Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Next Story - #7

Truth/Authority (Chapter 8: Here comes everybody)

Truth is at the heart of the divine, and it is an attribute of God that he calls us to imitate. Truth leads to God and error leads to Satan. Therefore, truth matters. We need to be clear and truthful when we speak.

Our knowledge must also be true. We must be careful how we choose the sources of our knowledge and who has authority to declare what is true.

2 examples of truth in a digital age:

1. Wikipedia – an example of truth by consensus

Challies is swift to point out the advantages of the Wiki model:
  • it is often correct
  • it is expansive, bigger in scope than any printed encyclopedia could ever be
  • it relies on more sources
  • it is cheap (relies on volunteer editors, accessed for free)
  • it is responsive, entries can be changed quickly
  • it is convenient (accessible by any internet device)

Yet, it also has significant drawbacks:
  • It ignores human nature (assumes humans are good and will work together)
  • It offers too little review (little quality control)
  • It is too subjective – people can edit their own entries, corporations/politicians can change entries to suit their purposes, etc.
  • It ignores authority (gained by experience, age, knowledge). All people are equal – the 12 year old can edit an entry, as can a distinguished expert in the field.
  • It redefines truth – truth becomes indistinguishable from consensus. It democratises truth.
“Truth is what the majority determines it to be” (28:25).

We must remember that consensus and scripture are often at odds. The vast majority of people do not accept the claims of the Bible or Christ, but that consensus does not mean those claims are not true.

2. Search engines – an example of truth by relevance

Google’s search engines assign importance to various websites, by sites linking to one another and assign levels of trust to various sites. Wikipedia is assigned a very high level of trust, explaining why Wikipedia comes up #1 or #2 in almost all Google searches.

When you use a search engine, is it deciding what is the truest search for you based on relevance, which is all determined by complex mathematical formula.

In the end, the issue is not whether Wiki or search engines are good or evil, but how our technologies are changing our perception of truth. They mediate truth to us. The same thing happened when photos came to be believed over the written word.

Knowledge of truth cannot be democratised, they flow from God the author of truth. “Truth is not what is relevant or what is popular, but what God thinks.” (53:05)
“As Christians we know what is true because we know who is true. We know the source of truth and we have access to him through the words he has given us. We know that consensus and relevance may imitate truth and at times properly reflect what is true but all truth ultimately flows from the one who is truth” (37:50)

At the same time as our idea of truth is changing, so is our perception of authority. Instead of a few experts, we now have many amateurs. We have undermined the authority inherent in knowledge. Now we have crowd sourcing. Book and movie reviews can be written by anyone (including me!). Amateur reporters often have more followers than established political reporters.

What should we do?

Challies suggests we:
  • Ensure our commitment to the Bible – to know what is true from the author of truth
  • Be aware. Google does not speak truth but a mathematical search, Wiki is crowd sourced
  • Celebrate authority – trust traditional sources

Things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • Do you agree that truth is important? That truth is a key attribute of God and therefore one we must take seriously?
  • How does use of Wiki or Google shape your understanding of what is true?
  • How have you observed the undermining of authority inherent in knowledge? When does this concern you? When doesn't it concern you?

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