Archive for July, 2011

My take on the 2011 SBC messenger count…if anyone still cares!

July 19, 2011

…with some homage to Jonathon Woodyard

In 2011, 4852 messengers from 2158 churches showed up in Phoenix to condut the business of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Many have ballyhooed this drop-off in attendance….

Others surely have ignored it….

I have belatedly added my two cents, with a spin: some math-modeling! As an amateur statistician-nerd, I used a 5-year exponential moving average (EMA) to smooth the data over the presidential election cycles…

and noticed how dramatic the 2011 drop-off actually was!

For the first year since 2002*, the messenger count came in not only the lowest in years, but UNDER the moving average!

Which, at least in the field of stock-market economics (I said I was a statisician-nerd!) is a negative signal–as in RUN FOR THE HILLS!

To answer why I used an EMA to study the messenger trend, I wish to only add one additional interesting observation:

“VMAs are used to observe volume changes over time and have a smoothing effect on short-term volume spikes…. Significant volume surges often precede trend reversals on the indexes.” (Technical Analysis, Studies, Indicators: VMA (Volume Moving Averages), accessed 7/19/2011)

So I projected what should have been the expected messenger count using the EMA trend. Without getting too deep into the math, let me just say that 2011 should have seen 9,800 – 11,200 people.

Well, why didn’t we?

Again, skipping over the math, let look at two other messenger count misses:

2006 – noted for the election of Frank Page – should have seen 14,000…or about 2400 MORE people. Why did we?

  1. the previous year was Nashville, which may have artificially inflated the numbers
  2. the election was thought to have been a done deal for Ronnie Floyd…and it was until the nomination speeches!

2009 – noted for the sesquicentennial celebration of SBTS – should have seen 7,700..or about 1000 FEWER people. Why did we?

  1. the previous year was Indianapolis, which was deflated with being outside the core 14 SBC states AND the flooding in southern Indiana
  2. the mother seminary’s anniversary drew a fawning crowd…of which I was one.

From this brief study, I propose two reasons for the down interest in the Annual Meeting:

  1. The previous year was Orlando…vacation plus controversy equals blowout attendance!
  2. There was nothing to rush to after the GCR report.

My prediction…to be returned to in one year and possibly revised!

2012 will see an higher-than-expected attendance for three reasons:

  1. New Orleans is both a vacation spot and the home of a beloved seminary
  2. the presidential election will be contentious, I fear
  3. backlash from both upstarts and denominational loyalists to change/preserve things at the next opportunity

I would love to hear thoughts on the trend or the 2012 prediction….



* = the data used is very limited, given the availability of messenger and church numbers at past years’ Conventions online – as a good amateur statistician, I will advise that these statements should be reviewed when more data is available…and I’m going to the denominational library as soon as I find one!


Tuesday Theology Musings: 0.1A – Can miracles exist?

July 5, 2011

Last week, we discussed how classical skepticism and the Bible interact in their perception of reality. Today, we will explore the implications of Pyrrho‘s eighth mode: constancy and rarity.

The ninth depends upon the frequency, or rarity, or strangeness of the thing under consideration. For instance, earthquakes excite no wonder among those nations with whom they are of frequent occurrence; nor does the sun, because he is seen every day. (from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, trans. C.D. Yonge, 1853, Book IX – The Life of Pyrrho, Chapter IX)

Many modern skeptics believe that miracles, like to the kind recorded in Scripture, are impossible because they violate the natural order, as “codified” in repeatable scientific empiricalism. Iwould like to venture a rebuttal on three propositions, inspired by Pyrrho:

1) The rare is not the impossible

Modern particle physics is presently searching for the Higgs boson, also known colloquially as the “God particle”.

However, as of today, it has not been discovered/detected. To quote a particle physics blog:

“The Tevatron by the end of 2011 will have acquired 10-12 inverse femtobarns of luminosity…. To unravel this, here is a handful of back-of-a-madgraph estimates of how many interesting events can the colliders get by the end of 2011.

Higgs Boson (120 GeV Higgs produced in gluon fusion) events:
Tevatron: 10 000
LHC: 11 000

Both experiments will have a similar sensitivity to the Higgs. Although 10k looks like whole lotta events, Higgs signatures are notoriously difficult to search. For example, one promising discovery channel at the LHC is when the Higgs decays into two photons, which happens roughly twice per thousand events for a 120 GeV Higgs. For this and other reasons, neither Tevatron nor the LHC has good prospects of discovering the Higgs, unless in lucky circumstances (e.g. production cross section larger than in the standard model, or Higgs mass sitting close to the sweet spot of 160 GeV).” (Resonaances, accessed 7/5/2011)

To be at least intellectually consistent, if rare events in science can be expected, then so to rare events beyond the comfort threshold of the scientist.

2) The common is not the non-miraculous

As stated in Pyrrho’s own words, ” the sun [does not excite wonder] because he is seen every day.” This is better explained by those more versed in the subject, so I will point you to two takes:

…to which I again appeal for equal treatment under my first proposition!

3) The “laws” of science are never set

The scientist is alwasy questioning and exploring. In science, there are relatively few laws: explanations of the mechanism of a process so rigorously upheld by empirical data (evidential test) and so entrenched in other corollary aspects of scientific understanding (logical-conceptual test) as to conceive of their not being true/real is tantamount to undercutting the whole existence of life/the universe as we know it. However, most scientific understanding is only about a hundred years old (at least, in its present formulation)…why should we not expect the rules of scientific thought to change again?

In conclusion, miracles cannot be discounted or disregarded simply because they do not fit our modern sentiments on the subject.