The Google Generation

Is it possible to be a recipient of the information age and be uninformed? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

With Christmas coming up, I’m wanting to upgrade some of my technology, and so yesterday while the Mrs. was at a Pinterest party, I decided to go to an AT&T store after some grocery shopping to talk to someone there about upgrades. One thing I want upgraded is my Kindle. I’d like to be able to read books on audio much more easily with a Kindle and I’ve been told I could just consider an IPad and with that I could use a Kindle App and have access to a tool I can use for powerpoint.

The guy who was telling me about the products heard me go on and on about books and then saw the books I had with me, apologetic books in nature, which led to a discussion about certain issues and I was told that in the past people believed the Earth was flat.

I quickly pointed out that this is a myth. “On The Heavens” by Aristotle has the teaching that the Earth is a sphere and you would be hard-pressed to find one intelligent thinker after that including Aquinas and the church fathers who thought otherwise.

I was told that the intelligentsia believed that, but not the masses. The masses all thought you would fall off. I simply replied that I would need evidence to believe such a thing.

So what happens? Well we’re there looking at IPads so he suggests that we just look it up.

How does the argument go? Well one of the first things found is this:

TheWorldisFlat

Except it’s worse than that.

You see, my salesman didn’t even look at the book. In fact, he never got to the picture. All he saw was a link with the title of the book and how it was a history of the 21st century and said “See? Even up until our time that’s been believed.”

Amazing what you can learn about a book just by seeing a title. Not only can you learn about the book, but you can learn about what a whole group of people have believed. No research required.

Now in our next vast tour of internet research, what’s the next thing we come across? This:

shipfallsoffEarth

Is there any attempt to see who did this painting? Nope. Is there any attempt to see when it was done? Nope. For all we know, it could be after the myth was popularized that people used to believe that the Earth was flat, which I pointed out Washington Irving popularized that myth about why Columbus sailed West. (It’s worth pointing out as well that Ingersoll helped popularize it.)

By this mindset, the musical group Kansas must have included flat-Earthers in it. Take a look at this album cover:

Kansas_-_Point_of_Know_Return

Now let’s suppose something. Let’s suppose that I am wrong for the sake of argument. Even if I was, is it sufficient to look at a web link and a picture and do nothing further beyond that and decide that your opponent’s position is refuted? Not at all.

Yet this is exactly what we’re up against.

You see, we live in an age where people think they are authorities because they can use Google. I can’t help but think of what my friend Tim McGrew, professor of philosophy at Western Michigan, says about this:

“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.”

Google is a fantastic tool when used appropriately, but when used inappropriately, it can give the illusion of knowledge without research.

Yet this is what we see happen in our age. I am involved in debates often with Christ-mythers for instance who when presented with several works of scholarship just instead put up a Google link by a non-scholarly source and then march off triumphantly convinced they’ve defeated their enemy.

Of course, I am not telling you to avoid using Google. I am also not telling you that all sources must be scholarly, but I do think sources for arguments should interact with scholars and while Google can be a tool in your research, it should not be the whole thing.

The sad part is unfortunately, the side relying entirely on Google has fooled itself with an illusion that real research has been done, when it has not been done. This is also why those of us who argue MUST read and study that which disagrees with us. If not, we can lull ourselves into a sense that we are automatically right by virtue of our position and have nothing to learn from our opponents.

And yes, both sides are guilty of this. The Christian side can too often consist of people saying “We have the Inerrant Word of God! What need have we to study anything else?” Meanwhile, the atheist side consists of people who will say “Courtier’s reply!” and think they have made a substantial reply.

Recently on my show, I interviewed my father-in-law Mike Licona. We’re quite different intellectually. He was the one who struggled in school and worked and when he did, got C’s. Meanwhile, I was the student who went to school, did all the assignments, came home and played video games all day, and then got A’s and elected Most Studious in my class. Study was not a necessity for me in school.

Now Mike is an academic, though he says it’s not his natural bent. How many of you in apologetics want to be like Mike? Then he would tell you this too. Study, study, study. There is no shortcut on this path. You must do the work.

Now some of you could be saying “Well that’s him, but what about you? Do you have it easy as one inclined to academics?”

Nope. Not a bit. Despite our differences in school, in this field, I too have to study, study, study. Now could it be I might have some advantages? Sure. But those advantages themselves do not present results. Those results only come from sacrifice. There are many times I’d frankly like to do other things, but in order to be informed, I have to study. It is work, but to be informed, it is worth it.

Also, if you get to the point where you think you no longer need to read the other side, then you are not really studying. By all means reach a conclusion. I have concluded Christianity is true, but I still read what I disagree with. Perhaps someone will show me an argument I have not considered. I can be skeptical, and you can be too, but we must always be open.

In our age, Google cannot take the place of real learning and research. Google if used properly will be an excellent tool for learning, but when used improperly, it can convince someone that they are learned when they are not, and when they speak on an issue, those who know it better will be left shaking their heads wondering how such a person thinks their point is valid.

Be a researcher. Don’t rely on just Google.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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5 Responses to “The Google Generation”

  1. Mark Collins Says:

    Google to show thyself approved??

  2. Daniel Eaton Says:

    I wrote about “Google Theology” a while back. Check it out.
    http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/2124612:BlogPost:20793

  3. labreuer Says:

    How many of you in apologetics want to be like Mike? Then he would tell you this too. Study, study, study. There is no shortcut on this path. You must do the work.

    I would add: rigorously debate with people who hold positions different from you. Text format is necessary for some of this.

    Your post reminded me of Josef Pieper’s Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power, written in 1974. Pieper lived through Naziism in Germany and was even put on an “enemy of the people” list. As it turns out, Google may not be all that new of a phenomenon:

        I spoke of public discourse becoming “detached from the notions of truth and reality”. This brief characterization may still be too mild; it does not yet express the full measure of devastation breeding within the sophistic corruption of the word. It is entirely possible that the true and authentic reality is being drowned out by the countless superficial information bits noisily and breathlessly presented in propaganda fashion. Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing. Arnold Gehlen labeled it “a fundamental ignorance, created by technology and nourished by information”. But I wanted to say, something far more discouraging is readily conceivable as well: the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth. (33–34)

  4. Apologetics Roundup (7/03 -7/10) - Stephen J. Bedard Says:

    […] The Google Generation – Nick Peters […]

  5. Book Plunge: Inventing The Flat Earth | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] had a conversation at a store with a salesman who was telling me that people in the past believed the Earth was flat, which I raised disagreement with. Online, one can hear this as a common objection. Often it is […]

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