How to Sound Intelligent: P-Hacking

Every week new studies get passed around Facebook and on morning news programs. Astounding discoveries that defy logic suddenly have scientific proof behind them.

Losing weight has nothing to do with diet and exercise; it’s all about sleep.

Coffee cures every disease known to man.

Smiling is better for you than exercise.

On and on they go. Odds are, next week new studies will cancel out the findings of the old studies.

Why is this? How can coffee or eggs be so good for you this week and so bad for you next week?

Largely this is due to a statistical term known as “p-hacking.”

Statistics can be used to prove anything. In an effort to curb that, statisticians have a variable that stats must fit into in order for them to be considered statistically significant.

Without going into the details, p-value was introduced to ensure that a result is actually real, not the result of chance.

In order to hit the accepted p-value of credibility, researchers do p-hacking until their results meet the required p-value.

This can be done by reducing or expanding the test size. Adding or subtracting different variables such as age, gender, size, what day the study was done on, etc.

Therefore, if you play with the variables enough you can conclude that coffee cures cancer. Another group of researchers can take the exact same data, do some p-hacking by changing variables, and use the same data to prove that coffee causes cancer.

Scientists and researchers don’t get money, attention, or tenure unless they come up with startling test results. Therefore, to keep making money, they p-hack their way to riches and notoriety.

And since all the money goes to the researchers with the most fascinating results, there is no money left for fact-checking.

Another factor in all this is that money comes from people who want certain results. Researchers know this going in. In order to get that money they must come up with acceptable results.

The notion that science is this unyielding quest for truth, throwing out error left and right, is becoming increasingly ridiculous to swallow.

Science is based on human observation. But the weakness of human observation is that human part. We’re tainted with sin, selfishness, pride, and greed. Even scientists who have studies proving there is no sin, only genetic predispositions, are tainted with sin.

Although science is currently riding high on a wave of adulation and happy thoughts, it is shooting itself in the foot.

But that’s OK, they will soon have a study telling us how feet cause cancer anyway.

How to Sound Intelligent: Granville Sharp’s Rule

One of the best ways to dominate people theologically is to bust out your Greek knowledge.

“Wow,” your intellectual opponent thinks, “he knows Greek. I barely speaks English. I must concede the point.”

Actually, that has never happened in the history of doctrinal debates, but it’s a nice thought.

Anyway, pastors go to seminary, and in seminary they learn Greek. Greek is very hard. It costs a lot of money, time, and effort to learn Greek. You can’t fault us pastors for wanting to feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

Humor us, let us be all Greeky at ya.

No, actually, some Greek knowledge is actually quite helpful. Let me give you some inside information about Greek that you can bust out into theological conversation from time to time and really impress people.

Allow me to introduce you to Granville Sharp. He was by all estimation a genius. He was instrumental in England to bring about the end of slavery there. He was often referred to as “the force behind Wilberforce.” He really was an incredible guy and you should know more about him. He was once encouraged to go into the ministry, but declined saying he was inadequate intellectually. Let that sink in.

Anyway, among many things he did besides starting a Bible society, rescuing a nation, and ending slavery, he also studied Greek. He came up with a rule about definite articles that goes something like this:

Granville Sharp’s rule states that when you have two nouns, which are not proper names (such as Cephas, or Paul, or Timothy), which are describing a person, and the two nouns are connected by the word “and,” and the first noun has the article (“the”) while the second does not, *both nouns are referring to the same person.

Basically, in Greek if there are two nouns and one definite article, the nouns go together as one. This plays into verses such as:

Titus 2:13–“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is both God and Savior, only one definite article for God and Savior, meaning He is both.

2 Peter 1:1–“to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Same deal, Christ is God and Savior.

Many times the English skips definite articles when the Greek uses them, so you wouldn’t know this rule as an English reader. Greek puts definite articles in all over the place, to the extent that English would sound really bad.

Greek typically says things like “The ball was hit by the Jeff.” That just sounds dumb. So in English we would say, “The ball was hit by Jeff.” The excessive use of the definite article (which also agrees with its noun in gender making it easier to see what noun the article refers to more easily) makes Greek much more precise than English.

Another instance is in Ephesians 4:11–And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”

How many gifts are listed? Four or five?

The correct answer is four: 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, and 4) pastor teachers. Pastor teachers only has one definite article, therefore they refer to the same person.

So, next time you pontificate upon these verses, or hear someone else pontificate on them, you can smoothly say, “Ah yes, the Granville Sharps rule” and casually sip your coffee.

You are so cool.

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.

How to Sound Intelligent: Pyrrhic Victory

King Pyrrhus, who learned to spell his name correctly when he was 16, did battle with the Roman Empire. He did quite well for himself. In fact, if he had done any better, he would have been utterly destroyed.

Plutarch wrote about his battles thusly:

The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.

A Pyrrhic Victory is a win, but the cost of the win was so devastating, it was actually a loss.

Pyrrhic Victories happen quite frequently and if you can identify one and label it a “Pyrrhic Victory,” people will think you are way smart, which is nice. Either that or they will wonder why you are talking about fireworks.

The Church Growth movement, when it grows a church numerically, is often a Pyrrhic Victory. Yes, the seats are filled, but why? We can’t talk biblical doctrine anymore.

When you devastate your Calvinist friend in argument and clearly win, yet destroy the friendship, tear down the testimony of Christianity to those watching, and make people afraid to speak to you, perhaps Pyrrhus has visited.

You made your wife submit to you by quoting Paul, when in reality you were not loving her as Christ loved the church. Yes, your wife might obey you, but she grows to despise you, and maybe even Paul, the Bible, and God. Your victory ends up being your downfall.

Politicians spend all their capital on an issue, they get the votes and win, yet they turn out to be wrong and everything blows up in their face. Their capital is gone, the issue was disastrous, and now they have no power.

People win battles all the time while steadily losing our war. It’s a bad place to be. But hey, now you are smart enough to know what to call it.