taught in the Bible. It is a literary curiosity -- not a book of wisdom. And its influence has been to stifle knowledge and foster superstition. It is responsible for science having been gagged for centuries.

Experience has taught me that those who talk most about the beauty and wisdom of the Bible are those who read it least. Few persons take the trouble to read the book through. How many men of science have read the Bible from cover to cover? Of those you know, how many have studied it, reflected on its content, given it close and critical thought? How many have done more than parrot phrases they learned at their mothers' knee? The average scientist gives less thought to the Bible than he does to his billiards, bowling or bridge. And why shouldn't he? He is engaged in highly specialized study, and can't be bothered about what the ancient Jews thought about ghosts or what tribe they should butcher next.

I must dissent from your opinion that "as an historical record" the Bible is "of extreme value." In what way is it valuable? Is the story of creation a record of fact? Did the Garden of Eden exist? Was there a Flood? Is there any truth in the silly miracles related about Jesus? Do you yourself take any stock in Biblical science? History is the record of events. If the stories related from tradition are in conflict with archaeological records, they are not history. The chronology of the Bible does not check with the historical records of antiquity. As the Encyclopaedia Brittanica observes, "the methods of chronological computations adopted by the Assyrians were particularly exact" and there are marked "discrepancies" between these recrods and the stories of the Bible. Folklore and old wives' tales make up the greater part of the book. Many Biblical characters never lived. I agree with Joseph McCabe that "the Old Testament is a forgery." The "New", with its fabrications and falsities, is just as bad. History is not written in these way these books were compiled. I hold it absurd for anyone to pick up the Bible and say "Here is history."

Again assuring you of my appreciation of your letter, I am,
Sincerely yours, Woolsey Teller

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