Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I don't recommend Logos Bible Software

Update: This post has been significantly revised in response to comments 1-3 below, and my own subsequent reflection:

At the end of their first year I tell my Greek Students,
Congratulations! You've worked hard, you've done well. You've learned enough to be dangerous. You are now equipped to use powerful Bible programs that will enable you to misread the text like never before--and do it convincingly.
For those who want to misread the Bible like never before, Logos 4 is the ideal program. Sound extreme? Let Logos speak for itself:
So how can you do better in word study if you’re not a specialist in Hebrew or Greek? There are three truly indispensable things you need for developing skill in handling the Word of God. First, you need a means to get at all the data of the text. Logos Bible Software is the premier tool for that. Through reverse interlinears, you can begin with English and mine the Bible for all occurrences of a Greek or Hebrew word....Second, you need someone who is experienced in interpretation to guide you in how to process the data in front of you. You need training in what questions to ask and why you’d ask them....Third, you need practice, practice, and more practice. - Michael Heiser
Our goal in Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software is not for you to sight read the Greek NT or the Hebrew Bible without the helps. Instead, it’s to understand how to use the helps for interpreting the Bible. Do we still require you to be able to accurately identify the form of a particular word? Absolutely! But we don’t make you memorize a chart; we use our Visual Filter technology. After all, the inability to recognize liquid aorist verb at sight is not what makes a preacher “dangerous” with the biblical languages; it is being uninformed as to how the aorist tense works. - Johnny Cisneros

In its blog posts and promotional videos, Logos promises that its customers will be able to use Biblical Greek and Hebrew at a 3rd year level "without memorizing anything." While scholars may desire actually to learn the biblical languages, Logos is there to help the average student of the Bible get the payoff from language study without doing the work, to use Greek and Hebrew well, without learning the languages.

Sorry folks. It is not enough to learn theory about the aorist tense, you need to get a feel for how the language works as a language if you want to avoid misreading it. And the only way to get a feel for how Biblical Greek and Hebrew work is to spend a lot of time reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. Fortunately, the most important genuine insights from reading Greek and Hebrew come from patient, attentive, careful reading of whole passages in Greek and Hebrew, not individual word studies or gazing at an interlinear. To get beyond the point where you are dangerous there is no substitute for learning the languages, and learning any language takes time and memorization.

As usual, Carl Conrad is spot on the money:
[T]his pedagogy being peddled . . . effectively makes its user dependent upon predigested interpretation of the original-language texts. One learns not the languages, but the use of the software, and the software functions in such as way as to begin and end with English language versions of the Biblical text and English-language explanations of how and why the English-language version means what the original-language text says. I'm not happy about this, but I do think it is the wave of the future in the pedagogy of Biblical languages; in its own way, it's like the plume of slick oil spreading across the Gulf . . . .

What bothers me is that the industry and practice here are expended upon what is essentially predigested analysis done by others. For my part, I question the value of learning a little Greek or a little Hebrew if one isn't going to go deep enough to digest the original texts on one's own.
(Contrast Conrad's free advice with the $500/[$160 pre-pub] Logos is charging for its how-to videos.)

Let me be clear: Logos is one of the best Bible software programs around. As an integrated, searchable library it has no peer. Some of its syntactical resources for Greek and Hebrew are unmatched. I own a copy of Scholar's Library Gold (donated, thank you!), and I have been highly tempted by the recent release of the Göttingen Septuagint. By all accounts, Logos is a fantastic company to work for. The company actively fosters biblical scholarship by creating visionary high quality resources, such as the Anderson-Forbes Hebrew Bible, by hiring scholars, such as Steven Runge, and encouraging their academic work, and by sponsoring college and seminary scholarships.

I expect the video series created by Michael Heiser and Johnny Cisneros to explain how customers can “Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software” is of high quality. And I think there is a place for teaching English readers how to take advantage of Greek and Hebrew, how to do word studies, and how to avoid errors in the process.

I am concerned, however, that the way Logos is designed and marketed will give users a false sense of confidence, and that English language customers will use Logos's power tools to make the sort of basic mistakes that come from not knowing the languages from the inside. If the videos frequently remind English users that they are still dangerous, I am encouraged. (My assumption is that those who take at least two years of a biblical language have an even greater awareness of how dangerous they really are, and are therefore more humble and careful in their approach to the text.)

In his response to the original version of this post, Michael Heiser says “It's a simple fact of academic life that 90% (at least) who take Greek and Hebrew the traditional way simply do not take the time to maintain it after class.” Wherever the percentages come from, the problem is real: Most pastors who take the languages don’t maintain them once they enter ministry. To the extent that Logos helps people use what they have learned and encourages them to learn more, they are performing a service. However, Mike and I disagree about how the problem should be addressed. In my view, Logos has surrendered to the status quo when it comes to teaching the biblical languages. I remain an idealist, convinced that pastors can reasonably be expected to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and maintain the languages while they are in ministry. Instead of giving up this goal in despair, I think educators (including myself!) should do all they can to teach better. It is not a question of either traditional language learning methodologies or using electronic tools. As I have argued before, there are better alternatives, such as Randall Buth’s Biblical Language Center in Israel, Christophe Rico’s Polis Koine, and schole.

The second main reason I don't recommend Logos is that its promotion and advertising seem misleading to me, and its products often strike me as overpriced: It may be the case that the "950 resources" in Scholar's Library Gold are "worth almost $15,000.00 in print", but who in their right mind would pay for them? Many of these resources are of low quality or are already in the public domain. The remainder—including the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, the New International Greek Testament Commentary Series, the complete collection of Semeia studies, the 3 volume Context of Scripture, and the Archaeological Encylopedia to the Holy Land--to name some that are important to me—may be worth $1379.95. Why not say that the price is based on the value of these copyrighted resources and give away the rest?


Phil Sumpter said...

Logos 4 doesn't have to open up with the homepage. You can switch it off by clicking on "customize" on the bottom left.

Phil Gons said...

I wonder if your judgment is a little premature. Have you even seen the videos yet? How do you know that they don't live up to the descriptions?

mheiser said...

The criticism here is misguided and selectively self-serving. The point of the videos is to do something for the 95% of those who take Greek and Hebrew (from skilled professors no less) who abandon it in the first heartbeat after the class is over. It's a simple fact of academic life that 90% (at least) who take Greek and Hebrew the traditional way simply do not take the time to maintain it after class. Real world ministry doesn't give them the 10-20 hours per week they need to "get a feel" for the language so they can do something with it. Anyone who think so is living a fantasy. Pastors also see little or no payoff to that endeavor once school is over (they aren't being graded anymore and don't need continuing credit). We hope the videos encourage more people to keep going in the language. We aren't marketing it like it's the end game. We just see no reason to keep people who can't maintain their "feel" in the real world a guilt complex so that they feel inferior to the scholarly elite, the small percentage of people who take Greek and Hebrew and who love it so much they continue on into graduate school and doctoral work. That was my path, but the path of the few ought not be held up as the norm. The real life situation leaves those who teach the languages a choice. Either we keep on insisting that a classroom-pressured commitment to the languages ought to be maintained throughout one's ministry, or we provide people tools that don't require the brunt memorization. The latter choice will enable the pulpit content to improve. The former simply maintains the status quo. Logos is not about maintaining a status quo that favors the few.

d. miller said...

Thanks for the feedback, Phil, Phil, and Michael. I have revised the post significantly, and will be glad to hear what you think.

Phil Sumpter said...

For what it's worth, here are my 2 cents:
I wanted to buy the videos out of curiosity as to what their pedagogical principles are and how they are implemented. The idea of using technology in the class room is growing, as a recent forum led by Clines in SBL Rome indicates. In addition to this, language pedagogics in general is going through a bit of an upheaval and Hebrew language pedagogics in particular is lagging behind. I believe the way forward is syntax, in particular collocations, and it is only Logos that can provide us with the tools for efficiently accessing and organizing this dimension of the text. This is admittedly a matter of the potential advantages of Logos software for Hebrew pedagogics in general and no comment on the current videos, which don't seem to have grasped the potential of their software.

Admittedly, the tools themselves - specifically the Andersen-Forbes syntax database - are still under construction and need improvement. In addition to this, "guides" such as Word Study's "grammatical relationships" still haven't developed adequate algorithms for finding all the relevant data (the syntax search templates for Hebrew are pretty limited, in my view). However, I'm convinced that this kind of software will be indispensible for future language teaching, whether in the form of Logos made videos or course books that use the software to develop content (I cherish a dream of creating the latter one day).

I didn't get the videos in the end as I can't afford them. I think my main concern is that the marketing of the course is really marketing, i.e. exaggerating the positives and strategically overlooking the weaknesses. I worry that the Christian "brand image" can lead to a naive sense of trust on the part of the laity in this regard, but I don't know enough about that kind of thing. I'd also add the theological caveat that there is infinitely more to being a better preacher than being fluent in Hebrew and Greek.

Either way, I'm very excited by tools Logos are developing.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

As a 20 year veteran of bible software I should have something to say about this but I don't. I don't think computer tools are intrinsically evil. Before we had them there were other ways to do bad sermon prep. When LOGOS (aka CD Word) came along bad sermon prep became a lot easier. So is that bad? People are going to do what they want to do with their bibles. Hermeneutics is a nightmare subject. Vanhoozer has only scratched the surface, he is writing about the tip of the iceberg. When you get into some of the most recent (last 20 years) semantic theory things get really unhinged. There is going to be another battle for the bible fought over this, a lot of people are going to brand linguists as demonically inspired underminers of orthodoxy because the language theory is going to require a complete rethinking of the doctrine of scripture. But I digress ...

I can see why we should get too upset with the pastor who wants to save a little time by not having to thumb through reference books. The computer tools do the thumbing a lot faster.

Bob MacDonald said...

When I started serious study of Hebrew 7 years ago, as a 45 year veteran of software development, I was surprised that there was no published data base design of Biblical Hebrew. It seems to me that the search and comparison capability of any software is only as good as the underlying database. It struck me as odd that annotated text was proposed to me as the data to have. This definitely seems to be coming through the door backwards. I have not solved the problem, though I did develop my own tables for the data of the psalms and might be able to begin a more robust and flexible design some day.

What would you include in such a database - assuming it held the raw data of the text only?

Francis said...

I agree with Miller on certain points though I don't think they really settle the question of the overall value of owning and using Logos.

1. With regard to language pedagogy, there is no doubt that it is very much part of North American culture to lower standards and claim we don't need more anyway ("miracle" products). Knowing Miller, I know that he has his own reservations with regard to the classic way biblical languages have been taught with the result that many who have taken them don't use them well or never reach proficiency. In other words, there is agreement with Heiser's assessment of the situation among pastors, but not about why it is so and what should be the solution. Defensiveness for the "baby" product in the works aside, it is a known fact that understanding languages is more than dissection but involves "catching" what's going on through usage. It is already a handicap that biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek are dead languages. The handicap would be even wider if as it is claimed, we don't need to immerse ourselves as much as we can in them. Even though I am a fan of Logos as Bible software, I too then was shocked by the claim of these videos.

2. With regard to advertisement, I agree with some of Miller's comments. That is to say, Logos as a company definitely make extensive use of common marketing tool such as the way they present the value of collections and bundle them. I do see the need for Logos to be profitable however. I don't need to agree with their ethic or theology. At the same time, interactions with Pritchett in the forums and customer service shows that there is a constant desire/effort to seek to balance profitability with fairness.

3. The value of owning and using Logos however does not really depend on either of these two considerations. In a very pragmatic way, one can ask: can I get better than Logos in terms of useful/innovative resources, the power of tools and even the broad availability of resources and pricing? As far as power goes, only Bibleworks is in the foray. There are some cool things in Bibleworks that wow me but I could not trade buck-for-buck my library in Logos for one in Bibleworks and have as extensive a collection of tools and resources. Setting aside how one feels about policies, advertisement and pedagogy, to me it's still #1.

Acoustics4me said...

Well, I just downloaded the software, and as a completely new user to Logos, I hate it. This is not from a resource availability or for any of the points mentioned in this article. It is purely from a user-friendly (NOT) point of view. Obviously you have to purchase bibles and texts to be able to access them in Logos. Twenty minutes after trying to find out where to load a bible, I figured that out. But now that I know that, I have no idea how to find the 'store'. I'm sure all this is easy peasy for those used to the software, but I've just spent a very frustrating 20 minutes trying to figure this out. The fact that I had to resort to using the help menu before I could figure anything out shows how not user-friendly this thing is.

Mike Heiser said...

You're right - it is easy for most everyone else.

d. miller said...

Hello Acoustics4me: Logos is a very powerful program, but to benefit from it you will most likely need to invest a significant amount of time and money--the money, to get valuable resources; the time, to learn how to use them. If you invest $300+ in the program, plan to spend at least 6-8 hours learning how to use it. Otherwise, you may find that you have wasted your investment.

Unknown said...

What is your main criticism with Logos? I'm a Christian, and I noticed that Logos sells Mormon bibles. Mormon is an Arianistic cult that sprung from Christianity and my husband downloaded the app onto my IPad. I have a weird feeling about the people that made Logos. Maybe my theory is wack. Can you sum this blog up into a few sentences for us? Thanks. Lexi

Mike Heiser said...

Logos is a research tool and a library. It has research tools and books. It is not a church or seminary. Physical libraries (Christian and otherwise) have research tools and books. Logos has the same. Your position means that you'd only use libraries that don't have Mormon books. I'm not sure there are such libraries, but I suppose there may be somewhere in the world. Research tools have no ideology or theology. They are tools. If the hammer in your house were made by a Mormon, it would still just be a hammer. It wouldn't be a "Mormon hammer."

d. miller said...

Hello Lexi,
In case it is not clear from my post, I have some qualms with Logos's marketing practices, perhaps especially as it relates to the biblical languages, but the program itself is excellent, and I have a high regard for the company and its employees in other respects. I would not hesitate to recommend the app, in general, as a useful resource for Christians.

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