Logos Groupthink

Since Sunday afternoon when Bill Combs and Rod Decker called attention to Five Reasons Not to Buy Logos, my little blog has received an unprecedented number of hits. In writing the post, I didn’t set out to kick over a hornet’s nest, but there seems to be a bit of a stinging buzz coming after me anyway.

The post was more of a philosophical critique than a product review. What concerns me is not the functionality of the program but rather the assumptions that seem to be driving Logos’ popularity. Perhaps it would be helpful to revisit my argument in another light.

1. Books That Look Nice on a Shelf Are Likely to Remain There

We have all bought books to complete a set or because we like the idea of having them. Has anyone actually read their two-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards with the microscopic type? I have bought a lot of books from people making the jump to Logos. Often the books are so unused that I’m the first to break in the binding. If you do not profit from a book in print, a searchable digital edition is unlikely to receive much more use (unless of course your problem is simply that you need a good reading copy of Edward’s Religious Affections or something).

I understand collecting print books. It costs thousands of dollars but your office looks amazing. However, I have never understood why people want thousands of mediocre books filed away somewhere on their computers. Most of the books in Logos base packages aren’t the first books that you would want to consult. They aren’t bad books, but one would be hard pressed to argue that they are the best books. If you’re going to make the Logos plunge, don’t sell (or choose not to buy) the best books to get it.

2. Recommendations Must Consider Budgets

People who amass theological libraries are seldom wealthy people. The choice to buy one resource usually comes at the expense of not having others. I am amazed that so many seminary professors recommend Logos when the books included in the base packages tend not to be the books they recommend in print. Compare a list of recommended books put out by any seminary to a logos base package. The money you would spend on Logos would go a long way towards buying the best resources.

3. Borrowed Cards Make for Bad Research

When I competed on my college’s intercollegiate debate team, my teammates and I used to put all our research onto 4×6 index cards. The cards were just big enough to contain about a paragraph of text in addition to the bibliographic data. We would make hundreds of cards, organize them by topic, and use them to cite sources in our extemporaneous speeches. We essentially created our own little Logos for our debate topic.

Our coach strictly prohibited borrowing each other’s cards in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Other teams didn’t have such restrictions, and we made mincemeat out of them. They had what looked like research, but it would never stand up to close scrutiny. Research requires one to read entire articles, chapters, and books. Good reading habits do include the ability to effectively skim. However, the entire source must be read in some manner else one will constantly miss important qualifiers and will often fail to understand the main argument entirely. Logos gives you in one click what appears to be hours of research. However, you have not done any research until you have read all the material.

4.You Don’t Need a Huge Personal Library; You Need a Good One

If you have Moo on Romans or Hoehner on Ephesians, how many other commentaries do you really need on these books? Perhaps one or two others would be helpful, but when you need more than that, what you really need is a trip to a library. Sure, missionaries can’t just visit a theological library any time they would like, but then again, how often does a missionary need to write an academic paper? For that matter, who can adequately do academic research using only Logos? What most people need is a small personal library of very good books.

5. Ebooks Are the Wave of the Future

I’m not critiquing Logos because I think paper is better. The world is going digital, but I don’t think it is time to jump aboard the digital bandwagon quite yet. I am concerned that the rise of ebooks in popular file types like pdf and epub are going to replace both print and proprietary digital formats. While print books will always have some place in the world, programs like Logos may very well become obsolete once ebooks become the norm.

Logos is a nice software program, but its popularity has created a kind of groupthink that seems to be blind to the software’s limitations and encourages bad research habits. On a limited budget, paper still seems to be the way to go for the time being. If you really like Logos, buy it. Just don’t buy all the hype.

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4 thoughts on “Logos Groupthink

  1. The actual future is now but largely unrecognized and unimplemented. The proper human use of computers is programing, not the simulation of obsolete procedures and devices. An interface between a simple, flexible programming language and books in a standard data base format is what is needed. I have used BibleWorks since version 4. But as a retired computer system architect I have been hugely frustrated by the specialized complexity of today’s software. But I have become independently aware of the explanation of this lag in implementation by the greatest computer person of my generation.
    E.W.Dijkstra Archive: Interview Prof. Dr. Edsger W. Dijkstra, Austin, 04-03-1985 “You should realize that in any field the time lag, the delay between a significant scientific progress and its acceptance by the scientific community at large not to mention the moment that it finds its way into a product should be measured in generations. The reasons for dissatisfaction with the way I have been educated—on the whole I am extremely happy with my education—are that nobody warned me about that time lag of a few generations, I had to discover that all by myself with a lot of frustration.” http://bit.ly/K3upUA

  2. I agree with Point #1, with this exception. Perhaps certain books on your bookshelf go unopened or unused precisely because you do not realize (or have forgotten) it contains information helpful to your research or study on a particular topic. What Logos4 provides is the ability to search the contents of the entire book (and 1,000s of other books) so that you can determine if the contents do contain helpful information. Consequently, having a book in a searchable digital edition does actually increase the changes that you will use it. That being said, context is king (Point #3), but I’m not sure I would agree that you need to read the entire book to determine the meaning of the one paragraph you are citing, but that’s another matter.

    As for Points #2 and #4, I agree that I don’t have much use for most of the books that come with the base packages (bible dictionaries, original language bibles, translations, and theological resources being the exception). That is why, as I said in your previous post, I have not been convinced to upgrade the package I received from my seminary. I only buy the books that I need for class or for my own study. If I had to purchase the base scholar’s package ($500+) on my own, I would still be ordering most of my books from Amazon and stacking them on top of my already full bookshelves.

  3. Pingback: How to Avoid Buying Books | The Parallax Perspective

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