Sabermetrics and Theology

Baseball season is upon us. So it is time to brush up on sabermetrics!

If you don't already know, Sabermetrics is a branch of applied statistics aimed at evaluating performance in baseball. Sabermetrics used to be a recreational activity, but now it is serious business with conventions hosted by MIT and many MLB teams employing statisticians to invent better statistics to outcompete opponents. The use of sabermetrics in MLB was popularized by Michael Lewis' book Moneyball.

Baseball is ideally suited to statistical analysis because, unlike other sports, baseball is a collection of discrete events leading to a clear-cut outcome. A ball is pitched and only a finite number of things can happen: ball, strike, foul ball, hit, home run, etc. Once that sequence is finished the outcome can be coded and a new sequence begins as the pitcher throws the next pitch.

Consequently, baseball is full of statistics, religiously and annually captured in The Baseball Almanac. More free flowing sports, without discrete events, are a bit harder to capture, statistically speaking. However, basketball is now rivaling baseball in its statistical sophistication. Consider the work of David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook in their book The Wages of Wins and the work of John Hollinger at ESPN.

Anyway, today I was reminded how much I enjoyed all this statistical analysis while reading my favorite ESPN columnist Bill Simmons "The Sports Guy." Preparing us for the baseball season Simmons tries to introduce some of the simpler but increasingly important sabermetric measures that every baseball fan should know, like OPS, UZR, and VORP.

Reading Simmons' article I realized how much I love using statistics and numbers to understand my world. Even my theological world. Witness my quantitative pathology, my attempt to create a sabermetrics of theology:

I have calculated the probability of encountering Satan.
(btw, it's p = .0000000036).

I've made an argument from infinity to compare the varieties of pacifism.

I've used geometrical shapes to discuss why it is difficult for churches to change.

I've developed a measuring device to assess theology during a live worship service.

I've used game theory to describe sin and salvation.

I've used hyperbolic discounting curves to describe human selfishness.

I've used fitness landscapes to describe how churches explore different worship forms.

I've created (and graphed) the church equivalent of the IQ: EcQ = MET ((MET + SIT) / 2). (In fact, one of these posts was used in a Cornell University network theory class.)

I've used variables to describe the nature of religious doubt.

I've computed the correlation between cell phone usage and church attendance.

I've argued for more fuzzy logic in theology.

And, as a research psychologist, I use statistics to measure and assess theology in the laboratory (for example).
I don't know if a sabermetrics of theology is possible, but I sure am trying.

Enjoy the baseball season!

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3 thoughts on “Sabermetrics and Theology”

  1. I think that all of us should be more willing to apply knowledge from our careers and disciplines to the field of theology. In fact, your post has inspired me to invent some sort-of soteriology that relies on a strict scheme of retributive criminal justice, but which awkwardly borrows an assumption from the civil law which holds that a payment serve as a substitute for the punishment.

    On second thought, maybe not. Nobody would ever buy THAT, would they?

    [PS - Peace to all disciples of Anslem/PSA out there: I do respect your perspective... just couldn't resist a fanciful jest...]

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