Denomination-hopping As State Transitions

A strange thought just occurred to me. There are always people leaving one denomination (or even religion) and entering another. I wonder if the conversion and apostacy rates could be modelled as molecules evaporating from one liquid and condensing in another. Members since birth and converts that either never leave or leave only after a long time could be modelled as members of solids. In these models, temperatures would be indicative of scandal, heresy, revival, reform, and other major causes of movement between denominations. Also, different groups would have different state transition temperatures, reflecting relative cohesiveness.


Comments 7

  1. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    More of a case for Markov modeling I think. This would actually be a very interesting simulation. If you could start with data from say 1900, you could train it on the last 100 years, and make predictions about the next 100. The models would have to account not only for mobility (transition probabilities as a function of doctrine, social action, style, “user” interface, &c.), but also changes in fecundity derived therefrom, and the probability of kids “not departing from” their training in “the way they should go” in the various traditions. Sadly tho’ I think the results were already predicted back by St. Paul in I Timothy: In the last days, people will gather to themselves teachers who tickle their ears. I.e., the religious group that tells people what they want to hear will “win.” Over the last 40 years the winners have been increasingly heterodox Low Church Protestantism. Still, it would be a very interesting (and valuable) exercise. Since you are an AI student, perhaps you could work this into your dissertation work: Robotic Religious Punditry. Heh!

    Good luck!

    Posted 31 Oct 2005 at 3:28 pm
  2. The Waffling Anglican wrote:

    Given my own history and current vaporous state, I might suggest that the evaporation rate from a denomination increases as its temperature approaches that of hell. The orthodox particles go into the vapor state, and coaolesce at different centers of coolness.

    In the case of the American Episcopal church, for example (and since it is the only one I am familiar with), many of the evaporees seem to land in cool and relatively nearby pools of Continuing Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. A few who have really been superheated make it all the way to the cool but distant Evangelical pools.

    Modeling the flow of congregants would probably require a way to measure both the internal heat of the denomination and the theological distancec to the available cold traps. You could test the model by looking at other overheated denominations, like PCUSA, ELCA, UCC, etc. and seeing where there expelled particles land.

    Posted 31 Oct 2005 at 4:44 pm
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    “More of a case for Markov modeling I think.”

    Markov modeling is just a tool. The underlying analogy is what matters, not how it’s implemented. One could, for instance, model state transitions with MM.

    Posted 31 Oct 2005 at 5:44 pm
  4. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Yes, of course. But it seems a sufficiently generalized tool for the problem. The number of possible transitions from any state is very large (e.g., Traditionalist Mennonite to Unitarian p=0.000034, Marionite Catholic to Southern Baptist p=0.0087, ELCA to RCC p=0.65, &c.) I don’t see how chemical state transitions alone could allow for enough degrees of freedom… but then I’m an communication system engineer and not a chemist. (Which reminds me of the commercial where one guy says, “I’m a human cannonball, not a doctor.”)


    Posted 31 Oct 2005 at 7:20 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    I’m going to blog this later, but for those who want a jump start, follow this link:

    Posted 31 Oct 2005 at 7:33 pm
  6. Sean wrote:

    My discrete structures Prof had a stroke when I was in grad school, so we never got to Markov chains, and I’m not following that discussion, but as far as the analysis, I’d be interested in what variables correlate with changing religions. My hyp. would be a change in community correlates most highly. Other variables to consider would be age, education, what else?

    Posted 01 Nov 2005 at 12:27 am
  7. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    My hyp. would be a change in community correlates most highly. Other variables to consider would be age, education, what else?

    New pastors, for one. Changes in doctrine or practice within a denomination. Mainline prot churches are “adapting” (perhaps “becoming” is a more appropriate verb) so rapidly to the culture at large, that it’s difficult to keep up, esp. for anyone mildly traditionalist. It is all of course in an attempt to be “hip” and “relevant” to the communities they “serve”, but such an impulse is (I think) mostly a cover for the embarrassment of having to confess historic Christian distinctives, like those of our quirky/separatist/ghettoized parents or grandparents.

    Sean, I’m not at all sure that moving (I assume that’s what you mean by “change in community”) would correlate most highly. It’s up there, but I think “perceived consumer value” (entertainment, babysitting, free lattes in the narthex, &c.) would dominate. First, denomination/church (s)hopping is so widespread, so much more widespread than actually moving, that I suspect only a small minority of new parishoners in any given year fall in this category. Secondly, people who do move tend to want to drive back to their old church each Sunday, even sometimes when it is very far away, even sometimes when that church is no longer a part of their community. (Tho’ in truth the church may never have been part of their community before they moved… any more than any particular strip mall is part of their community. In the age of Cheap Oil and Easy Motoring, such are the inevitable deformities, even pervading the Church.)

    My $0.02

    Posted 01 Nov 2005 at 3:36 am

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