Do We Really Know More?

In the age of the Internet, it’s easy to say we have more access to knowledge than anyone else today, but does that mean we’re smarter?

I’d like you to imagine you live in the ancient world. In fact, you live next to a great bastion of learning, the Library of Alexandria. Within walking distance from where you are is a great collection of knowledge from all over that you can read when you want to. Here is the question then. Does that mean that you automatically know better than anyone else out there?

No. No you don’t. You might have more access to information than the average person, but it doesn’t mean you know better. One person who could make it to the library perhaps once a year, but knows how better to sift through information, will be more informed on topics than you will be. This person will know what books they need to read, how to read them, and how best to process new information when they get it in.

Today, we live in the age of the Internet. Most everyone can have access to the knowledge of the world immediately. It is sitting right at our fingertips. (Though often we miss it while looking at pictures of cats and debating what color a dress is.) There is no doubt that the Internet is a vast reservoir of knowledge overflowing and that a person can give themselves a decent education on a topic by doing some good looking on the net.

And yet, therein lies the danger.

Many of us remember seeing this commercial:

Funny? Indeed. We all laugh at the gullibility of the girl. How could someone possibly believe anything that they read on the Internet? We laugh, but don’t realize that too often, that describes many of us. In the age of the net, it’s easy to have anyone set up a blog or a web site or a podcast or anything of that sort and be seen as an authority. Many of us can self-publish EBooks and have us look like people who know what they’re talking about.

At this point, an obvious rejoinder comes up. “Well you’re not a scholar in the field and you have a blog and web site and podcast! Why should we listen to you? Couldn’t you be wrong?”

I absolutely could be wrong. I would hope you would listen because I do think I read profusely and seek to find out whatever I can in my field. Plus, when I interview someone, they are usually a scholar in the field and that means they are definitely worth listening to. When it comes to my own opinions on here, I will admit it’s really awesome to have so many people respecting and liking what I have to say, but I am not Scripture. I am not infallible at all. I would not want you to believe something just because I say it. Please feel free to research what I say. Even N.T. Wright has said that he can be sure 1/3 of the stuff he teaches is wrong. I would be quite the anomaly if I had everything that I taught be correct.

Too often on the net, people just hear what they want to hear and there is always a voice speaking loud enough on this. Recently for instance, I reviewed David McAfee’s Disproving Christianity. Quite simply, this is a terrible book, but if you go to his Facebook page, his followers, and it looks like there’s a lot of them for some strange reason, are just so impressed by what is being said. All I conclude is that people hear what they want to hear. The claims are not questioned. Rarely can you expect the other side to be read.

Christ mythicism is another example of this. While this position is a joke in the world of NT scholarship, it is seen as if it’s a hotly debated theory on the Internet. See for instance this quote by McAfee as well concerning John 14:6.

“This verse is, however, only one of the many indicating the necessity not of moral behavior to be saved, but of accepting Jesus Christ—who, according to doctrine, is supposed to have lived thousands of years ago and for whose existence we have little to evidence, neither as a man nor as part of the divine Christian God-head”

The tragedy in the atheist community is that this is fallen for hook, line, and sinker. It’s quite interesting that so many people who claim to be freethinkers tend to think exactly alike. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Many of you out there know who you are. For too many atheists, it is as if anything in the Bible is shown to be true, then at this point, one must commit ritual suicide. It cannot be allowed that a worldview like Christianity got anything historically accurate.

Okay. Someone might say I’m picking on the atheists. Christians do the same thing.

Yes. The sad thing is that too many atheists who tend to be all about the evidence will often believe something despite the evidence for it being flimsy and the scholars in the field rejecting it. Too many Christians meanwhile who claim to follow the one who said He is the way, the truth, and the life, and who are told to be on their guard against false doctrine, will too often not bother to do any of the research either. They will believe something just because it already fits in with what they already believe.

To an extent, that does make sense. The problem is our worldview is just often not informed enough to see if we have any reason to believe what we come to the data believing. So you’re a Christian who has grown up all your life believing Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is God’s infallible and inerrant word. You have not really looked at the evidence, but you believe it. So you have someone email you a story about how NASA scientists had their calculations wrong until someone on a team told a story about Joshua’s missing day. Wow! How incredible! This just confirms what you believe! Unfortunately, that story if you believed it, is bogus.

If you don’t know how to process the information you have already, then any discovery that comes along that fits in with what you already believe will be believed by you. On the Internet, this is especially so if it comes in a nice-looking package, such as a well-designed web site. It can also happen if a speaker knows how to speak persuasively even if his points are nonsense. This is in fact one reason I consider debate helpful. If both participants are well-informed, you can get to hear the views all critiqued. It’s also way counterpoint books can be so fascinating to read.

If what I’m saying is accurate, then having knowledge there to us will not helpful to us if we don’t know how to process it and question it. This is one reason especially churches need to be encouraging their members to ask questions and they need to discuss those questions openly. People who are not questioning what they believe and asking about it quite frankly are not growing as disciples of Christ.

For my non-Christian readers, while you might deplore Christians sitting and just believing everything their pastor says, something I also deplore, make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Have you set your own authorities up as people who are going to be correct on whatever they say? Too often from our perspective, it looks like that is exactly what is happening. There’s a great danger I see, especially in the atheist community, where it is assumed that if you are an atheist, you are a person of reason and evidence. If someone is a Christian, they are a person of faith. Why should anyone listen to faith and why should anyone go against reason and evidence? Therefore, anyone who is rational will be an atheist. I refer to this as presuppositional atheism.

The best antidote to this is to learn how to interact with the opposite viewpoints and check up on the claims. You read something on the net? Go and check and see if it is true first. Don’t just believe something. In all honesty, if my own wife tells me about a story she’s read, I always ask what the source of that story is first.  When I have seen people post interesting stories on the Internet, I have often been the bearer of bad news by saying “It’s a good story. Unfortunately, it’s false.”

For Christians, this is especially the case. We claim to be followers of Christ. If people cannot trust what we say on mundane ordinary matters that could be shown to be false by five minutes of research, why should they trust us on ultimate life-changing issues that five minutes worth of research would not be sufficient for?

(btw, along those lines, Christian issues such as the resurrection are deep issues. I do not trust anyone who thinks that a major decision like this can be decided after a brief time of research. There are Ph.D.’s who study these subject in depth and simplistic answers will just not work. This is also why I oppose using memes as arguments. Memes can be humorous illustrations of arguments, but they should not be the arguments themselves.)

It’s easy to pride ourselves as thinking we possess knowledge in the age of the Internet, but let’s be careful about it. We could very well fulfill the Scripture where it says that proclaiming ourselves to be wise, we became fools. Rest assured, every side does have fine and intelligent minds on it, but every side also has their share of fools. Be sure to investigate what you believe. We should not desire to be fools.

In Christ,
Nick Peters