How to Sound Intelligent: Bayesian Thinking

Bayes’ Theorem, or Bayes’ Law, is a statistical law about probabilities. It was “invented” by Thomas Bayes (1701-1761), who was a Presbyterian Minister.

I get a kick out of all these modern science people who rip religion for being anti-science, and how if religion had its way, there would be no science. Read some history of science and you will soon note that pastors and Christians are all over the place establishing the foundation of science.

Anyway, I digress.

Actually, no I don’t! This is an example of Bayes’ Theory in action.

Suppose there is a group of people made up of an unknown amount of scientists and pastors. You know that one of these guys in the group has come up with a new scientific theory. Is the theorist a pastor or a scientist?

Naturally we would assume the new theory came out of the head of a scientist. In our day, scientists are the only smart people on the planet and pastors are out taking money from widows and raping boys.

However, lets re-frame the context by adding some more information. You find out that this group of people are all from the 18th century, and furthermore, 80% of the people in the group are pastors, and only 20% are scientists.

With this new information, the statistical probability that a pastor came up with the new theory is the safe bet.

Bayes’ Theory is a way of adding in a component to better make a wager. Somewhat ironic that a Calvinist, Presbyterian did all this study on probabilistic chance!

The next time someone asks you to take a guess at something, or maybe the next time your brain snaps to a judgment, consider Bayes’ Theory. Consider that you don’t know all the variables. Look for new information before making your snap judgment.

Presuppositions often get in the way of being right.


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