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Levels of Expertise

The comments in my most recent post, “Delaying Sex Until Marriage Improves Marriage,” reminded me of a common

response to many of our more research-based posts here at Boundless. Many Boundless

readers are quick to point out the significant difference between correlation and

causation in research studies. And to their credit, it is important to consider

whether a study actually proves causality or merely demonstrates a correlation.

Nevertheless, even correlations can be helpful in providing insight into what

is true and how we might live well.

One commenter expressed his belief that studies and polls, “just

aren’t effective anymore.” He explained:

The best approach imo, would be to

state your personal experience…what has and hasn’t worked for you…and just

be very conversational about it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would

certainly give more weight to something like that.

This is a significant statement about how we learn. Every person

gives different sources of knowledge different levels of clout. Every day, we

each make decisions about whom or what we will trust for reliable and accurate information.

Most of us will make hundreds of such decisions before the end of the day. We’ll

decide whether to trust information conveyed by traffic signs, weather reports,

advertisements, diet books, research, Facebook posts, sermons, tweets, performance

reviews, criticisms, financial advice, conversations with colleagues, and talks

with family and friends. Needless to say, we all regularly make decisions on the

trustworthiness of various messages.

So it’s not surprising that God’s Word says a lot about considering

our sources. Biblically, wisdom is often used to describe the ability to think

well about whom and what we trust to provide us truth. Proverbs teaches that

wisdom is a blessing (3:13), to be pursued (4:7), better than jewels (8:11), for

the humble (11:2), more valuable than silver and gold (16:16), despised by

fools (1:7), and praiseworthy (31:26). Above all, Proverbs 2:6 teaches, “The

Lord gives wisdom.” Regardless of what you are learning, it’s wise to consider

the level of expertise of the source and make careful decisions about what you trust and what you don’t.

It’s into this scope that I bring a few thoughts on research

causality and correlation. Studies and polls are one vehicle of knowledge. And

as the above commenter noted, we shouldn’t necessarily take them at face value,

but instead consider what the researchers found, how they found it and whether

it seems consistent with everything else we believe to be true. It is wise to

give more weight to causality than correlation and consider the methodology


One of the reasons there is such a variety of response to research

like this is the variety of biases people bring to such topics. In life, there

is no such thing as an unbiased opinion. We all bring a lifetime of opinions

and perspectives to everything we learn. We can’t necessarily undo these

biases, but we can be aware of them and know where they came from. Understanding

the reasons we believe what we believe and the levels of expertise those beliefs

reflect is at the very heart of wisdom.

If you believe premarital sex is good because you’ve done it

and suffered no ill effects, your opinion is based upon your own experience. Someone

else might avoid premarital sex because they read research — like that posted —

suggesting premarital sex could harm relationships. Still another person might

avoid premarital sex because they believe God forbids it. Each of these people

has made a decision based on different sources of knowledge with distinct levels

of expertise.

My concern is that many of us don’t take an honest look at the

level of expertise our beliefs reflect. A personal testimony might seem helpful,

but is limited in scope. We often can’t see how poor decisions impact us years

and even decades later. Research studies may provide a stronger picture, but

even so, shouldn’t trump the wisdom of God.

My conviction is that God is the

highest expert on all things. He created the entire known universe and knows everything

about everything. Consider that every scientific endeavor is a pursuit of something

God already knows and even designed. Therefore, when God speaks, we should stop and listen. That’s one of the reasons I’ve given myself to the regular study of

God’s Word. I believe it is true and will lead me in wisdom.

Unfortunately, we somtimes place ourselves and our own expertise

over the expertise of God. We hear God’s commands and literally believe

we know better than Him. It’s always costly to ignore the wise advice of an expert, but it’s downright dangerous to ignore the warnings of the One who made all things.

As part of my work, I spend a lot of my time with various research

studies. I’ve read good studies, and I’ve read bad studies. But I always put all

I learn through the grid of God’s truth. He doesn’t often give lists of the specific

consequences for disobedience, but He does call us to trust in His expertise.

We do well to humbly submit our biases, opinions and perspectives before Him,

and ask Him to give us the wisdom to take Him at His Word, because He is the

Expert of Experts.

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About the Author

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is a Sr. Communications Specialist at Compassion International. He formally served as the director of content at the White Horse Inn and editor of His writing has also been featured on the Gospel Coalition. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Jen and their young son. Andrew and Jen met at the very first Boundless Pursuit conference at Focus on the Family in 2014.

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