The Bible: Peer review, or it didn’t happen

Peer review can be a bitch. The purpose of the peer review process is to determine the credibility of a researcher’s work prior to publication. The process is integral because it weeds out potential publications with results or methodologies that seem dubious or unfalsifiable. Without this process, the literature would be too vast–too bogged down by junk science–to be comprehensible. A researcher must have thick skin if they are to survive the peer review process, because often their work doesn’t survive it.

One of the major things the review committee looks for is that you understand the literature of your field as it exists today. This can take either of two forms: 1) you have included a comprehensive literature review at the beginning of your book or journal article, or 2) you have strategically woven a literature review throughout the body of your work. I personally prefer the latter since my field is in the social sciences.

The common rule of thumb regarding a review of the literature is that you have two scholarly sources for every page of text. I use Chicago style with footnotes, so this number is actually higher. Let’s say it’s 2.1 references per page. This doesn’t include the conclusion because it’s generally frowned upon to include new information in the conclusion. But as you can see, even a short double-spaced 100 page document might have a 20 page bibliography.

The purpose of the literature review is to determine gaps in the field. This gap is the focus of your work. If the goal is to provide insight into a phenomenon, one must research something that has not yet been researched. Even if your hypothesis fails, you have contributed a greater understanding: Eg. “Whereas our initial assumptions suggested a correlation between A and B, our findings suggest that other independent variables might instead correlate with B.” In other words, you have slightly closed the gap, and future researchers might not try to correlate A with B.

This is a long introduction for a blog. I apologize for that.

Christianity (actually the Christian who argues from their religion) is not concerned with gaps because its book is “inerrant.” Because of this the bible is used as a sole document for making an argument. Christians do not compare what the bible says with other Christian texts because no such texts exist (to be fair, other interpretations of the bible have been published, and those might be referenced). The Jews have the Torah and the Talmud. The Muslims have the Qur’an and the Hadiths. At least these two religions have two places from which to cite information (although this is still a far cry away from acceptable academic standards).

Furthermore, no argument from Christianity is subjected to the peer review process. Sure, there are some scholars who hold a doctor of theology, but I’m quite certain that their dissertations have bibliographies longer than one source. The bible might not even be included in their work.

To be sure, we should consider what would happen if we submitted a document of original “research” that relied solely on one piece of literature. Let’s assume that I submitted for peer review an article that only cited Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War. It’s one of the most important contemporary books in political science, and my research might take valuable insight from Waltz’s work. But despite how “original” my contribution is to the field, without pulling literature from the entire field, my work is merely a book review from my own point of view. And the committee will laugh me out of the room. A review of Waltz’s book is not new knowledge.

This is precisely the problem with arguments from the bible. They are merely reviews of the bible. And these have absolutely nothing to say with authority any more than a Muslim has authority when he quotes Muhammad. These arguments don’t tell us anything.

Christians might argue that they don’t need to consider other books because the bible is perfect. I’ll be clear: The bible can only be perfect to those who believe the bible is perfect. It’s far from a perfect book, and it doesn’t offer insight into anything more than how ancient Christians thought we should behave.

Keep this in mind when Christians attempt to make an argument from the bible. Their arguments deserve every bit of scrutiny that you can muster because it is anything but a reliable argument. It lacks any insight from other areas, and it cannot survive a peer review, even if the argument is coming from the Pope himself.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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14 Responses to The Bible: Peer review, or it didn’t happen

  1. There are 73 books in the Catholic Bible and 66 books in the Protestant Bible.

    There are 40 authors who wrote over a period of over 2000 years from 3 continents.

    That makes the consistency of the biblical teachings nothing short of miraculous.

    • Cerberus Black says:

      73 books from Catholicism and 66 books from the Protestant sect contain about as many contradiction as yourself, Silence of mind.

      If you will note here:
      (Is god supernatural? The conundrum of belief)

      Silence of mind stated a reply to Cerberus Black on 4/9/14 @ 9:02 pm


      The bible is a book of faith.

      Using a book of faith to prove the existence of God is circular thinking which is a logical fallacy.

      That it exists is a matter of reason, not religion.

      And now your saying that the biblical teachings are both, “consistent” and “miraculous?

      Hmmm… Very telling .
      So tell me, Silence? Is anyone to just take your word for it now? Are we to believe your contradictions on the opinion of the biblical texts that you’ve stated is in fact “circular thinking which is a logical fallacy,” but now you’re arguing for said book? Really?

      I think you should re-read the 10 commandments because I don’t think that what you’ve done is god approved.

      The least you can do is remain consistent, but as is the case, neither you nor your bible show any consistency whatsoever.

  2. Cerberus Black says:

    Mr Zehn;

    You certainly make some excellent points regarding the analysis of religion, and I’ve rather enjoyed this piece.

    Thanks for privilege

  3. makagutu says:

    Brilliant piece, I like it.

  4. Lots of ignorance here — many arguments for Christianity (and God) have been peer-reviewed. Perhaps you have either never actually read a paper in your life or simply are unaware of this in its entirety. Secondly, the Bible tells us a lot more then “how ancient Christians thought you behave”, it’s quite literally an ancient encyclopedia of history, poetry and ancient science.

    • Meh says:

      One may write a peer review paper on certain religious mythology, but it adds no credence to any magical claims.
      The Bible is neither accurate in many of its details, as you claim. Nor does it hold any scientific knowledge worth noting.
      Why you make statements about such things being the case is anyone’s guess.

      • “on certain religious mythology”

        Didn’t your mother tell you not to let your presuppositions slip? LOL.

        “The Bible is neither accurate in many of its details, as you claim. Nor does it hold any scientific knowledge worth not:ing.”

        This is obviously false and can be easily dismissed with a simple wave of a hand. The overwhelming historical accuracy of the Bible is worth noting and the Bible has withstood three centuries of hardcore academic criticism.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      Peer review or it didn’t happen. Can you demonstrate your claim that religious claims have survived the peer review process? Be careful before you answer. This is literally my job to know these things.

      • Not only have they survived the peer-review process, they seem to be flourishing. One can point to William Lane Craig’s ‘The Son Rises’ or N.T. Wright’s ‘The Resurrction of thr Son of God’ and see that the resurrection has easily survived the peer-review process and is in fact being debated by majorly qualified scholars (see above).

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        TBH I’m not going to read a Christian apologist text for science. I’ll go to the scientific literature for that. Theology answers theology, not science. If you wish to point out the DOIs of supernatural explanations for scientific questions in Nature or Science or some other peer reviewed work, I’d be happy to look at it.

      • Nice try buddy, but I’ve already figured out that the term ‘Christian apologist’ is the atheist way of calling someone a ‘heretic’.

        Asides from that, the professional and peer-reviewed works of these professional and renowned historians still disintegrates your initial claims on this issue — these miracles are peer-reviewed.

        You then want me to show papers from the journals Nature or Science on miracles or whatnot. That’s like telling someone to show mathematics is peer-reviewed, but they can only quote the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus — it’s a ridiculous question because this journal is disinterested in mathematics, and will not publish mathematical discourse. Likewise, Science and Nature have no interest in publishing anything that doesn’t have to do with the natural world in the first place, and so it would be impossible for me to show peer-review for miracles from these sources.

        There are of course, many papers for medical journals that, for example, provide claims of support for prayer healing and whatnot. So, in what sense do miracles fail the peer-reviewed process?

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Can you show the articles and DOIs? That is a simple request.

      • “Can you show the articles and DOIs? That is a simple request.”

        Surely. But before I even do that, I’m going to shift some attention to a paper I came across yesterday, published to Brill (world leading journal) titled ‘Historians and Miracle Claims’ — specifically critiquing the idea that supernatural claims are to be dismissed or not investigated. The DOI for this paper is 10.1163/17455197-01202002 — and you can see it through this link:

        As for some medical papers talking about prayer, healing, etc, see, I’ll get you titled with one titled ‘ Study of the therapeutic effects of proximal intercessory prayer (STEPP) on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique’, the DOI is 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181e73fea

        Any more requests?

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