Wikipedia has changed the task of writing the average term paper.  “Wiki-papers”, I am tempted to call some of them.  Wikipedia has undoubtedly changed the intellectual landscape by making knowledge more accessible: never before have so many cited so much with so little effort.[1]  Rock formation, Wadi Rum desert, Jordan

   Improved access to knowledge is an obvious benefit, so long as that knowledge has truth and integrity.  The bigger and more difficult question is whether and to what extent Wikipedia alters the quality of knowledge.  In this regard, the effects of wiki-technologies are more ambiguous.

  Does the collaborative nature of Wikipedia create a new virtual reality-“wikiality“-where knowledge floats and migrates through time and cyberspace on the democratic winds of unsolicited edits?  Does this lead to a shift in which subject matter expertise counts for less than the popularity of competing perceptions?  This question leads into an interesting debate, which probes the foundations of knowledge itself.  If knowledge is based in hard objective facts, will those facts consistently rise to the surface through a process of continual editing, just as the monuments of solid rock in the Wadi Rum remain standing while the surrounding sands have been dispersed by the relentless forces of erosion over the millennia?  Or will solid truths be obscured by a new wikiality in which truth itself becomes contingent upon the averaging effects of mass perceptions?

  Jimmy Wales, the “community founder” of Wikipedia,[2] advocates the position known as “neutral point of view” (NPOV), which says that the forces of democratic open editing will lead to an equilibrium, the NPOV, by removing distortions of reality, and thus wikiality provides a trustworthy path to objective truth. [3]

  No matter the outcome of the debate over the perceived advantages and disadvantages of wikiality, wiki-phenomena open up an exciting prospect for the study of knowledge generation and transfer.  In particular, I would be interested in studies of theological knowledge.  For example, what does the idea of wikiality mean for religion?  Is there a virtual world of religious beliefs that moves and shifts with changing cultural forces as more voices gain access to the knowledge base?  Is there a similarity between the Wikipedia editorial board and ecclesial authorities?  The advent of wiki-technologies would seem to open the possibility for empirical study of doctrines, both religious and secular.

  By way of example I offer one suggestion for further study-how does the concept of NPOV apply to theology? NPOV says that knowledge reaches a steady-state equilibrium.  This would seem to be similar to the second law of thermodynamics which says that extremes of hot and cold average each other out over time, and arrive at a uniform constant temperature.  When applied to the universe, this law says that given enough time, everything in the whole universe will eventually decay into a “heat death” where there is no temperature or energy gradient. When applied to knowledge, this means that extreme views of reality will cancel each other out, and knowledge will thus stabilize in a statement of objective reality. 

  In Christ however, we worship a living God, not a stable of facts.  Truth therefore is a person, a living person, and the idea of NPOV would seem to be insufficient for true theology.  NPOV might share some traits with certain creedal statements, but the endorsement of creeds comes alive neither in publications nor advisory boards of editors, but rather in worship by living bodies in communities of faith.  This why Jürgen Moltmann describes theology in terms of life:

Every Christian theology [is] a concrete theologia viatorum, a theology of those on the way, who in the differing estrangements of this world and this history are searching for the one coming truth which will one day illumine everyone.[4]

Theology takes place in the act of walking alongside each other (on the via), seeking God, and in the presence of God.  The theory of NPOV might aid academic study of the flows of doctrines, but ultimately it is not up to the task of theologia viatorum.  NPOV is more likely to reach equilibrium in the manufacture of a Golden Calf than in worship of the living triune God of grace.

[1] Well, please forgive me for saying this with a smirk, as I reflect on the exercise of grading term papers, but were you expecting to see a wiki-citation here?  See below for an example:[2] (26 June 2008).

[3] Jimmy Wales and his colleague Larry Sanger take opposing sides in this debate.  There’s a good synopsis of Wales’ Wikipedia experience in “The Free-Knowledge Fundamentalist”, The Economist Technology Quarterly, June 7, 2008, pp. 27-28.

[4] Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology, translated by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), pp. 60-61.


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