Religious Debate As Wiki Reductionist Test Case

Statement of Problem:

Discussion about religion (specifically Christianity) is unlikely to add value to Wiki, as it is not software related, nor are haphazard, incomplete discussions likely to change anyones mind regarding what they believe about God or lack thereof.

I'm not sure that discussion about religion adds any less value to Wiki than discussion of Microsoft, discussions about WikiNature, or discussions about refactoring -- namely, in my view they *all* add value to Wiki. In a similar vein, many -- if not most -- of the discussions and threads in Wiki are "haphazard" and "incomplete", at least to some. For me, the value of any such exchange is not in whether it "change anyones mind" but instead in whether they might point a way, however vaguely, towards further investigation by someone. For example, Wiki's handling of AspectOrientedProgramming is surely "haphazard and incomplete", by anyone's standard. And yet, for me, it provoked some deeply rewarding further investigation on my own.

The initial explicitly stated "purpose" of Wiki was to discuss SoftwareDesignPattern's. By that standard, ALL of the ExtremeProgramming content is "off-topic". Where would Wiki be, today, if a community of well-intentioned reductionists had redacted it all away, or attempted to recast it into pattern-shaped mold? Thankfully, the nature of Wiki (then) was to simply allow it to evolve.

I thus argue (see my addition to solution 2, below) that any topic that draws the attention of this community is "appropriate", simply *because* it draws the attention of this community -- by construction. In my view, discussions about the nature of God are just as relevant as discussions about, for example, intellectual property, the virtual machines encoded by DNA, copyright, properties of self-representing systems, the origins of consciousness (particularly in the context of whether they can be simulated or recreated using machines), the implications of carbon-based computing (DNA has now been used to both encode messages, contain "watermarks", and represent state), and a host of similar issues. In my view, academic freedom and free-ranging intellectual curiosity have been a hallmark of interesting communities for generations, and I'm loath to restrict it here. -- TomStambaugh

Solution 0:

The point of wiki is to contain whatever people care enough to contribute. The appropriate behavior is to contribute.

Solution 1:

WikiReductionists might argue that agreeing to remove religious debate would add to the clarity of purpose for Wiki.

Discussion of Solution 1:

This might appeal to both Christians and non-Christians, in that for those that would rather keep Wiki a software-related site, it would alleviate them of the need to defend their faith. (If they feel that blatantly unfair, illogical things are being posted by the other camp, but feel that responding would just add heat, and not light.)

A problem with Solution 1 might be one of where to draw the line? Although there is a vocal group castigating all Christian related material, presumably, there are Wikizens that do not find it objectionable. The same could be said for any number of off-topic topics.

Putting out fires after they spread is not easy in the current "anti-reductionist" climate. In the long run, the only way to keep Wiki "on topic" is to keep it ... on topic! (See Solution 3 for an alternative.)

This WikiReductionist would argue that agreeing to remove poor-quality religious debate would add to the clarity of purpose for Wiki. He'd also argue that high-quality religious debate is fine here, but would be more at home on WhyClublet, since that's what it's there for. -- KeithBraithwaite

Solution 2:

BackStackers might argue that just ignoring any objectionable "proselytizing " would relegate it to the BackStack.

Discussion of Solution 2:

Stop worrying about off-topic stuff. Just post lots on interesting on-topic stuff and watch the off-topic threads die out fast.

A problem with Solution 2 is that some Wikizens have reported an inability to resist responding to the off-topic, Christian oriented pages. How does the BackStack theory work in this case?

In my view, the BackStack theory works *perfectly* in this case -- if some Wikizens can't resist responding to "off-topic, Christian oriented pages", my view is that those pages become, by construction, on-topic. It has been my experience, after my own 48 years of wandering, that it is those "off-topic", but nevertheless compelling, ideas -- those "idle thoughts" and "fantasies" that continue to pop up, uninvited, over and over -- that have turned out to be my most rewarding sources of insight. In 1980, when I first read Ted Nelson's meandering fantasies about hypertext in "Creative Computing", it was *completely* off-topic (I was designing terminals for DigitalEquipmentCorporation then!) -- not to mention technically impossible. After all, it would require millions of interconnected machines, each with thousands of times more power than was "practical", and would turn our whole culture upside down and inside out. As impossible as it was, I found that I simply couldn't ignore it. I was "[unable] to resist responding to the off-topic...pages". Trust the Force, Luke! --TomStambaugh

[Well-put, Tom. Check out ConversationYouCantStayAwayFrom for a similar idea.]

Solution 3:

Moderate (in some form) RecentChanges

Discussion of Solution 3:

I like the idea of moderating RecentChanges.

I don't like the idea of moderating RecentChanges, but it isn't necessary. Create SecularRecentChanges? or SoftwareRelatedRecentChanges? and put what you would have put into that moderated RecentChanges into that. The main problem with this is that it is too much work, or I'd do it, and I'd leave out some other WikiNoise too!


Please consider this a start at a way to solve the current problem. All changes that advance one of these solutions (or another solution) are gladly welcomed.

I think the problem is that some people are annoyed at the religious pages that are being posted and want it to stop. However, I believe the wiki they are saying they want is in reality a wiki they wouldn't come to anymore. To remove all the pages that have nothing to do with programming would require ALL pages to be removed not just religious ones. That in turn would remove some pretty extraordinary pages! Pages on history, art, literature, movies, actors, Family pages, music, cultural pages, and so many more. To censor is to censor all of it, not just some of it. Yes, this is a site on programming but as with any work related issue, it's nice to stretch your legs, get up and here a joke at the Water Cooler. True the hot topic may be "religion" right now, but as it fades away there is sure to be another in it's trail!


I wouldn't want to see RecentChanges modified at all. It does what it does very nicely-- show what topics are currently on the collective mind of Wiki participants. While Christianity is certainly a topic that has received much recent attention, if one mentally excludes such content, you'll see that Wiki has a lot of supposedly off-topic discussions. I've seen discussions on a variety of subjects that have nothing to do with software. Are these next on the hit list? I hope not, or Wiki is going to be a very boring place. Just as I couldn't stand to go into work knowing the only thing I was allowed to talk about was job-related, I think Wiki's value would diminish if we were only to talk about software.

The solution to this seems obvious. There are probably people here who only care about specific issues. They might only care about Java or ExtremeProgramming or Smalltalk or any number of other topics. Those people can simply maintain a RecentChangesRegardingX page, where "X" is the topic they care about. The group of people would simply periodically check RecentChanges for topics of interest to their group and post it on their page. People who didn't care about supposedly off-topic discussions would be free to make the RecentChangesRegardingX pages their first stop on Wiki.

This would have other benefits. It would help form communities of people with like interests. I for example am interested in topics related to scripting languages and real-time embedded systems. I don't know how many other people are interested in the same topics, but collaboratively working on a page that filters RecentChanges on these topics would be a step towards finding such people and sharing our experience.

It's a good solution, but I see it fizzling out very early on in the game. Which may, on the whole, be indicative of just how much people care about keeping wiki "on-topic"... -- MattBehrens


The thing to do is (for someone else, of course :-)) to spawn a new Wiki with the appropriate topic. Otherwise, given the lack of separate name spaces, I look at RecentChanges now and half the time can't tell what's software related and what isn't. Another possibility would be, for new pages, to REQUIRE that the creator specify (and create, if necessary) a "field" (aka supercategory; software vs. religion vs. popular culture vs. whatever) and to autocreate a RecentChanges page "per field", that includes links to RecentChanges pages for the other fields available. Would have to be automated though since anything that requires periodic human effort has a poor likelihood of success. -- AnonymousCoward


All these proposed solutions sound very complicated to me. Why can't we just sort the BackLinks according to the date of the last recent change? Using this, people who are interested in ExtremeProgramming can just use the already existing method to find the newest ExtremeProgramming pages as well. -- ThomasHolenstein?


I'd rather not see RecentChanges moderated. It's too complicated and it's a technical solution to a social problem. Also, it can turn out to be rather limited. SecularOnly? tags would solve the problem to some extent, but there are other problem areas as well. There could easily be ProgrammigOnly?, EcksPeeOnly?, SocialOnly?, PoliticsOnly?, etc. Such FooOnly? tags would balloon out and not be used well or consistently. WikiTags, WikiBadges, and CategoryCategory all support this. Given that we do not know what is on topic or at least that WeCannotAgreeAboutOnTopic?, a simple OnTopicOnly? / OffTopicOnly? system is also unworkable.

In the particular cases of the religious, political, and, to lesser extent, other social oriented pages, my own position is that yes, they should be moved to another Wiki. I do not think this because they are OffTopic. A world with intolerance to OffTopic is a world without RulesOfGeelf. Rather, the debates are so hot that it is impossible to bring light to them on WardsWiki. Moving them creates a new conceptual space in which a different culture may emerge. This culture's different norms will, hopefully, enable actual discussion.

Oh yeah, as far as helping people find more content related to their interests, just LinkMore. -- JoeWeaver

Moderating RecentChanges, or setting up alternate hand-curated RecentChanges pages, is a nice idea, but it requires too much sustained effort to do, so it isn't going to happen (also, since a lot of people use QuickChanges, it would only be a partial solution). That's a shame, but there you go. There may be a technical way to do it, though; none of the solutions proposed so far quite cut the mustard (requiring every page to be classified is very much against the WikiNature, and tracing backlinks is lossy: there are pages about XP that don't explicitly say ExtremeProgramming), but that doesn't mean that there isn't a solution. However, any solution would be technically complicated, which means it would take a lot of discussion and lot of testing, and I don't think we or our GraciousHost are really keen on doing that.


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