Negative Data


Then, to Thomas, Jesus said, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t persist in your unbelief, but believe!” Thomas said in response, “My Savior and my God!” ~John 20:27-28



Birdwatching is an interesting mix of science and passion. This makes ornithology one branch of scientific research where amateurs can make significant contributions. This is referred to as citizen science. Cornell University not only offers a degree in ornithology, it also hosts a massive on-line database of bird sightings at eBird. Every contribution adds to scientific knowledge about bird populations. Everything from monitoring a remote nest of a Bald Eagle to counting the Black-capped Chickadees at a feeder is valuable.


I’ve participated in a number of citizen science projects, all of them rewarding in different ways. Typically, they require early mornings, exploring less explored areas, lots of patient waiting, and always meticulous record keeping. There is no promise of exciting payoffs. In fact, one important piece of any complete research project is negative data. For instance, I did a series of annual spring surveys at the summit of Mount Greylock at dawn searching for nesting Bicknell’s Thrushes. Even at the time, they had not been recorded there for decades. The data I was reporting was confirmation that they still weren’t there. While that sounds rather under-whelming, there was an odd sense of satisfaction that I was contributing and the dawn chorus on the highest peak in Massachusetts is easily its own reward.


Thomas gets a bad rap because of his doubt, but what he did showed us the value of using our God-given brains to seek evidence. It should not be surprising that he had suspicions of his fellow disciples and it is not unreasonable to ask God to show the extent of the miracle of love. The fact that Christ appears to Thomas provides an important data point demonstrating that the range of God’s love extends at least as far as Thomas. Christ’s challenge to those who haven’t seen to yet believe is a statement of fact that the search for negative data to establish the range limit of God’s love is ultimately futile.


Prayer: Great Wounded Healer, thank you for continuing to appear to us as we research the limitless range of your love. Amen.

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