September 15, 2010

Blissful Ignorance

While driving to Calvary Church to meet a friend Monday, I heard a curious story, “Religious Search Engines Yield Tailored Results,” on All Things Considered. According to the story, “[s]ome Jews, Muslims and Christians are abandoning Yahoo and Google and turning to search engines with results that meet their religious standards.” The story covered three “search engines”—perhaps something of a misnomer—that return results tailored to the sensibilities of conservative Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

SeekFind, one of the sites discussed in the NPR story, claims it is a “Christian Search Engine” and characterizes itself this way on its home page: “The mission of SeekFind.org is to provide SeekFind logoGod-honoring, biblically based, and theologically sound Christian search engine results in a highly accurate and well-organized format.” I’m not a big fan of self-imposed ignorance, but I thought I’d give SeekFind a try. After hearing the radio story, lots of other people apparently decided to do the same. Last night, SeekFind displayed this advisory in red below the Find button: “Due to extremely high traffic, the SeekFind search index is intermittantly [sic] going down. We are working to resolve this problem as soon as possible. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.”

I did get some results from SeekFind, but it was a frustrating process. Sometimes my searches yielded a completely blank page. Other searches elicited messages such as these:

Out of memory

Unable to open zoom_pageinfo.zdat
Check file permissions and that file exists

Unable to open C:\inetpub\vhosts\seekfind.org\httpdocs\settings.zdat.
Check file permissions and that file exists

This morning, however, the advisory has been taken down, and the Find button seems to be working consistently.

I began, naturally, by looking up my own name. “Lionel Deimel” produced 36 results, none of which were about me. A restricted search for my name on Google produced “about 9,420 results.” (I didn’t bother to actually count.) A Google search for “Thinking Anglicans” yielded almost 26,000 pages, the first of which was the well-known UK site. The corresponding search on SeekFind returned a mere 5 pages, none of which had anything to do with that Web site.

The results returned by SeekFind are simply appalling. A search for the phrase “Episcopal Church” produced only 52 results, mostly from the Web sites of organizations such as Questions Ministries (“239,484 Bible Questions Answered!”), Institute for Creation Research (“Biblical/Accurate/Certain”), Christian Research Institute (“…because Truth matters”), Apologetics Press, and Alpha and Omega Ministries (“defense and confirmation of the gospel”). Neither the Web site of The Episcopal Church nor that of any Episcopal Church congregation or diocese was returned by SeekFind, although I did get a link to an article explaining that “Marilyn Manson was raised in the Episcopal Church.” (The corresponding Google search produced over 8 million results. Again, I skipped counting them all.)

A SeekFind search for “quantum mechanics” produced more information than one for The Episcopal Church: 102 results. The pages cited had such titles such as Creation and Quantum Mechanics, Reasonable Faith: Question 138 - Divine Sovereignty and Quantum Indeterminism, and Who created God? - ChristianAnswers.Net. No results were returned from Web sites devoted to science. An exception seemed to be a site called AllAboutScience.org. Although the information does not appear on this Web site, the site is a project of All About God Ministries, Inc. AllAboutScience.org is really all about religion.

SeekFind clearly does not filter the Web. Instead, it uses an index of approved Web sites from which searches are conducted. This is made clear on its About SeekFind page, which explains that SeekFind is “only indexing websites that are Biblically-based, theologically-sound, and in agreement with our Statement of Faith.” (That Statement of Faith can be found here.)

The usefulness of a site like SeekFind is quite limited, even for the conservative Christian who wants to be isolated from views contrary to his or her own. In any case, SeekFind is in no way a general-purpose search engine. (A Search for “Wendy's” is no help in finding a nearby fast-food restaurant.) The only use I see for this search engine is providing rhetorical assistance to argumentative conservative Christians. The SeekFind view of the world is so narrow, however, that I suspect it is perfectly suited to only a sliver of that population. Moreover, even the serious polemicist needs to know what opponents are saying in order to respond to their positions. SeekFind is useless for that.

SeekFind, I am afraid, is only for the Christian right know-nothing crowd, those folks who know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. May God preserve us from such people!

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