20 March 2004 Welcome - Charles - God-bothering - Model book

The Bible, a model book

There are many differing views on the accuracy, authorship and authority of the Bible. There are those who contend that it is the very breathed-out word of God, and there are those that think that it has been put together from so many different pieces and translated so many times that it only rates as inspirational, not inspired. Some are effectively blocked from reading it because they feel expected to believe it to be literally true, and cannot. Others keep stopping to wonder which parts are true and which are not. I want to introduce an understanding that does justice to the word of God, and leaves it accessible to those who have concerns such as mentioned above. The concept is this: the Bible accurately models God, mankind and the dealings between them. As a model it gives us something on a human scale to deal with. It provides a cohesive testable theory about the important things in life. Within the model are rules that work, histories that are consistent, reason that is comprehensible. Though we may hold to different views about the Bible, these should make no difference in practice. For example, whether Adam and Eve were really the first people doesn't affect what the model says: that because we are all descended from them we all have inherited their sinful nature. We just need to live according to that model.

We all learn from models. When we are very young, we call them toys. They may be push-along trains, dolls, plink-plonk pianos or bows-and-arrows. As we get older, the toys become more sophisticated, but do the same job: they allow us to learn about real things, get used to real things, to deal with real things. And sometimes they're fun, too. At some point the term model comes into play and we begin to make a distinction between toys and models. Toys you play with, models are serious things to look at and learn from. Perhaps we come to realise what toys are for... Later we might find that we can learn a lot from models, especially if we play some part in building, decorating or displaying them.

It is worth considering that board games - Chess, Ludo, Monopoly etc - are in effect a more abstract form of modelling. They, too, teach us about methods, strategy, alliances and both good and bad fortune. We tend to get more from board games as we get a bit older and move on to learning about the more social aspects of life.

Modelling doesn't stop. In later education (as opposed to just playing) we add theoretical modelling to our armoury. Trying to imagine atomic structures is made easier by seeing one of those constructions showing bits going round other bits. Likewise for the solar system, though we have to work out some of the size difference for ourselves! There are many scientific models used; virtually all scientific research works by constructing a theoretical model and then playing with it to see where it is not accurately portraying what we believe is happening in the real world. Much technological development uses real, solid models to test theories - mock-ups of planes in wind tunnels etc. Artists use models, though in their case the terminology seems perverse to more technical folk: their models are often real people, and the models they create (e.g. a sculpture or a painting) they think of as real. Then to add confusion, a sculptor will sometimes work from a small, simple version of the work called a maquette (which is the French for scale model).

There is another very common form of modelling that is not usually perceived to be modelling. Books. That includes maps and atlases. A map is no less a model than is a globe such as we might have seen in geography lessons at school. It is less tangible, but can be more useful. It is usually easier to plan a route on a map than on a globe. A map can be made to a scale that allows great detail to be shown - street locations for example. A globe that did that would be too big to use. Likewise a geography book or a history book can be regarded as a model. Some are more accurate than others. They can be written to different scales so that a child's history book of the world from the time of the dinosaurs to present day will miss out almost all of what would be found in a five volume history of the French Revolution.

Most models are inaccurate in one way or another. An aeroplane built from plastic construction kits will not actually fly, and usually give no indication of how the real plane was built. But it embodies the idea of the plane. In scale it looks right. It helps to think about the plane and to imagine it flying. There are a couple of scientific models describing light and the way that behaves. There have to be two because neither explains all the ways light behaves. The ultimate aim is to construct a model of a device, system or whatever that is able to explain and demonstrate everything that the real world counterpart does. Conventional models of fluid flow failed to describe turbulence so a new model was needed. Models of economic systems never seem very accurate, at least not for long. There, new models are always being developed.

The goal of model making then is to produce a model that in all ways behaves in the same way as the thing modelled, to reflect accurately the properties of that thing modeled, to the degree or scale determined by the modeller. We ought, though, to leave room for the idea that the perfect model is indistinguishable from that which is modelled.

So, this note is not intended to be a defence of the Bible's scholastic accuracy, its origin, or its canon. Those are dealt with by many people in many places. The important thing is that whatever view is held on those matters, the Bible works. This is an appeal to recognise the Bible as a perfect model. It enables us to examine and deal with life. Its principles are universally applicable. Its description of humankind is true.


Further information available on the web:

As I didn't write the rest of the material on the web, I decline to accept responsibility for it or what it says. Any search engine will provide hundreds of results for a search that includes "Bible" with any of the terms "biblical inerrancy", authorship, origins, inspiration etc. The links bellow are to places that I happen to think are worth looking at.

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