Discussion by: Zeuglodon
According to the online version of the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, there are only 511 good verses or passages in the whole of the Bible, Old and New Testament inclusive. Given that there are about 1189 chapters, together making a total of over 31,000 verses, this means that just under 2% of the Bible has anything worthwhile in it. Of course, this is what the site owner finds good, but all the same, once you've gone through the long lists of atrocities, inaccuracies, and absurdities on offer in the rest of the bible, this doesn't exactly speak well of the "Good Book". However, that's not what I'm about here.
If you look at the list the site provides, you quickly notice that over half of the good bits (271 out of the 511 presented) can be traced back to just two Old Testament books: Proverbs (191 examples) and Ecclesiastes (80 examples). These include such iconic phrases as "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:" and "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." While not everyone can agree with all of the items on the list (personally, I raise an eyebrow at the "all is vanity" line), I think we could come to a consensus that many of these lines are very good. Interestingly enough, Jerry Coyne suggested on his blog:
For this discussion, I think I'd like to make a couple of cases, both about these two books and about the good passages generally. Firstly, do you agree with Coyne and think you have noticed a tendency for pro-christian people and apologists to quote these two books more often than any other? This would suggest that they avoid other books or aren't aware that these two books aren't representative of the horrors of the rest. Thinking more broadly, one might begin to make the case that, when people talk about "The Bible", each person has specific passages and books in mind rather than the whole mishmash, depending both on what they've actually encountered and on their own mindsets before they've even read the things (for instance, that optimistic people tend to notice the better passages and focus on them more).
Secondly, if you agree that at least some of these examples are worthwhile, would you exclude any and why? Do you think we might do some good if we actually took up SAB's idle speculation and surgically remove the good bits to put into a pamphlet, even if only to demonstrate to others just how awful the rest of the bible really is? It might even, given the first point above, provide a checklist against which we can mark off when a bible quoter is using the same old passages over and over, and therefore conspicuously avoiding other, less admirable, passages. Or it might be simply for those who have given up one of the Abrahamic faiths, and who would at least like something positive to remember it by, while at the same time finally coming to terms with what garbage the rest of it is.
Really, this is interesting speculation. Similar points could be made for other faiths. To what degree could we surgically remove the good bits and leave the bad bits behind for, say, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.? Would it be better to come up with our own stuff independently, and simply consign religion to history? What do you think?