Almost every time I feel a strong urge to write on an issue that really needs to be talked about,I later find that someone else said it before any of us were born. Recently I had been thinking about our obsession with statistics when I found this article. This is a condensed version but the author makes his point well. It reminds me of the old saying that there are three kinds of lies: black lies, white lies, and statistics. We can only imagine what the writer and David Lipscomb would think about our world today where everything is reduced to a number. The article was published in the Gospel Advocate on January 12, 1899. The Scriptures warn about playing number games: Exodus 23:2, Matthew 7:13-14, John 6:66, I Corinthians 3:6.—Kerry Duke
Gideon was stronger with his three hundred than with the great multitude that first rallied to his standard…Yet nothing is easier than deception in the consideration of mere numbers.
The church itself is easily deceived by figures…It is important to consider quality as well as quantity, whether we speak of a cotton crop or the membership of a church…
We are now passing through the statistical era. It is a sort of craze. To not a few the study of statistics is a matter of absorbing interest. Pity we cannot avoid extremes. There should be a man of common sense between the careless man who guesses at everything, and the statistical slave, who lays himself out, body and soul, to get his figures right.
The statistical octopus does not confine his embraces to the church; scientists, publicists, insurance actuaries, swear by columns of figures. The statistician has becomea scientist. When we deal with mere things the best tests and gauges may be in mere numbers; in the nature of things “the state of the church” cannot be determined by any study of mere numbers whatsoever.
Mere figures do not give us the spiritual strength of the church…
We cannot estimate even the liberality of the church by the figures and footings of all our treasurers. A small amount may mean liberality, a large sum may indicate meanness. The figures and footings do not show what the givers had left. No measure of giving is worth considering that counts only what is given. A thousand dollars given may not mean any sacrifice to the giver. The widow giving her all when she gave “two mites” was liberal; she “gave all she had.” Our Lord has made this too plain for discussion. Very often the raising of fifty percent of an assessment indicates to the All-seeing more labor and fidelity than twice the assessment raised under different conditions. Sometimes a report of a membership doubled is only proof that one has reaped what another sowed…
Perhaps we overdo the whole statistical business. David had an experience in “numbering Israel” of a sort to be remembered. Have we forgotten it? — Bishop Haygood, in Christian Advocate.
“We give the above our hearty amen. Measured by statistics, preachers are tempted to exaggerate the number of conversions that take place in a meeting. People are influenced by numbers, not by truth; but crowds, like sheep, follow a leader in the wrongway, and, by force of numbers, press each other down to ruin. There is continual temptation to exaggerate when compiling statistics. An adage says: ‘Figures do not lie.’ That may have been so once, but under the statistical rage figures have lost their character and have become most frequent and persistent liars.”