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5.0 out of 5 stars An important and pioneering book, 13 Sep 2008
This review is from: Christian and Humanist Foundations for Statistical Inference: Religious Control of Statistical Paradigms (Paperback)
Andrew Hartley, in this important and pioneering book, poses the question 'Does the Christian faith have anything distinctive to say ... about the foundations or practice of statistics as a science?' His answer is a resounding `yes!' and in this book he shows us how. As he does so he exposes and refutes the dogma that statistics is religiously neutral. If such a claim seems intriguing or even outrageous, then this book is for you.

He maintains that statistics has for the most part been controlled by non-Christian, humanist beliefs. His desire is to see the Christian faith integrated with statistics; hence the descriptive, if not snappy, title of the book.

Hartley claims to write for a wide audience, yet the mathematical equations may put off many humanities and arts students. This a pity; they would benefit from this excellent introduction, as Hartley writes clearly and explains the difficult mathematics well. Though there were one or two places I had to read and re-read slowly!

Hartley begins by looking at four popular paradigms within statistical inference: direct and indirect frequentism, subjective and objective bayesianism. He also cites numerous examples of these from the statistical literature.

He then provides a brief overview of the biblically consistent philosophy of such thinkers as Herman Dooyeweerd and Abraham Kuyper - the so-called philosophy of the law idea (PLI). The PLI demonstrates how religious beliefs control all scientific enterprises: These beliefs delimit ranges of acceptable philosophical overviews of reality, which in turn delimit ranges of acceptable scientific theories. The PLI also proposes an overview of reality, coherent with biblical revelation, which regards the modal aspects (numeric, spatial, kinetic, biotic, sensory, logical, historical, symbolic, social, economic, aesthetic, moral, legal and certitudinal) as mutually irreducible and mutually interconnected.

Hartley then reviews in more depth the PLI's analysis of one particular religious groundmotive, the nature-freedom motive. This groundmotive has two main poles or ideals: the nature or science ideal and the freedom or personality ideal. The former emphasises nature and the latter freedom. He sees how these apply to the statistical paradigms. The nature ideal (over)emphasises and absolutises the mathematical aspects of reality, this is seen in direct frequentism and objective bayesianism. These paradigms tend to be the most dominant because, as Hartley states, many statisticians have first placed their trust in mathematicism: reality is reduced to quantitative functioning. The subjectivist approach fits into the personality ideal and indirect frequentism fits well with this framework. Indirect frequentism absolutises the role of subjective elements, the individual scientist becomes the 'last word concerning the credibility of a hypothesis' (p. 76).

The only statistical paradigm that could provide a Christian basis is then subjectivist Bayesianism. This is then examined, in chapter 7, to see how well it does comport with a Christian worldview. Subjective bayesianism makes no claims that scientific hypotheses 'must follow solely from quantitative data' and it holds to the 'coherence of inter-aspectual meaning' (p 82). Hartley identifies some apparent conflicts between the PLI and subjective bayesianism but these are not insurmountable. Though he rejects the other three paradigms as being inconsistent with a Christian perspective, he does note that their numeric results could be implemented non-reductively, insofar as these results in some cases 'approximate subjective bayesian conclusions' (p106).

There is a useful six-page glossary of key statistical terms and Dooyeweerdian terms and an eight-page bibliography. Unfortunately, there is no index.

This brief book is not an easy read; nevertheless it demands and repays careful attention. It should be required reading for all statisticians, mathematicians and scientists as it shows how religious beliefs control statistical inference. It provides an excellent role model for the application of Dooyeweerd's philosophy to a subject.

This book isn't the last word on the relationships between Christianity and statistics - as Hartley notes in his conclusion, where he identifies other areas for reflection and investigation (p 111) - but it is an important step towards them. It is a pioneering book and will provide the basis for much needed research and discussion.
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