Numbers Games

Used correctly, statistics are an invaluable aid to correct reasoning.

The discipline called 'statistics' is a mathematical science that establishes criteria and techniques for meaningful, mathematical evaluation of numerical data (descriptive statistics, inferential statistics). This discipline is not to be confused with the vernacular meaning of statistics, which merely refers to any collection of numbers connected to a topic.

"Statistics can be made to prove anything - even the truth." ~Author Unknown

"Statistics may be defined as "a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty."" ~W.A. Wallis

As applied within the softer sciences, statistical methods provide the means by which to ascertain whether or not data have arisen purely by chance or whether they accurately reflect that which they are intended to measure. That is, inferential statistics provides confidence limits that indicate the probability that the data have not arisen purely by chance.

"The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus." ~Laplace, Théorie analytique des probabilités, 1820

However, as for so many other areas that are abused by what passes as human reasoning, statistics can be manipulated and misinterpreted to serve the special prejudices of hate-tankers and junk-tankers. The fact that numbers can be manipulated and misinterpreted does not mean that statistics always lie or even that statistics often lie. It is people who lie, and people who are mistaken either through simple ignorance or deliberate self-delusion.

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts - for support rather than for illumination." ~Andrew Lang

"Statistics are like women; mirrors of purest virtue and truth, or like whores to use as one pleases." ~Theodor Billroth

"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." ~Mark Twain, autobiography, 1904 (there is no actual record of this under Disraeli's authorship)

The oft-cited "Borel's Law" is prime example of the sort of manipulative numbers games to which creationists resort in an attempt to discredit the enormously likely probability of biopoiesis. Here's an example of creationist nonsense:

"...Mathematicians generally agree that, statistically, any odds beyond 1 in 1050 have a zero probability of ever happening.... This is Borel's law in action which was derived by mathematician Emil Borel...."

Rot and twaddle – only a zero probability is a zero probability.

Whenever there are close to or more than 1050 possibilities that the particular event will occur, then the event cannot have zero probability. Even if there was a single chance for that event to occur, the event could occur, so its probability is not zero.

Of course, since for whatever deluded reasons creationists choose to take Genesis literally, those who are already convinced that they are the product of special creation will be enamoured of such a ridiculous argument. No matter how stupid or unlikely an idea, those who dogmatically cling to that idea for emotional reasons will be unmoved by reason, logic, facts, or legitimate statistics.

The other form of illogic that attaches itself to numbers lies in two related but separate fallacies of logic – argumentum ad numerum and argumentum ad populum.

The reverse of these recognized fallacies is a form of fallacio fallacy, namely that just because a large number of credible authorities state something, this does not make the assertions of experts well-founded. Such an assertion is a fallacious argument against authority. The faulty reasoning runs, "I don't like this idea, therefore no matter how many genuine authorities say that such-and-such is true, because I don't want to believe it, all the authorities are incorrect."

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