« 7 things about me | Main | New each day »

Friday, June 08, 2007

Comments

That Hideous Man

Wasn't it Joseph Stalin who rather ominously said: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

fernando

A while back I wrote some pretty stern words when one A-List blogger was suggesting we could apply Power Laws towards understanding the nature of God. That's a pretty hardcore example of reifying numerical popularity.

Taleb's two books, Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan are good introductions into the ethics of numbers and misrepresentation and manipulation of numerical data.

On more than a few occasions I've heard Christian friends with science backgrounds complain about how theologians and christian ethicists handle numbers badly. It may be something about background, or never having to count past three - I'm not sure.

brodie

Fernando - I guess for me one of the big issues is how numbers are used in systems of power and control, and are also used as a very blunt means of assessing sucsess.

brodie

THM- Thanks for rasing the important aspect that when numbers get "too" big we can shut off to the humanity behind these numbers.

Paul

as an auditor i see many examples of people being creative with numbers. We can focus on quantities and avoid qualities or context but then again sometimes numbers are extremely helpful as they allow us to focus on something specific...

fernando

Next time you hit a bookstore, check out Fooled By Randomness. Taleb looks in detail at numbers as a way of measureing sucess and a few kinds of bias that blind us at times. It has particular ethical focus (and by extension missional and ministerial foci) since we tend to be influenced by successful "models."

Data mining, survivorship bias and confirmation bias are three ideas he writes about that I think have really acute application to church.

One problem when we start talking about numbers in any theological sense is the question of chance/luck/providence etc. Take a sucessful church plant in a enw housing estate. Did it grow because the pastor was so good, was it God's will, or was it something closer to luck? Maybe any other pastor could have done that job? My feeling is we are actually pretty bad at thinking about those issues, thiking theologically about alternate possible worlds.

The sad thing is here lies the way a lot of hurtful or unfortunate events get written off. It was God's will, or, it worked out for the good is often a shorthand way to not deal with "could have been" scenarios and their ethical consequences...

RCM- Steve

I have asked myself the same question about the death of one over the death of a hundred. Someone close to me died due to extended illness on the same day as 9/11 and I felt her death was everybit as sorrowful as what was happening on the east coast.

Numbers??? Well, I turned 50 last year, left my church of 32 yrs to venture out into my own ministry and suddenly realized at this age (and all its attending slowness) that I DON'T have to go for numbers anymore. Quality over quantity is the motto I'm going to follow for the rest of the days I'm in the ministry.

Thanks for your post, Brodie.

talkrhubarb

53.724% of all statistics are wrong anyway. But that makes 46.276% accurate!

Personally, I LOVE NUMBERS!
I view numbers with fascination and wonder.
I admire their elegance and beauty. Just look at the Mandelbot set. Let's not use the fact that some use numbers as a " tool of oppression or humiliation" as an excuse to reject them out of hand. Following this logic could easily lead us to conclude that we should reject the Bible because it has often been used as an endorsement of all manner of abominations, from slavery to genocide.
The answer for the vicar of ten is to be sure, at least in his own heart, that he's not engaging in Bonsai Christianity and keeping things unnaturally small. We shouldn't be insecure or intimidated or become complacent by numbers or the lack of them. And while we need to be careful we don't draw false conclusions from numbers, they can be very useful, particularly in helping identify trends.

Just my geeky 2p.

talkrhubarb

I've read your annual report Brodie and wouldn't have noticed that numbers were intentionally missing unless you'd mentioned it here. I'm not sure if that means that omitting them doesn't have the impact you'd hoped for; that numbers are generally ignored anyway; or something else entirely!

lynn

Oh faff, Brodie, now I feel convicted by your annual report!

I was merely justifying where I spent that XXXXX (amount) of money!! Let's sit up the back of the meeting on Wed whispering subversively :::::grin:::::

Margaret

Liking numbers does not make you geeky!! That's a social construct. I agree there can be a problem how we use numbers and there's certainly a problem how "numbers" are taught in schools I think but mathematicians who understand them and can use them in creative ways (No! I don't mean creative accounting!) can be fascinating ....just look at Fibonacci numbers....

Margaret

Liking numbers does not make you geeky!! That's a social construct. I agree there can be a problem how we use numbers and there's certainly a problem how "numbers" are taught in schools I think but mathematicians who understand them and can use them in creative ways (No! I don't mean creative accounting!) can be fascinating ....just look at Fibonacci numbers....

The comments to this entry are closed.