Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Conservatives and Christians create alternatives to Wikipedia

Is information dangerous? Does raw information need to be presented in such a way as to promote certain ideas and discourage others?

Certainly there are those who believe the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is a threat to the status quo. Alternatives to Wikipedia have been created for conservatives at Conservapedia and for Christians at CreationWiki to guarantee certain information has been filtered to fall in line with acceptable conservative or Christian ideology. The two alternative encyclopedias have a veneer of objectivity while promoting certain ideas. (For examples see the entry for “Flying Spaghetti Monster” at Wikipedia compared to the same entry at CreationWiki.)

This is from Der Spiegel:
Christian fundamentalists in the US have launched two online encyclopedias modelled on the Wikipedia format. Conservapedia and CreationWiki aim to explain the world from a creationist perspective. They make entertaining reading.

"Kangaroos, like all modern animals, originated in the Middle East and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood." This sentence is taken from an online encyclopedia. And it is meant seriously.

The encyclopedia in question is not Wikipedia but Conservapedia. Boasting a layout modelled on that of Wikipedia, it is one of the latest coups in the struggle of Christian fundamentalists to ban scientific teachings in school and reinstate the Bible as the definitive, all-explaining text and history book.

Conservapedia is essentially the Christian fundamentalists' answer to Wikipedia. It's an attempt to undermine the supposed hegemony that evolutionary theorists have on the Internet when it comes to explaining the origin of humans and animals. The religious project even has a big sister: CreationWiki spreads words of wisdom like: "God created humans separately from the animals less than 10,000 years ago." Although 45 percent of Americans believe this thesis, evolutionary theory is "taught as fact in schools funded by taxes taken from people who disagree with these views", argues the author of the entry "Creation vs. Evolution."

Critics of a literal interpretation of the Bible may find Conservapedia unintentionally amusing. The "Debate Topics" facility allows readers to discuss burning questions like "Crusades -- Good or Bad?"

CreationWiki tries to maintain a veneer of objectivity even though it labels itself "creationist," but Conservapedia is first and foremost aimed at provocation rather than providing information. It was created by conservative lawyer Andy Schlafly and 58 high school students in November 2006. Schlafly believed that the world needed "a resource for the general audience, but without the defects of Wikipedia," as he told Wired magazine, because Wikipedia is in the hands of the liberals, the godless and the nation-less.

CreationWiki is evidently meant to be a serious project for the promotion of "creation science" -- an attempt by Christian fundamentalists to put creation thought on the same discursive level as evolutionary biology. In CreationWiki, which was set up in 2004, users can read about genes, and there is even a picture of the DNA double helix to illustrate the entry. There is no sign of evolution theory-bashing in the article.

Conservapedia, on the other hand, only has three sentences on the subject: "A section of DNA that codes for the production of a protein or a portion of a protein. Although the gene is the fundamental unit of heredity, changes in genes (so-called 'evolution') cannot explain the differences between species, which require an Intelligent Designer."
You can read the entire article here.


Anonymous said...

WOW! Too funny. And, the other two resemble the format and look of the original Wikipedia. I smell a lawsuit coming.

Thanks for sharing this.



Carl said...

Nope, no lawsuit. Wikipedia is based on the MediaWiki software, which is open source. (That means it's free, and everyone can use it how they see fit.)

It's also pretty easy to set up. So neither group had to work too hard to get their wikis going.