Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Why Google Research Is A Problem

December 17, 2014

Does having more access to information mean we’re more informed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two times this week, I have seen an interesting event happen. In both cases, I have been discussing with an atheist on Facebook. In both cases, I have seen them make a claim that’s completely false. In both cases, I saw them Google for a resource to use. In both cases, the link they provided that they said backed their case in fact did not back their case. In fact, in both cases, they used the same web site and seeing as it’s a web site where I know the guy who runs it, I know the quality is excellent and my opponents didn’t realize what they had done.

In the first case, I was told that it was at the Council of Nicea that the Bible had been edited. The excellent site that was used to demonstrate this claim was www.Tertullian.org and the specific page was this one. This site is run by Roger Pearse who is a Christian and an excellent researcher so I knew something was wrong immediately. With this, it didn’t take too long. All I had to do was read the first paragraph. I will bold in the important parts.

There seem to be a number of legends about the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) in circulation on the internet, presented as fact.  Some people seem to think that the council, which was the first council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church, either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever.  These are in error.  This page documents the problem and provides links to all the ancient source material in order to allow everyone to check the truth for themselves.

In the next case, it was someone trying to tell me a pagan deity like Mithras was born on December 25th. Even if Jesus was not born on this day, it is a false claim to say all these pagan deities were born on that same day. The page I was linked to was this one. Yet had the person even bothered to read, he would have seen that again, it wasn’t friendly to his claims.

Cumont stated that the birthday of Mithras was 25 December, on the basis that a solar feast took place on that date and Mithras would, of course, be included. The idea was only speculation, but has been widely taken up. Clauss repeats the claim. But Beck states that this is not the case. In fact he calls this assertion ‘that hoariest of “facts”‘. He continues: “In truth, the only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of Invictus on that date in the Calendar of Philocalus. ‘Invictus’ is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian’s sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too.”

But later Clauss states; “the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.”

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail the question of whether the general “natalis Invicti” festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.

Please note this. For the sake of argument, it could be Pearse is wrong in his claims. I’m quite confident he isn’t, but let’s suppose he is just for the sake of argument. What matters is that in both cases, the person had likely just typed something in on Google and just copied the first few links without bothering to even read what they said confident that what they put up had to prove their point.

And this is the problem.

There are too many people today who think just being able to Google is all they need to make an argument and if they can find a link that says something, then that establishes it.

News flash to some of you. Not everything on the internet is true.

You see, one of the problems of the internet is anyone whatsoever can set up a blog, web site, YouTube channel, write an Ebook, etc., and be seen as an authority. Now of course I’m not going to deny there is some excellent work out there by non-scholars. I would hope some of you reading this blog think that this is the case here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have pseudo-research but just look impressive.

If you know how to use Google, it can be an excellent tool. If you don’t know how, it can give you the appearance of knowledge without the substance thereof.

If you want the best knowledge, you will need to read the books by leading authorities in the field you want to learn. These authorities also do not produce their material for free. Every now and then, you can find some resources that are free, such as the podcast that I host regularly.Yet despite that, there is no replacement whatsoever for reading the books that you need to read.

Imagine going to a doctor and as you describe your symptoms you see him on his computer. Now this isn’t always an unusual scene. Sometimes he’s entering in data on your case. Yet what would happen if you asked him what he was doing and he said “Oh. I’m googling in your symptoms to see what you have and what the best treatment would be?” I hope all of you would be going to find a new doctor.

In Japan, one of the delicacies you can get is Puffer Fish. The problem with the meai is that the fish contains a deadly poison so if you want to serve it, you have to cook it in just the right way so that it is no longer a threat. In fact, you have to be specially licensed in order to prepare this meal. How many would be willing to have the meal at a Japanese restaurant if you knew the cook was instead just using Google to learn how to do it?

Google can too often just allow a person to be lazy and look like they know something when they don’t. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for work. There is no shortcut on the path of knowledge. If you want to learn something, you will have to work at it. You can use Google as a tool, but do not expect it to do all the work for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Google Generation

August 8, 2014

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

The Trouble With Internet Debates

May 27, 2014

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters