Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Truth and effort

Last week I attended a short course on data mining at work. Basically, from what I understand, data mining involves certain techniques that can be used to discover patterns in large computer data sets that otherwise would remain hidden from us. For example, a large database containing the buying habits of customers of a particular store can be analysed, and through such analysis it can be discovered that there is a strong correlation between the purchasing of juice and jelly (i.e., those customers that buy juice are more likely to purchase jelly). Using this discovery, the store can maximize profits by placing their jelly selection in the drinks isle, preferably next to the juice.

The problem, however, with data mining, is that with large datasets it is easy to find a large variety of false patterns or correlations. For example, it is easy to analyse the last two thousand numbers of a roulette table and suddenly find correlations. However, these correlations are not significant as they are totally random and any gambler relying on these will loose just as much money.

So how do we separate the false patterns from those that are significant? This is where the field of statistics comes into play. There are various statistical tests and procedures that can be used to interrogate one’s analysis on a particular set of data. It is easy to find patterns in data, but it takes a lot of work and effort to determine which patterns are meaningful and which are vacuous. In other words, finding out what is really true can be an arduous process. I wonder if this concept applies to other spheres of life? Does it take effort to discover truth?

When I started doubting my faith I threw myself into reading up about Biblical history, evolution, creationism, science and philosophy. I have my own digital library containing almost 1 600 articles, reviews and debates that I’ve downloaded off the internet; my book collection is growing by the year with titles from apologists and sceptics alike; and I plan, for the first time, to formally enrol in philosophy courses at a local university later this year. Since I left Christianity I’ve had a great desire to get to the bottom of things. But I’ve also realised that finding out the truth about certain subjects, such as evolution and philosophy, can be a difficult and time consuming process involving a lot of work. I did not arrive at my current beliefs about God and the universe lightly: much blood, sweat and tears have gone into the process. And the more I learn, as the old saying goes, the more I realise how little I in fact know. For me, the journey of discovery continues.

And this brings me to thoughts on ‘scientific’ creationism. To me, and I could be wrong here, it seems that ‘scientific’ creationism is incredibly easy to believe. It requires little effort to get to the bottom of how it actually works, or what it entails. I sometimes wonder, then, if the very ease at which creationism can be believed is somehow a warning sign to the status of its validity. Where are the efforts, from the creationists themselves, to try and prove creationism false? Should they not, like all other scientists, be testing their own ideas in order to determine if, like the patterns found through data mining, creationism has any value? Although we should not disregard all claims out of hand, should we not be cautious of those that hold effortless views of truth and nature?


Dar said...

You used one key word: value.

What is personally valuable to someone cannot be measured by data mining. Perhaps it's not so much getting to the bottom of things and picking the bible apart as it is so much the overall message that most christians value. Perhaps this is also why the creationism/evolution debate seems pointless to many. You wonder why they don't fight harder to prove the theory of creationism, but if they value in simply "knowing" that what the bible says, and they believe creationsim to be the only truth, then there is no value in trying to prove it. Perhaps the christians that do want to debate and in attempt to prove creationsim find greater value in preserving the beleif system itself.

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

i think you are sneaking up on a good point here. the strongest argument i've ever heard for creationism - is that you need to believe it first before you can get to the NT to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour. While this does not fully represent ID-believing christians - it does underscore what i think is the issue: that many christians believe in creationism / ID simply because their belief system requires them to! thus - rigor, becomes a moot point.