Doing the Twist

Posted: November 23, 2008 in Blogosphere, Culture, Debate, Education

Of all my as-yet unwritten blogs posts, the two related ones about the Wiki Phenomenon and the so-called Wisdom of Crowds are probably the oldest. I’m no closer to giving either subject the full disapproval treatment they deserve. Sorry. However, I’d at least like to illustrate by example just how weak both can be if you consider authority and truth important. Websites that specialize in user-created content are examples of the merger of the two concepts cited above, from Wikipedia to YouTube to eBay to Flicker. You get the idea: user-introduced distortions get worked out over time, resulting in a balanced information environment. It’s not true, of course, but it’s an attractive idea.

So what happens when Wiki tech is used without even the pretense that information contained therein is objective (truth claims notwithstanding)? You get the Conservapedia, an online encyclopedia with content filtered through a conservative perspective, which may often as not be a Christian fundamentalist perspective. The blurb under the title and the About Conservapedia page both say it’s being trustworthy, but don’t believe it for a second.

The most popular and contentious entries are the stuff of old-timey religion, notably creationism and young Earth theory (the notion that Earth was created roughly 6,000 years ago). From a scientific perspective, which makes its own more authoritative claims to truth, there is no absolutely no doubt about Darwinian evolution or the age of the Earth being around 4.5 billion years. Observing the twisting performed by conservatives to reinterpret might be mildly entertaining if it weren’t so tragic. Consider the twisting to explain the starlight problem, which is that if the universe is only 6,000 years old, how does light from stars more than 6,000 light years from Earth reach us in the time available? I especially liked the twisty solution that the light was created (by god) in transit, which makes the deity a deceiver (just like with the problematic dinosaur bones). It’s all utter nonsense and frankly boggles the mind.

A similar distortion is happening with home schooling. This movement originated with the 1960s counterculture but really took off in the 1990s when fundamentalists decided they wanted the flexibility to instruct their children in religious and moral lessons, which the public schools obviously can’t. Resource sharing is especially important, and networks and cottage industries have sprung up to provide parents, who may not be well suited to teaching academic subjects, with materials that embed religious messages. So, for example, one can now get history books with a Christian point of view, such as Christ the King — Lord of History: A Catholic World History from Ancient to Modern Times. Of course, any perspective on history embeds its own propaganda, either subtly or overtly, but again, this just boggles the mind.

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Comments
  1. Kathleen says:

    I’ve never figured out why so many people fixate on the Creation story. Many parables or myths or legends or symbolic impressions in the Bible are equally untenable. Perhaps they start at the beginning with the idea that once they settle that–meaning convince all people forever, having quashed any twinge of doubt–they can move on to the what great housing whales will happily provide anyone needing shelter.

  2. Vilon says:

    Well Kathleen I was quite surprised to read from the old Akkadian and Babylonian texts written in cuneiform that the Sumerians (4400 BC) had Gilgamesh go to the island of adam and eve, face the flood, and had a story of creation quite similar to ours. Seems like nothing is novel in our old testament, it was mostly copied from the Babylonians. For example, in Sumerian the word Woman is the same as the word for RIB, so the story was sung and in the telling of that story a RIB is used to make a woman.

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