Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wikipedia Redefines Truth

Nathan JonesBy Nathan Jones

How would you define "truth?"
Would it be how Jesus defined "truth" when He stated "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6)? Or, would you define it as the world's largest free online encyclopedia — Wikipedia — defines it.

Should we care?
First off, why should you care if Wikipedia has a different view than Jesus on what "truth" is? Simson L. Garfinkel, contributing editor of MIT's Technology Review and a professor of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, wrote an article titled Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth (Nov/Dec 2008). In his article he states why we should care.

"Why should we care? Because — Wikipedia's articles are the first — or second—ranked results for most Internet searches. Google's search algorithms rank a story in part by how many times it has been linked to; people are linking to Wikipedia articles a lot. This means that the content of these articles really matters. Wikipedia's standards of inclusion — what's in and what's not — affect the work of journalists, who routinely read Wikipedia articles and then repeat the wiki claims as 'background' without bothering to cite them. These standards affect students, whose research on many topics starts (and often ends) with Wikipedia."

If you have every used Google to look something up or did research on the Web, more than likely you have used Wikipedia. It has become the de facto place to go for information. And, while most know that like any periodical it has to be viewed with a wary eye, in the end, we just usually take the info from it and run with it.

Defining
This is how Wikipedia defines "truth":

"The meaning of the word truth extends from honesty, good faith, and sincerity in general, to agreement with fact or reality in particular. The term has no single definition about which a majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute."

If you're blinking with mouth gaping, then you're not alone. To sum up what they are saying — they don't know!

The gobbldy-gook of philosophical terminology and redirects run down the monitor paragraph after paragraph, overall reminding me of Shakespeare's line in MacBeth, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." In this case, their definition signifies nothing.

Redifining
But, while the Wikipedia entry on "Truth" signifies nothing, a look into the backdoor of Wikipedia's policies shows they do indeed have a working definition of "truth." Wikipedia's litmus for what volunteers post for each subject is tested on three core content policies:

  • verifiability

  • no original research

  • neutral point of view

Wikipedia does not allow original research to be posted, but if two other people corroborate with each other on that research, even if the source material's author doesn't agree (see Jaron Lanier's experince in the article), then the corroborator's views are what is taken as fact.

"So what is Truth? According to Wikipedia's entry on the subject, 'the term has no single definition about which the majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree.' But in practice, Wikipedia's standard for inclusion has become its de facto standard for truth, and since Wikipedia is the most widely read online reference on the planet, it's the standard of truth that most people are implicitly using when they type a search term into Google or Yahoo. On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject. That standard is simple: something is true if it was published in a newspaper article, a magazine or journal, or a book published by a university press — or if it appeared on Dr. Who."

What Garfinkel means in the above quote is that Wikipedia believes "truth" is what consensus says it is. Very post-modern!

Prophecy and Truth
One of the end-time signs leading up to Jesus Christ's return is a pulling away from the source of truth — Jesus, the Word of God. The Apostle Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

Jesus stated in Matthew 24:37, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." People will trade truth for falsehood in the last days, and so they have. People will return to what life was like in the days of Noah, when the foundations of righteousness were pulled down and replaced with the mob's version of ethics, which is really lawlessness.

Isaiah warns in 5:20, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

When Jesus returns, truth will be restored on the rock that is Jesus Christ — the very meaning of "truth."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Using Wikipedia as a way of highlighting the Bible verses at the end of this is a very weak analogy. The analogy to those verses should focus on the so called truths preached by liberal church doctrines such as acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, spiritualization and demasculization of scripture, etc. I think the Bible is warning us of false religious doctrine in those verses, not some insignificant internet encyclopedia.

Anonymous said...

As a follow-up, I am positive the people that use Wikipedia for their source of knowledge are the same as those that go to the liberal churches preaching false doctrine which is where the REAL cause for concern should be.

Nathan Jones said...

Anonymous, you obviously don't use Wikipedia. :)

Certainly, those verses have a lot of meaning for a church becoming more wordly. But, bear in mind Jesus is talking about the world returning to the days of Noah, not just the Church.

When a resource like Wikipedia is becoming more widely read and referenced than the Bible in a culture that's becoming increasingly secular, that truth equals consensus has huge implications on society.

BTW, the "real cause for concern" Jesus would argue is Acts 1:8 - reaching the lost for Christ.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, your reply had it right. I guess you could say I "do not know whereof I speak" because I've only glanced at Wikipedia so I guess my posts are now in question. However, I would argue that those in liberal false churches are a part of the "lost". They will be amoung the ones to whom Jesus will say "I never knew you". I pray, of course, that everyone will come to Christ just as God wishes. Tragically, many will not.

Wayne said...

I have linked to your post from Jeremiah Films.

Some of the redefinition seem almost Orwellian. Thank you for your excellent post.