Is Bible software making us stupid?

I’m an avid user of Bible software. I love BibleWorks. I dabble in Accordance. I use Logos. While I was writing my thesis, this software was indispensable. I’ve been wondering, however, if the use of Bible software has a price (besides dollars). One obvious cost is proficiency in the original languages. I’ve often heard Bible software referred to as a “crutch.” I must admit, I’ve allowed myself to grow too lazy with Greek and Hebrew in the last couple of years partly because of the readily available grammatical helps in the software I use. This “cost” of Bible software has been commented upon by many folks, and that’s not my point here. There is a more hidden insidious cost, I think. Guy Billout of theAtlantic.com has written a piece titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I think that his concern applies to digital biblical scholarship:

… media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.

In an age where vast commentaries of Scripture and ancient texts are readily available at our digital fingertips, I wonder if we run into the same problem. I remember writing a paper where I noticed that I was looking at snippets of an author’s thought rather than his whole argument. Now, I was not simply looking for a quote that supported my point. I was really looking for information. I was researching. I just realized how easy it was to decontextualize the information. It was easy enough for me to do this skimming a paper book. I believe it is all the more easy to decontextualize an author’s thoughts while we’re browsing search results on a screen. Billout quotes Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

We are not only what we read. . . . We are how we read.

I wonder if our method of doing computer based research of biblical texts actually shapes the thought that we put into it. It seems that this is an area where the hermeneutics gurus could lend a hand. I seem to remember Vanhoozer speaking of “a hermeneutics of love.” Incidentally, I Googled this phrase and found indeed that Vanhoozer has written of this – as has N. T. Wright. This hermeneutic respects the “otherness” of the text and the author and seeks to understand them on their own terms without imposing our own desired meaning. It would seem that this course needs to be taken by researchers – especially those who are using “search results”.

I would certainly not want to throw out the Bible software baby with the bathwater. We need not wipe our hard drives. Still, it would seem that we should acknowledge the way media steers our train of thought. We should discipline ourselves to “love” the text enough to actually spend time with it and read to understand rather than to mine disconnected data.

I wonder, as a librarian – one who is supposed to help others gather evaluate and use information effectively – how can I help teach this “hermeneutics of love”? How can I model it? As an academic do I practice it? I wonder if anyone has tried to apply this kind of hermeneutic to “information science” in general? How does one discipline one’s self to practice charity when reading texts using Bible software?

2 thoughts on “Is Bible software making us stupid?”

  1. Good thoughts Jim, originally I thought it was silly to learn the biblical languages. “Just teach us to use the computer programs!” Is what I said. But now that I know them, I know more of what is really being said and not just a sound bite.

    Good stuff. I want to be reminded of your thoughts again, 5 or 6 months from now. Can you repost this then? =)

  2. To be honest, I have found that using Logos has stimulated my desire to go deeper in the text. No longer am I satisfied with using only AGBD and Wigram’s Concordance and maybe a quick look at a couple of commentaries.

    Rather, now I usually use 6-8 english translations, plus the Greek/Hebrew, plus 8-12 lexical aids plus the patristics, plus my own aspect of the church’s documents. (the Concordia Electronic LIbrary and Lutherworks run on the Logos engine.

    I would highly recommend a speed reading course, that enables fast sifting to fine the nuggets to dine on. Can I check out all 4700 hits on last week’s passage? No, but I can skim many.

    THere is no doubt, that there is an art to Biblical Scholarship – that requires a predisposition against proof-texting, (do the exegetical work prior to anything else). But it is…much better – especially if one doesn’t have a good seminary level library within a couple hours drive.

    I still spend the same amount of time,

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