Quoting Statistics May Undermine Truth, part II

November 9, 2012

by Ronnie Rogers

Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.

cont’d from yesterday’s article

Nothing in this article is to be construed as anti-science. I have a deep appreciation for science, and a number of scientists are members of the church I serve. Rather, my concern is to guard Christians from undue reliance upon science, mistaking scientism for science, or minimizing the need to know Scripture more deeply because of such reliance. In twenty-first century western culture, there is a great need for Christians to think biblically so that they can understand the benefits as well as the limitations of science, and when it is stealthily transformed into scientism. Following are some inherent liabilities of the tools previously mentioned:

  1. There are always conflicting conclusions between different studies and polls; thus, cherry picking is common.
  2. Statistics can be used to demonstrate almost anything by inclusion or omission of certain variables related to the study or poll.
  3. One rarely understands how the study or poll was actually done, which can dramatically transform both the study’s certainty and conclusions being presented.
  4. Often a conclusion drawn is presented as THE conclusion while it may in fact be only one of the derivable conclusions, or may actually be misleading when other variables are considered.
  5. Often these tools are used to demonstrate proof when, even at their best, they can actually only demonstrate varying degrees of probability.
  6. The wording of the questions, order of the questions, tone of the questioner, time of the questioning, and the pool of the questioned greatly influences the statistical data and conclusions.
  7. Double blind studies are rarely used.
  8. Fraud, personal agendas, shoddy work, biases, and misrepresentation of the data are found repeatedly, and without being privy to the entire process, etc., one cannot detect this.
  9. Decisions about what to do and not to do with regard to people, morals, etc., with these tools revamp the way modern man thinks, which is consistent with sole reliance upon science or scientism, but is actually contrary to linear, logical, or biblical thinking because all one needs to know is what does the most recent study—experiment—say.
  10. Although used to determine what ought to be and what ought not to be, these tools can only tell one what is or is not and can never tell one what should be.

For example, statistics may be used to show how many people are without health insurance, and the truth is that is all the statistics tell us. Therefore, when people start drawing conclusions from such statistics, they may very well be misreading the data or, perish the thought, misrepresenting the truth for their own agenda.

Say that thirty percent do not have insurance. This, in and of itself, does not tell us: how many have chosen not to have insurance, how many have chosen to spend their insurance money on other things, how many are covered through the generosity of hospitals, how many of those would rather be without governmental intrusion than to have insurance, how many are in transition between insurances, how many have strategically chosen to invest that money elsewhere for the potential future payoff and do not want to be forced to pay higher taxes for health care, how many have made personal decisions—even religious ones—which led them to be without insurance and do not think others should have to pay, how many have the intention but have not made the choice to spend their money on insurance or are waiting on someone else, how many have made a conscious decision to eliminate their insurance for what they deem to be a worthwhile alternative, ad infinitum!

It is the truth that makes one free, but the present undue reliance of preachers on these fragmentary tools in order to bolster their preaching conclusions may bear short-term fruit, but in the long run may undermine the very truth they passionately desire to communicate because it trains a whole generation to rely upon polls, statistics, and studies with credulous trust. Moreover, undue reliance upon science (not to mention scientism) affords very little incentive to develop a godly mind through devoted study and digging deeply into the Word of God.