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September 30, 2010

WikipediaGod is true. God is truth. God is entirely without error, entirely true in all he is, in all he knows, in all he commands. He is the source of all that is true and right. As beings made in his image, we are to reflect his truth, to value what is true and turn from what is error. Truth leads to God, error leads to Satan, for it is Satan who is the first liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Wayne Grudem offers this warning: “In a society that is exceedingly careless with the truthfulness of spoken words, we as God’s children are to imitate our Creator and take great care to be sure that our words are always truthful.” Lying is an abomination to God because it mocks his truth. And while factual errors may not carry the same level of moral culpability as outright lies, while they may be unintentional, they are still lies, still pointing to a false reality. They still dishonor God.

I thought about these things as I was working on the manuscript for my forthcoming book on technology. I thought about how we encounter truth in the world today, how we determine what is true and what is false. And naturally my thoughts led me to Wikipedia. It led me to pour a lot of thought into Wikipedia and into the reality that Wikipedia may well now be our culture’s primary arbiter of truth. What does this mean to the Christian? Is Wikipedia a source of truth? And what does it mean that as a society we now believe that a wiki model is the best way to determine what is true?

Today and tomorrow I want to write about Wikipedia a little bit, seeing it as a microcosm of the way our society determines truth—truth by consensus.

Because of its popularity and the way it takes advantage of the elements that cause web pages to be most noticeable to search engines, Wikipedia is very often the first or second search result returned by search engines. I recently glanced at the pages of the books spread out before me, chose some words and performed a Google search for each. Knowledge, authority, and affair all showed a page from Wikipedia as the very first result. Truth, history and power all had the entry appear as the second result. Turning to words of theological concern I found that Jesus, God, justification, Christianity and baptism also all lead first to Wikipedia. This shows that Wikipedia is now the first to answer many of our most important questions, questions about truth, authority, knowledge, wisdom, power, God and salvation. Its 15 million articles draw in 75 million visitors every month. Wikipedia tells the world what is true.

Wikipedia’s success has spawned a long list of imitators, other sites that maintain a similar look and feel but, more importantly, the same wiki format (a wiki is a type of site in which the users create and edit the content; it depends not on a few experts but on an army of amateurs and enthusiasts like you and me). Because Wikipedia has cornered the market as a general repository of information, most of the imitators are more narrow in scope, catering to just one discipline, whether science or theology. Even dictionaries have become open, with the definitions of words and phrases determined by the crowds (For example, Wiktionary is a lexical extension to Wikipedia while Urban Dictionary is a collection of slang and hip terms). The wiki model is increasingly regarded as the best means of arriving at truth, at building a repository of knowledge.