Does the net pose a danger? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Last night, I saw someone share an article about how the internet is causing people to leave Christianity. On the face of it, let’s just accept the claim. Actually, I’m quite sure the claim is true. This was an atheist who shared it so naturally, the idea is the internet is showing people that religious claims are false.
Unfortunately for them, that’s the kind of simplistic thinking that is behind many such claims. You could say that the totalitarian regimes in Russia and China caused atheism to rise, therefore atheism is true. In all of this, I don’t want to assume that any one position is true. Hypothetically, atheism could be true and Christianity false. I just want to access how we’re approaching the claim.
The idea is that more information leads to more knowledge, which could in many ways seem like something obvious to say, but it’s not. More good information leads to more knowledge. There is plenty of false information out there. You can watch a documentary on Netflix called Behind The Curve about people who believe the Earth is flat.
Most New Testament scholars that are even atheists and agnostics would decry Jesus Mythicism as an utterly bankrupt theory. Unfortunately, if you went by what is seen on the internet, you would think that this is the main idea of such scholars. Atheists will go and treat this like it’s gospel and do so because they read something on the internet and never bothered to read anything else.
In all of this, I don’t want to say the internet is horrible. There is plenty of good information on the internet. The problem is most people don’t possess the skills in research necessary to sift out the good information from the bad. This isn’t just limited to atheists. There are plenty of Christians out there that believe stupid things because they don’t know how to sift out information.
One key problem of this is avoiding books. You see, the information you read on the internet is often free stuff and not the best material that you can find in scholarly works by people who actually want to get paid for their information because they have these strange desires like, you know, providing for their families and earning a living.
Many times when I present these books to people and ask if they want to read them, I get met with the strongest resistance. Whenever this shows up, mark it for what it is, a form of anti-intellectualism. If you are confident in your position, you should have no problem reading the other side. Don’t say the other side isn’t worth reading if you think it’s worth the time to go out there and argue against it. This also goes for those of us who are Christians who do need to read the other side.
So what we could say is that many people who are low-information are having their minds changed easily. I say this in light of realizing that as a Christian, I am happy much information is being put out about groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they wouldn’t have access to normally, but even then that information needs to be sifted out. When we have had Mormons visiting us, I have found them to be just as credulous with material on the internet and even anti-Mormonism and anti-Watchtower material should be checked for veracity.
Two great offenders worth mentioning in all of this are Wikipedia and YouTube. When someone sends me a Wikipedia article on a serious subject, I don’t even bother reading it. Some might say the footnotes at the end are usually good, but then just go and read those sources and show me that that information is in there. Wiki is fine if you’re looking up pop culture references, like movies, TV shows, music, and video games. It’s not good for debatable positions.
YouTube is the second great offender here. Of course, there are plenty of great YouTube channels out there. Sadly, anyone can set one up and having knowledge and skill is not a requirement. It’s too easy to think that someone is an authority because they have a channel, but they’re not. You must look at the content that is being produced.
So the problem is not really religion. It’s low-information thinking. Again, nothing I have said here is about any particular worldview being true or false. I have simply made claims about how we access religious claims and any other claims and test them for validity.
The shout of victory that the internet is leading to more information and thus more people leaving religion is itself a low-information belief. It doesn’t bother to examine all possible reasons going on and just assumes that people are finding stuff on the internet and learning that X isn’t true, whatever it is. That could be, but there are other reasons and those need to be examined as well. To choose one automatically without examination or justification is to be the kind of person who does just believe whatever is read to them on the internet.