Secondhand Information

Would you let someone chew your food for you? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

On Facebook, I’m part of a discussion group between Muslims and Christians. It is not because I am an expert in Islam. I’m not. It’s because I was asked to come and defend the NT, and that is what I do. Hence, I do not make comments about the Quran generally (Other than that it denies the crucifixion) or about specific Muslim doctrines. I don’t because I don’t know them. There are people who do. Let them do that.

Unfortunately, that is not a two way street.

One of the great benefits in the internet age is that there is a world of information at your fingertips just waiting to be discovered.

Unfortunately, one of the great curses in the internet age is that there is a world of information at your fingertips just waiting to be discovered.

How does this work? Let’s give an example. My ministry partner makes YouTube videos. Now I know the reasons in the videos he makes quite well, but I think the videos are an entertaining and informative way of expressing the ideas. Therefore, I can sometimes link someone to a video and if we want to discuss it, then it is discussed.

On the other hand, I can be talking to a Muslim who tells me that the Bible has been changed. I start asking him about textual criticism. At one point I can say something like “Do you know what a gloss is?” only to receive the question “Gloss?” In other words, the idea has never been thought of before.

What happens? Instead, a video is put up with a Muslim authority talking about how the Bible has been “changed.” For the sake of argument, let’s suppose it has been changed. Here’s the problem. I would be wrong then in my defense of it, but my opponent not knowing the subject matter is really unable to talk about it. If I am wrong, he has no way of demonstrating it. If I am right, he has no way of refuting it. Instead, there is just blind reliance on the authority. Most shown in this is the remark I got of “I can’t read the whole book on textual criticism.” (Yes. I recommended a book. How dare me recommend books.)

A topic like this requires a quote from Dr. Tim McGrew, head of the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

“One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff. It does not explain which facts are relevant and which are beside the point. It does not weigh the merits of competing arguments and tell the user where the balance of evidence lies. A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition.”

He’s right entirely. This is why in our day and age discarded theories have come back with a vengeance as people treat old ideas that were thrown out as if they were new. It is as if we were rummaging through someone’s garbage and found an old black and white television and treated this as if it was the latest invention.

The internet is the place of zombies as dead ideas constantly arise to receive new life.

Now of course, most of our information comes from other sources, but if we want to learn it, we must do the necessary research. There are excellent sources online, but you need to know how to sift through those sources and find what is true. Who does that podcast you listen to? Who runs that web site? Who produced that YouTube video? This is much easier with books.

Also, most scholars will not put their work out there for free. They will make you pay for it, and who can blame them? They worked hard to get it to you. Why should they receive nothing for their work? This will require time on your part as well. I find it incredible how many people just can’t be bothered to read books these days.

If you do link to a source, make sure you know something about the source. If you don’t, you lower yourself as you will be embarrassed even if you don’t realize it. You will also be insulting your own opponents as if telling them that your doing a web search is equivalent to their reading of books for years.

Besides, if you are sure your position is true, what do you have to fear from reading the opposition? If it is not, you have the blessing of getting to change a view that is no longer true. It is a win-win situation either way. You will either be more informed in what you hold to be a true view for now, or you will abandon a view that is false.

Either way, you must make sacrifices. As McGrew has told me, you cannot exercise by watching someone else do push-ups. If you want to argue like an authority, study to become one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters